This week I visited the Hyde Park Barracks. The beautiful, brick building has been converted into a museum to tell its own history, or like it did for me, transport its visitors back in time to the early days of Sydney. Most commonly this building is remembered as housing for convict men, which was its original purpose upon construction in 1819, but about thirty years later it was transformed into an immigration depot, mostly for Irish females escaping the Great Famine. The third level soon became an asylum for infirm and destitute women until 1887 when the building was again changed into courtrooms and government offices. Each transition has left a mark for us to remember today.
I was intrigued by artefacts the archeologists recovered in the early 1980s when the conservation of the barracks began. Dozens of tobacco pipes, prayer books, crockery, pottery, and other personal bits were displayed for me to imagine the original owner. What was the name of the lady who once wore the white gloves? How did anyone get a comfortable night sleep in those hammocks? I reclined in one to get the full effect and said a quick prayer of gratitude for my warm bed at home and my own personal space. At the top of the museum there is a computer for each visitor to search the database for a relative who may have passed through the barracks. The closest I got was a Thomas Pownall who was sent to work in the Hyde Park Barracks after breaking into a home. He may be a distant relative on my husband's side. Who knows?