Pick of the crop

Convicts who arrived at Sydney Cove during the Macquarie era were inspected in person by the Governor himself, at the Gaol Yard on George Street. Accomplished tradesmen who had skills the government needed, including carpenters, stonemasons and brickmakers, were sure to be retained for government work, building churches, courthouses, jails and barracks.

However, convicts could earn good money doing private work, so many tried to conceal their skills during the initial muster to avoid being assigned to government projects. In 1820, under Macquarie’s construction-focused administration, 55 per cent of all convicts were working in government service, probably the highest proportion that ever worked for the colonial government.