In a past display at Hyde Park Barracks visitors could lift the lid on the fascinating stories of individual women who passed through Sydney’s Immigration Depot, at the barracks between 1848 and 1886.

World Heritage-listed for its convict history, Hyde Park Barracks has also played an integral role in Australian immigration. In 1848, the barracks was transformed to house Sydney’s female Immigration Depot, much needed due to the increasing numbers of free immigrants arriving in the colony.

For 38 years it provided temporary shelter and a safe haven for an estimated 40,000 immigrant women, some accompanied by their children. By day the women waited to be collected by friends or family, or to be employed from the hiring room on the ground floor. At night they slept on simple iron beds in dormitories. They all made the difficult decision to leave their homelands and take their chance for a new life in a land of opportunity.

In this display, a handful of individual stories of the immigrant women were pieced together from official records, family research, oral histories, photographs and archaeological artefacts. Simple iron beds also on display, set the scene of the dormitories where the women once stayed, and wooden trunks contained selected personal stories and remnants of every day and precious items the women left behind at the depot.

These artefacts are among 130,000 items found by archaeologists beneath the floors of the main building. The women are long gone, but these remnants of their simple belongings have survived, connecting us with the women and allowing us a glimpse into their lives and living conditions.

Returning to the barracks after more than 160 years to feature in the display, was an original trunk that once belonged to Irish orphan Margaret Hurley. Margaret was one of over 2000 Irish orphans who passed through the depot within its first few years, all victims of the Great Irish Famine. Just 17 years old, Margaret arrived at the depot in February 1850, and stayed briefly before being employed in Yass as a house servant. Margaret later married, had seven children and lived a long, full life.

With hundreds of thousands of descendants of the women in the community today, the Female Immigration Depot display contained a family album, giving descendants the opportunity to share stories.

Perhaps your ancestor stayed here? If so, we’d love to hear from you!

28 June 2014 - 31 December 2018