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A Garrison Town: The Military in The Rocks
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A Garrison Town: The Military in The Rocks

The 1815 Military Hospital on Observatory Hill


The New South Wales Marine Corps accompanied the naval ships of the First Fleet and were housed in tents around the Parade Ground—now the intersection of George and Grosvenor Streets. Recalled in December 1792, they were replaced by the New South Wales Corps, who constructed a military barracks at what is now Wynyard.

The ‘Loyal and Associated Corps’, raised in 1800, was a volunteer militia made up of former soldiers, emancipists, free settlers and trusted convicts. Known as the ‘Loyalist Association’, it was created for internal defence,
particularly against Irish political exiles from the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798.


Colonel Lachlan Macquarie arrived in 1809 with the 73rd Royal Highlanders Regiment to retake control of the colony. After this British regiments served an average four to seven years. They were garrisoned at the Military Barracks at Wynyard until 1848, when they moved to Victoria Barracks in Paddington. Meanwhile barracks and officers’ accommodation for the Royal Artillery existed at Dawes Point between 1856 and 1870.

The Rocks also hosted the Royal Engineers. Lieutenant Colonel George Barney, the most notable, was attached to the Colonial Government. He oversaw construction of Circular Quay, several forts around the harbour, and other major engineering projects, and lived with his family at Dawes Point Battery in the 1830s to ’40s.


The Military Hospital opened on Observatory Hill in 1815, operating until 1848, when it moved to Victoria Barracks. From 1849 the building became the Fort Street Model School, which raised the first Army Cadet Unit in a state school in NSW, and also trained Cadet Instructors.

Holy Trinity Church in Argyle Place, opened in 1844, became widely known as the Garrison Church. It served the Royal Artillery’s battery at Dawes Point, and continues to hold services for Australia’s military. Many Australian Defence Force units have plaques and memorials in the church.

Early pub names in the area reflected the military influence, with several run by former soldiers. The Dragoon on George Street was owned by Matthew Gibbons; transported as a convict on the Second Fleet, he enlisted in the NSW Corps in 1793. When the Corps went back to England he transferred to the Prince of Wales Regiment of Dragoons, later returning to Sydney, and opening the hotel in 1809. The Evening Gun on Cumberland St referred to the firing of a gun at sunset to mark the end of the day for the troops, while The Chelsea Pensioner on Grosvenor St was named after The Royal Hospital at Chelsea, which housed retired soldiers.

The Lord Nelson, opening on Argyle Street in 1841, initially had competition across the road from The Napoleon Inn (1839–50), while The Hero of Waterloo (Lower Fort Street) opened in 1845. Its publican was George Paton, the stonemason responsible for building the Garrison Church; he constructed the hotel with sandstone blocks quarried by convicts that were deemed not good enough for the church. The Fortune of War on George Street began wholesaling wine in 1823, became a hotel in 1830, and today is an important gathering point for serving and
former soldiers on ANZAC Day.

The British Army withdrew from New South Wales in 1870; in its place local militias were formed into the colonial armies, which in
turn became the Australian Army after 1901.

Image courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW: The 1815 Military Hospital on Observatory Hill. Converted to become a school in 1849, it now serves as the headquarters of the National Trust (NSW). This view from the verandah overlooking The Rocks and Sydney Harbour, published in 1820, shows two officers of the 48th Regiment. Drawn by Major James Taylor.