Anglesea Barracks is Australia’s oldest military establishment still in use. It’s historic and cultural significance is recognised in it’s inclusion on the Commonwealth Heritage list. The architecture dates from 1814, shortly after the settlement of Hobart in 1803 and 16 years before Port Arthur was established. It reflects the changes resulting from 60 years of British military government in the 1800’s, their departure in 1870 and the Federation of the Australian States in 1901.
Governor Macquarie, who had replaced the infamous Governor Bligh and his Rum Corps in New South Wales, visited the fledgling colony in 1811. He commanded that accommodation for 200 soldiers, officers and a hospital be built on what he called ‘Barrack Hill’. This was not only for strategic defence purposes but also for the segregation of the troops from the convicts and other settlers.
Fraternisation between soldiers and convicts was understandable as many shared a common class background and also fought together in military campaigns throughout the Empire. With the establishment of the barracks, contact with the convict population was restricted and the feared threat of moral contamination and behaviour was minimised.
The site on top of Barrack Hill gave clear and strategic views of the river, the settlement and the new Signal Station at Mount Nelson. It’s influence over the town was more than military. The barracks became the social hub of the settlement and it was commonly said that ‘the best view in town could be had from the Officers Mess (now the Sergeants’ Mess).
“[The Officers Mess was] the most spacious in the colony, even more so than the newly built Government House. Quite the place to dine!” (Hobart Town Gazette, 1829)
In 1828, the 63rd Regiment of Foot made the barracks the town’s social centre with parties and dances. Colonial artist John Glover, wrote of Anglesea Barracks at the time, as a fashionable promenade. In 1833, wealthy officers from the 21st Regiment were popular, no doubt as potential source of eligible husbands for the colonies young ladies. To add to this attraction and the entertainment of the colony the 21st also had their very own band.
The Department of Defence has been a caring owner of this Commonwealth Heritage listed precinct. Located behind the entrance gates is the Parade Ground surrounded by 15 sites/buildings of significant heritage merit. Also in the grounds is an impressive collection of historic canon and artillery dated from 1840 to 1970. The buildings internally have a variety uses but externally most have been restored to create what is regarded as one of Australia’s most important historical precincts, a place where you can truly step back in time.