Parramatta Justice Precinct Heritage Courtyard

Helping visitors perceive what may have been…

By Michaela Ann Cameron

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Most people do not even know about the Heritage Courtyard at 160 Marsden Street, Parramatta. In truth, I had already selected stops and worked out a route for the “CONVICT PARRAMATTA” walking tour I developed for the Dictionary of Sydney Walks app before I discovered this hidden gem. Not surprisingly, once I was aware of the site I made the necessary changes to the tour route so I could include this incredible place on the walk through Convict Parramatta.

Before 1789, the land that is now part of the Parramatta Justice Precinct was part of the Burramatta hunting lands. From 1789, that same land was continuously occupied for two centuries by healthcare services including Parramatta’s first three hospitals, which were dedicated to convict healthcare: The General Hospital, in both its “tent” and “brick” incarnations, and The Colonial Hospital.

The “Tent” Hospital that served as the General Hospital’s first incarnation. Note, however, that the “Tent” hospital was not actually a tent, as depicted here. It received that moniker because it consisted of two wooden sheds that were shaped like tents. Photo by Michaela Ann Cameron taken from an image displayed at the Brislington Medical and Nursing Museum [2014]
In August 2005 the idea of centralising legal services by turning Parramatta’s former Hospital Precinct into the Justice Precinct became a reality when global contracting and development company Brookfield Multiplex were awarded the contract to carry out the works. These works encompassed the refurbishment of the heritage-listed Jeffery House, the construction of a Children’s Court for juvenile offenders, a trial court for criminal trials, Justice Precinct Offices for the NSW Attorney General’s Department, and ‘broad areas of public space.’ Architecture company, Bates Smart, was responsible for the Masterplan, the Justice Precinct Offices, and the centrally located courtyard at 160 Marsden Street.[1]

Location plan of the Parramatta convict hospital, Parramatta Justice Precinct site shaded grey. Photo: Casey & Lowe in Denise Donlon, Mary Casey, Wolfgang Haak and Christina Adler, “Early Colonial Burial Practices for Perinates at the Parramatta Convict Hospital, NSW,” Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 26 (2008): 71-83
Location plan of the Parramatta convict hospital, Parramatta Justice Precinct site shaded grey. Photo: Casey & Lowe in Denise Donlon, Mary Casey, Wolfgang Haak and Christina Adler, “Early Colonial Burial Practices for Perinates at the Parramatta Convict Hospital, NSW,” Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 26 (2008): 71-83

Prior to the construction of the Precinct’s new buildings, archaeological excavations were undertaken on what was clearly an important site in Australia’s colonial history. This was, after all, the workplace of Australia’s first emancipated convict, John Irving, who worked there as a surgeon! (And that is only one of the important colonial figures associated with this site). The lesser-known con, William H. Bennett, who went on to become one of Parramatta’s “eminent bakers” and lived and worked in the cottages known as the Traveller’s Rest Inn, initially worked as a convict on the construction of the 1818 hospital as a member of Richard Rouse’s town gang, too.

The archaeological excavations were carried out in two stages in 2006 on the cleared site by archaeology and heritage consultants Casey & Lowe.[2] Their findings tangibly reinforced existing notions of the state heritage listed site’s historical significance in its own right, but also highlighted the site’s connections to other major convict sites in Parramatta, such as the Female Factory and St John’s Cemetery.

One interesting archaeological find was a small, shallow circular grave containing the remains of two babies ‘immediately north of the southern boundary wall and immediately east of the 1790s storage cellar,’[3] dating from the second hospital era, specifically the late 1790s to early 1800s.

Skeletons of two infants found in a shallow burial beneath the charcoal and soil yard deposit. Image: Casey & Lowe, “Preliminary Results Archaeological Excavation Stage 2c (September, 2006) p.16

When archaeologists working on the dig asked, “Who were the most likely mothers of these two infants?” their conclusion was that they were “[p]robably convict women, possibly ones who sought refuge at the convict hospital as there was limited accommodation for convict women in Parramatta prior to 1818 unless they provided it for themselves, through whatever means,” or “were assigned servants or hut keepers.”[4] This was a period when the first Female Factory, known as “The Factory Above the Gaol,” did not offer much in the way of accommodation and convict women were considered “troublesome” by authorities. It was also a time when those convict women were reportedly not receiving adequate medical care.[5] Thus, the burial of these two perinatal infants at the hospital indicates “that the two mothers were likely to have been in poor health and had been removed from their likely accommodation at the Female Factory.” “It is quite possible,” writes Donlon et. al., “that the mothers, along with their infants, died at the hospital but unlike them were buried at St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta.”[6]

The archaeologists note that some care was taken to bury the two infants in a somewhat Christian manner, despite their burial on unconsecrated ground. This is even more interesting when contrasted with the remains of four more babies uncovered during further excavations; one had been disposed of in a storage cellar while the other three were thrown out into an open rubbish pit, “which was filled up with the sweepings from the fireplace of the nearby kitchen.”[7] Indeed, “their remains may have been partially exposed until the rubbish pit was closed or the next lot of burnt rubbish was thrown onto the top of the dead infants.” It is thought that this disposal of these children represents “a return to the hospital of convict women,” despite the fact that the second Parramatta Female Factory later had a “lying in” hospital.[8] The theory is that this possibly indicates the mothers had been extremely ill or the births had been especially difficult and had, thus, required their transfer to the main convict hospital. Other remains uncovered in a pit from the 1818 hospital era included animal bones and even an amputated human hand!

Bones from an amputated left hand, two teeth and possible foetal bones. Image: Casey & Lowe, p.27
Bones from an amputated left hand, two teeth and possible foetal bones. Image: Casey & Lowe, “Preliminary Results Archaeological Excavation Stage 2c (September, 2006) p.27
Plan of the hospital area and the main structures from the second and third convict hospitals. Black = third hospital. Grey = second hospital. Note the convict hut structures in the top right, where Brislington is now situated. Image: Casey & Lowe in Denise Donlon, Mary Casey, Wolfgang Haak and Christina Adler, “Early Colonial Burial Practices for Perinates at the Parramatta Convict Hospital, NSW,” Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 26 (2008): 71-83

Evidence of one of the convict huts that lined both sides of Australia’s first planned road George Street (originally known as High Street) was also found on the corner of George and Marsden Streets during these excavations. The convict hut was the first European structure ever erected on that corner allotment. Brislington, a considerably grander abode with a colourful history, replaced the humble 1790s convict hut around 1821 and still occupies its prime position on the corner.

The old Hospital site’s rich heritage meant the architects, Bates Smart, needed to ‘historically contextualise and bring visual dynamism’ to the Justice Precinct development by ‘creating an environment that balanced profound sentiment with a visually stimulating sensibility.’[9] The architects achieved this balance with their Heritage Courtyard by creating what is, essentially, an outdoor museum.



Stone pavers containing historical facts mark the spots where footing trenches for the walls of the 1818 kitchen outbuilding stood, as well as the location of the hospital’s 1844 stone boundary wall which replaced the original timber stockade,[10] and where archaeologists discovered a deep well and cistern that supplied the Colonial Hospital’s laundry and cookhouse with water in the 1820s.

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Visitors can also view sketches, maps, and images, and read about colourful convicts associated with the site, like the keeper of a ‘disorderly house,’ gambler, marble-slab stealer, sometimes-licenced publican, frequent ‘sly grog’ trader, and ex-con, John Hodges of Brislington.

Primary source quotations are beautifully incorporated on the glass doors of the modern pavilions.

Artefacts from the convicts’ everyday life, like pots and clay pipes found during excavations are also on display.

Even brick portions of the hospital’s privy system have been partially excavated and can be viewed in situ today!

The hospital privy system displayed at the Heritage Courtyard, Parramatta Justice Precinct. Photo: Michaela Ann Cameron [2014]
The hospital privy system displayed at the Heritage Courtyard, Parramatta Justice Precinct. Photo: Michaela Ann Cameron [2014]
The main hospital’s wall footings are also displayed in situ and contain flat sandstock bricks with rare double arrow markings, likely made at The Crescent in Parramatta Park or at Brickfield Street.[11] While the broad arrow was indicative of convict-made bricks and therefore, government ownership, the archaeologists responsible for the site’s excavation assert that the double arrow marking is isolated to this site in Parramatta, potentially as a way of showing that these bricks were specifically intended for the hospital building.[12] The stone boundary wall dating from the period when the Colonial Hospital converted to a public hospital has also been reconstructed.

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Bates Smart were also advised by art consultant Virginia Wilson to install three ‘site specific’[13] works that adequately ‘celebrate the historic significance of the site and interpret the history to a broad audience, through landscape, archaeology and built interpretations.’[14] One of those three artworks was a public artwork called Landslide (2007) by Australian artist Mel O’Callaghan.

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O’Callaghan’s Landslide is located on a section of the Parramatta riverbank that runs from the Heritage Courtyard, adjacent to the Justice Offices building within the Parramatta Justice Precinct — not far from where convict huts once lined both sides of nearby George Street and dominated the 1790 landscape. Landslide, so named because it has purposely been given the appearance of sliding into the Parramatta River, ‘provides a metaphor for history as a transient phenomenon determined by perceptions.’[15] Primarily, though, the artwork serves as ‘an abstract representation of a convict hut’s wall’[16] and, thus, is to be read as ‘a slice of a past reality that has literally been covered with layers of history and memories.’ [17]

The other works Bates Smart utilised for the project include one of the largest landscape artworks in New South Wales, Gary Carsley’s 22.4 by 6.3-metre ‘draguerreotype’[18] Pharmacopeia of the Burramatta. Carsley’s piece features digitally abstracted Parramatta Parklands reassembled on glass in ‘a large-scale faux intarsia, formed from scanned timber grains’[19] and occupies a whole wall in the public foyer of the Justice Offices. A second O’Callaghan sculpture entitled All in One Day was commissioned for the Trial Courts foyer.

All of this has been done at this site with the aim of commemorating and “help[ing] visitors perceive what may have been”[20] and that is something that Bates Smart have certainly achieved!

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The Heritage Courtyard is featured as a “stop” on the first leg of a brand new walking tour called “CONVICT PARRAMATTA,” which I developed for the Dictionary of Sydney Walks app. It’s available to download for free via GooglePlay and the App Store.

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Follow these social media accounts:

Bates Smart: Instagram @batessmart and Twitter @batessmart

Dictionary of Sydney: Twitter @DictionaryofSyd

The Old Parramattan: Instagram @oldparramatta and Twitter @oldparramatta

Sydney History: Twitter @sydneyhistory

Check out the Casey & Lowe website too: www.caseyandlowe.com.au


FURTHER READING:

Denise Donlon, Mary Casey, Wolfgang Haak and Christina Adler, “Early Colonial Burial Practices for Perinates at the Parramatta Convict Hospital, NSW,” Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 26 (2008): 71-83

Michaela Ann Cameron, A Walk Through Convict Parramatta, Dictionary of Sydney, (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, Brislington, Dictionary of Sydney (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, Convict Parramatta Launch2ser Radio, (7 October 2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, Factory Above the Gaol, Dictionary of Sydney (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, Outdoor Museums, History Matters (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, Parramatta’s Convict Huts, The Old Parramattan (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, Parramatta Female Factory, Dictionary of Sydney (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, Parramatta’s General Hospital, Dictionary of Sydney (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, The Colonial Hospital, Dictionary of Sydney (2015)

Michaela Ann Cameron, William H. Bennett, Dictionary of Sydney (2015)


NOTES:

[1] Bates Smart, “Projects: Community and Culture: Courtyard Pavilions Parramatta Justice Precinct,” http://www.batessmart.com/bates-smart/projects/sectors/community-culture/courtyard-pavilions-parramatta-justice-precinct/ viewed 20 March 2015

[2] Casey & Lowe Pty. Ltd., http://www.caseyandlowe.com.au/sitepjp.htm and http://www.caseyandlowe.com.au/reptpjp.htm viewed 20 March 2015

[3] Mary Casey and Tony Lowe, ‘Preliminary Excavation Report, Stage 2c Part 1 Final’ (September 2006), 14 http://www.caseyandlowe.com.au/pdf/pjp/pjpstage2cpart1.pdf viewed 19 March 2015

[4] Denise Donlon, Mary Casey, Wolfgang Haak and Christina Adler, “Early Colonial Burial Practices for Perinates at the Parramatta Convict Hospital, NSW,” Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 26 (2008): 75

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid pp.76-7

[9] Gillian Serisier, ‘The Art of Space. The Space of Art,’ Australian Design Review, (1 June 2009) http://www.australiandesignreview.com/features/588-the-art-of-space-the-space-of-art viewed 10 January 2015

[10] Mary Casey and Tony Lowe, ‘Preliminary Excavation Report, Stage 2c Part 2 Final’ (Marrickville, NSW: Casey and Lowe Pty Ltd, September 2006), 38–9, http://www.caseyandlowe.com.au/pdf/pjp/pjpstage2cpart2.pdf viewed 19 March 2015

[11] Mary Casey and Tony Lowe, ‘Preliminary Excavation Report, Stage 2c Part 1 Final’ (Marrickville, NSW: Casey and Lowe Pty Ltd, September 2006), 20 http://www.caseyandlowe.com.au/pdf/pjp/pjpstage2cpart1.pdf viewed 19 March 2015

[12] ‘Convict Arrow Bricks,’ Mary Casey and Tony Lowe, http://www.caseyandlowe.com.au/find_arrow_bricks.htm viewed 19 March 2015

[13] Gillian Serisier, ‘Public Domain Contemporary’ ARTMARKET Report, Issue 40 (Third Quarter, 2011), 63 http://mouldcam.com/pdfs/BlighSt.pdf viewed 10 January 2015

[14] Bates Smart, “Projects: Community and Culture: Courtyard Pavilions Parramatta Justice Precinct,” http://www.batessmart.com/bates-smart/projects/sectors/community-culture/courtyard-pavilions-parramatta-justice-precinct/ viewed 20 March 2015

[15] Gillian Serisier, “The Art of Space. The Space of Art,” Australian Design Review, (1 June 2009) http://www.australiandesignreview.com/features/588-the-art-of-space-the-space-of-art viewed 10 January 2015

[16] The source for this description is a plaque associated with the artwork and located on site. Mel O’Callaghan, Landslide, Attorney General’s Department, The Justice Precinct, Parramatta, Sydney, Australia (2007)

[17] Ibid

[18] A play on the word daguerreotype, ‘draguerreotype’ is Carsley’s term for ‘a series of digital images that are also outputted as photographic monoprints.’ See “Public Art” http://www.discoverparramatta.com/places/arts_and_culture/public_art?SQ_DESIGN_NAME=print viewed 20 March 2015

[19] Laura Harding, “Parramatta Justice Precinct,” Architecture Australia Vol. 98, No. 5 (September 2009), http://architectureau.com/articles/parramatta-justice-precinct/ viewed 20 March 2015

[20] Bates Smart, “Courtyard Pavilions Parramatta Justice Precinct, Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales,” http://www.batessmart.com/bates-smart/projects/sectors/community-culture/courtyard-pavilions-parramatta-justice-precinct/ viewed 19 March 2015

© Michaela Ann Cameron, 2015