Fremantle Stuff > buildings > Pensioner Barracks. See also: Fremantle Pensioner Barracks, Perth military barracks.
Photograph by Alfred Pickering, c. 1900, courtesy of SLWA, call number 011486D (Facebook). Click/tap for larger size.
Designed by Richard Roach Jewell, the Barracks was originally built 1863-1866 to house the Enrolled Pensioner Force which came to Australia as guards on convict ships, and were given small land grants in return for part-time guard work. The bulk of convict work moved from Fremantle to Perth in the 1860s, so there was a need to accommodate many Enrolled Pensioners and their families. (There was another such - earlier - barracks, in Fremantle, from 1853.)
Jewell designed the three-storey building in Tudor style that resembled a medieval castle. The building was brick, rather than more expensive stone, and horizontal lines emphasised by using lines of paler colour bricks underneath the windows. The roof was made of timber shingles. The building was finished in 1866, and was later extended to house an additional 21 families. Each family apartment had two rooms, each about 13 feet by 11 feet, with at least one fireplace. The outbuildings included a cookhouse, firing range and gun-room, wash-house, stores and stables, and a fives court (for a ball game played with the hands) constructed later.
A fire in 1887 destroyed the timber flooring of the east wing and the second floor of the central section. Water was pumped by hand pumps from the Swan River and brought by buckets through a chain of volunteers. The burnt sections were later restored.
The Barracks were gradually converted to offices for the Public Works Department between 1900 and 1904, becoming its headquarters in 1904. Notable occupants included C. Y. O'Connor, whose office was immediately above the arch. The fives court housed the drawing office, and eventually connected to a mid-1920s addition for the Metropolitan Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage department. The Public Works Department and Metropolitan Water Board moved to Dumas House in March 1966. (Wikipedia, whence the second-top photo also.)
Most of the building was demolished in 1966, under the Brand government, leaving only the entrance block. Mitchell Freeway construction required the removal of most of the building, leaving only the entrance block. Brand wanted to remove the 'arch', as the entrance block is called, so that parliament could have an uninterrupted view down the Terrace, but public opinion prevented that.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE LIVING INSIDE THE OLD PENSIONER BARRACKS 1866-1911?
While it may have looked like a castle, no fine Lords and Ladies ever lived within the walls of the old Pensioner Barracks in Perth.
Rather they were humble people. Men who for services rendered to their Queen and country, were brought to Western Australia to end their days in the enjoyment of secured quarters and a modest daily allowance.
The majority of the pensioners and their wives were Irish. ‘One can only imagine the great pain they felt in leaving their native land – that Isle of Beauty – then after a long, long voyage, landing on sandy, unlovely soil in an unknown land’.
Taking on the roughness of colonial life was particularly brave and life in the Barracks on the corner of Elder and Malcolm Street, was far from the humble comforts of their English or Irish barrack lives.
Constructed in the battlement Tudor style, the Pensioner Barracks was an imposing edifice in the landscape. Standing out boldly in its red newness over the grey-green bush and sand that sloped down towards Perth proper.
In the early days there was a large clock above the front arch regulated by old fashioned weights. The bell that struck the hours of the clock, was also the fire bell and was clanged loudly whenever a fire occurred.
Mr Bowra the watchmaker of those days held the contract for the regulation and winding up of all Government clocks. He journeyed up weekly and gladdened the hearts of the children of the barracks, who loved to watch him open the casements and adjust the weights. Excitements ran small in those days.
On the right of the arch were six cells for drunken or refractory pensioners and on the left possibly a guard-room. Above these were four large rooms, two on either side, used as a store-room, ward-room, office and children’s school-room.
From the top of the tower, reached by stairs and ladder, was a most comprehensive view of Perth. Taking in all the points of the compass, no one could approach from any side without being observed.
The wings projecting from either side of the central building, each contained thirty-three rooms, eleven on each floor. Tiny apartments made up of two to three rooms, housing up to ten children!
The living room in each apartment opened onto a veranda. There was a fireplace, a dresser with crockery, table and chairs. The bed-room held wooden pegs over which a curtain was drawn and an iron bedstead. Bedding and children’s cots were supplied but how they could fit was a mystery. Being Tudor built there was not much view to be obtained from the windows unless one was tall and some rooms were oddly shaped.
The square courtyard inside the barracks year was bricked over and washed daily. Neatness and cleanliness reigned throughout. Not a single article of any kind, chair, table or toy was allowed on the verandahs, a breach meant a “jacketing” (flogging).
Every night at 10pm the Corporal went round to every door and tapped to know which 'inmates' were in. If there was no response it was reported. 10pm signified “lights out” however many a young lad and lass still managed to sneak out to town dances or to visit their citizen lovers. “Love finds a way through bars, locks and sentries”.
Also inside the Pensioners Barracks, a canteen which in 1911 opened for two hours twice daily, at noon and 6pm. Married pensioners were given rations of 1 ½ pounds of meat per day, black sugar (unrefined cane sugar), tea and flour. There was a bake-house, an adjoining wash-house and an engine house containing a fire engine with a well sunk beside it.
The pensioners mounted guard daily and nightly at the old prisons and guarded Government House from 8am to 8pm.
In the low-lying lands of West Perth towards Leederville was the Pensioners Village. Here warders and older pensioners lived in two-roomed government cottages. There was many a battle between the young boys belonging to the barracks known as the “Barrack Shiners” and the sons of Pensioners Village known as the “Swamp Shiners”. No game of cricket or football ever ended without a fight.
(Source - Daisy M. Bates, Western Mail, 1911)
Wikipedia page for the Barracks Arch, whence top photo; 1960s photo Battye nd.
HeritagePerth page about the remnant entrance, called the 'Barracks Arch', whence second-bottom photo, '1800s'.
LifeOnPerth page for the Barracks Arch.
Page for Alfred Pickering.
Garry Gillard | New: 4 June, 2018 | Now: 9 May, 2022