The Lancer Barracks - LSP00894 (Source: Local Studies Photographic Collection, City of Parramatta)
In 1818, under instructions from Governor Macquarie, Lieutenant John Watts of H.M. 46th Foot was commissioned to design the first substantial military barracks in Parramatta. It was finished and operational in 1820. This is now one of the oldest surviving, and still in use, military barracks in mainland Australia.
John Watts also designed other historical buildings in Parramatta. His surviving works include the Military Hospital at Observatory Hill built in 1815, now the National Trust Centre, Old Government House in Parramatta built in 1816 and the Towers of St. Johns Parramatta built in 1819.
Front view of Lancers Barracks
The military barracks originally stood in about eight acres of ground, being enclosed by a brick wall in front and stockade on the three other sides. In his report, Governor Macquarie described Lancers Barracks as:
"A new barrack built of brick, two storeys high, for the accommodation of 100 soldiers, with two wings, also built of brick, each one storey high and with verandahs for the accommodation of the full proportion of commissioned officers; having likewise all the necessary out offices for officers and men, together with a guard house and storehouse,...."
The buildings originally constructed were – two story men’s barracks, cookhouse, privies, officer’s quarters, guardroom, cells and store.
In 1821, Governor Macquarie chose the site for a new Commissariat Store, near the old barracks - near the eastern end of George Street. The new store was completed in 1825 and in 1828 a portion of it was fitted up for military quarters and mainly N.C.O’s and privates used it. The Commissariat Store in George Street was demolished in 1937.
Adapted from Plan of Military Barracks Parramatta c1820 (Mitchell Library Bonwick Transcipts box 36, Plan 9)
In 1833, repairs were undertaken to cut out decayed bricks. The 58th Regiments left the barracks in 1850. After that, the group of buildings had various occupants, including Royal Sappers and Miners. In 1862 after major repairs, the barracks were handed over to the Police Department who stayed there until 1897. The second phase of military use of the barracks began in 1897 and then in 1898 the site was listed as the Regimental Headquarters of the NSW Lancers.
The Lancer Barracks are significant for the following reasons:
- The Lancer Barracks is listed on the Register of the National Estate and is classified by the National Trust.
- Oldest surviving military barracks in mainland Australia and is still in use.
- Architect Lieutenant John Watts designed Lancer Barracks and Bob’s Hall. He was aide-de-camp to Governor Macquarie and an important early military architect. He has designed other significant buildings in Parramatta e.g. St Johns Towers.
- Lancer Barracks and Bob’s Hall are two of a small number of buildings surviving in NSW from Macquarie period.
- Its close association with the Royal NSW Lancers for their detailed history.
- Lancer Barracks is an important source of historical and archaeological remains and artefacts.
The story of the barracks is incomplete without the story of the Lancers.
The Lancers are Australia’s oldest and most decorated Regiments – 1 Light Horse Australian Imperial Force (AIF). The New South Wales Lancers went under a number of different names before the outbreak of World War One.
- The New South Wales (NSW) Lancers Regiment was formed in 1885 as the NSW Cavalry Reserves in 1885 with each group having its own territorial title.
- In 1889 it became known as the New South Wales Cavalry regiment and in 1908 was renamed the 1 Australian Light Horse Regiment.
- Finally in 1912, only two years before the war its name was changed again to the 7 Light Horse Brigade (NSW Lancers)
At the declaration of war in August 1914, there was a general call for volunteers to join an expeditionary force officially called the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). This force, once raised, was a completely separate force from the existing Australian Military Force (AMF). The AIF was disbanded at the end of the war.
In 1914, the 7 Light Horse was part of the AMF and was made up of three squadrons these were:
- Sydney A squadron
- Parramatta B Squadron
- Windsor Penrith and Luddenham C Squadron
Over the course of the war, most of the AMF units, including the NSW Lancers, remained unchanged in organisation and designation but the AIF drained from them those men who volunteered and were fit for war. However, a number of experienced veterans remained in the Lancers, while others were taken into the AIF as instructors. Those veterans who remained in Sydney and Parramatta squadrons patrolled the coast from Manly to Pittwater and in 1916 sub units were sent to guard the Prospect water supply.
During World War One:
- 1 Light Horse Regiment was the NSW contingent of the 1 Light Horse Brigade
- 2 Mainly Queensland
- 3 Mainly South Australia and Tasmania
- Light Horse Regiments made up the rest of the brigade
1 Light Horse Regiment of the AIF formed at Roseberry Park, Sydney In 1914 and was made up from active NSW men in militia regiments and men from country districts who could ride a horse. Major George Macarthur-Onslow was appointed to command but after he fell ill with appendicitis, 28 August 1914, Lieutenant-Colonel J B Meredith (Hunter River Lancers) assumed command of the force.
The 1 Light Horse Regiments made up of three parts:
- A Squadron under Major’s Reid and Lawry the commanding officers from New England Light Horse and Hunter River Lancers
- B Squadron under Major’s Irwin and Cox the commanding officers from Australian Horse and NSW Lancers
- C Squadron under Major Ganville, commanding officer from Hunter River Lancers and NSW Mounted Rifles
On the 20 October 1914, the 1 Light Horse Regiment as part of the 1 Light Horse Brigade left Sydney on ‘Star of Victoria.’ However, some of the men, including it seems, Major Cox remained behind as reinforcements and they were drafted into the 6 Regiment of the 2 Light Horse Brigade. This was raised in September and sailed from Sydney 24 December 1914. However both brigades served as infantry at Gallipoli from May 1915 till the withdrawal in December 1915.
On 12 May 1915 the 1 Light Horse Brigade landed at Gallipoli some 200 yards from Fisherman’s Hut, south of Pope’s Hill. The next day the 1 Light Horse Regiment took over front line tranches at Pope’s Hill with 2 Light Horse Regiment. In late May the 2 Light Horse Brigade landed Gallipoli attached to the 1st Australian Division. Charles Frederick Cox and the 6 Light Horse Regiment became responsible for a sector on the far right of the ANZAC line, and played a defensive role until it left the peninsula on 20 December 1915.
Landing at ANZAC Cove, Trenching at Gallipoli, Gallishaw, 1915
On 7 August the 1 Light Horse were ordered to attack at the same time as the soldiers at Walker’s and Quinn’s Post at the Chessboard. As a result 15 were killed, 98 wounded and 34 listed as missing. The Casualties included all the officers of B squadron, Major Reid and Lieutenant Nettleton’s bodies were not recovered. William Cox (Charles’ brother) and Lieutenant Tinson died a day later from their wounds.
On 20 December the 1 Light Horse Regiment were evacuated from Gallipoli.
The New South Wales Cavalry Reserves were formed in 1885, designated as the New South Wales Lancers in 1894, and granted a Royal prefix in 1935.
The Lancers, a militia Regiment, sent a squadron to fight in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900.
The Regiment formed the 1st Light Horse from it’s peacetime members to fight in World War I (1914-1918). the 1st Light Horse saw action in Gallipoli, and in Palestine, - playing an important role in the Battle of Beersheeba.
During World War II (1939-1945), the 1st Light Horse fought as a Tank Regiment in New Guinea and Borneo.
The Regimental Band - The 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers is one of the few Army regimental bands still in existence. The Band was formed in 1891 and is the oldest military band in Australia. The Lancer Band consists of Army Musicians who perform for Regimental functions, at public events, and for other Army Ceremonial tasks.
Neera Sahni, Research Services Leader, Parramatta Heritage Centre, City of Parramatta, 2020
- Australian War memorial, Second World War Matilda Tank, Retrieved on 20/10/2020 https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/parramatta-ww2-matilda-tank-named-ace
- Australian War Memorial, Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: Australia’s OBOE operations, Retrieved on 21/10/2020 https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/alliesinadversity/australia/oboe
- Australian War Memorial, Second World War Escape and Evasion compasses, Retrieved on 20/10/2020 https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/second-world-war-escape-and-evasion-compasses
- Battle for Australia Association, The Royal New South Wales Lancers in the Battle for Balikpapan 1945, Retrieved on 20/10/2020 https://battleforaustralia.org.au/Balikpapan.php
- British Pathé, Australians From Balikpapau (1945), Retrieved on 20/10/2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uSuHG5x6w4
- Lancers Barracks Parramatta: A History by Rosemary Annable, March 1992
- Lancers Barracks: Proposed Conservation Works, J Amanda Jean, 1995
- Museums & Galleries of NSW, Retrieved on 21/10/2020 https://mgnsw.org.au/organisations/nsw-lancers-memorial-museum/
- NSW Lancer, The NSW Lancers at Balikpapan 1945 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y8QxYKZKs4
- Paratrooper, Escape Compasses, Retrieved on 22/10/2020 https://www.paratrooper.be/articles/escape-compasses/
- Significance Assessment of the Collection held by the 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers Memorial Museum Incorporated, Tierney and Mason 2009 , Retrieved on 22/10/2020 https://www.lancers.org.au/documents/The_Collection.pdf
- The Royal New South Wales Lancers, Retrieved on 22/10/2020 https://www.lancers.org.au/site/Lancer_Barracks_Detailed_History.php
- The Royal New South Wales Lancers, Retrieved on 21/10/2020 http://www.lancers.org.au/index.php
- The Conservation Center, Yosegaki Hinomaru: The Good Luck Flag, Retrieved on 20/10/2020 http://www.theconservationcenter.com/articles/2016/5/16/yosegaki-hinomaru-the-good-luck-flag
- Wikipedia, 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, Retrieved on 20/10/2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st/15th_Royal_New_South_Wales_Lancers
- Wikipedia, NSW lancers Memorial Museum, Retrieved on 23/10/2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_South_Wales_Lancers_Memorial_Museum