Barracks Arch, one of Perth’s iconic historic buildings is located at the top of St George’s Terrace, next to Mitchell Freeway. Built in 1866 it was originally the entrance to a large building called the Pensioner Barracks.
The Barracks was built to house the Enrolled Pensioner Force (also known as ‘Pensioner Guards’). The guards came to Australia on the convict ships that transported nearly 10,000 prisoners to Western Australia between 1850 – 1868.
The men were retired solders and, along with their wives and children, eventually increased the population of Western Australia by over 2,000 people. After arrival the ex-soldiers had an option to continue duty as convict guards or remain as settlers with a 10 acre plot of land.
Initially based in Fremantle, the majority of convict work moved to Perth in 1860 which made it necessary to relocate the guards. The move created a need for accommodation in Perth for both the Enrolled Pensioners and their families.
Architect Richard Roach Jewell was appointed to design an appropriate building. He was at the time an employee of the Department of Public Works. He had arrived in Western Australia in 1851 and designed many of the important public buildings in Perth during the latter half of the nineteenth century, including the Pensioner Barracks. Some of his others designs include boys’ schools in Perth and Fremantle, Wesley Church, the oldest section of the Treasury Buildings, Perth Town Hall, Perth Goal and Government House.
For the Barracks Jewell decided to design the three-storey building in a Tudor Gothic style that resembled a medieval castle. Each family apartment had two rooms about 3.9 metres by 6.9 metres and featured at least one fi replace. Outbuildings contained the cook house, gun room and fi ring range, wash house, stores and stables. The Barracks was completed in 1866 with 120 rooms but was later extended to house an additional 21 families.
The families settled into life at the Barracks but sometime in the 1880’s it was decided to abolish the Enrolled Pensioner Force and form a new unit from its members. The final Enrolled Guard parade took place in March 1887.
The unit changes and departure of residents was not the only major thing to happen at the Barracks in 1887. In that year, there was a serious fi re, but astonishingly the buildings were saved by hand pumping water from the Swan River which was carried to the fire by a human chain of volunteers with buckets. Whilst the buildings withstood the fire, timber flooring was destroyed but later restored. The fire also largely destroyed the clock situated above the arch entrance. During repairs the opening above the arch that had housed the clock was enlarged and converted into a window.
From 1900-1904, the Arch buildings were gradually converted to offices.
In the 1960’s the Government surmised there was no need for the Barracks and decided to demolish the buildings.
The announcement created a public uproar and motivated the Royal Western Australian Historical Society to form a Barracks Defence Council. The Council worked diligently to keep the Arch however demolition proceeded and in 1966 all but the Arch was demolished.