The Museum of Perth chronicles the social, cultural, political and architectural history of Perth.
One of Perth’s historic landmark buildings, the iconic Barracks Arch is one of the city’s oldest buildings, and has been described by some as our very own Arc de triomphe.
Built to house the Pensioner Guards, British military personnel who served in the convict transports from Europe, Barracks Arch was one of the largest buildings in the State and was a major staging ground for the small contingent of British soldiers living in WA.
Barracks Arch, also known as Pensioner’s Arch, was originally designed by colonial architect Richard Roach Jewell prior to 1863 to house the members and families of the Pensioner Guard. Designed in the style of a Tudor Gothic castle, Barracks Arch was built using brick as it was a much cheaper material compared to stone, with timber shingles making up the roofing. Surrounding buildings connected to the structure included a firing range and armory, cookhouse, wash-room, stables, and store rooms. A court for the popular “fives” game was added later for the residents leisure. The original 60 living areas for each household consisted of two rooms with one fireplace each. The structure was extended to house an additional 21 households. Pictured, the barracks in 1866, three years after construction began in 1863. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
A fire in 1887 partially destroyed the eastern wing of the barracks, with volunteers subduing the blaze by hand pumping water out of the Swan River and carrying it to the site in buckets. That same year the Enrolled Pensioner Force, remnants of the Pensioner Guard that decided to remain in active service after settlement, was abolished and the final parade took place in March of 1887.
The Pensioners Barracks remained without a tenant for several years. During the period between 1900 and 1904 the living quarters were converted into offices as a means to redevelop the use of the site. The offices were designed to be the headquarters of the Public Works Department, and later the Metropolitan Water, Sewage, and Drainage Department. Pictured, C.Y.O’Connor, famous for the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme and the design of Fremantle Harbor, was the first engineer-in-chief of the Public Works Department during their tenancy within the barracks. His office was positioned directly above the arch.