Archaeology in 5 pictures, no. 1: Absinthe bottle, Melbourne, c. 1870

To celebrate National Archaeology Week (17-23 May), this week we're sharing five images, and the stories behind them, from our archaeology books. For more on Archaeology Week, including an impressive line-up of online events, head to and follow #2020NAW on Twitter. You can see all of our archaeology titles here.

Archaeology in 5 pictures, no. 1: Absinthe bottle, Melbourne, c. 1870

This absinthe bottle was found in a rubbish pit in Little Lon, aka the Commonwealth Block, in the north-eastern corner of Melbourne’s CBD, at the site of a shop run by Alicia Bond.


A dark green glass bottle, scratched and scuffed

From “Diversity and Change in Little Lon” by Sarah Hayes and Barbara Minchinton, in The Commonwealth Block, Melbourne by Tim Murray et al. , part of the Studies in Australasian Archaeology Series. Photograph by Bronwyn Woff via Museums Victoria.

“Mrs Bond was an Irish widow who first came to public notice in 1862 when she was reported as running a ‘disreputable house’ in Stephen (Exhibition) Street. Her (at that time) de facto husband, William Bond, had been attacked by her son from her previous marriage, and her evidence at the trial revealed that her husband barely worked, and ‘she could not see her children starve, and had at first taken in washing, and then had to keep a brothel to support the family’ (The Argus, 30 April 1862: 5).

“Mrs Bond was raising three children in this manner until her drunken, violent husband died of tuberculosis in 1863. Then she began accumulating assets; she first bought a two-roomed cottage off Lonsdale Street … Within a few years she had purchased three more houses in Lonsdale Street; two were rented to sex workers, but she turned the third one into a grocer’s shop. The historical records represent it clearly as a genuine shop, but a close inspection of a rubbish pit on the lot supported McCarthy’s conjecture that the site was used as a brothel (McCarthy 1989: 129).

“The pit was distinctive with regard to artefact types and distributions: it contained a large number of champagne, imported spirits and absinthe bottles, and over 300 oyster shells (McCarthy 1989: 126) … The absinthe bottles (representing 28% of all beverage storage bottles from the pit) were particularly noteworthy, given their absence across the rest of Little Lon. The only other deposit which yielded absinthe bottles was the cesspit on the same lot. Absinthe, or ‘the green fairy’, was an alcoholic drink with a reputation for being hallucinogenic; it was available from the 18th century but reached new heights of popularity in bohemian Paris in the late 19th century, coinciding with the timing of Mrs Bond’s occupancy of lot 30.”

This bottle also featured in the Old Treasury Building's exhibition “Gold Rush: 20 Objects, 20 Stories” in 2018.

For more images from the digs at Little Lon, explore the Commonwealth Block collection at Museums Victoria.