Archaeology in 5 pictures, no. 5: Cotton bodice in purple print from Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 19th century

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Archaeology in 5 pictures, no. 5: Cotton bodice in purple print from Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 19th century

Colour photograph of a short-sleeved bodice with a V neck, fine purple print and plain calico sleeves.

From An Archaeology of Institutional Confinement: The Hyde Park Barracks, 1848–1886 by Peter Davies, Penny Crook and Tim Murray, part of the Studies in Australasian Historical Archaeology Series

"Several items of clothing identified in the Barracks underfloor collection probably relate to convicts. The most notable example is a complete blue striped cotton shirt found on Level 3 (UF51). This neatly sewn garment includes a simple upright collar with two bone buttons, a narrow v-neck, and gathered cuffs on the sleeves. A small broad arrow stamp on the tail marks the garment as government property, although this style of shirt was worn by both convicts and free workers. Another patched and poorly preserved shirt (UF8114) was also found on Level 3, while a set of hand-sewn linen braces (UF53) includes remnants of yellow wool (Parramatta) cloth. This item may have been made from the lining of a convict jacket.

"Several historians have pointed out that convicts in Australia did not necessarily dress differently from other colonists, which, as we note above, often made it difficult for new arrivals from England to distinguish between convicts and other groups (Elliott 1995; Maynard 1994:14–23). Margaret Maynard (1994:21)has also argued that coarse yellow clothing was synonymous with convicts in the 1820s and 1830s,and that the Hyde Park Barracks (HPB) shirt (UF51)could actually have belonged to a soldier.

"Clothing was available from various suppliers in colonial Australia. Local tailors made garments for men, but they struggled to compete against cheaper imports from England. There was little in the way of readymade clothing for women and children, however, until the 1880s. Public auction and the second-hand market thus remained important sources of clothing for many people, while tailors and dressmakers made clothing to order (Maynard 1994:39–40). Most women, however, made their own clothing, as well as clothing for their husbands and children. From the 1850s onwards this became easier with the introduction of self-acting sewing machines, and the production of dress patterns and pattern books for use in the home (Arnold 1977:3; Godley 1996; Knox 1995:77–78).

"Many of the Asylum women wore thick, machine knitted stockings made from cotton or wool, either calf or knee length. Knitted fabric is more elastic than woven fabric because it is composed of interlocking loops made from one continuous piece of thread, providing a flexible, smooth fit for items worn close to the body such as socks or stockings (Palmer1984:3). Numerous examples of stockings have been found in the underfloor collection, including one that bore the HPB laundry stamp (UF11734). Most of the stockings had been darned or repaired at some stage, with most wear at the toes and heels. A pair of pale blue, knee-high socks from Level 3may have been worn in bed by invalids (UF10760;Figure 5.37), while an intact stocking made from silk and fine cotton featured an embroidered flower above the ankle (UF948). Two much-worn slippers were also found on Level 3, with leather soles and heels, chamois sides and cotton lining (UF127).

"Pieces of fabric from garments for upper parts of the body, and bodices were also recovered from the Asylum rooms on Level 3, including handsewn sleeves made in segments from various plain cotton offcuts (UF5534, UF11629). Most sleeves were long (shoulder to hand) and several still had wrist buttons attached (Figure 5.38). A remarkably well preserved cotton bodice was found in the large southern dormitory of the Asylum. It was made from purple-printed cotton with short calico sleeves and metal hooks-and-eyes (UF52; Figure 5.39). The item features a shallow V-neck and pleats to gather the garment at the waist, and it has a HPB laundry stamp at the rear.

"The mix of fabrics used in the bodice is evidence of a highly individual manufacture or alteration, perhaps made by one of the Asylum women for herself or a friend. Another complete cotton bodice, for a child or infant, was found under the stair landing on Level 3 (UF930; See ‘Children at the Hyde Park Barracks’)."