Background and Significance

Pipe found at Hyde Park Barracks, artefact number UF3150

The core of this project is the analysis of large assemblages of material culture found in archaeological contexts. These analyses are then linked with detailed documentary research into particular places, to provide place-specific histories. In the case of the Hyde Park Barracks where considerable documentary research has been conducted into the site and its occupants by historians such as Joy Hughes (see eg Hughes 1992 and forthcoming), these histories contain significant information about the occupants (countries of origin, employment, patterns of residence and mobility, and relationships with others) that can support more sophisticated explorations of the history of migration into the colony of NSW and the history of government management of the sick and the destitute.

There are three rationales for this complex and time-consuming analysis. First, as Mayne and Murray first argued in the 1990s (eg Mayne and Murray 1999; Mayne et al. 2000), the development process has resulted in the excavation of massive assemblages of artefacts and which have in the main played little or no part in making histories about such places. Second, the experience of working with previously excavated assemblages at 'Little Lon', and in the subsequent EAMC project, raised significant questions about the research potential of those assemblages, given inconsistencies in data recording and the highly variable quality of resulting databases. In the course of the EAMC systems were developed that have overcome most inconsistencies, while at the same time improving the speed and reliability of large assemblage analysis. In other words, we now have the systems to allow us to pursue our broader objectives with greater confidence. Third, after completing the first phases of work in the EAMC project and more recent research at Casselden Place (a component of the 'Commonwealth Block' site in Melbourne), it is now clear that existing theoretical and analytical regimes (derived from North America) have tended to mask potentially significant local differences, as well as significant global similarities. The publication of more detailed analyses of the archaeology of migration (Crook et al. 2005; Murray & Crook in prep) and of institutions (see eg Crook & Murray 2006; Piddock 1996, 2001; Prangnell 1999) has begun to overcome this deficiency, and we expect that this new project will provide a stronger basis for exploring the significance of these similarities and differences.

Shirt found at Hyde Park Barracks, artefact number UF930

Hyde Park Barracks: History

The Hyde Park Barracks was built under instruction from Governor Lachlan Macquarie between 1817 and 1819 to provide secure accommodation for male government-assigned convicts. Following the cessation of convict transportation to NSW in 1840, the number of convicts in government service was in decline and in 1848, the few convicts still living at the Barracks were moved to Cockatoo Island, and the main Barracks building was refitted to accommodate orphans and single female migrants. The offices of the Agent for Immigration and the hiring rooms of the Female Immigration Depot were located on the ground floor, with temporary accommodation for new arrivals transferred from the Quarantine Station on the second and third floors. In addition to the Female Immigration Depot, the Hyde Park Barracks also accommodated Irish female orphans (until 1852), the Immigration Office and many other government agencies. In 1862, the top floor of the central dormitory building was given over for the use of the Government Asylum for Infirm and Destitute Women, following the colonial government's assumption of responsibility for the care of the aged and infirm. Overcrowding was an ongoing problem and in 1886, the inmates were moved to a new purpose-built facility at Newington on the Parramatta River, and the Immigration Depot was relocated. The complex was then used to house various legal and government offices until 1979 when work began to restore the Barracks to its original convict phase and convert the Barracks to a museum of the history of Sydney which opened in 1984,. In 1990, the Barracks was transferred to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and reopened as a 'museum of itself' which continues to operate successfully today.


Brown velvet scrap found at Hyde Park Barracks, artefact number UF978

Hyde Park Barracks: Archaeology (1979-2006)

Excavation conducted during restoration work between 1979 and 1981 revealed archaeological material in trenches dug across the buildings and courtyards of the Hyde Park Barracks complex, and in the underfloor cavities of the main dormitory building. After excavation, the ass June 20, 2008hed in detail and elements were displayed in the new museum. More detailed cataloguing was to wait for almost a decade and the underfloor and underground components of the assemblage were the subject of two different cataloguing projects undertaken in the early 1990s—underground (Thorp & Campbell Conservation 1994) and underfloor (Mider 1996). The assemblage effectively remained divided until 1998 when the curators of the Hyde Park Barracks developed a database to manage the entire collection. There matters were to rest until 2001 when the EAMC project began work on the Barracks assemblage. One of the recommendations of our initial review of the Hyde Park Barracks collection and catalogue in July 2001 (Crook et al. 2003), was that the existing artefact catalogue of the Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection be upgraded in order to realise the archaeological research potential of the assemblage. This upgrade was administered as a subsidiary project to the main EAMC project (see Crook, Pullar and Murray 2006) and was funded by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. 20,000 artefacts from the Main Building (less than 30% of the total site assemblage) were selected for upgrade. Using this upgrade catalogue, the EAMC team was able to better date select elements of the assemblage, plot the distribution of select artefact groups using GIS, investigate the workings of the HPB Asylum, and provide preliminary discussion of HPB Asylum artefacts, textiles and sewing items, books and pamphlets on religious instruction and domestic life in the HPB asylum (Crook and Murray 2006). The Hyde Park Barracks collection itself comprises artefacts recovered from regular subsurface deposits related to the convict construction of the complex and later uses, and an outstanding assemblage of more than 61,000 fragments and artefacts recovered from the underfloor cavities on Levels 2 and 3 of the main Barracks building, trapped for 100, 130 and up to 160 years in the space between the floors and their ceilings below. The dry cavity spaces preserved a wide range of fragile materials such as paper, textile and organic products that rarely survive in regular archaeological contexts. Owing to the building's unique architectural history, nearly 88% of the assemblage can be dated to a phase of occupation beginning in 1848 when the convicts moved out and the complex became an Immigrant's Depot and later a Government Asylum for the Aged, Infirm and Destitute. This 'underfloor' assemblage is globally significant as a sample of the material culture of women migrants and the occupants of institutions for the sick and the destitute, and its analysis will make a valuable contribution to historical archaeology in Australia and elsewhere. As important, the analysis will make a fundamental contribution to interpreting the 'total' history of the Hyde Park Barracks building to its many visitors.

Building on the global significance of the assemblage and the complex history of the Barracks building, this project is significant for five reasons. First, it continues the vitally important task of demonstrating the research potential of the vast assemblages housed in museums across the country, that up to now have remained essentially unprospected due to the absence of appropriate regimes of analysis and interpretation. Second, it is often remarked that historical archaeology provides powerful access to the lives of the poor and the marginalised. Exploring the texture of life of immigrants and the sick and destitute at the Hyde Park Barracks provides the opportunity to take research to visitors to the Museum in a way that resonates with their contemporary experience. Third, it builds on much previous research in Australia and North America to provide the tools and perspectives to undertake research on a scale that will ensure that Australian contexts will play a role in the development of the archaeology of immigration and of institutions in the modern world. At the conclusion of this project the assemblage from the Barracks will be among the most comprehensively analysed anywhere, thus providing a vital resource for history-making. The participation by Murray in the foundation of the new Network for the Historical Archaeology of Cities (NHAC), underscores the global significance of the research. Fourth, it addresses key issues in contemporary historical archaeology such as the nature of consumption, the archaeology of institutions, and the matters that are generalised as 'transnational archaeologies' to make significant advances in both theory and method. Fifth, it addresses the priority goal of safeguarding Australia by enhancing public understanding of the role of migration in shaping Australian society.

The proposed research is both methodologically and theoretically innovative in the sense that it will help move the archaeology of 19th century Australia (and the concepts and categories that drive research in this field) into a broader comparative framework that will support a long overdue re-examination of core disciplinary concepts and categories. We can already point to significant methodological innovations that support the general approach, specifically the EAMC Archaeology Database (Crook et al. 2006a and 2006, Crook & Murray 2006b). Approximately 30% of the Hyde Park Barracks assemblage has been catalogued using the EAMC approach, and it is a primary objective of this new project to complete that process. The EAMC Archaeology Database has been used on other sites in Sydney and more recently in Melbourne at Casselden Place. The reports from that site were published in 2006 as a single issue of the International Journal of Historical Archaeology (see Murray 2006), providing further evidence that our theoretical and methodological innovations have been internationally recognised. On the theoretical front the project will build on the outcomes of the EAMC to contribute to the building of theory in the following contexts:

Wooden matchbox found at Hyde Park Barracks, artefact number UF17966

Archaeologies of institutions

Historical archaeologists have long been interested in the archaeology of institutions—be they missions and government outposts regulating the lives of indigenous peoples (see for example foundational work by Deetz (1963) in the USA and Birmingham (1992) in Australia), or more mainstream entities such as hospitals, orphanages, asylums, workhouses, almshouses, schools, charitable institutions or places of correction such as gaols and juvenile homes. In recent years the nature of that interest has begun to change away from a focus on the institution per se to a consideration of the impact of institutions on the lives of their inmates. Thus what was already a complex and highly varied field of investigation (due if nothing else to the great range of institutions, the organisations responsible for their creation and management, and of course the diverse purposes of such institutions) has become yet more complex. In some contexts institutions are the embodiments of ideologies, in others they are more simply places where charity might be given or accepted, or where the sick can be made well or their passing eased. Thus our first point is very simple—the archaeology of institutions is no single pursuit, and the nature of our inquiries can intersect with a wide diversity of issues that in themselves might well require a diversity of approaches.

Surveys, such as the recent comprehensive discussion offered by Lu Ann De Cunzo (2006), might be read as tending to argue the opposite. In De Cunzo's view the institutions archaeologists need to focus on are those of reform, confinement and social change: 'Places of reform, surveillance, confinement, protection, control, ritual, punishment, resistance, inscription, segregation, labor, purification and discipline' (2006: 167). For her the problematic of institutional archaeology is straightforward and linked with the archaeology of social institutions in the modernizing world of the 18th century and afterwards: "almshouses, poorhouses, prisons, asylums, hospitals, and schools. Material culture is used to accomplish and thwart institutional goals; as students of material culture archaeologists offer vital insights into the cultures and histories of institutions"(2006: 167). Flowing from this is a focus on the notion of such places as 'total' institutions (see Goffman 1968) and the connection of discourse about the design and operation of such places to more abstract notions of social control, discipline and behavioural modification (see for example Foucault 1977). But this is only a partial picture of where, and how, the archaeology of institutions might intersect with other discourses and bodies of knowledge, such as archaeologies of the body, of sexuality and of course, 'queer' archaeology (see for example Casella 1999, 2000a, 2000b, 2001a, 2001b, 2002; De Cunzo 1995, 2001). Such archaeologies are built around the notion that 'total' institutions act in totalising ways, that all such institutions serve such purposes, and that the primary goal of an archaeology of institutions is to map out the ways in which buildings and other items of material culture, when integrated with other documentary data, contribute to the ideological objectives of institutions.

We have no particular issue with this as one reading of the goals of an archaeology of institutions. However, it seems to us to contain logical flaws and overstatements that open the way for a less mechanistic (or perhaps more nuanced) approach. While we fully accept that managing the poor, the deviant, the sick, or the criminal spawned technologies and processes of management that allowed for the treatment of individuals to occur at an industrial scale during the 19th century, we do not see a logical distinction between institutions such as gaols, and others such as factories or the military. In our reading one of the critical elements of modernity was the institutionalisation of many aspects of life 'outside' such totalising places. Flowing from this is the suspicion that institutions were generally far less successful in achieving their goals of punishment, modification, purification etc than they (or their historians) have claimed. Again and again we are presented with information that is read as evidence of 'resistance' as distinct from evidence of corruption, ineptitude, or more simply a yawning gulf between the rhetoric of institutions and what actually transpired. Finally, in the bulk of cases archaeological analysis is focused more on buildings as items of material culture (and on the analysis of written documents outlining the purposes of such places) than on the material culture that is found on the sites. While there is absolutely no problem in drawing the connections between the design of buildings and the 'totalising' goals of the managers of such institutions, a limited recourse to other items of material culture (or in other cases simply a very limited array of material culture to work with) can lead to over interpretation of available evidence.

At the Hyde Park Barracks many of these tenets of the archaeology of institutions are difficult to apply. On the one hand we have a built space that changes its purpose (and its internal organisation) over time. This is not a building designed in the modern way to discipline or punish, merely to accommodate people who had been punished by transportation, emigrants who were housed temporarily, and sick and destitute women who were in charitable care. After its closure as a convict barracks, the building was no longer associated with punishment or indeed the modification of behaviour. While it is true that the inmates were offered pastoral as well as physical care, and that there were 'rules', there were many instances where authority was exercised in less rigid ways. On the other hand the Hyde Park Barracks has a positive superabundance of material culture that provides a firm basis on which we can seek to gain a clearer picture of life in this particular institution over some 40 years of its history. The singularity of the Barracks thus itself becomes a significant point of inquiry. Was it really so different from charitable institutions (both public and private) that came before and after it?

The literature created by the archaeology of charitable care and reform is diverse and encompasses a range of institutions funded by government and church agencies, servicing the needs of diverse groupings of disadvantaged members of the community: young 'fallen' women (eg de Cunzo 1995, 2001), indigenes (eg Thomas 1988), the mentally ill (eg Piddock 2001a, 2001b, 2002, 2003), orphans (Godden Mackay 1997), dispossessed peasants and agricultural labourers (Fewer 2000), convicts and prisoners (eg Casella 2002; Casella and Fredericksen 2001; Karskens 2002; Kerr 1984), the sick (Blee 1986; Pragnell 1999) and the poor (Braugher 2001; Peña 2001; Spencer-Wood 2001a, 2001b; Spencer-Wood and Baugher 2001, 2002). Many of the studies of refuges for the poor are concerned with almshouses and poorhouses dating to the late 18th, or very early 19th centuries, and many have tended to focus on the labour of the workhouse and its perceived reforming qualities (Lucas 1999; McCartney 1987; Peña 2001). The Hyde Park Barracks is a special case because it served both destitute and aged women and arriving immigrants, and was never intended to be a vehicle of reform. It was a placed of refuge, concerned more with the ailing health of many of its inmates than with reforming their characters or exacting punishment for crimes (either of omission or commission).

The only directly comparable Australian institution is the Adelaide Destitute Asylum (Piddock 1996, 2001), but the archaeological remains of these two institutions differ greatly. The artefacts of the Adelaide Asylum were heavily culled and those that remain are largely unprovenanced, whereas at the Barracks the artefacts can be traced to within a foot of the point of their original recovery. Consequently, Piddock's study concentrated on spatial analysis of the buildings of the Adelaide Asylum, and while it is of considerable interest in and of itself, it does not provide a comparable case study. Of perhaps greater relevance is the study undertaken by Joanna Dawson (2000) of a selection of artefacts from a rubbish dump attributed to the Edinburgh City Poorhouse (1870–1944) in Craiglockart on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland. But there must be more places across the western world where the archaeology of charitable institutions can be pursued at a depth comparable to what we believe the Hyde Park Barracks will support and it is an important element of the global focus of this project that we will seek these out.


Women's boot found at Hyde Park Barracks

Archaeologies of Migration

The HPB underfloor assemblage and the historical documents relating to female migrants lodged at the Barracks provide a powerful opportunity to explore the material culture of migrant women during a period of diaspora from the British Isles to Australia. Over the past 40 years historical archaeologists have sought to contribute to a broader understanding of how new societies were created from old (either emigrant or indigenous), and how class, ethnicity and gender have played themselves out in the nations created out of imperialism and colonialism. However while these are, to an extent, local and unique phenomena, they have taken place within the broader context of global modernity. This broader context acknowledges that, especially over the past two centuries, people around the globe have been participating in the modern world system – not only comprising flows of capital and trade, but also ideas, aspirations and perhaps more concretely, material culture as various as locomotives and tea cups. These have been the centuries of mass production and mass consumption, of the increasing industrialization of all aspects of life which have been understood, especially in recent times, as having the potential to create a global social and cultural uniformity that might crush the identities of those societies and cultures which (for whatever reason) lose the capacity to generate and sustain distinctive identities. Archaeologies of migration explore the consequences of mobility, transformation, diaspora and globalisation, but they are also about frontiers, blurred boundaries, and the refashioning of ethnicities and identities (eg Beaudry 2003; Cohen 1997). Murray has laid the conceptual groundwork for an archaeological exploration of these important issues in Exploring the Archaeology of Immigration and the Modern City (Murray and Crook [in prep]) and in British Imperialism and Transnational Archaeologies (Murray [in prep] being the published version of his recent Smuts lectures). The comparative analysis of the HPB assemblage from this theoretical perspective will test the significance of specific context in the archaeology of migration.

Archaeologies of consumption

Underpinning the analysis of the global processes of identity construction, class formation and other modes of social representation in the modern city is the socio-economic agent we know as consumption (Crook 2000). The circumstances of consumption in the Depot and in the Asylum at the Hyde Park Barracks provide the basis of a significant case study of 'institutional consumption' during the 19th century.