Postcard from Sydney Town II

After months spent on board a ship which had been boarded from Millbank Prison, on the Thames in London, the convicts sailed into Sydney Cove and were sent to the Hyde Park Barracks, an imposing Georgian building designed by ex-convict architect Francis Greenaway. On arrival, the convicts were given a set of garments called 'slops' which were all branded with the infamous arrow symbol and the letters 'PB' for Prison Barracks. This was in case any of them tried to escape through the streets of Sydney.

They men were also given hats to wear, and at first they were given black leather hats which were leftovers from the British Army (during the Napoleonic Wars). But, these were hot and sticky in the heat of Sydney and did not provide any shade. Eventually, the convicts were taught by local Aborigines, how to use the local grasses and they began to produce straw hats, which became an iconic symbol of the convicts. there was even an ex-convict gang called the Straw Hat Rush, which roamed the streets of Sydney.

Female convicts were given a a jacket and coarse apron for week days and a white apron and straw bonnet for Sundays.

Like their experiences back in England, and on the voyage over, the lack of resources, whether it be food, tobacco or fabrics, was always a problem. Within the barracks, the convicts were often trading their clothes or shoes for tobacco or food. Everything that they needed, they made by hand - shoes, clothing, tools - and all the convicts who had skills were put to work- blacksmiths, bookbinders, woodworkers and bakers.

Some of the female convicts who were not assigned to work as a servant for a free settler family, were sent to another barracks that had been built on the outskirts of Sydney, called the Parramatta Female Factory. These women were viewed as 'beyond redemption' belonging to a 'criminal class' - yet this is not reflected in the crimes for which they were transported with 91.2% charged and sentenced for theft with 65.3% having no prior convictions. Their major crime was poverty which was considered a reflection of their immoral character

Here the women were put to work sewing, making straw hats, cleaning and cooking. They were also responsible for producing the country's first manufactured export - a weave known as Parramatta Cloth which was used to make convict clothing, military kits, shifts, caps, church cushions and tents.

My next post will be a reflection of what this all means for the Inside/outside project's themes, exploring ideas of globalisation/empire, local/global and textile histories.
Some useful links:
Museum of Sydney Convict Hulks: Life on the Prison Ships, exhibition at Hyde Park Barracks Museum, Sydney
There is a Quilt in the current Quilts: 1700 - 2010 exhibition at the V & A, made by female prisoners on board a convict ship going to Australia
Convict clothing in National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Posted by Clara Vuletich, TED Research Assistant

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