Variety of shapes, colours and patterns of fabric offcuts.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

New beginnings

New beginnings

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Female Immigration Depot 1848-87

In 1848, no longer required for convicts, the Hyde Park Barracks became an immigration depot and hiring office for unaccompanied women newly arrived in Sydney. Many had emigrated under government schemes aimed to boost the number of women in the colony.

Click the images below to learn more about the objects on display at the Hyde Park Barracks.

New beginnings

Leaving Ireland

Ornately carved cross.

Catherine Joyce’s crucifix

Ornately carved cross.
Gift of the Blackstock and Stuart-Robertson families, 2009. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Catherine Joyce’s crucifix

This ornate cross made of vulcanite (hardened moulded rubber) belonged to 19-year-old Irish immigrant Catherine Eleanor Joyce, who stayed at the Immigration Depot in January 1850. Leaving her homeland, which had been devastated by the Great Irish Famine, Catherine sailed to Sydney under a government program that offered orphaned girls and impoverished young women new lives and opportunities in the Australian colonies.

Wooden box with lid open to show interior with straps.

Margaret Hurley’s travel box

Wooden box with lid up to show hinges.
On loan from Rose-Marie Perry. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Margaret Hurley’s travel box

This regulation pine travelling box belonged to 17-year-old Margaret Hurley, who emigrated from County Galway in Ireland to Australia in 1849. Margaret travelled under the Earl Grey orphan scheme, a British government program aimed to empty the Irish workhouses, crowded with destitute children, and bolster the female workforce of New South Wales. The Irish girls who emigrated under the scheme had few possessions, but they all arrived with a small wooden box like this one, supplied by the workhouses, and filled with new clothes, toiletries and a Bible.

In Sydney, Margaret lodged at the Hyde Park Barracks, before being apprenticed as a house servant in 1850. Two years later she married, and went on to have seven children. She died in 1922, aged 90. Margaret’s box, issued to her in 1849 at the Gort Workhouse in Galway, is the only one supplied to the Irish orphans known to have survived.

New beginnings

Health and hygiene at sea

Circular pill box cover for 'Compound Antibilious Pills'.

Pillbox lid

Circular pill box cover for 'Compound Antibilious Pills'.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Pillbox lid for James Cockle’s Compound Antibilious Pills

This lid for a popular cure-all medicine was found under the Hyde Park Barracks floorboards. English surgeon James Cockle’s Compound Antibilious Pills were promoted to alleviate nausea, headaches and heartburn, and may have been taken by an immigrant woman for seasickness on the voyage to Australia.

Other items on display

  • Lice combs
  • Surgeon’s shipboard wine requisitions
  • Wine bottle necks

New beginnings

Keepsakes from home

Cardboard with fragmented card and seashells.

Album cover

Cardboard with fragmented card and seashells.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Shell-bordered pocket album cover

This object is the remains of a colourful 19th-century pocket album cover decorated with shells. It may have been intended as a ‘valentine’ or ‘forget-me-not’, and is all the more poignant for being lost or left behind.

Other items on display

  • Hand-carved bone name stamp ‘T Brown’
  • Devotional medals
  • Rosary beads,
  • The economy of human life (published c1790)
  • Handkerchief
  • Penknife
  • Wheat ears
  • Dried rose
  • Coins
Three dried fern leaves.

Dried fern fronds

Three dried fern leaves.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Dried fern fronds

These fern fronds – a simple keepsake from a faraway forest – probably travelled to Sydney in an immigrant’s luggage, only to be lost beneath the floorboards at the Hyde Park Barracks.

Other items on display

  • Hand-carved bone name stamp ‘T Brown’
  • Devotional medals
  • Rosary beads,
  • The economy of human life (published c1790)
  • Handkerchief
  • Penknife
  • Wheat ears
  • Dried rose
  • Coins

New beginnings

Shipboard needlework

Dented and discoloured metal thimble.

Thimble

Dented and discoloured metal thimble.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Thimble

Immigrant women spent a lot of time on sewing and needlework projects, making repairs to their clothing, training for domestic service, and for leisure. When the Hyde Park Barracks was converted into a museum in the early 1980s, 10,002 fabric scraps, 976 buttons and studs, and sewing implements like this thimble were discovered under the floorboards.

Other items on display

  • Fabric rosette
  • Patchwork pieces
  • Printed fabric offcuts
  • Broderie anglaise scrap
  • Scissors
  • Thimbles
  • Fabric and thread labels
  • Pincushion
  • Cotton reels
  • Thomas Hoyle fabric stamp
  • Embroidered scrap
  • Hooks and eyes packet
  • Needles in packet
  • Lace-making bobbin
  • Tatting shuttles
  • Crochet and tatting fragments
Triangular scrap of purple fabric with leaf motif on checked pattern.

Hoyle’s purple textile scrap

Triangular scrap of purple fabric with leaf motif on checked pattern.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Hoyle’s purple textile scrap

This scrap of printed cotton is one of thousands of small offcuts and torn pieces of fabric that were found under the floorboards. While there is great variation in patterns, most of the scraps are printed in a single colour, and the most common colour is purple – the dye was produced from the madder plant. From the 1830s, manufacturer Thomas Hoyle & Sons of Manchester in England dominated the market in cheap machine-printed cotton with their trademark colour ‘Hoyle’s purple’.

Other items on display

  • Fabric rosette
  • Patchwork pieces
  • Printed fabric offcuts
  • Broderie anglaise scrap
  • Scissors
  • Thimbles
  • Fabric and thread labels
  • Pincushion
  • Cotton reels
  • Thomas Hoyle fabric stamp
  • Embroidered scrap
  • Hooks and eyes packet
  • Needles in packet
  • Lace-making bobbin
  • Tatting shuttles
  • Crochet and tatting fragments

New beginnings

Packed for the voyage

Detail from rectangular cotton fragment with 'Alice Peacock' handwritten in cursive style.

Cotton strip with name

Detail from rectangular cotton fragment with 'Alice Peacock' handwritten in cursive style.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Cotton strip with handwritten name ‘Alice Peacock’

Inscribed ‘Alice Peacock’, this cotton strip is one of only a few objects in the building’s archaeology collection marked with a person’s name. It was presumably either torn from Alice’s clothing or used to tag her luggage. According to shipping records, Alice was a 14-year-old from London who stayed at the Immigration Depot in 1879. It was common practice for the female immigrants to mark personal belongings and sewing projects with their names in case they were lost either during the voyage or later at the Hyde Park Barracks.

Other items on display

  • Knitted sock
  • Stocking scrap
  • Slipper
  • Cloth cap
  • Towel
  • Jug
  • Plate
  • Cutlery
  • Hair combs
  • Brooch
  • Soap
  • Keys for luggage box

New beginnings

Passing time at the Depot

Fragmented and folded paper with handwriting.

Folded letter, undated

Fragmented and folded paper with handwriting.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Folded letter, undated

Mail from home was eagerly awaited by the women at the Immigration Depot. This scrap of a letter begins: ‘Dear Eileen, I am sorry I was unable to reply to your letter …’

Other items on display

  • Sewing project pouches
  • Printed fabric offcuts
  • Cotton reels
  • Improvised reels for leftover cotton
  • Thimbles
  • String
  • Playing card fragment
  • Pens
  • Inkwell
  • Postage stamps
  • Newspaper scraps
  • Tobacco pipes
  • Matchboxes

New beginnings

Keeping clean and fighting vermin

Broken items, one a toothbrush with missing bristles.

Toothbrush

Broken items, one a toothbrush with missing bristles.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Toothbrush and tooth powder bottle fragments with paper label

Dental care is not a modern concept. Immigrant women cleaned their teeth with toothbrushes made of bone and boar-hair bristles, along with patent tooth powders including ingredients such as charcoal, chalk and carbolic soap.

Other items on display

  • Rat and mice carcasses
  • Broom fibres
  • Scrubbing brush
  • Clothes pegs
  • Lice combs
  • Ointment jar lid
  • Medicine bottle
  • Child’s tooth
  • Toothbrushes
  • Soap

New beginnings

Eating and drinking

Egg with some discoloration.

Chicken egg

Egg with some discoloration.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Chicken egg

Among the more surprising items found by archaeologists was this intact fragile chicken’s egg. How and why it ended up beneath the floorboards remains a mystery.

Pile of fruit seeds.

Peach stones

Pile of fruit seeds.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Peach stones

Peaches grew prolifically in the Sydney climate, which made them cheap and readily available. The discovery of large quantities of peach stones under the floorboards indicates that the immigrant women found peaches particularly irresistible.

Other items on display

  • Fruit stones
  • Peanut shells
  • Orange peel
  • Grape stems
  • Hazelnut
  • Wooden spoon engraved with initials
  • Cutlery
  • Bottle stoppers
  • Teacup handles
  • Plate and bowl fragments
  • Ginger beer bottle fragment,
  • ‘Torpedo’ bottle for aerated water

New beginnings

Children at the Depot

Cutout image of man in blue coat and yellow hat sitting on saddle.

Jigsaw piece

Cutout image of man in blue coat and yellow hat sitting on saddle.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

A single piece from a cardboard jigsaw puzzle, showing a smartly dressed man riding on a horse, is one of hundreds of recreational objects discarded or lost in the Hyde Park Barracks by immigrants.

Other items on display

  • Infant’s cloth cap and bodice
  • Socks
  • Dominoes
  • Draught pieces
  • Illustrated game pieces
  • Doll’s hand
  • Tumbling blocks
  • Miniature doll’s tea set
  • Marbles
  • Knucklebones
  • Slate pencils and slate fragment
  • Chalk remnants
Tiny circular bowl with scalloped edge and pedestal.

Toy fruit stand

Tiny circular bowl with scalloped edge and pedestal.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Toy fruit stand

This tiny object, standing just 11 millimetres high, is a charming fruit stand for a miniature doll’s table setting. Delicately formed with a fancy rim, its loss through a gap in the floorboards may have caused great sorrow for its young owner.

Other items on display

  • Infant’s cloth cap and bodice
  • Socks
  • Dominoes
  • Draught pieces
  • Illustrated game pieces
  • Doll’s hand
  • Tumbling blocks
  • Miniature doll’s tea set
  • Marbles
  • Knucklebones
  • Slate pencils and slate fragment
  • Chalk remnants

New beginnings

Accessories

Larger metal buckle with two smaller buttons, all with anchor motif.

Nautical belt buckle

Larger metal buckle with two smaller buttons, all with anchor motif.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Nautical belt buckle

This belt buckle, adorned with a rope and anchor motif, is among many nautical-themed items left or lost at the Hyde Park Barracks by immigrants. Naval-inspired clothing and ornaments came into vogue after Queen Victoria famously dressed her son in a playful sailor suit in 1846.

Other items on display

  • Combs
  • Hairpins
  • Hatpins
  • Hatpin box lid
  • Black bonnet netting fragment
  • Straw bonnet fragments
  • Hairnet
  • Buckles
  • Buttons
  • Ribbons
  • Lace
  • Braided and beaded trimmings
  • Bows
  • Lace collar

New beginnings

Treasures

Glass bottle with broken neck and pasted label.

Perfume bottle

Glass bottle with broken neck and pasted label.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Perfume bottle

This broken Rimmel perfume bottle was found under the floorboards on Level 1. The London-made perfumes of Eugène Rimmel were sold in Sydney from the 1850s. Such luxury items reflect the fact that not all of the immigrants who stayed at the Immigration Depot were poor or dependent on government assistance to travel to the colony.

Other items on display

  • Perfume bottles
  • Brooches
  • Bracelets
  • Earrings
  • Glass from costume jewellery
  • Finger rings
  • Beads

New beginnings

Dressing for colonial life

Discoloured silk glove with embroidery.

Embroidered silk glove

Discoloured silk glove with embroidery.
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Embroidered silk glove

This embroidered silk glove was found beneath the floorboards at the Hyde Park Barracks. Gloves were worn in public by all sections of society and were visible clues to the wearer’s social standing. This glove indicates privilege and wealth, and reminds us that immigrant women came from all walks of life.

Other items on display

  • Apron
  • Scarf
  • Dress collars
  • Belt
  • Sleeve cuffs
  • Underwear and clothing fragments
  • Silk stocking