Roslyn Russell, Kylie Winkworth
© Commonwealth of Australia, 2010
ISBN 97 80977544363 (pbk)
Context in archaelogical collections
'Context' in archaeological collections refers to the precise location where an artefact is found on a site and its relationship with other artefacts, such as its position in the stratigraphy or layers of an excavation. It is a crucial aspect of artefact analysis and is an important dimension of the significance of archaeological collections. The loss of provenance and context in archaeological artefacts seriously diminishes their significance.
In the case of the convict's shirt, excavated beneath the floorboards of the Hyde Park Barracks, context also relates the item to developments in the administration of the convict system as well as relationships with the site. This information and analysis contributes to a richer understanding of its significance.
Excerpt from the statement of significance about this shirt
Convict striped cotton shirt
Hyde Park Barracks Museum Collection, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales
Photo: Roger Deckker
Reproduced courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
The shirt is significant for understanding aspects of convict history. It is historically significant as the only known example of what was the most common garment issued to convicts and assigned servants. It is one of the few items of convicts' clothing reliably provenanced to a particular site and is significant in the context of the whole archaeological collection from the Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney.
The shirt and the Barracks reflect developments in penal policy in the colony, aimed at containing and controlling the behaviour of convicts by confining them at night and clothing them in regulation marked garments. Research in archives and written records shows how this system was open to subversion.
While this shirt is seen as a distinctly convict garment, we also know that blue and white striped shirts were issued to assigned servants, and were worn by shepherds, who were often emancipated convicts. The shirts are also widely depicted in images of the goldfields, and were listed in emigrants' guides as standard provisions for the colony. Indeed, this garment counters the popular image of convicts, with their clothes and countenance marked all over with the prominent stamp of convict infamy.