Clanging of the Locks

Tough voices, heavy footsteps, and the clang of brass padlocks on iron bolts echoed around the cold stone walls and floors of the cell blocks, day after day. ‘I often think of the clanging of the locks. If an inmate wanted something, he would usually get the lock and bang it on the bolt to […]

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What Would Molly Think?

When twice-transported English convict Mary ‘Molly’ Morgan (1760-1835) stepped off the ship to serve a colonial sentence at Newcastle in 1814, little did she know that about 170 years later she would become the central character of a musical stage play. What would she have thought of the band’s electric guitars, saxophone and drumkit (not […]

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William’s Pitiful Plight

In an office at the Male Orphan School in Liverpool (now Bonnyrigg), on 24 March 1831, a clerk laid a freshly printed form on his desk and, with his pen and ink, filled in the blanks. Somewhere in the rooms of the school that day was an eight year old boy named William Smith. He […]

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Shaped by the Bush

The stockman’s quart pot – a billycan (kettle) with a cup that fits inside it – was a popular kit carried by bush men and women to brew and drink tea. Whether journeying on horseback or by foot, travelling in the dry Australian ‘bush’ was a very thirsty business. A cup of leaf-tea, brewed on […]

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‘The Unfortunate Man, Alexander Dick…’

Silver spoons were very nearly Alexander Dick’s (c.1791-1843) undoing. A free settler who arrived in 1824, he was a working silversmith with a prospering business in Sydney in 1826 when he made a deal that cost him dearly. Anxious to produce an order of silverware for a client, he knowingly bought a set of ‘old’ […]

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From White Clay Mountain

Throwing a handful of sand around the mould, before filling it with several dollops of wet clay, the maker of this sandstock brick knew that the dusty sand would allow the brick to easily slip out. Using the edge of his wooden strike board, he scraped off the excess clay and pressed the heart-shaped ‘frog’ […]

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A Tall Tale or True?

Sometime in the 1780s, or even earlier, a furniture maker in England put the finishing touches on this utilitarian chair with its simplified fiddle back. He painted it with shellac and used his hammer to drive in iron tacks to secure the brown leather upholstery and to stamp the letters ‘S’ and ‘L’ (perhaps his […]

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Fast Fixtures

Making hand-wrought nails has always been a highly repetitive, laborious job. But these iron and copper nails from the earliest buildings at Maitland Gaol, completed by 1848, were made during a turning point, when nail making machines had recently been invented. Were Maitland Gaol’s nails made one-by one, pulled from a forge and shaped by […]

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Rock and a Hard Place

The heavy timber doors creaked on their iron hinges as the warder closed them, sliding the bolts shut, and turning the key in the padlocks to secure the prisoners each night. Installed in 1867, the outer hardwood cell doors of B-Wing at Maitland Gaol (in operation 1848-1998), locked up some of Australia’s worst prisoners. Designed […]

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Free to Keep Time

Onboard the ship Eliza when she docked in Sydney on 25 June, 1828, were 158 convicts sent from Britain. Among them was James Redding, a man seemingly condemned for life, as he faced an uncertain future in an unknown land. In the years that immediately followed his arrival, James’ days were dictated by the tick […]

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