Hyde Park Barracks convict shirt

Contributed by: Sydney Living Museums

Front view of shirt. Photo: Alex Kershaw Back view of shirt. Photo: Alex Kershaw Detail, Broad arrow stamp on shirt tail.  Photo: Alex Kershaw convict shirt front flat, photo: Roger Deckker convict shirt back flat, photo: Roger Deckker
  • Australian dress register ID:

    259
  • Owner:

    Sydney Living Museums
  • Owner registration number:

    UF51
  • Date range:

    1840 - 1848
  • Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Male
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Object information

Significance statement

This blue and white stripped Indian cotton shirt was excavated from under the floorboards on level three of the Hyde Park Barracks, apparently near the staircase during restoration in 1980. The shirt is the only known intact example of the most common garment issued to convicts in their thousands. Striped shirts for convicts in Sydney are specifically mentioned in records from 1819, and convicts occupied the Hyde Park Barracks from 1819 - 1848.

This shirt is one of the few provenanced items of convict clothing associated with a particular site, and it is arguably one of the most important artefacts in historical archaeology in Australia.

While this shirt is seen as a distinctively convict garment, blue and white striped shirts were issued to assigned servants, and they were worn by shepherds, who themselves were often emancipated convicts. The shirts were also seen in images of the goldfields, and they were recommended in emigrants guides as suitable provisions for the colony.

The small Board of Ordnance and broad arrow stamp marks on the shirt tail marks the garment as government property, and its recovery from within the Hyde Park Barracks suggests its issue to a convict, as opposed to an ordinary worker in government service. The discreet style of stamp contradicts written records for the period, describing convict issued clothing as variously marked with numbers, broad arrows and the Barracks named in several places. The garment counter balances the popular image and description of convicts, where their clothes and countenance are marked all over the stamp of convict infamy.

The shirt has a typical square cut with straight set sleeves and gussets at tension points. It is a very economical pattern, based on a series of folds that leaves little or no wastage. The seamstress saved a side seam and hems for the shirt tail by cutting across the fabric, folding the body and using the selvedges at the base of the shirt.

Author: Kylie Winkworth (edited by Shinae Stowe 2010), 2001.

Description

Blue and white striped (stripes of alternating thickness), plain weave, handsewn, Indian cotton shirt. The shirt has a typical square cut with slit opening at chest, straight set sleeves with square underarm gussets, the fullness gathered at top of shoulder and to a band at wrist, each with two button-holes. The body gathered to stand collar either side of the opening and at centre back, the collar is fastened with two three-hole bone buttons. Small Board of Ordnance 'BO' and broad arrow stamp painted in red on the shirt tail.

History and Provenance

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This shirt is one of the few provenanced items of convict clothing associated with a particular site, and it is arguably one of the most important artefacts in historical archaeology in Australia.

This garment has been exhibited

A copy of the shirt was made by a member of the Embroiderers' Guild of NSW in 1982.

Reproductions of the shirt were sold to the public from the Mint Shop (during the time of the management of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences).

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Historic Houses Trust of NSW. The shirt was excavated from under the floorboards on level three of the Hyde Park Barracks, apparently near the staircase, during restoration in 1980.

  3. Worn by:

    Worn by a man or boy.

  4. Place:

    Hyde Park Barracks

Fibre / Weave

Blue and white striped, plain weave, Indian cotton shirt. In 1802 from London and from Calcutta in February 1803 ships brought good supplies of clothing. The ship from India was the 'Castle of Good Hope' which, as reported in the 'Sydney Gazette', was, at 1000 tons, the largest ship ever to enter the port. It brought a big shipment of Indian cloth and clothing and such shipments were to become regular. Indian cottons were to become common cloth for convicts' and workers' clothes in NSW for many years. Already blue and white striped Indian calico was standard cloth for sailors' and workers' shirts in Britain, and it was now ordered for Australian convicts. In Europe, Indian cottons were regarded as high quality and fashionable; in Australia, because of the 'lower class' connection they were scorned by the more genteel sections.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Running stitch used for long seams and repairs. Button hole stitch (blanket stitch) used for button holes. Hemming stitch used on cuffs and other areas. Possibly made in Female Factory at Parramatta as there are records of women making shirts out of striped cotton for convict men circa 1840.

The date is based on the following points: The Hyde Park Barracks were not used by convicts after 1848. The shirt cuffs have no buttons and the two button holes suggest some kind of link was worn. Cuff links were not usual until the 1840s. Pre 1840 reports of convict dress indicate that garments were marked with an inventory of Barracks number and multiple broad arrows. This shirt had no number and only one stamped arrow. This suggests a later date when supplies to the colony were better and thus the loss of a shirt not such a critical matter. An 1840s report on convict dress in Tasmania specifically mentions the provision of striped cotton shirts, linen being the more usual fabric in the 1820s - 1830s.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

It is a very economical pattern, based on a series of folds that leaves little or no wastage. The seamstress saved a side seam and hems for the shirt tail by cutting across the fabric, folding the body and using the selvedges at the base of the shirt.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

The shirt cuffs have no buttons and the two button holes suggest some kind of link was worn. The collar is fastened with two three-hole bone buttons.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Measurements

shirt
Girth
Neck 140 mm
Cuff 110 mm
Vertical
Back neck to hem 840 mm
Sleeve length 420 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 180 mm
Cross back 520 mm
Fabric width 645 mm
Convert to inches

Buttons diameter 12mm.

Additional material

Condition

Evidence of repairs

The shirt appears to have been worn as the neck opening has been torn and repaired, there is an old repair under one arm and perspiration stains are on the back and under the arms of the shirt.

There is a large area of material missing from the back of the shirt, and also small holes through the garment. Some areas are stained a light brown. One area on the reverse of the shirt (its lower left) has a heavier stain - dark brown.

c1982 the shirt was washed. c1984 Reinforcement and stabilisation of the garment: a material of equivalent weight, weave and colour. 2004 conservators photographed and documented the shirt and did a surface clean.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Dirt
  2. Discolouration
  3. Fading
  4. Holes
  5. Parts missing
  6. Stained
  7. Torn
  8. Worn

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  • Helen Thompson May 16

    Per the suggestion that this shirt was "Possibly made in Female Factory at Parramatta as there are records of women making shirts out of striped cotton for convict men circa 1840", at least one tailor was a convict at Hyde Park Barracks during the time this shirt was made (and there were probably more than one) - Thomas Ford, from 1844-1846 [he is listed on the Hyde Park Barracks Museum convicts database]. It seems likely that some of his tasks were to make clothing for the male convicts housed at the Barracks during this time.

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