Thesis abstract ‘Authority, Acquisition and Adaptation: Nineteenth Century Artefacts of Personal Consumption from the Prisoner Barracks at Port Arthur’
03rd May 2014
BLibStud(Hons), Department of Archaeology, The University of Sydney, Sydney, November 2013
Historical archaeology in Australia has countless artefact assemblages awaiting research and analysis. This thesis is the study of one such collection: the artefacts of personal consumption recovered during the first archaeological excavation conducted at Port Arthur. The site was the Prisoner Barracks and was excavated in 1977 by Maureen Byrne and a team of volunteers but was never fully analysed due to Byrne’s death the same year. The assemblage, excluding the faunal material, was catalogued and analysed for this thesis. The results present an interpretation of the assemblage, considering personal consumption and the effects of hierarchy on the general ways of life of the occupants.
This thesis uses archaeological and documentary evidence to build on the previous understanding of the Prisoner Barracks’ history. It establishes who the occupants were: privileged convicts in the early phases, and military regiments, constables or officers and their families in the later phases of Port Arthur’s convict history. Through the artefact analysis, everyday life is examined, revealing how consumption was a combination of occupants adapting to make do and also acquiring supplies beyond the settlement’s confines. The physical and institutional isolation and associated authority, which also changed over time, added complexity to the acquisition and consumption of goods. By exploring the potential of the site and the collection, this thesis also establishes the assemblage for further research involving larger scale comparisons.
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