Blog Post 1: Clare Leevers
My directed study project is focused on the excavated material from the local East End Market/Rookery dig on East Terrace in the Adelaide CBD. Located just south of the East End Markets building, the Rookery consisted of a mix of commercial, industrial and residential premises focused around Peacock’s Tannery (circa 1842) and a row of cottages built in 1857/58. The cottages consisted of a single room of 6m x 3m with a hearth and a shingled roof. The areas immediately surrounding the cottages contained associated amenities, such as a water storage tank and cesspits. With a population that included women and children, they represent a unique snapshot of the domestic life of the poorer working class in early Adelaide. They were demolished at the turn of the 20th century.
The site was excavated three times, twice by Austral Archaeology in 1990 and 1992, and once by Backtracks Heritage Consultants Pty Ltd in 1994. The 1990 excavation was an exploratory introduction to the site, whilst the 1992 excavation was intended to exhaust the archaeological potential of the site. Due to time and financial constraints this was not completed, so Backtracks Heritage Consultants were later employed to complete the project.
The aim of my Directed Study is to determine how the boxes of material found in the Adelaide Gaol relate to the documented excavations (numbering/cataloguing for each and whether or not they correspond to the reports), and an analysis of what material is missing in relation to the collection as a whole.
I was granted access to the Rookery material after obtaining permission from both DENR and Justin McCarthy (Austral Archaeology), and not knowing what to expect was greeted with the sight of a small cell filled with ubiquitous brown boxes … and thus the work began.
In Adelaide Gaol, Yard 4, Cell 5 “The Bear Cage”. East End Markets and Rookery material laid on top of old maritime advertising boards.
You’ve all seen it.
Chances are you’ve got a grandmother/neighbour/maiden aunt who proudly presents this ubiquitous blue and white tableware whenever the occasion allows for it. And indeed, as of 1990, willow pattern represents the longest continually produced china pattern in history, so its frequency is somewhat understandable.
In the 18th century Chinese porcelain was imported into England by companies such as the East India Company and quickly became hugely popular with wealthy clients. When its trade ceased, most local manufacturers quickly developed their own version of the blue and white patterns in an effort to meet continuing demand. The improvements to transfer printing made by Josiah Spode allowed for much cheaper, more available wares, and in 1790 the first willow pattern was produced on pearlware at the Spode factory. Thus, a superstar was born.
But what superstar is complete without a salubrious past?
This one comes complete with a tale of star-crossed lovers – the Mandarin’s daughter and the secretary, and the immortality of their love beyond death. Or, if that’s a little too Romeo and Juliet for you: the destruction of a Shaolin Monastery by imperial Manchu soldiers, and the souls’ passage to the isle of the Blessed.
There are poems, films, and even a comic opera of this ‘great legend’, but despite this rich history, its origins remain stalwartly British, with only the barest relation to the Chinese mythologies and fine hand-painted porcelain that inspired it.
Over the years Blue Willow pattern has conquered not only local markets, but has filtered out into the rest of the world, becoming an iconic symbol of British ceramics. And the source of many of these newly produced pieces? Why, China of course. It appears that the willow pattern story has finally come full circle.