Author Archives: fidg0009

Falling Dominos Lost Beyond the Floor

These dominos were found at the Oatlands Goal, under the floor boards in the Gaoler’s Bedroom. There were four dominos found altogether, from two different sets with two different dates. The first set is made from bone and ebony with red lines and black dots; there are three of these dominos and they date from 1700 to 1800.

During the 17th and 18th centuries dominos appeared in Europe and were originally made from animal bone, including ivory, which was quite expensive. The holes of the domino were drilled into the rectangles of animal bone and were then inlaid with pieces of ebony. Many domino sets were handmade during this time by French prisoners of war and also by sailors, who used whatever resources were on hand (Domino Play 2013). The interesting fact about the date of the first set of dominos from Oatlands is that the Gaol only opened in 1836. This means that the set may have been brought with a prisoner or by the Gaoler before the Gaol opened.


Dominos made from bone and ebony with a red line pattern, made from 1700 to 1800

The second set is made from bone, ebony with a brass pin; this single domino is dated from 1800-1855.  In the 19 – 20th centuries dominos were made from narrow pieces of bone that were glued together and fixed with a brass pin in the centre; these were called spinners. In 1855 Frenchman Charles Lepage invented plastic and dominos became much cheaper and quicker to produce (Domino Play 2013).

These two different types of domino may have belonged to the Grover family and/or the Pegus family. The Grover family lived in the Gaol from 1838 to 1840 and the Pegus family from 1841 to 1858.

A bone and ebony domino with a brass ‘spinner’ made from 1800-1855

A bone and ebony domino with a brass ‘spinner’ made from 1800-1855

Frozen Charlotte listen to your mother!

These dolls are almost a symbol of archaeology—life and moments frozen in time and discovered under the ground.

Frozen Charlotte dolls, such as the one in the Oatlands gaol collection, were made of glazed porcelain and were also known as bathing dolls or penny dolls. Frozen Charlottes and Frozen Charlies (Charlotte’s male counterpart) were made from about 1850 until 1914. These dolls had immovable arms with clenched fists, painted hair styles and painted faces. They were usually made to be about 20 inches tall (50 cm), but could be much smaller and were painted in black, white and pink. Older versions of these dolls used a cheaper clay body, their age can be told by the identification of flecks in the porcelain (Darbyshire 1990:40.)

Frozen Charlottes were created as a representation of the poem ‘A Corpse Going to a Ball’ by Seba Smith.  Smith wrote the poem in 1843 after reading an article in the paper describing a young woman who had frozen to death on a sleigh ride on the way to a ball. The poem, which is also a song, warns young women to listen to their parents, not to concern themselves with fashion and to look after their health (Lord 1966:4.)

This Frozen Charlotte below was found under the floor boards in the Gaoler’s Bedroom of the Oatlands Gaol. Her hair style suggests that she was made in about 1890. Given this age range, this Frozen Charlotte may have belonged to the families of the superintendents who lived in the Gaol from 1878.

Frozen Charlotte found at Oatlands Gaol

Frozen Charlotte found at Oatlands Gaol

A Frozen Charlotte was also found at the new Adelaide Hospital site by Dr Keryn Walshe in March 2012. The doll on the right below is the doll that was found at the new Adelaide Hospital site and the doll on the left is an example of a Frozen Charlotte from a private collection. The doll found at the new Adelaide Hospital site is shorter than the one found at Oatlands.

Frozen Charlotte found at the new Adelaide Hospital site (image from

Frozen Charlotte found at the new Adelaide Hospital site (image from

It’s an ace!

As part of my Directed Study in archaeology I have been researching information about the toys that were found under the floor boards in the Oatlands Gaol, Tasmania.

So far I have had little success in gaining information about the toys, but this week I have had some success. In my collection I have an ace of spades printed by the United States Playing Card Co. It is a Bicycle playing card, number 808. The ace of spades depicts the statue of freedom, which in 1865 was placed on top of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

The 808 series of playing cards was printed in three colours—red, green and blue—and was introduced in 1885. The ace of spades in my collection is a racer number 1 series, which was introduced in 1895 and ran until 1906.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I am trying to match the date of the toys to families who lived in the  Gaolers’ Residence. From 1895 to 1906 there were six families living in the gaol, and the date range of the card spans the majority of this occupation. Three of the families had children, however playing cards were used more by adults than by children.

I have contacted the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and am hoping that they will be able to provide me with more information about the other toys in my collection. ImageImage

Things Found Under the Floor Boards

I have started my Graduate Diploma in Archaeology this year and as part of my study I am completing a Directed Study in Archaeology. I am very excited about this project, as I am able to research a project that has been of interest to me since I discovered a wonderful set of artefacts in Oatlands, Tasmania, in January 2012.

The artefacts are toys that were discovered under the floor boards in a Gaoler’s Residence in the Oatlands Gaol, Tasmania. There are many different toys, including handcrafted wooden animals, dolls’ clothing, doll’s house pieces, marbles and a wooden whistle.

I am working at the moment on finding out what each toy is and hopefully their ages. I then hope to connect the toys to the children who lived in the residence, starting from the Gaol’s construction in 1836 all the way to 1930.

After the research is complete I hope to travel back to Tasmania and conduct a community project at the Oatlands Gaol museum for the people of Oatlands. I want to bring the toys to the community and communicate with them the significance of the artefacts and how they connect to the history of Oatlands and the people who once lived there.


Camel – maybe from a Noah’s Ark toy set


One of the rooms where some of the artefacts were found under the floor boards.


The Oatlands Gaol where the artefacts were found

I wish I could have done that!

‘I wish I could have done that’ is a wish that many archaeologists encounter when meeting the public. This was no different when my Grandmother and Grandfather come out to visit our site at Mallala on Thursday. My Grandmother was very excited to see what a group with their heads down a hole, were digging in a trench.

My Grandparents are fans of Time Team and find it hard on the show to be able to see the layers in the trench, and Grandmother was fascinated with being able to actually see the different layers. She also found it interesting that we dig so slowly and by one layer at a time. She also found it interesting that we can see and tell the different layers and then record them into our records.

My Grandfather soon made himself some new friends and helped out with the sieving; he was there for about an hour asking all kinds of questions about the artefacts we had found and the sieves we were using. His new friends were more than happy to explain the whole process and were pleased when I told them later that he had enjoyed his visit.

My Grandmother and I moved on from the trench to the artefact cleaning group, we spent about twenty minutes there looking at artefacts. I was amazed at how excited she was about seeing tiny pieces of old plate—we must just be so used to all the pieces now that we only get excited when we see a diagnostic piece!

It is interesting meeting members of the public, and how they get so excited about our normal, everyday, basic activities. I am always fascinated about how they can get so wide eyed at something that is so common to us.