Tag Archives: Ardtornish Estate

Applying Archaeology to Ardtornish Estate

As I have mostly recorded Indigenous sites during my undergrad, recording the interior of an historical site was a bit frightening. Remembering the Historical Archaeology subject from several years ago, and studying up on recording techniques from the Archaeologist‘s Field  Handbook, (Burke and Smith, 2004) the task seemed (slightly) less daunting!

Armed with a measuring tape, camera, photo scale and the handbook, I arrived at the house thinking, ‘what have I got myself into?’ Apprehensive at conducting this recording solo, the homeowner was very easy going and quickly put me at ease. Moving room to room with him and his pet dog, the bottom floor was recorded first.

ardtornish dog

Assistant archaeologist on the ground floor level.

This particular level has barely been touched since it was first built, and was exciting to record. When you first walk in you get a great sense of what it would have been like in the 1840s. Excited to be there, I began measuring (with the owner’s help!) the different features of the room. However, when I began to photograph these elements I saw the dreaded sign that no one wants to see: low battery!

It became clear that to record efficiently would take a bit more practice, although, by the end of recording the bottom floor, it became easier. However, if I was to do it again I would conduct my recording completely differently by recording more methodically, and bringing spare batteries!

The recording highlighted the importance of having the owner’s knowledge, as well as knowing the background to the site before recording it.


Burke, H. & C. Smith. 2004 The Archaeologist’s Field Handbook. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin.

A handful of archival research, a dash of archaeology, and a pinch of stress.

To me, compiling all the information that I’ve gathered is the hardest part. Where do you start? What information do you add in, and what do you leave out? These are questions that we all ask ourselves at some point.

This report was particularly tough to write, as there was little background information that I could incorporate. With information in several secondary sources, and a handful of old newspaper articles, the report strongly relies on the links and contradictions between the sources.

In order to fit into the word limit of my directed study, I had to focus on certain elements. In particular, I felt that it was important to discuss Angus MacLaine in relation to the house. MacLaine was not only the man who built the house in 1843, but he also quickly became a prominent part of the community.  Establishing Ardtornish School through a government grant, and donating a portion of his own land, MacLaine was viewed as a philanthropist. By discussing his standing in the community, the report enables the reader to see how wealthier people lived in the Modbury area in the 1840s.

In addition, the archaeological assessment was interesting in itself with the appearance of copper strips in the walls.

DSCF1111Copper strips (green lines) evident in the walls of the ground floor or the house.

As seen above, the copper strips are quite evident in the walls. When discussing this with the owner, he suggested that it was an old wive’s tales to do with salt damp prevention. It is an interesting discovery that still has me wondering how many, if any, other houses incorporated this into their building design.

Ardtornish, Dry Creek, or Modbury? Locating Ardtornish Estate’s place in history

Ardtornish Estate was established in the 1840s, and the land and the dwelling was the first to be established in what is now the Modbury area. The area was not originally named Modbury, but Ardtornish, and in the following years the area would be referred to as Ardtornish, Modbury, and even Dry Creek. Each name coexisted until the rapid expansion of people in the 20th century, when the name Modbury became prominent.

It became clear when doing the archival research for this Directed Study project that it was not going to be easy to locate the background history of this site. Not only are there limited sources, but the information from State Records, libraries and relevant websites focus predominantly on Angus and Gillian MacLaine, the first Europeans to buy the land under England’s colony expansion.  Having different names for the  general area also made my task a lot longer, and more tedious than anticipated. However, I did learn one thing: always double check if the name of the suburb has changed over time!


   Angus MacLaine, courtesy of Ardtornish Primary school. Date unknown.