Tag Archives: Historical Archaeology


By Christine Adams, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

This is my final post on the Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests. During this directed study I have worked with Kylie Lower of Blackwood Heritage Consulting. I have learnt about the Nukunu community and the Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests, both of which I knew very little about before this project.  One of the project highlights was meeting members of the Nukunu community. Although, I did not visit Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests, through visiting Port Augusta I witnessed the Nukunu connection to Country and their culture. This experience, as well as the oral history interview and documentary sources, indicates their ongoing connection to Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests. Due to the presence of European sites, these forests are also likely to be significant to the descendants of European settlers and other members of the local community.

This project has also refreshed my memory of ArcGIS software. Regarding the research, it has surprised me that some information was relatively easy to find and yet some was very difficult to locate or couldn’t be found at all. I recently managed to find Lothar Brasse Architects’ conservation report, which provided further insights into the history of the forests and sites within the study area, and for environmental and geological information, Laut et al. 1977 was very useful. Also, a couple of PhD theses have been helpful for my research: Husmann 2004 and Krichauff 2014. It would be useful for future researchers to contact the South Australian Museum regarding relevant collections that they hold and to conduct archaeological surveys in the forests. The project has been very demanding but a worthwhile experience.


Husmann, J. 2004 Transplantations: a Comparative History of Afforestation in Nebraska and South Australia 1870s- 1940s. Unpublished history PhD thesis, Faculty of the Graduate College, The University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Krichauff, S. 2014 ‘Looking Back There was a Lot we Missed’: an Examination of how Settler Descendants from South Australia’s North-East Highland and Wirrabara Districts Know and Understand the Nineteenth-century Colonial Past. Unpublished PhD thesis, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.

Laut, P., P.C Heyligers, G. Keig, E Loffler, C Margules, R.M Scott and M.E. Sullivan 1977 Vol. 5 Environments of South Australia Province 5 Eastern Pastoral and Province 6 Flinders Ranges. Report for division of Land Use Research Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research organization Canberra, Australia.

Lothar Brasse Architects 2000 Bundaleer and Wirrabara Forest Reserves Conservation Plan. Unpublished report prepared for Forestry SA.

Baby Killing

By Liam Blines, Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management Student

Cataloguing the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia South Australian branch collection has been a great learning opportunity for me. Each stage to date of this project has proved beneficial and, with limited prior cataloguing experience, this project has enabled me to test and develop the skills gained from my undergraduate degree. While yet to complete this project, I already feel a sense of pride due to my small contribution to the cultural heritage record.

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

One item in particular caught my eye while removing and sorting objects from one of the initial storage boxes: a stopper-less glass bottle embossed with Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, as shown in the above photo. I am still unsure what exactly drew my attention to this bottle, but I found myself eager to research the bottle and its seemingly innocent ‘soothing syrup’ contents.

I was surprised by the volume of information available.  This ‘soothing syrup’ was a medicinal product created by Mrs. Charlotte N. Winslow, a physician and nurse who had worked with children for nearly 30 years. In 1807, Mrs. Winslow created the soothing syrup to ease the restlessness of her children, particularly when her infant daughters were suffering from painful teething issues.

Mrs. Winslow later gave the syrup’s recipe to her son-in-law, Jeremiah Curtis, and his business partner, Benjamin A Perkins, druggists trading as Curtis & Perkins Co of Maine, USA. This company actively marketed Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup to North America and the British Commonwealth, placing highly maternal illustrations in recipe books, on trading cards and in calendars. 

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Children Teething advertisement in 1885 (Canet and Castillo 2012:6-8)

The syrup’s formula consisted of morphine sulphate (related to heroin), aqua ammonia (a cleaning agent), sodium carbonate (a water softener) and spirits foeniculi (an alcohol specific to this syrup).  Initially, the soothing syrup contained 65mg of morphine per fluid ounce, but, following implementation of regulations in the early twentieth century, this amount was significantly reduced to 26mg in 1911 and finally totally removed from the formula in 1915.

In 1911, the American Medical Association published an article in its publication Nostrums and Quackery, in which they incriminated Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup by reporting it as a “baby killer”, based on claims the syrup was responsible for causing the deaths of young children.  Surprisingly, production continued, with the soothing syrup not withdrawn from sale in the UK until 1930.

Another unusual fact about this product is that a composition was written by the English composer Edward Elga in 1879 entitled ‘Mrs Winslow’s soothing syrup’!

Little did I know that such a plain looking bottle would have such a controversial history.


Canet J. and J. Castillo 2012 Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Anesthesiology 116:6-8.

Society of Historical Archaeology 2016 Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes: Medicinal/Chemical/Druggist Bottles. Retrieved 26 May 2017 from

Establishing Connections

By Liam Blines, Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

At the initial March meeting with Helen Stone, the head of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (South Australia) (PSSA), details were discussed concerning the collection, as well as our mutual objectives for this project. Helen highlighted  a previous attempt at cataloguing the collection during the 1990s, but the associated records are yet to be located:  only photo catalogues have been found. This meeting also included a tour of the PSSA offices, including the two rooms in which the majority of the collection resides. One of the items that Helen showed me was highly significant: the veterinary case used by Sir Douglas Mawson.

This was made in London by the British pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Co. The kit consists of an assortment of medical supplies, including: aspirin, rhubarb compounds, chromatic chalk powder and opium, potassium iodine, tannin, and benzoic acid compound. Additionally, there are poisons, such as boric acid, lead and potassium permanganate.

As part of my future research analysis of this collection, I will be trying to find out whether or not this veterinary case did indeed go on Mawson’s expeditions to Antarctica. If this case did return from Antarctica it is a remarkable feat and would make it even more important. The details concerning how the veterinary case came into the PSA’s possession are yet to be determined.

Other important items Helen showed me were some books, one of which – the Bibliothece Pharmaceutico Medica­­ – is over 300 years old and was written by Swiss physician Johannes Jacobi Mangeti (or Jean Jacques Manget) in 1704 and published in Geneva, Switzerland by Chouet, G. De Tournes, Cramer, Perachon, Ritter, & S. De Tournes. This book is one of two volumes; this volume focusses on pharmaceutical remedies and plants used for medical purposes. Additional information concerning how any of the books became part of the collection is yet to be determined, but I am hoping to locate donor documents to assist with identifying this information.

On completion of the tour, Helen and I discussed the project at length and our respective hopes and aspirations for the outcome of the cataloguing project.  During this discussion, I outlined to Helen the necessary processes that I intended to undertake to ensure comprehensive work was conducted, including Excel-based data recording, high quality photography and tag labelling of each item. It was during this exchange that Helen and I discovered that her father, Dr Bob Stone, who also works at Flinders University, had previously tutored me in a couple of my undergraduate classes.

Prior to the meeting’s conclusion, Helen provided me with some literature on the PSSA and other relevant information, and advised that the PSSA branches in other states also have similar collections with little known in relation to their respective contents.

In cataloguing the maximum number of items possible within the constrained time-frame, I will also be aiming to ensure the work undertaken is thorough, with errors/issues minimised.

The artful process of cleaning animal bones

By Taryn Feldmann, Graduate Certificate in Archaeology student

In February, this year, eight Archaeology students, including myself, had a chance to apply our knowledge at the field school ARCH8806 – Historical Archaeology Field School at Willow Court (Australia’s oldest asylum, 1826-2000) in New Norfolk, Tasmania.

Among us we had different tasks to complete, such as setting up a trench, photographing trenches and artefacts, recording notes about the site and artefacts, excavating and, yes, cleaning bones.

For about two days, I had the task of cleaning bones with a fellow student. There were trays of animal bones covered in dirt and I was really excited to begin with, as I’d never done it before, but that feeling soon wore off as more kept coming.

There is a technique, for instance you can either use a brush and dental tool (dental scaler) or water and a toothbrush. The scaler is used to remove the soil from any cavities, which can be a daunting job, as it’s important not to scratch the surface of the bone.

In our case, though, we had to use water and a toothbrush, as the soil was sticking to the surface. When using this method, we had to ensure that the water was clean and not hot.

When removing soil from bones, briefly rinse the bone, but don’t soak it. The toothbrush makes it easier to remove stubborn soil, such as clay, but it must be used gently.

The next step is drying. Bone can be air dried but the process should be slow. We turned the bones regularly for even drying and once they were dry, bagged them ready for analysis.

It can become tedious work, especially when bones are plentiful, but archaeologists need to do it as part of the cataloguing process.

Trays of bones drying after being cleaned. Photo credit: Taryn Feldmann


Beisaw, A.M. 2013 Identifying and Interpreting Animal Bones: a Manual. Texas: A&M University Press.

Cultural heritage in the forests

By Christine Adams, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student.

I am currently undertaking a Directed Study in Archaeology as part of my Graduate Diploma of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management. My industry partner is Kylie Lower of Blackwood Heritage Consulting. The project is to perform a desktop study of the Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests in the southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia, which were burnt during a recent bushfire. A desktop study means researching a site through journal articles and other materials, including websites and books. This project will also involve conducting oral history interviews with one of the local Indigenous groups– the Nukunu—and using ArcGIS software to map the forests.

My first task is to write a cultural and environmental background for the area. Besides the area now covered by the Bundaleer and Wirrabara Forests, the Nukunu also inhabit other areas, including Port Pirie, Mount Remarkable and Port Augusta. The Bundaleer Forest was the first forest planted in Australia in 1875. The Wirrabara Forest was planted shortly after in 1877. The planting of the Wirrabara Forest was on the White family’s land, which they had inhabited since 1844. Not surprisingly, its original name was White’s Forest. These plantations were used for logging. Known historic sites in Bundaleer Forest include the cottage of the first nurseryman, William Curnow, the conservator’s hut and the first forestry office.

Curnow's Cottage, Bundaleer Forest

Curnow’s Cottage, Bundaleer Forest, courtesy of Forestry SA

As loggers’ families lived near the Wirrabara forest, the first provisional school was established there in 1881. This building was also used for church services and became the community’s centre. I look forward to learning more about these places.


Forestry South Australia n.d. Wirrabara Forest Visitor Information. Accessed 17 Mar 2017 from .

Sizer, H. 1974 Yet Still They Live: Wirrabara’s Story. Location unknown: Lutheran Publishing House.


Reading buildings…


Willow Court Barracks. Photo credit: Ian Edmondson

Reading Buildings

By Ian Edmondson, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management student.

The Willow Court complex is architecturally confounding, an eclectic mismatch of buildings liberally scattered over a broad acreage. The observer is engaged initially by a confusing array of architectural styles. Buildings have been adapted, altered or added in response to changes in (mostly European) architectural trends (Georgian, Victorian, Gothic Revival, Art Deco) with varying functional and stylistic features. Changes in use, evolving beliefs, managerial decisions and changing practices and technologies of caregiving have all influenced the architectural decisions taken at the site and added to the complexity of interpreting the standing buildings.

The Willow Court Barracks (1830-1833) creates, envelops and commands space. In 1832, convicts represented almost thirty five percent of Hobart’s population (Solomon 1976) and the commanding architectural style of the Barracks reflects a need to maintain rule and control. The symmetry that is evident is intentional, and typical of the Georgian style (Irving 1985). Where room arrangement or construction materials failed to maintain this order to the outside viewer, false elements were placed instead, including blind windows in trompe l’oeil (blank spaces structured and painted to look like windows) and rough brickwork that was rendered and pointed to mimic fine cut sandstone.


“Blind” windows featuring trompe l’oeil decoration. Photo credit: Ian Edmondson

As archaeologists we strive to read spaces and places more deeply, seeking evidence, signs and symbols to recreate a story of the past. Piddock describes institutional spaces in asylums as artefacts in themselves, not mere buildings (2007).

At a deeper level of reading we observe evidence of human occupation. The wear that is evident on steps from hundreds of feet ascending and descending gives clues to the common paths that people used, indicating areas of greater or lesser use. We imagine the feet that caused them and think about where they might have been coming from, or going to. We read the wear on door handles, hand-smoothed edges of window and door frames, observe changes in floorboards and note former exits, altered claddings and the age of fittings.

Use Wear… Stair, sill and doorstep wear from the Willow Court Barracks. Photo credit Ian Edmondson

On the false external window sills there are obvious marks of wear (presumably from resting bottoms), which show the importance of claiming private space in a public domain. Here is evidence that suggests occupants enjoying a conversation away from watching eyes, and perhaps avoiding being seen while doing it.

The pencil scribbling of letters and numbers on external walls tells a more personal story. They are not coherent words or expression of feelings, but signs and symbols of boredom, confusion, perhaps despair. They might also reflect moments of enjoyment or happiness, tucked into a warm, sheltered corner, claiming personal space.

Written and numeric graffiti, Willow Court complex. Photo credit Ian Edmondson

Through reading buildings we can begin to appreciate the past experiences of those within them. Buildings, in their spatial arrangement, have the capacity shape social interaction, to order and structure human behavior, and to create or prevent social connections. Built environments have the power to condition how we think, feel and behave (Greenman 1988).

The Willow Court complex is sited in an elevated position within a beautiful river valley. Before we consider what lies under the ground, perhaps we need to read the broader aspect of its position and location and look outwards, to appreciate the beauty of the distant hills and trees, imagine the changing seasons, and see beyond the institutional spaces.


New Norfolk from Pulpit Rock Lookout: Photo Credit: JJ Harrison


Greenman, J. 1988 Caring Spaces, Learning Places: Children’s Environments That Work. Redmond, WA: Exchange Press.

Irving, R. 1985 The History and Design of the Australian House. Sydney: Oxford.

Piddock, S. 2007 A Space of Their Own: The Archaeology of Nineteenth Century Lunatic Asylums in Britain, South Australia and Tasmania. New York: Springer.

Solomon, R.J. 1976 Urbanisation: The Evolution of an Australian Capital. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.


Willow Court History Group

Georgian Architecture: False, or “blind” windows

Georgian Architectural Style and Features

Nothing But Dirt

By Renee Smith, Graduate Certificate in Archaeology student

I recently participated in the ARCH8806 Historical Archaeology field school at Willow Court in New Norfolk, Tasmania. We were split into two groups at the start of the week: half remained in Willow Court and excavated under the floorboards of ward 12; the other half, including me, went across the road to Frescati House, which had been built for Colonial Secretary, John Burnett, as a convenient summer retreat. It was later sold to the hospital and housed the Medical Superintendents and their families for many years.

Aerial view of Frescati house in 1930

The goal for our group was to find evidence of a courtyard located at the back of the house. We went in suspecting there wouldn’t be a lot, perhaps some buttons or clay pipes, possibly even some sandstone pavers. However, after the first day of excavating we had no such luck: in a 3×3 metre trench all we found were some rusty modern nails. We weren’t discouraged! After all, the trench was only about 10cm from the surface.

We returned the next day hopeful that we might find something, but we had more than just the lack of artefacts to discourage us. The ground was so hard and compact a trowel made little impact, which was when our trusty supervisor suggested we use mattocks to get through the hard surface. MATTOCKS! Surely not—we’re archaeologists, we can’t use such a destructive and imprecise tool. To be clear, we were asked to use a long-handled mattock and if mattocks are used as an excavation tool they are only used to loosen the top few centimetres and a flat surface and straight trench walls are still aimed for.

But even with the mattock and six archaeologists slaving over the trench we only found more modern nails, glass and a child’s marble. What made matters worse were the stories of the other group finding bones and various other artefacts.

Using a Mattock in trench F1: photo by Ian Edmondson

It was at this point that the group could have become sour; we were all tired and disheartened remembering our childhood dreams of archaeology and realising the hard truth that not every trench contains treasures of times past. Instead the ‘banter’ began and inter-trench warfare broke out as it became a challenge between the ‘boys’ and the ‘girls’ to find the next artefact, whatever that may be. It was on the third day that we found sherds of willow patterned ceramic and nails matching the date of the building. That was also when we accidentally came across an old lead pipe (we may have put our mattock through it) and a ferrous item we can only assume was a saw—it lay halfway through the trench wall so we could not excavate it. We also found the natural surface, so had to stop.

This experience really showed the importance of ‘trench morale’ when you’re finding nothing but dirt. It makes the difference between what could be a nightmare dig and an enjoyable week with new friends.