Dirt games

I drove up to Toodyay today to stop in at the archeological dig which is part of the project that we started in York in January.

It was soooo cold. 

Must have been about 15 degrees maybe less.

Arriving on the last day I got to see the full extent of the excavations, and what I love about digs is that they are JUST LIKE Time Team… you know, that show on ABC1… that’s not on anymore…

They had found seven buildings on the 45 acre site including the barracks, holding cells, kitchen and privy, the commissariat and the hospital.

One of the convict era buildings was the barracks which they found under the car park of the Toodyay Shire CEO.

After it was a barracks, it became a schoolroom and they found graphite pencils and slates that would have been used at the time.

How cool is that?

The building was knocked over and the courthouse, now shire offices were built over the top.

In the mid 1800s the area was a hive of convict activity and this is the first time that those buildings have been excavated.

Needless to say the shire is very excited.

The CEO, who is potentially losing his carport, wants to try and keep them preserved but exposed so that people can appreciate their history.

And I, as an archeological junkie, appreciate that sentiment.

Oh I hope they don’t have to fill them there holes.

They have permission to keep digging for another week and I can’t wait to see what they discover.

I was very flattered to be invited back for a day’s digging.

So I’m looking out my little trowel, my steel capped boots, and my puffy jacket (hey it’s cold), and hopefully I’ll get to spend a weekend day up at Toodyay up to my ears in dirt, glorious dirt!

More on clay pipes

I think I might, just might, be becoming obsessed by clay pipes.

Don’t worry I’m sure it will pass… sometime.

Remember my clay pipe?

Here’s a view from side on to help jog your memory.

Well I was curious about the markings…

After all, if I knew a bit more about the maker, maybe we could date the pipe.

Could it be that the smoker of this pipe was a convict?

A little net research brought me to the Museum of London clay pipe website, where a great number of clay pipe manufacturers are listed with their marks.

Unfortunately W.T. Blake was not among them.

Not to be daunted by this little glitch I emailed them and the next day a lovely woman called Jacqui replied with this information:

The pipe is a type 30 in Atkinson and Oswald’s London type-series (1969), which is broadly dated to c 185-1910. But William Thomas Blake is recorded in trade directories as a pipemaker in City Road between 1873 and 1898. This is rather later than your stratigraphy seems to suggest of course. There is also a reference in the directories to pipe makers Reynolds and Blake in City Road 1867-9. This is very likely the same Blake working in partnership before establishing himself in business on his own. However, if the pipe was made by the earlier partnership it would have been marked accordingly and not as you have it. So I think the example you found must date after 1873, or at least between 1869 and 1873.

The dates are not as definitive as I was hoping for.

But at least it is still possible for it to be a convict pipe.

The depot was closed down in 1875-6 (the Colonial Convict Department disbanded in 1876).

The building itself was knocked down in 1895.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to the wheatbelt – this time to Geraldton via Northam, Toodyay, Dalwallinu and Morowa.

It should be an interesting trip.

Dug up

Well I’m back home after my archaeological adventure, and I’m so glad I went.

We might still be arguing over what that structure is that we found… maybe a cookhouse (there were lots of bones), maybe a privy – probably only further excavation will tell… but what we all came away with was a great experience and new knowledge about our convict past.

For me it was a crash course in fieldwork, and it turns out I’m a pretty good measurer – that is taking the measurements for the planning on graph  paper (hell on the knees).

So without further ado – more photos… and I’ll put the rest on Flickr for the really keen. 🙂

This is convict era chain that was found under a tree attached to some more modern chain.  Apparently the simple links give it away.

One of the jobs is to survey the site… one person mans the Total Station unit, the other holds this stick steady by making the bubble in the top stay in the middle.

This is me demonstrating “bubble face”.

Archeology in action.  The tip of my trowel is pointing towards a clay pipe buried under an exposed brick.

The nice thing about the pipe was the stamp on it – which shows where it was manufactured.

And the fact it still had part of its stem attached.

[A paper on clay pipes]

Which meant we could do a few poses before bagging it.  We wanted to keep the soil inside in case there was still some resin to analyse.

At the end of our dig we took some final photos but the glaring afternoon sun made it difficult.

Umbrellas were used to provide shade.

And here’s our team.

I’m looking forward to reading the report and seeing how Sean’s project changes on the basis of the dig.

I’ve come to appreciate that archeology is not all giant spiders and glittering artifacts and that pleasure can also be gained by finding foundations.

Videos to come too… eventually.

At the moment all I can think about is my nice soft bed.

Not the barracks, the loo

Here I am at work with M, who is about to do her honours degree in Canberra at ANU.

We’ve just sieved a bucket of dirt and M is handing me the three bits of glass we found in the bottom.

I’ve been excavating Context 059 of Trench 6 which we thought might have been the Depot.

The barracks where the convicts and the ticket-of-leave men slept.

(note the technical archeaolgical terms!)

Today it was at least 40 degrees and hardly a breeze.

It was hot.

And I felt every degree.

Fewer finds today.

I found a button, which may or may not be convict era.

S found a whole bulb of a clay pipe.

About lunchtime Sean decided that we probably weren’t looking at the foundations of the barracks after all.

The walls are too close together.

We think we’re in the privy.

Privies are good.

People chuck stuff in the loo.

Maybe not manacles which would really place this stuff in the convict era, but certainly other artefacts.

Only one day to go and then we fill all the holes in.

And it’s 38 degrees tomorrow.

My clay pipe

Isn’t it beautiful?

The letters you can see are V-I-S so we think it’s a Ben Nevis pipe made somewhere in Glasgow.

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and a lot of clay pipes came from Scotland.

Clay pipes were the disposable cigarette of the 1800s.

The thin hole in the stem is to cool the smoke from the bowl.

Everyone had found a pipe and I was feeling left out frankly at dig central in York.

Yes, I’m on my dig and LOVING it.

Yes, it’s hot, dusty, dirty work but it’s such fun.

You scrape the soil with your tiny trowel and then you hit something interesting.

So you find a brush – a paintbrush maybe – and sweep of the soil until you reveal your artifact.

Sometimes – yawn – it’s a bit of glass or a bone – sometimes it’s a clay pipe, or a whole bottle.

I was very excited with a blue bottle that I found on Australia Day.

But then I found foundation stones!

Bottles… meh.

We found the corner of the barracks where the convicts would have been housed between 1851 and 1875.

It was very very cool.

I know what you are thinking.

That I’m sounding more like a geek than ever.

Ah well… live with it.

It’s now day four of my first ever Archeological dig and I’m in love with digging and all things buried.

So yes… now I’m a dirt geek.

Just call me Baldrick!

I’m very excited.

You see this guy…


His name is Sean.  He’s a PhD student in Archeology at UWA.

He’s studying convicts in WA.

And he’s going on a field trip next year.

And (this is the exciting bit) I’m going with him to help!

Before I met Sean all I knew about convicts in WA was that we started as a free settlement in 1829 (my ancestor arrived in 1830) and we decided to accept convicts in 1850 for about 20 years.

Actually, that’s a pretty good summary of what IS known about convicts in WA.

Turns out there hasn’t been a lot of study done on them.

For a start it’s not been something WA has been very proud of, even though some of our most beautiful buildings were built with convict labour – Government House, The Cloisters…

And also the rest of Australia weren’t that keen on us taking convicts – they’d more or less stopped around 1840.

Of the 9700 men transported (no women) we only have the stories of about 12.

Sean’s project is to try and find out more about their lives.

He’s keen to explore what relationships they had with local women, both free settlers and Indigenous.

What it means for me is (hopefully) I can record some stories for work and also get involved in the process of archeology.

Yes, the dirty, dusty, back-breaking world of digging up stuff.

I can’t wait.

Hand me that sieve Sean!

No doubt I will bore you senseless over the coming months but I hope together we will both learn some interesting new stuff about our history.

Oh and by the way… the Baldrick reference will no doubt be picked up by you if you’re a fan of Blackadder and Time Team.