Bullseye! In search of Sydney’s first colonial kitchen

Recreated 1780s military field kitchen built at the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown, Virginia, USA. Photo © Jacqui Newling, Sydney Living Museums,.

While the Curator rattles the pots and pans, I’m looking at the cooking ‘apparatus’ upon which they were used at various points in time. We’ve recently looked at domestic hearth cookery from the early 1800’s, but today I’m taking us to the First Fleet encampment at Sydney Cove in 1788.

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A Birthday Feast

Students from Fort Street Public School sit down to a 'convicts' mess' of boiled beef, cabbage and potatoes, bread and plum pudding. Photo Andrew James (James Horan) for Sydney Living Museums

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the Hyde Park convict barracks, and local ‘convict’ students joined the Governor of New South Wales, the Honourable Margaret Beazley to celebrate.

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The convict diet

Historical reenactors assemble outside Hyde Park Barracks. Photo © Fiona Morris for Sydney Living Museums

According to Francois-Maurice Lepailleur, a convict living at the Hyde Park barracks in 1840, “You don’t starve but you’re always hungry.” So what did convicts eat at Hyde Park barracks in the when it was home to over 600 male convict workers at any one time?
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Colonial traipsings

Walnuts, two still inside their green husk.

Freshly gathered walnuts. Photo Jacqui Newling © Sydney Living Museums

I had the decidedly good fortune to be in Tasmania last week, taking in some of the convict and heritage areas around Hobart. With so many Georgian buildings, Hobart itself offers a glimpse of what the Sydney Cove settlement would have looked and felt like in its very early days. Continue reading

Beef and plum pudding and a rummer of good punch

A watercolour painting of Hyde Park Barracks

Convict Barrack Sydney N.S. Wales by G W Evans (attrib), c1820. State Library of NSW: PX*D 41


June 4, the King’s birthday was a big day in the diary in the Georgian and Regency period. The day traditionally brought a great level of feasting and revelry, even in far-flung Sydney. But there was double celebration on this day in Sydney 1819, when Governor Macquarie presided over the official opening of Hyde Park Barracks, putting on a feast for its new ‘house mates’. Continue reading

Shattered remains

Reconstructed bottle fragments found at Rouse Hill House.

Reconstructed bottle fragments found at Rouse Hill House and Farm. Photo Scott Hill © Sydney Living Museums

The history of Rouse Hill House and Farm is recorded in many ways: in text, in photographs, in the landscape, structures and their contents – and in the archaeological remains that dot the site. These humble glass fragments evoke the site’s earliest European occupancy. Continue reading

Yo ho ho and 45,000 gallons of rum!

Serving punch, watercolor with pen and brown and gray ink over graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, blued white, wove paper .

Serving Punch, Thomas Rowlandson, between 1815 and 1820. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1670710

For many of us, rum, or brandy perhaps, is the (bottled) spirit of Christmas! And Christmas isn’t Christmas at our place without Rum balls (recipe below). But a couple of hundred years ago in this colony, rum was universal. Our guest blogger this week is Fiona Starr, curator of Hyde Park Barracks and The Mint. Continue reading

The convicts’ vegetable garden

Unearthing vegatables grown in a kitchen garden.

Kitchen garden. Photo © Stuart Miller

It was the government’s responsibility to house, clothe and feed the convicts who were lodged at Hyde Park Barracks.  Their rations consisted of meat, flour (baked into bread), maize meal cooked into ‘hominy’, tea and sugar. The rations were to be supplemented with fresh vegetables, but one convict named Charles Cozens wrote that in 1840, the barracks’ soup only contained ‘a slight sprinkling of cabbage leaf’. Continue reading

A convict’s breakfast

Cooking over the fire at 'Redcoats and Convicts' at the Hyde Park Barracks.

Cooking over the fire at 'Redcoats and Convicts' at the Hyde Park Barracks. Photo © Leo Rocker

Breakfast at the barracks

While Sydney’s ‘toffs’ tucked into a leisurely breakfast – anything from freshly laid eggs to kedgeree, smoked ham or cured tongue, sometimes as late as 11am, the convicts at the Hyde Park Barracks would have had to settle for a dish of dreaded hominy, a porridge made from maize, or corn meal, doled out in the mess halls just before dawn (see recipe below). Continue reading

Escapee tea

Two leaves, of the type used for tea, in a facsimilie copy of the paper originally containing them.

Leaves from Botany Bay used as tea, ca 1791. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales: R807

By 1788 the taking of tea, that very British ritual, was enjoyed universally, even in the poorest households. Although tea was available for sale in Sydney from at least 1792, it was not yet considered a ‘necessary’ and therefore not included in convicts rations for another 30 years. But rather than going without, the early colonists found their own alternative in a native sarsaparilla – testament to their resourcefulness. Continue reading