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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Sharing the joy – with pudding.

Mrs. Macpherson's cookery class: the Christmas pudding [detail]. Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth. Australasian Sketcher, December 20, 1879. State Library of Victoria. A/S20/12/79/145

Judging by the fashionable dress of the women in Mrs Macpherson’s plum pudding class shown above, the traditional plum pudding was a standard requirement, if not the centrepiece, on all the best tables. But in the true spirit of Christmas, our archives tell us that the less fortunate were also tucking in to the classic plum pud!

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Reconstructing dinner in the Hyde Park Barracks destitute asylum

Dinner bowl (reconstructed) used in the Hyde Park Asylum for aged and destitute women, 1862-1886, excavated from beneath the floorboards at Hyde Park Barracks. UF9831c. Photo © Jamie North

Archaeology Honours reasearcher  Kim Connor joins us again with her recreation of a typical dinner served to women living in Hyde Park barracks in the Destitute Asylum and Immigration Depot in the 1880s.  Continue reading

Bread and dripping, an ‘institution’

Kim Connor's homemeade bread and dripping made using 19th-century methods. Photo © Kim Connor

Kim Connor is currently undertaking an internship at Hyde Park barracks as part of her research project ‘Feeding the confined’ for her honours studies in archaeology at Sydney University.  Kim’s particular interest is the diet of the women at Hyde Park barracks when it was the Immigration Depot and the Destitute Asylum between 1848 and 1886. Kim is our guest author this week, as with true gastronomic gusto, she not only reads about the types of food that the women ate, and how it was prepared, she attempts to recreate some of the food to support her thesis. What was the food like? Was it enough? And for today’s story – just how bad does bread and dripping taste? Continue reading

Kim Connor, intern, Hyde Park barracks

Hyde Park barracks intern, Kim Connors examining bones from the barracks archaeology. Photo © Fiona Starr Sydney Living Museums

Kim Connor is an Honours student in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sydney. Her thesis, ‘Feeding the confined’ is an analysis of the animal bone from Hyde Park barracks in order to investigate the diet of the women of the Immigration Depot and the Destitute Asylum (1848-1886).

By studying the bones, I’m discovering other unofficial ways that the women supplemented and varied their diets. One of the big surprises has been how much evidence there is for meat that wasn’t on the official ration: rabbit, chicken and other fowl, oysters and even crab! Explaining why there is a difference between the archaeological record and the historical sources is key to understanding how these institutions worked, and the experience of the women who lived there.

Kim also writes about historical food for her blog Turnspit & Table with ‘an anti-miserablist approach to historical cooking’ and is a regular participant in the Historical Food Fortnightly.

Eat your history – the book!

Jacqui Newling, author of Eat your history: stories and recipes from Australian kitchens Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Handwritten recipes passed through the generations, tales of goats running wild in colonial gardens and early settlers’ experimentation with native foods…
Eat your history dishes up stories and recipes for Australian kitchens and dining tables from 1788 to the 1950s.

Jacqui Newling, resident gastronomer at Sydney Living Museums, invites you to share forgotten tastes and lost techniques, and to rediscover some delicious culinary treasures. 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