Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

ArchSoc’s Port Arthur Field Trip

A few weeks have passed since the Flinders Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) sent six of our members and two of our committee to help the Port Arthur Historic Sites Management Authority (PAHSMA) with their artefact collection from the 2011 Hobart Penitentiary Chapel excavations.

The Port Arthur Team. Back (L-R): David Roe, Jeanne Harris, Tom Lally, Ilona Bartsch, Maxim Ayres, Bradley Kerr and Louisa Fischer. Front (L-R): Andrew Wilkinson, Leah Ralph, Annita Waghorn, Lauren Davison and Holly Winter.

As you can see from the blog entries that the participants wrote at the end of each day, everyone enjoyed themselves and learnt a lot. This is the first time ArchSoc has organised a field trip like this and it is a testament to the dedication and organisation of this year’s committee that the trip went off without a hitch.

On behalf of ArchSoc, I would like to thank those that helped make this trip possible from the onset. Thanks go to Claire Smith, whose networking made this possible, Natalie Bittner, who along with myself, conducted the initial consultations with PAHSMA, and to David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA, who were both more than happy to host several student volunteers.

I would also like to thank those that helped in the planning stages and those that helped us in our more-than-successful fundraising BBQ and Bake Sale including the ArchSoc Committee and staff from the Department of Archaeology. There are too many individuals to name, but you all know who you are.

BBQ in the Plaza @ Flinders

Thanks to everyone that applied to go on this trip, sorry we couldn’t accommodate all of you and to Andrew Wilkinson and Tom Lally who co-ordinated the trip at short notice when it was clear that I could no longer attend.

Lastly, a very big thank you goes to Jeanne Harris, David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA for hosting ArchSoc on what was a very successful trip. We hope this is the start of a long relationship.

Bake Sale in the Humanities Courtyard

The professionalism of our committee and participants is highlighted in an email that David Roe sent to me shortly after the trip:

“From our perspective the week was a great success: we were able to get a number of important fieldwork jobs done and a significant hole has been made in the cataloguing task for the Penitentiary Chapel assemblage.  Jeanne, Annita and I were impressed with the Flinders contingent: they worked hard and were a pleasure to have around.  Their enthusiasm and conduct reflects most admirably upon the Flinders ArchSoc in particular and the University in general.  Please accept our thanks for having organised and underwritten the trip; we look forward to more such visits in the future.”

Jordan Ralph

Sorting Artefacts from the 2011 Penitentiary Chapel Excavations in Hobart
Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

Port Arthur – Day Seven – Last Day of the Laboratory Work

Today is the last day and night we will be spending in Port Arthur, and I’m sure we are all missing this fantastic place already. The work of the previous day was continued, with Leah and I (Bradley) working in the trench, and Andrew, Tom, Maxim, Holly, Ilona and Louisa processing the various artefacts in the labs.

Out in the trench, we finished up doing a description of feature 2 and added some measurements and bearings of the feature onto the scale map. More of the trench was dug out and we photographed the unearthed soil layers. For the rest of the day we completed a scale diagram of feature 3 using a drawing grid and plumb bob, and started drawing a section layer drawing of the different contexts of the north wall of feature 3. Luckily we had lovely weather to work in.

Our morning lab work saw the completion of the bagging of artefacts from the site.  Afterwards, we continued to expand the database, through further cataloguing and photography.  Some of the more interesting artefacts recorded include a ceramic jar manufactured by “Maling” in Newcastle, England.  Lastly, we had a wonderful evening meal with Jeanne and David at the Felon restaurant.

We all had a wonderful time over the past week in Port Arthur.  Our time spent working with such knowledgeable and experienced professionals, such as Annita, David and Jeanne, will undoubtedly prove invaluable. The group has learnt more than initially expected, and some have found a passion for another element of archaeology. In all, this has been an exceptionally rewarding experience.

Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

Port Arthur – Day Six – Back in the Port Arthur Archaeology Laboratory

Today we all went back to the labs to do much of the same work we have been doing during the past week here at Port Arthur, and the only major difference noted by all was the chilly weather that slowly crept up on us throughout the duration of the day; luckily there was no real rain!

Lauren, Leah and I (Bradley) worked in the trench for the first time with Annita and David. We familiarised ourselves with the purpose of the trench, which is to allow a fire suppression pipe to be installed. We were also shown the different deposits found in the trench and what contexts they are in. We started by doing a section drawing of the first feature of the trench, which had descending layers of soil, clay, bricks, a thin layer of charcoal, and a hard brick layer. David and I then did a Dumpy level survey, and he explained to me what it is, how it works and how to perform the survey.

After our rather long lunch break, in which a man named Charlie and his wife came to visit Annita, Andrew and the others and tell us some amusing stories, Lauren and Leah began photographing and doing section drawings of feature two, while I helped Annita collect and bag the artefacts found in the trench spoil pit, as well as plotting the lengths of each feature on a scale map of the trench area. Later in the day, David set up a drawing grid over feature three, which contained an interesting drain pipe feature, and I assisted him in drawing a scale version of the feature using the grid and a plumb bob.

At the end of the day Jeanne showed us a collection of different kinds of old glass bottles and jars, and told us all about them, which was interesting. Finally we all took a few group photos in front of the penitentiary building, which allowed a few of us to show our silly sides, and enjoy ourselves a bit before the last day at Port Arthur arrives.

We bade a fond farewell to Lauren who returns to Flinders University for her well deserved graduation ceremony.

Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

Port Arthur – Day Five – Touring the Greater Port Arthur Area


Today we had a day off from working in the labs and the field, and so David and Jean were kind enough to take us on a tour of the greater Port Arthur area, following the spread of convict activities.

We first drove up to the probation station at Saltwater River, and then we spent the most part of the day at the historic coal mines further around the bay. At the coal mines, David and Jean took us on a detailed walking tour around all the main features, such as the prisoners’ barracks and solitary cell complex, the commissariat store at Plunkett Point, and then up to the main mining shaft and the air shaft, stopping to have a nice relaxed lunch by the remnants of the buildings.

After the coal mines, we took a quick detour out to Remarkable Cave to satisfy the tourist within us and then we headed over to Point Puer, which was where they kept the boy convicts from about 9-16 years of age. Looking at the evident ideas of criminology and the execution of criminal justice in the 1800’s was really interesting, especially when you compare it to how things are done today. At Point Puer, David took us on a bit of a bush–bash around all the remaining features such as the solitary cells, the church, the stores, the saw-pits, the incomplete aqueduct and the (possible) tannery.

Back to the house for dinner, and we are about to head off on one of the famous Port Arthur ghost tours, to make some pale new friends… some of us hope…

Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

Port Arthur – Day Four – Lab and Field

Today, we again met at the Policeman’s Cottage where we split into two different groups.  The majority worked in Policeman’s Cottage, cataloging artefacts, whilst a smaller group of three operated in the field.

In the Field

Maxim, Ilona and Holly began the day working with archaeologist Annita Waghorn, continuing the excavation of the fire-mains trench.  In particular, we focused on uncovering the distribution of brick within the trench, as opposed to the layers of clay and charcoal.

After lunch, Ilona continued with excavation, while Maxim and Holly were introduced to the use of a Dumpy Level by David Roe.  With his assistance, a profile of the Radcliffe Creek was taken and some valuable experience gained!

Ilona’s progress in the trench exposed a brick box drain, which may possibly have been used for grey water drainage.  Photographs of this were taken by Holly, under the guidance of Annita, with an explanation given of what is necessary to include in a photograph intended for use as archaeological documentation.

In the Lab

Lauren and Louisa continued photographing artefacts. Andrew tethered the camera to the computer which enables you to use the PC as the camera viewfinder. Three boxes of artefacts were sorted. Cataloging continued with two computers, which increased the rate of artefact input. This is by far the most time consuming task as identification as well as artefact measurements and descriptions are required.

The journey continues….

Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

Port Arthur – Day Three – In the lab

View from the Lab

It was a beautiful day today in Port Arthur and a great start to the lab and field work. At 9am, we all met down at the Policeman’s Cottage and split into groups. Louisa and Tom went with Annita and David to do surveying and some excavation work, Andrew and Bradley started with photography, and the rest of us started sorting through artefacts and eventually cleaned all the artefacts that were recovered from the Penitentiary Chapel.

Sorting Artefacts from the 2011 Penitentiary Chapel Excavations in Hobart

For those of our group that are new to the archaeology scene, today was a very important introduction to the world of archaeology and they are all learning so much. It was a great experience to look at all the artefacts that have been recovered and begin to understand what was going on with the convicts at the Penitentiary Chapel.

Artefact Photography
Site Survey with Louisa and Tom
Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

Port Arthur – Day One & Two – Touring Port Arthur and Lab Inductions

A talk on the Radcliffe collection

Day 1 – Yesterday was all about travelling, shopping and settling in. The quaint wooden dwelling of Roseview cottage commands an awesome view of the Port Arthur site.

First Morning: Tour of the Port Arthur World Heritage Site

Day 2 – Begins with a casual tour of Port Arthur. 40 minutes of convict and post-convict history sets the scene for the week ahead. The team had half an hour of personal exploration before embarking on the harbour cruise; passing the shipyard before skimming past Point Puer and circling the Isle of the Dead. The obligatory safety induction was held in the PAHSMA office. Following this there was a visit to the archaeology and historical reference collection. This visit provides a clear appreciation of the problems associated with the storage and analysis of archaeological finds. The Radcliffe curiosity collection holds intriguing artefacts, and a number of bricks stolen from Port Arthur and returned at some point.
Then down to the laboratory. Jean led us through the lab procedure and plan for the following days. Cleaning, sorting, photography and data entry await. Works behind the asylum and pauper’s mess have uncovered artefacts, and threaten some convict period infrastructure. A team rotation will survey this, and the penitentiary building which is currently the subject of an important preservation focus.

On a tour of the grounds at Port Arthur
On a Tour of the Harbour and the Isle of the Dead
Field Work, Port Arthur Field Trip

April Field Season. Good Luck!

Volunteers on our Port Arthur lab work have (hopefully) departed this morning for a week of artefact cataloging with the Port Arthur Historic Sites Management Authority (PAHSMA). A lot of consultation, organisation and fund raising went into making this trip a reality, so thanks to all those that made it possible. A very big thank you to Annita and David from PAHSMA for hosting us. Hopefully ArchSoc will continue to work with PAHSMA in the future. Our volunteers will be blogging about their time in Port Arthur over the next week, so stay tuned 🙂

The week-long Archaeological Field Methods field school at Redbanks (Mallala) starts today as well! It’s great to see so many Flinders archaeology students getting some hands-on experience.

Good luck to everyone involved in field work this season and condolences to those stuck at their desks, perhaps the July field season will be kinder to you!