Introducing our new exhibition: Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of Fabrics and Clothing in Tasmania

Duck trousers, straw bonnets, and bluey: the history of Tasmanian textiles and clothing is filled with colourful and unique garments, characters, and stories. Stories like that of Joseph Bidencope, a skilful tailor and milliner from Poland, whose popular hats made in Battery Point were exhibited to great success at the Philadelphia International Exhibition in 1876. Or the many stories of the female convicts housed in the factories at Cascades and Ross – some of whom were imprisoned for stealing aprons, bonnets, and jackets – who made, embroidered, and laundered clothing.

These stories- and many more- are at the heart of a new free exhibition Duck Trousers, straw bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of Fabrics and Clothing in Tasmania currently on display in the State Library of Tasmania and Tasmanian Archives Reading Room in Hobart. The exhibition has original records and heritage books from the Tasmanian Archive and State Library collection on display, along with information and images in our new exhibition space.

Launceston Manuscript Collection, Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Waverley Woollen Mills Warehouse, 77 York St, Launceston – Half plate (1898-1900), LPIC32/1/3

The exhibition tells five intertwined stories. The first story focuses on the history of the Tasmanian Bluey otherwise known as the Miner’s Bluey, a waterproof and durable coat fashioned for the Tasmanian climate. “A Tale of two Woollen Mills” examines a pivotal series of events in the development of the wool industry in Tasmania in the 1860s and 70s, and in particular how two competing woollen companies were established in the north and the south of the state. The techniques used in tanning for the production of leather (and in particular the unique Tasmanian bark used) and shoemaking in Tasmania is the focus of the third story wall, entitled “We all take our shoes very much for granted.” Another story focuses on “Bidencope’s: Hobart’s House of Quality”, telling the story of the tailor Joseph Bidencope and the renowned retail store that he founded on Murray Street. The final story is entitled “A very serious want of cloathing…” and focuses on convicts making and laundering a range of different clothing. It ends with an examination of a riot at the Launceston Female Factory in 1842, in which the women armed themselves with spindles.

State Library of Tasmania: With J. Bidencope’s compliments. [Hobart, Tasmania] : [J. Bidencope & Son], [between 1890 and 1899?]

Over the next few months, the State library and Archive Service team will publish a series of blogs that explore in greater depth some of the fascinating stories that we uncovered during our research. These blogs are designed to complement the exhibition, expanding some elements of the exhibition story walls to provide more context and other perspectives.

Whatever in the world are ‘Duck Trousers’?

No animals were harmed in the making of duck trousers! The name comes from the Dutch word for canvas, which is ‘Doek’. Duck trousers were essentially thick linen canvas trousers, not unlike Moleskins. Duck trousers were the most common type of trousers in the early colony of Hobart Town; they would have been worn by both convicts as well as free men and were prized for their durability.

In the exhibition, duck trousers feature on our convict wall, telling the story of how clothes were made by convicts on their way to Van Diemen’s Land. Our story focuses on the men on board the Pestonjee Bomangee, that arrived in Hobart Town in 1845. Amongst the Tasmanian Archive collection we have a list (CON121/1/1) of the various clothing items that were made during this journey, including a lot of duck trousers.

 
Tasmanian Archives: List of packages of Government clothing made on board the Pestonjee Bomangee (1845), CON121/1/1

A sneak peak of the images on display

We are really excited to have on display in this exhibition many wonderful images from our Tasmanian Archive and State Library collections. Many of these images have been placed into a Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets and Bluey Flickr Album for you to enjoy at anytime.

Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of fabrics and clothing in Tasmania will be on show until the end of August.

Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Garrett & Co. Pty Ltd, Clothing Manufacturers – Interior view (1920), NS1202/1/2

Isn’t it good, Taswegian Wood: Experiments in Growing Cricket Bat Willow Trees and a Wooden Cricket Pitch

In the 1930s and 40s cricket bats were a precious thing. Around the world, bats were in short supply, largely due to an increase in demand for English willow (Salix alba var. caerulea) for use in a range of items both during and after the Second World War. As was noted in correspondence between J. M. Crockett and The Commissioner of the Australian Council of Agriculture in July 1940:

every available tree of this type has been taken over in Gt Britain for War Purposes, the chief item being aircraft construction, the timber being the best substitute for spruce, which is all tied up now in countries occupied by the enemy … The other uses for this willow is artificial limbs for which no other timber is suitable, and recently has [been found to have] the quickest, and most powerful detonation as a component in high explosive fuses for shells … So you can see that none of the tree is not of high commercial value.

As a cricket bat manufacturer, J. M. Crockett (Jim) had obvious motives in writing to the Commissioner and highlighting both the current global willow shortages and the value of willow timber more broadly; he wanted to propose the planting of willow trees as a viable and profitable agricultural activity in Australia. As Jim Crockett continues in his letter, ‘in normal times Australia’s requirements alone is 100,000 cricket bats annually, for which 4,500 mature trees would be required to produce the same.’ Kashmiri willow, which today is a major source of cricket bat willow, had not yet been fully developed as an industry outside of India, and so the bat-making industry was having to look further afield to other sources of willow. Australia, and most particularly the cooler and wetter climate of Tasmania, was certainly a strong option worth exploring. Over the next few years Jim Crockett made several visits to Tasmania, noting the ‘climatic conditions ideal’ for willow bat propagation. Indeed, he went so far as to state that ‘not only could Tasmania make Australia self-sufficient, but an export trade to the empire’s cricketing Dominions was extremely likely.’

Continue reading “Isn’t it good, Taswegian Wood: Experiments in Growing Cricket Bat Willow Trees and a Wooden Cricket Pitch”

The History of the Bream Creek Show: 1896 – the Present

The Bream Creek Show Society recently donated a collection of its posters from the 1930s to the 1950s to Libraries Tasmania. Whilst we already held some samples of Bream Creek posters, the donation by the Show committee means that we now have a solid and substantial record of this iconic rural event. With the 2020 Show one of the many public events cancelled in this particular historical moment, we are publishing this blog as a celebration of the Show’s long history – and look forward to its re-emergence in 2021.

Continue reading “The History of the Bream Creek Show: 1896 – the Present”

Soldier Land Settlement Scheme

The Soldier Land Settlement Scheme was created to help settle returned soldiers on the land after the First and Second World Wars.

“The Returned Soldiers’ Settlement Act, 1916,” and the amending Acts of 1917 and 1918, make provision for the Settlement on land in the State of Tasmania of any returned soldiers with satisfactory discharges, and who have had previous farming experience, desirous of following this occupation. – Government Printer 1919

Libraries Tasmania has a variety of historical records about soldier settlement, many of these available online.

By entering a person’s name you can search the Tasmanian Names Index  for applications to lease land under the act from 1917 until 1929 as well as applications for selections of free crown land from 1917 to the 1940s.

Many of these records also contain links to the soldier’s service record through the National Archives of Australia’s Discovering Anzacs portal.  If one exists, there may also be a photograph from the Weekly Courier or the Tasmanian Mail.

The Closer Settlement Board was responsible for implementing the Soldier Settlement Scheme and their records are a rich source of information about it.

One soldier who applied for land as part of this act was William Albert Graham, and his descendants still live on the land today.

William enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force at Claremont on the 19/01/1916.

On his return from the war he applied for the Soldier Settlement Scheme on the 15/03/1919.

On William’s application he mentions that he was “wounded with shrapnel but am getting alright”

William’s grandson David Graham talks about when his grandfather enlisted, and the time that he was wounded near the Hindenburg line.
The date on the lease for William’s land was the 1st of May 1919.

His grandson David talks about William and the land where his family still live.

Bibliography

Beresford, Quentin. The World War One soldier settlement scheme in Tasmania [online]. Papers and Proceedings: Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Vol. 30, No. 3, Sept 1983: 90-100. Availability:<http://search.informit.com.au.instance1.ezproxy.education.tas.gov.au/documentSummary;dn=840404145;res=IELAPA>ISSN: 0039-9809. [cited 19 Apr 17] (Log in with your LINC Tasmania membership details)

Richardson, Andrew. Soldier Land Settlement Scheme [online]. The companion to Tasmanian History. Availability: http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/S/Soldier%20settlement.htm accessed 19/04/17

Government Printer (1919) Information for returned soldiers desirous of obtaining land under “The Returned Soldiers’ Settlement Act, 1916”