Mystery object unearthed

09/09/2009

A mud-caked object unearthed from an old drain at Ross led to much head-scratching and brainstorming at South Hobart’s Cascades Female Factory at the weekend.

The mystery artifact, from the collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, complemented a collection of interesting family heirlooms brought to a community event by the female factory’s neighbours and friends.

Beautiful Victorian jewellery, silk programs from the Royal Hobart Regatta, coins discovered in a shipwreck and a letter written from the trenches of France in 1918 were among the items produced by the visitors.

And Arts Tasmania Roving Curator Jai Paterson was on hand to show how to care for the prized and delicate objects.

The enthusiastic group was initially baffled by the mystery object but after many intelligent guesses Huonville couple Jeanette and Garry Burdon combined their powers of deduction to identify it as a powder flask.

The flask and its squashed metal cap were found in an old drain, just outside what was once the Ross Female Factory’s “hiring class dormitory”.

Jai said the drain was installed in 1841 when the Ross site provided accommodation for male Road Gang convicts and it was still there when the female factory was established in 1847.

“Because of its position in the drain, it is obvious that the powder flask (that once hung from a soldier’s belt) was intentionally hidden; it didn’t just fall,” Jai said. “And that begs the question as to who stole it and hid what was after all government property, a serious crime for a convict already doing time at Ross.”

Jai said events at the Cascades Female Factory provided a great opportunity to develop a real community appreciation for living heritage.

“Sharing information about the fabulous family treasures that were brought along was made even more enjoyable by doing the workshop within the context of the factory.

“It has such a colourful history. It was best known as a female factory for women serving a sentence, awaiting assignment/hiring or awaiting confinement. But it was originally a rum distillery and then a prison, hospital, asylum and reformatory.”

The Cascades Female Factory is among 11 convict sites across the country nominated by the Australian Government for World Heritage Listing. The other Tasmanian sites in the nomination are the Port Arthur and Coalmines historic sites on the Tasman Peninsula, Woolmers and Brickendon estates at Longford and the Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island.

Jeanette Burdon and Ann Rau (back), Geoffrey Wood, Garry Burdon and Roving Curator Jai Patterson with the mystery object

Jeanette Burdon and Ann Rau (back), Geoffrey Wood, Garry Burdon and Roving Curator Jai Patterson with the mystery object

The mystery object - beneath the mud lies a story waiting to be told

The mystery object – beneath the mud lies a story waiting to be told

Roving Curator Jai Patterson examines some of the items brought to the community day at the Cascades Female Factory

Roving Curator Jai Patterson examines some of the items brought to the community day at the Cascades Female Factory