Hanging up the hammocks

 

Reproduction convict hammocks were installed on Level 3 of the museum in 1991, but over 20 years of use left them worn, torn and in need of replacement.

An essential and well-loved part of the museum experience, the hammock dormitories give visitors an immersive experience of how the convicts once lived at the barracks.

In 2012 we set out to replicate the first generation of reproduction hammocks, which had been carefully reconstructed through detailed research into the materials and design of the type of hammocks that would have been installed in 1819. They had bee manufactured from tightly woven flax linen, but several months of investigation proved that such material is no longer manufactured in Australia.

Looking further afield, we contacted Jujubags, an Australian textile supplier with connections in India, who recommended a weaving mill in New Delhi. Giving them our specifications for colour, weave and width, the mill went to work to produce samples of the fabric.

With thousands of visitors expected to lie in our new hammocks, we had to be sure to match the tight weave of the original fabric, to ensure they will last another 20 years. After revising several samples, the right weave was achieved, and the mill went into production of 400 metres of flax.

Shipped to Sydney, the rolls of fabric were delivered directly to E.H. Brett’s who had won the tender for manufacture into hammocks. This was the same family company that had made the first generation hammocks in 1991.

Brett’s cut, sewed and stitched the flax into hammocks with hand-sewn eyelets, and spliced, tied and wove Manila rope, hemp and sail maker’s twine into clews, coxcombed grommets, and lanyards. This was hard work for many hands, but their attention to detail has produced 106 authentic, fine reproduction hammocks.

In May 2014, staff of the Macquarie Street Portfolio of Sydney Living Museums all joined in to hang the hammocks, retiring the old well-worn versions to boxes.

Now a few more generations of museum visitors can lie down and swing in a hammock to enjoy the convict dormitory experience.

About the Author

Fiona seated in hammock in Hyde Park Barracks.
Dr Fiona Starr
Curator
The Mint and Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Fiona claims her love of history is hereditary – passed on by her mother and grandmother, each interested in...

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