Blinds spotted at the barracks

 

Slowly, but surely, sunlight fades sensitive archaeological artefacts to shades of grey.

That’s why we’ve recently installed new blinds in the Level 2 windows at the eastern end of Hyde Park Barracks, to protect the many tiny keepsakes and small things left behind by the women of Sydney’s female Immigration Depot (1848-1886) that are on display for visitors.

A photographic view of Hyde Park Barracks in 1871 clearly shows light coloured blinds hanging in the western windows on Level 2. Combining this documentary source with archaeological evidence of screw holes in the upper window reveals of all the rooms of Level 2, indicated that the windows once held blinds - possibly sash curtains (usually white muslin covering the lower half of the window) and top hung roller blinds, at different periods.

Closeup of windows showing blinds.

Immigration barracks, August 1871 (detail). State Library of NSW Government Printing Office 1 - 05643

In the mid-nineteenth century, a popular window covering was the Holland blind – a length of waxy linen, originally produced in the Netherlands, and attached to a wooden batten with a roller mechanism. In 1848, when the Depot opened, Sydney store David Jones and various auctioneers advertised in local newspapers the sale of ‘window muslins’, ‘roller blind furniture’, and ‘rough brown and black hollands’. 

Rather than reconstruct the originals, using the same colour as seen in the 1870 photograph, we intended our blinds to be a nod to tradition in their style, so we could be free about choosing the colour of fabric that would best protect the artefacts. To investigate this, Sarah-Jane Rennie, SLM head of collections care, used a light metre to test the ultraviolet radiation and lux through small swatches of different colours.

Finding that dark brown was the best, we went into production. For the installation, rather than drilling new holes into the c1819 window reveals, the blinds have been attached to the vertical window frames, which are reproductions made during the restoration of the building (1979-1984).

Now our artefacts have their place (out of) the sun!

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 Australian history, genealogy and world history is hereditary – passed on by her mother and grandmother.

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