Submitted by ondinee on 12 July 2017 - 9:55pm

In their 'flash' slang language convicts called a shirt a smish, kemesa, or flesh-bag. Deliberately torn into squares and strips, these scraps of convict shirt found under the floors of Hyde Park Barracks suggest that some convicts were recycling old clothing for new purposes. It was the rats that made their nests beneath the floorboards from soft fabric found in the wards that helped to preserve the tens of thousands of fabric scraps that were later discovered underfloor by archaeologists. Among these scraps were pieces of clothing left behind by the convicts who stayed in the wards, like these scraps of the distinctive blue striped convict uniform shirt. 

Historical accounts tell us that convict tailors worked by candlelight in the wards in the evenings - possibly to earn a few coins from the other convicts. They would have used scraps like these to sew patches on torn shirts and trousers and replacing missing buttons with others they had found and stored.

… What do the men do at night?

Perhaps there are six or seven making hats, some tailoring, and others card-playing...

Convict John Barker, Evidence to the Select Committee on Security of Life and Property, 1844, 39-40.

Group of shirt scraps in striped material Scraps of fabric arranged in a grid
Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection
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1819-1848

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