The underfloor cavities at the Hyde Park Barracks have revealed more than 3000 thousand textile fragments during archaeological excavations.

Most date from 1848 to 1886, a period when the barracks was home mostly to women: an Irish orphan refuge (1848-52), an immigration depot (1848-86) and a shelter or asylum for the aged, infirm and destitute (1862-86). The textiles may have been lost underfloor, removed by rodents or intentionally discarded or concealed.

The designs of many of the textiles are remarkably intricate and vivid, and there is also an over-representation of the colour purple – most are inexpensive cotton prints produced using machine printing techniques.

One English textile printer, Thomas Hoyle & Sons, was closely associated with the production of purple printed textiles - in fact, so closely associated with the colour purple during the 19th century, that its fabrics were commonly described and sold as ‘Hoyle’s purple’. The colour was derived from the root of the madder plant (rubia tinctorum), a source of dye for centuries.

Thomas Hoyle & Sons’ cambrics, lightweight plain weave cotton or linen fabrics with a smooth crisp texture, were imported into Australia from the 1840s. By this period, the price of printed fabrics had become much cheaper following the invention of fully mechanised machine printing. A myriad of different patterns were now available including a wide variety of Hoyle’s purple cambrics, which even those on modest incomes could now afford to buy.

13 August 2012 - 9 November 2012