Submitted by jays on 28 January 2014 - 3:08pm

This small bone object is one of several hand carved or shaped bone and ceramic items excavated from beneath the ground floor of Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney. It is likely to be a counter used in games of chance. In 1844 a Select Committee inquiry found that convicts at Hyde Park Barracks spent much of their time ‘at gambling and all sorts of vagabond sports’. Convict police messenger John Barker, who lived at the barracks in 1838, said he remembered ‘tossing halfpence’ with one or two men in a dormitory at the barracks. He remembered others playing cards by candlelight all night. Superintendent Lane of Hyde Park Barracks claimed that he had confiscated eight or nine pounds from convict cooks whom he had caught gambling. Gambling with coins was common, but how were these gaming pieces used? Perhaps they were counters for chess, draughts, Nine Men’s Morris, or tic-tac-toe, or another sort of game where these pieces represented individual players. Maybe they were tokens used in swindler’s sleight of hand tricks such as the shell game, or in pitch-and-toss games where the counters stood in for pennies. 

Photograph: Jamie North, 2013
Bone game piece with flower design found underfloor at Hyde Park Barracks during archaeological excavations Bone game piece found underfloor at Hyde Park Barracks during archaeological excavations  Ceramic game piece found underfloor at Hyde Park Barracks during archaeological excavations  Two bone game pieces found underfloor at Hyde Park Barracks during archaeological excavations   Bone die found underfloor at Hyde Park Barracks during archaeological excavations  Bone game piece with flower design found underfloor at Hyde Park Barracks during archaeological excavations
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Hyde Park Barracks
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HPB UG1009, UG1011, UG1013, UG1015, UG1017.