This small collection of tiles came from Duckenfield Park House, a now demolished mansion built around 1855 near Morpeth in the Hunter River district of New South Wales.

The original house was built by grazier and pioneer pastoralist John Eales (1799-1871) and greatly extended in the 1870s by Eales’ son, John Eales junior (1831-1894), a member of the NSW Legislative Council. The property was sold in 1916 to mining company Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP), who purchased the house primarily for building materials, demolishing the structure in 1917.

The tiles were acquired for the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection from the estate of Miss Margaret Owen Perkins, a great-great granddaughter of John Eales senior. They are encaustic tiles, a reference to the medieval method of manufacturing tiles, in which wet clay was pressed into wooden moulds that had been carved in relief to create an intaglio (impression). Once the tiles were dry, the intaglio was filled with coloured slip (a mixture of clay and water) and the two sections fused during firing. Tiles of red clay were commonly inlaid with contrasting buff or blue medieval designs, and generally left unglazed for use as flooring. They could be laid in combination with different shaped tesserae (mosaic pieces) to create repeating patterns. Encaustics were initially used for the floors of 13th-century European churches and cathedrals and gained renewed popularity in England and elsewhere during the Gothic Revival of the early 19th century.  At first they were reproduced in the restoration of ecclesiastic buildings, but their use soon extended to civic and domestic architecture. Due to their durability, ease of cleaning and beauty, encaustics featured in the decorative tiling schemes of many public buildings and the entrances, halls, garden paths and courtyards of large houses.

Two of the tiles in this collection were used in the large courtyard at Duckenfield Park House and the third came from a fireplace hearth within the house.

About the Author

Marina Grilanc
Marina Grilanc
Assistant curator
Marina Grilanc is Assistant Curator at the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC), and is part of the Curatorial Team at...