A Hierarchy of Servitude: Ceramics at Lake Innes Estate, New South Wales

Article excerpt


The Lake Innes Estate was created in 1830/1831 by Major Archibald Clunes Innes, a retired officer of the British Army who built up considerable farming and commercial interests in what is now north-eastern New South Wales. The estate formed the operational centre of his activities, as well as being the home of his extended family. He thrived during the economic expansion of the 1830s, benefiting from the work of a large number of convicts assigned to him by the colonial government, as well as employing free servants. The end of both transportation and of assignment in New South Wales, as well as the economic depression of the 1840s, forced him to abandon the estate at the beginning of the 1850s. Already deteriorating by that time, it gradually decayed until the end of the nineteenth century, its surviving structures becoming ruined soon afterwards. Lake Innes House, its extensive stables, and its other associated sites, were the subject of an archaeological research project between 1993 and 2001, including excavations during 1999 to 2001 (Connah 1997; 1998; 2001; in press).

The purpose of this paper is to examine relict ceramic assemblages from five domestic sites on the estate occupied by servants, and to see how they reflect the social position of the occupants as indicated by the documentary sources for the estate. The archaeological advantages of a well-documented pottery supply and well-documented users will be apparent: our analysis can show not just what choices were made but what choices were possible. The assemblages can hopefully throw light on the forces controlling ceramic supply and disposal in earlier periods.

The archaeological landscape of the Lake Innes Estate

Because the Lake Innes Estate failed to thrive in the long term, it has left a complex of archaeological evidence that might not have survived had it been more successful (Figure 1). The brick ruins of Lake Innes House and its stables, although subject during the twentieth century to vandalism, theft of materials, and amateur antiquarianism, became partly protected by dense exotic vegetation. The associated outlying sites were quickly lost in the regrowth of coastal forest that took over most of the cleared land. Although the result is not quite a time-capsule of the Innes period in the 1830s and 1840s, much of the site complex that exists is informative about that time. In addition to the Big House and its evidence for comfortable living at what was then the edge of colonisation, there is workers' accommodation in the stables, the remains of servants' cottages nearby, the site of a servants' village at some distance, the location of a home farm further away, no fewer than four brick-making sites, the site of a boathouse to provide pleasure for the Innes family, remnants of a road system, several artefact scatters, and some exotic survivals from the Innes garden. Most of this evidence is confined to a narrow peninsula of higher ground about 3km in length, lying between Lake Innes to its west and the Innes Swamp to its east, with the Pacific Ocean about 1.5km to its south. Collectively, this archaeological landscape offers a rare opportunity to investigate the functioning of an Australian estate during the period before the Gold Rush. Ten sites have been excavated to date: parts of the Big House (Sites 1, 4, 8 and 10), a servants' cottage (Site 2), a labourers' hut (Site 3), the coachman's dwelling (Site 5), the blacksmith's hut (Site 6), a cottage at the home farm (Site 7) and a stable (Site 9). Here we focus on the implications of the pottery assemblages associated with the five sites that are identified as the dwellings of servants.


The ceramics

The ceramics recovered by the excavations (analysed during 2002 and 2003) represent one of the most extensive collections of pre-Gold Rush ceramics from regional New South Wales to be examined to date. While extensive work has been done on early colonial material culture from Sydney (e. …