Bone Button Manufacturing

Bone Button Manufacturing

Bone Button Manufacturing at Parramatta

Evidence for bone button manufacturing was found at the Convict Hospital, Parramatta Justice Precinct site (PJP). Some 38 broken single-hole buttons and offcuts were located within modified topsoils associated with convict huts built in 1790 nearby to the 1792 Second Convict Hospital.

Most of the debris was found in association with the site of a convict hut on Marsden Street. By the early 1800s the convicts had been re-assigned and the hut was leased until 1814-1817 when it was demolished to make way for the Third Convict Hospital. It is thought that the bone buttons were made either by convicts living in the huts or recuperating in the hospital; or perhaps by leaseholders. Buttons would have been needed to fasten clothing, particularly the everyday ‘slops’ made by convict women in the Female Factory and at other places in the early colony.

The buttons were made on sawn pieces of cattle bone on which a hand-held steel button bit was turned creating the circular shape as well as the central hole. Single-hole buttons were mainly used for undergarments and were often covered by cloth or wound thread. They could also be components or backing for other buttons.

Several other varieties of complete bone buttons were also found at the site but it is difficult to prove that they had been made on the site. For three or five-hole types the single-hole discs were used as blanks in which holes were hand-drilled around the centre. Other more finished buttons with or without central holes had countersunk centres. Buttons with three and five holes were made until c1830.

Many kinds of small items have been made from bone for millennia with evidence for buttons being made using similar bits found from medieval times in Britain. Frequent examples have been recovered from sites of the 18th and 19th century with a military or maritime connection, such as forts, prison camps, forts, shipwrecks and prison hulks. These were made by low ranking members of the army and navy, convicts, prisoners of war and slaves.

Site Listing

Parramatta Justice Precinct (PJP) 2006, Areas: Hosp 2 and Lot 98

Picture: Button and offcuts group from topsoil above Marsden Street hut (Hosp 2), (5525/#52979), 10 cm scale, scan by Robyn Stocks.


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