Praying Doll

Praying Doll

Praying Dolls from Darling Quarter, Darling Harbour

These two hand-painted glazed solid porcelain dolls were found below the floor of two workers’ cottages at the Darling Quarter site, Darling Harbour, Sydney. They were probably accidentally lost during or after play.

The dolls were made in Germany from the c1860-90 and were part of an inexpensive range of naked dolls exported in large numbers to Australia. The ones this size and larger were called ‘Bath dolls’ because girls bathed them while playing. In the USA these solid dolls are called Frozen Charlottes after a moral tale of a disobedient girl who froze to death outside because she would not wear warm clothing to cover her dress.

From the Victorian period onwards bathing, dressing and feeding dolls, and other adult role playing with teasets was thought to be suitable for girls and prepared them to be a good wife and mother.

However, these two dolls are different. They depict girls or young women wearing caps and praying, one standing and the other kneeling. Also unusual are the bulging bellies that suggest pregnancy. Although these dolls may be just plumply rendered it is possible that they were in essence personal fertility votives and part of a very long-standing religious tradition observed by many pre-modern cultures.

Alternatively they may be merely well-fed girls who are piously praying in accordance with Catholic belief. They were possibly displayed with other small ornamental and religious figurines that were also found in these houses.

What do you think?

Site Listing

Darling Quarter (2008-2010) Area 8
Kneeling: House 13, Room 3, (8585/#16059)
Standing: House 19, Room 1, (8850/#17168)
Scan: 1cm scale divisions.


  • Coleman, D.S., E.A & E.J. Coleman n.d. The Collector’s Encyclopaedia of Dolls, Volume 1, Washington, USA.
  • Fawdry, K. & M. Fawdry 1979 Pollock’s History of English Dolls and Toys, Ernest Bonn, London.
  • Goodfellow, C. 1993 The Ultimate Doll Book, RD Press, Dorling Kindersley, Surrey Hills, Sydney.
  • Hillier, M. 1968 Dolls and Dollmakers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.
  • Lima, T.A. 2012 ‘The Dark Side of Toys in Nineteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’, Historical Archaeology 46(3): 63-78.
  • Darling Quarter Report in Progress: Darling Quarter report in preparation
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