Digitising the Susannah Place Collection

Located in the heart of The Rocks, Susannah Place is a terrace of four houses – 58–64 Gloucester Street – that was home to more than 100 families over a period of 150 years.

Built by Irish immigrants in 1844, it survived unchanged through the slum clearances and redevelopments of the 20th century. Today, Susannah Place and its rich collections reflect the shared history of the four houses and the personal stories of the working-class families who called this place home from 1844 to 1990.

The Susannah Place Collection is largely undigitised, as the material is usually on display in the houses. In recent years, digitisation work has focused on smaller removable items and/or material held in offsite storage. In late 2022, the closure of the houses for essential restoration work created an opportunity for a targeted digitisation program to be undertaken in two phases. During phase one (2022), key collection material was digitised from 58 and 60 Gloucester Street. During phase two (2023), objects from numbers 62 and 64 will be digitised, including new acquisitions.

Phase one (completed): collection material from 58 and 60 Gloucester Street

In November 2022, digitisation was carried out during a three-day photo shoot with commissioned photographer Joshua Morris. The photo shoot was held at the Museums Discovery Centre in Castle Hill, where the Susannah Place Collection is being temporarily stored during the building restoration works. A range of furniture and domestic items was digitised, including tables, chairs, pots, pans, milk jugs, glassware, laundry equipment, rosary beads, binoculars, dominoes games, a chaise longue, a ewer and basin, a quilt and a birdcage.

The photo shoot required several different set-ups and lighting configurations to cater for the diverse object types and materials, as well as their differences in scale – ranging from a domino piece to a chaise longue. A team of four was onsite to assist with object handling and moving larger collection items.

The shoot resulted in the photography of 41 collection items and the creation of 289 digital assets, which will soon be made available in our new online catalogue.

Phase two (yet to commence): collection material from 62 and 64 Gloucester Street

With restoration work for numbers 62 and 64 planned for the 2023–24 financial year, we are seeking donations for collection digitisation of items from these houses. A range of collection material will be digitised, including an Ansonia clock, brass scales for the shop counter, a cast-iron umbrella stand, a timber sewing box and sewing accessories. Larger objects and props will also be photographed in situ in the houses.

Phase two will result in the creation of new photographic records and updated catalogue descriptions. Digitised content will be published in our new online catalogue, complementing the new display and providing greater public access to the unique Susannah Place Collection and its rich personal stories.

The work involves

  • Minor collection care activities
  • Studio photo shoot with a professional cultural heritage photographer
  • In situ photo shoot onsite at Susannah Place (once the new display is open)
  • Descriptive enhancement of catalogue records
  • Addition of image metadata
  • Publishing of catalogue records and photographs to the MHNSW website
Original glass plate negatives from the NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive arranged on a lightbox.

2023 Annual Appeal: Preserving our Past

Funds raised will assist us to continue our work to digitise the significant collections in our care.

View of rear of Susannah Place Museum

Susannah Place

Sydney’s working-class heritage