Convict hat sennets & leaf shredder

This shredding tool and ‘sennets’ or fragments of plaited cabbage tree palm leaves (Livistona australis) were found beneath the floors of Hyde Park Barracks, and used by convicts for making hats.

Known as a castor or kelp in the convict 'flash' slang language, a good hat was very useful to a convict working under the punishing Australian sun. But government-issue caps provided no shade, so convicts improvised a solution. Spending countless hours working by candle and lamp light in the sleeping wards at night, the Barracks convicts plaited dried cabbage tree leaves that they had collected from the bush, for sewing into wide brimmed hats. Convicts were sometimes seen exiting the gates wearing several hats on their heads, to take them out to sell on the town. Straw plaiting was taught to convicts in the hulks and there were numerous convicts accommodated at Hyde Park Barracks with the trades of hat maker, milliner, hat finisher and hatter, who might have made such hats and taught the skill to others.

Object(s): Hyde Park Barracks archaeology collection, HPB/UF4393, HPB/UF11636, HPB/UF11648

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