'The deserving poor': Uncovering the worldviews at The Rookery, Adelaide, through the study of ceramics

Author: Lucy McQuie

McQuie, Lucy, 2023 'The deserving poor': Uncovering the worldviews at The Rookery, Adelaide, through the study of ceramics, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Nineteenth century precarious communities, or ‘slums’, have been a focus of historical archaeological research and debate in Australia and internationally over the past 50 years. Many studies have focused on the financial expenditure of slum occupants and on their outward emulations of respectable behaviour, practised in order to situate themselves within the middle class or high society. The literature on the archaeology of these precarious communities is enriched by the study of slum artefacts through the lens of local cultural contexts. This research focuses on a dataset of 7,656 ceramic artefacts excavated in the 1990s from the central cesspits of The Rookery, Adelaide, South Australia, a tenement block located within a nineteenth century urban slum. The research question concentrated on an assessment of the usefulness of artefact-led study in slum contexts, combining artefactual and documentary evidence to uncover the worldviews held by the occupants. Current research on The Rookery is limited and until now, firm conclusions regarding aspects of its construction, structure, occupation, and demolition have not been presented. As one of the only urban Adelaide slums to have been excavated, this site offers a unique opportunity for the study of poverty in the nineteenth century. The identification of local cultural contexts is vital in understanding the nuanced meanings behind historic ceramics. In this case, knowledge of religion, temperance, and philanthropy in the early days of the South Australian colony assisted with the identification of highly fragmented ‘moralising and educational’ artefacts within the assemblage. Further study of the artefacts, through the lens of the religious climate which was present during The Rookery’s existence, facilitated evaluation of the worldviews and personal values held by its occupants. Temperance plates from The Rookery were viewed as objects of social discourse in order to explore the fundamentally unfair relationship between charitable givers and charity recipients in nineteenth century Adelaide. The concept of ‘the deserving poor’ was used by charitable givers as a means of exercising control over the working class, and the potential of this relationship to be exploited by both parties is a reflection of the complex interconnections between poverty, religion, and state. The role of objects as social indicators of submission and rebellion is revealed through ceramics at The Rookery.

Keywords: archaeology, ceramic, temperance, Adelaide, history, poverty, slum, historical archaeology, colonial South Australia

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Heather Burke