Artefact of the Month: Umbrella Fragments

A group of umbrella/parasol fragments were recovered from the site of 1-5 Queen Street, Melbourne (H7822-1871) during excavations undertaken by Extent Heritage in 2018.

The site’s European history (Clark et al. 2019) starts in 1837, beginning with Pitman’s Store (a small building from which Frederick Pittman, a key trader of early Melbourne, ran a store) and a residence set back from the street. This was followed by a candle and soap works factory (Rae, Dickson & Co), which occupied the site from the 1840s to 1872. This factory then demolished, and a new building housing a range of shipping-related businesses was constructed in 1872. In 1911, the building was purchased by the Mercantile Mutual Insurance Company and was used as their Victorian headquarters until the 1950s. In 1955, the building was purchased by Fletcher Jones & Co for a retail store and was used for this purpose until 2011 (Clark et al, 2019).

The artefact collection was catalogued by Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants, and included a total of 6674 artefact fragments. Of particular interest were a group of artefacts excavated from what was interpreted by the excavators as a filtering tank, possibly for lye leeching, which is part of the candle making process. The artefacts recovered from the tank represent a one-off fill event, which most likely occurred at the time of the closing and abandonment of the candle and soap factory and before the new structures were constructed in 1872. The artefacts were probably deposited in the late 1860s or early 1870s, as none of the artefact manufacturing start dates are later than 1870 (Woff, Williamson & Biagi, 2019).

Queen street umbrella components picture 3

Photo 1: Umbrella/parasol fragments from 1-5 Queen Street, Melbourne (Image supplied: Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants)

The tank context contained an interesting group of artefacts, which included nine fragments of composite umbrella/parasol stretchers (representing eight complete umbrella/parasol stretchers, enough for one complete umbrella/parasol) and three fragments of organic/wooden umbrella ribs, which were round in profile. The context also contained a large quantity (n=278) of textile fragments, which have at least three different weave styles, some of which may be associated with the umbrella/parasol (Woff, Williamson & Biagi, 2019).

Parts of an umbrella

Photo 2: Parts of an umbrella (Image from: )

Umbrellas are multi-part objects, and a simple umbrella/parasol can include up to 112 different parts (Hooper 2016: 30-31). These parts can be made from a range of materials including, but not limited to: wood, textiles, metals, baleen and ivory (Hooper 2016: 1). Our fragments are comprised of a range of materials. The stretchers are composite, made from iron alloy, copper alloy and a wood-like organic material. The ribs are made from the same wood-like organic material, which may be cane or a similar material. Hooper suggests that baleen “was the primary material used for ribs until 1852” when steel ribs were invented that were much lighter and stronger (2016: 8), however, both materials were shaped to be flat or rectangular in section (Hooper 2016: 8), whereas our fragments are round. The textiles recovered from this context were not obviously related to an umbrella or parasol by style or construction, but some may be associated with the umbrella fragments recovered.

Image of Fashion plate showing umbrella

Photo 3: Fashion plate showing umbrella (Image from:

The terms umbrella and parasol were used interchangeably in 19th century advertising (Hooper 2016: 24 – 30). These items were seen as “primarily public objects, used to shield their bearers from the elements encountered when venturing outside. These objects function in images as fashionable and practical tools, mediating the relationship between individuals and their rural or urban surroundings” (Hooper 2016: 166). Although the reason for the discard of this object is unknown, this group of artefacts links to ideas of fashion and domestic life, and provides a glimpse in to the fashions of early urban Melbourne in the 1860s.


Clark, C, Douglas, P, Petkov, B & Rubio Perez, R 2019. 1–5 Queen Street, Melbourne (H7822-1871) Historical Archaeological Excavation Report HV #4930. Prepared by Extent Heritage for Hutchinson Builders.

Hooper, R 2016. Out of the shade: uncovering the manufacture and use of umbrellas and parasols, 1830 -1840. Masters Thesis submitted for the University of Delaware.

Woff, B, Williamson, C & Biagi, C 2019, Artefact Report 1 – 5 Queen Street, Melbourne (H7822-1871). Prepared for Extent Heritage

Going in Style 2017, Parts of an umbrella, image, Going In Style, viewed 12 Februaru 2020 <

Buck, A, 1961, Fashion plate showing umbrella, image, Vintage Dancer, viewd 13 February 2020 <