Sources for an Engendered Archaeology of Late Victorian Woolloongabba

Ethan Clark-Kistowski is a student at the University of Queensland and a research assistant at Converge Heritage. In 2022 he wrote his Honours’ Thesis, “One Woman’s Trash, Another’s Treasure: Engendering a Late Victorian South Brisbane Archaeological Refuse Assemblage” and presented on it at the 2022 National Archaeology Student Conference where he won the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology Award for Best Historical Paper. His research interests include examining gender and agency in the Hellenistic and Victorian Periods. He prefers cats to dogs, and when not researching he loves to curl up outside on a sunny day with a good book!

The key primary source was the physical artefacts themselves, which consisted of numerous leather shoe soles, and a very large collection consisting of thousands of ceramic artefacts, both intact vessels and sherds. The ceramic artefacts were identified as mostly domestic ware such as plates, cups, teapots, and saucers, although there were some more unique artefacts that included a candlestick holder, smoking pipes and even a calendar plate! These were decorated with a variety of designs that ranged from the elaborate well known willow ware pattern to simple blue rim tableware.

A Willow ware plate.
Blue rim plates.
A Calendar plate.
A ceramic candlestick.

As for the leather shoes, I adapted Dappert-Coonrod and Mihich’s methodology, which depended upon the length of the shoe sole and used the sizes provided by Richardson’s 1858 The Boot and Shoe Manufacturers’ Assistant and Guide to classify them both by the wearers’ age and sex. I had to use Richardson’s American shoe sizes as I was not able to identify an appropriate Australian handbook from the same period.

The Range and Classification of 1858 American Shoe Sizes
(Dappert-Coonrod and Mihich, 2018, p. 657).

While, sadly, sex could not be clearly classified based off sole size alone due to the amount of overlap between female and male sizes, the soles provided strong evidence that their wearers’ included both children and adults.

Leather shoe sole fragments.
Measuring the sole of a shoe.
One well preserved shoe (note the repaired patch).

Thus, I turned to historical primary sources to aid in the interpretation of these artefacts. Fortunately, Brisbane had a wealth of such sources for the period I examined, and I was able to focus on sources originating from Brisbane without having to turn to other locales such as Melbourne and Sydney. Archival research using Trove and the archives of both the Queensland Women’s Historical Association and the Royal Society of Queensland provided evidence such as newspaper advertisements and articles that directly clarified how the physical artefacts were produced and marketed to their audience. For instance, the following advertisements showed that tableware was explicitly marketed towards women and historical photographs offer visual evidence of the important role that women played in the production of leather shoes.

Ladies Wanted (The Telegraph 27 June, 1894).
The New Woman (The Telegraph 27 June, 1895).
Müller’s Boot Factory, 1896 (Note the female workers to the right)
(Reproduced from Bowden & Bowden, 2004, p. 88).
Title Page of the American Woman’s Home.
Beeton’s Book of Household Management Title Page (Source: Wikipedia).

I was also fortunate enough to discover two very valuable primary sources. The first was a collection of 79 interviews that Dr. Ronald Lawson, author of Brisbane in the 1890’s, conducted in the 1960s with a collection of people who were children in Brisbane during the 1890s. As well as directly clarifying Late Victorian childhood experiences, Lawson had asked the interviewees who performed household chores. These questions allowed me to examine whether household chores were more masculine or feminine, and thus, who used the physical artefacts used in these chores.

Unsparingly chores such as ironing, dusting, and cooking were overwhelmingly feminine, with chores such as chopping wood and mowing the lawn being almost entirely masculine. Interestingly, mothers appeared to have had a greater responsibility for pocket money than fathers, which aligns with their prescribed responsibility for domestic financials outlined in handbooks of the time. The interviewees also described their lives and initial jobs- one interviewee even recalled working in a shoe factory, and that velvet slippers were produced specially embroidered with flowers for Brisbane prostitutes.

Brisbane during 1900- View from Wickham Terrace (State Library of Queensland).

The second source was a 1901 diary written by Dorothy Leslie, a teenage girl who lived around a kilometre away from where the artefacts were excavated.

Dorothy Leslie’s address (indicated in red with the Woolloongabba Excavation Site indicated in purple).
(Reproduced from Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM618816).

Her diary grants us a window into her daily life and offers a vivid and compelling self-portrait of herself. The illustrations and caricatures she drew within its margins suggest that pipes were used by women as well as men in Late Victorian South Brisbane, thus corroborating with Kate Quirk’s (2007) recent work in Queensland historical archaeology that suggested smoking was not a purely masculine pursuit during this period.

 Her sketches even show that teapots and cups were repurposed as flowerpots! She also describes her cats and garden, writes about her studies, and complains about her brother (thus showing some things never truly change!). She even laments how, despite her father and brother attending sports games on the weekend, no one ever took her out, perhaps showing an awareness for how she was constrained as a girl by the Late Victorian construction of gender.  

A Glimpse into Dorothy Leslie’s Diary (John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Australia).

All in all, I was able to use a rich and diverse set of sources to conduct an engendered archaeology of a Late Victorian South Brisbane assemblage. These sources both showed how the artefacts were used and marketed towards their audiences, sometimes with surprising results, and how artefacts such as teapots and cups were repurposed from tea ware to flowerpots. These interesting and valuable artefacts, and the sources I used to interpret them, thus offer us a unique window into gender roles in Late Victorian South Brisbane. They show us how gender roles were expressed in material culture, and how individuals navigated these broader social structures and constructed their identities within them.

Note: Unless indicated otherwise, all photographs are the author’s own.


Beecher, C. E., & Stowe, H. B. (1869). American Woman’s Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science Being a Guide to the Formation and Maintenance of Economical, Healthful, Beautiful, and Christian Homes. Project Gutenberg.

Beeton, M. (1906). Mrs. Beeton’s Book of household management : a guide to cookery in all branches, daily duties, mistress & servant, hostess & guest, marketing. Ward, Lock & Co.

Bowden, B., & Bowden, T. (2004). ‘The women do the machinery’: Craft, Gender and Work Transformation in the Brisbane Boot Trade, 1869-95. Labour History(86), 75-92.

Dappert-Coonrod, C. P., & Mihich, M. (2018). Walking in Their Shoes: A Late Victorian Shoe Assemblage from the New Mississippi River Bridge Project in East St. Louis. Historical Archaeology, 52(4), 643-665.

Lawson, R. L. (1973). Brisbane in the 1890’s: a study of an Australian urban society. University of Queensland Press.

Leslie, D. (1901). [Diary of Dorothy Leslie, Water St West, South Brisbane, 21 Feb 1901 – 11 Jun 1901] [Diary]. M1510, State Library of Queensland.

Quirk, K. (2007). Victorians in ‘Paradise’: Gentility as Social Strategy in the Archaelogy of Colonial Australia [PhD Thesis, The University of Queensland]. UQ eSpace. Brisbane, Australia.

Roel. (1970). [Interview Questionaire with Mrs Roel by R.L. Lawson] [Interview]. F407 Folder 3, Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.

Richardson, W. H. (1858). The Boot and Shoe Manufacturers’ Assistant and Guide: Containing a Brief History of the Trade. History of India-rubber and Gutta-percha, and Their Application to the Manufacture of Boots and Shoes. Full Instructions in the Art, with Diagrams and Scales, Etc., Etc. Vulcanization and Sulphurization, English and American Patents. With an Elaborate Treatise on Tanning. Higgins, Bradley & Dayton.

The Telegraph. (27 June 1894). Ladies Wanted. The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947),6.

The Telegraph. (27 June 1895). The New Woman. The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947),4.