A Chinese Past Uncovered
A video exploring the excavation of the Chinese brick kiln at Bendigo
-This is site of the old Chinese camp on the edges of Bendigo Creek. The Chinese arrived here in 1851 and got straight into alluvial mining. Once the mining petered out, the Chinese tended to congregate in this area and look for other industries. One of the industries that they chose was brickmaking.
And this now is the site of a Peppergreen Farm, where Access Employment are recreating the Chinese market garden. And in the course of putting a fence around it, they accidentally hit the remains of an old kiln, and called in archaeologists who then excavated the kiln. Now, it's a fascinating find because it's the only example of a Chinese built kiln outside of China.
-My specialty is ceramics. I used to lecture ceramics and ceramic history at the La Trobe University of the Bendigo Campus. And when the opportunity came to take part in the excavation of the kiln working under Dr. Don Hein, David Bannear, and Gary Hill, it was extremely exciting. We are very fortunate indeed that when these kilns were built, or the kiln was built in 1959, to the best of our knowledge, that this is one of the oldest kilns in Australia and certainly one of the unique types out of Southeast Asia.
-The kiln that was discovered here is approximately 12 meters in diameter, a circular kiln with a domed drift roof, with a firebox that extends for about 3 meters from bottom to top up into it. It's unusual in that it has a single firebox. Although the shape of the kiln is typical of European kilns of the time, this is unusual because it has a single firebox. And this allowed them to reach much higher temperatures than the Europeans were capable of at the time.
The kiln itself is made out of prefired bricks. And the firebox formed quite a large arch. The arch is made of arch bricks. When laid like this, they form an arch. These came from the hot face of the kiln, and you can see on the front of them the glassy finish. This is the effect of the temperature on the bricks. It melts the hottest face of the brick, turning it, in effect, into a glaze.
We know that this kiln was built by Chinese, by these bricks, the bricks that the kiln was constructed of. There are of a size that you never see in Europe, that is very, very typical of Asian and Chinese skills, especially the depth. And this is an example of the bricks that were produced in the kiln. We know they're Chinese because of the size. If we compare this brick here, a Chinese brick fired in this kiln, with a European brick, you can see that there's quite a difference in the size of them.
You can also note the color. These Chinese bricks have been fired in heavy reduction, whereas the European kilns tended to fire in oxidization. In other words, there was a very, very smoky fire in the Chinese kiln. We've actually found where some of those bricks were used. They were used in quite an extensive wall on Rowan Street.
-We're at the corner of Forest and Rowan Street. And this is the wall that was built by the Chinese bricklayers in 1859 for a house that was built for a Mr Larsa? who was a prominent Bendigo barrister. The Bendigo Advertiser of 1859 stated that this wall was made using Chinese bricks and using Chinese bricklayers.
What's very interesting in the rubbish heaps of the previous occupiers on this site, were be found many aspects of Bendigo's history. But also of course, there were numerous artifacts of the Chinese period, such as celadon wares and brown glaze ware. And at Heritage Victory particularly, the conservation department has to be congratulated on the wonderful work they've undertaken to restore and conserve these items that we've found.
-While objects are buried, they come into a state of equilibrium with their environment. When they're excavated, that's when they'll start to degrade really quickly by cracking, crumbling, drying out. So we need to halt that process as quickly as possible. Objects that are already damp need to be kept damp. Objects such as ceramic and glass need to be cleaned and dried as quickly as possible.
Something that's highly fractured may need to be excavated with its surrounding dirt to maintain its integrity of form. When the pots come into the lab, they're in piles of sherds like this. It's like having several jigsaw puzzles all mixed together and not being sure that any of them are complete.
So we have to sort them out and figure out what comes for the most pot. Then we have to start building the pot up. It's not just a matter of sticking them all together as you go. You have to plan the whole process. Because if you stick one piece on before it should be, you can lock all the other pieces out, and you can't join them. So all the pieces are numbered. That's a really long and painstaking procedure.
-The two jars that we're looking at here were made in southern China. They would easily date mid 19th century, early 20th century. And wherever the Chinese went throughout the world, they would use these for their food containers. Over here, some very interesting items. They were quite small, and it was quite exciting when the sifters were at work. These little counters were used for playing games.
Over here, we have these wonderful pharmaceutical bottles. These held pills or liquid such as peppermint oil, or pills for diarrhea, upset stomachs. Ginger jars still being manufactured today. This would date from the 19th century. Again, with a beautiful lid type glaze, alkaline glaze. And typical of Chinese ceramics from Guangdong, from the pottery town of Shiwan, these slick glaze, brown glazes. This one here was used for cooking oil.
And of course, we have these beautiful celadon balls bowls. Celadon is a porcelain typified by its green glaze. But what's unique about these is they have this beautiful enamel decoration. The porcelain is fired at 1,300 Celsius, then on a second firing, the color pigments are applied, and then fired at a lower temperature of 800 centigrade.
Mixed in with the Chinese artifacts were a lot of items coming from other sources. In this case here, we have a wonderful demijohn made by the Bendigo pottery, a very old pottery still extant in Bendigo. And it was produced for CH Hoffmeyer. It came from Scandinavia.
And interesting to see that that has the name Sandhurt. Bendigo changed his name in 1854 from Bendigo to Sandhurst. Then in 1991, with a public poll, it reverted back to Bendigo. Similarly, there's a little glass jar here, a chemist's jar, Thomas Jones chemist. And that is also marked Sandhurst.
Not far from the Chinese camp was a very famous wine and spirit merchant and brewer, William Bruce & Sons. And this is a superb example of what they call the laydown, or [INAUDIBLE] bottle. The idea is that they lay it on the side so the cork would be kept wet.
Mixed in with the debris at the kiln site were many horseshoes. The Chinese market gardeners had Clydesdales. They used the Clydesdales not only for plowing the market garden, but to take their produce on their carts into to the Bendigo town to sell their products. Evident of the Chinese market garden site are these iron implements for tilling the soil. And of course, I mentioned the Clydesdale. These are some of the combs that were used to comb the Clydesdale.
And of interest was this salt glazed jar. This one here was made in England, more than likely Dalton. And this held imbrication oil for the horse. Of the numerous articles that we found at the North Bendigo kiln site, probably from the rubbish tip, the two most important items that we found were these stoneware jars. This one here with the brown glaze is typical of what was found in the 19th century from China, and the gold fields.
Note the little handles here. These where used to tie the corks down. This container here, virtually intact, was used to contain food products. This very large jar, probably the most important one found at the North Bendigo site, is a stoneware jar, fairly large, still with the Chinese inscriptions on the side denoting this was used for wine. And we are very fortunate that we found these at the Bendigo site.