11 Jul 2011

Convict bricks

I recently visited the historic town of Morpeth, in the Hunter Valley.

Outside one of the local pubs I saw this well, built with what my mother-in-law told me were convict bricks:

Photo courtesy of Ian S Welch
I've been trying to find out a bit more about this type of brick and have found this podcast on the ABC wesbite by Allan Hackett, brick researcher and author of “Turn of the First Clay-- of our Brickmaking Heritage”.

In it he explains that when the First Fleet came to Australia it brought with it 5000 bricks. Incredible foresight...

He says that a specific mark was impressed into the brick to identify the maker and to keep tally on how many bricks a maker made. These marks include a whipping triangle, an unusual flower, a hand print, an arrow and even a cut throat razor! I guess different personalities showed through... Later, dates, surnames, companies or suburbs were impressed into the brick.

Usually, when we admire old buildings, we know who was the rich man, king or emperor who lived there, or who was the architect that built it. In the big cathedrals one can usually also see a plaque with the name of the benefactors that contributed to its construction. However the role of the manual workers never got acknowledged. Historic data indicate that they almost always would have suffered poor lives and terrible working conditions. Too frequently they would have been slaves. We tend to be quite happy to forget all this when we admire the product of their work. Maybe this is a reflection of how easily humans are spellbound by beautiful things.
It may also be proof of how difficult it is for members of past generations to be remembered unless they have left objects behind to remember them by.

I think marked bricks are a nice reminder of those individuals who, quite literally, contributed to the construction of Australia.