Affective Aprons: Object Biographies from the Ladies’ Cottage, Royal Derwent Hospital New Norfolk, Tasmania

  • Danica Auld
  • Tracy IrelandEmail author
  • Heather Burke


This paper explores a collection of embroidered aprons retrieved from under the floor of the Ladies’ Cottage, a building at the Royal Derwent Hospital in New Norfolk, Tasmania — Australia’s oldest continuously operating psychiatric institution (1826–2000). Taking an object biography approach, close study of the aprons draws out many stories illuminating the everyday life of the patients in the past and enriching the narratives of these institutionalised women. Promoting a more nuanced understanding of the breadth of experiences encapsulated in this contentious heritage place, we consider the collection from the perspective of “object-mediated empathy”—the affective capacity of these remarkable textiles to trigger an experience of the humanity of others and to potentially alter ingrained community perceptions.


Object biography Archaeological textiles Psychiatric institutions Empathy 



We would like to thank the Derwent Valley Council for hosting us each year in New Norfolk and the many people of the New Norfolk community who shared their thoughts about, and visions for, the Royal Derwent Hospital site. We particularly thank Haydn and Penny Pearce for kindly providing access to the Ladies’ Cottage collection. At the University of Canberra Alison Wain co-supervised the original thesis on which this paper is based. At Flinders University Lynley Wallis, Chantal Wight and the students of ARCH8807 helped to catalogue the original collection. Michelle Newton-Edwards provided practical conservation advice and Justin Halstead assisted with the conservation process and speculated on the enigma of the Ladies’ Cottage aprons. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful and encouraging comments.


  1. “Alpha”. (1885). The new Norfolk asylum. Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, March 21, p. 3, <>, accessed April 2018.
  2. Anonymous. (1838). Shareholder’s notice. Launceston Advertiser, April 12, p. 2, <>.
  3. Anonymous. (1858). New Norfolk. Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, May 8, p. 2, <>, accessed April 2018.
  4. Anonymous. (1862). Hospital for the Insane. Report of the Commissioners. Journals of the Legislative Council (with paper) Second Session of the Second Parliament of Tasmania. Vol VII. James Barnard Government Printer, Hobart Town.Google Scholar
  5. Anonymous. (1866). Hospital for the Insane, New Norfolk. Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, August 11, p. 3, <>, accessed April 2018.
  6. Anonymous. (1870). My holiday trip to Victoria and Tasmania. Australian Town and Country Journal, March 19, p. 17, <>, accessed April 2018.
  7. Anonymous. (1884). New Norfolk asylum. Tasmanian News, January 12, p. 3, <>, accessed April 2018.
  8. Anonymous. (1885). Through Tasmania no. 84. The Hospital for the Insane, New Norfolk. Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, May 27, p. 4, <>, accessed April 2018.
  9. Anonymous. (1888). New Norfolk asylum. Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, February 2, p. 4, <>, accessed April 2018.
  10. Anonymous (1895). New Norfolk asylum for the insane. Tasmanian News, December 2, p. 2, <>, accessed April 2018.
  11. Anonymous (1915a) The call to the Colours. Enthusiastic Recruiting Meeting. Mortlake Dispatch, Victoria, Australia, July 14, p. 2, <>, accessed April 2018.
  12. Anonymous (1915b). Sir Ian Hamilton’s second Despatch. Evening News, Sydney, Australia, November 5, p. 6, <>, accessed April 2018.
  13. Anonymous. (1915c). Robur tea. Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania, January 30, <>, accessed April 2018.
  14. Anonymous. (1916). Robur tea. North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times, Tasmania, September 30, p.7, <>, accessed April 2018.
  15. Anonymous. (1918). New Norfolk church bazaar. Daily Post, Hobart, Tasmania, April 22, p. 4, <>, accessed April 2018.
  16. Anonymous. (1922a). The American tariff. Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, August 7, p. 5, <>, accessed April 1922.
  17. Anonymous. (1922b). St Matthew’s church, New Norfolk. Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, January 31, p. 8, <>, accessed April 2108.
  18. Anonymous. (1925). Robur tea. Advocate, Burnie, Tasmania, August 25, <>, accessed April 2018.
  19. Auld, D. (2017). From the Derwent to the Apron: Conservation of the Ladies’ Cottage Materials of the New Norfolk Mental Asylum. Unpublished thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the Bachelor of Arts and Design Honours, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra.Google Scholar
  20. Bagnall, G. (2003). Performance and performativity at heritage sites. Museum and Society 1(2): 87–103.Google Scholar
  21. Baron, C. (1987). Asylum to Anarchy. Free Association Books, London.Google Scholar
  22. Blakeman, J. R., Samuelson, S. J., and McEvoy, K. N. (2013). Analysis of a silent voice. A qualitative inquiry of embroidery created by a patient with schizophrenia. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing 51(6): 38–45.Google Scholar
  23. Brown, S., Clarke, A., and Frederick, U. eds. (2015). Object Stories: Artifacts and Archaeologists. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA.Google Scholar
  24. Byrne, D. (2013). Love and loss in the 1960s. International Journal of Heritage Studies 19(6): 596–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Circuit, C. (2017). The Practice of Concealment. Developing Social History from Physical Evidence: a Detailed Exploration of Artefacts Hidden Within a Victorian Chaise Longue and an Interpretation of the Significance of the Contents. PhD thesis, Coventry University, UK, available at
  26. Coleborne, C. (2003). Space, Power and Gender in the Asylum in Victoria, 1850s-1870s. In Coleborne, C., MacKinnon, D. eds., Madness in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, pp. 49–60.Google Scholar
  27. Coleborne, C. (2006). Families, patients and emotions: asylums for the insane in colonial Australia and New Zealand, c. 1880–1910. Social History of Medicine 19(3): 425–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Coleborne, C. (2009). Families, insanity and the psychiatric institution in Australia and New Zealand, 1860-1914. Health and History 11(1): 65–82.Google Scholar
  29. Commissioners of the New Norfolk Hospital for Insane Persons. (1862). Annual Report. Tasmanian Legislative Council Parliamentary Papers No. 10. Hobart.Google Scholar
  30. Crabbe, G. M. (1966). History of Lachlan Park Hospital. Department of Health Services, Hobart.Google Scholar
  31. Crang, M., and Tolia-Kelly, D. P. (2010). Nation, race, and affect: senses and sensibilities at national heritage sites. Environment and Planning A 42(10): 2315–2331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Davies, P. (2013). Clothing and textiles at the Hyde Park Barracks destitute asylum, Sydney, Australia. Post-Medieval Archaeology 47(1): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Domínguez, D. V. (2009). Manufacturing Kleptomania: The Social and Scientific Underpinnings of a Pathology. CUNY Academic Works.
  34. Dubin, W. R., and Fink, P. J. (1992). Effects of Stigma on Psychiatric Treatment. In Fink, P. J., Tasman, A. eds., Stigma and Mental Illness. American Psychiatric Press, Washington DC, pp. 1–8.Google Scholar
  35. Eastop, D. (2006a). Conservation as Material Culture. In Tilley, C., Keane, W., Küchler, S., Rowlands, M., Spyer, P. eds., Handbook of Material Culture. Sage Publications, London, pp. 516–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Eastop, D. (2006b). Outside in: making sense of the deliberate concealment of garments within buildings. Textile 4(3): 238–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Excell, E. O. (1919). Songs of Hope: For the Church and Sunday School. Hope Publishing Company, Chicago.Google Scholar
  38. Flower, C. (1984). Clothes in Australia: A Pictorial History, 1788–1980s. Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst.Google Scholar
  39. Foster, J. (2013). What can social psychologists learn from architecture? The asylum as example. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 44(2): 131–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Foucault, M. (1961). Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Routledge, Oxford.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gill, I. (2013). Perspectives on Erving Goffman’s “asylums” fifty years on. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 16(3): 605–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Anchor Books, New York.Google Scholar
  43. Goggin, M. D., and Tobin, B. F. eds. (2009). Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles, 1750–1950. Ashgate, London.Google Scholar
  44. Gowlland, R. W. (1981). Troubled Asylum. R.W. Gowlland, New Norfolk.Google Scholar
  45. Griggs, P. (2015). Sharing scarcity: rationing and price subsidisation of tea in Australia, 1942-55: sharing scarcity. Australian Economic History Review 55(1): 62–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hall, S. (2005). Whose Heritage? Unsettling “the Heritage”, Re-Imagining the Post-Nation. In Littler, J., Naidoo, R. eds., The Politics of Heritage: The Legacies of “Race”. Routledge, New York, pp. 23–35.Google Scholar
  47. Hamlett, J., and Hoskins, L. (2013). Comfort in small things? Clothing, control and agency in county lunatic asylums in nineteenth- and twentieth-century England. Journal of Victorian Culture 18(1): 93–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hornstein, G. A. (2009). Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness. Transaction Publishers, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  49. Hoskins, J. (2006). Agency, Biography and Objects. In Tilley, C., Keane, W., Küchler, S., Rowlands, M., Spyer, P. eds., Handbook of Material Culture. Sage Publications, London, pp. 74–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Housego, A. (2006). Willow Court Visitor Services Project Interpretation Plan. Report to the Derwent Valley Council and Valley Vision.Google Scholar
  51. Ireland, T. (2003). The absence of ghosts: landscape and identity in the archaeology of Australia's settler culture. Historical Archaeology 37(1): 56–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Ireland, T. (2005). The Quest for the True Endeavour: Archaeology, Authenticity and the National Sacred. In Lydon, J., Ireland, T. eds., Object Lessons: Archaeology and Heritage in Australia. Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, pp. 31–49.Google Scholar
  53. Ireland, T. (2015). The Ethics of Visibility: Archaeology, Heritage and Memories of Settler Colonialism. In Ireland, T., Schofield, J. eds., The Ethics of Cultural Heritage. Springer, New York, pp. 105–125.Google Scholar
  54. Joy, J. (2009). Reinvigorating object biography: Reproducing the drama of object lives. World Archaeology 41(4): 540–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Joy, J. (2016). Hoards as collections: re-examining the Snettisham Iron age hoards from the perspective of collecting practice. World Archaeology 48(2): 239–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Jurd, B. (2017). Chifley heritage award nominations are lining up. Western Advocate, Bathurst, New South Wales, April 18, <>, accessed April 2018.
  57. Kopytoff, I. (1986). The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process. In Appadurai, A. ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 64–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Labrum, B. (2011). “Always Distinguishable from Outsiders”: Materialising Cultures of Clothing from Psychiatric Institutions. In Coleborne, C., MacKinnon, D. eds., Exhibiting Madness in Museums: Remembering Psychiatry through Collections and Display. Routledge, New York, pp. 65–83.Google Scholar
  59. Landi, S. (1998). The Textile Conservator’s Manual. Routledge, Oxford.Google Scholar
  60. Little, J. (2015). “Frailty, thy Name is Woman”: Depictions of Female Madness. Masters thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University.Google Scholar
  61. MacKinnon, D. (2009a). “Amusements Are Provided”: Asylum Entertainment and Recreation in Australia and New Zealand c.1860-c.1945. In Mooney, G., Reinarz, J. eds., Permeable Walls: Historical Perspectives on Hospital and Asylum Visiting. Rodopi, Amsterdam, pp. 267–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. MacKinnon, D. (2009b). Divine service, music, sport, and recreation as medicinal in Australian asylums 1860s-1945. Health and History 11(1): 128–148.Google Scholar
  63. Magelssen, S. (2014). Simming: Participatory Performance and the Making of Meaning. University of Michigan Press, Michigan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Magetti, M., and Nottle, P. G. (1999). The Perfect Teapot: Alias the Robur Teapot. Nookadin Press, Mount Waverley.Google Scholar
  65. Malcolm MacDonald and Associates. (2011). Willow Court and Barracks Precinct Business Plan and Development Plan. Report to the Derwent Valley Council.Google Scholar
  66. Marshall, Y. (2008). The social lives of lived and inscribed objects: a Lapita perspective. Journal of the Polynesian Society 117(1): 59–101.Google Scholar
  67. Martain, T. (2008). Locked inside Ward C. Sunday Tasmanian, June 22, p. 20. <>, accessed April 2018.
  68. Methodist Episcopal Church (1817). The Methodist Pocket Hymn-Book, Revised and Improved: Designed as a Constant Companion for the Pious of All Denominations, Collected from Various Authors. J. Soule and T. Mason, New York.Google Scholar
  69. Munoz Vinas, S. (2005). Contemporary Theory of Conservation. Elsevier, Oxford.Google Scholar
  70. Pearce, S. M. (1990). Archaeological Curatorship. Leicester University Press, Leicester.Google Scholar
  71. Piddock, S. (2007). A Space of their Own: The Archaeology of Nineteenth Century. Springer-Verlag, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Pouba, K., and Tianen, A. (2006). Lunacy in the nineteenth century: women’s admission to asylums in the United States of America. Oshkosh Scholar 1(1): 95–103.Google Scholar
  73. Probyn, E. (2004). Everyday shame. Cultural Studies 18(2–3): 328–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Purkis, H. (2017). Making digital heritage about people’s life stories. International Journal of Heritage Studies 23(5): 434–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rocke, H. (1938). EC462 Repair of Clothing and Household Linens. The University of Nebraska Agricultural College Extension Service and United States Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  76. Rodeheaver, H. A., and Gabriel, C. H. (1920). Victory Songs: For the Church, Sunday School and Evangelistic Services. The Rodeheaver Company, Chicago.Google Scholar
  77. Röske, T. (2014). Agnes Richter’s jacket. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 23: 227–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Schoepf, C. (2013). Oral history and object biography as companion methodologies in researching the cheer-up Society of First World war South Australia. The Oral History Association of Australia Journal 35: 68–76.Google Scholar
  79. Shanks, M. (2012). The Archaeological Imagination. Routledge, Oxford.Google Scholar
  80. Skelly, J. (2016). Object lessons: The social life of temperance banners. Textile 14(3): 268–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Smith, A. C. (1999). The Language of Aprons: Signifiers of Femininity. Masters thesis, University of South Australia.Google Scholar
  82. Smith, L., and Campbell, G. (2015). The Elephant in the Room: Heritage, Affect and Emotion. In Logan, W., Nic Craith, M., Ullrich, K. eds., A Companion to Heritage Studies. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, West Sussex, pp. 443–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Swain, S., and Musgrove, N. (2014). Contained and Confined: Female Incarceration in Nineteenth-Century Australia. In Ashton, P., Wilson, J. Z. eds., Silent System: Forgotten Australians and the Institutionalisation of Women and Children. Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, pp. 3–15.Google Scholar
  84. Taylor, J., and Gibson, L. K. (2017). Digitisation, digital interaction and social media: Embedded barriers to democratic heritage. International Journal of Heritage Studies 23(5): 408–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Timar-Balazsy, A., and Eastop, D. (2012). Chemical Principles of Textile Conservation. Routledge, Oxford.Google Scholar
  86. Turner, T.H. (1992). A diagnostic analysis of the casebooks of Ticehurst house asylum, 1845–1890. Psychological Medicine Monograph Supplement January 1992: 1–70.Google Scholar
  87. Waterton, E. (2014). A more-than-representational understanding of heritage? The “past” and the politics of affect. Geography Compass 8(11): 823–833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wesley, C. (1890). Wesley’s Hymns and the Methodist Sunday-School Hymn-Book. Ravenio Books, Oxford.Google Scholar
  89. Witcomb, A. (2013). Understanding the role of affect in producing a critical pedagogy for history museums. Museum Management and Curatorship 28(3): 255–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Wright, D. (1997). Getting out of the asylum: understanding the confinement of the insane in the nineteenth century. Social History of Medicine 10(1): 137–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and DesignUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Archaeology, Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations