2.2 Evidence for fishing in Sydney from AD 1788 to the 19th century

Almost nothing has been published on archaeological evidence for fishing in Sydney after AD 1788 but there is a substantial body of historical information. Fish and fishing feature significantly in images and written accounts of life in the colony of New South Wales from the late 18th century onwards. There are numerous illustrations (e.g. and references to indigenous Eora women from the Port Jackson area fishing with shell hooks and fibre lines from 'nowies' (bark canoes), while men traditionally fished with spears (Attenbrow 2010). Karskens (2009, 166) reminds us that many early European colonists were maritime people who also fished. Fish were an important food and fishing was often the context for different and changing kinds of encounters and exchanges between indigenous people and colonists from AD 1788 until well into the 19th century (McBryde 1989; Karskens 2009, 38-41, 369-70, 404-09). For example, the British colony relied on fish caught by Aborigines and early barter became a semi-formalised 'industry', which was encouraged and supported by governors Phillip and Macquarie (McBryde 2000, 254-58; Karskens 2009, 526). Visitor Louisa Meredith's diary of life in Sydney between 1839-1844 tells us that preserved cod (Gadus morhua) and salmon (Salmo salar), imported from Britain at considerable expense, were eaten by some British settlers in preference to 'excellent' local fishes for cultural and social reasons (De Vries-Evans 1987, 151-55).

Fish remains occur in historical archaeological sites but as most excavations are initiated to satisfy mandatory cultural heritage requirements, good-quality research outcomes and publications are unusual. Fish data are, at best, briefly described in unpublished grey-literature reports and archives, many of which are hard to access. Evidence is often limited and unable to support further interpretation. The only relevant peer-reviewed publication is Karskens' (1999) discussion of fish in her historical overview of the diet and life of people who lived in the Rocks area in early colonial Sydney, which incorporates discussion of Steele's (1999) analysis of fish remains from the Cumberland and Gloucestershire Street archaeological excavations, presented in a grey-literature report.

In 2004 Colley was contracted by an archaeological consultancy company to study fish remains from developer-funded excavations at the Quadrant site, Broadway, Sydney. Around 3000 archaeological contexts were recorded, dating mostly from the 1830s to 1860s. These represent residential housing, tanneries, slaughterhouses and other buildings located on the edge of the growing 19th-century city (Mider 2001; 2004a; 2004b; Colley 2005; 2006a). Over 9500 fragments of fish were recovered, which is a large sample by Australian standards. Bones were identified using the Australian Museum fish reference collections and results reported in a digital archive and grey-literature report (Colley 2006b). As the overall Quadrant project remains unfinished, only limited stratigraphic information is available to support further interpretation of the fish (Colley in prep.). Given the large sample size and excellent preservation, the Quadrant fish have significant value to other research projects as a reference collection. Methodology developed for recording data about the Quadrant fish remains was used to create the AFBI archive and images of Quadrant fish are included in it.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s)
University of York legal statements | Terms and Conditions | File last updated: Tue Nov 2 2010