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Keywords:

  • North Head Quarantine Station;
  • historical inscriptions;
  • object biography

Abstract

In this paper we explore the historical inscriptions at the North Head Quarantine Station, Manly through the lens of biography to examine what the archaeological record can tell us about some of the people who found themselves in quarantine and who chose to mark their presence in the landscape. In particular we focus on two inscriptions located in the Wharf area of the Quarantine Station to illustrate how the archaeological record in this instance provides a mechanism for investigating and exploring the personal and social histories of migration and quarantine. Half of all the inscriptions at the Quarantine Station contain some biographical information about people, place and passage. They provide a material portal through which we can access something of the stories of the ordinary men, women and children who migrated to Australia. The archaeological record of names and lists of passengers and crew does not simply map onto the shipping registers in the archives, as the Samuel Plimsoll and John Howie examples illustrate. The material characteristics of the inscriptions set up a discursive interaction between the archaeological and historical records that allows us to interrogate them as objects with a biography and as objects as biography.