Exploring the History of The Barracks


Over a four year period, the Australian National University has been conducting a Historic Archaeology Field School at 'The Barracks', Triabunna, to help better understand the history of the site.

The recent archaeological watching brief works at the site represents one of the final archaeological investigations of the site before it is to be developed into a bed and breakfast.

The excavations conducted between 2016 through to 2019 have uncovered building foundations relating to long-demolished structures across the site, as well as range of nineteenth century artefacts including tobacco pipes, ceramics, glass fragments, Tasmanian Brewing Company bottles and a medicine bottle filled with pills. In comparison, evidence relating to military occupancy has been limited, though no less intriguing.

'The Barracks' at Triabunna are an important part of the story of military establishments throughout Tasmania during the convict period. Troops stationed at Maria Island and Swansea began to be withdrawn and relocated to Spring Bay in 1843. However it would be another two years before sufficient accommodation would allow for an expanded military presence in the region.

Historical records reveal that by 1845 there were 62 soldiers stationed in hired buildings at Spring Bay, though their presence was short-lived. Tasmania's convict system began to decline with the end of transportation to Van Diemen's Land and military precincts were no longer an essential part of the colony. When the convict station on Maria Island was closed in 1850, so too were the hired barracks in Spring Bay.

Whether 'The Barracks' are in fact the 'hired buildings' referenced in colonial documents is yet to be definitively confirmed. Regardless, researchers believe several other documents support the case, including conveyancing documents for the land title that suggest two structures were constructed between 1844 and 1851, and a pre-1856 survey by James Calder depicting the two buildings on the title. The completed archaeological investigations may uncover evidence to help support this theory. Property owners John and Kim Samin state that the findings of the final reports, including evidence of the military presence, are currently being prepared and will be incorporated into the interpretation of 'The Barracks' when it is transformed into a bed and breakfast.

One of the last tasks for archaeologists was to monitor construction of a driveway and drain, covering an area around 3m wide and 110 metres long. The need to monitor this phase of works on the property was a condition of the Tasmanian Heritage Council's approval for works across the site. Previous investigations had not focused on this area and monitoring would allow for the recovery of any found artefacts, or possible structures that may be associated with the many phases of history at 'The Barracks'.

A range of ceramic, glass and metal artefacts were uncovered. Earlier artefacts relating to 'The Barracks' convict phase were also found, however these were in some cases intermixed with later artefacts, showing the large amount of landscape modification in the long occupation and use of the site. Owners John and Kim will be using artefacts recovered from this watching brief and previous excavations in the interpretation of the property. Remaining artefacts will be donated to East Coast Heritage Museum in Swansea. Areas of exposed archaeology will also be incorporated into the overall interpretation and restoration of the buildings and the surrounding land.

'The Barracks' at Triabunna is a work in progress for its new owners and the archaeological investigations are just one part of a bigger journey. Their partnership with ANU, as well as local archaeologists, is an example of the generosity Tasmania's property owners have shown in supporting archaeological investigations and providing access to Tasmania's unearthed history and stories.

Thank you to archaeologists Samuel Dix, Myfy Berry, and owners John and Kim Samin

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