Colonial Bread Baking.

During April of this year, Bruny Island’s Historical Society held an open day at its archaeological sites at Variety Bay on the Murrayfield estate on Bruny’s east coast.  Brunyfire was eager to check them out as these sites reflect an important part of the cultural landscape of the island.

They are also situated in a beautiful part of the island with spectacular views that overlook Storm Bay and then out further to the Tasman Sea.P1040636Slide43On the way, a couple of stately Wedgies (Wedge Tailed Eagles) were keeping a steely eye on Brunyfire’s approaching vehicle – a rare sight as these are an endangered species.

On site, Brunyfire met up with Bev and John Davis and Kathy Duncombe, stalwarts of the Bruny Island Historical Society (BIHS).  The society has invested significant amounts of time and effort in the ongoing conservation of this area (which includes the pilot station, kiln/clay pit and St Peter’s Anglican church remains) – an activity that is strongly supported by the current landowners and the local community.

The pilot station ruins at Variety Bay reveals interesting snippets of information about early settlement on the island that provides a tantalising glimpse into the activities of the station during the 1830-1850 period.P1040632Slide44Built in 1831 by William Lawrence (who became the resident pilot) the homestead was constructed using convict labour from bricks made with clay dug from the property and fired in situ.  The homestead was quite a complex and comprised of the main home, stables, an underground cellar (or water storage?), convict quarters and a kitchen with an outdoor wood fired oven.  Sadly the pilot station complex was destroyed by fire in the 1850s, and was never rebuilt, but what was once the garden still produces the occasional exotic bloom amongst the bush.

The remains of a wood fired, convict built brick oven were particularly intriguing and is the real story here.Slide45The remains above delineates where the kitchen was and to one side of it, was the wood fired bread oven – as it is now………Slide46……….and as it was back in 1995 when Irene Schaffer took the photo on the right. The following year, she and Kathy Duncombe where to return to find this……….Bakers Oven 97?………..reclaimed by nature in no uncertain terms.

Lawrence’s oven at Variety Bay would appear to be a relatively simple, but effective structure that utilised local materials – the clay was sourced from nearby and made into bricks by Lawrence’s convict labour.  Lawrence had some 200 convict labourers living and working on the homestead site – so quite a community.

The design of the oven would most likely have been based on a cross between a traditional brick baker’s oven c 1847, as illustrated on the left (from an unidentified scrapbook at the Museum of English Rural Life University of Reading) and….Slide57……a clay oven, such as that on the right from Anne Gollan’s The Traditional of Australian Cooking.  This latter oven would also have used a local clay and rocks, probably reinforced with local grasses, much like a traditional British cob mixture.  An efficient cook would have made good use of the oven’s heat once the bread had been baked – roasts, puddings, pies and drying fruit could well have followed.

The most likely bread to have been baked would have been a simple damper style bread, probably leavened with bicarbonate of soda and/or cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) a derivative of tartaric acid.   Whilst yeast was being used at this time, according to Edward Abbott’s book The English and Australian Cookery Book* it is more likely that other raising agents would have been more readily available, which would have created a kind of Irish soda bread.

Callington Mill is a Lincolnshire tower mill built in 1837 in Oatlands, Tasmania by John Vincent and spent many years producing flour until the late 1890s. callington-millIt has recently been restored so that it is now in full working order and is the only operating mill of its type in the Southern Hemisphere.  It was directly from the mill that Brunyfire acquired an organic spelt for the following damper style soda bread in          recognition of the Variety Bay bakers oven.

It would be nice to think that this mill could have produced the flour for the bread making at Variety Bay, however, it is more likely they grew their own wheat.   Slide56P1040857

*Edward Abbott The English and Australian Cookery Book: cookery for the many, as well as for the “upper ten thousand” by an Australian aristologist. Abbott actually refers to muriatic acid and carbonate of soda.  The former of the two is one of the names for hydrochloric acid, also known as spirits of salt or acidum salis. “Muriatic” means “pertaining to brine or salt”.  (page 73).

Nb: this book, considered to be Australia’s first cookbook, was written in Tasmania after Abbott had developed an enthusiasm for local ingredients – he includes a number of recipes using indigenous flora and fauna.  Sadly, there was only ever the one edition as colonists continued to rely on English cook books. It was not until the 1890s that a larger body of locally written cook books became available.




About brunyfire

Practising potter, open hearth gastronomist,wild food forager, writer.
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