Written by: Carmen Burton, Assistant Curator Queensland Stories
Quite often, the social history curators at Queensland Museum get visits from all sorts of people who have surprising and interesting connections to Queensland history. Just recently I had a visit from a woman who is a descendant of Mary Watson, the colonial heroine who in 1881 escaped Lizard Island in North Queensland following conflict with local Aboriginal people.
Ever wondered how to reduce your impact on the environment and reduce your electricity bill as the same time? Well look no further than the past! Re-introducing the “Dolly Washer” from 1879.
The “Dolly” washer features a central wooden spiked agitator in the wash bowl to help remove the most stubborn stains and ergonomic 3 gear reduction hand crank to allow easy rotation of the handle.
The water recycler is located directly above the wash basin allowing you to remove all the excess water from your washed clothes and reuse it for the next load. We recommend washing whites before colours when using this reclaimer feature.
The “Dolly” washer also has two handy fold away work benches on either side and comes fitted with wheels as standard, so you can wheel the washing machine out next to the clothes line and wash your clothes next to your environmentally friendly solar dryer. Once you have finished, use the handy tilt feature on the left hand side to empty the wash bowl and water your lawn at the same time (We advise using a low phosphorous detergent when using this feature). The environment will thank you every time you wash your clothes.
Built by Taylor and Wilson and dated 1879, this washing machine would have been state of the art at the time. To wash clothes, water would have to be collected, (often in buckets by hand) and heated on a wood stove or over and open fire. The hot water would then be bucketed into the wash trough. Clothes would be sorted not only into colours, but into levels of dirtiness. As the water was used, and re-used again, the cleanest clothes would be washed first and the most soiled last. Each item would then be passed through the wringer to remove excess water before being hung on the line to dry.
Reflecting on the time and effort involved in using this washing machine makes me appreciate how little effort is required in washing clothes today, yet how much of a chore we still consider it to be. I cannot argue that the housekeepers and domestic helpers of the past had an easy job to do.
This behind the scenes artefact from QueenslandMuseum’s collection also highlights the nature of the progress made with technology, our demand for helpful household appliances, and our dependence on the burning of fossil fuels to power the convenient tools we have created.
Have we as a society become too dependant on power and convenience through work/life pressure or just laziness? Is the constant push for the latest in technology and convenience also a push towards environmental degradation? I’m not suggesting that we all go back to hand washing our clothes but maybe we could find solutions to our current problems by looking into our past?
If you have ever watched TV programs like Stateline, you will hear the term Bushel during the market report. So what is a bushel?
A bushel is an imperial measure of volume used in the sale of dry goods, first introduced by King Edgar in the city of Winchester in the 10th century.
The use of a bushel as a standard measure to trade salt and grains in England, was officially put into law in 1670. This is also the point in time when the Bushel was resized (3%larger) at 8 new gallons (36.38 litres) to standardise all imperial measurements. This practice of using a bushel continued over hundreds of years, until the introduction of the metric system.
To prevent disputes about the size of a bushel, and to assist in regulating industry, governments would hold a standard bushel, from which all others could be measured. The official Queensland Government bushel is made of brass and was produced in London in 1875 by L. Oretling, the largest and most famous makers of precision weights and measures in Great Britain.
This unique piece of Queensland history was donated to the museum by the Queensland Government in 1982, and is currently in storage at Queensland Museum South Bank