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H9556 Brick mould and stocks (2), for making bricks by hand, convict origin, stamped on iron side panels 'BOSTON', wood / iron, maker unknown, place of production unknown, c. 1850. Click to enlarge.

Brick mould for handmaking bricks

Made
  • c 1850
This is a brick mould and stock for making hand-made bricks. Bricks were made by first finding a suitable source of brickmaking clay, moulding this into brick shapes, then air or sun drying before firing.

Brickmaking was one of the first industries in Australia, with convicts employed to undertake the backbreaking work of digging out the clay, preparing it by weathering, soaking and kneading it to form a thick pliable pug, making the bricks, and pulling loaded carts of them around the settlement. When the First Fleet arrived in January 1788 among its supplies brought on the voyage out were brick moulds like this one, together with 5000 bricks. The colony's first bricks were made as early as March of that year so that permanent housing and other buildings could be erected.

Finding clay to make bricks was no easy task. Bricks are not made of pure clay but a mixture of sand and other elements of earth. Samples with too much pure clay would crack while those with too much sand would not hold together after firing. Fortunately, a good supply of alluvial clay was found in Sydney in the area now bounded by George, Campbell, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets, which gained the name Brickfield Hill. A sample of its clay was sent by Governor Philip to the famous English potter, Josiah Wedgwood, who pronounced if of good quality.

Early convict brickmaking teams comprised a clot moulder, a brick moulder, a bearing boy, a setter to stack the kiln and others to assist the preparation of the clay. For moulding bricks three pieces of equipment were required, the mould, stock and strike. The mould comprised a four-sided wooden box the top edge of which was fitted with metal strips to prevent wear while the stock was the rectangular removable bottom board. A raised piece of timber in the centre of the stock board, called a kick, was fixed in order to make a depression or frog in the brick face. Both the mould and stock were dusted with sand to help it slide out of the mould when dry, which gave rise to the name 'sandstock' brick.

The prepared clay was delivered by barrow to the moulder at the moulding table. Each brick was made by taking a mass of clay, a little bigger than required, and throwing it forcefully into the mould. The quality of the brick was determined by the consistency of the clay and the skill of the moulder. The pug had to be plastic enough to spread instantly into the corners of the mould, but stiff enough to dry as quickly as possible and hold its shape during handling. Excess clay was cut away from the top of the mould with a board called a strike. The mould was then taken by an assistant who tuned it upside down to release the brick onto a board with the frog side up. The green bricks were carried off two or three at a time on pallets to the hacking or drying area.

Soft, hand-made bricks can be identified in a variety of ways. They may have the texture of sand from the mould, irregular marks and air bubbles, or creases and folds (not cracks) in the sides from where the clay dragged down the side of the mould. They could have various frog impressions, hack marks or even tally marks. However, the easiest way to determine whether or not bricks were handmade, is to accurately measure them. Hand-moulded bricks differ slightly in depth, will not have the same mass of clay in them, and will shrink to different dimensions during drying and firing.

Hand-operated brick presses were introduced in New South Wales during the first half of the 1800s but the real development in moulding bricks occurred in the 1870s with introduction of steam-powered brickmaking machines in conjunction with more efficient kilns. According to Gemmel, in 'And So We Graft from Six to Six: the Brickmakers of New South Wales' by 1890 steam had transformed the brickmaking industry from a small scale low capital industry in which a hand-moulder might make 1000 bricks a day to one in which brick yards with machines could make one or two thousand bricks an hour.

Bell, Peter, 'Early Bricks and Brickwork in South Australia', Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Adelaide, South Australia, 2008, pp.14-15.
Gemmel, Warwick, 'And So We Graft from Six to Six: the Brickmakers of New South Wales', Angus & Robertson Publishers, North Ryde, NSW, Australia, pp.18-19.
Seymour, John, 'The Forgotten Arts: a practical guide to traditional skills', Angus & Robertson Publishers, North Ryde, NSW, Australia, 1986, pp.148-9.

Margaret Simpson, Curator
July 2016

Summary

Object No.

H9556

Object Statement

Brick mould and stocks (2), for making bricks by hand, convict origin, stamped on iron side panels 'BOSTON', wood / iron, maker unknown, place of production unknown, c. 1850

Physical Description

Brick mould, for making bricks by hand, wood / iron, in three pieces; the sides of a rectangular box and two similar pieces to create a top and bottom; each piece made of timber and iron; the piece comprising the sides is constructed so that the inside surface of the sides is iron (2 sides of metal and timber, 2 sides of metal only). Each top/bottom piece is basically timber, with a metal flanged edge towards the inner surface. Outer surface is flat. Inner surface becomes convex within metal edge border (to create concave top and bottom of bricks). Top and bottom fit very loosely into sides, [convict origin], unknown maker, [mid 1800s]
Marks: stamped on iron side panels: "BOSTON", stamped on underside of base and top: "BO" surmounted by upward-pointing arrow, similar stamp on outer side wooden side panel
265 x 139 x 80mm
Some surface oxidisation of iron

Production

Made

  • c 1850

History

Notes

This object is part of the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) collection which was donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 1981. The Society was formed in 1901 and is the oldest historical society in Australia. As a result many of the objects they collected are of great significance to Australia and to New South Wales. Some are associated with people and families like the Marsdens, Henry Parkes, Mawson, and John Verge. Others like the convict handcuffs and the Ben Hall 'Wanted' poster aresignificant relics from Australia's past. The importance of the entire collection and the way in which it was acquired adds to the significance of this object.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Royal Australian Historical Society, 1981

Acquisition Date

23 June 1981

Cite this Object

Harvard

Brick mould for handmaking bricks 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 September 2020, <https://ma.as/257638>

Wikipedia

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