Backstage access to our collections: Odds and ends

Things that are quite common today such as mousetraps, toothpaste and bicycle lights can be taken for granted; it can be forgotten that these items were not immediately produced as we know them but have evolved over time. The following items in our collections give an insight on this evolutionary journey of some common household and recreational items.

The mouse trap


1980.612 – Four way mouse trap, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.

The First Fleet’s arrival in 1788 brought not only convicts and English traditions but also unintentional cargo such as the domestic house mouse. It is this event which has been considered the most likely time in which the mouse was first introduced to Australia. With the arrival of this pest, many Australians have pondered the best way to reduce their numbers.

This item is a four way ‘choker’ style mouse trap. While many different variations to the shape and construction materials of the trap exist, the principle remains the same.  Similar style of mousetraps to this one have been dated from the 1920s – 1930s, however as there aren’t any distinguishable features concerning the manufacturer, it is unknown whether this item was produced for commercial or domestic use in the Georges River area. The popularity of this type of mousetrap has dropped considerably with the spring mousetrap being the most common type used in domestic households.

Charcoal tooth powder


1980.243 – Charcoal tooth powder, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.

Tooth powders have been around since 5000 BC, when the Ancient Egyptians used ingredients such as powdered ashes of ox hooves, myrrh, burnt eggshells, and pumice to create a powder. The Greeks and Romans improved on this mix by adding abrasives such as crushed bones and oyster shells.

By the nineteenth century tooth powders had become common in British households, most of which were homemade containing chalk, pulverized brick, or salt.

An 1866 Home Encyclopedia recommended pulverized charcoal, and cautioned that many patented tooth powders that were commercially marketed did more harm than good. In recent times charcoal tooth powder has had a renaissance with “activated charcoal” powder being advertised as a natural and healthy alternative for gaining a white smile, although experts have advised that these claims are over-exaggerated.

One of the earliest pieces of evidence of British dental hygiene in Australia was a container of cherry flavoured tooth powder, found during an archaeological dig of the site of First Government House in Sydney during the 1980s.

Bicycle lamp

bicycle lamp

1980.262 – Bicycle lamp, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.

By the late 1800s the bicycle had become a popular means of transportation and recreation in Europe and North America particularly for the elite and middle class. It had a profound effect on the manner in which men and women could interact and communicate with one another as there was now a means to independently travel and be unsupervised. This unforeseen development inspired American feminist Susan B. Anthony to call the bicycle the “freedom machine”.  The bicycle also in turn helped encouraged practicality in women’s fashion rather than the corsets and ankle-length skirts which were fashionable at the time.

This technology arrived in Australia in the 1860s and was quickly embraced. In order to ride at night to ensure the safety of the rider, bicycles at this time were being fitted with lamps to illuminate the rider’s path. The earliest known bicycle lamps were oil-powered and had begun to be manufactured in 1876. This particular bicycle lamp was powered by burning kerosene on a cotton wick which was also a common method at this time. Electric-powered lamps were manufactured as early as 1888 but were very expensive. It wasn’t until 10 years later did electric lamps become more affordable and widely available.

To see how other household items have evolved over time visit our award winning permanent exhibition St George Stories: people – places – community.

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