“To save breakage and inconvenience”: rural probate inventories and pewter as an ‘evident absent’ in 19th-century colonial South Africa
Keywords:historical archaeology, material culture, probate inventories, pewter, ceramics, olonial archaeology, British Empire, tableware, consumption, consumer practice.
The investigation and analysis of the ceramic assemblage from the 19th-century European farm Kerkplaats, a site in the rural Karoo, Northern Cape, revealed a notable disjuncture in the ratio of hollow to flat forms. This anomaly was investigated further through the examination of probate inventories, which, in turn, revealed patterns of rural tableware use that both commented on and challenged the ceramic assemblage. This paper considers this disjuncture and evaluates probates as sources of historic material culture data in rural areas. Analysis of probates identifies a rural tableware ‘signature’ in the first half of the 19th century, which was reliant on pewter forms, particularly plates and dishes. The use of pewter, selected for functional reasons, provides some comment on social processes of material culture ‘modernisation’ in rural areas. Finally, pewter, all but absent from the archaeological record, is posited as an ‘evident absent’ that should be considered in analysing tableware and the domestic sphere on the 19th-century colonial frontier.