This paper challenges the modern expectation that mahogany furniture and silver cutlery were self-evident indicators of gentry status in colonial Sydney through close analysis of a bundle of middle class household inventories of the 1840s. They are considered as evidence of habitus--the structuring interaction of mentality with the material world--in order to demonstrate the active principle of consumption in the claim or assertion of bourgeois standing, which was particularly lively in the colony. A range of competences can he seen in the practice of gentility, which suggests that the possession of rosewood rather than mahogany, or imitation silver rather than sterling, was a variation shaped not merely by wealth but by cultural capital. This exposes strands of contingency, competition and compromise in middle class expression.
Field of Research
210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)