Historical information

The toy soldier is a relic from the shipwreck of the LOCH ARD in 1878. It has a companion piece in the Flagstaff Hill collection. The toy soldier is unpainted, but the style of uniform, and the weapons carried (a musket and a basket-handled cutlass), indicate it is a representation of the Napoleonic Wars period from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The presence of marine worm, or wood borer, holes point to a hand-carved, light but dense, wooden material used in its construction (rather than rubber as suggested in earlier cataloguing).

Mass-produced toy soldiers made of cast metal (lead or tin) became popular during the 1800s. Heyde of Germany manufactured silhouette shaped ‘flats’ early in the century; then Mignot of France released three dimensional ‘solids’; and later (1893) Britain of England made ‘hollowcast’ figures. These innovations were designed to make sets of toy soldiers more affordable for middle and lower class children, extending the market beyond the intricately made and hand-crafted replicas that were the preserve of the rich in the eighteenth century.
Wooden military figures, especially carved and unpainted ones, were therefore not particularly common at the time when the LOCH ARD went down on Victoria’s south west coast. Mignot were the first to sell unpainted soldiers, leaving their customers to fill in the colours according to their own patriotic preferences. If a similar attitude is assumed for the two virtually identical figures in the Flagstaff Hill collection, it is possible they were part of a new set intended for sale, rather than part of a passenger’s existing collection.
The light but dense wood from which they were carved also makes them distinctive. A similarly light composite material of sawdust, glue and linseed oil (press-moulded onto a metal frame) was used by the German firm O & M Hausler to create toy soldiers, but this type of modelling was not commercialised until after 1912. The first heat-moulded plastic toy soldiers did not become available until after 1945.

Significance

The LOCH ARD shipwreck is of State significance ― Victorian Heritage Register S417

Physical description

An unpainted wood-carved replica or toy soldier, presented in a Napoleonic Wars era uniform. The figure is in a standing posture, and is bearing a musket at the slope-arms position, with a sabre or cutlass slung behind. It is ‘dressed’ in a plumed helmet, short-fronted coat with longer buttoned tails at the back, button fastened bib-front trousers, a pair of crossed bandoliers, and tasselled shoulder epaulettes. The figure is cream in colour with reddish brown and greenish black stains on the head and shoulder. The carving is detailed and sharp, and the piece is in fair to good condition considering its prolonged period of submersion in seawater. Although classified at one stage as made of rubber from a pressed mould, the evidence of sharp edges on the boots and epaulettes, and of marine worm or wood borer holes in the figure’s right leg and musket butt, indicate it is more likely hand-carved from a light but dense timber. There is a companion piece to this unpainted wooden toy soldier in the Flagstaff Hill collection, which suggests it was originally part of a set of similarly styled military figures. Both examples were retrieved from the LOCH ARD wreck site.

Inscriptions & markings

Made subsequent to manufacture (superimposed on completed piece): “6599” on rear of left trouser leg; “PWO 2308” on sole of left boot, (partially obscuring “R122” written in biro); “2218” on sole of right boot. These are formal ‘cataloguing’ labels inscribed in black ink and sealed with lacquer.