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Identification of the woods used to make the Riley Cabinet

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The Riley cabinet is a historically-significant piece of Australian furniture built by convict artisans in 1817–1820, only 30 years after colonisation of Australia began. The timber species used to make the cabinet were hitherto unknown. This paper describes the novel use of a truncated veterinary syringe needle as a minimally-invasive tool for obtaining very small wood-identification samples from the cabinet. We also describe how, using utmost economy of sample material, we identified the different cabinet woods, with varying levels of precision. Identification of the thirteen species encountered relied on macroscopic and microscopic features of the woods and consideration of the availability of different timbers to the cabinet-maker at the time the cabinet was made. We conclude that the early British settlers of Australia rapidly gained knowledge of the wide variety of indigenous woods suitable for cabinet manufacture, and suggest that the methods used to sample and identify the woods in the Riley cabinet may have wider application for identifying woods found in other historically-significant wooden objects.


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