Let’s paint the town, shall we?

So much of the archaeology that we deal with on a daily basis, particularly from an artefacts perspective, is associated with the everyday domestic lives of Christchurch’s 19th century residents that it becomes quite easy to forget about the other industrial and commercial aspects of life in the city in the 1800s. Every now and then, however, we are reminded that – as is the case today – there was another side to Christchurch that was just as important, if not quite as archaeologically obvious.

On that note, while working through a box of artefacts recently, I came across several stoneware jar stoppers with DAVID STORER AND SONS / GLASGOW impressed on the top, circling the image of a bell. As it turns out, David Storer and Sons were oil and paint manufacturers operating during the latter decades of the 19th century. They made all kinds of paint, oil and varnishes, from olive and linseed oils to white lead paints, yellow ochre paints and several types of varnish. Presumably, some of these were intended as artist’s paints, while others were made for more utilitarian or structural purposes (still artistic in a way, though, right?).

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

Their products show up in shipping manifestos and advertisements from the 1870s well into the 1890s, despite a plethora of notices in 1887 that the company ‘failed’ (i.e. went bankrupt). I have no idea what happened after this point or how their products continued to be sold in the 1890s – the aftermath clearly wasn’t as sensational or newsworthy as the failure. The lids that we found are likely to have belonged to one (or several) of the builders, carpenters and painters located on the site during the latter decades of the 19th century. The paint, oil or varnish contained within those jars could have been used to paint houses, furniture, cabinets, paintings, fences, machinery and who knows what else.

And, it got me thinking. Researching the life and times of David Storer and Sons led me to wonder about 19th century paint in general: how it was made, what it was used for, whether we have other archaeological evidence for its use in Christchurch. It’s not something we normally think about, archaeologically, but  – as it is today – it would have been everywhere back then.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

As it turns out, there were several types of paint available to New Zealand residents in the 19th century, from lead and zinc based mixes to paint made from iron oxide, asbestos (yes, you read that right), hematite, rubber, potatoes and skim milk. Some of these were available wet, while others arrived in the country in powdered form (just add water!). There was luminous paint (used on buoys), sanitary paint (not what you think, or, at least, not what I thought…), disinfecting paint, heat sensitive paint and even fire-resistant paint. Several articles and advertisements detail experiments undertaken to see how well certain paints helped to prevent fires, most of them surprisingly successful.

Advertisements also suggest that a range of colours were also available, from yellow ochre to red and white lead paints, white zinc paints and ‘Prussian blue’ (apparently made from the ashes of horses hooves). Lead based paints were very common and, as you would expect, sometimes affected the health of those around them. One account tells the story of a whole family who suffered from lead poisoning thanks to a painter who lost his lead paint covered brush at the bottom of the rainwater tank and contaminated their drinking water.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

Interestingly, New Zealand appears to have had its own paint manufacturing industry fairly early on, with the New Zealand Hematite Paint Company established operating in the 1880s with factories in Nelson and Collingwood. A Mr Louisson was making hematite paint in Timaru in the 1860s or 1870s (later bought out by the NZ Hematite Paint Company), and another paint manufacturing company based in Thames made oxide of iron paint in the 1880s. Smith and Smith, now a name synonymous with window glass repair, were also active as paint manufacturers and distributors from the early 20th century onwards (often with slightly less than PC advertisements).

Despite the strong local industry, still more types of paint were imported from overseas, with shipments coming from America (Vulcan paint!), Australia and the United Kingdom. Scotland does appear to have had its fair share of paint exporters, with several advertisements for Scottish paints appearing in contemporary newspapers.

The uses of paint in urban life haven’t changed much over the years, although there are perhaps fewer articles now suggesting that we should paint all our ships with luminous paint to prevent collisions. Hematite paint was used on everything from railways to most metal structures (it was less corrosive than lead paint on metal). Sanitary paint, despite it’s name, was used for internal walls and “all outside work in wood, irons or stone, from a steamship to a golf ball.” Other uses noted included priming, machinery, bridges and barns, agricultural implements and branding sheep.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Unfortunately, when it comes to archaeological evidence of paint use in the past – other than the occasional container lid – material is scarce, especially on 19th century buildings. Many buildings are, of course, repainted over the years (it would be very unusual to find the original coat of paint without any later layers over the top). Interior and exterior decoration of houses adapted to match the changing fashions of the last century and a half, so it stands to reason that very little evidence of 19th century house paint remains, particularly on external walls and weatherboards.

Additionally, in our experience, a lot of 19th century houses used wallpaper rather than paint as interior decoration. We occasionally find paint on skirting boards and trim (under several layers of later wallpaper and paint), but it doesn’t appear to have been used much on the internal walls themselves. Sometimes, we’ve come across instances where the floors or stairs of a building have been painted – often on either side of a rug – but it’s difficult to tell whether this is Victorian or not. Other times, we’ve seen paint used as a decorative element in the interior design – used to colour a ceiling rose, for example, or stencilled on to the ceiling.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: M. Hennessey. 

The relatively infrequent use of paint in the interior of houses may have been partly a cost or fashion issue, but was probably largely a result of the materials used to form the walls. Lath and plaster, for example, is far more suited to wallpaper than to paint, as is scrim – both of which were often used on internal walls. Tongue and groove match lining could sometimes be painted, but is far more likely to have been varnished instead. In truth, it seems like paint would have been used most often on exterior walls – which, of course, we’re unlikely to see. It’s weird really – for something so visible, paint is strangely invisible in the archaeological record.

There’s so many aspects of life that we take for granted – both in the past and now – things that are all around us all the time, which form the fabric of our material worlds and set the scene for the stageshow of our lives (to get all melodramatic and Shakespearian on you). The relative archaeological obscurity of something like paint is especially ironic, given the purpose for which it is intended. It’s just not something I thought about, until an unknown Scottish company and a small stoneware lid reminded me to look for it. Yet another reminder that the smallest of objects can have the greatest of stories to tell.

Jessie Garland

The spice of life

We’ve talked about food in the 19th century before on the blog, but we’ve mostly focused on the weird and wonderful (because, let’s face it, therein lies the fun stuff). In reality, a lot of food in the 19th century would have been bland and basic, especially for those of lower socio-economic status, who may not have been able to afford to buy the more flavoursome ingredients. In fact, much of it may have only been made palatable by the addition of the humble condiment, otherwise known as the saviour of tastebuds everywhere. The Victorians (and Edwardians) loved their condiments, from catsup to Worcestershire sauce, with an enduring appreciation that is more than evident in the archaeological and historical records.

Here in Christchurch (and, indeed, throughout the country) we find quite a lot of condiments on 19th century archaeological sites. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, many of them elaborately designed and decorated, from ‘gothic’ or ‘cathedral’ pickle jars to ‘swirly’ or ‘twirly’ salad oil bottles. Although we define the primary function of such bottles as ‘food storage’, condiments were also public objects, in the sense that unlike a lot of other food containers (jars, for example), condiment bottles were intended for use during a meal, at the table (much as they are now). As such, they were affected by the same philosophy of display and presentation that created decorated dinner sets and serving dishes: the things we put on our tables are almost always nicer than the things we use in our kitchens.

Several shapes and sizes of condiment bottles from an archaeological site in Christchurch's central city. Image: J. Garland.

Several shapes and sizes of condiment bottles from an archaeological site in Christchurch’s central city. Note the Mellor’s Worcester Sauce and Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce bottles at the front right. Image: J. Garland.

Most of the condiment bottles we find are unlabelled, and the only clue we have to their original contents lies in the shape of the bottle, a correlation that (as we’ve mentioned before) is based on several – sometimes erroneous – assumptions. We have, however, been lucky enough to find several condiment bottles here in Christchurch with surviving labels or embossed glass, letting us know exactly what they originally contained. These labels have included everything from J. T. Morton’s vinegar, the ever present Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and its not-quite-so-famous relative, Mellor’s Worcester Sauce to Champion’s Vinegar, Olson’s Tomato Sauce, Weston and Westall’s Table Salt, George Whybrow’s ‘sublime’ salad oil and Crosse and Blackwell’s Mushroom Catsup.

Several vinegar bottles with surviving J. T. Morton labels. Some of them even still have corks and stoppers. Image: J. Garland.

Several vinegar bottles with surviving J. T. Morton labels. Some of them even still have corks and stoppers. Image: J. Garland.

Some of these are familiar to us. Lea and Perrins is still in business today, as is Crosse and Blackwell (as a side note, Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce began life as the ‘disgusting’ result of an attempt to make a spicy sauce – it wasn’t until after it had been forgotten for several years that it evolved into the sauce known today). Others are less familiar. Olson’s Tomato Sauce, which faded from mention in newspapers during the 1890s, seems to have been something of a forerunner to Watties, with “the red substance” produced in a factory in Auckland from the 1870s onwards. Mushroom Catsup (or ketchup, as it is now known), while still around today, is far more unusual now than it was in the 19th century.

Selection of labelled condiment bottles found in Christchurch. Left to right: George Whybrow's 'Sublime' Salad Oil, Olson's Tomato Sauce, Mellor's Worcestershire Sauce (this one has more than one label on it, suggesting re-use) and Crosse and Blackwell's Mushroom Catsup. Image: J. Garland.

Selection of labelled condiment bottles found in Christchurch. Left to right: George Whybrow’s ‘Sublime’ Salad Oil, Olson’s Tomato Sauce, Mellor’s Worcester Sauce (this one has more than one label on it, suggesting re-use) and Crosse and Blackwell’s Mushroom Catsup. Image: J. Garland.

It’s not all savoury, however. Sweeter accompaniments such as the fantastic calves feet jelly and Kirkpatrick’s jam have also been found in the city. Kirkpatrick’s, another New Zealand product (manufactured in sunny Nelson from the 1880s onwards), was famous throughout the country and overseas – with the ‘K’ brand winning awards in various exhibitions and expositions in the 1880s and 1890s. Calves feet jelly, despite the rather off-putting name (we do like to disguise where our food comes from now, don’t we?), was apparently a fairly mild tasting jelly marketed largely to invalids.

Bottle of Calves Feet Jelly found in central Christchurch on site dating to c. the 1870s. Image: J. Garland.

Bottle of calves feet jelly found in central Christchurch on site dating to c. the 1870s. Image: J. Garland.

Jams and jellies aside, most of the condiments we find would have been used to spice up savoury dishes and many of the advertisements we find for them in contemporary newspapers list foods like roasts, cheese, fish, mutton, gravies and soups as the things most likely to benefit from the addition of condiments. Interestingly, the word of choice to describe the flavour of the condiments themselves seems to have been ‘piquant.’ With ‘relish’ coming in a close second. Whether ‘piquancy’ was actually a flavour sought after by Victorian consumers or a buzz-word imposed by advertisers on those consumers, I don’t know. Possibly a little bit of both?

Advertisements for different types of condiment from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Note the frequent use of the word 'piquant.' Image (clockwise from top left):

Advertisements for different types of condiment from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Note the frequent use of the word ‘piquant.’ Image (clockwise from top left): Auckland Star 20/01/1871, p. 2; Wanganui Herald 9/03/1918, p. 7Press 31/05/1924, p. 6Taranaki Daily News 13/12/1917, p. 5; Nelson Evening Mail 16/09/1914 p. 2.

Advertisements for condiments are actually really interesting, not just because of the fascinating insights you get into Victorian and Edwardian food (and there were some amazing recipes, seriously) and other things (I stumbled across an amazing rant about puns, for example) but because of the ways those advertisements reflect the world around them. For example, 19th century adverts emphasise the tastelessness of foods, the tried and trusted nature of the products, the familiarity of the tastes, but by the early 20th century and the advent of World War I, there’s a notable shift to an emphasis on the economic advantages of using condiments.


Advertisements for Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce that emphasise the economic advantages of using the condiment. Even the advertisement on the left, which leads with the “quality” of the product, still makes reference to how “a little of this sauce [can] go a long way.” Images (left to right); Press 2/09/1916, p. 5; New Zealand Herald 31/10/1918 p. 8.

This is particularly relevant to archaeology, since condiments have been considered signifiers of wealth – or at least economic status – in archaeological assemblages before, because they are inessential items. You don’t need condiments to survive, but they make the foods you do need to survive more palatable (although it could be said that a lot of material culture is inessential, if you wanted to be technical about it). The logic follows, therefore, that the presence of condiments indicates the ability to afford extra ‘luxury’ items. Yet, as those advertisements from the early 20th century indicate, we have to consider the theory that condiments actually reflected a lower economic status household or, at least, the practice of economy within a household. People could easily have bought simpler and cheaper foods, because they knew they could spice it up with condiments, rather than more expensive food that required no such additions of flavour.

It’s something to think about in our own culinary habits now, I think. Especially in a culture and an era in which so much emphasis is placed on the health benefits (and social status, to a degree) of fresh ingredients and ‘good quality’ non-processed foods, despite the plethora of processed foods and sauces that surround us every day. What would our condiment consumption say about our society now, I wonder? What does yours say about you? Is it a flavour issue, a preference of taste? Is there an economic benefit to our consumption of condiments? How much do our tastes reflect the changing culture, influences and social context in which we live our daily lives? How much do they reflect our past? The remnants of our colonial heritage are evident in more than just our buildings or our flag (ooh, topical!) – they’re present in our food as well. Even more than that, they’re present in our tastes.

Think about it. Honestly, what does your taste in food say about you, and your history?

Jessie Garland


Pieces of the Past

This week on the blog we’re sending you over to Pieces of the Past, an online exhibition we’ve curated as part of Beca Heritage Week here in Christchurch. The exhibition features the staff of Underground Overground Archaeology and their favourite artefacts. There’s a wealth of different objects and stories there (and a suspicious number of caffeine related biographies for our archaeologists), from a sheep hoof on a stick to pocket watches, spinning tops and poems about cowboys.

In fact, we may have been so excited about it that we modified (or butchered, depends on your point of view) a famous song in our excitement.

Glass eyes on skulls and sheep hooves on sticks,
Old broken watches and bright orange bricks,
Upright pianos, still with their strings,
These are a few of our favourite things.

Lost spinning tops and pointy bone hooks,
Cheese jars and Marmite and Rantin’s old books,
Cowboys and boats and small figurines,
These are a few of our favourite things.

When the trowel scrapes,
When the glass breaks,
When we’re feeling bored,
We simply remember our favourite things,
And then we don’t feel so bad.

Check it out here. 

A poetic reflection on heritage buildings

As building archaeologists we record and analyse the form, structure and ornamentation of 19th century dwellings to learn about the lives led by past occupants.

The Victorian era was a time of invention and achievement. Society was dominated by middle-class morality as they relentlessly pursued comfort and material wealth. Their houses expressed the energy and exuberance of this time, as they presented their best face to the public.

These efforts can be directly observed through the choice of internal linings used in 19th century dwellings. Wealthy homes were commonly lined with timber laths and lime plaster, while poorer houses used roughly sawn butted sarking boards. When we recorded a modest workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop we uncovered some of these roughly sawn butted sarking boards in the parlour, a room purposely decorated for public display.

Roughly sawn butted sarking boards used in parlour of workman's cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

Roughly sawn butted sarking boards used in parlour of workman’s cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

Over time, however, seven layers of wallpaper had been applied to this room to disguise the poor lining material.

Original layer 1

The first layer of wallpaper applied was a mid-Victorian pattern design of purple and light brown diamond shapes dating to between the 1860s and 1870s. Image: F. Bradley.

Layer 2

Applied on top of the original layer was a brown wallpaper with a blue flowers and leaves pattern design, dating to the 1880s. Image: F. Bradley.

Layer 4

The fourth layer of wallpaper dated to the 1850s and had design elements of the Edwardian period, with green diamond shapes and pink roses. Image: F. Bradley.

top layer 7

The last layer was a pearlescent wallpaper with a design pattern of white, pink and yellow flowers, dating to between the 1920s and 1930s. Image: F. Bradley.

When we record these historic dwellings, we try decipher the social conventions at play during the Victorian era and how they influenced the way in which their dwellings were decorated. But when it came to recording this workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop, we were confronted with the juxtaposition of how 19th century society decorated their houses and a very unique way one 21st century occupant had decided to decorate her humble abode.


Street-facing elevation of workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop. Image: F. Bradley.

In its irreparable state the creative owner of this house took to it with a fine paint brush and turned its rough-cast plastered walls into a mural of poetry.

The street-facing south elevation bore the words of Percy Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’.


Percy Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ painted on the street-facing south elevation. Image: F. Bradley.

Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

(Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

‘Ozymandias’ was one of English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most famous works, first published in 1818. Shelley’s works often attracted controversy as they spoke out against oppression, convention and religion (Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

His poem ‘Ozymandias’ acts as a a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of political power. Its central theme explores the indiscriminate and destructive power of history, by contrasting all leaders’ pretentions to greatness and their inevitable decline. It is a powerful statement about the insignificance of human beings to the passage of time (Wikipedia, 2001).

Along the north elevation of the cottage were the words of Denis Glover’s iconic New Zealand poem ‘The Magpies’.


Denis Glover’s poem ‘The Magpies’ painted along the north elevation of the cottage. Image: F. Bradley.


First section of ‘The Magpies’. Image: F. Bradley.


Second section of ‘The Magpies’. Image: F. Bradley.

The Magpies – Denis Glover

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Tom’s hand was strong to the plough
Elizabeth’s lips were red,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Year in year out they worked
While the pines grew overhead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

But all the beautiful crops soon went
To the mortgage-man instead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Elizabeth is dead now (it’s years ago)
Old Tom went light in the head;
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations
Couldn’t give it away.
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.

(Source: Xyphir, 2011).

‘The Magpies’ by Denis Glover is one of New Zealand’s most famous poems, first published in 1941. This poem relates to the passage of time as it laments the fate of farmers in hard economic times (Wikipedia, 2006). The hard-working farming couple become victims of an oppressive social system that exploits the working man. In this poem, the cruel and impartial nature of time is personified by the distinctive caw of the magpies, as they watched the farmers struggle away (Shieff, 2008).

As architectural styles and their decorative features can help us understand the conditions of bygone generations, the choice of poetry used here to decorate this workman’s cottage may be a reflection on the current post-quake social condition of Canterbury. Or perhaps the owner was merely commenting on the passage of time and its indiscriminate treatment of her home. Who knows, as archaeologists we can only speculate…


Words of wisdom painted next to the dwelling’s front door. Image: F. Bradley.

Francesca Bradley.


Wikipedia, 2001. Ozymandias. [online] (22 September 2015) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Xyphir, 2011. The Magpies – Denis Glover. A poem a day, [online] 26 April 2011. Available at: http://nzpoems.blogspot.co.nz/2011/04/magpies-denis-glover.html [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Wikipedia, 2006. The Magpies. [online] (2 May 2015) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magpies [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Shieff, Sarah, 2008. Denis Glover, 1912 – 1980. [online] Wellington: Victoria University. Available at: file:///Users/Shebitch/Downloads/716-622-1-PB%20(1).pdf [Accessed 1 October 2015].



In which a fortune is made, an Oddfellow is not a type of mint, and archaeology happens

Earlier this year, we excavated a site on Armagh Street that revealed not only a large quantity of artefacts, but also a historical and material narrative set in the swampy bowels of a fledgling city, a tale of politics, commerce, secret societies, nefarious happenings and BETRAYAL (cue ominous music). Well, maybe not those last two.  And maybe not quite as melodramatic as all that.

This story, told in turns by the objects and features we found on site and the records of those who owned them, included everyone from Oddfellows and Freemasons (even the United Ancient Order of Druids) to radicals (free radicals, even!) and liberals and some of the prominent voices of early Christchurch. Among the many figures whose history formed a part of the tale of this site, one who stood out was a Mr Edward Hiorns, tinsmith, hotelier, victualler, and protagonist of this particular post.

Excavating an archaeological feature filled with artefacts at a site on Armagh Street. Image: K. Bone.

Excavating an archaeological feature filled with artefacts at our site on Armagh Street. Image: K. Bone.

Mr Hiorns first arrived in Christchurch in 1862 on board the Victoria. A plumber, tinsmith and metal-worker, he operated a business from premises on Armagh Street East during 1860s and 1870s. By 1872, however, he had branched out into hotel-keeping, becoming the proprietor of the Central Hotel (later the Masonic), located on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester streets. He seems to have had something of a colourful time as a hotel proprietor, appearing in the courts several times as plaintiff and defendant in cases ranging from stolen watches to bail forfeit, forgery and the inappropriate sale of alcohol.

Edward Hiorns, the man himsef. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Hiorns, the man himsef. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Like so many of Christchurch’s early residents Hiorns was a man of many hats, not just in terms of how he made a living, but also in regard to his involvement in the community. Among other things, he was a prominent member of the Licensed Victuallers Association (yes, this was a thing) from the 1870s onwards, as well as involving himself in local politics, both successfully and unsuccessfully. In 1875, he ran for the city council but only managed to finagle 21 votes, a meagre offering when compared to the winning candidate’s 634. Not one to be easily put off, though, he ran again successfully in the 80s and 90s. Hiorns was also a member of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association in the 1860s, a liberal organisation that aimed to assist working men with the purchase of land (an important part of socio-political independence and status at the time).

A description of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association from 1866, when they were first formed. Image:

A description of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association from 1866, when they were first formed. Image: Press 27/01/1866: 1.

On top of all this,  he was also active in the Oddfellows society, attaining the rank of Provincial Grand Master, an occurrence which seems to have been something of a prerequisite for the residents of Armagh Street in the 19th century (no, seriously, they’re ALL Oddfellows and I have the flowchart to prove it). If they weren’t Oddfellows, they were Freemasons, and if they weren’t Freemasons there’s every possibility that they were Druids. To modern ears, these societies (and their unbelievably amazing names, thank you “The Mistletoe Lodge of Druids”) sound incredibly anachronistic, but they were one of the major vehicles by which people (when I say people, I mean men, sadly) interacted with and supported each other. In the case of the Oddfellows, that support was largely aimed at the working classes. Ostensibly apolitical, they also likely fostered the growth of political ideas and movements enacted outside of the organisations, helped by the membership of men like W. S. Moorhouse, W. Rolleston, Rowland Davis, William Pember Reeves and many others.

The initial date of Hiorns’ arrival at our site on Armagh Street is a bit unclear, thanks to the existence of the similarly named Mr W. Hyorns, who leased the section in 1867 and may be the same person, a completely different person or a 19th century typo made flesh. Nevertheless, we know that he was active on Armagh Street in the 1870s and had leased the section on which our site was located by at least 1878 (for the period of 14 years, at the grand total of £20 a year; LINZ 1878: 337). Interestingly, one of the clauses of his lease was that he had to make £1000 pounds of improvements to the section at his own expense over the following two years, suggesting that he had a reasonable yearly income at the time (this is a LOT of money for the time). As it turns out, he later went on to buy and reside in Linwood House, the super fancy Georgian/Regency style house first built for Joseph Brittan. Pretty good for a tinsmith turned hotelier.

Linwood House in 2003, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Linwood House in 2003, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeological site plan of the Armagh Street section on which Edward Hiorns resided in the 1870s. Image: K. Webb.

Plan of archaeological features on site. Image: K. Webb.

From historic photographs and maps, we know that between 1878 and 1884, significant modifications were made to the site. Two smaller buildings that are present on an 1877 map have, by 1884, been replaced with a large two storey brick townhouse (visible in the image below). It seems likely that this building tied into Hiorns’s £1000 pounds of modification to the section.  Unfortunately, we found no structural evidence of either this building or the earlier one during our excavations. What we did find, however, were several other archaeological features, including a large depression to the rear to the building that was completely and utterly filled with artefacts (unfortunately for us, this was the asbestos site was we’ve talked about previously on the blog, in the case of which more definitely wasn’t merrier). A smaller, rectangular pit feature was also found at the front of the section, containing a large quantity of tin and iron and a handful of artefacts, in addition to another small rubbish pit filled with domestic artefacts.

Ceramic artefacts from one of the rubbish pits on the section. Image: J. Garland.

Ceramic artefacts from one of the rubbish pits on the section. Image: J. Garland.

While it is difficult to associate the features found on the site with any one resident during the 19th century, it is almost certain that some of them were deposited by Hiorns and his family, including some of the 1037 artefacts found in the large depression to the rear of the building. That particular feature looks to have been used for the disposal of rubbish over an unknown period of time, based on the presence of small concentrations of objects within the feature as a whole, the size of the assemblage, and the wide range of manufacturing dates found among the artefacts. Many of the artefact dates, however, fit in well with the period in which Hiorns was resident on the section. On top of this, the assemblage contained a large number of alcohol bottles and several artefacts which are considered to be “higher status” items, or objects more often associated with people of reasonable wealth. It would make sense for the man who a) ran a hotel and wine bar and was in court more than once on alcohol related charges and b) later purchased the prestigious Linwood House, to have owned items like these.

Selected glass bottles from the site, including Rowland's Macassar Oil, a Piesse and Lubin perfume bottle and part of an infant feeding bottle. Image: J. Garland.

Selected glass bottles from the site, including Rowland’s Macassar Oil (mid-right), a Piesse and Lubin perfume bottle (top right) and part of an infant feeding bottle (top left). Image: J. Garland.

The assemblage also contained large quantities of ceramic tea and table wares, as well as household and hygienic items like chamber pots, wash basins and ointment pots, a quantity of shoes and fabric, food containers, pharmaceutical bottles and children’s artefacts. One of the most interesting finds, however, was a cluster of clay tobacco pipes that included pipes with political motifs as decoration. These pipes – bearing the name and bust of William Gladstone, liberal English politician, and the name of Garibaldi, famously nationalist and progressive Italian general – can easily be tied into Hiorns’ political engagement (which I sort of alluded to above, but haven’t had time to go into detail about) and the politically charged narrative of this entire Armagh Street site (which I definitely haven’t had time to go into). They’re an example of material culture that is actively entangled with the more intangible ideas and ideals of the people and society by which they are made and used (a topic for another day, I think).

Clay smoking pipes found in Feature 3 (the depression to the rear of the house). Image: J. Garland.

Clay smoking pipes found in Feature 3 (the depression to the rear of the house). The Gladstone pipe is the one in the top row, while the Garibaldi pipe is second from the right in the second row from the top. Image: J. Garland.

I may have started this post with a melodramatic paragraph that reads more as pulp fiction than historical narrative, but in truth, the story of Edward Hiorns (and all of the residents of this block of Armagh Street) is not all that sensational. What it is, however, is a tale we come across all the time in Christchurch. There are many interesting themes to be found in the archaeological and historical records of his life, but two of the most interesting from my perspective are the way he “improved” his situation in life, so to speak, and the way he involved himself so readily in the governance and development of the city in which he had settled. It’s a combination that we see again and again in the lives of Christchurch residents from the 19th century.

People talk a lot about the fluidity of class and social affluence in the 19th century, especially in colonial settlements like New Zealand, and the significance of the capitalist ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ in the prospering of Victorian society. These are both more than evident in the case of Mr Edward Hiorns (and Mr Jamieson, and Mr Ruddenklau and Reverend Fisher). What is just as evident, however, is the active engagement made by people like Hiorns with the present and future of the community in which they lived – be it at the local, national or global level. I could, with the aid of Mr Hiorns and others, very easily take you all down the rabbit hole with me here into the fascinating world of political and social change in 19th century Christchurch (the labour movement! radicalism! women’s suffrage!) and the lives of the people who fought to change the world around them, but that is too much for any one blog post, let alone this one. Nevertheless, it bears remembering that theirs were the hands that shaped a city and, though the city, helped to shape a nation.

Jessie Garland.


LINZ, c. 1850. Deeds Index – A – Christchurch town sections and town reserves. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Office.

McAloon, J., 2000. The Christchurch elite. In Cookson, J. and Dunstall, G., eds). Southern Capital Christchurch: Towards a City Biography, 1850-2000., pp. 193-221. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Wright, G. R. 1998. The Petty Bourgeoisie in Colonial Canterbury; A Study of the Canterbury Working Mans’ Political Protection and Mutual Improvement Association (1865-66) and the Canterbury Freehold Land Association. MA Thesis, University of Canterbury.

Papers Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.