The spoils of oils

We all know that fish oil is great for our skin and hair but does the use of whale oil tickle your moral compass? It was utilised for many household purposes during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and today we will take a look at a couple of men who made a big splash in the whale oil industry.

Not too long ago, a miniature vial was found in one of our artefact assemblages from Christchurch’s Central City. This vessel had “Ezra Kelley” embossed on the base, which we traced to a 19th century watchmaker from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Ezra Kelley was a special fellow in the 19th century watchmaking and repairing scene, because he was the first maker to commercially use oil from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish (pilot whales) to lubricate watch mechanisms (Goodwin 2016). Prior to this, olive and vegetable oils were used instead. Oil extracted from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish had been used by carpenters to sharpen their tools without the risk of rust since 1816, but it wasn’t until 1829 that the sailor, Solomon Cook, sent the first batch of blackfish jaw oil to Kelley for testing (Goodwin 2016). Kelley found it superior to all other oils, as it didn’t congeal at low temperatures, nor did it rust brass, and its light and fine properties also gave it a low freezing point. This made it a suitable, year-round lubricant for delicate machinery such as clocks, watches, and sewing machines (at a lower grade, sperm whale oil was advertised as best for sewing machines, firearms, and telegraphs; Goodwin 2016). In 1884, Kelley began selling this new oil (supplied by the Cook family), for a whopping US $5-$15 per gallon, which converts to around US $111 – $333 in today’s money (Goodwin 2016). As a comparison, a barrel of modern crude oil, contains 42 gallons and sells for $90-$110 (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale oil was so expensive at this time due to supply and demand, but also for one other key reason – it’s lubrication properties were worth it (Cherrybalmz 2017).

Ezra Kelley watch oil bottle found in the Central City. Image: C. Dickson.

Sperm Sewing Oil! Also found in Christchurch Central City, this bottle probably contained a lower grade of whale oil than what Kelley made. Image: C. Dickson.

Just like a fine wine, Kelley’s oil improved with age. The processing of his blackfish oil included a two-year aging stage after the oil had been gently heated to remove excess water. Processors then spread the oil out into thin layers and slowly froze it, causing any solids to precipitate within it, which could be later strained through a cloth. The more competently this process was carried out, and the fresher the oil was, the better the grade of lubricant could be produced – the premium Blackfish grades could operate reliably below -50°F (-45.6 degrees Celsius; Cherrybalmz 2017). So, you could be cold, but you’d always know what time it is.

Ezra Kelley oil advertisement c. 1890. Image.

It seems that Kelley’s major failing was that his oil sold too profitably. All his success didn’t go unnoticed by the rival oil seller, William Foster Nye, who originally dealt in other oil types, like burning oils, castor oil and salad oil. After witnessing Kelley’s success, Nye subsequently developed a method for processing “fish jaw oil” – capitalising on Kelley’s discoveries and managing to secure a British distributor six months after his first advertisement. Having captured the British market, Nye was able to undercut his predecessor’s prices by offering large discounts to his customers and he was so successful at this that he managed to absorb Kelley’s business by 1896 (Zabawski 2017). Within the year, the new company was responsible for nine-tenths of the global supply of fish jaw oil raw materials and it ran a monopoly of the industry that would last until the decline of whaling during the next century (Nye 2017, Zabawski 2017). However, the end of whaling didn’t spell the end for Nye -the fish jaw oil continued to be sold into the 1970s, but the threat of whale extinction and the technological advances of synthetic oils ended the company’s reliance on blackfish/porpoises and the era of synthetic fluids began (Zabawski 2017). Due to their ability to adapt, the Nye oil company remains in operation today (Nye 2017).

Nye advertisement. Date unknown. Image.

‘Watching’ an 1886 whale massacre… Image: Attic Paper.

Massachusetts, where Kelley and Nye were both based, was once a hub for whale oil production. Specifically, New Bedford Massachusetts was such a busy whaling port that it was known as “The City That Lit the World” and, “The Whaling City”, because during the 19th century, it was one of the most important whaling ports in the world, along with Nantucket, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut (Huntington 2009). This American whaling industry had a strong focus on spermaceti (the waxy oil found in the head of sperm whales), named after an initial misconception that the substance was the coagulated semen of sperm whales… Unfortunate naming aside, this oil type was commonly used in candle manufacture and in oil lamps when distilled – its natural properties produced bright, clear flames when burnt, without excess smoke (McNamara 2017).

As most Kiwis know, New Zealand was not exempt from what we now consider to be a barbaric industry. Eighteenth and 19th century whaling ships visited the waters around the country, and this natural resource began to be exploited off our coasts before New Zealand was even settled by Europeans. The industry began to decline here by the early 1840s, as over exploited whales became scarce and New Zealand’s new government imposed duties and port charges on whaling ships (Phillips 2006). Occasionally, American whaling ships still visited in the mid-1800s, the last of which was probably the Charles W. Morgan, in 1894 (Phillips 2006). However, pilot whales to this day are notorious for stranding on our beaches, and beached whales continued to be used as a resource in the 20th century.

Cutting up the blubber of beached pilot whales. New Zealand, 1911? Arthur James Northwood (1881-1949) Image.

Men boiling down blackfish blubber, Tokerau Beach. Taaffe, James Thomas Benjamin, d 1971: Photographs of the Far North district, Northland region. Ref: 1/2-026801-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23070974. Image. Date unknown.

Clearly, 18th and 19th century society didn’t share the modern distaste for the whaling industry. As you’ve seen, Kelley and Nye’s advertisements for their whale oil often pictured the graphic scenes depicting whales being caught and processed, and given how successful these companies were, this violence can’t have been a deterrent for sales. Herman Melville also provides us with insight into how revered whale products were – calling whale oil “as rare as the milk of queens” in his classic, Moby Dick, which was written in this era (Melville 1851). Essentially, the entire industry is a parallel to crude oil in today’s market, given the similarities in costs, peoples dependence on it and its range of applications.

These applications included not only lubrication and illumination, but also the manufacture of soaps, paint, varnish, margarine, and as a treatment for textiles and rope. “Whalebone” which was commonly found in corsets, was not actually what it describes – it was not bone, but baleen from whales (a form of keratin – the same material as human fingernails), and its purpose is to filter plankton into whales mouths. Baleen is strong but flexible (which are similar properties to that of plastic), and it was not only used in other attire like shirt collars and eyeglass frames, but also for buggy whips, hair and chimney brushes and umbrellas (Cherrybalmz 2017). It was also featured as a key component of early springs, including carriage, mattress, and piano springs (Cherrybalmz 2017). To continue with the industry comparison, in 1891 a pound of ‘whalebone’ was worth up to US $7 – that’s nearly $200 per pound today! (Cherrybalmz 2017). In 1882, a single whale produced 6000 gallons of oil and 2550 pounds of baleen, for a combined worth of $11,200 – or roughly a quarter million dollars in today’s money – and this was just from one animal! (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale teeth (or ivory) were also marketable to whalers, but these yielded smaller profits than whale oil. Teeth were regularly carved by whalers in a practice known as scrimshaw, and they often featured intricate designs and nautical themes. Such artefacts are now collectors’ items and museum pieces, providing historians with a glimpse into the whaling industry through the depictions rendered by those who drove it.

A New Zealand example of scrimshaw depicting the whaling ship ‘Pacific’ and compass points, which were formed by intersecting harpoons. The tooth is inscribed with “28th January 1860, Captain Sherburd”. The reverse is inscribed with a poem reading: “Sudden death to our best friends. Success to their killers long life to our Sailors’ wives and greasy luck to the whalers.” This ship was reported in the Otago Daily Times as sinking on the 13th of February 1864 at Patterson’s inlet on Stewart Island in a heavy westerly gale. Image.

Thankfully, since the decline of the whaling industry in the late 19th century and the development of new technologies, most of the applications of whale oil have been replaced with superior products – margarine is now made with vegetable oil and lamps began to be filled with cleaner, less smelly, and cheaper kerosene. It was a relief to many in the 1920s when fashion moved away from women wearing corsets, but those who still want to add a little ‘boning’ support to a frock, now use plastic instead of baleen. The vocal anti-whaling sentiment is strong among New Zealanders today, and since 1978, whales within New Zealand’s 200-nautical-mile (370 km) zone have been protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. A short time later, in 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling, which has all but eliminated the use of whale oil today. Cheers Greenpeace!

Chelsea Dickson

 

References

Cherrybalmz 2017. Gun lubricant history: Sperm whale oil. [online] available at: http://www.cherrybalmz.com/history-sperm-whale-oil

Goodwin, P. 2016. Ezra Kelley Watch Oil [online] Available at: http://educators.mysticseaport.org/artifacts/ezra_kelley_watch_oil/

Huntington, T. 2009. “Treasure Trove of Documents Discovered in Whaling Town,” American Heritage.

McNamara, R. 2017. Whaling industry produced oil, candles, and household tools: whales were the raw materials for many useful objects In the 1800s. [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/products-produced-from-whales-1774070

Nye 2017. A History of Nye: The Beginning of Cilliam F. Nye Inc. [online] Available at: https://www.nyelubricants.com/stuff/contentmgr/files/0/582d6e5844567263cbd951ebdb44f573/en/nye_history_overview.pdf

Phillips, J. 2006. ‘Whaling – Ship-based whaling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/whaling/page-1 (Accessed 14 September 2017)

Zabawski. E. 2017. Purposeful porpoise oil. [online] available at: http://www.stle.org/files/TLTArchives/2017/01_January/From_the_Editor.aspx

 

 

Artefact stories: 19th century chemists and other subjects…

Today’s blog was inspired by three pharmaceutical bottles that aroused my curiosity and gave me the perfect excuse to talk about a few 19th century chemists in Christchurch…

I came across the first small glass fragment in an assemblage from a late 19th century domestic site in the north Christchurch. I know, the fragment is tiny and the embossing is well-worn down, almost to the point of illegibility, but I could still make out a few letters: TOWN…, PHY… and CHRISTCHURCH. These provided me with my first clues in the tale of discovery I’m sharing with you today…

If you look closely, you can just make out the letters. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

My first thought, given this partial evidence, was that this small fragment was part of a bottle of Townsend’s Sarsaparilla, a remedy we often find in Christchurch assemblages. It was advertised as a blood purifier and cure for general health in newspapers of the time, first introduced by Samuel Townsend in 1839. Although the name is similar, as you can see, it turns out that Dr Samuel Townsend was not the man we were looking for…

Left: Townsend’s Sarsaparilla (Image: Jessie Garland). Right: Press 31-10-1902: 7. Oh wow! If you are a woman with headache and feeling weak muscle, Townsend’s Sarsaparilla is the solution! If you are a man suffering the same symptoms, sorry!

Then, a little bit later on, I still had that tiny shard of glass fresh in my mind when archaeology presented me with the perfect opening in the case of this mysterious manufacturer. On a bottle from another archaeological site, this time in Lyttelton, I found the full inscription: DR J.H. TOWNEND CRYSTAL PALACE BUILDINGS CHRISTCHURCH. At this point, I was fairly certain that I had found him! Mystery solved!

On the left we can see the Dr Townend’s bottle. On the right, there is detail of the base, where we can see who the bottle was made by, through the initials Y. G. Co. This company, known as the York Flint Glass Company, was established by Joseph Spence in 1835 and continued in production until at least 1930. They were known for their high-quality glass bottles and jars for soft drinks as well as food containers and medicines. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Dr Joseph Henry Townend was a 19th century Christchurch doctor, who was born in England and first arrived in Lyttelton in charge of immigrant health on board the ship ‘Rakaia’ in 1874. One year later, he came back to New Zealand on the ‘White Rose’, with his brother William, and established his business in the Crystal Palace Buildings, where he remained until his death in 1902 (Star 11/07/1902: 3). He became one of the most popular physicians in Canterbury in the 19th century and some of the bottles used to hold his remedies made their way into the archaeological record to be found a century and a half later. My tiny mysterious fragment would have originally been part of a bottle marked ‘DR J. H. TOWNEND / CONSULTING PHYSICIAN / CHRISTCHURCH’.

View down Colombo Street toward the Port Hills. Right: Market (Victoria) Square. Left: Crystal Palace Building. Christchurch, ca. 1870. Image: Christchurch City Libraries.

You’d think that would be end of it, no? But, like some kind of stalker from beyond the grave, Townend seems to follow me through my working life, since, not long after this, another Townend’s bottle turned up! This example (I promise you that it is the last one!), although still incomplete, clearly read: TOWNEND CHEMIST CHRISTCHURCH. From this, I was led to William, Joseph Townend’s brother, who worked as a chemist in partnership with his brother here in Christchurch.

Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

A bit of historical sleuthing later, I discovered that William Townend, in addition to his pharmaceutical activities, had quite a few interesting episodes in his life (and yes, I do love this historical gossip, but only a little…).

Left: portrait of William Potter Townend. Right: Cinnamon Cure advertisement

William Potter Townend arrived in Christchurch with his brother Joseph Henry in 1875 and ran the Townend’s Chemist and Druggist Store from the Crystal Palace Building on Colombo Street well into the 20th century. He made a variety of medicines to treat common diseases, like his famous ‘Cinnamon Cure’ for throat and lung ailments, ‘Townend’s Bilious and Liver pill’, children’s teething powders and personal grooming products such as the ‘Antipityninne’ or ‘Townend’s Sulphur’ hair restorers. (Riley 2011).

However, his story deviates somewhat in the 1870s. On the 20th of May 1876, William was charged with the manslaughter of a baby born from Amelia Isaac, whom he had attended in the absence of his brother. The details are a bit grisly, but suffice to say that the baby died because of his assistance. Consequently, the Supreme Court condemned him to six months of imprisonment for the incompetent practice of medicine. The case had a huge social impact and more than 5000 thousand people signed a petition praying for his release. What a popular man! Certainly, the scale of this petition is something, given the offence with which he was charged…

And then, if being charged with manslaughter wasn’t problematic enough, William was also charged – along with his colleague George Bonnington – with the offence of selling poison to a man who died after purchasing laudanum. In this case, he had to pay a fine, quite a soft punishment, I guess…

Press 13/07/1877: 2. Quite the mulit-faceted man, Mr Towned. As well as practicing pharmacy and medicine, however badly, William was active in Christchurch society. He was a member of the Christchurch Musical Society, playing the contralto and singing with ‘much expression and sweetness’… Maybe singing was his secret talent? Who knows!

The manslaughter charge is interesting, not just because of the petition and social context of the crime, but also because it provides an example of a man doing what was usually considered women’s work. Generally, midwives in the 19th century were mostly married women who worked autonomously. The majority of the births during the 19th and early 20 centuries took place in the home. Although it was a difficult part of women’s role, it was also a natural part of their lives (Stojanovic 2010). Infant mortality was a serious problem and measures like regulating the midwifery practice, providing education, creating a midwifery register and improving maternity care were methods used to reduce that high rate.

Let’s come back to the artefacts, shall we? The archaeological record provides us with material evidence of several chemists based in Christchurch during the 19th century along with Mr William Potter Townend. Sometimes, as with the Townend fragments, these bottles can give us valuable information about the glass and the product manufacturers. We can also be the luckiest archaeologists in the world and figure out the exact contents of the bottle when the label or embossing is present. Here’s a few examples…

Probably the most famous one! Bonnington’s Irish Moss was used for the cure of respiratory ailments and was still in production until the 1970s. George Bonnington began his business in Christchurch in 1872. Image: J. Garland.

John Berry’s premises were located at Colombo Street in the late 19th century and remained there well into the 20th century. He advertises his ‘miraculous corn salve’ which, apparently, painlessly removes corns, bunions. (New Zealand Times 7/06/1893: 2) and other products as ‘Florolia’ (New Zealand Times 10/04/1894), Hair Lotion for children, Fruit Syrups (Press 29/11/1897: 1), Berry’s Indigestion Cure, Berry’s Rheumatic and Gout Remedy (Press 23/02/1898: 1) or Berry’s Killkorn (Press 2/04/1898: 10). He was also appointed as the agent for Wellington and District for the treatment of Female Complaints (Evening Post 28/04/1896: 3).

John Baxter was also a chemist in Christchurch from 1870 onwards. He patented his Lung Preserver in c. 1889, advertised as a remedy for influenza, coughs & colds etc. Image: J. Garland.

Finally, I can’t finish without sharing my latest discovery with you, drawn, again, from my particular obsession with women and gender, you know…

Who’s this? Elizabeth Robinson, the first woman chemist registered in New Zealand. She was working as a chemist and druggist from as early as 1872, before which time she was helping her husband Richard in the Joseph Arthur Cooke Pharmacy in Cashel Street. When her husband died in 1872, she became the owner of the chemist’s shop, running the business until 1886 and registering as a chemist on the 28th of June 1881 (Shaw 1998: 27). As you can imagine, I’m looking forward to finding at least one of her bottles…

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Christchurch City Libraries [online] Available at: https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/

Evening Post [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Lyttelton Times [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

New Zealand Times [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Riley, W. (2011). Cinnamon Cures and Cosmetic Connections. [online] Available at https://lostchristchurch.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/townends-chemist-1897/

Press [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Solomons, H. and Riley, W. 2017. Lost Christchurch. Remembering our Lost Heritage. [online] Available at: https://lostchristchurch.wordpress.com/

Star [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tanks!

Anyone in the office will tell you that I have a keen interest in military history, especially anything related to the World War 2 period. I like my airplanes, yes (hats off to the de Havilland Mosquito, that twin engine plywood wonder) but I’m also a big fan of tanks. Last week I officially added to my bucket list a visit to the Tank Museum in Bovington. Camp Bovington in Dorset is the birthplace of the tank, and Camp Bovington’s Tank Museum has on display the largest collection of tanks in the world. One day I will make that pilgrimage…

I’ve been thinking about armoured vehicles a little more than usual recently. Perhaps this has been because some large construction sites that I’ve worked on lately have felt a bit like urban battlegrounds, bustling with big machines, and complete with all the smoke, dust, noise, and chaos of an urban war zone set against a ruinous backdrop of a half demolished/half rebuilt city. Reminiscent of that time in 1942 when I stood with my comrades in defence of the Stalingrad Tractor Factory? Hmm, maybe only just a little.

After an epic binge on David Fletcher’s Tank Chats last week, I decided that a blogpost about my two favourite Christchurch tanks was long overdue. First though, a few fast facts about tanks. The tank as we know it was developed in 1915 as an experimental weapon to break the stalemate of the trenches on the Western Front (Lest we forget). The Brits were the first to put the tank into battle, at the Somme in September 1916, where it had some success. The first British tank was called ‘Little Willy’. Little Willy was soon replaced by ‘Big Willy’ (the rhomboid shaped Mark 1) because Little Willy wasn’t long enough to cross trenches (sometimes it seems, size IS everything). Tanks were not actually developed by the Army, as one would naturally assume, but by the Navy, and they called them ‘Landships’. To throw the Boche off the scent, a less descriptive name was adopted as a security measure – tanks. The name stuck. Water tanks as a war winning wonder weapon? Yeah right! Codewords always work in wartime.

Of course, not all tanks are weapons of war, and the tanks that have popped up in Christchurch’s archaeological record in recent times were not designed and built to serve as offensive weapons, though they certainly did play a part in fighting different sorts of battles. So, let me tell you about two of my favourite Christchurch tanks.

The Fire Tank

I had my first run in with one of the city’s fire tanks in a trench on Manchester Street in July 2015, when SCIRT were digging up the road to lay a new water mains pipe. It was well concealed at shallow depth below the road surface, and at first glance I was a little intimidated by its immense size – it was nearly 40 metres long!

The Manchester Street tank, as first exposed. Image: Hamish Williams.

The fire tank on Manchester Street was one of six built by the City Council in 1885 for the fire brigade so they could better wage war against fire. Fire was a serious and recurrent threat to Christchurch in the early years, because so many buildings were of timber construction and they often stood so close to each other. A small fire in one building could very quickly turn into an inferno capable of destroying a whole city block. Because the council did not begin works on developing a high pressure piped water supply system until 1909, at first the fire brigade had to make do fighting the flames with water they got from local wells, or with what could be pumped directly from the Avon River. This was a less than satisfactory arrangement, especially when wells were dry, artesians yielded only a trickle, or worse still, if fires broke out at some distance from the river, and the fire brigade’s hoses weren’t long enough.

Each of the six tanks built in 1885 had a capacity of 25,000 gallons (approximately 114,000 litres) and were capable of supplying water over a radius of 1000 feet (305 metres). Each tank cost £300 to build, and each were served by their own artesian wells (Press 31/12/1884:2). Just completed, in September 1885 the Manchester Street tank was the lucky tank selected for official testing.  It was calculated that the steam powered pumps of the brigade’s two fire engines ‘Deluge’ and ‘Extinguisher’ would be able to drain the entire tank in just over 33 minutes, however they managed to empty it in 31 minutes – quite an impressive achievement (Star 23/9/1885:2, Star 29/9/1885:3). In the following years the underground tanks proved to be an efficient weapon that saved people and property, however they sometimes had a tendency to overflow through their manhole access covers, of which there was one at each end (Press 12/1/1886:2). Even after the fire tanks were to some extent made obsolete – when the high pressure water reticulation network was finally laid on – these underground fire tanks were not forgotten or destroyed, but were retained, held back in ‘strategic reserve’, just in case.

Fire Tank! Image: Hamish Williams.

Well built, the fire tank had an arched roof and brick walls three layers thick, with an internal width of 2.2 metres and a height of 1.8 metres. Despite the efforts of two pumps, it was not possible to remove all of the water from the tank, which had its crown arch broken out so the new water mains pipe could be laid right through its entire length. It was difficult to investigate this feature because of all the water, and because this tank was technically a confined space, our access was restricted on safety grounds. Tanks sure can be dangerous for archaeologists!

The tank, after half the water was pumped out and the crown of the arch removed. Image: Hamish Williams.

The fire tank stands out as a favourite tank of mine not just because of its impressive size, but also because, like many of the 19th century structural features about the city that we have been lucky enough to investigate, it had been built entirely by hand, brick by brick. Furthermore, these bricks had been laid in a bloody great big deep trench that had been dug by hand, in a part of the city where there are elevated groundwater levels. Build a massive underground water tank in a swamp? Best of British to you mate!

The northern end of the tank, after being filled in with hard fill in preparation for laying the new water mains. Image: Hamish Williams.

Ship Tank

Much smaller than the fire tank, the ship tank was uncovered earlier this year at shallow depth in what was originally the backyard of the Occidental Hotel. This 4 ft cubic tank of mild steel had been buried in the ground for use, we strongly suspect, as a cesspit. When the hotel was connected to the city’s newly completed sewer system in 1882, the tank was filled in, mostly with bricks and other building debris that we reckon came from the demolition of the back part of the hotel.

The ship tank cesspit. In the background Angel and Teri are exposing the foundations of one of the hotel’s fireplaces. Maybe a bit more about that feature in a future blogpost folks, so watch this space. Image: Hamish Williams.

Brick rubble in the tank. The foundations of the hotel’s fireplace was built from the same kind of bricks that were dumped in the tank – so there’s a connection there. Image: Hamish Williams.

In amongst the fill of the tank, we found a large cast-iron lid of 480 mm diameter that provided confirmation for us that this old steel tank was in fact a repurposed ship tank, made by John Bellamy’s tank works in Millwall, London. From the 1850s these riveted steel boxes with tight fitting circular lids began, in increasing numbers, to replace wooden barrels for the transport of drinking water and other perishable items in the holds of ships. Ship tanks have been found in numerous 19th century archaeological contexts across the world. In Australia, ship tanks were cleverly adapted for other uses, including rainwater tanks, sheep dips, eucalyptus oil stills and water troughs (Pearson 1992). A John Bellamy tank of identical form has also been found at Lusitania Bay on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, where it is suspected to have been used for the storage of penguin oil, of all things.

The cast-iron ship tank lid, marked JOHN BELLAMY  BYNG STREET/ MILLWALL  LONDON. In the middle of the lid is a central bung, which could be removed to allow access to the tank without having to remove the whole lid. Image: Hamish Williams.

It’s hard to say which Christchurch tank is actually my favourite of the two, both have their charms. I think that if I had to choose just one though, I would have to choose the ship tank. Why? Because the ship tank that we found behind the hotel demonstrates adaptive reuse – something that archaeologists always have to consider when making interpretations about things from the past. Over their lifetime, artefacts both big and small can be modified to serve different functions, and these modifications can reflect different owners, ideas, and changing circumstances (among an infinite number of other possible things). An impervious steel tank built for the storage of water was later modified for the purpose of storing poo, well before the completion of Christchurch’s sewerage system meant that on site poo storage was no longer necessary. On top of this, the tank ended its use-life as a convenient place for dumping rubbish. In a similar vein I suppose, the modified ship tank reminds me of different kind of Christchurch tank –the Bob Semple Tank. If the perceived threat of Japanese invasion at the outbreak of World War 2 makes you think about how you can defend New Zealand’s shores when your Home Defence force has no tanks, all you need to do is modify, arm, and armour up a bunch of old Public Works Department D8 caterpillar tractors in a most Monty Python-esque fashion in the local railway workshop. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have any standardised design blueprints, or if you don’t even know whether it will work. If the enemy don’t arrive, and your underpowered, under-armoured, silly looking impractical tractor tanks end up being the target of public ridicule, hey, you can always find another use for them, you can always change them back.

Hamish Williams

References

Pearson, M. 1992. From Ship to the Bush: Ship Tanks in Australia. Australasian Historical Archaeology 10(1) 22-29.

Phillips, T., 2010. Always Ready: Christchurch Fire Brigade: 1860-2010. Christchurch: New Zealand Fire Service, Transalpine Fire Region.

Press [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Star [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Winter is coming…

The chilly weather in Christchurch of late has many of us dreaming of glistening seas, white sand beaches and pina coladas. A while ago, “winter is coming” gags were being fired about among the many Game of Thrones fans, and it is very apparent that winter has indeed come to Christchurch this year. But before the days of heatpumps and rubber hot water bottles, there was a time when the hardy early settlers of Canterbury braved the wild winters of the second half of the 19th century, and they had to make do with their wits, woollies and inner warmth to survive the mid-year season.

Ok, that was the last one, I promise. Image.

We may think that our winter blast has been pretty chilly this year, but it’s nothing compared to the winters of 1862 and 1867. During such times, it was said that it wasn’t uncommon to see icicles clinging to a man’s moustache even in the middle of a fine day – a fine excuse to get rid of one’s moustache I would think (Grey River Argus, 17/7/1918: 2). It makes for an amusing image, but 1895 saw the bitterest winter in the 19th and most of the 20th century. This was the year that Lyttelton Harbour froze and Lake Alexandrina froze so thick that three hundred cattle were able to walk over the lake. A few people even died from being caught outside or drowning (Kuzma 2014). The animals fared the worst of it though, dogs died, frozen stiff in their kennels, and after all was said and done, it was estimated that 2 million sheep perished (Kuzma 2014). This was not only because the snow cover left them with no grass to eat, causing sheep to consume the wool off each other’s backs, but their wool also froze (often fixing them to the snow). This left them essentially ‘sheepsicles’ – some having between four and six inches of ice on their backs which enabled them to only move their heads up and down ‘like armadillos’ (Kuzma 2014, Otago Witness 4/7/1895: 23). Naturally, it wasn’t just the region’s farmers that were adversely affected by the storm – in Christchurch City, three inches fell in two hours one morning, leaving the streets a ‘slushy mess’ (Kuzma 2014). Approximately one hundred men were employed under the city’s Winter Work Fund to clear footpaths and crossings the next day, causing delays to tram services (one of which was derailed by the ice), and frozen pipes and pumps caused a nightmare for the city plumbers (Kuzma 2014).

Snow on Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, 1862. Image CCL. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0055. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

Riccarton Mill in a snowy July 1895. Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0018. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

A tram runs into difficulties, at the corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets, when Christchurch was hit by snow. 1918? Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0092. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

But winter didn’t always generate the doom and gloom of being trapped by snow and rising mutton prices, amplified by the decimation of the sheep population (North Otago Times 6/8/1895: 1). For many of us in the south, the snow season  also brings the excitement of winter sports and the same was true for our Cantabrian ancestors, who also partook. We have previously mentioned the 1930s ice skating rink near Mt Harper, and the remains of the 1885 Palace Skating Rink were also found in the Christchurch central city several years ago (ArchSite 2012). Scottish immigrants also introduced curling to the south of New Zealand in the 1860s, and the sport soon spread throughout the south. By 1900, there were nine clubs and we’re happy to say that these snowy sports weren’t exclusively enjoyed by men – there were also women’s curling teams by the 1890s (Swarbrick 2013). Unfortunately, we can’t talk 19th century about skiing here – the first attempt to establish skiing as a sport in New Zealand wasn’t made until 1909 when Captain Head and Lawrence Earle introduced skis to the guides at Mount Cook. It was more than ten years later that the first ski races took place in New Zealand (Snow Sports NZ). But hey, don’t let that stop you!

Skating In North Hagley Park, c.1945. Image: by Kete Site Admin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

With all these cold temperatures it’s unsurprising that 19th century winter made people feel a little ‘under the weather’ – just as an aside, this phrase did not always refer to feeling ill in the flu season. Originally it was a sailors term, meaning to feel seasick or to be adversely affected by bad weather. The phrase was initially ‘under the weather bow’ (the weather bow being the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing). Interesting, no? Anyway, the people of Victorian Canterbury suffered from many health-related ailments. We can see this in the plethora of pharmaceutical bottles we find in archaeological assemblages and in the newspaper advertisements of the time. These bottles contained (often dubious) cure-all remedies for respiratory conditions. You may have come across some of these before on the blog, such as Baxter’s Lung Preserver, which was a local Christchurch product created in the 19th century and it’s still sold today. John Baxter started out as a young chemist in the 1860s and because pharmaceutical companies weren’t required to list the active ingredients in their products during the 19th century, we don’t know exactly what the Lung Preserver contained. Many other pharmaceutical companies took advantage of this lack of regulation and it’s probable that many of the cure-all remedies available to sick 19th century consumers were mainly alcohol based formulations. The advertisement below comes complete with testimonials from satisfied customers if you click on the article link.

Evening Post 29/8/1885: 2

Baxter’s Lung Preserver, Christchurch, bottle. Image: J. Garland.

Another respiratory remedy that we have covered here before is Wood’s Peppermint Cure. This product claimed to do largely the same thing as Baxter’s, in that it was said to cure coughs and colds. This one was associated with some more interesting advertisement angles, and seems to be endorsed by the gods? This stuff must have been good!

Inangahua Times 5/8/1897: 4. Wood’s Peppermint Cure. Image: C. Dickson.

It’s likely that people were more often “under the weather” during this time than is common today, due to the difference in sanitation and living standards. Flush toilets, sinks and baths didn’t become widespread in New Zealand until the 20th century, and it wasn’t until this time that the development of hydroelectricity provided the instant availability of hot water for personal and domestic cleaning (Pollock 2011). Houses themselves were less weather tight – we often find evidence of newspapers plugging drafts in 19th century Christchurch houses. The condition of some dwellings were so poor that it brought about the introduction of the first state houses for renters, firstly in 1906 and on a larger scale during the 1930s (Pollock 2011). But undeniably, the most beneficial introduction was the revolutionary antibiotics that were no-doubt more medically effective than an alcohol based cure-all remedy.

Although houses weren’t as cozy, the wily Cantabrians had their own in-house methods of keeping warm in the winter. You’re probably aware of the existence of bed warmers, which originally took the form of a metal container filled with hot coals, but I was interested to discover that hot water bottles are not a modern invention. Those of us who don’t have electric blankets probably still take advantage of the soft rubber models, but ceramic and copper examples were commonly used by our ancestors. These were naturally hot to the touch, so knitted hot water bottle cozies with drawstrings were employed to transport them from the kitchen to the bedroom… Does your Nana knit something similar? (Cook 2012). The hand warmer, for example, has been used worldwide for centuries, and is still used by skiers today. During the Victorian era, ladies sported heated miniature water bottles, tucked into their fur hand muffs for outdoor adventures. For the less wealthy, hot potatoes, coals or stones sufficed as an alternative (Cook 2012). The heating of such items was usually done in the fireplace – some bedrooms and reception rooms had these, but the kitchen fireplace was the often the focal point of the house and it was utilised as an evening gathering place for families to keep warm, talk and work on small tasks (Cook 2012).

From left: Copper hot water bottle, Doulton’s ceramic hot water bottle, bed warmer. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any examples of these in our Christchurch archaeological assemblages to date. Image.

One of the most important things to note is that the nature of 19th century work, society and dress kept the chills largely at bay. Beds were warmed by more bodies than we might be used to – so while it was typical for a couple to have a bed to themselves, the children often slept all together, separated by gender to provide more room… “there were three in the bed and the little one said…roll over?” (Cook 2012). The Victorians also performed more sweat inducing physical labour than we might be used to. Chopping wood, keeping animals, preparing food – even the most everyday chores, from childhood to old age, required more constant physical activity than they do for us (lazy?) modern folk. (Wilham 2009). Additionally, while Gumboots, Swandries, and Kathmandu down jackets revolutionised how we brave the elements in the 20th and 21st centuries, Victorians knew how to successfully bundle up by layering their clothing. Men wore long johns under their outfits and women sported layers of petticoats. Winter wardrobes were primarily made of wool and included coats, trousers, often a waistcoat and shirt and a felt hat. Oilskin raincoats, leggings and hats were also fashioned for wet conditions, making their outerwear (somewhat) impermeable to water (Labrum 2008). So, let it rain!

New Zealand Herald 28/8/1937: 2.

A woollen waistcoat found in Central Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Victorians spent their winter months. We hate to leave you out in the cold, but it’s nearly time to cozy up indoors for the weekend cause, baby, it’s cold outside!

Chelsea Dickson

References

ArchSite 2012. M35/731.

Cook T. 2012. Keeping Warm the Old Way. The Bologazine. [online] Available at: http://www.theblogazine.com/2012/12/keeping-warm-the-old-way/.

Kuzma, J. 2014. The 1895 Snowstorm. Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network. [online] available at: https://environmentalhistory-au-nz.org/2014/03/the-1895-snowstorm/

Labrum. B. 2008. ‘Rural clothing – Hats, footwear and oilskins’, [online] available at: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-clothing/page-3 (accessed 21 July 2017)

Pollock, K. 2011. ‘Public health – Healthy bodies’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, [online] available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-health/page-4 (accessed 21 July 2017).

Swarbrick, N. 2013. ‘Ice sports – Curling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ice-sports/page-1 (accessed 21 July 2017).

Wilham P. 2009. Staying War: How the Victorians Did. [Online] Available at: http://victorianantiquitiesanddesign.blogspot.co.nz/2009/01/staying-warm-how-victorians-did-it.html.

And yet, she persisted

Many of you will already know that Christchurch has a fascinating political history, from labour movements to radical social reform to the campaign for women’s suffrage. It is to my eternal disappointment that this “great ferment of ideas”, as Jim McAloon calls it, is almost invisible in the archaeological record – even more so when, as it was in many cases, this history of socio-political reform linked with the lives and actions of Christchurch’s women. We’ve talked before on the blog about how difficult it can be to see gender in the archaeological record and, more specifically, how difficult it can be to see women, who are often defined by the occupation, class, economic status and social profiles of the men in their lives. Yet, every now and then, we find ourselves in an exception to that rule. For example…

May I introduce the inimitable Mrs Fanny Cole, prohibitionist, staunch agitator for women’s rights and all round formidable woman.

Fanny Cole sits at the front right of this photograph – she’s the commanding woman with the no-nonsense expression on her face and the gavel in her lap. Image: Otago Witness, “Delegates attending the NZWCTU’s national convention in Dunedin, 1912,” Voices Against War, accessed August 11, 2017.

Mrs Cole (or shall we call her Fanny?) lived at a house on River Road, in Avonside, with her husband, Herbert, during the late 19th century. She was the daughter of Charles and Fanny Holder, Methodist preachers and activists, and first arrived in New Zealand in 1880. She married Herbert Cole in 1884 and, by 1893, they had purchased a section on River Road, on which they built their house.

(Herbert was a commercial agent and staunch prohibitionist himself, but as this is a blog about Fanny, not Herbert, we shall leave it at that.)

The Cole’s house on River Road, as it was in 2014. Image: K. Webb.

We first ran across Fanny Cole when we recorded her house on River Road. The house was a fairly standard late 19th century villa, nothing unusual or fancy about it. A few ceiling roses, a few extensions, weatherboards and sash windows, a modest house for a woman, her husband and her children.

An archaeological drawing of the south elevation (or front) of the house. Image: K. Webb.

From the back, you can see the extensions and modifications that occurred over the years. Image: K. Webb.

Ceiling roses and hidden wallpaper gems. Image: K. Webb.

Case windows and the reflection of an archaeologist in her natural habitat. Image: K. Webb.

However, while recording the house and monitoring the demolition, we found a few things – bits of ceramic, a knife handle, a poster for Goofy’s dance review. Among these, found in the rafters of the attic space, was a small, yet intriguing piece of card. On one side were the partial printed details of a lecture and, on the other, a handwritten appointment reminder for something in New Brighton or Burwood on Friday at 7.15 pm and the stamp of the W. C. T. U., Christchurch, 129 Manchester Street.

The rafters of the attic space, where the ticket was found. Image: K. Webb.

The card, with the stamp of the W. C. T. U and handwritten appointment on one side, and the details of an event on the other. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

The W. C. T. U. stands for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organisation that was established in Christchurch in 1885 to combat the evils of drink in Victorian New Zealand, but which became a vehicle for the promotion of social reform and, not least, for the voices of women. Most notably, one of the earliest members – and national presidents – of the organisation was Kate Sheppard, and it was through the machinery of the W. C. T. U. that much of the campaigning for women’s suffrage in the late 1880s and early 1890s was carried out. This was an organisation of strong women, who believed that alcohol was destroying society, that something needed to be done about it and, that if no-one else would do it, they would break down the gender barriers to do it themselves. From there, really, there was no stopping them. Or, perhaps I should say, us.

We’re not entirely sure what the appointment in New Brighton at 7.15 pm on Friday happened to be, but the rest of that tiny piece of card – well, that’s another story. After a bit of sleuthing we discovered that the lecture referred to on the back of the card is likely to have been one in a series of lectures given by the Reverend Leonard M. Isitt at the Theatre Royal in 1894, along with a talk by William Lloyd Garrison “hero and slave liberator.” The Reverend Isitt was an active politician and labour leaning member of parliament in the early 1900s, a strong proponent of the temperance movement and a close friend of the Coles.

Advertisement for a lecture by the Reverend L. M. Isitt on the 4 December, 1894. Image: Poverty Bay Herald, 1/12/1894: 3. 

However, it was the W. C. T. U. that really intrigued us. As it turns out not only was Fanny Cole a prohibitionist and active member of the W. C. T. U. (inherited in some part from her activist Methodist parents, do you think?), she was, by 1897, the national W. C. T. U. secretary (Kate Sheppard was president) and, by 1904, the president of the Christchurch branch. By 1906, she was the national president for the union. And it is in this role, and through this association, that history – and archaeology – can hear her voice. And not just her voice – her political voice. Because, let me tell you, she did not hold back.

Fanny Cole’s signature on the 1893 women’s suffrage petition presented to parliament by John Hall. Image: Archives New Zealand.

She was vocal, as one would expect from the president of a temperance union, on the subject of alcohol, from publicly taking the ‘liquor party’ to task for stealing a W. C. T. U. globe tableau to employing graphic and dramatic rhetoric against the liquor sellers and their ‘no license’ agenda. In 1899, for example, she said (and I could not make this up):

“The term innocent can scarcely be applied to designate those men and women whose hands are red with the blood of hundreds and thousands slain ruthlessly by the liquor traffic. You say that those who vote for no license would do evil that good many come. That is not true. But the publicans and brewers are working evil all the time so that they may live.”

Press, 28/11/1899: 2.

Extracts from Fanny Cole’s letter to the editor on the ‘no license’ question in 1899. Image: Press, 28/11/1899, p. 2.

She, and the rest of the W. C. T. U., railed against what they considered the cause of harm to women, children and society. They took on everyone, from liquor sellers to the Sports Protection League (which I did not know was a thing – did anyone else know that was a thing?). As history tells us, theirs was a campaign that never quite succeeded in New Zealand – it was defeated by a vote margin of just over 4% in 1911, a measly 1% in 1919 and an incredible 0.3 of a % later that same year (New Zealand History). Individual districts of the country voted to ‘go dry’, meaning alcohol licenses were not issued for those areas, but New Zealand as a whole never did adopt prohibition.

Extract from Fanny Cole’s letter to the editor on the evils of the alcohol trade in 1899. Image: Press 28/11/1899 p. 2.

The temperance movement was not the only poker that the W. C. T. U. – and Fanny Cole – had in the fire, however. They dedicated themselves to matters of social reform outside the sphere of prohibition. For example, in the early 1900s, they sallied forth on the subject of prison reform – specifically, as it affected female prisoners. Fanny and her fellow members advocated for women to be ‘endowed the with powers of justices of the peace’ in order to act as official visitors to prisons, arguing that female prisoners should be better treated, that they should have women doctors and that, rather than men, women attendants should have charge of “violent or incorrigible female prisoners”.

On the subject of women in prisons. Image: Star 29/11/1897: 2.

In 1910, she and Miss M. B. Lovell Smith signed a public letter to the Honourable Dr Findlay (Minister of Justice at the time), criticising his proposed solutions to the problem of venereal disease, or, as the newspapers called it, “the black plague, peril to the country.” Their letter argued that instead of the reforms Dr Findlay was proposing (which included compulsory examinations and reporting for prostitutes, but not their male customers; McAloon 2000), that emphasis should be placed on providing treatment that didn’t also carry with it the fear of being reported to other authorities. They also argued strongly for the education of young people in schools on the subject of sex, venereal disease and their own bodies – a suggestion that is still controversial in some sectors of New Zealand and in some parts of the world (America comes to mind here…). I remember discovering for the first time that the radical and feminist women of Christchurch were actively campaigning for their economic and sexual independence as early as the turn of the 20th century – largely because, some days, it seems like we are still fighting for this.

“This department suggests that the Education Department of New Zealand should procure the services of specialists to educate the young people in our schools and universities by means of scientific teaching concerning the function of their bodies, the dangers consequent on the misuse of them and the value of healthful self-control.”

Evening Post, 5/09/1910: 8.

Throughout, no matter which areas of social reform she was pushing (and no matter what we think of those reforms now), Fanny was advocating for the necessity of women’s involvement, at all levels of the process. Whether it was women acting as officials in prisons, women making themselves heard in matters of health and education, or women sitting on the boards of aid foundations, she was actively and vocally doing what she could. I think possibly my favourite example was her prediction that, not too far off in the future, there would be women legislators, many of whom “will be far more capable than some of the men now in the House.”

You’ll be pleased to know, Fanny, that we’ve had two women Prime Ministers and currently have a woman Leader of the Opposition….Image: Taranaki Daily News, 12/03/1908, p.2.

Perhaps, nowhere is this unrelenting and forthright emphasis on the rights and position of women in society more obvious than in 1910, when she co-signed a furious letter to the Premier of England regarding the treatment of British suffragettes, and in 1912, when her remarks on the subject were printed in the paper. In both, she cites the shame the Empire endured from conduct of the British government and the total illogicality of keeping women out of the electoral process. Her remarks on the subject were blunt and to the point, questioning the condemnation of women who employed methods less violent than those used by men in their fight for enfranchisement, questioning the progressive credentials of men who cannot see the potential for social reform in politically active women, and condemning “indelible stain on the British Government” left by their actions against the British suffragettes. In her words (and I encourage you to read the full thing):

“We learn, in fact, that the consideration theoretically promised to all his Majesty’s subjects is not extended to women, who are thus shown to be on the footing of serfs in the eyes of his Majesty’s Government… Can anyone fail to draw the obvious inference. Nowhere on earth can the interests of women be safeguarded where Parliament is not as fully responsible to women as to men.”

Grey River Argus, 7/05/1910: 7. 

Remarks on the position of those fighting for women’s suffrage in Britain. Image: Otago Witness 20/03/1912, p. 63. 

Fanny Cole died on the 25th of May, 1913 at the age of 52, while national president of the W. C. T. U. Her funeral was attended by the Mayor of Christchurch, local and national politicians and members of the W. C. T. U. from all over the country. Her eulogy was delivered by the Reverend Leonard M. Isitt, M. P., the ticket to whose 1894 lecture we found in the rafters of her house more than a century later.

Jessie Garland

References

McAloon, J., 2000. Radical Christchurch. In Cookson, J. and Dunstall, G. (Eds.), Southern Capital, Christchurch: Towards A City Biography, 1850-2000.