Māori occupation at Raekura

People have lived in the Christchurch area for at least 700 years, and one of the earliest large settlements was at Redcliffs – Raekura – where a wide variety of naturally occurring foods could be obtained.  There were shellfish on the beach and on the mudflats of the Avon-Heathcote estuary, fish could be caught in the rivers and the sea, and there were birds along the coast and in the nearby forest that covered the peninsula at that time.  Sea and rivers provided canoe routeways, and stone materials could be obtained from the rocky cliffs for tool manufacture.

One of the casualties of the Canterbury earthquakes was a sewer main that ran beneath Main Road, Redcliffs, from Barnett Park to McCormacks Bay, and putting in its replacement provided a unique opportunity to learn more about the early Māori settlement that had existed across parts of Redcliffs Flat.  Evidence of this settlement had been investigated by Julius von Haast, the first director of the Canterbury Museum, way back in the 1870s, and I had carried out some work there myself in the 1960s, but archaeological methods are improving all the time – and besides, there is always the chance of finding something new and exciting!

The sewer pipe installation was monitored by archaeologists who investigated any archaeological evidence that was exposed.  At times the digging up of the road was halted while we hand-excavated occupational deposits containing shells, bones and artefacts in a layer of charcoal-blackened sand.

 Jeanette McIsaac shows digger driver Duncan  stratigraphy in the side of the sewer excavation. Image: M. Trotter.


Jeanette McIsaac shows digger driver Duncan
stratigraphy in the side of the sewer excavation. Image: M. Trotter.

 

So what did we find?

Most important was the evidence of early Māori occupation in the vicinity of the Redcliffs School, which was radiocarbon dated to the middle of the 14th century – that is around AD1350 or a little over 650 years ago.  The inhabitants had left a range of materials from which we were able to get some idea of what they ate and what they were doing here.

 Michael Trotter excavating broken moa bones. Image: J. McIsaac.


Michael Trotter excavating broken moa bones. Image: J. McIsaac.

Only one small earthen hāngī type oven was uncovered, but the quantity of burnt stones and charcoal was evidence that others occurred close by, outside the narrow confines of the pipeline excavation.  Food remains showed that the main food eaten was moa, followed closely by shellfish, principally cockle and tuatua.  Other birds included spotted shags, paradise shelducks, penguins, weka, oyster catchers, and swans.  Fur seals and Polynesian dogs were also consumed.  There were surprisingly few fish bones.

 A selection of bird bones from the site. Image: M. Trotter.


A selection of bird bones from the site. Image: M. Trotter.

 Moa toe bone – most of the moa bones found had been broken into small pieces. Image: M. Trotter.


Moa toe bone – most of the moa bones found had been broken into small pieces. Image: M. Trotter.

One activity in this part of the site was the manufacture of stone adze-heads (toki) from basalt obtained locally.  The manufacturing process was to knock flakes off a piece of basalt with a stone hammer until it was approximately the right size and shape for the intended object, after which it would be ground on sandstone to produce a cutting edge.  The number of waste flakes found indicated that this was a large-scale manufactory, probably operated by one or more skilled craftsmen, producing tools for those living here or for trade with groups elsewhere.   Other stones materials from different parts of the country, including the North Island, showed a sound knowledge of New Zealand’s geological resources.

 Waste flakes of basalt from tool manufacture. Image: M. Trotter.


Waste flakes of basalt from tool manufacture. Image: M. Trotter.

The pièce de résistance as far as I was concerned was a small broken ball of baked clay – only few of these have been found from sites of similar age in the South Island.

 Objects of baked clay, such as this broken ball,            are very rare. Image: M. Trotter.


Objects of baked clay, such as this broken ball, are very rare. Image: M. Trotter.

Less than 600 metres away to the southeast was the other settlement around the end of Moncks Spur.  This site was occupied about 150 years later than the one at Redcliffs School.  There was no evidence of moa-hunting here, the main food being shellfish (suggesting that moas had become locally extinct in the meantime) nor was there any evidence of tool manufacture.

Michael Trotter

Feminine, masculine, grounds for divorce: the social effects of wearing perfume in the 19th century.

When it comes to personal fragrance (continuing on from our post a couple of weeks ago), exactly which perfumes and deodorants we choose to wear can reveal a lot about us, as individuals and as a society. How we define ‘smelling nice’, for example, can vary depending on factors like the identity of the individuals present, their gender, the strength of the perfume or the context in which it is worn. A strong perfume in an enclosed space (on a plane, perhaps, with no chance of escape) can be the opposite of nice, for example, and it’s no secret that there are noticeable differences in the smells deemed attractive for men and women. In truth, many perfumes can be said to reinforce gender distinctions, through socially acceptable or traditional notions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ scents.

There’s a certain level of subjectivity – we do, after all, wear scents that we like personally – but perfumes are, unquestionably, involved in a wider social discourse in which the way we choose  to smell says something about who we are, whether we want it to or not.  Really, we only have to look at modern advertisements for perfumes and deodorants to see how much the way we smell is entangled with popular notions of, say, femininity or masculinity (and other aspects of social identity – wealth, status, elegance, refinement, desirability, etc). Whether those advertisements do this by choosing to challenge those stereotypes (Chanel, I’m looking at you) or reinforcing them (Old Spice, without a doubt), they’re still very much working from the basis that our personal fragrance is not just a fragrance.

Old Spice advertisement. The manliest of fragrances, apparently. Image:

Old Spice advertisement. The manliest of fragrances, apparently. Image: Riggs Partners.

People have been wearing perfume for a very long time, and it’s always been a marker of personal identity. In older societies, for example, perfume would have said something about the wealth of the wearer and their ability to afford frivolities like artificial scent. It still does, to a degree, just not for all perfumes: wearing an easily recognisable and expensive perfume today immediately implies that the wearer has a certain level of disposable income (or is willing to skimp on other things to afford it). Many perfumes today play to this, using images of wealth and luxury to see their fragrances (Dior, looking at you this time).

In the 19th century, perfume became inextricably entangled with gender. Some studies have suggested that the gender distinction in the perfume industry emerged out of early 19th century changes in society and social structure. With the growing prominence of the ‘bourgeoisie capitalists’ came a new set of social values, which included new perspectives on masculinity and femininity. In particular, one researcher suggests that “it was absolutely not done for men to spend their money on such ‘wasteful frivolities’. To put it bluntly, the modern (male) capitalist had better things to do, and with the exception of a small group of male artists and dandys [and there’s a stereotype all in itself], perfume became the exclusive domain of women” (Aspria 2005).

By the latter half of the 19th century, a brief scan of contemporary writing indicates that perfume was becoming more and more gendered, especially towards women. Although men did wear artificial fragrance (something that became increasingly acceptable in the early 20th century), perfume seems to have been a large part of the Victorian ideal of the proper, feminine woman (and, it follows, the absence of floral scents with an ideal of masculinity). It’s not so much that every perfume wearer was a proper lady, but rather that every proper lady wore perfume – of the correct strength and correct fragrance, of course. Lord help anyone who wore musk.

More than just a fragrance, the wrong perfume (musk, again, no surprises there) could even be blamed for the breakdown of a marriage, the transformation of “affection into aversion”, the “unwillllingness to marry which is one of those difficult questions which modern Governments at census times periodically have to consider .”

More than just a fragrance, the wrong perfume (musk, again, no surprises there) could even be blamed for the breakdown of a marriage, the transformation of “affection into aversion” and the “unwilllingness to marry which is one of those difficult questions which modern Governments at census times periodically have to consider.” Image: Hastings Standard 19/03/1904: 2.

There were numerous articles and advertisements in which various scents were discussed in correlation with certain feminine ideals, some even going so far as to describe the character traits found in women wearing particular scents. Significantly, all of these descriptions used terminology like ‘dainty’, ‘warm-hearted’, ‘unassuming’, ‘quiet temperament’ and ‘lovable if not very strong nature’ (ouch). One article described how “the suggestion of an ethereal atmosphere in which a slight and delicate fragrance has a part” immediately spoke of the wearer’s refinement, charm and a ‘gracious personality’.  Another writes that  “delicate odours, such as violet, heliotrope or orris root, are always permissible…a moderate use of a faint, suggestive odour, such as wood violet, for instance, is all in the way of a perfume that is allowable by a really refined woman.”

Article on the various character traits associated with the use of certain perfumes. Image:

Article on the various character traits associated with the use of certain perfumes. Image: Timaru Herald 31/03/1900: 6.

This positive ideal to which women were encouraged to aspire is reinforced again by descriptions of the negative image: the “superabundant use of the cheap stuff” is discussed in terms of “artificiality, vulgar and unredeemed [women]” (New Zealand Herald 19/09/1913:10). The claim that “a woman who saturates her belongings with strong perfumes…is likely to be mean-spirited, over-ambitious, strong-willed, but uncertain in temper” becomes an automatic judgement and dismissal of a person’s character, derived entirely from the way she smells. It simultaneously defines the identity of that person and reinforces the social ideal that is her contrast: the refined, demure, calm and content woman who only ever wears the appropriate level of perfume. It’s also, in a Victorian context, tied into the widely held belief in the importance of moderation and the physically, morally and socially debilitating effects of excess in any aspect of life.

Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the reality of life accurately reflected these social ideals as they were discussed in the written record (or vice versa), even if they were seemingly widespread. No matter what we read in historical accounts, we don’t know that people actually believed that perfume could develop character, that someone meeting a new acquaintance would smell roses and think “she must be imaginative and warm-hearted”, or that the ‘ideal of femininity’ discussed so often in writing was as prevalent or as valued in day to day life.

The archaeological record is important here, as another data set against which we can compare written information. The contrast allows us to tease out the similarities and differences between the ways in which people present themselves (and others) in writing and the ways they do so in the physical world. Even more importantly, we can examine why those differences exist: the disconnect between written and physical history can be as important in understanding human behaviour in past societies as the actual records themselves.

For example, despite the increasing popularity of perfumes in the written record towards the end of the 19th century, especially for women (the number of perfume advertisements increases exponentially in the 1880s and 1890s), we don’t find that many perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. And we have to wonder why. Is it because of something specific to Christchurch? Were people here less into perfumes than elsewhere in the world? Is it the result of other social behaviours: i.e. rubbish disposal practices, reuse of perfume bottles or other ways of obtaining perfumes?

We do know that it was possible to make your own perfumes. There were several recipes and detailed instructions available for the self-sufficient Victorian woman (they’re always directed at women) who wished to make her own fragrance. Perhaps this was happening in Christchurch? I don’t know. As an aside, there’s another ‘ideal’ perpetuated through these do-it-your own perfume instructions for women: as well as constructing and reinforcing a concept of femininity, they also touch on the ‘industrious woman’, part of the ideal of domesticity that was so prevalent in the 19th century.

Instructions on how to make your own perfumes.

Instructions on how to make your own perfumes. Most perfumes, as this article suggests, were alcohol-based, leading to several accounts of people drinking them recreationally. Image: Clutha Leader 8/01/1892: 7.

In another example, one might be inclined, given the large quantity of literature relating perfumes to femininity, to see perfume bottles on archaeological sites as an indication of the presence of women. Yet, many of the perfume bottles we’ve come across (and I’m only talking about the small proportion that can be identified to brand, here) are brands or fragrances that were used by men as much, if not more than, women. Eau de Cologne, in particular, is increasingly associated with the ‘masculine toilette’ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although it’s certainly also used by women (Star 16/7/1904: 3West Coast Times 2/5/1907: 2) . Both Florida Water and the 4711 fragrance also appear to have been used by men as well as women.

Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Both of these appear to have been used as much by men as by women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Image: J. Garland.

What does this mean? Is it just a result of our sample? Maybe all the unlabelled, unbranded perfume bottles contained stereotypical feminine floral scents and we just don’t know. Or does it follow that notions of femininity and the ‘proper woman’ were different in Christchurch? That notions of masculinity were different? Are we seeing an example of a division between a social commentary largely derived from life and society in Britain and the distant reality of life in New Zealand? Am I speculating too much? Possibly. In truth (and we don’t have enough information to figure it out yet), the answer is probably more complex than any one of these possibilities. It usually is.

All the same, questions like these are an excellent reminder of how much the tangible things we use in our daily lives – like perfume – are connected to the intangible social constructs we navigate through every day, be they gender, personal identity or moral values. This material culture that we’re recovering from these sites, these pieces of broken glass, broken ceramic, broken rubbish – they’re more than just physical objects. They were part of a socio-cultural discourse – active agents in the construction, maintenance and transformation of human behaviour, of our social ideals and perceptions, especially regarding the perception of certain social stereotypes – in this case, the ‘ideal’ Victorian woman.

Basically, things aren’t ever really just things: they’re (in every sense of the word) artefacts of our lives, past and present, intrinsically entangled with who we are and, often, who we want to be.

Jessie Garland

References

Aspria, M., 2005. Sociologist Marcello Aspria: interview about perfume and gender. [online] Available at: www.boisdejasmin.com/2005/10/perfume_and_gen.html.

Aspria, M., 2005-2009. Scented pages. [online] Available at: www.scentedpages.com/default.html. 

Lindqvist, A., 2012. Preference and gender associations of perfumes applied on human skin. In Journal of Sensory Studies 27(6): 490-497.

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

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

West Coast Times. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

An architectural interlude

We’re taking a short break between perfume posts this week and veering off in another direction entirely to present you with a photographic essay on one of the historic buildings we’ve recorded recently (but never fear, we’ll be back on course next week!).

The building, a Victorian villa,  appears to have been built in 1899 by the delightfully named Matilda Sneesby (very Roald Dahl-esque), wife of Christchurch printer William Sneesby. They lived there with their family until the 1920s. The building itself has some fascinating architectural features and additions, laid our for your perusal in the photographs below.

North elevation of 34 Harvey Terrace with bull nosed veranda, cast iron laces work, chamfered timber posts, timber fretwork brackets. The east end has been walled in.

North-facing entrance to the house, with bullnose veranda, cast iron lace work, chamfered timber posts and timber fretwork brackets. The east end has been walled in, as you can see. Image: P. Mitchell.

2.Bay window on the east elevation. Identical bay windows have been found on other houses suggesting that they were available pre-built or as a kitset (not sure of wording for this).

Bay window on the east elevation. Identical bay windows have been found on other houses. Image: P. Mitchell.

Fireplace removed from the parlour.

Beautiful fireplace removed from the parlour. As you can see, the chimney piece has been made to look like black marble, which was, of course, far more expensive than a wooden imitation. A manufacturer’s trademark – a single Scotch thistle bloom with “REGISTERED / TRADEMARK” around it – was found on the back, suggesting possible Scottish origins. Image: P. Mitchell.

Hallway arches like these were used to separate the ‘public’ and ‘private’ areas of houses. The front rooms of a dwelling were considered public because these were the rooms most likely used when entertaining guests.

Hallway arches like these were used to separate the ‘public’ and ‘private’ areas of houses. The front rooms of a dwelling were considered public because these were the rooms intended for entertaining guests. Image: P. Mitchell.

Traditional moulded skirting boards and architraves. These went out of fashion in the early 20th century as they became more expensive to produce. Note the child’s scrawl. Touches like this remind us that these buildings were people’s homes

Traditional moulded skirting boards and architraves. These went out of fashion in the early 20th century. Note the child’s scrawl on the wall above. Touches like this remind us that these buildings were people’s homes as well as the architectural remnants of a bygone era. Image: P. Mitchell.

Another ceiling rose, in another room.

A ceiling rose. This house was unusual in that there were three identical ceiling roses – of this design – in three different rooms. Typically, they vary from room to room. Image: P. Mitchell.

Ceiling roses. 34 Harvey Terrace was unusual in that there were three identical ceiling roses in three different rooms.

Another, slightly different ceiling rose, found in one the smaller rooms of the house. Image: P. Mitchell.

his double window was at the south end of the Phase 1 (original) build. The window on the right was boarded up when the house was reconfigured at some time in the early 20th century

This double window was at the south end of the original part of the house. The window on the right was boarded up when the house was reconfigured at some time in the early 20th century. Image: P. Mitchell.

The south wall of this room held a fireplace or coal range associated with the kitchen which had been removed. The kitchen is most likely to have been the room beyond the opening, which was still being used as a kitchen in 2011.

The south wall of this room held a fireplace or coal range associated with the kitchen that had been removed. The original kitchen is most likely to have been the room beyond the opening, still used as such in 2011 (albeit somewhat different in appearance). Image: P. Mitchell.

This wall is something of a puzzle. The ceiling shows evidence of a wall having been removed, and the wall shows evidence of a door having been removed. The wall was probably removed first, and the wall relined. Then the door was filled in at a later time. The main hallway lies beyond the filled in door way. The wainscoting was not original.

This wall is something of a puzzle. The ceiling shows evidence of a wall having been removed, and the wall shows evidence of a door having been removed. The wall was probably removed first, and relined. Then the door was filled in at a later time. The main hallway lies beyond the filled in door way. The wainscoting was not original. Image: P. Mitchell.

Everything’s coming up roses (and lilies and jasmine and violets)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man or woman in possession of natural body odour is most definitely in want of something to cover it up. At least, in today’s society, it certainly seems to be considered unacceptable to smell like unadulterated human in polite company (except in sporting situations or extreme, unavoidable situations – running from Godzilla comes to mind). In day to day life, we are expected to smell nice, or at least neutral, necessitating the application of a lot of perfume and deodorant in a never-ending crusade against the social iniquity of body odour.

It should come as no surprise to realise that this is not a new phenomenon, even if the use and popularity of perfume and deodorant has grown significantly in the past century. In the 19th century, certainly, the fragrance industry was a flourishing one. One (English) set of statistics from 1881, for example, claimed that Europe and British India consumed approximately 150,000 gallons of handkerchief perfume yearly (for something usually measured in drops, that is a LOT). Furthermore, English revenue from Eau de Cologne cashed in at around £8000 annually and the total English revenue from other imported perfumes at £40,000 per year, a fairly significant amount by the standards of the time (New Zealand Herald 27/08/1881: 7).

Perfume illustration and rhyme. Image:

Perfume illustration and rhyme. Image: Auckland Star 21/12/1929: 10.

The wonderfully named ‘scent farms’ on which the floral foundations of these perfumes were grown offer similarly substantial statistics on the provision of hundreds of thousands of pounds of flowers and blossoms to perfume distilleries throughout the world. One single distillery in France used approximately 100,000 pounds of acacia flowers, 140,000 pounds of rare flower leaves, 32,000 pounds of jasmine blossoms and 20,000 of tuberose blossoms in one year (Wairarapa Daily Times 26/03/1884: 2). I know, rationally, that these quantities must have been delivered and used over the course of the whole year, but I really can’t help imagining what that many flowers would look like delivered on the doorstep all at once (utterly delightful and horribly, traumatically allergy inducing, I think).

All of this perfume was eagerly and, in some cases, insanely, devoured by the bromidrophobic Victorian public (apparently, bromidrophobia is the fear of body odour – the things you learn in archaeology!). Contemporary accounts range from the faintly disparaging description of “the ballroom where the frou-frou of smart femininity exhales a violet fragrance” to tales of insane fads like the injection of artificial fragrance beneath the skin. To take it even further, one report on the “perfumes which ruin lives” recounts the stories of several people who inhaled or consumed perfume to the point of addiction, ill-health and death (Otago Witness 4/02/1897: 49).

Article on the popular fad of injecting perfumes subcutaneously. Image:

Article on the popular fad of injecting perfumes subcutaneously. Image: Auckland Star 11/03/1899: 2.

People didn’t just use artificial fragrance on themselves, however. Perfume was used to improve the smell of all manner of things, from clothing and handkerchiefs to notepaper and, memorably, butter. There were even perfume pills, made to be carried around in handbags and pockets as a neat and tidy repository of pleasant aromas. We’ve talked about the smells of life in the Victorian era here before on the blog, both inside and outside the house: in the perfumed accoutrements of daily life, there’s another smell to be considered (perhaps a response to some of the more unsavoury aromas people suffered through in the past).

Description of perfumed butter from 1894.

Description of perfumed butter from 1894. Image: Bruce Herald 19/10/1894: 3.

It’s interesting, then, considering the obvious popularity of fragrances amongst the Victorian population, to learn that we find comparatively few perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. They’re not rare, but they’re not common either. Those that we do find tend to be predominantly the products of European or English manufacturers, such as J. M. Farina, Eugene Rimmel and Piesse & Lubin. The one exception seems to be Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water, made in America.

Piesse & Lubin perfume bottle found in Christchurch.

Piesse & Lubin perfume bottle found in Christchurch. Piesse & Lubin were established in London in 1855 and continued to manufacture perfumes and related products into the 20th century. Image: G. Jackson.

Eugene Rimmel and Jean Maria Farina were both titans of the perfume (and cosmetics, in Rimmel’s case) industry during the 19th century. Rimmel was the son of a French perfumer, who moved to London in 1820 to manage a perfumery on Bond Street, before opening his own establishment in 1834 with his son (aged 14 at the time). The company became hugely successful, expanding from perfumes to sell a range of cosmetics, hair products and personal hygiene items: they’re still one of the biggest cosmetic manufacturers in Britain today (Rimmel 2015). As far as perfumes went, Rimmel sold a range of fragrances and related products, from perfume vaporisers and fountains to lavender water and “toilet vinegar”, advertised as a “tonic and refreshing adjunct to the Toilet or Bath, a reviving perfume and a powerful disinfectant” (Nelson Evening Mail 28/02/1884: 1). He secured a royal warrant for his efforts, being named as the official perfumer to both Queen Victoria and the Princess of Wales (Wellington Independent 10/04/1866: 3).

Rimmel bottle base found in Christchurch. Image: G. Jackson.

Rimmel bottle base found in Christchurch. Image: G. Jackson.

J. M. Farina, on the other hand, was famous as the name behind the ubiquitous Eau de Cologne, the fragrance that took its name from Cologne, Germany, the town in which the Farina family had been based since the early 18th century (Farina 2015). As it happens, one of the Farina bottles found in Christchurch, despite being associated with the family name, was in fact produced and named after the establishment of another Cologne based perfumery run by the Mulhens family. The famous 4711 eau de cologne was first made by Wilhelm Mulhens at the end of the 18th century and named for the building in which it was produced. However, before the 4711 brand was adopted in the 1880s, Mulhens marketed his fragrance under the Farina name, leading to some confusion and a lengthy battle with the Farina family (Newton 2013).

Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Interestingly, both the 4711 and the Farina Eau de Cologne seem to have had slightly more masculine overtones, with advertisements making note that – in contrast to Rimmel’s products – “the Prince of Wales has appointed, under Royal Warrant, Johann Maria Farina… to be manufacturer of Eau de Cologne for the Prince of Wales and his Royal Highness’s household” (Wellington Independent 19/11/1873: 3). The notion of perfume and fragrances as ‘gendered’ is a particularly interesting one, and something that I’ll talk about in more detail in next week’s post.

Contemporary descriptions of Eau de Cologne suggest that it had a strong citrus and bergamot fragrance, with one account listing the ingredients as “twelve drops each of essential oils neroli, citron, bergamot, orange and rosemary, along with one drachm of Malabar cardamoms and a gallon of rectified spirit” (Press 23/12/1887: 5). It seems likely that the 4711 had a similar fragrance, although the only description I could find just emphasised the particularly alcoholic base with which the cologne was made (Auckland Star 14/06/1890: 1).

Unfortunately, as far as the other perfumes go, unless the name of the fragrance is embossed on the bottle, we don’t know which ‘flavours’ of perfume were contained within them. Contemporary sources indicate that floral scents were popular, as they are today, with many manufacturers advertising fragrances like jasmine, rose, heliotrope, lily, etc. Others seem to have been specific to the 19th century, with one French company advertising a fragrance with the scent of ‘freshly mown hay.’ There’s even an advertisement for a ‘Geisha’ perfume.

A recipe for the 'celebrated lily of the valley perfume', one of the popular scents of the 19th century. Image:

A recipe for the “celebrated lily of the valley perfume”, one of the popular scents of the 19th century. Image: Lake Wakatip Mail 26/05/1893: 3.

Certain scents were frowned upon: musk was not well liked, with one 1891 article going so far as to suggest that “the King of Holland got a divorce from his wife because she used musk as a perfume. There are many people who think this sufficient cause…” (Oamaru Mail 1/08/1891: 3). And, amusing as that anecdote is, it’s symptomatic of a broader trend in contemporary (and modern) writing on the subject of perfume and the people who wear it. Several of the commentators that I came across talked of individual perfumes as an indication of a person’s character, particularly when it came to women. Even more than a sign of good or bad taste, a person’s perfume seems to have been seen (or sniffed, I suppose) as a manifestation of that person’s personality and place in life.

There’s something really interesting to be untangled here, in terms of how we – now and in the past – use personal fragrance as a way to define, maintain and reinforce individual and collective identity. Just think about how much your perfume says about you (or others): is it feminine, masculine, modern, old fashioned, cheap, expensive, designer, celebrity, professional, flirty, playful, down to earth, clean or any one of the other identity markers we use to describe the way we smell? It’s a really fascinating aspect of social behaviour but, for the sake of space and our attention spans, one that we’ll save for next week’s post.

Jessie Garland

References

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

Farina, 2015. Farina: the birthplace of Eau de Cologne. [online] Available at www.farina1709.de.

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

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

Newton, D., 2013. Trademarked: A History of Well-Known Brands, from Airtex to Wrights Coal Tar. The History Press, Gloucestershire.

Oamaru Mail. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Otago Witness. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Rimmel, 2015. About Rimmel. [online] Available at www.us.rimmellondon.com.

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

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Of all the gin joints.

Picture this. A summer’s day: clear blue skies and the heat of the afternoon sunshine, just the hint of a breeze. You might be in a garden, sheltering from the sun in the shade of the tree or under a verandah, relaxing, maybe to music, maybe to the sound of the cicadas in the trees. And in your hand, there’s a cool, tall, oh-so-refreshing glass of gin and tonic.

It’s summer time, and the living is easy…

In the modern day, gin seems to me evocative of exactly this: the sights, sounds and heat of the summer. It’s a drink, now almost invariably paired with tonic, that exudes refreshment, breeziness and just a hint of class. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

It’s funny then, that in the 19th century, it brought to mind a whole host of other things – good and bad. While the reputation of gin had improved slightly from the days when it was referred to as ‘mother’s ruin’, a nickname derived from William Hogarth’s depiction of ‘Gin Alley’ and the gin craze of 18th century Britain, it still inspired many tirades among contemporaries regarding the evils of drink. This is especially true of the flourishing temperance movement of the late 19th century, who took great pains to relate numerous accounts of the spirit causing death and disruption in society (Wellington Independent 17/03/1847: 4). It does seem, though, from some of the accounts of gin drinking in the newspapers that they may have had a point. Drinking gin and petrol every day, for example, can’t have been good for a person.

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh to the Scottish. Images:

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh. Images: Bay of Plenty Times 15/06/1888: 4Wellington Independent 17/04/1847: 4.

Interestingly enough, though, gin was also marketed as a medicinal remedy and ‘health drink’ during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We’ve mentioned aromatic schnapps here on the blog before, a type of gin primarily advertised as a medicine, but there were many varieties of gin marketed as beneficial beverages (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 24Press 2/10/1924: 6Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). Copious amounts of alcohol were often offered to patients in hospitals during this time, as well (Colonist 12/02/1910: 4).

Gin seems to have been advertised as a remedy for everything from kidney problems to the more vague “toning up the nerves” (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15). There were even ‘gin pills’, containing “in a concentrated form all the curative properties of a pint of the finest gin” and recommended for ailments of the “kidneys and allied organs” (Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). It was also associated with the prevention of malaria, due to the common combination of gin and tonic water – the latter was invented in the mid-19th century for the express purpose of administering quinine, an anti-malarial.

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image:

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image: Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15.

From an archaeological perspective, unfortunately (as is the case with many of the beverages consumed in the 19th century), it can be difficult to identify gin bottles among the material culture we recover, especially if the labels haven’t survived. Certain bottles, such as the ‘case gin’ shape, are known to have contained gin and are easily identifiable. However, especially towards the end of the 19th century, gin was bottled in several types of bottle, often indistinguishable from those used to hold other spirits or alcoholic beverages. In these cases, we have to rely on paper labels and metal capsule bottle seals, neither of which are prone to survival in the archaeological record.

Nevertheless, the following are some of the brands and types of gin we’ve come across so far during our work here in Christchurch.

Van Dulken Weiland & Co., gin manufacturers from Rotterdam, Holland. Dutch gin – or ‘genever’/jenever – is famous as the drink from which all other ‘gins’ are essentially derived. The Dutch were producing gin from at least the 16th century onwards (maybe earlier): the drink was embraced by Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries (due in no small part to the influence of William of Orange), before being adapted over the centuries to form the spirit as we know it now (i.e. ‘London’ dry gin, etc; Van Acker – Beittel 2013). Despite the popularity of British gins in the 19th century, genever continued to be advertised and sold as a separate beverage in contemporary newspapers (Lyttelton Times 27/09/1851: 2New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 30/01/1841: 1Otago Witness 15/09/1860: 2). We don’t know much about this particular Dutch manufacturer, but it seems likely that the bottle would have contained the genever style of gin, which often has a strong malt flavour, rather than the anglicised version.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder, bearing the mark of Van Dulken Weiland & Co., Rotterdam. Image: J. Garland.

Plymouth Gin, on the other hand, is – as the name suggests – quintessentially English. It’s actually geographically locked, in that it could only be manufactured in the town of Plymouth: unlike other gin styles – like Old Tom gin, for example (I’ll come to this one in a second) – other manufacturers were forbidden from using the name for their own products. It was first produced by Coates & Co. at the famous Black Friars distillery, in the late 18th century, after one Thomas Coates joined the already established Plymouth distillery of Fox & Williamson in 1793 (Plymouth Gin Company 2015). It quickly became one of the most popular gin brands in the 19th century and, to this day, remains a distinctive and hugely popular brand. It’s also one that had strong medical associations – several advertisements found in contemporary newspapers claim it to be “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle” (Press 2/10/1924: 6).

Plymouth gin

Advertisement for Plymouth Gin, “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle.” Image: Press 2/10/1924: 6.

We’ve only found one artefact associated with Plymouth Gin here in Christchurch, in the form of a metal capsule, originally used to seal the bottle at the top. Sadly, intact and/or legible capsules like these are rare finds, due to their fragility.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Probably the most common type of gin found in on archaeological sites here in the city is Old Tom gin, a sweeter variety that was extremely popular during the late 19th century. It declined in popularity during the early decades of the 20th century but has since enjoyed something of a revival, apparently. As the story goes, it takes its name from cat (‘old toms’) shaped signs used during gin prohibition/restrictions to provide gin to the masses. Supposedly, there would be a tube under a slot in the wall: you put money in the slot and received a shot of gin through the tube. Which would be ingenious, if it’s true.

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image:

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image: Waikato Times 13/01/1855: 2.

Here in Christchurch we usually find Old Tom labels and seals in association with Sir Robert Burnett, a manufacturer and/or distributor of various alcohols and foodstuffs, operating out of London during the second half of the 19th century (Campbell et al. 2009). Old Tom was, however, made by a variety of manufacturers during this period and distributed throughout the world. One of the more entertaining and slightly horrifying articles I came across during my research features Old Tom – or at least, a drink pretending to be Old Tom. In an 1855 edition of the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, there’s an account of how a quantity of gin, “disposed of to the public as the very best Old Tom”, was in fact an un-named variety of gin that had been used to preserve the body of a Dutch captain in a barrel during a sea voyage (Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle 8/12/1855: 3). I’m betting it probably didn’t taste like Old Tom in the end.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett's Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett’s Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Finally, in the interests of improving everybody’s weekends, here are some of the 19th and early 20th century recipes I found for gin cocktails in the course of researching this post. I recommend avoiding the petrol one (above).

Perfect Lady
½ gin
½ peach brandy
¼ fresh lemon juice
Dash of egg white

Gin Puff
Old Tom gin
Sugar
Cream
Plain Soda

Gin Fizz
Gin
Crushed ice
Half a lemon
Tsp sugar
Egg white / egg yolk

“A wineglass of gin is put into a long thin glass, known all over America as a fizz glass. A tumbler is then filled up to the brim with crushed ice, half a lemon squeezed upon it, and about a teaspoonful of pulverized sugar. Pulverised sugar is what is always used for American drinks. This is all whisked up until thoroughly cold, and the tumbler is then filled up with soda water…By straining it of the ice, adding the white of an egg and whisking it all up together, we make a ‘silver fizz’. By substituting the yolk for the white and going through the same process the ‘golden fizz’ is made.”

And, for those of you with problems cleaning silk, here’s an alternative use for gin…

Mix well together ¼ lb of honey, the white of one egg, 3oz. of soft soap, one wineglass of gin and one pint of hot water. Lay the pieces of silk separately on a deal board or table and using a small brush, which must be neither too hard not too soft, scrub them on both sides with the above mixture. Have ready two pails of cold water and as soon as each breadth of silk has been well scrubbed, dip in into both pails successively and shake it about so that as much as possible the mixture shall be rinsed out. Then hang it out to dry.”

Jessie Garland

References

Campbell, M., Gumbley, W. and Hudson, B., 2009. Archaeological Investigations at the Bamber House and Wanganui Hotel sites (Town Sections 79 and 77), UCOL Whanganui Converge Redevelopment, Wanganui. Unpublished report to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Universal College of Learning.

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

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

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

Nelson Examiner and Wellington Chronicle. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Otago Witness. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Plymouth Gin Company, 2015. [online] Available at www.plymouthgin.com.

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

Van Acker – Beittel, V., 2013. Genever: 500 Years of History in a Bottle. Flemish Lion, LLC.

Wairarapa Age. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.