Around the world in seven plates

Have you always wanted to travel the world? See the famous cathedrals of Europe? Smell the streets of China? Taste the spices of India? But travelling is expensive and everything’s just so damn far away, right? Well have we got the blog post for you. Sit back, relax (maybe even make a cup of tea), and prepare to go all the way around the world without even stepping out the front door.

We start our wild adventure around the globe in a country that may be familiar to some: England. Depicted on the plate below we can see the charming views of Nuneham Courtenay Park, located five miles south east of Oxford. Nuneham Courtenay was one of the most famous 18th century gardens, described by Horace Walpole as “the most beautiful in the world” (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 399). The central scene of the plate is one which will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with England: a canal with a bridge and a lock-keeper’s thatched cottage. A riverside walk ran along the canal, allowing visitors to get the full experience of the quaint landscape. In the background on the left side is the Nuneham Park house, the seat of Earl Harcourt, whilst in the centre is a building that was never actually built. A gothic tower was designed to be built on the hill but the building never eventuated, meaning the plate shows what could have been, but never was. The gardens are still there if you fancy seeing them yourself!

Wild Rose patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

From England we travel to the continent and the charming Swiss city of Lucerne, located on the banks of the River Reuss where it flows out of Lake Lucerne. In the background of the image is a building with two pointed spires. This is most likely the Church of St. Leodegar, named for the city’s patron saint. The church sits on the banks of Lake Lucerne, with a charming Swiss chalet standing on the opposite bank. The view on the plate depicts Lucerne as the ideal getaway spot, a nice quiet holiday location with stunning scenery.

Lucerne patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Is it really a European holiday if you didn’t go to Greece? The cradle of civilisation, founder of democracy, home of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Homer. In the chamber pot below you can explore the wonders of the ancient city of Corinth, with ruins of Greek temples located in the foreground. Classical ruins not really your thing? Then hop across to the gothic city, located just over the body of water. Does modern day Corinth have classical ruins lying next to Gothic buildings? Not according to a google image search I did, but hey, what more do you expect from travelling somewhere via a chamber pot. I’m sure if we were looking at Corinth from a plate there would be more classical temples and less medieval cities.

Corinth patterned chamber pot (it’s not a plate, but around the world in six plates and a chamber pot doesn’t sound as catchy). Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Whilst Europe might be ideal for viewing gothic style churches and classical architecture, it’s a road well-travelled for us Kiwis. This trip around the world is meant to be an adventure, full of far-flung spots around the globe. Enter Saudi Arabia. We’ve now travelled to Medina, located about two hundred miles north of Mecca. Medina is a holy city, containing the tomb of Muhammad in its main mosque, and attracts many pilgrims who visit the city on their way to Mecca. As you can see from the scene depicted on the plate, it features everything you would expect to see in the Middle East: mosques in the background, palms trees in the foreground, and most importantly camels!

Medina patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Now, let us go east. East to India! On the plate below, we can see four exotic birds flying around and landing on a willow tree. Rather than showing us a place, this plate evokes a feeling of exoticness, displaying flora and fauna we wouldn’t see at home. From the name of the pattern we can deduce it refers to the Indian city of Madras (modern day Chennai). Madras was the location of an East India Company outpost, Fort of St. George, which became the main administrative centre for the British in India. No doubt tales of the city by soldiers and traders inspired the potters back in England to recreate the essence of India in dinner ware form.

Madras patterned plate. Image: C. Watson.

India not far enough east for you? Then let’s go further along to China. The delightful scene depicted below is inspired by the city of Amoy (modern day Xiamen). Amoy is located in the Fujian Province, beside the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese port city was captured by the British in 1841 during the First Opium War. The Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 made Amoy one of the first five ports opened to British trade. The scene shown on the tea wares below was made in 1844, only a few years after the arrival of the British (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 21). The scene shows two Chinese figures resting beneath a parasol, with exotic flora surrounding them.

Amoy patterned tea wares. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Sometimes the best part of an overseas adventure is coming home. Therefore, we end our journey where we started it –  in New Zealand. This plate shows the Defiance Pattern (see a complete version here).This plate was part of a set of patterns made by Grimwades in the 1930s, referred to as “Maori ware”. The patterns show idealised scenes of Māori life, with Māori in traditional dress standing in front of whare and performing actions such as hongi or whakairo (carving). Whilst Māori ware appears very kitsch to modern tastes and raises questions about the appropriation of indigenous culture for souvenir items, it is part of a wider theme of depicting exotic views on table wares, one which began in the century before.

Defiance Pattern, an example of “Maori ware” by Grimwades. Image: C. Watson.

The vessels shown on the blog today were manufactured in England and probably designed by people who had never visited any of these countries. Instead designs were often based off the drawings or accounts of people who had. The eastern-most cities, Madras and Amoy, were British outposts, showing how the expansion of the British Empire inspired the imagination of the people back home. I think it’s quite interesting we get transfer ware depicting exotic scenes in New Zealand, arguably a location which in itself was very exotic for 19th century settlers. Whilst there are patterns such as Wild Rose which depict scenes of England, those are far outweighed by the patterns depicting classical, medieval, and exotic places.

What does this all mean? Why do we find so many dinner wares decorated with images of exotic places? I think you can look at it in two ways. Firstly, perhaps the people coming to New Zealand had an internal adventuring spirit, a hunger for the exotic. Even though they already found themselves in a country unfamiliar to the one they grew up in, they were excited by the thought of distance lands and intentionally purchased table wares depicting far-off countries. Alternatively, it could all be a case of availability and popularity. In our adventure around the globe we did not visit America, despite the fact there were many different American inspired patterns manufactured by the Staffordshire potters. The lack of any American views in our finds from Christchurch would suggest American themed dinner wares were not shipped to New Zealand, and instead were manufactured specifically for the American market. We don’t know yet if there were patterns made specifically for the New Zealand market, but its likely there was a limited range of patterns available at least when compared with what was being manufactured in England. In regards to popularity, British expansionism in the 19th century led to great interest around foreign cities and cultures, with that interest inspiring new trends in ceramic design. It may be that the owner of the Medina patterned plate purchased it simply because it was trendy, and not because they liked to picture themselves riding on a camel towards the sunset.

So many things to ponder, clearly the sign of an excellent trip. Travelling broadens the horizons, exposes us to new and different cultures, and forces us to reflect on our own culture –  often leading to questions of why we do things the way we do. Whilst we may have only travelled through plates (and a chamber pot) today, we are still left with the same questions regarding our own culture and history, and how we fit in a global world.

Clara Watson

References

Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 17801880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

 

 

 

In which a teacup is smashed against a wall in a fit of rage

One of the most fascinating things about studying and interpreting the past is the possibilities it holds. Could the broken tea cup I’ve found been smashed against a wall in a fit of rage after a wife found her husband being promiscuous with another man? Could the alcohol bottle lying at the bottom of a latrine be from a teenage son and his mates sneakily getting drunk in the backyard? Could it really be the year 2518 and we are all computer-generated simulations in an elaborate experimental archaeology project to examine consumer behaviour in the early 21st century?

Archaeology is an interesting combination of science and humanities. When we approach the past, we begin by dealing with what we know or can determine as fact…

  • This rubbish pit was located 300 mm below the top soil.
  • It contained a plate manufactured by the pottery company Pinder, Bourne and Co.
  • Pinder, Bourne and Co. operated between 1862 and 1882 so the plate must have been manufactured between 1862 and 1882.

From there we go to what we can determine as likely…

  • ceramic plates on average had a lifespan of 15-20 years, meaning the plate  was likely disposed of between 1879 and 1902, but could have been disposed of earlier or later.
  • the Johnson family was living at the property between 1870 and 1895 meaning they were likely the family who owned and disposed of the plate, but it could have also been disposed of by the families who preceded and succeeded the Johnson’s occupation.
  • the plate was decorated with a pattern featuring motifs from the Aesthetic Movement. The Aesthetic Movement was popular around the 1870s and 1880s suggesting the Johnson family were keeping up with fashion trends in homewares.

And then there’s always what’s possible…

  • Mr Johnson forgot Mrs Johnson’s birthday. In a rush he ran to the store and bought Mrs Johnson the newest, fanciest plate he could find. Mrs Johnson, however, was not appeased by the gift. She could not believe that Mr Johnson had forgotten her birthday after she had been dropping hints all week. She hated the offset designs of the Aesthetic Movement’s patterns and was a strong believer that Willow pattern was a classic which will never go out of fashion. In a rage she stormed out of the house, left Mr Johnson, and moved to Guatemala. Mr Johnson, devastated by the break up of his marriage, threw out the plate, burying his love for Mrs Johnson along with it.

 

As archaeologists we work firmly in the realms of what we can determine as fact and based on those facts what we can determine as likely. Whilst we do speculate, we generally don’t go very far outside the realms of possibility. In today’s blog post, however, I want to throw all that science and fact out the window and just run with wherever my imagination takes me.

The assemblage we’re going to be looking at today came from a single rubbish pit, found at the rear of a nineteenth century dwelling. The artefacts found in the rubbish pit included items which were typical of late 19th and early 20th century households. Several items contained manufacturer’s marks indicating they were made after 1891, but there were no items which were distinctively 20th century. This suggests the material was deposited either at the very end of 19th century, or the very beginning of the 20th. The Northey family, consisting of Paul, his wife Jane, and their son John, lived at the house between 1878 and 1926. Given the Northey’s long occupation of the property, and the date of the artefacts found in the rubbish pit, it’s highly likely they were the ones to dispose of the items.

That’s the facts folks, now let’s tell a story. The following are “extracts” from Jane Northey’s diary.

January Third, 1899.

Today was quiet. I went to the shops in the morning and purchased three bottles of Worcestershire Sauce for 1/-. An excellent bargain. Naturally, I chose Lea and Perrins. I don’t understand how these New Zealand made products can claim they taste the same as traditional English Worcester Sauce. I saw there’s even a Dunedin brand which has called itself Royal Worcestershire Sauce( making out like it’s endorsed by the king!) when really it’s made at the bottom of the world. No product which was not made in England will ever be stored on my shelves. The items you have in your house reflect on your person, and I am very much an English lady.

Good English made products were always a staple in Jane’s pantry. Image: C. Watson.

April Eighth, 1899

I could not believe it. Paul came home from work today wearing his ‘tramp’ hat. Whilst I might have tolerated him wearing such an article of clothing when I was trailing around after him on the goldfields in ’72, he now works in a respectable drapery business, and I will not have him walking around the town looking like a tramp. What would the neighbours think? We’ve spent the past twenty years building a livelihood here, extending the home, decorating the parlour –  I’ll not have people thinking we aren’t a respectable family. Rather than having yet another argument over it I offered to wash it. I’m sure there will be some way to make it fall apart in the process.

Paul’s hat. A great source of shame for Jane. Image: C. Watson.

July Fourth, 1899

I made a most excellent purchase today. I was reading in the newspaper about Strawberry Sets. Apparently, they’re all the rage in London at the moment. There’s a small handled dish to hold the strawberries on, and a sugar bowl and creamer which sit within the dish. The dish can be offered around during a garden party for people to eat strawberries off – very on trend. After reading about them I knew I just had to get one. I popped down to Ballantynes and managed to purchase my own, a dainty wee porcelain one. Of course, there aren’t any strawberries in season yet, but come November I will be prepared.

The strawberry dish from Jane’s strawberry set. Image: C. Watson.

July Fifth, 1899

Paul and I had a wicked argument last night over the Strawberry Set. He screamed at me that I shouldn’t have bought it and that my insistent spending was the reason why he went bankrupt back in ’84. I wasn’t having any of that and threw it back in his face that he promised me a better life when I followed him over here and that if we wanted to be a respectable family and impress our peers then we needed to look the part. He of course went off, ranting about the mortgages we’d taken on and that the house didn’t need to be as grand as we’d made it and that all I cared about was impressing the neighbours. Honestly, the man doesn’t understand. Of course I care about impressing the neighbours. He’s not the one who has to deal with Mrs Stevens coming over here and withering on about her new teapot and then saying “Oh, but the one you have is perfectly nice dear, it’s always sensible to purchase within your means”. Well the fight got a bit heated and he picked up my lovely flower vase that I use when I have ladies over for tea and hurled it at the wall. I couldn’t believe it. I picked up his whisky glass which was sitting on the table and hurled it back at him. That ended the fight quickly as it’s his favourite glass and he couldn’t believe I’d done it. He stormed out to the pub and I cleaned up. I hope none of the neighbours heard, although I saw Mrs Riley’s curtains twitch so I bet the nosy bat was listening in.

The remains of a fight. Jane’s vase and Paul’s favourite tumbler. Image: C. Watson.

September Tenth, 1899

Something most devastating happened today. I dropped the mixing bowl. Whilst most people might not shed a tear , most people wouldn’t have taken the effort to purchase such a wondrous mixing bowl! When I was at Mrs Riley’s house for tea last Tuesday (Mrs Riley who always makes a point of showing off her brand new set of china), the kitchen maid came running in shouting that there was a fire in the kitchen. We ran to the back of the house and saw a spark had jumped out of the range and onto the rug. We of course simply stamped out the flame, something I’m sure the ditzy kitchen maid could have done herself, but while doing so I looked around and saw Mrs Riley had plain creamware bowls in her kitchen. They looked like they were nearly thirty years old! So for all the airs she puts on it looks like the new china set is the only thing of any class which she owns. I’ve always been most aware that you never know when someone might snoop around and have made sure that the bowls I keep in my kitchen are of good quality. This bowl in particular was very nice, with moulded detail and green bands which almost match the rest of the dinner set. I feel most put out that it’s now broken.

Jane’s beloved mixing bowl. Along with some fragments of her near-matching dinner and tea sets. Image: C. Watson.

November Second, 1899

An absolute disaster of a day. I invited Mrs Riley and Mrs Stevens around for tea today. Naturally I used the good china, my Lucerne patterned set, rather than the banded set. I was most excited as I had managed to purchase some strawberries from the grocer and it was my first opportunity to use my strawberry set. Well, we were sat down in the garden sipping our tea when Mrs Stevens children came tearing into the garden chasing their new puppy. The wee monster came straight for me, I jumped up on the chair to escape its nipping jaws but in doing so dropped the cup and saucer I was holding. I couldn’t believe it. But then to make matters worse while the children were trying to grab a hold of it one of them bumped into the table, sending my strawberry set to the ground. The dish survived alright but the creamer and sugar bowl both broke. I was so livid. Mrs Stevens simpered around saying how sorry she was, and that the new puppy had been such a handful. Naturally, I just smiled and said “It’s okay dear”. It definitely was not okay. I think she set the whole situation up on purpose because she couldn’t handle that I had something which was fancier than anything she owned.

Jane’s fancy Lucerne patterned china. Image: C. Watson.

At the end of the day, these “diary entries” are completely fictional. It’s possible that these events happened, just as it’s possible that there’s still moose living in Fiordland. As archaeologists, it’s important that we focus on the known facts. Yet doing so can mean we lose sight of the humanity of the past – artefacts become data in a spreadsheet, numbers rather than objects which people owned, used and maybe even loved. Whilst the stories I’ve told here are fictional, there may be an element of truth in them. The Northey’s did take out several mortgages on their property between 1878 and 1894, and Paul Northey did declare bankruptcy in 1884. Yet despite that, they had several unusual, high-end objects. We don’t normally find fancy vases or strawberry dishes. These are the kind of artefacts I would associate with a wealthy family, or at least a family which was trying to appear wealthy and “keep up with the Joneses”, which might be what the Northey’s were doing. Narratives and stories such as these remind us that artefacts belonged to people, they’re not just broken fragments of china, and as long as we’re clear that we’re telling a story, then they are an excellent way of exploring the lives of the people of the past.

Just as long as there aren’t any aliens in the stories. Aliens and archaeology don’t go well together.

Clara Watson

 

Doe, a Deer, a (Possibly) Female Deer

Bones, of the animal variety, are a common find on historic archaeological sites in Christchurch. The vast majority of the bones we come across are sheep and cattle, with the occasional pig and chicken showing up as well. From these bones we are able to deduce the quality of diet of early Christchurch residents, with the different cuts of meat corresponding to different bones. If we have a faunal assemblage with lots of cow pelvises and rib bones, we know the people who threw the bones away were eating pretty well- lots of cuts of steak and roast beef. If we have lots of lower limb bones, like the tibia and fibula, or the radius and ulna, we know that dinner most likely consisted of beef soup or stew. As cuts of steak cost more than the shin and hock cuts, we are able to infer the wealth or status of certain occupants, all based on what bones they threw out.

Of course, we don’t just find the leftover bones from last nights dinner. Rats, rabbits and cats can all choose archaeological sites as their final places of rest- even horses! Recently, we found a bone that we had never seen before. It looked like a sheep metatarsal, but was definitely different. A little bit longer, a little bit slimmer, a little bit more gracile. We did some research and found the answer: it’s the left metatarsal of a deer!

The mystery bone: A Left Deer Metatarsal!

For those of you who aren’t experts in deer biology, the metatarsal is the rear lower leg bone. Image: adapted from Parfitt and Lister 2012: 422.

Having found this deer bone, we realised we didn’t know all that much about deer. When did they come to New Zealand? Were they introduced for eating? For shooting? For a fun and friendly pet? (it wasn’t the latter). Deer were primarily introduced into New Zealand between 1861 and 1919, however, they began to be imported into Auckland as early as 1851 (Drew 2008; Lyttelton Times 11/10/1851). Red deer were the most successful species introduced, but fallow deer, wapiti, sambar, sika, rusa, white-tailed deer and the fabled Fiordland moose were all brought to our shores (Drew 2008). The people behind the introduction of deer were the acclimatisation societies. We’ve talked about acclimatisation societies before on the blog. Essentially the Victorians thought New Zealand was a bit of a useless country when it came to wildlife (no large mammals, game, or fish) and decided to change it by introducing a heap of species.

There is perhaps no country in the world the natural zoology of which supplies so little to the subsistence or enjoyment of its inhabitants, as New Zealand. Of game there is almost none; quail, formerly plentiful, have nearly disappeared; pigeons and kakas are to be found only in the woods; ducks, eels and wild pigs complete the list. And if there are so few useful animals, those which add to the grace and enjoyment of life are scarcer still; of singing birds there are but the tui tui and the bell bird; neither of them ever heard, except in the neighbourhood of the forests…If, however, we turn from land to water, the inducements to engage in this enterprise are greater still. Our great snow rivers are absolutely without fish…At present, such rivers as the Waimakariri, the Rakaia or the Rangitata are worse than useless, obstructing travelling without assisting navigation.

-Press 17/08/1861

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was found in 1864 and by 1866 they had made an enclosure in Hagley Park for deer to be kept in once they arrived off the boat. I just want to take a moment here and emphasise how difficult it must have been just getting the deer to New Zealand. They had to live on a boat, for at least 10 weeks, being kept calm so they didn’t injure themselves or anyone else. They also needed food for that length of time, and presumably at least a little bit of exercise. In addition to all of those struggles, the ship might be wrecked along the way (Press 04/01/1868).

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society doesn’t seem to have had the best luck in obtaining deer, with lots of missed opportunities and failed attempts to secure them. When they did succeed in importing deer, it appears to have been in relatively small numbers- only one or two at a time. The deer were stored in the enclosure in Hagley Park before being released to farms in rural areas such as Culverden and Little River (Star 29/01/1874; Press 07/12/1881; Press 25/06/1884). The capturing of the deer from their enclosure didn’t always go smoothly. In 1874 the capturing of eight deer from the enclosure resulted in four being killed, one captured but unlikely to live, one escaping, one remaining in the enclosure, and one captured and healthy (Press 25/06/1874). Reading through the reports of the acclimatisation society it seems that deer in Canterbury were rare and there weren’t large ‘wild’ herds of deer like there were in other parts of the country.

Due to the lack of deer in Canterbury, fresh venison was extremely rare between the 1860s and 1880s. When fresh venison was available it appears to have been because a deer had been accidentally killed (like the accidental death of the four deer in 1874), and the mantra of ‘waste not want not’ applied. “the first four when found to be hopelessly gone were bled for venison. To put it mildly, it is to be regretted that so good an afternoon’s sport should have been had at such a sacrifice” (Press 25/06/1874).

Whenever these accidents happened, they were almost always followed by a butcher advertising fresh venison in the newspaper the next day.

The Lane Brothers appear to have been the prime butchery for obtaining venison, advertising it for sale in 1871 and 1876. In both years the meat came from deer belonging to the acclimatisation society.

Towards the late 1880s venison became more common, both in the form of canned ‘hashed’ venison (Press 28/12/1887) and fresh. With the successful introduction of deer to other parts of the country, along with improved refrigeration, there was a greater supply of fresh venison (Press 02/04/1888; Lyttelton Times 30/11/1888). It was not until the twentieth century that Canterbury’s deer population reached a high enough level to allow for hunting, with the first licenses for deer stalking in the Rakaia Gorge issued in 1907 (Press 16/04/1907).

So, what does all this mean for our deer bone? Well, our bone was found in the central city, within a layer of cultural material which we think dates to either the late 1860s or early 1870s. Based on those dates, it’s possible that our bone was from one of those early deer owned by the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society which was killed in an accident and then sold as venison. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a metatarsal, the part of the leg that was not eaten.

The haunch was the most common venison cut referred to in newspapers of the time (Press 19/05/1864). This meat cut consisted of the back leg, and presumably involved the pelvis, femur, and maybe the top end of the tibia. The tibia and fibula were likely served as a shank meat cut, but the meat surrounding the metatarsal was not eaten as there was not enough to be worthwhile. The bone may have been chopped up as a base for stocks or soups, but this is not the case with our bone as we found it whole and without butchery marks.

This may simply mean that when the carcass was butchered the lower legs were chopped off above the metatarsal and discarded. However, we thought that given the rarity of deer in New Zealand at the time, and how expensive the meat must have been, that this was a bit strange. Also, as far as we are aware, there wasn’t a butchers located near where the bone was found, and no other deer bone was found in the layer, making it seem unlikely that the bone’s disposal was just the butcher throwing away the unedible bones and meat parts.

So we did some research on uses of deer’s legs and feet and found that they were used for making bags. Called deer hock bags, these were made from the skin surrounding the metacarpal and metatarsal bones and took about four skins to make one bag. The skinning would leave the bone complete, like ours, and could explain why the metatarsal wasn’t associated with a butcher’s deposit. Alternatively, the fat and tissue surrounding the bone could be melted down for the making of glue. However, I’m assuming this would have some effect on the bone and so I don’t think this was the case.

Whatever the reason behind its discard, whether it be by butcher, tanner or glue maker, our deer bone has an interesting history to tell. Was our bone from a deer that was transported half way around the world only to die in an accident and have its meat served at the dining table of some wealthy individual and its skin turned into a bag? Possibly, and that’s archaeology for you folks.

Clara Watson

 

References

Drew, K. 2008. “Deer and Deer Farming- Introduction and Impact of Deer.” Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved October 4, 2018 (https://teara.govt.nz/en/deer-and-deer-farming/page-1).

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

Parfitt, S. and Lister, A. 2012. ‘The Ungulates from the Peştera cu Oase’ in Erik TrinkausSilviu ConstantinJoco Zilhco (Eds.) Life and Death at the Pestera cu Oase: A Setting for Modern Human Emergence in Europe. OUP: USA.

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

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

 

‘Archaia’ and ‘Logos’, what even is archaeology?

The word archaeology comes from the Greek archaia (“ancient things”) and logos (“theory” or “science”). So, archaeologists study past societies through the material culture. In other words, we write the history analysing what people threw away or left behind. That’s what it is, although the origin of archaeology was quite different!

Back in the day, great discoveries of ancient civilizations enchanted the curiosity of those intrepid explorers who travelled the world looking for antiquities. The ruins of Troy and the image of Henrich Schliemann’s wife wearing the Priam’s Treasure (referred to as “Jewels of Helen”) as well as the Tutankhamun tomb are probably two of the most iconic finds of the last centuries. On 22 November 1922 when Lord Carnavon enquired anxiously “Can you see anything?” and Howard Carter replied “Yes, wonderful things”, expressing the grandeur of the ancient world. Those expeditions became the excuse to plunder historical sites to boost either personal or museum collections, with no further interest other than hunting treasures, contradicting the rightful purpose of archaeology.

Left: Sophia Schliemann wearing some of the gold jewellery from the Priam’s Treasure. Right: Howard Carter and the Tutankhamun tomb. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

The archaeological discoveries at ancient cities also inspired the decoration on contemporary ceramics. Tea, table and serving wares also became a mechanism to emulate the magnificent past. Idyllic depictions of exotic and remote places, scenes with ruins of Greece, Rome and oriental inspired scenes are all relatively common finds on Christchurch archaeological sites.

Left: Medina patterned plate. It is likely that this pattern draws inspiration from Medina, the city in Saudi Arabia to the north of Mecca. Image: J. Garland. Right: drainer decorated with the Corinthian pattern, the name of which refers to one of the three Greek architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, with ruins and columns depicted on the scene. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

From left to right. We don’t know what the title of the pattern was, but the fragment clearly features a hand painted Grecian figure. The name of the following patterns: Egyp[t] or Egyp[tian] and Persian also evoking past cultures. However, in these examples, the scene depicted is unknown as we only found a tiny piece of ceramic! Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

At that time of treasure hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the object itself pulled out of its place was the centre of attention. And that’s not our job. Rather than treasures by themselves, artefacts are precious because they help us to interpret and understand how people used to live. That’s their actual value. And that’s possible to achieve when studying the objects in relation to the context in which they were found. During the latter half of the 20th century, archaeology grew up as science, with the development of methods of fieldwork, recording and cataloguing and the use of specific tools and technologies, shared with other disciplines like anthropology or geology. Archaeology is a social science, so archaeologists are scientists. Unlike fossickers or curio hunters, archaeologists always take notes and make drawings and plans. This is key, because archaeology is essentially preservation by record.

Archaeologist in action! Left: Hamish taking notes on site. Image: T. Anderson. Right: Hamish and I drawing and old curb in the city. Image: H. Williams.

By the sounds of it, the real profile of an archaeologist is unlike the idealised portrait of it. We are far away from one of the most popular archaeologists ever. Who pops up in our minds when thinking of archaeology? Of course, Indiana Jones… except for Hamish! Both share part of the outfit, it’s not the whip but the cool felt hat! Well, archaeologists wear usually safety helmets on site, but in their spare time, wherever archaeologists go, the hat would be a perfect accessory, aye?

Left: Indiana Jones. Image: Rex/Shutterstock. Right: Hamish wearing his felt hat at the Edwin Fox Maritime museum in Picton. Archaeologists do love to soak up the local history! Image: H. Williams.

The fictional image of a female archaeologist is probably even less accurate. Can’t find anything in common between Lara Croft and us. Well, she is presented as a highly intelligent, athletic and beautiful archaeologist… Maybe it is a little bit like us.

Beyond the stereotypes and the history of archaeology, constructed by and starring male archaeologists like Carter or Schliemann, there were women archaeologists as well, although it was ‘not a common thing, for obvious reasons’ (Star 15/04/1914: 7). Perhaps because those were so obvious (irony on going!), none of those reasons were nuanced… Anyway, the point is that Jeanette Le Fleming was an archaeologist. She married in 1885 Sir William Le Fleming, born in Christchurch in 1861, eight Baronet of Rydal and prominent settler in Taranaki district (Evening Post 3/11/1945: 11).

New Zealand’s newspapers in 1932 reported Jeanette’s return to New Zealand after a long trip. ‘In her capacity of archaeologist’ (crikey!), she had visited Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Denmark and investigated ruins in Zimbabwe. Among her experiences overseas, she considered her study of the ruins at Zimbabwe the most interesting of her professional experiences. There Jeanette analysed the acropolis and temple erected under the influence of Babylonian civilization. She wrote many articles on travel subjects, ancient history and archaeology. She published under a nom de plume, ‘which she keeps in complete secret’ and not even her sister was aware of her identification with a certain writer and archaeologist (Evening Post 25/01/1932: 10). Apart from Europe and Russia, Jeanette also travelled to Central and South America, India, China and Japan, among many other places. She preferred travelling alone (yes, a pioneer of women solo travellers!) as she was never afraid, and always keen to nature, climates, archaeology, medieval and other modern curiosities, as well as the present economic conditions of each country (Evening Star 14/12/1936).

Honestly, I’m so jealous! What an inspirational woman! Loving what I also love (and archaeologist in general!), travelling, exploring new places and cultures, being curious all the time, asking questions and looking for answers! Eventually, Jeanette Le Fleming died at her home in 1944, after a long and undoubtedly interesting life! (Evening Post 3/05/1944: 8).

Jeanette Le Fleming. Image: Evening Star 24/09/1938.

As archaeologists working in post-earthquake Christchurch, we also have stories and the archaeology of the early city to tell you through Christchurch Uncovered blog, Facebook, Instagram and public archaeology events. Unquestionably, scientifically recording the past is the best way to preserve it in partnership with all of you, committed people, aware of the significance of our heritage as the witness of the history, the vestiges of the past from which we can learn so much.

To conclude, a summary that describes best what an archaeologist is, how our current day-to-day goes… Love it.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/ (Accessed October 2018).

Paper Past, 2018. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ (Accessed October 2018).

Early Christchurch women, breaking the rules: the exhibition.

The ideal Victorian woman

In Victorian society, a woman was to be meek, mild, virtuous and peaceful (Whiteside 2007). She was expected to marry and have children. She would stay at home, looking after her children and her husband and keeping the house perfectly. Public affairs were men’s matters, although a woman might engage in charitable or other social works, but nothing that could in any way be construed as ‘masculine’. She was selfless – everyone else always came first. She certainly wasn’t involved in politics, and nor did she run a business. At least, that was the theory!

Left: M Heslop & Co (Christchurch) fl 1870s: Portrait of unidentified man, woman and child. Ref: PA2-2063. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23056667. Right: well, it would be an alternative middle class family! Image: Observer 14/11/1903.

In fact, this standard was mostly applied to middle class women, and it seems to have been much less unusual for working class women to, well, work. But there were middle class women who broke these ‘rules’ of Victorian society too, in a range of ways. Discovering the lives of a number of these women in 19th century Christchurch – and our fascination with their ‘hidden’ lives – has led us to curate an exhibition: Women breaking the rules. You can see the physical display at Rewind at Ferrymead Heritage Park on Sunday 14 October, and also follow these women’s stories online via our Instagram exhibition @womenbreakingtherules.

Designed by A. Gibson.

But regardless of class, women were always defined in relation to the men in their life, whether father, brother or husband. So, being a spinster could be difficult and challenging. Much as we might not like it in this day in age, men provided often critical financial security for the women in their lives, particularly in a world where there was no pension or unemployment benefit, let alone a domestic purposes benefit. In fact, there was no state support of any kind in New Zealand until the end of the 19th century, and the poor were reliant on charities for support.

Unlike spinsters, widows seem to have had far more freedom and to have been more ‘respectable’ than unmarried women. While their situation might have been financially difficult, the range of jobs society approved of them taking on was broader than the range available for single women. And widows – as in some of the stories here – often ended up running their husband’s businesses, meaning they took on a variety of professions (Bishop 2012).

Women and work

Yes, women did work in the Victorian era! And not just as domestic servants – although this was far and way the most common occupation for women. In fact, some women ran businesses of their own. The jobs that women took on, though, and even many of the businesses they ran, tended to involve caring, or to be domestic in character. Jobs like teaching or nursing were both acceptable for middle class women (Bishop 2012).

Working class women could take on quite a range of work: dressmaker, needlework, hotelkeeping, storekeeping, confectionary, haberdashery, drapery and so on. Women could also earn money by taking in boarders, doing laundry or by looking after other women’s children. And let’s not ignore that they could be prostitutes. These were all ways of earning money that might fly under the radar and not be recorded officially (Bishop 2012).

Just relaxing under a tree, along with other women, working in the seaside or the countryside, riding a horse… working women and classy ones, all sort of women depicted through the artefacts! Image: J. Garland, C. Watson and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Telling women’s stories

As regular readers of the blog will know, researching the lives of most people who lived in 19th century New Zealand is tricky – official records can be patchy or may not even exist (Minchinton 2017). People only turned up in the newspapers if they were famous, got in trouble or were advertising for servants, leasing or selling properties. Unless someone has a really unusual name, you often can’t be certain you’re researching the right person.

Mary Portelli, the antithesis of the Victorian ideal, a woman in endless trouble! Images. Right: Star 29/05/1895: 3. Left: Southland Times 20/09/1906: 2.

Studying women’s lives is even harder. For one thing, they changed their surname when they married. Then, they were often referred to only as Mrs…, without their first name, or including their husband’s name instead – for example, Mrs L. J. Smith. Women who ran businesses often traded under their husband’s name, or didn’t advertise at all (Bishop 2012). And, in general, women’s activities meant they didn’t end up in the newspaper.

The branded china L. J. Smith – and presumably Elizabeth, L. J. Smith’s wife – used at events he organised as caterer. Image: C. Dickson.

Despite these difficulties, archaeology and history reveal the lives of six Christchurch women who, in one way or another, broke the rules of late 19th and early 20th century society: Fanny Cole, prohibitionist; Elizabeth Robinson, chemist; Sarah Gault, dressmaker; Elizabeth Smith, caterer; Caroline Rantin, timber and coal merchant; and Mary Portelli, woman in trouble.

There are no Māori women in this exhibition, unfortunately, because we’ve not found any record of Māori women living in 19th century Christchurch. This isn’t to say that they weren’t, just that we’ve not found them yet. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend checking out the book He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century.

Why are these women important?

These six women were not the only exceptional ones who broke the rules. It turns out that there were many more women pushing the boundaries of Victorian society than we initially expected. The six women we’ve featured in this exhibition serve to highlight the lives and occupations of all these women, along with their concerns and daily battles and how they struggled against what was accepted and respectable (Whiteside 2007), whilst working within the confines of the ideals of that time. But slowly, slowly, pushing these boundaries would come to change society as a whole. So, let’s look at the archaeology and the historical record and bring women into the picture!

This exhibition is a joint production between Underground Overground Archaeology and the Christchurch Archaeology Project.

Katharine Watson and Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References 

Bishop, Catherine, 2012. “Commerce Was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington.” PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Minchinton, Barbara, 2017. “’Prostitutes’ and ‘lodgers’ in Little Lon: construction a list of occupiers in nineteenth-century Melbourne”. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 35, pp. 64-70.

Whiteside, Heidi, 2017. “’We Shall Be Respectable’: Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttelton 1851-1893”. MA thesis, University of Canterbury.