Allons creuser! Let’s go digging!

Working in archaeology here in New Zealand we most often encounter the material remains of Māori settlement and colonisation by the British Empire in the 19th century. Groups such as the New Zealand Company and the Canterbury Association laid out the blueprint for the shape and style of British colonisation, particularly in urban centres. So the opportunity to examine a different cultural context in Canterbury using archaeological techniques doesn’t come along that often, and when it does we jump at the chance! This weekend the Underground Overground Archaeology team are heading out to Banks Peninsula to help the Akaroa Civic Trust record and preserve an important site related to the French colonial effort in New Zealand.

French Farm house. Image: Jan Cook.

French Farm house. Image: Jan Cook.

French Farm Bay is situated across the harbour from the town of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. Akaroa, the site of French settlement in the 1840s, is well known for its distinctly French character and several 19th century buildings still survive. In contrast the settlement at French Farm, once more populated than Akaroa, is now represented by a single structure. French Farm house was constructed in the early 1840s by the French navy. Its early date and unique context makes it a special site on Banks Peninsula. Archaeological recording techniques can be especially useful for this kind of site, combining meticulous examination of the built structure with an understanding of the surrounding landscape and the potential for below-ground archaeological remains.

Akaroa in 1866. Image: Buick 1928: 256.

In the 1830s Akaroa Harbour was a frequent stop-over point for European whaling ships.[1] In 1838 Jean François Langlois, the captain of a French vessel, acquired Banks Peninsula from some of the local Ngai Tahu chiefs. Returning to France he campaigned for the formation of the Nanto-Bordelaise Company for the purpose of establishing a French colony in the South Island. The company was given financial backing  by the French Government in the hope that it would help curb British expansion in the Pacific. And so in 1840, 59 colonists set out for New Zealand under the protection of the French navy.

Arriving at Banks Peninsula the French colonists discovered that the British had claimed sovereignty over the South Island under the Treaty of Waitangi, and their dreams of an independent French Colony were shattered. However, they decided to stay and the civilian settlement at Akaroa was established on the east side of the harbour.

 Figure 4. A French map of Akaroa Harbour in 1843. French Farm is shown on the west side of harbour, Akaroa (“Principal établissement français”) on the east side, and English, French and Māori settlement around the harbour

A French map of Akaroa Harbour in 1843. French Farm is shown on the west side of harbour, Akaroa (“Principal établissement français”) on the east side, and English, French and Māori settlement around the harbour.

At the outset of the expedition the French government had agreed that the navy would help to feed the colonists until their settlement was self-sustaining. The Nanto-Bordelaise Company purchased 300 acres in French Farm Bay for use as a farm. Approximately 16 sailors were sent by the navy to clear the land for cultivation. Potatoes, beetroot, cabbages, trees, vines and barley were all planted, and livestock was purchased from Hobart to supplement the farm’s crops. By 1843 the farm had buildings for housing and storage, and a jetty and roads had been constructed. At this time the farm settlement had grown to outnumber Akaroa, with around 150 French naval officers engaged in farm work and scientific research (NZHPT 2007). One of these men recorded details of the farm’s buildings in a letter home. He noted that the farm consisted of two large huts (one for housing crew and the other for an observatory) and 8-10 smaller houses for the officers. French Farm house is probably one of the officers’ residences mentioned in this letter.

French Farm house is the only surviving building in New Zealand built by the French navy. An architectural examination of the building has suggested that it was constructed using a technique known as poteaux en terre, meaning “post-in-ground” (Bowman 2007). This technique was commonly used by French colonists in Canada and the United States of America in the 17 and 18th centuries. Other aspects of the house, such as the use of plain weatherboards, are evocative of 19th century farm buildings in Normandy. Part of our focus this weekend will be examining the construction of French Farm house using buildings archaeology methods. This will allow us to further explore unique building techniques and consider them within their cultural and historical context.

Detail of poteaux en terre construction at Vital St Gemme Beavais house in Missouri, built in 1785. Image: Marsh 1985.

In 1846 the French navy left Banks Peninsula and the farm was entrusted to Emeri de Malmanche, one of the original French settlers. However, in 1849 the Nanto-Bordelaise Company’s interests were purchased by the New Zealand Company and in 1850 the Canterbury Association included the farm in Rural Section 100 of their survey. The section was sold to Joseph Dicken, a settler from Staffordshire. Over the years French Farm was used for dairy farming, timber milling and even a private boy’s school. French Farm house was probably occupied as a residence until c. 1900, and today it is the only structure from the once bustling naval settlement to survive.

This weekend we will be examining and recording the French Farm house and surrounding site using archaeological techniques. We will be posting photographs and videos of our work on the Underground Overground Archaeology facebook page, so check it out if you’re interested in the work we’re doing at this fascinating and important site.

References

Akaroa Civic Trust, n.d. Langlois-Eteveneux House (Museum) [photograph]. [online] Available at: http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/264. Accessed July 2014.

Anon, 1843. Croquis de la baie d’Akaroa. – Nouvel Zelande. [map]. In: “Les Europeens a la Nouvelle Zealande”, Le Magasin Pittoresque, XI, 47 (November 1843), p. 376. [online] Available at: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k31426m/f380.image.r=Nouvelle-Zelande.langEN. Accessed March 2014.

Bowman, I., 2007. Conservation plan: French Farm house. Unpublished report.

Buick, T. L., 1928. The French at Akaroa. Wellington: New Zealand Book Depot.

Marsh, J. Q., 1985. Drawing of Poteaux-en-Terre in the Beauvais House in Ste Genevieve MO [drawing]. Historic American Buildings Survey; Record MO-1121. [Online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_in_ground#mediaviewer/File:Drawing_of_Poteaux-en-Terre_in_the_Beauvais_House_in_Ste_Genevieve_MO.png. Accessed July 2014.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 2007. French Farm House, French Farm Bay, Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury: registration report. Unpublished report.

[1]This history of French Farm is summarised from Bowen 2007 unless otherwise stated.

 

Frequently asked questions #1

Training and working as an archaeologist can be an interesting experience, not just because of the work we do, but thanks to the preconceptions and opinions of the people around us. Like so many other professions, archaeology is an extremely broad field of work and study, encompassing all manner of skills, time periods and subject matters. It’s also one that is misrepresented enough in the media that people often have a skewed notion of what it is that we actually do.

So, this week on the blog, we thought we’d have a go at answering some of the more frequently asked questions that have been posed to those of us working here in New Zealand. It will be the first of a couple of posts, since, as it turns out, there are quite a few questions we face on a regular basis.

We’ll start with the big ones:

1)      You’re an archaeologist? Like Indiana Jones*¹?

Actually, no. Not really like him at all. There have been many, many discussions of this in popular culture over the years (including this memorable letter). It’s generally agreed that Indiana Jones is a terrible archaeologist and most archaeologists would make a terrible, and very probably dead, Indiana Jones. The main differences are in comparative methods and objectives: archaeology is ultimately about understanding people in the past, collectively and individually, through ALL the physical traces they leave behind, while Indiana Jones is about the finding and collection of precious objects with little regard for their surrounding context.

Actual archaeology: less whips, pistols and mystical artefacts and more just a whole lot of digging. Image: H. Williams.

Actual archaeology: less whips, pistols and mystical artefacts and more just a whole lot of digging and recording. Image: H. Williams.

2)      That’s so cool! What’s your favourite dinosaur?*²

Similar questions to this include, “Were there many dinosaurs in New Zealand?”, “Oh, cool, like Ross from friends?” and “Found any dinosaur bones lately?”

As many of you will know, palaeontology and archaeology, while they do share some methods and a predilection for physical remnants of the past, are not the same thing. Put very simply, archaeologists focus on the human past, while palaeontologists work with fossils, including dinosaurs, from the more distant past.

Although, it should be noted that the difference between our professions doesn’t mean that archaeologists dislike dinosaurs. My favourite is Archaeopteryx, for the record, followed by actually-not-a-dinosaur Quetzalcoatlus.  A quick survey of the rest of the office tells me that archaeologists are fans of Triceratops, Velociraptor, Saurolophus, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, Deinonychus and also-not-a-dinosaur Megalodon.

T-Rex: not the purview of archaeologists, but still awesome. Image:

T-Rex: not the purview of archaeologists, but still awesome. Image: David Monniaux

3)      Archaeology? That’s like rocks and pyramids and stuff, right?

Er, sort of. There’s a bit more to it, really. As those of you who read this blog regularly will know, archaeology is far more varied and complex than just pyramids and rocks. Egyptology is just one small part of our profession and rocks (usually stone tools) are just one of the materials we deal with.

It’s one of my favourite things about archaeology, actually: that it covers all of human history, and thus anything and everything that people have done in the past, be it constructing massive monuments to gods and kings, making important advances in industrial technology, or figuring out how to make better toothbrushes. The infinite variety to be found in people, past and present, will never ever cease to amaze me.

Some of the artefacts found in Christchurch this year. Less pyramids and rocks and more remnants of everyday life. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the artefacts found in Christchurch this year. Less pyramids and rocks and more remnants of everyday life. Image: J. Garland.

4)      What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever found?

Variations on this include, “have you ever found treasure?”, “found any gold?” and “what’s the oldest thing you’ve ever found?”

I’d say that this is probably the question we hear the most. The problem with answering it is that in the course of their careers, most archaeologists will have found a LOT of things, many of which are cool and interesting. Picking just one can be a bit like asking someone to choose their favourite dinosaur (see what I did there?). It’s made even more difficult to answer by the fact that what is amazing to us is not always amazing to other people. The explanation of why an otherwise unremarkable object (like a brick, or a sherd of pottery) is so interesting is usually far longer and much, much, drier than the questioner wanted.

It may not help that, in my experience, this question is usually asked in bars or in the small-talk associated with first meeting someone. Very few people want to hear about the socio-cultural implications of changes in brickmaking in the 19th century in that situation. Or that most of the artefacts we deal with in Christchurch are less than 160 years old and we pretty much never find gold.

As a result, some of us may or may not have taken to answering this question with “a unicorn skull.” Another quick survey of the office suggests that other answers may include “a harmonium”, “a crystal skull”, “lots of stuff”,  “this [insert object] that someone else actually found but I am pretending that I found for the sake of this conversation” and the phrase “well, it depends…”

Moving on to more serious matters…

5)      There’s not that much archaeology in New Zealand though, is there?*

This is one of the more frequent questions asked here in New Zealand and it can be a little dispiriting to be reminded of how many people don’t realise what a rich, interesting and unique archaeological record we have in this country.

From the very first Polynesian settlers, arriving here c. 1300 AD (Jacomb et al. 2014), through to the most recent periods of immigration and settlement, New Zealand has a fascinating and globally significant archaeological record. It may be short, compared to other places in the world (such as our neighbour, Australia), but that lack of time depth is part of what makes it interesting. Archaeologists have used our relatively condensed archaeological record to look at the impact of human settlement on the environment, to better understand patterns of settlement, migration and  trade, motivations for warfare, the processes of social and cultural change, and how people adapt to new social and physical environments (among many, many other things).

Excavations at a 14th century archaeological site in the Catlins. Image: K. Webb.

Excavations at a 14th-16th century archaeological site in the Catlins. Image: K. Webb.

Archaeology in New Zealand is protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, which “defines an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand” (Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga 2014). The modification or destruction of any such site, which includes standing structures, requires the permission of Heritage New Zealand, and usually involves one or more archaeologists recording and salvaging any archaeological features or material found during that process.

As those of you who follow our work here in Christchurch will have realised, this means that there is in fact a lot of archaeology in New Zealand. Even more than that, the wide scope of the work that is being carried out throughout the country has huge potential to add to our understanding of people in the past and their influence on the world around them.

6)      Who pays for all that?

Simplified, there are two main types of archaeological work undertaken in New Zealand: research archaeology, or those investigations carried out by the universities and/or independent researchers, and cultural resource management, carried out by consulting or contracted archaeologists in response to the modification or destruction of sites, as governed by the 2014 act. As a result, there are different methods of paying for that work.

Research archaeology is usually funded through the universities themselves or through research grants such as those provided by the Marsden Fund. Cultural resource management archaeology functions as a ‘polluter pays’ system, in which the authority holder covers the cost of recording and salvaging the archaeological information being lost through the modification or destruction of an archaeological site.

Cultural heritage management archaeology in Christchurch. Image: M. Carter.

Cultural heritage management archaeology in Christchurch. Image: M. Carter.

7)      Huh. Why? What’s the point?

To put it simply? Because our heritage is important. Because understanding where and who and what we’ve come from, as individuals, as a society, as a culture and as a country, is invaluable in understanding where we are now and where we may be in the future.  Because future generations deserve the opportunity to explore that heritage for themselves without wondering why we didn’t do more to save it for them. Because the actions and creations and lives of the people who’ve gone before us deserve to be remembered. Because there are things we learn from the archaeological record that we can’t learn any other way. Because archaeology allows us to expand our horizons, to catch a glimpse of people and places that are so different to our own, yet linked to us through time and across cultures thanks to the things that they left behind.

Because, ultimately, people are important, and at its heart, archaeology is all about people.

 Jessie Garland

*¹ Less frequently, Indiana Jones may be switched out for Lara Croft.
Apparently, palaeontologists often get the same question in reverse and have responded with t-shirts.

 

References

Jacomb, C., Holdaway, R.N., Allentoft, M.E., Bunce, M., Oskam, C.L., Walter,
R., Brooks, E., 2014. High-precision dating and ancient DNA profiling of moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) eggshell documents a complex feature at Wairau Bar and refines the chronology of New Zealand settlement by Polynesians. In Journal of Archaeological Science (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2014.05.023. [online] Available at www.sciencedirect.com

Peeling back the onion of time

Recording standing structures not only involves architectural drawings and photography, but can also be quite destructive. In an attempt to modernise an old house owners will often cover “old fashioned” features with new materials, plasterboard being the chief culprit. So, during building recording part of our job often involves removing these modern linings (by any means necessary) to reveal the fabrics beneath, going back in time to see what the building was like originally. And, as you can imagine, taking to a wall with a hammer and crowbar is also good for stress relief.

Through extensive use of the notorious hardboard previous owners of this house had gone to great lengths to cover nearly every inch of original decoration inside the house in order to cut down on the weekly chore of dusting.

Through extensive use of the notorious hardboard previous owners of this house had gone to great lengths to cover nearly every inch of original decoration in the house. Every moulded shirting board, architrave and door panel was covered.

Every moulded skirting board, architrave and door panel in the house was covered with hardboard. Photo: K. Webb.

  Hardboard was used on the exterior of the house too. To cover up weatherboards and this decorative cast iron frieze along the top of the veranda.

Hardboard was used on the exterior of the house too. To cover up weatherboards and this decorative cast iron frieze along the top of the veranda. Photo: K. Webb.

Extensive investigation of the kitchen uncovered this finely moulded paper mache dado. This is the only example found so far of this product in Christchurch.

Extensive investigation in the kitchen uncovered this finely moulded paper mache dado. This is the only example of this product found so far in Christchurch. Photo: K. Webb.

Plasterboard and other modern wall linings sometimes have their merits though. They often have the unintended function of doing a really good job of preserving what is beneath it, particularly wallpaper.

wallpaper-layers

Wallpaper is usually found in multiple layers with a backing of scrim. It is sometimes possible to separate the layers right back to the original wallpaper, as long as no one has painted over it of course. Photo: L. Tremlett.

newspaper-wall-lining

We may even get a pleasant surprise when we get to the bottom layer. If there was not much money available for decorating, or for extra draft protection, people would often line their walls with newspaper. Photo: L. Tremlett.

This hand written note was found adhered to the tongue and groove match lining of a cottage in Lyttelton.

This hand written note was found adhered to the tongue and groove match lining of a cottage in Lyttelton. It was well preserved beneath a layer of scrim and plasterboard. It gives details of the sailing of the S. S. Grafton from Hokitika in (we think) 1880. What it was doing stuck in the middle of the front room wall of a cottage is a mystery. Photo: J. Garland

Digging deeper into the fabric of a building one may come across some interesting and sometimes, perhaps, elusive objects inside the walls and under the floors.

This book published by the Scottish Temperance movement in 1877 was found behind the tongue and groove lining in a house in Ashburton.

This book entitled Three Years in a Man-Trap published by the Scottish Temperance League in 1877 was found behind the tongue and groove lining in a house in Ashburton. In this case the books were used as a filler, instead of strips of wood, to even up the gap between the match lining and wall. Photo: J. Garland, H. Williams.

Quite often shoes are found concealed beneath the floors of houses.

Shoes are often found concealed beneath the floors of houses in Christchurch. During the 19th century in Britain and some European countries it was a common custom to conceal shoes within the fabric of the building as magical charms to protect the occupants of the building agains evil influences such as witches and ghosts. We can’t say for sure if this was always the case in Christchurch. Photo: K. Webb

We quite often find other items under the floors of houses, such as animal bones, bottles and other domestic rubbish, as well as the odd mummified cat. These items were most likely not deposited under the house for superstitious reasons, we hope. The cats are later given a proper burial.

This cane riding crop was found beneath the floor of the house of John Cracroft Wilson.

This cane riding crop was found beneath the floor of the house of John Cracroft Wilson. Image: I. Hill.

Beyond the superficial appearance of a structure there is a lot we can learn by quite literally peeling back the layers of a building, or excavating it, if you will. Buildings like these can be more than just houses once lived in. There’s history written in the walls, from the changing tastes in interior decoration to things intentionally hidden, covered up or accidentally lost. Whatever the reasons for these hidden bits and pieces, be they mundane, superstitious or inexplicable, they show us that it’s always worth looking beyond the surface of a building to find the treasures within.

Kirsa Webb

In which goats frolic, pipes masquerade as baskets and camels do whatever it is that camels do.

Taking a break from our recent musings on society, smells and legacies, this week’s post features another selection of artefacts from the archives. All of these were found on the same site in Christchurch’s central business district over the last few weeks. Enjoy!

Glass lamp

How lovely is this? It’s the (nearly complete) base from a finger lamp. It would have originally had a glass chimney on the top, attached with a copper/brass fitting or burner, looking a bit like this. Image: J. Garland.

Plate with ... pattern

Saucer decorated with scenic pattern, Geneva, similar to the Lucerne patterned plate we featured a few weeks ago. Image: J. Garland.

Marble

A large glass marble, with swirl of coloured glass inside. Image: J. Garland.

DSC_4705ed1

The fragments of another children’s plate, similar to others that we’ve found. Image: J. Garland.

Goats!

Goats! Frolicking! This pattern is, aptly enough, titled “Goat” and seems to be associated with Scottish pottery manufacturer James Jamieson & Co and the Bo’ness (Barrowstouness) Pottery in the Central Lowlands (1829-1855). Image: J. Garland.

And camels!

And camels! Image: J. Garland.

Some patterned pipe bowls, including two with a 'basket weave' motif.

Some patterned pipe bowls, including two with a ‘basket weave’ motif. Image: J. Garland.

A ceramic egg. Eggs like this were used to encourage hens to lay in the nest, rather than elsewhere. Image: J. Garland.

A ceramic egg. Eggs like this were used to encourage hens to lay in the nest, rather than elsewhere. Image: J. Garland.

A small porcelain figurine, tragically missing it's head. Image: J. Garland.

A small porcelain figurine, tragically missing its head. Image: J. Garland.

 

“Today, tomorrow, Timaru”: souvenirs of early tourism in New Zealand

The idea of a ‘souvenir’, as a physical keepsake of a place or event, is not a new concept. It’s been around for as long as people have been bringing home exotic treasures from far-off lands, or trying to preserve the memory of past events in physical objects. From the explorers of the distant past, to the ‘grand tourists’ of more recent times, people have taken the material culture of the world and turned it into tangible tokens of personal experiences. It’s a quintessentially human trait and one that, I think, ties into the overall tendency of people to hold onto what has gone before.

Over the last few years in Christchurch, we’ve found a multitude of artefacts from other places, many of which may have been souvenirs of past experiences, people or events to their owners. There are two, however, that stand out, not because they may have been treated as keepsakes, but because they seem to have been intended as such.

Souvenir cups found in Christchurch. Images: G. Jackson & Underground Overground Archaeology Ltd.

Souvenir cups found in Christchurch. Images: G. Jackson & Underground Overground Archaeology Ltd.

Both are cups and both are decorated with reference to places: one with the words ‘A Present from Timaru’ and one with an image of the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch. The latter has to have been made after the construction of that bridge in 1923, and objects matching the description of our Timaru cup were being advertised in the Timaru Herald in the early 1900s (Timaru Herald 13/7/1901: 1). The fact that both cups reference a place suggest that they were intended as travel souvenirs, keepsakes of visits to Timaru and Christchurch and, in the current age of global tourism and mass produced mementos, it’s easy to make that connection. Today, souvenirs are inextricably linked with travel, especially travel for leisure.

Advertisements for souvenirs from Timaru and Oamaru. Images: North Otago Times 6/1/1893: 2, Timaru Herald 13/7/1901: 1.

Advertisements for souvenirs from Timaru and Oamaru. Images: North Otago Times 6/1/1893: 2, Timaru Herald 13/7/1901: 1.

However, it wasn’t always so. For much of the 19th century, souvenirs were linked with events – with commemoration – rather than with anything approaching tourism. Newspapers of the 19th and early 20th century are filled with accounts of souvenir hunters, waiting eagerly at bridge openings to snag some of the ribbon, or casing the venue of a royal or dignitary’s visit to find a keepsake (New Zealand Herald 29/4/1910: 4; Te Puke Times 11/06/1920: 2). There are occasional descriptions of people returning from elsewhere with souvenirs, but they are almost always gifts, not purchases or acquisitions (Bruce Herald 3/6/1868: 4). A memorable exception to this is the party of townsmen who returned to Oamaru with a couple of boulders from Moeraki (or the ‘Devil’s Foundry’, as they referred to it; North Otago Times 17/8/1865:2).

Consequently, the fact that our cups, especially the ‘Present from Timaru’, appear to have been made to be souvenirs of travel is one that raises some interesting questions about the emergence of a souvenir culture and the greater framework of tourism, or travel for leisure, in New Zealand. Especially as it is such a key part of our national identity in the present day.

As we have mentioned many, many times here on the blog, the 19th century was a period of increasing global exploration and travel. The European settlement of New Zealand is itself evidence of that, but that long distance colonisation was accompanied and followed by increasingly regular travel between and within the northern and southern hemispheres. Much of this travel was commercial in nature, centred around international trade, politics, personal health and, to a degree, professional advances. Yet, tourism – travel for leisure – in the sense that we think of it today remained very much the province of the elite, who could afford both the time and the expense (McClure 2004: 79-80).

It wasn’t really under the late 19th (1880s onwards) and early 20th century that traveling for the sake of travel, the notion of going to see a place rather than visit a person, took off. In New Zealand, much of that very early ‘tourism’ seems to have been associated with the natural appeals of the country (much as it is today). The 1880s saw increasing numbers of mountaineers and tourists in and around Mt Cook, for example, leading to the construction of the Hermitage in 1884. Similarly, the Pink and White Terraces saw numerous tourist visits prior to their destruction in 1886, one of our first (and, perhaps, greatest) examples of a natural tourist attraction (McClure 2004: 79-80).

The stunning vista of Mt Cook, a prime spot for adventure tourism even in the 19th century. Image: C. M. Lynch.

The stunning vista of Mt Cook, a prime spot for adventure tourism even in the 19th century. Image: C. M. Lynch.

It can be difficult to determine from the available evidence, but travel between cities – urban tourism, if you will – is not referenced nearly as much. Don’t get me wrong, people were travelling between towns and villages from the earliest years of European settlement, but for different reasons and with different levels of comfort. Before the construction of the railway between Timaru and Christchurch, for example, travel between the two towns took the form of a sea voyage from Lyttelton or an overland carriage journey of 16 hours or more, often in bad weather and uncomfortable conditions. One description of the overland trip, written in the 1860s, calls it an “alarming undertaking”, greatly fatiguing “even for gentlemen” (Garner and Foster 2011: 90). It seems to have been a journey undertaken only when necessity called for it, rather than because a person simply wanted to. Even after the construction of the railway between the two settlements in the 1860s, the kind of travel that we now consider tourism – the kind that establishes a demand for souvenirs – still doesn’t appear to have been commonplace. Not until much later in the century, at least.

Early 20th century image of Stafford Street, Timaru. Image: Progress 1/7/1907: 338

Early 20th century image of Stafford Street, Timaru. Image: Progress 1/7/1907: 338

There are a number of interesting questions to be asked here, not least among them how and why our society shifted from viewing travel as a means to an end and starting viewing it as an end in and of itself. It’s a shift in perspective that seems to be tied up with a number of other changes in society as a whole. Among them is the the gradual transition from a society in which leisure is a luxury of the elite to the one we have now, where it can be considered a necessary part (a basic right, even) of ordinary life for everyone.

Souvenirs themselves are quite the contrast in meaning, as mass-manufactured objects that are simultaneously uniquely personal mementos. They’re also part of another shift in social perspective, I think, from a largely practical material culture, to the more frivolous form of consumerism found in the present day. They may take the form of practical objects, like our cups, but souvenirs are usually bought to be tokens of memory, not because they’re useful. There’s an element of display inherent in their purchase as well, which raises all kinds of interesting ideas regarding how souvenirs of travel are used in the modern world to project a certain image (this sparked a conversation in the office this morning about the hierarchies of travellers, from backpackers to luxury holiday-makers and how we judge people based on the kinds of things they bring back from trips).

Souvenirs from around the world. What do yours say about you? Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Souvenirs from around the world. What do yours say about you? Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sadly, the discussion that these questions deserve is way beyond the scope of this particular blog post, but it’s certainly something to think about the next time you buy a souvenir or travel just to see something new in the comfort of modern transportation.

“I well remember one of my companions laughingly alluding to the time when our great-grandchildren, a hundred years thence, would be steaming over the plains, lolling back in a comfortable railway carriage, and wondering what sort of men their great-grandfathers could have been to have lived and laboured contentedly in a land without such a convenient means of getting about the country.”  – Alfred Cox, 1884.

Jessie Garland

References

Bruce Herald. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Cox, A., 1884. Recollections: Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand. Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch.

Garner, J. and Foster, K. (eds), 2011. Letters to Grace: writing home from colonial New Zealand. Canterbury University Press, Canterbury.

McClure, M., 2004. The Wonder Country: Making New Zealand tourism. Auckland University Press, Auckland.

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

North Otago Times. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Te Puke Times. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Timaru Herald. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz