Death and Taxes

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He is bed maker to the dead. The pillows which he lays never rumple. The day of interment is the theatre in which he displays the mysteries of this art.

Thomas Lamb 1811.

 

Nothing in this would can be certain except for death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin’s proverb was never more true than in the case of John C. Felton, a cabinet maker/undertaker from Rangiora who went bankrupt just before the turn of the 20th century. In fact, a site that I was working on recently was occupied by a string of undertakers who moonlighted as carpenters of some description during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The men in question – George Dale, John C. Felton, and J. M’Auliffe – left little evidence of their macabre craft behind, save a chisel and a few nails and bolts. But this was not unexpected – it isn’t often that we find artefacts which form an obvious link to a more ephemeral business like undertaking (we do find the odd ‘mummified’ cat underneath demolished houses, but that’s a bit different). In cases like these, we rely heavily on historic records of land ownership and newspaper reports to connect archaeological assemblages to their 19th century owners.

New Zealand Tablet 2/2/1894: 32

New Zealand Tablet  2/2/1894: 32

Despite the fact that humans have been dying for as long as they have been alive, ‘the undertaker’ is a relatively new profession. Before the mid-19th century the term ‘undertaker’ referred to anyone who undertook a task or enterprise, and the ‘laying out’ of a corpse in preparation for burial was a task generally carried out by female family members of the deceased, or by individuals with other nurturing roles, such as mid-wives. This role eventually transitioned into a male dominated one, in conjunction with the rise of the ideas of feminine sensibility and Victorian female respectability (Burrell 1998).

 

The profession developed as a part-time industry, associated largely with cabinet makers and carpenters, who used their skills to build coffins on the side – Dale and Felton were also both cabinet makers/carpenters – and because of the early undertaker’s associations with furniture dealing, these individuals were probably more familiar to their clients and neighbours as handymen rather than being associated exclusively with death. This early picture of the undertaker developed as populations and commercial specialisation grew – as a result, undertakers were able to dedicate all of their time and effort to the one profession (Burrell 1998). As mourners required evermore elaborate funerary displays, as characterised by the mourning obsessed Victorian era, livery men joined the funerary procession. This group of merchants acted as the suppliers of the horses and carriages to transport the deceased. This in turn gave rise to the hearse bearing undertaker (Polites 2011).

Typical turn of the century Brisbane undertaker (1902).

Typical turn of the century Brisbane undertaker (1902). Image: Polites 2011

All of this sounds relatively profitable, right?  Multifaceted business ventures in an industry which theoretically had a steady and very reliable stream of potential clientele – particularly as the world was still coming to grips with the concept of germ theory (Tremlett 2016)… But alas, John Courtney Felton went bankrupt nonetheless (Star 20/11/1899: 2). One can only speculate as to why his business was unsuccessful.

Figure 3. Hard times for the undertaker (New Zealand Herald 15/09/1923: 3)

Hard times for the undertaker (New Zealand Herald 15/09/1923: 3)

 

The same fate was not met by another notable 19th century Christchurch undertaker – a prosperous business man: Herman Franz Fuhrmann, who was German. We have met Herman Franz Fuhrmann on the blog before, and it’s possible that his business success could be related to the catchiness of his name – it sounds like it was just made for a jingle! – but regardless, he managed to expand his own undertaking and cabinet making business to include a saddler, branched out into insurance, and made a killing in the sale of the Molesworth station in Marlborough.

 

Figure 4. Rhyming makes ads cooler (Free Lance 29/03/1902: 21 ) - Is it just me or do the finials on this hearse look like shrunken heads on spikes to anyone else? Creepy!

Rhyming makes ads cooler (Free Lance 29/03/1902: 21 ) – Is it just me or do the finials on this hearse look like shrunken heads on spikes to anyone else? Creepy!

This more capitalist version of undertaking brings us a little closer to some of the more recent attitudes toward modern funerary directors. Exposés starting in the 1960s tackled the controversy of the idea of the modern undertaking and funeral industry as a profit-driven empire – making a commodity out of death, and manipulating mourning people at their most vulnerable (Mitford, 1983). This is a large and complex debate that won’t be covered here. No price lists were found for any of the undertaking services of Felton, Dale or M’Auliffe, and their advertisements and others like them from this era seemed to focus more on being sanitary, speedy and available on short notice.

 

M’Auliffe is the only one of the three undertakers in question who also advertises an embalming service (Press 3/07/1903: 8). The idea of embalming corpses (the science of preserving human remains intact, for the sanitation, presentation and preservation), can be traced to at least 5000-6000 BC and the Chinchorro culture in present day Chile and Peru (Brenner 2014). Modern embalming began in the 17th century but really didn’t take off until the American Civil War, which saw soldiers dying far from home and their families wishing their bodies to be returned home for burial. The long journeys presented the need to slow down decomposition, and led to injecting various solutions into arteries of a corpse to prevent this natural process (Chiappelli, 2008). During the 19th century, arsenic was the most favoured embalming fluid, although it was eventually replaced with less toxic chemicals in the 1900s. This occurred in order to alleviate growing concerns about ground contamination from buried embalmed bodies seeping into local water supplies – not to mention the possibility of homicide cover-ups in which any evidence of arsenic poisoning could be disguised by embalming fluid (Mettler 1890). Formaldehyde eventually replaced arsenic as the favourite solution and is still used today.

 

M’Auliffe’s multifaceted service also appeared to have run more successfully than his predecessor Felton’s, although he also had his share of hiccups. M’Auliffe may have been a funerary director who harboured a death wish, as he was charged with riding bicycle in the street in the dead of night without a light, and a mysterious fire broke out at his premises in 1912 (also in the middle of the night), destroying his house and workshop. Luckily, the property was insured (Star 21/10/1902: 3, North Otago Times 16/10/1912: 3). Dazzling reports described a scantily-clad Mrs M’Auliffe having to make her way to the ground by a rope fire escape, “with a three-year-old child clinging to her neck. Fortunately, before making her descent she had the presence of mind to throw down a mattress, otherwise the child, who let go its hold when eight or ten feet from the ground, might have met with injury” (Star 15/10/1912: 3). I can only imagine how creepy it would have been to witness the local funeral home or mortuary burning down at the start of the 20th century!

Here’s a picture of another enterprising dame escaping from a building via bedsheet rope- not the same incident, but you get the idea.

Here’s a picture of another enterprising dame escaping from a building via bedsheet rope- not the same incident, but you get the idea. Image: The Amateur Examiner

But even without the burning building, why do we generally find the concept of an undertaker creepy, particularly one from ‘olden times’? When I hear the word ‘undertaker’ or ‘mortician’, the picture of a solitary guy in black and white, with a bit of a mad scientist vibe comes to mind. Pop culture, through the horror novel and film industry, is probably largely to blame for the demonisation of the profession, but the concept of ostracising those who handle the dead is not a new one. It can also be explained by human desire and the need to survive by disassociating one’s self with dead bodies and death. The idea has been explored by acclaimed social anthropologists such as Bronislaw Malinowski, making reference to the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of 1793, where the townsmen charged free blacks with the responsibility for picking up the dead and then “shunned them as infected, vilified them as predatory” (Burrell 1998).

 

Well that brings me to the end of this undertaking… Until next time…

 

                                                                                                                                                                Chelsea Dickson.

 

 

References

 

Burrell, D. 1998. Origins of Undertaking: How antebellum merchants made death their business. Seminar in Early American History.

Brenner, E. 2014. “Human body preservation – old and new techniques.” Journal of Anatomy. Vol. 224: 316-344.

Chiappelli, J. 2008. “The Problem of Embalming”. Journal of Environmental Health 71 (5): 24.

Lamb. T. 1811. “On Burial Societies, and the Character of an Undertaker.” The Reflector: A Collection of Essays on Miscellaneous Subjects of Literature and Politics. Vol. 2. London: 1812. 143.

Free Lance. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Mettler, L. Harrison. “The Importance, from tire Medico-Legal Standpoint, of Distinguishing Between Somatic and Molecular Death.” Medico-Legal Journal 8 (1890): 172-79.

Mitford, J. 1983. American Way of Death. Fawcett.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

New Zealand Tablet. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

North Otago Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Polites, T., M. 2011. The Undertaker Undertakes [online] Available at: http://taylorpolites.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/undertaker-undertakes.html. [Accessed June 2016].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Tremlett, L. (2016). Medical Buildings and Medical Theory: An Archaeological Investigation of Ashburton Hospital, New Zealand. MA Thesis, University of Otago.

Odds and ends

A selection of recent discoveries for your perusal, complete with flippant commentary (as per usual). Enjoy!

cool plate thing

This rather dramatic pattern is called Andalusia and, as the name might suggest, features a Spanish scene with figures praying in the foreground and vignettes around the border. Someone has even helpfully coloured in the highlights with paint (a technique known as ‘clobbering’, an excellent term) to add to the drama of the whole thing. Image: C. Dickson.

lamp

The glass reservoir from an oil lamp, we think, made from bright cobalt blue glass. Quite the unusual artefact, this one. Image: G. Jackson.

dancing people

There are many possible captions to this image decorating the inside of a teacup. I’d like to think that they’re dancing, two people flitting their way across the room without a care in the world. Then again, she could also be about to faint (there is a slight sense of imbalance to her body language), as he prepares to catch her (there is also a sense of concern in his body language). You be the judge. Image: G. Jackson.

majolica

A majolica decorated dinner plate, a style that needs dark wood panelling and candle-lit interiors to properly appreciate the aesthetic, I think. Think great dark Gothic rooms with taxidermied decoration, high ceilings and undercurrents of tragedy. Image: G. Jackson.

floating temple

This pattern, known as ‘Grecian’, depicts what seems to be a floating building in the background and a temple precariously perched on a rocky precipice. European scenes like this one (and the Andalusia one above) were particularly popular during the mid-19th century, playing a ‘slightly exotic’ European counterpoint to the similarly popular scenes of British landscapes and architecture. Image: C. Dickson.

fell over

In which a person in a hat seems to have fallen over. Image: J. Garland.

water filter

This seemingly dull and utilitarian bit of ceramic is, in fact, the filter from a ceramic water filter, made by the firm of J. Lipscombe and Co., London. Ceramic water filters were an ingenious invention created in the 1830s in England to combat the water contamination problem they were facing. It worked by filtering water through a porous ceramic disc or filter, which removed the worst of the dirt and contaminants contained within. Incredibly, such filters are still used in some parts of the world today. Image: G. Jackson.

cool stoneware jar thing

Just a cool stoneware jar made by Hill and Jones, of Jewry Street, London. Image: J. Garland.

Curtis and co.

Curtis and Co. were Lyttelton based soda water manufacturers, in business from the mid-1890s until the early 20th century. We excavated the site of their aerated water factory recently, and found a number of their bottles in a variety of shapes and sizes. Image: J. Garland.

chamber pot

A chamber pot decorated with interesting architecture. Check out those crenellations. Image: J. Garland.

belt buckle

A brass belt buckle found in the central city. We’re unsure whether or not the 1866 impressed on the top line is an indication of date or simply a batch or manufacturer’s number. It would be great if it was the former. Image: C. Dickson.

tubes

And, lastly, tubes and pipettes and ampules and other instruments of scientific discovery. These are pretty cool and very rare, part of a much larger assemblage of similar objects that we’re looking forward to investigating. Image: J. Garland.

 

 

Anecdotes from the appraisalists

Call us appraisalists, historical researchers, or even cyber archaeologists. Most of our day consists of using a wide variety of historical material to pull together the histories of sites around Canterbury (and to make sure those archaeologists in the field are digging in the right spot). It is only a matter of time in the course of our research before we come across some unusual and quirky stories in Christchurch’s history. Some of these stories from the early times of Christchurch stay with us, and we are often heard exclaiming about some exploit of the early colonists in our office.

So today we thought we would share a couple of the not so successful exploits of the early settlers of Christchurch. We enjoyed the research and hope to post more of these stories later in the year (on a lighter note maybe?)

A poor remittance – the life and times of Horatio Parkes
Horatio John Parkes was the cousin of British diplomat based in China, Sir Henry (Harry) Parkes. Horatio was a ‘remittance man’ (Christchurch City Libraries 2016: 7–8). Those who were identified as receivers of a remittance were often immigrants to British colonies financially supported by family back home. Reasons for this support varied from those wishing to seek their fortune, establishing a base for family to follow, or safety from personal tribulations such as legal or family troubles. In Horatio’s case we think the latter applies as he was shipped out on one of the four first ships, the ‘Sir George Seymour’, in 1850. Horatio was supported by his cousin, and lived on a section purchased for him in Christchurch called the ‘Grange’. Part of this section would eventually be sold to the government for the ‘Roimata Settlement’ which now forms part of Woolston today (Christchurch City Libraries 2016: 7–8).

Horatio is first mentioned in the local papers in 1853 for escaping with his life in the swollen Selwyn River in 1853. Sadly, however, is also noted that the very expensive horse and dray that he was borrowing were swept away (Lyttelton Times 7/5/1853:6). Over the course of the next thirty years Horatio would appear in the local magistrate’s courts for drunkenness, a tussle in a pub, unlicensed dogs, and even supported a friend in court when his ducks were unlawfully shot (Lyttelton Times 25/2/1860:4; Star 27/1/1886:3; Press 29/7/1889:3).

It seems that for all intents and purposes Horatio was a good guy who, unlike some remittance men, wanted to live a simple quiet life. Unfortunately for him, his run of bad luck (and possibly bad decision making) all came to a head in 1897 with a tragic death and an arrest for murder!

‘The Woolston Homicide’ took place in January 1897. Michael (or Patrick, newspapers were conflicting in the name) Ryan had been released from gaol months prior with nowhere to stay. As the story goes, Horatio allowed Ryan to stay a couple of nights, but it seems that Ryan outstayed his welcome. It is noted in one newspaper that Ryan used to arrive home drunk and abusive. On the night in question, Ryan assaulted Horatio with an axe. Horatio then managed to wrangle the axe from Ryan and responded with two blows of the axe, killing Ryan. Horatio maintained it was self-defence and at the age of 71 was charged for murder and, later, manslaughter (Waikato Argus 23/1/1897:2; Star 22/1/1897:3; Timaru Herald 25/1/1897:3). The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide and the Grand Jury at the Supreme Court threw out the bill against him. Horatio died 25 June 1898, aged 73, and is buried in the Woolston cemetery (New Zealand, Cemetery Records [Woolston] 1898Star 27/6/1898:1). Not much was recorded after this incident, apart from the Public Trust and the settlement of his estate in 1898 (Press 16/7/1898:10).

So, just remember that tucked away somewhere in the suburb of Woolston is the site of an unfortunate murder of circumstance. It could be said that bad luck followed Horatio Parkes to the ends of earth, or maybe just the outer reaches of the British colonies.

Waikato Argus 23-1-1897 pg2

Figure 1. Waikato Argus 23/1/1897:2

The severed hand – a mysterious case
On 16 December 1885, the Godfrey brothers, Elisha and Frederick, discovered a severed hand whilst fishing at Taylors Mistake (Star 17/12/1885: 3). This discovery precipitated one of the most widely reported and sensationalised criminal cases in 19th century New Zealand. Inquest into the severed left hand began the following day, and the gold strap and buckle ring found upon one of the fingers identified the owner as Arthur Robert Howard (Press 18/12/1885).

It was reported that on 10 October 1885 Howard had gone for a swim at the Sumner beach and had drowned. His clothes were found neatly folded on the beach the following day (Evening Post 19/12/1885: 2). His wife, Mrs Sarah Howard, soon sought to make an insurance claim. However, the insurance companies were suspicious of a mechanic who earned £150 per annum but whose life was insured for £2,400. They refused to pay without proof of his death. Mrs Howard quickly advertised a £50 reward for the retrieval of his body (Figure 2).

$50 Reward

Figure 2. Star 13/10/1885: 2

Little was heard of the case again until two months later when the severed hand was discovered. The Sumner area was relentlessly searched for Howard’s body, all to no avail (Star 19/12/1885: 3). The police were soon suspicious of the convenient discovery of the hand. To begin with, the hand showed little of the signs of decomposition which would be expected for a hand floating in the ocean for nearly two months. When medical experts were brought in to examine the limb, little consensus could be met as to the cause of the hand’s severance. Some believed the hand showed signs of being severed by a shark, while others noted blows which looked to be created by a sharp instrument. Other examiners even questioned the sex of the hand, believing it to look quite feminine (Press 22/12/1885: 3). The gold ring found on one of the fingers had the letters “A. H.” engraved on the inside, further identifying Arthur Howard as its owner. However, when jewelers examined the ring, they noted that the rough burrs around the engraving indicated it was done within the last fortnight and, while done with a sharp instrument, it was not made with an engravers tool (Press 23/12/1885: 3). On 21 December Elisha and Frederick were arrested for conspiracy to defraud the insurance companies (Star 21/12/1885: 2). Mrs Howard’s arrest soon followed (West Coast Times 23/12/1885: 3).

The case was further sensationalised when the supposedly dead Mr Howard was arrested in Petone, just outside of Wellington on 4 January, 1886 (Press 5/1/1886: 3). Mr Howard’s story was soon uncovered. Following the faking of his own death in October 1885, Howard had removed to Waitapi in the Wairarapa district, where he worked on the Cameron’s station under the pseudonym of “Watts”. In December he moved to Wellington, where he donned a dark wig and mustache and went by the name of “John Watson” (Press 6/1/1886: 3). Howard also wore a black glove on his right hand, with gutta percha stuffed in the inside of the thumb to disguise the missing appendage he lost while fighting in Mexico (New Zealand Herald 8/1/1886: 5; Press 15/1/1886: 3). When Mr Howard was arrested his trunk was searched and a secret drawer containing a plethora of wigs and pigments to assist in forming disguises was found (Star 8/1/1886: 4).

On April 8, 1886, Mr and Mrs Howard, along with the Godley brothers, appeared before the supreme court in Christchurch. Arthur Howard was convicted of attempting insurance fraud. He received the maximum penalty of two years in jail. Mrs Howard and the Godleys, however, were acquitted (Press 8/04/1886: 2). Despite a number of graves being exhumed in in the Christchurch, Wairarapa and Wellington area, no handless body was found (Southland Times 22/1/1886: 2). The owner of the hand that was found on the beach remains unidentified to this day.

The story of the severed hand created a sensation throughout New Zealand. Companies jumped on the band wagon of the media hype and used the case as a means of advertising their products (Figure 3). People even complained that unless an article was headed “Severed Hand” no one would even read it (Star 18/1/1886: 3). Even before the case reached the supreme court, advertisements for a copy of “The Severed Hand: A full account of the Howard Mystery” appeared in the Star, complete with illustrations of all the conspirators (Star 29/1/1886: 2). This tale continues to intrigue readers today, with many readers still wondering whose hand it was…

point the finger

Figure 3. Star 21/1/1886: 2

Lydia Mearns and Annthalina Gibson

References

Ancestry, 2006-2016. [online] Available at www.ancestry.com.au.  

Christchurch City Libraries, 2016. Christchurch Street and Place Names. [online] Available at www.my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/christchurch-place-names/.

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

The world is your oyster – a tale of talking molluscs, bar brawls and Victorian vice…

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like oysters – they’re slimy, they look weird and they taste like the sea. So perhaps I was affected more than your average person when I recently had the task of analysing an assemblage of artefacts that provided an abundance of similarly decorated stoneware jars. These jars were all the same form, one which I had never come across before. A quick internet search determined that some collectors refer to these as ‘oyster jars’ – this was an unfamiliar term for me, and it piqued my curiosity. Further research revealed that the canning and pickling of oysters was a common enterprise in 19th century Canterbury and around the world!

DSC_5339 ed2

The stone ware jars. Image: C. Dickson.

Now, not being a fan of them, the idea of other people not only eating oysters, but eating old oysters, wasn’t appetising. But I looked at a few recipes online and, actually, the concept didn’t seem so bad – vinegar and cayenne pepper form a part of my regular diet…

Pickled Oysters recipe from 1884 – Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook.

Pickled Oysters recipe from 1884 – Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook.

Normally, it is difficult to determine the original contents of a vessel without manufacturer labels. In fact, jars and bottles with wide mouths like the ones from my assemblage may have been used to store or pickle any number of food or condiment varieties, or even viscous household items like glue or shoe polish. This being said, the large number of oyster shells that were found in the rubbish pit alongside the jars did suggest that these two items were related in this instance – and it is possible that the 19th century family that lived in the associated Rangiora house pickled their own oysters.

 A more common 19th century oyster jar shape.

A more common 19th century oyster jar shape.

The canning and preserving of oysters has taken place since 1850 (Hunt 2010), and oysters have been a commonly consumed fresh food resource here and around the world since ancient times – their consumption can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Chinese, and they are commonly found in early Māori rubbish deposits (referred to by Māori as tio). European industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries made these slippery morsels readily available to everyone and saw them become the great unifier – enjoyed by the wealthy and the poor. It was during this period that New York became the oyster capital of the world and it is said that in any day during this late 19th century, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along the New York harbour waterfront (Happillion 2016). The catch was sold to New Yorkers everywhere from street corners to high class restaurants and in every way imaginable – in the half shell, roasted and in stews.

So ingrained were oysters in 19th century popular culture they can be seen everywhere – we witness the lure of an oyster meal for both the working class and the upper class alike in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 The Walrus and the Carpenter poem, from Through the Looking Glass. In this classic children’s story, we see the overweight and well-dressed walrus swindle the hardworking carpenter out of his oyster meal, while tricking the unlucky and naïve oysters into taking part in a buffet where they’re on the menu. Perhaps not all of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland were based on nonsense?

An oyster buffet - before and after.

An oyster buffet – before and after. Image: Wikia and Classics Illustrated.

From the 1860s oysters were increasingly popular among European settlers in the colonies, and by the 1880s New Zealand joined the oyster craze with the emergence of the oyster saloon – otherwise known as the ‘oyster bar’, the ‘oyster house’ or the ‘raw bar’. Such establishments sought to offer the freshest and tastiest oysters available – generally claiming to provide fresh stock daily (New Zealand Tablet 7/8/1896: 14). Now this may not always have been the case – oysters were available locally in Christchurch and Lyttelton, but the ever popular Stewart Island beds were also supplying to Canterbury during this period (Star 17/4/1875: 1). It was during this time that Christchurch saw the emergence of several fine dining oyster options – Cashel Street’s Café De Paris provided not only the finest oysters night or day, but also quality beverages, operatic entertainment and a separate section for ladies. The establishment claimed to be ‘the best in the colony’ and its success lasted well into the 20th century.

Fresh! Press 10/3/1896: 1.

Fresh! Press 10/3/1896: 1.

At the opposite end of the etiquette scale, the more typical oyster saloon quickly became synonymous with drinking – being one of the only places to purchase cheap food late at night, as an accompaniment to beer. The phrase ‘red light’ district’ was derived from New York oyster bars, which put up red balloons to indicate that the oysters had arrived, and in London, the lighthouse building at King’s Cross flashed a beam from its turret (Smith 2015). Unsurprisingly, these establishments also developed a reputation as houses of vice – news reports from this era are frequently linked to crime –anything from publicans supplying liquor without licences (Press 2/11/1901: 7) and the use of obscene language (Star 27/7/1885: 3) to violent encounters between patrons – male and female (Press 15/7/1881: 2). There are even reports of violence between patrons and establishment owners – take this report for example: three individuals named Maloney, Larsen and Creasey (these names reminded us of some sort of gangster pantomime), got into an altercation with an oyster bar proprietor, who stabbed Maloney in the side and wounded his side-kick (Grey River Argus 26/5/1898: 4). Such reports are accompanied by letters from concerned Cantabrians, who write into the paper questioning the appropriateness of such establishments being located “under the shadow of the cathedral spire” (Star 14/3/1882: 2).

Oyster bar associated with gluttony? (New Zealand Herald 1/4/1939: 5).

Oyster bar associated with gluttony? (New Zealand Herald 1/4/1939: 5).

Further connections were made between the oyster’s aphrodisiac qualities and Victorian vice in the popular 19th century erotic magazine The Oyster, which was printed and distributed privately in London from 1883. This publication and its predecessor, The Pearl, were banned, and its author was prosecuted for the risqué content – which you can see for yourself did not consist of mere pictures of ladies’ ankles (reproductions of the issues are still available on Amazon. This is interesting stuff from before the times when science made the link between oysters being a food source high in zinc (which raises testosterone levels), as well as a source of rare amino acids that increase levels of sex hormones in men and women. Such nutritional values were also possibly known to 18th century Casanova – who reputedly consumed 50 oysters for breakfast daily, and claimed to have seduced 122 women. Or perhaps he was part of the tradition that saw oysters as an aphrodisiac due to their visual similarities with their form and that of the female anatomy…? (Schulman 2008).

Looking back further – Aphrodite (goddess of love and sex) was born from a mollusc shell and the ancient Roman physician, Galen of Pergamon, described oysters as aphrodisiacs because they were a food that was moist and warm… This being said, Galen said the same for all ‘windy’ foods (those which produce gas – if that’s what you’re into), and going even further back, Babylonians looking to increase sexual appetites bit the heads off partridges, ate their hearts and drank their blood, while the ancient Greeks dined on sparrow brains to produce a similar effect (Thring 2011; Camphausen 1999; Hoppe 2015). But I digress…

Aphrodite and her mollusk shell. Attic Red Figure, ca 370 - 360 BC, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Salonica, Italy.

Aphrodite and her mollusc shell. Attic Red Figure, ca 370 – 360 BC, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Salonica, Italy.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the reign of the humble yet hazardous oyster saloon was not to last. One can still frequent bars that specialise exclusively in oyster delicacies in cities larger than Christchurch, but over-consumption and the subsequent depletion of our local marine resources saw the end of the oyster as an abundant, ‘cheap and cheerful’ food source.  Our government began to intervene as early as 1866, with the Oyster Fisheries Act, which introduced licencing, a fishing season and the creation of artificial beds (New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18/8/1865).

As a result, oysters eventually claimed their modern status as a luxury item, to be afforded and consumed by the wealthy, or saved for special occasions. The basic idea of the oyster saloon itself evolved into what we now think of as the fish and chip shop, where we are provided with a bevy of convenient and inexpensive (and fried) seafood options. So the tradition isn’t completely dead… But maybe don’t start a bar fight on your next visit your local fish n’ chippy.

Chelsea Dickson

References

Anonymous 2016. The Oyster Vol. 1: The Victorian Underground Magazine of Erotica (online) Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Oyster-Vol-Victorian-Underground-Magazine-ebook/dp/B000MAH5H4.

Camphausen, R. C. 1999. The Encyclopaedia of Sacred Sexuality. Inner Traditions International, Rochester.

Grey River Argus. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016].

Happillion, C. 2016. The History of Oysters. [online] available at: http://theoystergourmet.com/the-story-of-oysters.

Hoppe, D. Aphrodisiacs in History. Diana Hope, M.D., INCS. [online] Available at: http://www.drdianahoppe.com/aphrodisiacs-in-history-part-1/

Hunt A., L. 2010. Fruits and Vegetables, Fish, and Oysters, Canning and Preserving. Nabu Press, Charleston.

Lincoln, M., J., B. 1884. Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book. Roberts Brothers. [online] Available at: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/books/mrslincoln/linc.pdf

New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18 August 1865 P326

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]

New Zealand Tablet. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]

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Talking treasure

Words. Words, words, words. Words[1].

We’ve been talking about words this week. Specifically, the words and phrases associated with archaeology (and heritage) in the public sphere that we – as a profession – can find problematic. Even more specifically, the use of the word ‘treasure’ to describe the things we find, especially when we’re talking about them in a non-archaeological context (like an exhibition).

Much of this conversation arose following the opening of the pop-up archaeology exhibition we’ve been involved with curating (created by the fantastic Heritage Rescue team, currently at The Commons in Christchurch, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am-4 pm, go and see it!). The exhibition is called ‘Buried Treasures’, which is both an excellent and evocative name for a display and a term that, from a purely archaeological perspective, has some troubling associations.

Our exhibition, thanks to the excellent people behind the Heritage Rescue TV show. Also, some excellent clouds. Everybody go and see it!

Our exhibition, thanks to the excellent people behind the Heritage Rescue TV show. Also, some excellent clouds. Everybody go and see it! Image: J. Garland.

Treasure immediately brings to mind several other words and meanings, many of which are not only inaccurate from our perspective, but potentially damaging to the archaeological record. In an attempt to make sense of what is, frankly, a somewhat circular and confusing topic we have once again turned to our friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Because everything makes more sense when it’s being said by talking animals. And Christopher Robin.

So let us go then, you and I, to where the evening is spread out against the sky (thanks T. S. Eliot) and our friends Owl, Tigger and Christopher Robin are once again embroiled in archaeological discussion. I’ll leave you in their capable hands….

It was a situation not dissimilar to this. Image:

Let’s just say that Christopher Robin’s behind the camera and Owl is lurking on a branch…

“Right,” says Owl, with purpose and no small amount of pomposity. “Treasure. I have thoughts. I have many thoughts.”

Tigger bounces in anticipation. Christopher Robin waits patiently.

“The heffalump[2] in the room is the immediate association with treasure hunting, which leads on to things like fossicking and site destruction. The thrill of adventure and discovery and all that. I think the biggest problem with a term like treasure, though, is the different perspectives on value that underpin the use of the word. We can all agree that treasure is something valuable, it’s just that definitions of valuable diverge.”

“Hmm,” says Tigger. “Even though that’s a perfectly cromulent–“

“Cromulent!” Owl hoots, rudely interrupting. “Good word.”

“–use of the word,” continues Tigger. “I think the heffalump[3] in the room is more that treasure brings to mind images of shining coins spilling out of chests and gold jewellery and the like.”

“Ah, yes,” says Owl. “Pirates and dragons and hoards of gold.”

The results of a Google image search for 'treasure.' Image: Google.

To be fair to Tigger, this is what you get from a Google image search for ‘treasure (for the record, the overall first result is a Bruno Mars song – I was not expecting that). Image: Google.

“Exactly,” says Tigger. “It makes me think of that film, National Treasure, where the treasure isn’t really the Declaration of Independence – a really significant historical document – but an actual roomful of gold and junk that they spent the whole movie looking for. In that movie, it’s the gold and statuary that’s most important and the priceless one-of-a kind dusty old piece of paper that’s just the means to an end.”

“That’s a terrible movie,” says Owl, darkly.

“But widely seen!” exclaims Tigger, standing strong against avian judgement. “So the message, whether or not it was intentional, was far reaching.”

Own continues to frown and exude cinematic outrage. It’s a skill.

“If you search for archaeological treasure on Google,” continues Tigger, blithely ignoring Owl, “the results are all sunken Spanish galleons, shipwrecks full of Blackbeard’s ill-gotten gains and Mycenean gold burial goods. It’s ALL gold and hoards and jewellery.”

“All things that fit a modern, capitalist definition of ‘valuable’ in the monetary sense,” says Christopher Robin, thoughtfully.

Again, this is what google thinks when you search for archaeology treasure. Image:

Again, this is what Google thinks when you search for “archaeology treasure”. Image: my computer screen. And Google.

“I wonder if we do that – that immediate, unconscious valuation of artefacts by economic means – because that’s the easiest and most obvious way for people to wrap their heads around the significance of something in today’s society,” says Tigger.

“I hope not,” says Owl. “That’s a depressing thought.”

“There’s a lack of understanding of the cultural value of heritage on its own,” continues Tigger, “so people turn to something they’re familiar with, which is monetary value. I’m biased, of course, but I do think that this is a problem. You don’t see it with natural heritage, though. People don’t look at a baby kiwi or the view from a mountain in a national park and wonder how much money it’s worth.”

“Not to be cynical,” says Owl, “but they kind of do. Especially with views. Real estate prices on the coast, anyone?”

Both Tigger and Christopher Robin make a face at that.

Just because. Image:

Just because. Image: Jesse Rhodes, Smithsonian Magazine.

“We do place value on archaeological objects,” muses Christopher Robin. “It’s just not necessarily value that has anything to do with money or gold.”

“Yes,” says Owl, emphatically. “From my perspective, the ‘treasure’ to be found through archaeology isn’t physical things, it’s the information they offer and the window into our heritage that they provide. Knowledge is treasure! That said, although ALL artefacts have value as sources of information – collectively and individually – there are some that we value more as physical objects than others, because they’re rare enough or cool enough that they help us share the excitement of what we do with everyone else. I still don’t put a price on them, though. It’s a use value rather than a currency value.”

“Does treasure have to have a monetary value?” asks Christopher Robin, slightly plaintively. “If we’re talking about children’s impressions of treasure, for example, is it always associated with monetary worth?”

“I think it does, for the most part,” replies Tigger. “Blame the dragons and pirates and treasure hoards.”

“There’s another popular meaning of the word, though,” says Owl, ponderously. “In the sense of something treasured, something with sentimental value.”

“That’s still a problematic meaning, from an archaeological perspective,” says Christopher Robin. “We – at least here in Christchurch – don’t really find things that were treasured like that. People look after their valuable possessions – both those of monetary and sentimental value.”

“Unless they’re lost or broken,” says Owl, with just a hint of melancholy. “Sometimes I think that should be our professional motto. ‘Archaeology: it’s all just lost and broken things.’ Sounds about right.”

Christopher Robin and Tigger pause, as they consider how to respond to that.

“Moving on,” says Christopher Robin, quickly. “What about the things of your own that you value? Would you call them treasures? I don’t think I would, simply because I relate the term to pirates and treasure hunting.”

“I wouldn’t either,” says Tigger. “Sentimental, sure, but not treasured.”

“There are things that I’d rescue in the event of a fire, or things that I might consider family heirlooms,” Christopher Robin continues, “but I’d never refer to them as treasures. Precious items, maybe.”

“Hmm,” says Owl. “I would never use precious, because I equate it with gemstones and Gollum. It’s just a different frame of reference.”

“This is the problem, isn’t it?” says Tigger. “It’s word association. We have to use terminology carefully – especially in science communication – where we want the word we’re using to match the meaning that people will think of when they hear it.”

“And with something like treasure, there’s a dissonance between the two,” agrees Owl.

Tigger continues, “I think, if you’re using a word in a different sense to the way most people will think of it, it’s probably not an effective word to use. Like, in some places in America, they use ‘space archaeology’ to refer to the study of spatial relationships between things – what sensible people call ‘spatial archaeology’ or ‘landscape archaeology. Space archaeology immediately conjures up images of moon landings and floating fields of historical debris around the planet and just sets people up for disappointment when they discover what it actually is.”

“Aha!” says Owl. “But if a word manages to excite and interest people in the topic at hand, even if it’s somewhat inaccurate, isn’t it still effective? Is it more important to make archaeology accessible and of interest to everybody than it is to use technically accurate terminology? Where do you draw the line?”

Christopher Robin nods. “I do wonder if we’re being precious about the term, or if we should just embrace it. Perhaps, through our use of the term, we’re also helping to show other people that these ordinary things are also a kind of treasure (and therefore worthy of protection and study).”

“And sharing our own valuation of those treasures,” adds Owl. “Because they are important and valuable, even if neither pirates nor dragons would think so.”

“So we take back the term?” asks Tigger. “Use it with clear emphasis on heritage values, on information potential, on treasures in the cultural sense?”

“I think so,” says Owl. “It does make the exhibition sound exciting[4].”

“The odd blog post explaining our thoughts on the topic can’t hurt either,” says Christopher Robin, pointedly.

“True,” says Owl. “I’ll get right on that.”

Winnie-the-pooh-characters-movie-photo-09-550x550

Owl, Christopher Robin and Tigger

[1] The more you write and/or say words, the weirder it is.

[2] “A heffalump! Did you hear that, Pooh! A heffalump!” Piglet can be heard saying excitedly in the distance.

[3] “There is it again, Piglet! It must be nearby. A heffalump, Piglet, a heffalump! Let’s go!”

[4] And it IS exciting. You should all go and see it.

Acknowledgements

A. A. Milne, of course.