On the right track: tramways archaeology in Christchurch

How did people get around Christchurch in the 19th century? People certainly walked, or rode, perhaps on a horse, or in a wheeled vehicle pulled by a horse, such as a dray, gig, hackney, or hansom. And let’s not forget that by the later 19th century many people were certainly racing around on bicycles . From early 1880 however, the people of Christchurch were given the option of travelling by tram. During the course of horizontal infrastructure rebuild we have come across lots of old tram lines, and in the process have become tramways archaeologists.

Trains versus trams

What’s the difference between a train and a tram? Both are flange wheeled vehicles that operate atop a permanent way  of iron rail: mostly it’s a question of scale. Trains are a heavy rail transportation system and trams are a light rail transportation system. Trains run on specially built lines that are always separate from other traffic, whereas trams run along lines (called tramways) that are built into public roads, a space they have to share with other traffic.

All the rage across the world in the 19th century, once trams finally arrived in Christchurch they proved to be a big hit. Before the Christchurch Tramway Board was formed in 1903 to municipalise, modernise, and electrify the network (the first electric trams ran in 1905), the tramways of 19th century Christchurch were owned and operated by private companies. The Canterbury Tramway Company was the first of these: formed in 1878, it opened its first passenger service in March 1880, and by the end of 1888 had 17 miles (more than 27 kilometres) of tramway in operation (Alexander 1985: 8).

Off the rails: rail types

Three different types of iron rail were used in the 19th century to carry Christchurch trams. Thin flat grooved rails were used in the early years – these were attached to longitudinal timber beams fastened to timber sleepers. This first type of rail (not surprisingly) wasn’t very robust – it cracked along the inside of the groove, and was soon replaced with other rail types (Anderson 1985: 29). Loubat’s grooved tramrail proved to be the best choice: with the flanges of the tram wheels running safely within the groove or ‘flangeway’ of the upper surface of the rail, Loubat’s rail could be easily set flush into the road surface where they didn’t pose such a hazard to other road users (except possibly unfortunate cyclists with narrow tires).

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The three different types of rail that carried Christchurch trams in the 19th century. From left to right: the early flat grooved rail used by the Canterbury Tramway company, the flat bottomed Vignoles rail, and the Loubat grooved tram rail. Image: Anderson 1985: 29.

Mostly we have found Loubat’s grooved tramway rail in situ below Christchurch’s roads, though all the examples we have found so far have been associated with 20th century electric trams.

With the transition to electric trams all the tramlines of the private companies had to be replaced. Although the new electrics were of the standard gauge like their steam and horse powered predecessors, most of the tramlines were in poor condition, and the rail was too light to handle the much heavier electric tramcars, so had to be dug up and replaced. The standard method of tramway formation in the electric era involved bedding the sleepers on compacted shingle, and fixing the rails with big spike nails (Alexander 1986: 52). A good example of this was uncovered in 2012 on North Avon Road – you can read all about it here. From the 1920s this method was improved, with concrete being used instead of compacted shingle. Last week I spotted a fine example of this in the side of a sewer trench crossing Colombo Street.

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An improved concrete tramway foundation of the 1920s period, as exposed in the side of a sewer trench crossing Colombo Street. It had some fine steel mesh reinforcing at a lower level. Image: H. Williams.

A later method involved completely embedding the rail in reinforced concrete (Alexander 1993: 78-79). We have come across lots of this type of tramway in the central city, just below the road surface. It’s easy to see why these tramways were simply covered over after the last of the trams stopped running in 1954, as removing them is lots of hard work!

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A 20th century reinforced concrete tramway foundation, with the embedded Loubat grooved rail still in situ. Colombo Street, Sydenham. Image: H. Williams.

The tramway on Tuam Street

We have found the remnants of only one 19th century tramway. This was on Tuam Street, and formed part of the Canterbury Tramway Company’s Addington line, which opened to the public on 5 January 1882 (Star 5/1/1882: 2). Unlike most of the other 19th century tram routes, when the tramway network was electrified the Addington route was slightly altered, and Tuam Street bypassed. Because of this, remains of this 19th century tramline survived, unlike the lines of other routes that were dug up and relaid.

At three different locations on Tuam Street we found timber tramway sleepers, but sadly no rail. Presumably the well-worn rail was removed and scrapped, but it may have found another use. On Main Road near McCormacks Bay last year we looked at a trio of Vignoles rails exposed during road widening works. These had been embedded vertically in the ground, to support part of the seawall. We guess that these old rails had once been part of the adjacent roadway, where they carried the Sumner tram.

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An alignment of old Vignoles type tram rails exposed on Main Road, McCormacks Bay during road widening works in February 2015. Image: H. Williams.

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Close up of one of the well-worn and salt-spray corroded Vignoles type tram rails used to support the sea wall. The height of the rail is 116 mm, and you can see that the upper surface is well worn from contact with the tram wheel. Image: H. Williams.

Most of the sleepers of the Addington line had been removed; in over 300 metres of trenching on Tuam Street we found just eight sleepers, probably left there because their condition was too poor to justify their removal for reuse. Knowing that vast numbers of hardwood sleepers were being imported from Australia for our railway construction at the time (Press 8/9/1891:5), I was interested to learn that the timber was of a native species – rimu.

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The remnants of two 19th century tramway sleepers of the Addington Line exposed on Tuam Street. They had been laid directly atop the sandy clay subsoil, rather than on top of any supporting ballast. Image: H. Williams.

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An alignment of sleepers uncovered at the Tuam and Colombo Street intersection, laid not at right angles to the road, but on an angle, to carry the tram around the corner. Image: H. Williams.

There are so many social and cultural related tramway things that sadly we haven’t been able to touch upon in this week’s blog – such as the rules for riding a Christchurch tram in the 19th century (no playing musical instruments without the permission of the [tram!] conductor), or the saga of the council’s tramway hearse that never carried a single corpse and ended up a houseboat (Alexander 1983: 11).

Because of the context in which we have found these tramway features (located on public rather than private land) it’s been a different sort of archaeology than what we have been used to – representing one not of past peoples ‘in their place’, so to speak (be it in their former home, workplace, or backyard, the kind of contexts where we end up doing most of our archaeology), but of past peoples ‘between places'; neither here nor there but ‘on the way somewhere’ – a most ephemeral archaeology of people in transit, people in motion.

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Although she rides the rails at Ferrymead, 134 ‘Kitty’, one of the eight Kitson steam tram motors imported by the Canterbury Tramway Company made a special trip back into town some years ago to blaze up a few laps on the city circuit. At left, Kitty leaves Cathedral Junction, October 2003, and at right, in the distance, the Invercargill Tramways No. 15 Birney electric tram, April 2015. Both trams were restored by the Tramway Historical Society. Image: D. Hinman (left) and H. Williams (right).

Thanks to Dave Hinman from the Tramway Historical Society for providing the photo of Kitty, and to Dr Rod Wallace for timber identification.

References

Alexander, M., 1985. Rails in the Roads: the steam and horse tram era in Christchurch. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Transport Board and Tramway Historical Society.

Alexander, M., 1986. The Wire Web: the Christchurch Tramway Board & its early electric tramways, 1903-1920. Christchurch, N.Z: Christchurch Transport Board and Tramway Historical Society.

Alexander, M., 1993. Tram to the Terminus: the Christchurch Tramway Board and its electric tramways 1921-54. Christchurch N.Z: A&M and Tramway Historical Society.

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

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

 

A breath of not-so-fresh air: archaeology and asbestos in Christchurch

When I first started studying to become an archaeologist, the dangers and difficulties of working with asbestos wasn’t really something that had ever crossed my mind. I knew what it was, in a vague sort of way, and that it was bad for you. That’s about it. After the earthquakes in Christchurch, however, as a result of our work on sites with asbestos contamination (especially the recording and monitoring of building demolition), we’ve all come to learn a lot more about it and how it can affect the process of an archaeological investigation or recording.

Recently, we were called to investigate the archaeology of a Christchurch site with asbestos ground contamination. The site was located in the central city, an area active from the earliest phases of European settlement in Christchurch, and was situated near several other sites where we’d discovered archaeological material in the past. The crew were bulking out the site in order to prepare for the foundations of a new building.  This meant (a) the large scale disturbance of asbestos and other soil contaminants; and (b) a high probability that archaeological features would be discovered.

Excavating a pit feature on site in full protective gear. Image: K. Bone.

Excavating archaeological features on an asbestos contaminated site in full protective gear. Image: K. Bone.

All of which culminated in the situation we found ourselves in a few weeks ago, kitted out head to toe in protective suits, gloves, gumboots and respirators, digging in the dirt under the relentless sun, trying to ignore the sweat condensing inside our masks and occasionally submerging our noses if we bent our heads the wrong way.

Such a glamourous job, this.

The consequences of a particularly muddy day on site. Image: K. Bone.

The consequences of a particularly muddy day on site. Image: K. Bone.

The site contained several archaeological features, from a large fill deposit and a circular brick-lined well to a deep pit filled with artefacts and timbers laid down at the base. Unfortunately for us, in this case, we found a LOT of artefact material in these features, presenting us with something of a problem. We lack the facilities here at Underground Overground to safely decontaminate material in our own lab (ideally, we would need a method of air control, as well as the ability to dispose of the material safely). The most obvious solution was to analyse the material on-site, a task that presented its own set of problems.

Some of the archaeological features excavated on site. Clockwise from top left: a circular brick well; archaeologists providing shade for the photographing of a pit feature with timbers at the base; large rectangular rubbish pit, half sectioned. Images: K. Bennett, J. Garland.

Some of the archaeological features excavated on site. Clockwise from top left: a circular brick well; archaeologists providing shade for the photographing of a pit feature with timbers at the base; large rectangular rubbish pit, half sectioned. Images: K. Bennett, J. Garland.

Ordinarily, our artefact analysis is carried out by one person who, after the material has been washed (when appropriate), sorts and identifies the individual artefacts to material, function, object form, manufacturing method and age, etc. That information is entered into a digital spreadsheet and most of the artefact assemblage is then photographed, using an SLR camera and light box set-up. It’s all very civilised.

Obviously, we couldn’t replicate this on site. Especially considering that everything we took onto the site – tools, cameras, containers, recording equipment – needed to be either washed down with high pressure hoses or thoroughly cleaned with wet wipes and/or water before we could take it away again. Everything. We were also under time pressure, to get all the archaeological investigation and artefact analysis completed while there was still room on the site for us to work.

We ended up with a team of two, an iPad, a camera and almost five thousand fragments of artefact material. Each feature assemblage was sorted, analysed and photographed, with one person doing the identification and photography and the other transcribing the information into a spreadsheet on the iPad. Anything that we thought was of archaeological significance and could be safely cleaned on site (washed and rinsed in clean water to remove every speck of dirt) was removed from the site and everything else disposed of then and there. This meant we were able to recover a large proportion of the ceramics, a fantastic collection of clay pipes and a small quantity of bottles. Leather shoes, textiles, metal artefacts, most of the bottles (which couldn’t be easily cleaned on site) and any things we felt it wasn’t safe to remove were left behind, after being carefully analysed.

Our artefact analysis station on site. Image: J. Garland.

Our artefact analysis station on site. Image: J. Garland.

We learned a few things about the process (and ourselves) along the way.

  • It’s really difficult to use a touch screen while wearing gloves, especially if the gloves are even the tiniest bit loose.
  • Respirators muffle the voice quite a bit, which may result in some interesting misunderstandings between the dictator and transcriber, not helped by loud machinery nearby. It’s really important to have two people familiar with the same artefact terminology to mitigate this as much as possible. We still ended up with some fairly hilarious mis-transcriptions.
  • Communication throughout the whole excavation was made more difficult by the respirators, actually, not just between the archaeologists on site but also between us and the machine operator and other crew working on the site.
  • Sunny days are the worst. Not only are they hellish to experience in suits and masks, the shadows cast by the light made artefact (and site) photography more difficult than it needed to be.
  • Tyvek protective suits probably weren’t made with archaeology in mind: however tough they are, they were still, on occasion, defeated by the sharp edges of artefacts as we were digging.
  • On a note specific to this one particular site: people have terrible taste in music and may, sadistically, play the same song ten times in a row if they feel like it. We happened to be working right next to the Dance-O-Mat (a usually awesome Christchurch landmark created by Gap Filler), which was not as conducive to our continued sanity as you might have thought.
  • Sneezing while wearing a respirator is a very bad idea. Seriously. Think about it.

We also found a lot of really cool things. From clay pipes shaped like soldiers, decorated with tragedy/comedy masks or functioning as temperance propaganda to elaborate ceramic teapots, beautifully patterned ceramics, unusual glass bottles and an 1835 half-crown, this was a site that contained a wide variety of material culture. We haven’t completed our research into the history of the site as yet, but many of the artefacts were manufactured between the 1840s and early 1870s, suggesting that they may have belonged to people living here in the earliest decades of the city’s European settlement.

Some of the clay pipes found on site, along with an 1835 half-crown, with the stamp of William IV, King of England. Note the super awesome tragedy/comedy pipe with the face that changed expression when looked at upside down. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the clay pipes found on site, along with an 1835 half-crown, with the stamp of William IV, King of England. Note the super awesome tragedy/comedy pipe with the face that changed expression when looked at upside down. Image: J. Garland.

The ceramics, particularly from the pit with timbers at the base, included several blue and white “romantic” landscape patterns and Asiatic motifs popular in the mid-late 19th century. Other artefacts, especially the bottles, were discovered to be products and brands that had been made since the early 19th century. We identified torpedo bottles from Schweppes, Pitt and Webb, all of whom were aerated water manufacturers established in the first few decades of the 1800s. Other artefacts included products made by ink manufacturers, druggists and perfumers all operating from a similar period of time onwards. Exactly when they were deposited remains unclear for the moment, but we’ll figure it out.

Selection of ceramic vessels and a Booth's gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal. Clockwise, left to right:

Selection of ceramic vessels and a Booth’s gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal. Clockwise, left to right: Asiatic patterned plate; Italian Buildings patterned plate; Delhi patterned saucer; Alma patterned plate; Dendritic mocha decorated jug; glass bottle with prunt, reading BOOTH & CO No 1 SUPERIOR GIN 55 COWCROSS; Statue patterned saucers. Image: J. Garland.

We do know that, later on in the site’s history, several health professionals lived on the site, including a doctor and a dentist. Dr William Deamer constructed a two-storey brick surgery on the site in 1865 (Canterbury Heritage), which stood until the early 20th century and some of the medicine related artefacts we found may have originally been used in his establishment. The well that we found, in particular, contained a small assemblage of artefacts that were almost exclusively pharmaceutical bottles, as well as an incised measuring jug that may have been used in the preparation of medicines.

Medical and pharmaceutical artefacts found in the well. Image: J. Garland.

Medical and pharmaceutical artefacts found in the well. Image: J. Garland.

All things considered, it’s a pretty fascinating site and assemblage. I will admit, it was a little bit sad to see so much of the physical material disposed of on site, but the most important thing is that we’ve preserved the information that material had to offer. This is what archaeology is about, after all, the insight and knowledge into the lives and behaviour of people that we gain from the material traces of those who came before us.

If it means suffering through sweaty protective suits and masks to do this, then we will, and gladly.

Jessie Garland

References

Canterbury Heritage, 2008. 1879 Christchurch Panorama. [online] Available at www.canterburyheritage.blogspot.co.nz. 

Māori occupation at Raekura

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

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

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

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


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

 

So what did we find?

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Michael Trotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instructions on how to make your own perfumes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie Garland

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

An architectural interlude

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fireplace removed from the parlour.

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

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

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

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

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

Another ceiling rose, in another room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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