Life Before Plastic: Packaging

Last time on the blog we introduced our Life Before Plastic blog series, and today we’re continuing the series by discussing packaging. A lot of what we find in the archaeological record are containers, which are a form of packaging. These include glass and ceramic bottles that held beverages, foods, medicines, or household products.

A few of the many different types of glass and ceramic containers we come across. Top row, from left: ginger beer bottle, syphon ink bottle, Bordeaux bottle, Lamont patent aerated waters bottle, wide mouth pickle jar. Bottom row: penny ink, jam jar, capers bottle, Ayer’s hair vigour, Eno’s Fruit Salts. Image: C. Watson.

These are items where the packaging is essential to the transport and storage of the item. Things like liquids, jams, and pickles need to be contained within something; they physically can’t be transported by just being carried in cupped hands (or at least there’s not going to be much left over if they are). I tried to think of examples of packaging that we find in the 19th century archaeological record where the packaging isn’t essential but struggled to think of any. There are tin cans, matchboxes and hoop iron from barrels- but similar to bottles they’re generally essential for the transportation and storage of the products they contained.

More packaging: tin cans, matchboxes and hoop iron from barrels. Image: C. Watson.

The contrast to modern society is significant. These days, almost everything we buy is packaged, whether it needs to be or not. The packet of biscuits, the box of pens, the cellophane wrap around a birthday card, the plastic container with the new plug for the bathroom sink- try to think of an item you bought recently that wasn’t packaged. Sometimes that packaging is essential, but a lot of the time it’s not.

 

There are a lot of ridiculous packaging examples on the internet, but I think this one is the worst. Image: Bored Panda.

When we compare 19th century packaging to packaging today, one of the big differences between the two is that there is a lot more non-essential packaging today than there was 150 years ago. We can look at packaging as fulfilling a number of roles. Some of these are essential- they make the transportation and storage of items possible, e.g. bottles or barrels that held liquids or products like flour that need containment. Some of these are non-essential- they make the transportation and storage of items easier, e.g. the cardboard box my laptop came in protected the laptop from being damaged during transportation, made transportation and storage easier as it could be stacked with other boxes of laptops, and kept components such as the power cable and user manuals together with the laptop, but the laptop could have been transported and stored without it. There are also other roles packaging plays that we view as being essential, such as the packaging of medical equipment in plastic to keep it sanitised.

The other big difference between 19th century packaging and packing today is cost. Prior to 1846 tin cans were manufactured at a rate of six per hour. After that it was at a rate of 60 per hour. In 2016 Ball Corp. was producing six million cans a day, at an hourly rate of 250,000. After 1879 cardboard boxes could be produced at a rate of 750 sheets an hour. I couldn’t get a precise statistic on cardboard box production rates nowadays, but in 2017 about 240 billion square metres of cardboard packaging was produced. Today packaging is mass-manufactured on an extraordinary scale, making it extremely cheap. In the 19th century packaging was either manufactured by hand or in rudimental factories, likely making it much more expensive.

The expense of packaging meant that unless items needed to be contained, they weren’t individually packaged. Packaging still occurred, but in a very different system to today. Products like flour were transported from the mill to the general grocers store in barrels for most of the 19th century, which were replaced by sacks in the latter half of the century. Many products – e.g. flour, biscuits, grains, rice –  could be purchased from stores in bulk: either by the barrel or sack, or weighed out into a smaller amount that was wrapped in paper and placed in a basket to carry home. Once home these were unwrapped and placed in various tins, containers and bins for storage. Meat was also sold wrapped in paper. Items that weren’t foodstuffs were generally sold loose – blankets, cooking pots, knives, etc – weren’t packaged like they often are today.

There are still aspects of that system today. Most of our fruit and vegetables are sold by weight or quantity at the supermarket and placed into bags that we take them home in. If I go to Bin Inn or a wholefoods shop, I can buy flour and grains by weight, and I can still buy things like towels and saucepans loose at Briscoes. However, for the most part, most items I buy are individually packaged, and I then place those individually packaged items in a bag to take home. Once I get home I either keep the items in their packaging and use them from that- for example my bag of flour sits on a shelf in my pantry, or I take the item out of the packaging and throw the packaging away, like the cardboard box my new electric blanket came in.

The low cost of packaging means we’ve created a system where the cost of packaging an item is such a minute contributor to the overall cost of the item that we can justify packaging absolutely everything. Which would be fine, except that most of that packaging is plastic that won’t decompose for thousands of years.

The second most ridiculous packaging example I found. Because avocado skin is apparently not good enough packaging in Canadian supermarkets. Image: Bored Panda.

In the 19th century packaging was expensive, meaning every effort was made to reuse containers. The various crates, barrels, sacks and bags that items were transported in were used and reused over and over again. A really good example of the reuse of containers in the 19th century is the glass bottle reuse system. Prior to 1922 there were no bottle manufacturing factories in New Zealand, and all glass bottles were imported into the country from overseas. This meant there were a limited number of bottles in circulation in New Zealand for the entirety of the 19th century. In addition to only having a limited number of bottles, bottles were expensive to manufacture. The cost to manufacture a bottle was anywhere from two thirds to double the cost of the beverage it contained (Woff 2014:17).

As a result, once a bottled product had been purchased and consumed, that bottle was returned to the company it was purchased from or sold to a bottle merchant. From there the bottle was washed, refilled, then sold again containing a new product. Paper labels were placed on the bottles to advertise the product they contained. Some bottles were reused for many different products, such as black beer bottles and ring seal bottles. Other products needed a specific type of bottle, such as aerated water bottles.

The lifecycle of a glass bottle. Image: B. Woff (2014: 15).

Due to the carbonation of aerated waters, these couldn’t be contained in normal black beer and ring seal bottles. Instead they were bottled into the likes of torpedo, Lamont and Codd bottles that were specifically designed to hold carbonated products. As these bottles were presumably more expensive to purchase, aerated water manufacturers did not want bottles they had purchased being used by competitors. Bottles were trade marked to indicate they belonged to specific aerated water manufacturers and that they were to be used only by that company and not anyone else.

Half of a J. Whittington aerated waters bottle. Whittington used a ship as his trade mark on his bottles. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

When we compare 19th century packaging to packaging today there are both positives and negatives to the way things used to be done. The biggest positive would be that most forms of packaging were reused over and over again. Of course, at some point they were thrown away, that’s why we find them in the archaeological record. But for the most part that wasn’t after only one use. Today so much of our packaging is single-use, and it simply gets thrown away after it’s served its purpose. You could say the 19th century system of reuse is somewhat similar to our modern system of recycling, but in recycling new packaging is still being made and packaging is still single-use. The biggest negative to 19th century packaging is how unhygienic it could be. Imagine buying biscuits from a barrel at the store but knowing that they’d probably been touched by every hand that had dipped into the barrel to purchase biscuits before you. Having things stored in packaging that wasn’t airtight would mean products were more likely to be contaminated with bacteria and mould, or for weevils to get into the flour. As I said earlier, there’s a good reason that modern medical equipment is packaged in plastic to keep it sanitised.

A possible example of bottle reuse in action. I say possible as both labels on the bottle were for Robert Porter, a London bottler that sold Bass Pale Ale Light Beer for export (Hughes 2006: 119). But that doesn’t mean they were placed at the same time. This bottle may have been reused multiple times for Bass and Co.’s beer. Image: C. Watson

It’s hard to imagine our society ever going back to a system where most packaging was reused. There are little incentives for corporations to put in place packaging reuse systems when packaging is so cheap to manufacture. In addition to the expense of a reuse system, individual packaging allows companies to easily brand their products. These days single-use packaging is marketing, and the containers that hold products are cleverly designed to entice us to buy them. It’s hard to imagine companies being willing to give up packaging if it’s going to affect their marketing strategy and potential sales. But when we see images like the one below, perhaps we need to consider if costs and sales are what’s most important.

A sea of packaging. Image: The Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand. 

Clara Watson

 

References

Hughes, D. 2006. A Bottle of Guinness please: The colourful history of Guinness. Phimboy, Berkshire.

Woff, B. 2014. Bottle Reuse and Archaeology: Evidence from the Site of a Bottle Merchants Business. Unpublished honours thesis Archaeology Program, La Trobe University, Melbourne.

Life Before Plastic: An Introduction

‘Rubbish’ is the most common thing we find on our 19th century archaeological sites. I have ‘rubbish’ in quotation marks because to us what we find isn’t rubbish, it’s the material evidence of what life was like in the early years of colonial New Zealand. The everyday items and the more unusual objects that help to tell us more about the successes and struggles of New Zealand’s first settlers and their families. Yet, to the people these items belonged to, they were rubbish; products that had served a purpose and were no longer needed. As archaeologists, it’s exciting that we’re finding 150-year old rubbish. As humans living at a time where global warming is an imminent threat to our own society, it’s concerning we’re finding 150-year old rubbish.

In the 19th century people would often dig holes in their backyard to dispose of rubbish. These rubbish pits are one of the most common features we find on archaeological sites in Christchurch. Image: T. Anderson

This is the first of a series of blog posts looking at the archaeology of 19th century Christchurch through the modern lenses of climate change and the growing problem of plastic pollution. Normally, when we write on the things we find we use an archaeological lens, asking questions like why were these artefacts disposed of? Who do they belong to? Where did they come from? Were they common or rare? What do they say about the people who disposed of them? Can they tell us more about what life was like in Christchurch in the 19th century?

In this blog series we’re going to take a different approach, asking questions like what did people use when they didn’t have plastic? How does life in the 19th century compare to now? What materials, objects and practices were present then that don’t exist now? Were these precursors to current ways of doing things? Were they better for the environment? Can we look to the past to help us now in the present? We’re still going to be looking at the archaeology of Christchurch, just interpreting it in a slightly different way.

I have multiple reasons for wanting to do this blog series. I’m 24, climate change is going to affect my life and it’s definitely going to impact on the lives of any children I have: it’s in my best interests to start debate on the topic and provide new ways of approaching it. I also want to write on this topic because it is current. One of the things we face all the time as archaeologists is having to justify our work. There are so many people out there who don’t understand what we’re doing/don’t see the value of recording our heritage/think that it’s a waste of time. When we can take what we find and put it into a framework that uses archaeological evidence to tackle modern problems then that adds even more value to the (already valuable) work we do. Finally, I want to write on it because I’ve never lived in a world where plastic doesn’t exist. Plastic has played a role in every single thing I have done in my life, from the plastic car seat I went home from the hospital in, to the plastic drink bottle I’m sipping out of now. I don’t think there’s been a single day of my life where I haven’t used a plastic object, so I think that looking at life before plastic is really interesting because modern society is untenable without it.

Count the plastic in the picture. I can see at least 25 items made of plastic, many of which I use daily to do my job (the Favourites are definitely essential). Image: C. Watson.

The Victorian era is a particularly interesting period to look back at through this modern lens of plastic pollution because it was during this time that so many of the things we now take for granted were invented. The Industrial Revolution began roughly a hundred years before the Victorian era. Technological developments in the textile industry led to more technological developments that could be used in other industries which led to even more technological developments and before you know it we went from writing with ink and quill pens in 1750 to typing on laptops in 2019 (John Green does a far better quick explanation here).

A few of the many things invented just prior to and during the Victorian era are:

  • Tin cans: In 1810 Peter Duran patented the idea, in 1813 the first commercial canning factory was opened and in 1846 mass-manufacture of tin cans began.
  • Cardboard boxes: Single sheet cardboard boxes were in use around 1817, although the exact inventor of them is not known. Corrugated cardboard was invented in 1856 and in 1871 Albert Jones patented an early style of cardboard box. It wasn’t until 1879 that the single sheet cardboard folded boxes that we use today were invented.
  • Paper bags: In 1799 Louis-Nicolas Robert invented a machine that produced rolls of paper. These were used to make rudimentary folded bags, but it wasn’t until 1852 that envelope-style paper bags were invented. These were surpassed in 1871 when Margaret Knight patented her machine that produced flat-bottomed paper bags, similar to what’s available today.
  • Plastic (kind of): The first man-made plastic was invented by Alexander Parkes who displayed it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. Called Parkesine after Parkes, it was derived from cellulose. Another early plastic was celluloid, invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1868 as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls. Further advances took place at the end of the 19th century, with Bakelite invented in the early 20th

What’s notable when we look back at the Victorian era is that many of the things we now view as being more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic were only just being invented. We predominantly excavate archaeological sites that date between 1860 and 1900. These sites were occupied throughout these years of invention, meaning we can see what people used prior to new technologies being developed, the adoption of new technologies, and then their success as they became widespread and mass manufactured. You may have picked up that all the new technologies I’ve listed above are forms of packaging. That’s because in the second part of this series we are going to look specifically at packaging, what we find in the archaeological record and how it differs to what is used today.

The second half of the 19th century strikes me as an exciting period to have lived in. It was a time of possibility: new things were being invented regularly and people were wealthier, healthier and better educated. All of this is similar to the period we live in now. Yet for the people of the 19th century there was a cost to this development, particularly for those who worked in large industrial factories and lived alongside them. In the same vein, whilst we might be benefiting from the technological developments of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, we’re currently having to deal with the consequences of those developments.

Plastic pollution is just one of these consequences, and it’s something us archaeologists see all the time. Whilst we only investigate features that were created prior to the year 1900, we come across lots of 20th century rubbish pits. Many of these 20th century pits contain plastic objects, and these objects don’t look like they’ve aged a day. When we put plastic into the ground it’s going to be there for hundreds of years- no doubt future archaeologists will study plastic artefacts in the same way we study ceramic and glass now. By looking at life before plastic hopefully we’re able to imagine a future without it.

Spot the plastic. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Clara Watson

 

The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement

Today on the blog we’re talking about an exciting project that we’ve been involved with over the past few months. In 2013 the Ashburton District Council took over stewardship of the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement on Allens Road, Ashburton, making a commitment to administer the land as a reserve and to preserve the heritage values of the property. The Ng King Brothers were Chinese market gardeners, owning and operating the largest market garden in the South Island. In its heyday the gardens served people across the Ashburton district, with over 80 people lived at the property. Today it appears to be the only Chinese market gardening settlement with original buildings still intact in New Zealand (Baird 2017: 22).

Buildings from the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement. Image: Baird 2017: 36.

The Ng family were a group of brothers from Taishan in the Guangdong province, China. The family settled in Gore in 1905, opening a laundry and a market garden, with more family members arriving from China in 1917 (Baird 2017: 7). Market gardening had become a common occupation for Chinese following the end of most goldmining in the 1890s. The Chinese adapted the gardening skills they had brought with them to the New Zealand climate, purchasing or leasing land to grow fruit and vegetables on that they then sold at markets or in shops.

The arrival of the Ng family to New Zealand came after the main period of early Chinese immigration that took place during the 1860s Otago goldrush. Chinese miners had gained a reputation on the Australian goldfields for working hard and living frugally and were invited to the Otago goldfields following the initial rush. The first Chinese miners arrived in Otago in 1865, providing a new workforce for the region after many of the original miners had moved on to goldfields in Hokitika and Nelson. By 1872 there were 4,700 Chinese in New Zealand, with many coming directly from China rather than via the Australian goldfields (Baird 2017: 7).

The move to a foreign country with a different people, language, culture and customs must have been daunting for the Ng family. This move was likely made even more difficult by the open hostility of New Zealanders towards the Chinese.  Despite the Chinese being invited to New Zealand in the 1860s, anti-Chinese sentiments had developed within the mostly white New Zealand population over the following decades. In 1881 the New Zealand government introduced a poll tax of £10 per person to discourage further Chinese immigration. This increased to £100 per person in 1896, with a reading test introduced later as well (Lam et al. 2018: 12). Further anti-Chinese legislation was introduced during the twentieth century, with a 1908 act denying the Chinese the right to become naturalised. This act remained in place until 1951, and under it Chinese had to register and report any changes to their name, address or employment with the police. Anti-Chinese settlement was strong at the start of the twentieth century, with organisations such as the Anti-Asiatic League, Anti-Chinese League, and the White New Zealand League appearing (Lam et al. 2018: 14).

A common sentiment among anti-Chinese groups was the perception that Chinese market gardeners were taking business away from European market gardeners. This view, expressed in newspapers of the time, was somewhat unfounded given Chinese fruiterers and greengrocers always made up less than half of the total fruiterers and greengrocers in New Zealand between 1874 and 1945 (Lam et al. 2018: 16). Image: Observer 12/12/1896: 11.

Following a flood that damaged their gardens in Gore, the Ng family moved to Ashburton in 1921 and established a market garden on Allens Road, trading under the name of King Bros. The name ‘King’ came from a mixture of the European pronunciation of Ng as ‘Ning’ and the name ‘Kane’ which was the middle part of four of the Ng brothers birth names (Baird 2017: 9). The King Bros were highly successful, and their garden became the largest in the South Island. The brothers travelled by horse and cart around the district to sell their vegetables, also running a store from one of the sheds in the yard on Allens Road. The horses and carts were replaced with trucks in the 1940s, with these travelling to Mt Somers, Mayfield, Chertsey, Rakaia, Hinds and Methven once a week to sell vegetables to the farms there (Lam et al. 2018: 113). In 1945 the King Bros established a fruit shop in Burnett Street. With the expansion of the business they began travelling to Christchurch to buy additional produce to sell at the store.

The King Bros partners in the 1930s. Image: Ashburton Museum and Historical Society Collection and Ng Family (Baird 2017: 7).

In 1964 Young King, along with his sons Yep, Hong and Tong, formed a partnership and took over the King Bros fruit shop in Burnett Street (Lam et al. 2018: 114). Young King was one of the original Ng brothers who formed the King Bros partnership. He came from the Wing Loon village in Taishan at age 15 to join his brothers in New Zealand. Like the rest of the Ng family members that were living in Ashburton, Young had a wife and children back in China, and he made several trips back to Taishan to visit them during the 1930s and 1940s. The poll-tax and other anti-Chinese legislation prevented Young from moving his family to New Zealand.

In 1938 the Japanese forces, that had previously invaded China in 1931, moved into southern China attacking the home villages of the New Zealand Chinese. Young’s family village was in the south and his family were living with the threat of the Japanese. After appeals by the New Zealand Chinese Association and the Presbyterian Church, the New Zealand government allowed Chinese refugees to flee to New Zealand. Between 1939 and 1941, 249 women and 244 children made the journey to New Zealand, joining their husbands and fathers that had previously been living alone (Lam et al. 2018: 17). In 1949 Young’s family was allowed to immigrate to New Zealand as war refugees and, following the legislation changes of the 1950s, the family became New Zealand citizens in 1963. The reuniting of families resulted in a new generation of Chinese New Zealanders that were born in New Zealand during and following the war years.

By the mid-twentieth century New Zealand perceptions of the Chinese had changed, and some of the outright racism seen in earlier decades had disappeared. During the war there were Chinese who enlisted to fight overseas, whilst others served the country by producing food for troops. In the 1950s the New Zealand government changed its stance on the Chinese, allowing them to become naturalised again. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the immigration status of Chinese and European migrants was made equal. In 2002 the New Zealand government apologised to the Chinese people for the racist legislation that was enacted during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and established the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust as compensation.

View of a Chinese market garden during World War II. Ref: 1/4-001319-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.  /records/23130866.

The 1964 partnership between Young King and his sons Yep, Hong and Tong resulted in a new period of prosperity for the business. After they had taken over the shop on Burnett Street, the father and sons gutted and refitted the store, with the 1965 grand reopening reported in the newspapers. In 1966 they expanded, opening an additional store on Harrison Street. Young and Yep managed the daily running of the shops, whilst Hong and Tong bought produce at the markets to supply the shops, wholesale orders and the country runs (Lam et al. 2018: 114). The King Bros dominated the Ashburton market, supplying hotels, dairies, grocery stores, hospitals, boarding-houses, ski lodges, shearing gangs and Ministry of Work camps with fruit and vegetables (Lam et al. 2018: 115).

Richard Yee (left) and Young King (right) in a 1957 parade. Image: Ashburton Museum and Historical Society Collection and Ng Family (Baird 2017: 9).

The King Bros were one of the most well-known businesses in Ashburton and generations of Ashburtonians purchased their vegetables from the shop on Burnett Street. However, with the advent of supermarkets, business slowed. Hong left the partnership in the early 1980s whilst Tong managed the shop on Harrison Street until it sold in 1986. Family members moved into other ventures, with several shifting out of Ashburton. Yep King continued to run the shop in Burnett Street until his retirement in 2006 (Lam et al. 2018: 116).

The settlement on Allens Road played an important role in the development of the King Bros business. Buildings on the site included bedrooms for single men, houses for families, communal eating and dining rooms, a kitchen, an office, food storage sheds, garage and work sheds, a laundry and washroom, a school room and, of course, the shop. It was the home of various generations of the Ng King family and was once a busy and vibrant community. With the closing of the business and various family members embarking on other ventures, the settlement now sits empty.

As part of the Ashburton District Council’s stewardship of the property, the council has agreed to preserve the heritage values of the site. From this, Heritage New Zealand became involved in the project, and through them we were asked to volunteer our time. Whilst the Ng King Chinese Market Garden Settlement might not meet the definition of an archaeological site under the 2014 Pouhere Taonga Heritage New Zealand Act, it is still an archaeological site in its own right. Archaeology is the study of human history and culture through material remains, and is not limited to a specific time-period. Anything and everything from stone tools created by early hominids to flip-top cellphones from the early 2000s is and can be considered archaeology.

The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement is significant for many reasons. It’s important to the descendants of the family, many of whom have fond memories of the place, it’s important to the Chinese community as the only known Chinese market gardening settlement that still has buildings intact, it’s important to the Ashburton district with the King Bros playing a prominent role in the history of the town, and it’s important to anyone who has a passion for local history and believes in the recording and protection of heritage. Treating the settlement as an archaeological site and using archaeological methods means that objects, that might be seen by some as old junk, are viewed as being part of the social fabric of the site and are properly catalogued and researched.

Our role in the project has been doing just that, cataloguing the objects that were found during some of the works at the site. We’re still in the middle of analysing the artefacts, and we’ll likely write a follow-up blog post later on in the year that goes into more detail on what exactly was found. But so far one of the most interesting classes of artefact material that we’ve found has been shoes. Lots of complete shoes, 29 so far, were recovered from the site, along with fragments from at least another 40. Shoes are one of those interesting artefacts as they’re so personal. Everything from the style of shoe to the wear patterns on the sole and if it’s been repaired speaks to the choices and actions of the person who wore it. It’s like that saying, “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. Whilst the King Bros are still well-remembered by current Ashburton residents, that won’t always be the case as more time passes. By preserving the King Bros settlement, future generations may be able to walk around the buildings, look at items like the shoes and wonder what it was like to be a Chinese worker at a market garden in the mid-twentieth century.

Some of the many shoes found at the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement, each able to tell a different story about the person who wore it. Image: E. Warwick.

Clara Watson

 Acknowledgements

Thanks to members of the King family for their feedback on this blog post and support of the project.

References

Baird, A. 2017. Ashburton Chinese Settlement Allens Road, Ashburton: Heritage & Restoration Assessment. Unpublished report for the Ashburton District Council.

Lam, R., B. Lowe, H. Wong, M. Wong, C. King. 2018. The Fruits of Our Labours: Chinese Fruit Shops in New Zealand Volume 1. Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust, Wellington.

 

 

 

Cocaine Cough Medicine and Liquid Mercury Eye Drops

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and the number of people coughing and sneezing in the office is increasing day by day. Flu season is here, and with it comes the variety of cough mixtures, cough lollies, honey and lemon teas, and other concoctions all designed to try and make it through the day without your colleagues wanting to evict you from the office.

Never be the person who sits in the corner of the office coughing all day. Image: Meme Generator.

Our Victorian forebearers also struggled with the common cold, but not to fear, they too had cough medicine. We’ve talked about pharmaceutical products on the blog before (see here, and here and here), mainly about how most Victorian medicines claimed to be made from ‘secret recipes’ that could not only cure your cough, but also improve your complexion, grow back your receding hairline, stop a heart attack, cure epilepsy and fix any and all gastro related incidents (I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but only a little). Every time we research a new Victorian medicine it always feels like the claims get more and more extraordinary. So, without further ado, here’s five more Victorian medicine bottles that we’ve found on archaeological sites.

Are you wanting something that will help with consumption, wasting diseases, nervous debility, indigestion, constipation, dyspepsia, cholera, rickets, bone softening, bronchitis, coughs, colds and more? Then look no further than Maltine. Maltine was an extract of malted barley, wheat and oats that was highly fortified with alcohol. The product was first created by John Carnrick (1837-1903), a pharmacologist who invented a range of different pharmaceutical substances (Sullivan 2009). The product was marketed firstly as a nutritional supplement for those who were struggling to eat due to illness but, like most Victorian medicines, could be used to cure any and all ailments. Along with plain Maltine, there was Maltine with Cod Liver Oil, Maltine with Peptones, and Maltine with Coca Wine. For those of you not familiar with Victorian medicines, coca wine is literally wine and cocaine. It’s no surprise that Maltine with Coca Wine was the most popular product, selling around 10,000 bottles a year in the late nineteenth century (Sullivan 2009).

This bottle of Maltine was made by the London-based Maltine Manufacturing Company. The Maltine Manufacturing Company had been established by 1882 and was advertising the sale of its products in New Zealand from 1886 (New Zealand Mail 26/03/1886: 28). Image: C. Watson.

When I said before that Maltine could cure any and all ailments, I wasn’t exaggerating. Image: New Zealand Mail 9/4/1886: 28.

When contemplating which particular brand of medicine to take, appearance is an important thing to consider. Luckily Alfred Bishop’s Granular Citrate of Magnesia is “perfectly white and delicately clean” meaning there’s no worries there. Bishop’s advertisements for his product talk a lot about the medicine’s looks; in another the granules are described as “handsome in appearance”. Now, the fact that Bishop focused so much on the appearance of his product in advertisements is somewhat hilarious given that his Granular Citrate of Magnesia was actually just a laxative. The product likely contained a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid, common ingredients in laxatives of the day (Era Formulary 1893). Of course, the product wasn’t obviously advertised as a laxative, rather it was said to help “stomach ailments”, but we all know what that means.

A handsome bottle for a handsome product. Alfred Bishop, based in London, established his business in 1857 and sold a range of different citrates and pharmaceutical products. Image: C. Watson.

Speaking of laxatives, here’s another good one: J. C. Eno’s Effervescing Fruit Salts. Eno’s Fruit Salts were created by the pharmacist James Crossley Eno in the mid-nineteenth century and were advertised as a remedy for constipation, bowel complaints and general health issues (Colonist 11/07/1907, Otago Daily Times 20/10/1893). Similar to Bishop’s citrate magnesia, the product was a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid, with a bit of Rochelle salt thrown in as well (Era Formulary 1893). I’m not going to say much more about the product, because the advertisement below really speaks for itself. Who would have thought a laxative was so crucial to the development of the British Empire.

Eno’s Fruit Salts bottle. Eno began selling his products in Newcastle from the 1850s, but it wasn’t until 1876 that he trademarked the ‘Fruit Salt’ brand. Image: C. Watson.

Possibly the best medicine advertisement ever. Image: Otago Daily Times.

I’m very sceptical about the claims made by this next product. Singleton’s Golden Eye Ointment could cure all eye disorders, everything from helping sore eyes, to getting rid of styes and ulcers, helping inflammation, fixing weak and watery eyes, and restoring eyelashes (Evening Star 18/08/1929; New Zealand Mail 25/11/1903; 21/12/1899; Press 18/06/1936). In fact the ointment was such an amazing product that it was able to cure a large number of British soldiers who eyes were injured from the hot desert sand in Egypt (Barker 2019). The reason why I’m so sceptical is because the ointment contained quicksilver (The Mirror 1834). Quicksilver is of course liquid mercury. The mercury was heated with nitric acid until the product evaporated, leaving behind salts. These salts were then mixed with clarified butter to produce an ointment that was rubbed on the eyelids at night. I’m not a chemist or a doctor, but I imagine rubbing anything that contains mercury on your eyelids is not going to be safe.

This is known as a pedestal pot. The ointment was placed on the top of the pedestal and secured with a layer of wax paper. Whilst most of the other pharmaceutical product we’ve mentioned in this blog were invented in the nineteenth century, the recipe for this one dates back to the sixteenth century. Dr. Johnson, a physician operating in Elizabethan times, was apparently the creator of the ointment and passed the recipe to George Hind in his will. The recipe was then passed on from generation to generation, with the name Singleton being added when Thomas Singleton married into the family (Barker 2019). Image: C. Watson.

Whilst the nineteenth century was renowned for its patent medicines, that made extraordinary claims despite containing dubious ingredients, it was also a period of many medical advances. One of those advances was germ theory and the realisation that cleanliness and sterilisation would help prevent infection and disease. An important background figure in these advances was Dr. Frederick Crace Calvert, a Manchester analytical chemist. Calvert was the first person to commercially produce carbolic acid (phenol), doing so under his company F. C. Calvert and Co. Calvert’s phenol products were used by Joseph Lister in his work on antiseptic surgery, and had many far-reaching applications (Grace’s Guide 2017).

Caption: Established in 1859, F. C. Calvert and Co. made various household disinfectants and cleaners using their carbolic acid, along with medicinal products. This bottle likely contained a disinfectant. Image: C. Watson.

So there you have it, medicine in the nineteenth century. A mixture of products that actually helped, products that might do something, and products that will probably poison you in the long run.

Clara Watson

The Curious Case of the Red Building

The two-storey red building in the centre of Christchurch was like many typical pre-1900 buildings that had been modified over the years. The veranda was enclosed to provide more rooms within the building and multiple other extensions and rooms had been added over the years. The building had even been divided into flats which is not a strange sight for such a large old building in the centre of Christchurch. What was curious about this building was the saltbox cottage butted against its east exterior wall.

The west elevation of the two-storey building at the time of demolition. Due to the proximity of the fence and the overgrown trees detailed photography of this elevation was restricted, so this drawing is the best way to show this elevation. Figure: J. Hearfield.

The south elevation of the saltbox cottage joined to the main two-storey house on the left. Image: P. Mitchell.

There was a building built on this property between 1877 and June 1881. Through historical research we were able to pin down the occupation of this land to this time period due to a map in 1877 showing no dwellings recorded on the town section (Strouts, 1877) and June 1881 was when this building named ‘Gidleigh’ is first mentioned in newspapers as a property advertised for let (Press 3/6/1881:1). During this time the property was owned by Church Property Trustees (CPT) who are likely to have developed the property before renting it out to Mr Neville George Barnett. Until 1884 Barnett consistently advertised his services as an organist and professor of music at this address. In February 1884 Barnett accepted a position in Auckland and relocated to the North Island (Star 16/2/1884:2). In 1884 Barnett assigned his lease to a Mr George Frederick Tendall, who had been living next door at ‘Penwynholme’, with his family (LINZ, 1850: 340; Press 12/9/1882:1).

Within the first year of leasing the property Mr George Frederick Tendall and his wife Mrs G. F. Tendall (Eliza), built an extension, to be used as a school room (Lyttelton Times 3/5/1884:7).

Mrs Tendall begs to announce, she is about to have built a large and commodious Schoolroom, which will enable her to take an increased number of pupils. She offers a thorough education, including religious instruction, in the subjects usually taught in private schools…” (Lyttelton Times 3/5/1884:7).

Post-1910s additions to the buildings included an extension on the north elevation of the two-storey building that was completed before 1955 and a lean-to on the east elevation of the 1884 extension. During this time the buildings were converted into seven flats, which included the addition of more kitchens and bathrooms and altered the larger rooms with partition walls to create multiple rooms. At some point after 1955 the front veranda on the west elevation of the two-storey building was converted into two more rooms with the addition of a French door on the new west elevation. These additions changed the number of rooms in the two-storey building from the original eight rooms to 22 rooms and in the saltbox cottage it changed the number of rooms from four rooms to five rooms.

Aerial imagery from 1955 shows the north extension and the front veranda still in place. Image: National Library of New Zealand.

The ground-floor layout of the buildings before it was demolished in 2018. Figure: J. Hearfield.

Research into the history of this site provided no insight into what came first – the two-storey building or the cottage. No mention of the cottage could be found in the historical documents. During the recording of the building they both had similar building techniques and materials. These included:

Wide timber floorboards, measuring to 150 mm, are common in pre-1900 buildings and were found within both buildings. Image: P. Mitchell.

Split laths and plaster in the walls and ceilings of both buildings, which is another characteristic of a mid-19th century dwelling; not usually seen in buildings built after about 1880. Image: P. Mitchell.

Example of the bricks found in both buildings in all three original fireplaces. The bricks had frogs but did not have any makers marks and appeared to be pressed but not machine made. Image: J. Hearfield.

These three building materials found throughout the two buildings indicate they were built before 1900 as spilt lath and plaster, large timber floorboards and pressed bricks are common in buildings built in New Zealand before 1900 (Arden and Bowman 2004; 163,170 & 171). With no evidence in the history it could only be hypothesised at this point that both buildings were originally built within the same time period.

It wasn’t until the buildings were demolished that the truth was revealed. Underneath the floor of both buildings was a shared concrete and limestone ring foundation. This provided us with the evidence that these two buildings would have been built at the same time. But how unusual for a large building to have a small cottage butted against it.

An example of the foundations used for both buildings. Image: J. Hearfield.

After much discussion, it became clear exactly why there were two buildings built at the same time on this section – it was actually one large dwelling. Within the two-storey building there was no fireplace with an opening large enough to be the kitchen fireplace. The only fireplace large enough for cooking was in the cottage. This led us to the conclusion that there could have been an internal door from the hall in the two-storey building into the cottage. This means that the cottage would have been used as a utilitarian annex and functioned as the kitchen, scullery and servant quarters.

Newspaper article talking about the lease of the property and mentions servant bedroom and scullery (Lyttelton Times 9/6/1881:8).

What we have concluded may have been the original layout of the building in 1881. Image: J. Hearfield.

Whilst many pre-1900 buildings show evidence of a divide between public and private spheres, including areas that were designated for servants such as the kitchen and their living quarters, this usually is shown in the difference between decorative features such as skirting boards and architraves. However, this building took it to a whole other level by making the servant quarters look like a completely different building. Perhaps this was to give the servants a feeling of having their own space or else was it the owner wanting separatism between the family and their servants?

Jamie-Lee Hearfield

References

Arden, S., and Bowman, I., 2004. The New Zealand Period House: A conservation guide. Random House New
Zealand, Auckland.

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register. Archives New
Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [accessed 07/18].

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [accessed 07/18].

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [accessed 07/18].

Strouts, F., 1877. Map of Christchurch,