Mr and Mrs Smith

 

Of all the house sections in all the world, ‘The Smiths’ had to walk into mine. Between 1897 and 1899, that is…

Today on the blog I’ll refrain from making jokes about ‘Brangelina’ and the 2004 movie that shares its name with this post (especially regarding news of their coincidentally timed divorce). Instead, I’ll tell you a tale about the trials, tribulations and triumphs that I experienced recently, while researching the history of a family with the most gloriously common name – Smith. You will also get a peek at how we carry out some of our historic research.

 

Smith has been the most common surname in New Zealand and England since the 19th century. So it wasn’t surprising that it was a difficult task to find information on the family of Smiths who owned a house section in Strowan between 1897 and 1899. Large deposits of domestic rubbish were found on this site, and they contained artefacts that were dated from 1897 onwards. This house section only had one previous owner, and he was known to be living in another area of Christchurch at the time, so it seemed logical that the Smiths could have deposited this rubbish.

lloyd-street-dig

Happy archaeologists recording a large rubbish pit. Image: C. Dickson

The information that we had about the Smiths was available from the certificate of title for this land parcel, and was limited to their names and occupation (Many Anne Smith, the wife of Henry William Smith (carrier)). Now this would normally be sufficient information for us to determine if this couple lived on this section at the time that they owned it, as they would usually be listed in the Wises Post Office Directories and/or the New Zealand Electoral Roll. In this instance, no one with the last name Smith was recorded to be living on or owning a section on the appropriate street in Strowan at this time, nor was there any mention of them in the newspapers – so it would be easy to assume that this rubbish pit must have been made by a later 20th century occupant of this site.

 

This being said, the rubbish deposits in question contained large quantities of artefacts – many with dateable manufacturers’ marks, and many which could be dated by the techniques used to make them. As no maker’s mark was later than 1897 and no machine made glass bottles were present (machine made bottles began to be produced in the first decade of the 20th century), it seemed more likely that these rubbish pits were filled in the 19th century.

lloys-street-bottle

Pharmaceutical bottle which probably represented Spencer Vincent Pharmacy, located at 214 high Street, Christchurch. This company was first mentioned in Christchurch newspapers in 1897, and this bottle represents the youngest dateable artefact from the rubbish deposit (Donaldson 1990: 151. Star 17/06/1897: 3). Image: C. Dickson

So who could have thrown out the rubbish? The neighbouring sections surrounding this land parcel were not purchased until the 20th century, and the land wasn’t located in the highly populated central city – so it also seemed unlikely that this rubbish was deposited here by people who lived in the area.  Our section was not located near the corner of an adjacent road, so it seemed unlikely that our residents would use another road for access…

 

However, the resources that we have available for this type of research were compiled during the 19th century when recording methods were not always reliable or consistent. As such, we do sometimes come across errors and missing information. A closer look at the postal records of an adjacent road provided a very welcome “Henry Smith (carrier)” as a resident of an unnumbered house in the relevant block along Strowan Road, despite the fact that our modern road (Lloyd Street) had been created more than a decade before! I won’t bore you with too many further details, but the situation became much more complicated from here, and involved making maps showing where all of the residents listed on both of these roads lived (for the next decade). This can be confusing, because the houses are unnumbered, and not all the houses are always listed – so the method involves chasing consistent occupation of unnumbered houses. Tricky right? (To add to the headache, there were about five mistakes in post office directory over this period, and the residents of Lloyd Street were listed on Lloyd Street some years, and Strowan Road other years). Needless to say, complicated and time consuming, but highly rewarding when the pieces (or people) fall into place (yay!). The situation resulted in evidence of consistent occupation of our section by the Smiths from 1897, and the two more families in early 20th century. Too easy?

 

Little personal information was available about Henry William Smith, apart from where he resided before and after he lived in Strowan, and the fact that he worked as a carrier in Christchurch in the late 19th and early 20th century. During this period, he gave evidence at a court case regarding an eviction dispute – he had helped an evicted shop owner move her soiled, rain drenched goods, after her landlord took the roof off her shop! Nice guy. Mary Anne’s occupation is recorded as a housewife carrying out domestic duties at this time.

henry-smith-hero

Henry Smith (hero!).  An excerpt from the long-winded court case. You think your landlord is unfair!? (Press 10/03/1905: 07).

In 1900, Annie and Robert Meynell purchased the property. Robert was a local contractor who cleaned rivers and drains and was wounded in WW1 (Sun 27/06/1917: 3). The Meynells had a similarly uneventful representation in the local newspapers during their lifetimes, but they leased the house for a couple of years to a character with a much more colourful past. Raphael Portelli (whose antics we have come across before), was a fishmonger who appeared in Christchurch court many times in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was charged with a flurry of misdemeanours, including, but not limited to: public drunkenness, using obscene language (Star 19/10/1892: 3), cruelty ill-using a horse (Star 26/07/1899: 3), assault, and breaking a window (Star 13/06/1900: 3), driving a cart after sunset without lights 17/04/1901: 3), being drunk while driving a horse and cart (Press 17/07/1901: 3), crashing his cart into someone else’s deliberately (coincidentally, this was the cart of Peter Thompson,  who had previously charged him with assault Star 22/05/1902: 3). His ten-year-old son was even charged with stealing a tricycle (Star 18/06/1896: 3). Imagine how that getaway must have gone!

 

Ordinarily, it would be safe to assume that any of these residents could have deposited our assemblage, due to the time lag between the manufacture and the deposition of an artefact. However, this assemblage contained a group of artefacts which became a lot more exciting upon realising the Smiths lived here…

 

You may remember a matching ceramic tea set we posted on our page back in January –  It featured the monogram of a mysterious caterer that appeared to have two different initials and the ability to run his business posthumously? This tea set was found on our section.

smith-ceramic

L. J. Smith catering tea set, showing correct and incorrect monogram. Image: G. Jackson.

On further inspection, it appeared that one of the two similar sets of initials on these matching tea sets was a mistake. The correct monogram printed on these ceramics can be attributed to Leo Josephus Smith, who was a well-regarded caterer in Christchurch from 1891 to his death in 1897. He catered everything from balls and Lodge functions to school picnics, and – that’s right – he also had the last name SMITH! We have covered the fact that Smith represents a common surname, but it seems like too much of a coincidence that these artefacts turned up on a section occupied by someone with the same last name, during a contemporary time. The likely explanation is that Leo and Henry were brothers – we know from Leo’s obituary that he was the seventh son of Mr W. H. Smith, who arrived in Christchurch “with the pilgrims” (Star 25/10/1897: 4). Henry’s initials match those of Leo’s father’s and it is possible that he was given his father’s names. As the catering business appears to have continued after Leo’s death in 1897, it is possible that Henry and Mary Anne were involved in the continued operation of the business. This is supported by an advertisement in the Press in 1898 which names H. W. Smith as the caterer for a 40-year anniversary picnic of the ship Zealandia (Press 28/09/1898). It turns out that the Zealandia had a William Smith as steerage passenger (Lyttelton Times 22/09/1858: 4). It sounds a lot like this passenger was their father!

 

And so we come to the end of this historical journey. I hope you’ve shared my excitement about this site – it’s pretty unusual to find an artefact with someone’s name on it, and even more uncommon to have a connection between this person and the occupant of the site where it was found. What’s also cool is that fragments of this tea set were recovered from several rubbish pits at this site – which means that we can assume that all they were all deposited at roughly the same time. In this instance, this can only have happened during the three years that the Smiths lived on the section – which is a small window of time in the grand scheme of archaeology!

A piece of the tea set where it was found – inside a metal barrel containing charcoal and other artefacts. Image: C. Dickson

A piece of the tea set where it was found – inside a metal barrel containing charcoal and other artefacts. Image: C. Dickson

 

Chelsea Dickson

 

References

 

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectibles Club, Christchurch.

Picturing Christchurch

As a researcher for Underground Overground Archaeology, I spend my time searching written and visual sources for historical information on the sites the archaeologists are working on. The newspapers available on Papers Past are some of the best sources for rediscovering nineteenth-century Christchurch. Photographs, where they are available, offer additional layers of information not available in the written sources. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Christchurch City Libraries, Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Library of New Zealand  have many photographs of early Christchurch online. The website Early New Zealand Photographers and their Successors offers information on photographers and examples of their work.

We are indebted to amateur photographer Dr Alfred Charles Barker, immigrant on the Charlotte Jane in 1850 and the settlement’s doctor, for many of the views of the growing city. He photographed early buildings, local residents and Christchurch city streets. The Canterbury Museum holds a collection of his glass plate negatives, many of which are available to view online.

A number of professional photographers set up businesses in Christchurch during the nineteenth century, producing views of the city and as well as portraits of its inhabitants. The first professional photographer, John Crombie, arrived in 1857 from Auckland. In that year the Lyttelton Times announced that “Photography has broken out like an epidemic amongst us”:

Crombie only stayed for a few months, but by 1865 there were seven photographers operating in the city (The Southern Provinces Almanac, 1865). Over the next 25 years, Christchurch would be home to over 40 studios. Last year Christchurch Uncovered looked at Charles Lawrence who had a photography studio on Oxford Terrace.

There was a thriving market in the sale of photographic views of the new settlement. These were often posted to friends and relatives overseas to show the “improvements” of Christchurch. In 1880 the studio of Edmund Wheeler and his son Edmund Richard Wheeler advertised that they would mount photographs purchased from them into an album and send it free of charge (Star 12/4/1880: 1). Wheeler and Son was one of the longest-lived of Christchurch’s nineteenth-century establishments, operating for nearly 50 years. They set up on Colombo Street in 1865 and moved into Cathedral Square in 1880 where the business remained until 1914 when it went bankrupt (The Southern Provinces Almanac 1865; Star 12/4/1880: 1 and 9/6/1914: 5). Like other photographers, the studio’s main activity was taking portraits, and they produced thousands.

Unidentified woman, by E. Wheeler's Studio. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Album 107.

Unidentified woman, by E. Wheeler’s Studio. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Album 107.

During the 1870s they issued an album of photographs of Christchurch and other locations around the country, which they described as “one of the most complete yet made of New Zealand Views”:

Nearly 20 years later in 1896, Wheeler and Son, in partnership with the New Zealand Scenery Publishing & Co., issued “The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery,” another compilation of photographs taken around the country:

High Street, Christchurch, by Wheeler and Son. Image: The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery.

High Street, Christchurch, by Wheeler and Son. Image: The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery.

Other Christchurch photographers also produced images of the city. John Gaul, who set up on Colombo Street in 1872, advertised in 1873 that he had in stock over 100 views of Christchurch and vicinity taken by William Sherlock, who was working in Gaul’s studio at the time (H. Wise & Co. 1872-73: 230):

Sherlock’s Christchurch photographs had been described in glowing terms in the Star newspaper in 1872. His views of the Avon were touted as “perfect gems” and Sherlock’s talent as a photographer commended:

Christchurch’s bridges proved to be popular subjects for photographers, partly due to their scenic nature but also because they were a symbol of engineering and progress. The studio of Thomas Easter and Frank Wallis produced a carte de visite (small photograph mounted on card measuring 6.5 cm x 10 cm) of the Victoria Bridge:

Victoria Bridge, by Easter and Wallis. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Box 85, No. 10.

Victoria Bridge, by Easter and Wallis. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Box 85, No. 10.

Photographs of public buildings and churches like this one taken by Peter Niels Schourup were likewise very marketable:

Photographers from outside of Christchurch also produced views of the city. The Dunedin studio Burton Brothers visited Christchurch in the 1880s and took a number of photographs of the city’s buildings and streets:

A photograph they took of the intersection of Hereford Street and High Street features the Fisher building prominently in the centre. Christchurch Uncovered looked at the Reverend Thomas Richard Fisher several years ago.

Streetscapes such as this one of Oxford Terrace are valuable for researching nineteenth-century Christchurch buildings. The photograph shows Oram’s Royal Hotel in a high degree of detail, and even the hotel’s sign is clearly shown:

Detail of Oram's Royal Hotel.

Detail of Oram’s Royal Hotel.

Detail of Oram's Royal Hotel sign.

Detail of Oram’s Royal Hotel sign.

A Burton Brothers photograph of Hereford Street shows the building now known as Shand’s Emporium that has been recently moved to Manchester Street:

Detail of Shand's Emporium.

Detail of Shand’s Emporium.

In addition to buildings, we do a lot of research on Christchurch’s nineteenth-century roads and drainage. A photograph of “Colombo Road” in Sydenham, shows one of the channels that ran along the roadside to help combat the city’s drainage problems:

Detail of drainage channel alongside Colombo Road.

Detail of drainage channel alongside Colombo Road.

Unfortunately, only a small number of Christchurch’s streets and buildings were photographed during the nineteenth century, and thousands of the glass plate negatives from photography studios were lost during the First World War when glass was in short supply. Australian companies purchased them for as little as 3 pence per dozen, and one Auckland studio sold 6,000 of their negatives for the war effort (Press 29/5/1916: 6). A Sydney company visited Christchurch photography studios in 1916 and purchased a number of negatives of the old Canterbury identities.

Jill Haley

References

H. Wise & Co., 1878‐1979. Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.

Lyttelton Times [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed September 2016].

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

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

Water, water, everywhere!

Presenting a selection of the aerated (or soda, if you prefer) water bottles that have surfaced so far on Christchurch archaeological sites. Brace yourselves: there may be water puns (although, honestly, most of the ones we could think of were simply too terrible to include).

H. Mace and Co.

H. Mace and Co. torpedo bottle. This bottle, which features the ‘dog in a shield’ mark, dates from c. 1904 until 1924. As the story goes, Henry Mace, who operated a soda water factory on St Asaph Street from the 1880s, used a dog trademark on his bottles in tribute to a dog that saved a member of his family from drowning. The company continued to use the trademark after his death in 1902. Image: J. Garland.

290-colombo

Two Codd bottles, one from Hill and Co. (left), c. 1904-1918, and one from Wright and Co., c. 1908-1956 (right). You just make out the image of a ship on the Wright and Co. bottle, while the Hill and Co. bottle used the AH monogram, a reference to Anthony Hill, who first established the business in Sydenham in the 1870s. Image: J. Garland.

H. J. Milsom

The Milsom name is often associated with aerated water, with several branches of the family setting up factories in Lyttelton and Christchurch during the 19th century. Henry Joseph Milsom was based on St Asaph Street, c. the 1880s. Image: J. Garland.

J. Swann, Kaiapoi

James Swann lemonade, c. 1860s. James Swann was a former chemist who appears to have dipped his toes into soda water manufacturing during the 1860s in Kaiapoi. Image: J. Garland.

W Butement

A William Butement torpedo bottle. The history of William Butement’s soda water business is a bit murky, however. There’s mention of a cordial maker of the same name on Oxford Terrace in 1865, and Wm Butement at Christ’s College in the 1880s, but that seems to be it. There was also a company by the name of the Butement Brothers in Dunedin from the 1860s onwards, so maybe there’s a connection there. Image: J. Garland.

J. Manning Rangiora

J. Manning bottle, c. 1889-c. mid 1890s. John and Mary Manning were first recorded as brewers in Rangiora in the 1870s and registered the dog trademark used on this bottle in 1889. We don’t have many Rangiora manufacturers represented so far, so this was an interesting find. Image: C. Dickson.

Henry France

Moving further afield and across the seas, Henry France was a glass manufacturer operating in London in the 19th century. It’s unclear whether or not he also made aerated water or just shipped his bottles to New Zealand and the local producers here. Image: J. Garland.

Ballin Brothers

The Ballin Brothers! German brothers Bernhard and Louis were making aerated water in Christchurch throughout the last few decades of the 19th century. These bottles, embossed with their characteristic eagle trademark, probably date c. 1890s-WWI. Image: G. Jackson.

Thomas Raine

Thomas ‘Soda Pop’ Raine, possibly the most commonly found soda water manufacturer represented on Christchurch sites. Several variations of his bottles were found at this site, located on Tuam Street. Image: J. Garland.

Whittington

James Whittington died in 1899, only two years after he started producing soda water at the Linwood aerated water factory on Tuam Street. His wife, Fanny, took over the business after his death until 1903, but it seems likely that this bottle (which bears James’ initial) dates to the years before his death. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

J. E. Lister

J. E. Lister, Opawa, c. 1894-1906, decorated with an elaborate shield and crest trademark. Image: J. Garland.

Smith and Holland

Smith and Holland, c. 1920-1925, based in St Albans and successors to the Griffiths soda water manufacturing company. Image: J. Garland.

Ballin brothers stoneware

And last, but not least, another Ballin Brothers bottle – a stoneware example, this time, complete with closure. Image: J. Garland.

References

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottles and Containers of Christchurch and District. Antique Bottle and Collectables Club, Christchurch.

Spirits, skittles and a stolen goose: the life and times of the Caversham Hotel

John Bent leaned over and grabbed the goose. There was a whole flock of them in the street—surely one wouldn’t be missed? It was 11pm, and he had been drinking heavily all night. In his muddled state it seemed like a good idea. “Leave it alone,” his mate Edward Banks warned him. He too was drunk. But Bent ignored him, and the two men walked off with the bird. From his seat in the Caversham Hotel, Robert Hallam saw all this happen, and he told Smith, the hotel’s proprietor, that one of his geese was being nicked. This was not the first time the hotel had lost one of its flock. They were worth 8 shillings each, and Smith was determined not to lose another one. He rushed outside and called to Bent to drop the goose, who, in his panic, threw it over a fence. The next day, Constable Jeffreys paid Bent a visit. Bent said that he knew nothing about the matter but, so that no further bother had to be made, offered to pay for the goose. The constable was not interested in Bent’s simple solution and instead charged him with theft. He was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment (Lyttelton Times 6/5/1868: 2).

During the nineteenth century, hotels were gathering places for the community and sites for a variety of events, and the Caversham Hotel was no exception. As expected, the local newspapers were filled with stories of drunken and disorderly behaviour and the occasional petty theft, but the hotel was also a recreational place for many people to enjoy a meal and some entertainment, as well as a home for others. Its walls witnessed the everyday life of its visitors and residents. The theft of Smith’s goose in 1868 is just one of an infinite number of small stories that make up the history of the Caversham Hotel.

When John Franklin Smart opened Caversham House (as it was then called) on the corner of Madras and St Asaph streets in 1852, that part of Christchurch was the edge of the struggling new settlement, but by the time the hotel closed in 1910, it had been engulfed by the growing city. Smart’s choice of that area was strategic, and he was able to take advantage of traffic passing in and out of Christchurch. As soon as the hotel opened, he advertised in the Lyttelton Times:

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

In 1862 John Townsend Parkinson, the new proprietor of the hotel, remodelled and enlarged the building, renaming his premises the Caversham Hotel (Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1). It seemed to have been a good year for Parkinson. On Anniversary Day (originally held in December), he was “feeling desirous of giving his friends and the public an opportunity of enjoying themselves” and set up games of quoits, greasy pole (climbing a greased pole), jumping in sacks and donkey racing in the paddocks adjoining the hotel (Lyttelton Times 13/12/1862: 5).

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

In February 1863, Parkinson’s good feelings had changed, and he poisoned himself with strychnine. Poor business decisions as well as the recent hotel work had put him deeply into debt. Several days before his death, the hotel’s barman noticed that Parkinson seemed to be inattentive and disordered. To Parkinson’s wife, who knew nothing about his financial difficulties, he appeared to be in a cheerful mood. When he heard that news of his debt had been published in a report, he sent an advertisement to the Standard offering a reward of £20 for delivery of the “scoundrel” who had written it. The next morning, he decided to take his own life. Soon after swallowing the strychnine, the barman found him on his bed in a seizure. The doctor was called, but the poison had taken its effect and Parkinson died (Lyttelton Times 7/2/1863: 4).

After Parkinson’s death, John Franklin Smart took over the hotel again, and by the end of 1863, Thomas Howes had taken up its management (Press 23/7/1863: 5; Lyttelton Times 14/3/1863: 6). The next year, the hotel was put up for sale:

The main amusement of the Caversham Hotel, like other licensed hotels, was the bar. Over nearly 60 years, the hotel sold a range of wines, ales and spirits. As luck would have it, a few artefacts were found at this site which reflected this drinking culture. These were commonly found bottle types which would have contained beer, wine and gin. As is typical of hotel sites (where patrons dined as well as drank), a serving tureen, salad oil bottles and wide mouth jars which may have contained other condiments or food were also uncovered. The most exciting find was a large flagon that may have once provided cider, beer or water to the hotel guests (Oswald et al. 1982: 74). The flagon was largely intact, and was made by Stephen Green Imperial Pottery Factory, in Lambeth, between 1820 and 1858 (Godden 1991: 289). What was unusual about this vessel was the maker’s mark – it contained the phrase “glass lined inside.” Now lining the inside of a hefty ceramic beverage container with fragile glass didn’t seem like a smart idea to me – but luckily it mustn’t have to Stephen Green either – the phrase actually refers to the glaze of the vessel. Specifically, when the outer vessel was salt-glazed, the inside was glazed with liquid prior to firing (Wood 2014: 102).

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker's mark. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker’s mark. Image: C. Dickson.

This flagon was extra cool because its manufacturing date supported our idea that these artefacts were likely to have been thrown away into an open roadside drain, and accumulated over time. This accumulation would have happened between the formation of St Asaph Street in the 1850s and the laying of the adjacent lateral wastewater pipeline in 1882 – this pipeline forms part of a broader network of waste water pipes dating to the 1880s in central Christchurch. Much of this network is still present and in use today. In fact, last year we uncovered another section of this earthenware pipeline which had a manufacturer’s mark revealing that the Christchurch Drainage Board imported the city’s sewage pipes from Scotland, rather than being locally sourced (ArchSite 2015).

In addition to being an accommodation house and pub, the Caversham Hotel provided games such as billiards and skittles, an early form of bowling that dates back to ancient times and is the forerunner of today’s 10-pin bowling. Its association with pubs and good times is summed up in the expression ‘Life isn’t all beer and skittles’. The game could be played outside on a lawn or inside in an alley and was seen as a working-class amusement that often included gambling (Lyttelton Times 20/6/1865: 6). The Caversham Hotel was one of a handful of establishments that had an indoor alley, and it was the scene of several petty crimes in the 1870s. In 1874 Joseph Hannan stole a purse, pipe and about £5 from Charles Oliver, who had fallen asleep on a bench in the alley, and in 1877 Richard Coleman was found guilty of taking a coat from a table (Star 19/6/1874: 2 and 12/3/1877: 2). During the 1880s the hotel also had an outdoor skittle ground, which was the site of several competitive matches during the decade (Star 31/1/1885: 2).

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

 In 1882, owner Edward Ravenhill had the ageing hotel rebuilt in brick (Press 16/5/1882: 4). Fifteen years later, in 1897, the hotel was again in need of repairs, and Ravenhill had the building pulled down and rebuilt on the site with “all modern conveniences” and “every comfort” (Press 11/11/1897: 8). The furniture and effects from the old hotel were sold at auction, and they included, among other things, a billiard table, two pianos, bedsteads, washstands, mats and carpets, 50 Australian chairs, Japanese chairs, kitchen utensils, 50 pictures and even “stuffed birds in cases” (Star 7/8/1897: 5).

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

During the demolition work, an 1815 copy of Volume VI of A Select British Theatre was found, reportedly in excellent condition and “quite as good as when it was first issued” (Press 7/6/1897: 5). It contained five plays adapted for the theatre by John Philip Kemble. Who owned this volume? A theatre lover who stayed at the hotel? A university student who stopped in for a drink one night? A thief who hid the book to avoid the constable? The history of the book will remain a mystery, but it shows how diverse life at the hotel was.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Ravenhill’s new hotel did not last long.  In 1910 the building was sold at auction in sections for removal, ending its 58-year history. The auction lots included a two-roomed cottage measuring 22 by 16 feet, 35 doors with frames, iron of all sizes, tiled grates, mantelpieces, pipes, boilers, shelving, gates, signposts and timber of every description (Press 7/2/1910: 12).

Jill Haley and Chelsea Dickson

References:

ArchSite, 2015. M35/1353. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Godden, G., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Crown Publishers, New York.

Lyttelton Times [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed August 2016].

Oswald, A., Hildyard, R. J. C. & Hughes, R., G. 1982. English Brown Stoneware 1670-1900. Faber and Faber Limited., London.

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

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

Wood, F., L., 2014. The World of British Stoneware: It’s History, Manufacture and Wares. Troubador Publishing Ltd.

The acclimatisation affair (or how we learned not to underestimate the power of the possum)

The first feeling that strikes everyone on coming to New Zealand is its intense want of animal life. Mountains, plains, rivers, – mere features without a soul; for you can hardly dignify the miserable ground lark, the wailing weka, or the ghoul-like eel with such a title.

– Lyttelton Times 18/02/1864: 5

When I first read the above quote, taken from a letter to the editor of the Lyttelton Times in 1864, I will admit to doing a double take. Then, to a sense of outrage and a strange urge to defend the ‘soulless’ landscape and wildlife of New Zealand from this 150 year old attack on its very being (despite the author of that sentence being unable to hear – or, I suspect, care about – my opinion). It’s such an odd, jarring statement to read about a country that now considers its natural landscape and native wildlife to be a source of pride, a country that places its mountains and plains and rivers at the heart of its national identity. Yet, this sentiment and others like it formed the impetus for one of the most influential colonial endeavours of the 19th century, one that irrevocably changed the land in which we live – to an extent that most of us don’t fully realise.

The wailing weka and the ghoul-like eel. Just not good enough, apparently. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The wailing weka and the ghoul-like eel. Just not good enough, apparently. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

It went by the name of ‘acclimatisation’ and consisted of the deliberate introduction of “beasts, birds, fishes, and vegetable productions, of such species as may be acclimatised with probable advantage to this province and to the colony” (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2). In New Zealand, and the rest of the British colonial world, the acclimatisation movement was largely driven by ‘Acclimatisation Societies’, who made it their mission to improve the plant and animal life of the lands they had chosen to settle. Basically, they imported a bunch of animals into the country from all over the world in a venture that seems to have been part scientific curiosity[1], part hunger[2], part boredom[3] and part an apparently inescapable need to rectify the “remarkable deficiency” of local wildlife.

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

– Press 17/08/1861: 1 (emphasis mine)

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was first formed in 1864, modelled on the example of the London society, which aimed to introduce animals from the colonies into England, and the Victorian society, which aimed to introduce English and other colonial animals into Australia. Societies already existed in Auckland and Otago and the Canterbury branch followed in their footsteps, with the same stated intention of improving the fauna of the new colony (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2).

Excerpts from a letter about a proposed Acclimatisation Society in Canterbury.

Excerpts from a letter about a proposed Acclimatisation Society in Canterbury. Press 17/08/1861: 1.

Early supporters and members included some of the more well-known names of the early settlement, including Edward Wakefield, Sir John Cracroft Wilson, William Guise Brittan, Joseph Brittan, W. L. Travers, William Rolleston, William Sefton Moorhouse and John Edward Fitzgerald. Some of these men had already made their own individual efforts to introduce new species to New Zealand. William Guise Brittan had imported several ‘English singing birds’, as had John Watts-Russell. Sir John Cracroft Wilson had apparently made “an attempt…on a scale of oriental magnificence to introduce the game from the North of India” (Press 17/08/1861: 1). While their stated intention included the practical provision of food for the colony, their emphasis seems to have largely been on the aesthetic and sporting (i.e. hunting and fishing) advantages of acclimatisation.

crazy menu image

The Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, on the other hand, while also interested in the practical and sporting advantages of new animals, seem to have also had an intense interest in eating as many creatures as they could. This menu, if I may draw your attention to some of the more unusual dishes, included patty of frogs, curried opossum, jugged kangaroo and ‘fricandeau of wombat’. Image: Lyttelton Times 4/12/1861: 4. 

It is worth noting – in fact, important to note – that the acclimatisation societies of New Zealand weren’t the first to introduce new animals into New Zealand. Sealers, whalers, missionaries and early European visitors to the country brought with them chicken and pigs and sheep and other animals for food and companionship. Sir George Grey, the early governor of the colony, had his own collection of exotic birds and other creatures that he had imported into the country. And, of course, long before all of this, Māori had brought kiore (the Pacific rat), kurī (dog), kūmara and the ‘Polynesian suite’ of cultigens with them when they first arrived on these shores. For as long as humans have been moving around the world, they’ve been modifying the fauna and flora of the places they visit. The thing about the acclimatisation societies, though, that I think is worth emphasising, is that they were part of an organised, concerted and deliberate effort to change – to improve – the ecology of the country. It wasn’t just a hobby or a side effect of human migration. It was a bonafide movement.

Here in New Zealand, the species they introduced (and must take the blame for) include a selection of birds, fish, mammals, rodents and other creatures (bees!) – many of them now considered pests. Many of them were considered pests within a one or two decades of their introduction, to be honest. Some of them were creatures you might not have thought of as imported species, such as Ligurian bees (from Italy), bumble bees (sometimes referred to as ‘humble bees’) and lobsters. The article I found on lobsters begins with the sentence “Mr Purvis, chief engineer of the Iconic, has succeeded in bringing nine lobsters alive out of twelve” (Star 19/10/1892: 3). Well done, Mr Purvis, well done.

Ligurian bees and a picture of Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume (barely relevant, yet hilarious). Images: Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.

A Ligurian bee and a picture of Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume (barely relevant, yet hilarious). Images: Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.

Birds seem to have been a particular area of interest and focus, which seems odd for an ecosystem already constructed around avian life. As well as game birds, like pheasants, quail, ducks and geese, there was an effort to introduce singing birds (clearly, Joseph Banks’ deafening dawn chorus of 1770 had lost its voice by the 1860s) and, to be honest, as many birds as they damn well could. Interestingly, the introduction of birds wasn’t a one-way street: there’s at least one account in 1872 of a shipment of 1000 tui, wax-eyes and parroquets from New Zealand to England (and a return shipment of English birds to this country).

Some of the birds introduced to New Zealand included the chukor (an Indian game bird), the magpie (thanks Australia, thanks a lot), the laughing jackass (amusingly mentioned in the papers as the Australian jackass), Virginian quail, Canadian geese, Teneriffe grouse, chickens from Kansas, swans, sparrows and German owls. The German owls are possibly my favourite, because the acclimatisation of German owls in the 19th century had turned into the GERMAN OWL MENACE by the 1930s (and yes, the caps are entirely necessary). So much so that the Canterbury association was indignant when the papers suggested that they were responsible for releasing more owls into the wild. A close second would have been the “peculiarly inoffensive” emu named Jack, who terrorised horses by trying to fraternise with them all the way back in 1865.

GERMAN OWL MENACE

GERMAN OWL MENACE. Image: Press 19/07/1935: 22.

There was also a strong emphasis on the introduction of fish, especially trout and salmon, into the otherwise “useless” rivers of the Canterbury plains. Millions of fish were “liberated” into the streams and rivers of the district , born from ova shipped into Lyttelton from all over the world and raised in purpose-built fish ponds in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We excavated the site of the fish-ponds a while back, but there was nothing left of what was once the gateway for Canterbury’s freshwater fish populations (the Otago ones do still exist, though, and have been the subject of some cool archaeological projects over the last few years).

A survey plan of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society grounds in 1913, including the fish ponds.

A survey plan of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society grounds in 1913, including the fish ponds. Source: Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) and licensed by LINZ for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence (link is external).

As well as the birds and the fishes, however, there were the beasts. Let us not forget the beasts. Possums and rabbits and deer, oh my. Polecats, even. There appear to have been wildly differing levels of success with mammals and rodents. Some, like the kangaroo or the “game from the north of India” attempted by Cracroft Wilson, weren’t hugely successful. Others, like rabbits (described as ‘evil’ as early as the 1870s), possums, hares, deer and, of course, sheep, took to New Zealand in a flash. Most of them were imported as game, rather than food (with a couple of obvious exceptions). Yes, that’s right. We have so many possums and rabbits because it seemed like a fun idea at the time.

TS18930819.2.45-a2-424w-c32

Yep. Good plan. Image: Star 19/08/1893: 5.

And when I say ‘in a flash’, it’s almost an understatement. Some of their greatest successes very quickly became their greatest headaches. By 1876, the New Zealand government had to pass the Rabbit Nuisance Act in response to the success of that species. By 1882, societies were recommending that hares be killed all year round rather than just during specific seasons. By 1898 they were suggesting that people could do so without a license. By the turn of the century there were suggestions for some measure of governmental control over the power of societies and individuals to import “animals or birds that might become nuisances to the community” (Press 23/05/1894: 5) and by the mid-20th century it was generally acknowledged that many of these introduced species had done irreparable damage to the native and other introduced species of New Zealand. Let’s not forget the German Owl Menace, everybody. At the same time, despite the increasing awareness of the problems of introduced species evident among acclimatisation societies as the decades progressed, they didn’t stop doing it, even importing other species to deal with problematic ones (why hello, stoats and ferrets).

I find the whole notion of acclimatisation societies quite weird to wrap my head around, to be honest. Especially in light of the biosecurity that is now so much a part of New Zealand life. Yet, the effects of their work are everywhere. If we look at it from an archaeological perspective the efforts of these societies are present in every assemblage of animal bones we excavate from 19th century sites in Christchurch – chicken, duck, sheep, cow, pig, horse, turkey, cat, rat, goose or dog, they’re all there.

bones

Bones, bones, bones. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

We don’t even blink at them most of the time, because we’re so used – so ‘acclimatised’ – to having these species around. They’re a part of our normal, a statement that says as much about how much the Acclimatisation Society of Canterbury (and its brethren throughout the country) changed and constructed our present day world as anything else I’ve written here.  Because 150 years ago, like the settlers who brought them here, these animals were very much strangers in a foreign land. And their impact, like the impact of the colonial settlement itself (and all colonial settlements), has changed this land forever, for better or for worse. You be the judge.

Jessie Garland

[1] “Hmm, I wonder if these ones will survive?”

[2] “They wanted practically to benefit the country by increasing the food of the people, and a plant or an animal that would not thrive on the ordinary conditions of English life and cultivation was of no use to them” (Lyttlelton Times 4/12/1861: 4).

[3] “What ho, old chap, where’s all the fish and game at?”