Early Christchurch women, breaking the rules: the exhibition.

The ideal Victorian woman

In Victorian society, a woman was to be meek, mild, virtuous and peaceful (Whiteside 2007). She was expected to marry and have children. She would stay at home, looking after her children and her husband and keeping the house perfectly. Public affairs were men’s matters, although a woman might engage in charitable or other social works, but nothing that could in any way be construed as ‘masculine’. She was selfless – everyone else always came first. She certainly wasn’t involved in politics, and nor did she run a business. At least, that was the theory!

Left: M Heslop & Co (Christchurch) fl 1870s: Portrait of unidentified man, woman and child. Ref: PA2-2063. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23056667. Right: well, it would be an alternative middle class family! Image: Observer 14/11/1903.

In fact, this standard was mostly applied to middle class women, and it seems to have been much less unusual for working class women to, well, work. But there were middle class women who broke these ‘rules’ of Victorian society too, in a range of ways. Discovering the lives of a number of these women in 19th century Christchurch – and our fascination with their ‘hidden’ lives – has led us to curate an exhibition: Women breaking the rules. You can see the physical display at Rewind at Ferrymead Heritage Park on Sunday 14 October, and also follow these women’s stories online via our Instagram exhibition @womenbreakingtherules.

Designed by A. Gibson.

But regardless of class, women were always defined in relation to the men in their life, whether father, brother or husband. So, being a spinster could be difficult and challenging. Much as we might not like it in this day in age, men provided often critical financial security for the women in their lives, particularly in a world where there was no pension or unemployment benefit, let alone a domestic purposes benefit. In fact, there was no state support of any kind in New Zealand until the end of the 19th century, and the poor were reliant on charities for support.

Unlike spinsters, widows seem to have had far more freedom and to have been more ‘respectable’ than unmarried women. While their situation might have been financially difficult, the range of jobs society approved of them taking on was broader than the range available for single women. And widows – as in some of the stories here – often ended up running their husband’s businesses, meaning they took on a variety of professions (Bishop 2012).

Women and work

Yes, women did work in the Victorian era! And not just as domestic servants – although this was far and way the most common occupation for women. In fact, some women ran businesses of their own. The jobs that women took on, though, and even many of the businesses they ran, tended to involve caring, or to be domestic in character. Jobs like teaching or nursing were both acceptable for middle class women (Bishop 2012).

Working class women could take on quite a range of work: dressmaker, needlework, hotelkeeping, storekeeping, confectionary, haberdashery, drapery and so on. Women could also earn money by taking in boarders, doing laundry or by looking after other women’s children. And let’s not ignore that they could be prostitutes. These were all ways of earning money that might fly under the radar and not be recorded officially (Bishop 2012).

Just relaxing under a tree, along with other women, working in the seaside or the countryside, riding a horse… working women and classy ones, all sort of women depicted through the artefacts! Image: J. Garland, C. Watson and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Telling women’s stories

As regular readers of the blog will know, researching the lives of most people who lived in 19th century New Zealand is tricky – official records can be patchy or may not even exist (Minchinton 2017). People only turned up in the newspapers if they were famous, got in trouble or were advertising for servants, leasing or selling properties. Unless someone has a really unusual name, you often can’t be certain you’re researching the right person.

Mary Portelli, the antithesis of the Victorian ideal, a woman in endless trouble! Images. Right: Star 29/05/1895: 3. Left: Southland Times 20/09/1906: 2.

Studying women’s lives is even harder. For one thing, they changed their surname when they married. Then, they were often referred to only as Mrs…, without their first name, or including their husband’s name instead – for example, Mrs L. J. Smith. Women who ran businesses often traded under their husband’s name, or didn’t advertise at all (Bishop 2012). And, in general, women’s activities meant they didn’t end up in the newspaper.

The branded china L. J. Smith – and presumably Elizabeth, L. J. Smith’s wife – used at events he organised as caterer. Image: C. Dickson.

Despite these difficulties, archaeology and history reveal the lives of six Christchurch women who, in one way or another, broke the rules of late 19th and early 20th century society: Fanny Cole, prohibitionist; Elizabeth Robinson, chemist; Sarah Gault, dressmaker; Elizabeth Smith, caterer; Caroline Rantin, timber and coal merchant; and Mary Portelli, woman in trouble.

There are no Māori women in this exhibition, unfortunately, because we’ve not found any record of Māori women living in 19th century Christchurch. This isn’t to say that they weren’t, just that we’ve not found them yet. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend checking out the book He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century.

Why are these women important?

These six women were not the only exceptional ones who broke the rules. It turns out that there were many more women pushing the boundaries of Victorian society than we initially expected. The six women we’ve featured in this exhibition serve to highlight the lives and occupations of all these women, along with their concerns and daily battles and how they struggled against what was accepted and respectable (Whiteside 2007), whilst working within the confines of the ideals of that time. But slowly, slowly, pushing these boundaries would come to change society as a whole. So, let’s look at the archaeology and the historical record and bring women into the picture!

This exhibition is a joint production between Underground Overground Archaeology and the Christchurch Archaeology Project.

Katharine Watson and Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References 

Bishop, Catherine, 2012. “Commerce Was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington.” PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Minchinton, Barbara, 2017. “’Prostitutes’ and ‘lodgers’ in Little Lon: construction a list of occupiers in nineteenth-century Melbourne”. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 35, pp. 64-70.

Whiteside, Heidi, 2017. “’We Shall Be Respectable’: Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttelton 1851-1893”. MA thesis, University of Canterbury.

Discovering Christchurch’s Classical past

Being a Roman archaeologist by trade, wherever I go in the world I seem to sniff out some classical antiquities. Some call it a talent, some call it an obsession (I’ll leave that to you to decide…). There’s something about the ancient civilisations that get me really excited and if I’ve had a tough day on a muddy site in the freezing cold New Zealand winter I go home and grab my copy of Tacitus (or watch an episode of the BBC’s ‘Rome’ –  it’s all about balance, right?) to remind me why I fell in love with archaeology.

Me, sat outside my idea of heaven: Ara Pacis Augustae, Rome. Sometimes watching Gladiator suffices though. Image: Colin Davidson.

I was exceptionally lucky to grow up right next to Hadrian’s Wall in the North East of England, so I’ve been surrounded by classical influences my entire life. This is quite likely why I wanted to go on to study it at a higher level. When I was studying Roman archaeology at Newcastle University I actually got to dig on Hadrian’s Wall a few times, so I count myself very fortunate. Moving to the opposite side of the world (literally), I have encountered a very different type of archaeology, which I love experiencing in equal measure. But I need my classical fix. Que the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re about to.

Hadrian’s Wall; once the northern boundary of the Roman Empire and keeping out those uncivilised Scots (sorry Dad). Image: Creative Commons

Now Christchurch wouldn’t be the first place I would think of when I’m wistfully daydreaming of Ancient Rome or Athens but I was wrong (shocking, I know). The University of Canterbury offers an outstanding opportunity to get up close to artefacts from the Ancient World in the form of the Teece Museum, now located in the UC Arts Building in the CBD. While visiting the museum is free, donations are strongly recommended – not only because we need to keep funding our arts and heritage sectors (I won’t start ranting, don’t worry), but because the museum itself has its origins in just that activity; donating. The James Logie Collection came from a single donor, Miss Marion Steven, in 1957. And from here the story of classical antiquities in Christchurch has grown. The collection was the ‘brainchild’ of UC Classics staff member Marion Steven (pictured below, exploring Rome a bit like myself), whose passion for Greek pottery provided the foundation for the Logie Collection. She taught at the University between 1944 and 1977 and married James Logie, Registrar of the College from 1950 until his death in 1956. The collection was established as a tribute to her husband and since then has been a commemoration to both James and Marion.

Miss Marion Steven, Rome, c.1970. Image: Copyright UC.

The story of classical antiquities in Christchurch is, however, fairly different to most places. When the 6.2 magnitude 2011 Canterbury Earthquake struck, artefacts literally jumped and turned (apparently the CCTV footage is quite something). The quakes resulted in around three quarters of the collection being damaged, but (luckily) there was no water or fire damage. If there had been, I would be telling a very different story right now. What astounds me the most about Christchurch in general are the positive perspectives that people have taken from the rebuild process, and meeting with Terri Elder (the collection’s curator who joined the team post-quake), provided me with yet another example of this. What we often don’t think about when visiting museums is the stuff that’s kept in storage. Only a small proportion of a collection is shown at any time. New exhibitions are always being put together and the artefacts that aren’t currently on display are kept in storage. Whilst the earthquake caused major issues for collection, they’ve taken the time to learn from what happened and make improvements to the storage alongside the repair of the artefacts, many of which had historic repairs that were not up to current conservatory standards.

Storage units for museums and archives are usually  large rolling units (seen below).This rolling design allows you to open one ‘corridor’ at a time and therefore doesn’t waste space in between shelves (like  a library for example). While this method is a necessity to save valuable space, I’m sure you’ll agree that  rolling units with valuable objects and earthquakes don’t really mix. While no significant damage happened to the collection that was in storage, lessons were nonetheless learnt. These lessons resulted in modifications to the storage, such as the straps across the shelves which are designed to catch and stop the boxes from falling to the floor in the event of another quake. In addition, the units all lock into place when you open them to prevent users becoming trapped between the units.

The storage units with the post-earthquake modifications. Image: Copyright UC.

As an immediate reaction following the quake, the collection was to be packed away in its entirety. This, which could be perceived as a step backwards, oddly turned into a positive for the museum as it meant that schools visiting the collection in the period after the quakes got to handle the collection because it was in storage rather than on display behind a glass case. The collection began to be used in a more hands-on manner, which makes the artefacts (as well as the time period they came from) more real and vibrant to those learning about them.  There’s often a perception that artefacts in museums aren’t to be handled, and while that’s true for the pieces on display in cases, artefacts are constantly  handled when curators, researchers and archaeologists are learning more about them.

Another positive taken from this situation was the opportunity to remove historic repairs that weren’t up to scratch, which often included staples and discoloured glues. Since these original repairs had been done, the conservation industry has moved forward in leaps and bounds. The new repairs (an example of can be seen below) are all reversible. Now that’s pretty neat. And yes, the artefacts have suffered more fractures during the recent quake but in my humble opinion these new fractures are a new addition  to the story; it was once whole, then lost and forgotten (and likely broken), then found by archaeologists (or collectors), repaired and put on display, and then caught up in the Canterbury Quakes. This is just another stepping stone in the life of an artefact.

Conservator at work on a dog mosaic. Image: Copyright UC.

Before and after treatment of a black-figure lip cup. Image: JLMC 1.53, Copyright UC.

If improvements to the storage and artefacts weren’t enough, the space in which we can now see the collection has had an upgrade too! Pictured below, the space at UC Arts Building now features cases fixed to the wall, with thick safety glass. The cases in the middle are moveable, but there are latches throughout the space that they can be attached to, so with every changing exhibition the space changes but remains safe. Within every case each artefact has a unique mount inside, invisible to the museum visitor, but designed hold the item steady in the event of more earthquakes. None of this was in place prior to 2011, so you’re able to see (or at least visualise) how hard Terri and the team have worked to make the space safe and useable.

Interior view of the Teece Museum gallery. Image: Copyright UC. Photographer Duncan Shaw Brown.

I may be a tad bias, but I think we’re exceptionally lucky to have a collection such as this in Christchurch and, with it now being housed within the CBD, there’s really no excuse not to go along and have a look for yourself. The Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities is located on Level 1 of the UC Arts city building (Old Chemistry) at 3 Hereford Street, in the historic Christchurch Arts Centre. The museum is open to the public Wednesday through to Sunday from 11am to 3pm. See you there!

 

Contact the museum:

Email: teecemuseum@canterbury.ac.nz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teecemuseum/

Instagram: www.instagram.com/teecemusem/

 

Special thanks to Terri Elder and the Teece Museum for their help in making this blog post possible.

Kathy Davidson

A tea cup as a symbol of political change

As a 90s baby millennial, Helen Clark was Prime Minister from the time I started primary school to the time I started high school. I grew up in a world where in the eyes of a child there was never any doubt that a woman could be Prime Minister, and that if I wanted to be Prime Minister when I grew up then I could be. For me, being a girl was never a limitation. I’m lucky that I was born in the 1990s. If I had been born in the 1890s, my opportunities, and likely my own beliefs about what I was capable of, would have been far more limited.

Nineteenth century sentiments surrounding the role of women in society seems simply outlandish today. Image: Wright 1902.

On this day, 125 years ago, the Electoral Act 1893 was passed giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote. The success of the suffragettes was only the start of gaining equal political rights for women. It took until 1933 for the first woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament, until 1941 for women to have the right to sit on the Legislative Council and until 1997 for there to be a female Prime Minister (Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2018). Today 38 percent of our Members of Parliament are women, the highest number ever elected.

The 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage is an important marker in the campaign for women’s rights. It gives us an opportunity to look back and reflect on how far we have come as a society, but also to remember the women who campaigned for suffrage. One such woman was Ada Wells. Ada Wells was a prominent Christchurch suffragette, the first secretary of the National Council of Women of New Zealand, the co-founder of the Canterbury Women’s Institute and the first woman to be elected to the Christchurch City Council (Fogarty 1993). To put it simply, she was a bit of a bad-ass. Ada came to our attention as we recently excavated the property she was living at during the 1890s suffrage campaign. In celebration of the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, we are dedicating this blog post to Ada Wells and will be discussing her life along with what we found of her in the archaeological record.

Ada was born as Ada Pike on the 29th of April 1863, in Shepherd’s Green, Oxfordshire, England (Fogarty 1993). When she was ten years old she travelled on Merope with her parents, three sisters and one brother, arriving in Lyttelton on the 31st October 1873. She attended Avonside School for two years before switching to Christchurch West School where she went on to work as a pupil-teacher between the ages of 14 and 18. Ada was naturally intelligent and had a great interest in languages and classics. In 1881 she was awarded a university junior scholarship and went on to complete the first stage of her BA at Canterbury College. From there she was employed briefly as an assistant teacher at Christchurch Girls High School (Fogarty 1993).

Photograph of Ada Wells taken circa 1910 by an unidentified photographer. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library .

When she was 20 years old Ada married organist Harry Wells. They went on to have three daughters and one son. Despite being a prominent Christchurch musician, Harry was a drunkard with a volatile temper and was unable to hold down a steady job (Fogarty 1993). Harry’s drinking meant Ada had to support the family, taking on teaching positions and accepting private patients for massage and healing. In the late 1880s Ada became involved with the suffragette movement. She had always held strong beliefs on women’s rights and the campaign allowed her to put those beliefs into action. Her organisational talents and passion for the cause meant she played a critical role in the success of the movement (Fogarty 1993).

Ada Wells’ signature on the 1893 Suffrage Petition.

For Ada, the 1893 suffrage campaign was only the start of a long life of campaigning. The year prior to women winning the vote she had founded the Canterbury Women’s Institute, of which she was president for many years. She became the first national secretary of the National Council of Women of New Zealand in 1896, and in 1899 was elected to the Ashburton and North Canterbury United Charitable Aid Board (Fogarty 1993). She argued in favour of free kindergartens, universal access to secondary education, the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, as well as the reform of local government, the charitable aid system and prisons. In 1917 she became the first woman to be elected to the Christchurch City Council (Fogarty 1993).

National Council of Woman, Christchurch, 1896. Ada is the woman seated on the floor on the left. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Ada passed away in 1933, ending a life time of fighting for women’s rights. Her role in the success of suffragette movement cannot be over-stated. Philippa Fogarty (1993) says it best when she writes, “She played a pivotal role in the advancement of women and was a tireless campaigner in the fight for women’s equality and economic independence…Wells’s contribution to Christchurch, especially in the interests of women and children, was invaluable and sadly is often overlooked.”

Between 1892 and 1898, Ada and Harry Wells were living at a property on Mays Road. During our excavations at the property we uncovered three features containing artefacts which were likely deposited by the family. These features were all rubbish deposits. The assemblage was notable in that it was dominated by ceramic artefacts, many of which could be refitted.

Broseley patterned tea ware vessels. Image: C. Watson.

Asiatic Pheasants patterned table wares and serving wares. Image: C. Watson.

Top Row: Pompadour patterned plate, Bo’ness Daisy Chain patterned side plate. Bottom row: Madras patterned plate, European porcelain can, Frightened Ducklings patterned pitcher (Frightened Ducklings is an excellent pattern choice as who wouldn’t want to look at baby ducklings being attacked by giant flying insects while eating dinner). Image: C. Watson.

These ceramic artefacts were vessels connected to taking tea or eating food, with many of the tea serving vessels decorating in the Broseley pattern, and many of the dining vessels decorated in the Asiatic Pheasants and Pompadour patterns. This suggests to us that the Wells family, presumably Ada specifically, were using sets of vessels rather than mismatched pieces when serving tea or food. Having ceramic sets in fashionable patterns was just one of the many components of keeping a good house in Victorian era New Zealand. Ada was no doubt often entertaining guests at her house as part of her campaigning efforts, and likely put in special effort to portray the image she kept a good house so as not to let her critics argue that her life in politics was at the detriment of her role as a mother and wife. Whilst we can’t know for sure, the completeness of many of the vessels suggests they were thrown away intact. The 1890s was a particularly successful period for Ada, and it may be that during this time she purchased new sets, throwing away the older ones.

Harry Wells’ drinking was likely a strong motivator for Ada in her political work. Women in the nineteenth century were tied to their husbands, even if their husbands were abusive. Domestic abuse was a strong motivator for women to join reform movements, with many involved in both the temperance movement and the suffragette movement. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union united the causes and many suffragettes were also supporters of temperance. We found alcohol bottles in the Wells’ assemblage, suggesting that despite Ada’s efforts politically, Harry probably still consumed alcohol at home. Interestingly though, these bottles were all smaller pint sizes. It is possible that Harry was purchasing alcohol in smaller bottles, which were easier to conceal, and was only consuming alcohol at home on the sly. Alternatively, the bottles may not have held alcohol at all, and could have been reused for a completely different substance as was sometimes done in nineteenth century bottle reuse.

Alcohol bottles found at Ada and Harry Wells’ property. Image: C. Watson.

Along with all her work politically, Ada was also a mother. Ada’s role as a mother was seen in the archaeology through the presence of children’s toys. The doll’s head we found at the property was unique in that it had an additional piece of ceramic inlaid inside the head to give the appearance of teeth. The detail of the teeth would indicate that it was probably a rather lovely doll with lots of unique features. However, in its current state, with the missing eyes and sharp pointed teeth, it looks rather terrifying.

What was once likely someone’s treasured toy now resembles something out of a horror movie. Image: C. Watson.

Ada Well was a strong activist for women’s rights, and her work, along with the work of her fellow suffragettes, helped to shape society to how it is today. I think it can be quite easy to be complacent about how much society has changed in the past 125 years. So much of the Victorian material culture we deal with is instantly recognisable to us. We see artefacts like plates, bottles, tea cups, and instantly know what they are because they are objects we use every day. There is a danger to that instant recognition, as we associate the objects with how we would use them and in doing so can forget there would have been different uses for objects, and different social customs surrounding that use. It also easy to forget that people had agency and were not passively constrained to their position in society. Ada Wells and her fellow suffragettes were active agents in changing the role of women in society, using and manipulating material culture in the process of doing so. Are Ada Wells’ teacups simply vessels used to serve tea in? Or, are they symbols of political change, sipped from during meetings discussing how to change the lives of New Zealand women for the better?

Suffrage 125 reminds us that nineteenth century New Zealand was a vastly different place to modern New Zealand. The work of suffragettes such as Ada Wells helped to change the role of women in society, a role which is still changing and being re-defined today.

Clara Watson

References

Fogarty, P. 1993. ‘Wells, Ada’ in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara- the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Available: https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2w11/wells-ada (accessed 19 September 2018).

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2018. Women’s Suffrage Milestones. Available: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/suffrage-milestones (accessed 19 September 2018).

New Zealand. General Assembly Library. National Council of Women, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22694035.

Photograph of Ada Wells from Woman Today magazine. Ref: 1/2-C-016534-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22728937.

Wright, Henry Charles Clarke. 1902. Notice to epicene women. Electioneering women are requested not to call here. 12706-Alex Ferguson, Printer, Wellington. Available: http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=24361&l=en.

 

Chew with your mouth closed, my dear

The dinner party; a minefield of social etiquette and proper behaviour for both the host and the guests. For the host – the pressure of who to invite, where to sit them, what to serve them? Having the right invitation cards, the right food, the right dishes. For the guests – the importance of appearance, polite conversation, correct eating habits. All in all, a maze of social convention with the potential for disaster lying around every corner.

As archaeologists we don’t get to see the social etiquette and behaviour associated with dining directly. Whilst we might uncover the remnants of a first course meal, with the likes of a soup plate and a dessert spoon, we don’t know if the soup was drunk from the side of the spoon (not the tip!) without any audible noise or slurping, as was the polite way to do so. Instead, we have to make inferences based on the assemblage we have from the archaeological record and what we know from the social history to determine the social behaviour of the people we are studying.

Today on the blog we are going to explore Victorian dining customs and some of the etiquette surrounding them, along with how this relates to what we find in the archaeological record. Before we do that, it is worthwhile defining what meal we actually mean by ‘dinner’. Dinner is the main meal of the day. In medieval times, dinner took place at midday, with a basic breakfast served in the morning, and a light supper in the evening just before bed. The urbanisation and industrialisation which took place in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the wealthy and social elite having dinner at a later hour, as late as 9pm by the 1840s. The pushing back of dinner time led to the establishment of a ladies’ luncheon at midday, and afternoon tea between 4pm and 5pm. For working-class people dinner remained at midday, if they were able to leave work for it, or changed to the evening if they lived away from work. In nineteenth century New Zealand dinner was normally served at midday, with evening dinner developing in urban areas in the early twentieth century.

What was served for dinner and how it was served depended on a person’s wealth and status. At the elite end of the scale was the dinner party, where guests were invited for a dinner consisting of five or more courses. An 1879 article in the Southland times describes what should be served for each course. The first course was a soup course, with a vegetable and a white soup normally offered (although one should avoid the white soup with its high levels of cream unless they had ‘exceptionally powerful digestion’). This was followed by a fish course, with at least two fish served. Entrees came next along with mains, which should include roast meat and accompaniments. Dessert finished the meal before the women retired to the parlour for tea and the men discussed business.

An example meal from Alexander Filippini’s 1889 book, ‘The Table: how to buy food, how to cook it and how to serve it’. Filippini included a meal plan for every day of the year. The calf’s head was cooked in pieces and not whole, something I’m sure guests were thankful for.

From the mid-nineteenth century dinner began to be served à la Russe, where courses were served separately and in succession of each other. Prior to this, dishes from all the courses were served on the table at once in service à la Française. In service à la Russe, the only dishes on the table were plates and drinks glasses. Dishes were offered to the guests by servants on large platters, and the guests served themselves. The plates were then cleared away and replaced for the next course which was served in a similar fashion.

Dinner service had a strict etiquette in the way food was served and cleared. The maid of this dinner party, whilst bring practical in requesting the guests keep their forks, broke custom as is noted by the columnist (Free Lance 3/03/1906: pg 12).

The wealthier a household was, the more elaborate their meals were. For the middle class three courses was likely standard, with a maid to help serve the meal if possible. Meals with more courses would have been reserved for dinner parties, which would have been an opportunity for the hosts to show off. For the working classes three course meals were possible, but there would not have been a servant to help serve them.

The number of courses needing to be served, along with the manner of service, dictated the table ware set a household required. An important component of a successful dinner party was the service the dinner was served on. All of the dishes should be matching, and each item of food should be served on the appropriate dish. The rise of the middle-class led to a growth in demand for ceramic table sets, with the Staffordshire potteries responding with a variety of new vessel forms intended for wealthy customers including asparagus plates, herring dishes, chestnut baskets, and fish trowels (Barker 2010: 15).

Serving dishes decorated in the ever-popular Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Top row: platter and plate. Bottom row: pedestalled serving dish and tureen lid. Image: C. Watson.

You can never go wrong with Willow! Top row: plate, castor, ladle. Bottom row: square lid for a serving dish, large platter. Image: C. Watson.

As archaeologists we can use the ceramic assemblage recovered from a household to infer that household’s status and dining habits. When we get an assemblage with elaborate vessel forms in matching patterns and multiple vessels we can infer that the household was wealthy and likely hosting elaborate dinner parties. By the same vein, when we get an assemblage with plain ceramics and simple forms it is likely the household was poorer, and not spending their money on keeping up-to-date with the latest ceramic fashions to impress fancy dinner guests. Of course, it is never as simple as that. As the story of the Wellington dinner party shows, people made do with what they had, and whilst the hostess of the party might not have had enough forks for a multi-course dinner party, she hosted one anyway!

Inspired by this blog to host your own dinner party? Here are our favourite tips (more here) on dinner party etiquette to avoid complete and utter social embarrassment!

-never encourage a dog or cat to play with you at the table.
-never hesitate to take the last piece of bread or the last cake; there are probably more.
-never allow butter, soup or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use the napkin frequently.
-never wear gloves at the table, unless the hands for some special reason are unfit to be seen.
-never eat so much of one article so as to attract attention, as some people do who eat large quantities of butter, sweet cake, cheese or other articles.
-never allow the conversation at the table to drift into anything but chit-chat; the consideration of deep and abstruse principles will impair digestion.

Clara Watson

 

References

Barker, D. 2010. Producing for the Table: A View From the Staffordshire Potteries. In Symonds, J. (Ed). Table Settings: The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

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

Walk this way

Lyttelton is a fun and exciting place to do archaeology. I’ve been lucky enough to get to do a bit of archaeology in Lyttelton in the last few months, mainly out in the road, because of the digging that’s been going on for the installation of new sewer pipelines. Once completed, these pipelines will make Te Whakaraupō / Lyttelton Harbour a much happier and healthier place: for the people, for the fishes, and for the mermaids. Although road formation archaeology (concerned with exploring how historic roads and their footpaths were formed and have changed over time) is not necessarily the most glamourous subject of archaeological enquiry, I’ve become rather fascinated by it lately, and so I thought that I’d share.

Built on the steep sides of an extinct volcano, Lyttelton’s topography presented all sorts of challenges for 19th century roadbuilders. It’s much easier building a road on the flat – Christchurch was lucky in this respect, (even if their roads had to be formed across swamp). Lyttelton had it tough – building roads on a sloping terrain is so much trickier. Civic authorities had to first work out the best levels and gradients for the roads to be formed at, so they could then work out which parts needed to be cut down, and which parts built up. Many of these cuttings needed to be supported by retaining walls so they wouldn’t collapse.  Drainage was especially important, so the roads and retaining walls wouldn’t wash away in bad weather. The steep gullies that ran through the town were perhaps however the biggest of challenges that faced 19th century road builders. These gullies carried stormwater off the hills into the harbour – and in many places were impassably wide and deep. Stone culverts and brick sewers were laid along the length of them before they were all filled in by the late 1880s; often with clay and rock derived from road formation works that were happening elsewhere. And then of course there are those flat parts of Lyttelton that were reclaimed from the harbour – where precious flat land for roads and port infrastructure was created not by building up or cutting down the existing terrain, but by building outwards from the edge of it, into the water.

The 1880s red scoria retaining wall on Brittan Terrace, Lyttelton, exposed in section. This was one of my favourite 19th century retaining walls that I had the pleasure of recording with SCIRT, during the course of it being repaired and rebuilt. Image: Hamish Williams.

A small section of the brick barrel drain on Hawkhurst Road, Lyttelton. This drain was built in sections throughout the 1870s and early 1880s down the side of Salt’s Gully, before the gully was filled in and Hawkhurst Road built on top of it. Image: Hamish Williams.

Road formation stratigraphy exposed underneath Norwich Quay, Lyttelton. I could determine that there was at least five different road surfacing events, because there were five different layers of rocks laid down one over top of another. Image: Hamish Williams.

Road formation stratigraphy – the differential layers of gravel, stones, and rocks laid down in times past to surface the roads before they were sealed – is at the best of times pretty hard to interpret. Unless diagnostic artefacts are found in association with particular layers, when exactly these layers were laid down is notoriously hard to pin down, even when you have historic records to help you make sense of it. Every now and then however, strange and unusual things, (or things that are strangely familiar) surface that are a little easier to make sense of and date – like the Norwich Quay crossing.

The Norwich Quay crossing

By 1860 the two main thoroughfares in the port town, Norwich Quay and London Street, were formed, in places with rudimentary footpaths on either side, but most other roads were little more than rough tracks cut through the tussock-covered hills (Rice 2004: 26). £30,000 had already been spent by the Provincial Council in forming the Sumner Road by this time – the critical overland goods route between the Lyttelton and Christchurch – but locals were irate that they couldn’t just walk a little distance down the road to the shops without having to inconveniently wade through mud. “Norwich Quay is a filthy slough, Oxford Street worse than any newly ploughed field, and London Street an alternation of watery mud and muddy water reported one local (Lyttelton Times 23/6/1860: 4).  In 1874 the footpath along Norwich Quay was reported as being “in a totally disgraceful state, and totally unfit for ladies”, who shouldn’t have had to make their way through ankle deep mud to get to the railway station (Lyttelton Times 5/8/1874: 2, Globe 6/8/1874: 2).

High leather boots up to the neck indispensable. Must have been pretty bad. Image: Star 29/6/1868: 4.

Trenching along Norwich Quay, approaching the Oxford Street intersection, looking east. Image: Hamish Williams.

In early June, I found some evidence of how different sections of the Norwich Quay roadway had been built up over time. Some of the most interesting road formation archaeology was uncovered at the intersection of Norwich Quay and Oxford Street, when the sewer pipeline trenching was passing through. Historically this has always been one of Lyttelton’s busiest intersections (and it still is today). Here was the location of the Post Office (built 1875), and on the opposite corner the offices of the Lyttelton Harbour Board (built 1880). You had to pass through this intersection to get to the wharves and jetties, and the railway station and gasworks was only just down the road a bit. Here evidence of historic road formation layers were well preserved beneath the modern asphalt road surface. Crossing at right angles to the trench and in perfect alignment with the footpath on the eastern side of Oxford Street, was exposed the remains of what turned out to be an old pedestrian crossing. Today pedestrians are spoilt for choice with three pedestrian crossings at the intersection to choose from, back in the 19th century they had just one.

Lyttelton. Burton Brothers Studio, Dunedin, NZ. Image credit: Te Papa (C.011652). Looking south along Oxford Street, this post-1880s photograph of the Norwich Quay intersection shows the Lyttelton Harbour Board offices at left, and at right, the Lyttelton Post Office. The pedestrian crossing can be seen at left.

The stone pedestrian crossing as first exposed by the hydro excavation team. Image: Hamish Williams.

The hydro excavation team found it first, at days end and at shallow depth when searching with water blasting wands and suction hoses for all the important pipes and cables that were not to be damaged by the digger. Only a small patch of the crossing’s stone cobbles (or setts – to be more accurate) was exposed – so I went to work to expose the rest of it. These were covered in a very hard, compacted gravel that was covered with a very sticky, stinky coal tar – not very easy stuff to dig through. Trading in my trowel for a 4-pound mallet and cold chisel, I managed to get only perhaps about half of it exposed before it got too dark to see what I was doing. Those short winter days, roll on Summer.

Half of the stone pedestrian crossing that I excavated by mallet and cold chisel in the failing light of a cold Winter’s day, looking north. Image: Hamish Williams.

The next day, as the digger punched through the stone crossing, I was able to confirm that it was approximately 1.75 m wide, (the same width as the footpath) and had been made from dark grey basalt rocks of various sizes firmly bedded into the underlying natural loess clay. The top of the stone crossing was not flat – instead it had a bit of a curvature or camber to it, which would have helped it to shed water when it rained. The rocks that made up the centre-line of the crossing were taller and were bedded deeper into the clay than the rest. This certainly would have made the whole crossing a lot more durable. Historic records suggest that this stone crossing may have been buried around 1914, after the Lyttelton Borough Council decided to spend big money modernising its streets by tar sealing them (Lyttelton Times 14/10/1913: 8).

The stone crossing in section, looking north up Oxford Street. I’m a big fan of the fat sticks of footpath chalk, like the pink stuff you can see here, handy bit of toolbox kit for marking out the edges of archaeological things. Image: Hamish Williams.

When was this Norwich Quay pedestrian crossing constructed? It is hard to say for certain, though it appears in a couple of post 1880 photographs– so our best guess is that it was built around about this time. According to an August 1880 newspaper report, the Council works committee had finally decided to upgrade all the footpaths around the intersection at this time, a works programme that may have included the construction of the crossing (Lyttelton Times 4/8/1880: 6).

The Oxford Street Norwich Quay intersection today, looking southeast. Image: Hamish Williams.

The Norwich Quay crossing was a fun feature to investigate and record, it reminded me once again that history is all around us. The past isn’t buried deep, it’s there just below the surface. The streets we walk today are the same streets walked by the people of the past – all the streets a stage and all of us merely players.

Hamish Williams

Lyttelton, 1880s. Burton Brothers Studio, Dunedin, NZ. It’s hard to determine from historic photos to what extent people silly-walked the mean streets of Lyttelton in the 19th century, but by the looks of this picture, it appears that people weren’t afraid of just standing around like they were waiting for something to happen. Image: Te Papa (0.031057) [original], Hamish Williams and Zoë Meager [mash up].

References

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

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

Rice, G. 2004. Lyttelton Port and Town: An Illustrated History. Christchurch N.Z: Canterbury University Press.

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