In 1863, the Captain Cook departed Glasgow for the small port of Lyttleton, New Zealand. On board was a man by the name of Samuel Jamieson, who was travelling to Christchurch with his wife Maria and four children.
Like so many early settlers in Christchurch, Samuel established a business in the city. A joiner by trade, he started a building firm that his sons, James and William, subsequently took over and ran well into the 20th century. By the turn of the century, J & W Jamieson, as it became known, was one of the leading construction companies in Christchurch. They were responsible for the erection of the Roman Catholic cathedral on Barbadoes Street in the early 1900s, as well as the Government buildings in Cathedral Square (1911), the Christchurch Press building (also in the Square), and the Auckland Post Office.
James Jamieson, who we’re interested in today, married and he and his wife had three daughters, Mary, Maria and Jeannie. Tragically, his wife, Jeannie Hay Jamieson, died in 1887 at the age of 24, possibly during childbirth. We don’t know if James remarried, but in 1906, he and his now adult daughters moved to a large house on Hereford Street, and in 1909 built what became known as Williams House on the same site.
We excavated part of the Williams House site on Hereford Street last year and found an interesting collection of artefacts. We believe these were discarded by the Jamieson family during the first few years of their life in Hereford Street, before they moved into Williams House. The assemblage is filled with bits and pieces of household rubbish, much of it ordinary, like pharmaceutical and perfume bottles, plates and chamber pots, metal containers and old sheep bones.
There are, however, a few things which are especially evocative of the daily life of James Jamieson and his daughters. A few bottles of artistic and photographic materials suggest an interest in painting or photography (or both). This is perhaps not surprising, given that James collected art, had a gallery in Williams House and was involved in the Canterbury Society of Arts. We didn’t know, however, that James – or his daughters – were actively involved in artistic pursuits themselves.
Another glass jar contained something called Maclaren’s Imperial Cheese, an early spreadable cheese imported from Canada. It must have been disgusting, but its presence makes us wonder which of the family bought it and whether or not they liked it.
Perhaps the most interesting of the artefacts found was an almost complete blue and white tea set, which we can easily imagine one or more of the Jamiesons using to entertain guests in the home or provide daily afternoon teas for the family.
Tea drinking was an important aspect of Victorian and Edwardian life in New Zealand, in a way that it isn’t really anymore. As well as being a social and cultural link to Britain, an afternoon tea party could be a social event in itself. Afternoon tea originated in the 1840s with the Duchess of Bedford, a friend of Queen Victoria, and had its own etiquette and rituals, involving everything from elaborate tea gowns to beautiful, fine, matching tea sets to food (Maclaren’s Imperial Cheese, perhaps?).
This particular tea set is made of bone china, a type of fine china often used for tea-wares, especially those bought by people of higher social status and/or wealth than average. It’s not surprising to find a bone china set in this context – we already know that, as the co-owner of a very successful company, James Jamieson was prosperous, and this part of Christchurch was fairly popular with the city’s elite at the time. The large house that they moved into had previously belonged to George and Julia Hart, who built it in the 1870s and were prominent members of society in Christchurch.
It is, however, quite rare to find a complete or almost complete tea set in one archaeological site. People are much more likely to throw away a single cup or saucer than they are to discard an entire set. We have to wonder then, what happened to lead to James or his daughters throwing this one away. Personally, I like to think that someone tripped over a cat and flung the tea tray across the room. Alternatively, the tea set may simply have been replaced by a newer and more fashionable set.
However it was thrown away, this tea set, along with the art and photography bottles and the spreadable cheese, allows us a glimpse into the lives of the Jamiesons and the opportunity to follow them through time. We started with a man, his wife and their children, who travelled half way across the world to a new life. They and their descendants built a successful business, helped to build a city and, in so doing, established a prominent position for themselves in Christchurch.
Auckland Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=CL1.AS&e=——-10–1—-0–.
Acland, L. G. D., 1975. The Early Canterbury Runs (4th ed.). Whitcoulls, Christchurch.
Christchurch City Council, 1986. The Architectural Heritage of Christchurch. 5. Government Buildings. [online] Available at: http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Publications/ChristchurchCityCouncil/ArchitecturalHeritage/GovernmentBuildings/.
Christchurch City Libraries, 2012. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. [online] Available at: http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Places/Buildings/Worship/BlessedSacrament.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District], 1903. [online] Available at: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Cyc03Cycl-t1-body1-d3-d36-d7.html.
Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=CL1.CHP&e=——-10–1—-0–.
Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=CL1.TS&e=——-10–1—-0–.
Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Held by the Christchurch City Library.
Our thanks also go to Erin Kimber (Macmillan Brown Library), Gareth Wright (Christchurch City Council) and Sarah Murray (Canterbury Museum) for their assistance in tracking down information for this post.