The difficulties of dating #1: age is not equal to experience

One of the most commonly assumed facts about archaeologists (aside from our ability to have adventures, look good in a fedora and be surprisingly skilful with a whip), is that we can look at an object and know how old it is. While this (much like the fedora and whip thing) is not true of all archaeologists, the ability to date artefacts is an integral part of the archaeological process. It is by no means the only part, but it is an important feature of our work and one that can, on occasion, be a little bit frustrating.

Today’s post is the first of three looking at how we date artefacts and assemblages; what this means for the broader archaeological interpretation of sites and people in the past; and some of the difficulties we encounter along the way. This week focuses on some of the issues involved in using evidence of manufacturing methods to date artefacts – specifically, glass bottles – and how those dates relate to the use and eventual discard of an object.

Illustration of the glassmaking methods used in England in 1858.

The glassmaking methods used in England in 1858. Early glass vessels were ‘freeblown’ or blown by skilled glassmakers without the aid of a mould and are easy to identify, since they’re often asymmetrical with various degrees of imperfections in the glass. Alternatively, bottles blown using a mould can be identified by the seams left on the glass where the mould closed/opened (see below) and by the obviously hand finished tops. There’s an excellent video of the mould blowing process here, under the mould blown manufacturing section. Image: William Barclay Parsons Collection, New York Public Library Archives. Accessed through Wikimedia Commons.

When we find artefacts at a site and get them back to the lab, one of the first things we look at is when they might have been made (even though we’re most interested in when they were used, which is not the same thing). Bottles (and other artefacts as well) are covered in physical clues that can help date when they were made, thanks to modifications in manufacturing techniques and changes in style or fashion over the decades. Such clues are visible in the seams of a bottle, its shape, the type of closure (top of the bottle) and a hundred other scars and traces left behind by the manufacturing process.

Various glass bottle moulds, into which the hot glass would have been placed and then blown into shape by skilled glassblowers during the 19th century.  From left to right: a dip mould, tapered inwards towards the bottom to aid in the removal of the cooled glass. Dip moulded bottles usually date to the first three quarters of the 19th century (not always, though!) and are identified by a ridge  and/or seam running around the shoulder of a bottle, where the mould ended and the bottle was finished by hand.

Various glass bottle moulds, into which the hot glass would have been placed and then blown into shape by skilled glassblowers during the 19th century. These would have resulted in seams running up the sides of the bottles they made (in the case of the two piece moulds) or around the shoulder (where the dip mould stops), which allow us to identify exactly which method was used. Dip moulds tend to suggest earlier dates of manufacture than two piece moulds (although not always!). Images: Lindsey 2010

Image of the Owen's Automatic Bottling Machine, #6. Michael Owen's invention, patented in 1904, was the first fully automated   bottle making machine and paved the way for the 20th century machine made bottle industry. Image: Walbridge 1920, taken from Lindsey 2010.

Image of the Owen’s Automatic Bottling Machine, #6. Michael Owen’s invention, patented in 1904, was the first fully automated bottle making machine and paved the way for the 20th century machine made bottle industry. Image: Walbridge 1920, from Lindsey 2010.

The information these scars provide can be anything from extremely broad date ranges to quite narrow periods of manufacture. There’s an obvious and highly visible distinction, for example, between 20th century machine made bottles and (usually) pre-1900 mould or free blown bottles, but dating an artefact to one century or the other is, unfortunately, a little inexact for our purposes. On the other hand, characteristics like crown top closures (invented in 1892) or the Codd style soda bottle (patented in 1870 (UK) and 1873 (USA) and used until the early 20th century) can help to narrow down the date to a specific decade (Lindsey 2010).

 

From right to left: A 19th century dip moulded black beer bottle, probably made before the late 1880s (note the slightly wonky shape); a crown top Robinson & Sons bottle manufactured after 1892; a 20th century machine made pharmaceutical bottle, dated by the seams you can see running up the side of the bottle to the top of the lip; a Codd style Smith & Holland soda water bottle, made after the style was patented in 1873 (in this case we know the bottle was made between 1920 and 1924, when Smith & Holland were operating). Images: J. Garland.

From left to right: A 19th century dip moulded black beer bottle, probably made before the 1880s (note the slightly wonky shape); a crown top Robinson & Sons bottle manufactured after 1892; a 20th century machine made pharmaceutical bottle, dated by the seams you can see running up the side of the bottle from the base to the top of the lip; a Codd-style Smith & Holland soda water bottle, made after the style was patented in 1873 (in this case we know the bottle was made between 1920 and 1924, when Smith & Holland were operating). Images: J. Garland.

A page from the 1906 catalogue of the Illinois Glass Company, one of the many glassmaking companies operating in the 19th and early 20th century. Image taken from Lindsey 2010.

A page from the 1906 catalogue of the Illinois Glass Company, one of the many glassmaking companies operating at the time. Image: Lindsey 2010.

Unfortunately, however, some bottles have very few traces of the manufacturing process evident on the glass and can only be dated very roughly. Even when the details of manufacture are visible, we have to be aware that the transition from one manufacturing technique to another (and thus their associated dates) was never clear cut. Since these bottles were being made by individual glassmaking companies and, within that, by individual glassmakers, a lot of the variation in early bottles is as dependent on the people behind the process as it is on the technology available. It’s simultaneously one of the coolest things about 19th century artefacts – the personal touch behind each object – and the most frustrating, from a dating perspective at least.

Glass blowers

A 1908 photograph of a gaffer (glassblower) and his team manufacturing glass bottles at West Virginia factory. Image: Lewis Hine photo, Library of Congress, from Lindsey 2010.

Fortunately, we have alternative ways of figuring out the manufacturing dates of glass vessels. As we’ve mentioned before, sometimes bottles will have a maker’s mark stamped on the base and, depending on how often a manufacturer changed their stamp (and how well documented those changes are), we can use these to establish when an artefact was made. Other times, we’ll be able to determine the contents of the bottle from embossing on the glass and figure out when that product was being made or sold – like many of the pharmaceutical and soda bottles we’ve already featured on the blog.

Left: A bottle base made by glassmakers Cooper & Wood, Portobello (Scotland). We know that the company began in 1859, but the partnership dissolved in 1868, giving us a 9 year range for the manufacture of this bottle. RIght: An R & J Milsom Lyttelton aerated water bottle. Again, we know that Richard Milsom and his son James went into partnership in 1879, but James became sole owner in 1885, dating the manufacture of this bottle to the 6 year period they were in business together.

Left: A bottle base made by glassmakers Cooper & Wood, Portobello (Scotland). We know that the company began in 1859, but the partnership dissolved in 1868, giving us a 9 year range for the manufacture of this bottle (Toulouse 1971: 141). Right: An R & J Milsom, Lyttelton, aerated water bottle. Again, we know that Richard Milsom and his son James went into partnership in 1879, but James became sole owner in 1885, dating the manufacture of this bottle to the 6 year period they were in business together (Donaldson et al. 1990). Images: J. Garland.

This is great if the product is a short-lived one that’s well documented, but more often than not we’ll come across a product like Lea & Perrins, which has been made continuously since the 1830s or one like W & W’s Double Refined Table Salt, about which very little information was available (Tasker 1989: 88). Similarly, a bottle manufacturer might have used the same maker’s mark on a bottle for a long period of time: glassmaking company Parke, Davis & Co used the same initials on its bottles from 1875 through until the 20th century (Toulouse 1971: 417). Even if the marks do change over time, if there’s no record of those changes and when they occurred, we still can’t narrow down the date.

Left: A Lea and Perrins bottle, with a date of manufacture somewhere between 1852 (first imported into New Zealand) and the early 1900s. Right: the base of a jar of W & W's Double Refined Table Salt, of unknown age.

Left: A Lea and Perrins bottle, with a date of manufacture somewhere between 1852 (when it was first imported into New Zealand) and the early 1900s. Right: the base of a jar of W & W’s Double Refined Table Salt, of unknown age. Images: J. Garland.

Sometimes a maker’s mark will only be visible as initials or a monogram that we can’t always trace back to the manufacturer. These can be some of the most frustrating artefacts to come across when you’re trying to date a site, because we know that the information is there, on the bottle, but we can’t find or access the resources to make that information useful.

And, while these bits and pieces of information might be able to tell us when a bottle was made, they don’t necessarily tell us when it was used (or how long for) and more importantly, if we’re looking at a whole site, when it might have been discarded. Most of the artefacts we find on 19th century archaeological sites in New Zealand were made overseas and we have to consider the time it would have taken for them to reach New Zealand when we’re figuring out our dates. We also have to consider the length of time for which an object might have been used – its ‘uselife’ – before being discarded or lost, and ending up in the ground.

With bottles, this is a particular problem thanks to an issue known as bottle re-use. A lot of (if not most) 19th century bottles would be reused many times by the contents manufacturer (or another manufacturer entirely) before being thrown out (Busch 1987).In New Zealand, this occurred in response to the absence of a local glassmaking industry until the early 20th century and the effort involved in importing bottles from overseas. Newspapers from the time are filled with advertisements from hotels, soda water manufacturers and pharmacists offering discounts or cash for the return of bottles. There are cases of court action being brought against people or companies who failed to return bottles and were consequently convicted and fined for the offence.

Notices and advertisements in New Zealand newspapers on the issue of bottle return and reuse. Images: Evening Post 10/09/1908; Colonist 13/09/1919; Auckland Star 19/11/1926.

Notices and advertisements in New Zealand newspapers on the issue of bottle return and reuse. Images: Evening Post 10/9/1908; Colonist 13/9/1919; Auckland Star 19/11/1926.

Of course, from a dating perspective, issues like bottle reuse mean that the date of manufacture is almost never an accurate reflection of when a bottle was being used or eventually discarded. It’s just a starting point in the life of an artefact, one piece of information about an object that usually has a bunch of other stories to tell. It’s only when we take that starting point and look at it in light of all the information an object (and the other objects around it) can give us that it becomes a useful window into the past.

And, despite the difficulties involved in artefact dating, it is hugely important that we ask the question in the first place, because it gives us the chance to link assemblages and objects to people in the past. If we can date the use and discard of an object to a specific period, we might be able to figure out who used it and why they threw it away. It’s part of what makes context so integral to what we do, and why we get frustrated with fossickers and people who dig up sites illegally to find collectables – because in doing so, they destroy the additional information that we could have used to link an object with the people who used it.

It’s one of the most important principles of archaeology – that (unlike Indiana Jones) we’re not just interested in the things (although the things are pretty cool and very useful), we’re interested in people and what those things can tell us about them.

Jessie Garland

References

Auckland Star. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Busch, J., 1987. Second Time Around: A Look at Bottle Reuse. Historical Archaeology, 21(1):67-80.

Colonist. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Evening Post. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Lindsey, B., 2010. Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. Society for Historical Archaeology and Bureau of Land Management. [online] Available: http://www.sha.org/bottle/index.htm.

Tasker, J., 1989. Old New Zealand Bottles and Bygones. Heinemann Reed, Auckland.

Toulouse, J. H., 1971. Bottle Makers and Their Marks. Blackburn Press, New Jersey.

The Standard Hotel: beer, burlesque and a “sketchy kind of farce”

This week we’re delving into the seedier side of the life in early Christchurch with the story of the Standard Hotel, an establishment that found itself on the fringes of Victorian respectability during its short existence in the 1860s. At the heart of this tale are two brothers, James and William Willis, who appear to have trod very different paths to success (or not, as the case may be) after their arrival in the city.

Portrait of Joseph Brittan, founder of the Canterbury Standard. Image: Wikimedia Commons & Rolleston 1971.

Portrait of Joseph Brittan. Image: Wikimedia Commons & Rolleston 1971.

The story begins with James Willis, a printer by trade, who arrived in Christchurch in the early 1850s (Lyttelton Times 7/5/1853: 6). By 1855, he was the official printer to the Canterbury Provincial Council (Lyttelton Times 20/01/1855: 4). It’s here that he probably made contact with Joseph Brittan, one of Christchurch’s prominent early citizens and the founder of the Canterbury Standard, the third newspaper to be established in the city (Lyttelton Times 13/8/1853: 12). James went on to work with Brittan on the paper, becoming the printer, part owner and eventual proprietor of the publication in the late 1850s and early 1860s (Burke Manuscript n.d.: 114).

An article in the Lyttelton Times in 1853, announcing the establishment of the Canterbury Standard, to be

An announcement of the Canterbury Standard‘s founding in the Lyttelton Times in 1853 claimed that “the public good will be it’s guiding principle [and] the advancement of the interests of the Province its constant aim.” Image: Lyttelton Times 13/8/1853: 12.

The Canterbury Standard was produced and printed in a building located on the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace in central Christchurch, just across the road from Brittan’s home on the other side of Hereford Street. Early images of the building show a two storey façade at the front, facing onto Oxford Terrace, with the printing sheds (to house the printing press) extending along Hereford Street.

Burke's Manuscript cropped

Sketch of the Canterbury Standard building and proprietor, James Willis. Image: Burke Manuscript: 114, accessed through the Christchurch City Libraries.

James continued to operate a printing press in this location until his death in 1866, under the eventual auspices of the Telegraph Printing Press (Press 8/12/1866: 2). During the last few years of his life, however, he shared the premises with his brother, William Willis, who took the old Standard offices at the front of the building and transformed them into a hotel.

The old Canterbury Standard building, transformed into the Standard Hotel in 1864. Image: Dr. A. C. Barker Collection, Canterbury Museum. Permission of the Canterbury Museum must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The old Canterbury Standard building, transformed into the Standard Hotel in 1864. Image: Dr. A. C. Barker Collection, Canterbury Museum. Permission of the Canterbury Museum must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Well, I say hotel…

Advertisement for the opening of the Standard Hotel in July 1864, emphasising the selection of alcohol available. Image: Lyttelton Times

Advertisement for the opening of the Standard Hotel in July 1864, emphasising the selection of alcohol available. Image: Lyttelton Times 9/7/1864: 5.

The Standard Hotel, which opened in July 1864 (Lyttelton Times 9/7/1864: 5), appears to have had very little to do with offering accommodation and a great deal more to do with drinking beer and providing ribald entertainment. Only one reference to accommodation at the hotel was found in the newspapers of the period and this from an unemployed man staying at the hotel, suggesting that the accommodation available was fairly cheap (LytteltonTimes 6/8/1866: 1). In contrast, advertisements for the opening of the hotel in 1864 place particular emphasis on the selection of ales and wines available for consumption (Lyttelton Times 9/7/1864: 5) and, when we excavated the section next to the hotel earlier this year, we found a lot of beer bottles to back this up.

Some of the black beer bottles excavated from the Standard Hotel site in May 2013. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the black beer bottles excavated from the Standard Hotel site in May 2013. Image: J. Garland.

Excavation took place in May, and then again last month, and revealed a huge number of artefacts (you’ll definitely be hearing from us about these in later posts). Although analysis of last month’s assemblage is in its early days, the artefacts we found in May are almost certainly from the Standard Hotel. They are also nearly all alcohol bottles (over 600), with a few ink bottles, glass tumblers, stemmed glasses and condiment bottles thrown in for good measure.

Other artefacts found at the Oxford Terrace site, prior to their excavation. Image: M. Carter.

Some of the other artefacts found at the Oxford Terrace site, prior to their excavation. Image: M. Carter.

Finding a high proportion of alcohol bottles is something we’ve come to expect with hotel sites in Christchurch (like the Oxford Hotel, from a few weeks ago), especially when those bottles are accompanied by serving wares and bottles of condiments like Worcestershire sauce, salt and pickles. However, the quantity of alcohol bottles found at the Standard Hotel site is so far beyond that from any other hotel site in the city that it suggests a different sort of clientele and a different sort of tone characterised the establishment.

Advertisement for a performance of Poses Plastique at Willis's Assembly Rooms in 1866.

Advertisement for a performance of Poses Plastique at Willis’s Assembly Rooms in 1866. Image: Press 10/4/1866: 1.

Exactly what that tone was becomes clear when we look at historical records for William Willis’s Assembly Rooms, opened in 1865 and located next to the Standard Hotel on Oxford Terrace (Press 8/11/1865: 1; 15/02/1866: 1). Although these rooms hosted public auctions and were used by the Canterbury Jockey Club for meetings (Lyttelton Times 1/01/1866: 3; Press 8/11/1865: 1), they were also the setting for a variety of musical entertainments, from vaudeville-style theatre and burlesque to the more risqué Poses Plastique (Lyttelton Times 10/3/1866: 2; 12/3/1866: 2; Press 10/4/1866: 1).

Entertainment at Willis's Assembly Rooms

Advertisements for entertainments held at Willis’s Assembly Rooms in 1866, including burlesque, a “sketchy kind of farce” and “nigger eccentricities”. Images: Lyttelton Times 12/3/1866: 2; 10/03/1866: 2.

While vaudeville theatre may be a form of entertainment familiar to many, the term ‘burlesque’ didn’t mean quite the same thing in a 19th century context as it does now. Rather than involving Dita von Teese-like figures and the sultry dance routines it’s now known for, burlesque in the mid-1800s was simply a form of musical entertainment, often involving elaborate or farcical costumes, parodies and caricatures of well-known historical and literary figures (Oxford English Dictionary).

Clockwise: Advertising poster from 1899 for a vaudeville and ‘hurly-burly’ extravaganza; 1870 advertisement for performance of an Aladdin burlesque at the Theatre Royal in Christchurch; 1897 excerpt from a burlesque titled ‘Doing a Moose.’ Images: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection, accessed through Wikimedia commons; Star 16/5/1870: 3; Observer 15/5/1897: 10.

Poses Plastique, on the other hand, was definitely a form of entertainment that only flirted with the notion of respectability. It was a form of Tableau Vivant, or ‘living scene’, a 19th century performance in which the performers, both women and men, acted as living statues on stage. These performances often involved various states of undress, justified and made ‘classy’ by references to Classical mythology and the imitation of Greek and Roman statues (Anae 2008). Sometimes the performers would wear nude body stockings, so as to give the appearance of undress yet not be completely indecent.

Woodcut of a performance of poses plastique at the Coal Hole in the Strand, c. 1854. Image: Wikimedia commons.

Woodcut of a performance of poses plastique at the Coal Hole in the Strand, c. 1854. Image: Wikimedia commons.

tableau vivant

Advertisement for performances of tableau vivant based on well-known fairy tales. Image: Poverty Bay Herald 25/5/1881: 3.

I should mention that while Poses Plastique was a form of Tableau Vivant, not all examples of the 19th century living statue involved the same degree of undress or risqué material. Tableau Vivant was often used to present famous literary, artistic or historical scenes, such as battles, famous paintings or moments from well-known works like Cinderella (Poverty Bay Herald 25/5/1881: 3).

The performance at Willis’s Rooms in 1866 is one of only two examples of Poses Plastique advertised in New Zealand newspapers before 1900 (Nelson Evening Mail 25/2/1884: 2), although there are numerous references to burlesque and vaudeville shows being held throughout the country (see Papers Past). Clearly, the semi-nude living statue never really took off here, despite enjoying great popularity in London and Australia during the same period.

In Christchurch, at least, one reason for this may have been the disapproval with which such entertainment was viewed by the general authorities and community. While it was not illegal (that we’ve been able to find), we did note that William Willis had his liquor license refused in 1866 due to reports of “objectionable entertainment, low women and noisy people” in the vicinity of his Assembly Rooms late at night (Lyttelton Times 2/5/1866: 2). Interestingly, this notice came soon after the advertised performances of Poses Plastique. Coincidence? I think not.

License refusal

Details of the refusal to renew William Willis’s general license in 1866, citing objectionable entertainment, low women and noisy people. Image: Lyttelton Times 6/5/1866: 2.

The Standard Hotel, along with Willis’s Assembly Rooms, closed its doors in 1867 after only three years of operation (Lyttelton Times 4/7/1867: 1). Later that same year, a fire in the offices of the Telegraph Printing Press next door so badly damaged the building that it was abandoned and moved to Bealey Avenue in early 1869 (Lyttelton Times  4/1/1869: 3). For reasons unknown to us, the section on the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace remained empty and unused during the following decades, until a suite of offices was constructed there in the early 20th century (Press 16/9/1905: 9).

During its life the Standard Hotel building was home to two very different sides of the social and commercial spectrum, personified in the figures of James and William Willis. From its origins in Joseph Brittan’s, and later James Willis’s, Canterbury Standard, with its guiding principles of “public good [and] the advancement of the province”, to its eventual demise in William’s den of alcohol and “low women”, it showcases a diversity of character and commerce in Christchurch’s early history that we don’t always get to see. Hopefully, as we work our way through the rest of the archaeological material from this site, even more of that variety will be revealed.

Jessie Garland

References

Anae, N. 2008., Poses, plastiques: the art and style of ‘statuary’ in Victorian visual theatre. Australasian Drama Studies. Available at http://eprints.usq.edu.au/7003/.

Andersen, J. 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson & Williams Ltd: Christchurch.

Burke Manuscript, 1860s. [online] Available through the Christchurch City Libraries Digital Collection at http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Digitised/Burke/

Canterbury Museum Digital Collections

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

Nelson Evening Mail. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Observer. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Oxford English Dictionary. Available online via the Christchurch City Libraries subscription service.

Poverty Bay Herald. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

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

Wikimedia Commons. [online] Available at http://commons.wikimedia.org.

The Victorian Christchurch Child

Childhood. We all had one. Whether we remember it vaguely or with clarity, we all passed through this phase of life. As infants we shook that baby rattle with all our might or nursed that pacifier until our eyes closed and we dreamed of a faraway land. As we got older the toys became larger and more creative: teddy bears with a squeak in the stomach or crayons that ended up strewn across the house or even on the walls. We all remember the Barbie dolls and the G.I. Joes, or the Barbie dolls with crew cuts to make them look like G.I. Joes. Or even that first day of school where you were accompanied by your very own yellow Bananas in Pyjamas lunch box. This period of one’s life, although so fundamental in how we mature as adults, is often forgotten. This is also true of the Victorian Christchurch child.

As a result of the February 2011 earthquake and the subsequent rebuild, a number of artefacts related to the years of childhood have been excavated. This collection of artefacts provide us not only a rare glimpse into the lives of the Victorian Christchurch child but is now allowing us to establish how different artefacts relate to different stages of a child’s life.

A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.

A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.

Archaeological investigations regarding children in their first few years of life have often been restricted to analysis of infant mortality or mortuary practices and rarely touch on their lived experiences (and even historical documents are not much more helpful: simply looking up ‘Christchurch Child’ on Papers Past was a challenge, for almost all searches came up with child mortality stories). The sites that have been excavated across Christchurch provide an opportunity to catalogue this brief but important time in one’s life.

Infant-related artefacts are largely related to a baby’s health. These include health-benefiting bone marrow, baby powders and medicinal disinfectants designed to prevent against illness. The largest number of artefacts relating to the infant years, however, are glass feeder bottles and ceramic feeder lids.

baby bottle2


S. Maw, Son and Thompson baby feeder. Image: L. Davies.

rounded bottle


S. Maw, Son and Thompson baby feeder. Image: L. Davies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One such item was even named the ‘murder‘ feeder, due to the difficulty of cleaning the lid. Such hygiene-related difficulties meant that baby easily fell ill, but this problem may have been counteracted by disinfectants, medicines or simple homemade remedies (some of which have a recommended child’s dosage).

bottlefeeder


Left: Mather’s ceramic baby feeder (Image: L. Davies). Right: Advertisement emphasising the need to clean the baby’s bottle (Otago Witness 15/02/1879).

 

The development and emergence of the Victorian Christchurch citizen, as with any society, was shaped by what was taught to children. A common theme that has emerged from the material culture of Christchurch are the children’s cups and plates bearing educational-themed images, which can increase imagination and creativity but also conveyed moral messages.

photo2


Jack and Jill nursery rhyme on a cup. Image: L. Davies.

Nursery rhymes, playful one-liners and intense moral teachings have all been found on china in our Christchurch assemblages. Nursery rhymes or a simple play on words to create a small story are used as a subtle tool to stimulate the imagination and intellectual growth. Children learn language through the repetition of syllables and words, often repeating what a parent said (Bishop and Curtis 2001: 5). And with moral messages buried in the phrases, children also learnt socially acceptable behaviour. In a fun way, that is.

 

One plate found is an ‘ABC’ plate, named for the alphabet written around the outer edge of the plate. These ABC plates were a product of the teachings of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that Benjamin Franklin. During the 19th century, a series of plates were sold bearing philosophical teachings from his Poor Richard’s Almanack. Our particular plate bears the phrase  “Fly pleasures, and they’ll follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift, now I have a sheep and cow, everybody bids me good morrow”. It means those who work hard are rewarded in comfort, plenty and respect i.e. that leisure comes to those who work hard.

franklin


Fragment of a Dr. Benjamin Franklin ABC plate. Image: L. Davies.

This phase of nursery rhymes and moral themes was a precursor to schooling days. Prior to the Education Act of 1877 education or schooling for children was not compulsory. In 1877 the Education Act made it compulsory and free for children aged between 5 and 13 to attend school (Walrond 2012).

This did not extend to secondary education and it was not until 1901 that the secondary education was addressed. A law passed at this time stated that only children who passed a competency exam would be allowed entry into secondary school. It is suggested that even those children who may have passed the competency exams would have still left school at this age to work, and why would they go to school when they were another pair of hands to help put food on the table (Walrond 2012)? The artefacts associated with this period of a child’s life are slate pencils and boards. Some boards have ruled lines on one side for writing and grid lines on the reverse side for mathematics.

Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies

Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies

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A grid (left) and lined (right) slate board. Image: L. Davies

A large quantity of toys have been found throughout sites across Christchurch and are indicative of the subtle ways in which social mores were constructed.

'Frozen Charlotte' doll. Image J. Garland

‘Frozen Charlotte’ doll. Image J. Garland.

Girls were presented with dolls and tea sets, confirming their domestic role in the Victorian world, whereas boys played with tin soldiers and marbles, items associated with competition and manliness. It is during this period, when toys are introduced, that we begin to see gender differentiation in the archaeology of childhood. Girls are the most visible at this time with few artefacts that can be unequivocally associated with boys. This is in contrast to adulthood, when men are generally more visible in the archaeological record than women,as so many of our blog posts indicate.

Toy horse. Image K. Bone

Toy horse. Image K. Bone.

Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson

Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson.

 

Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called 'commies' as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common..


Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called ‘commies’ as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common. Image: K. Bone.

The number of artefacts relating to children found during demolitions and the rebuild of Christchurch has allowed a chronological understanding of the emergence of the Victorian Christchurch child. The infant stage is predominantly represented by feeding bottles, health-benefiting foods and disinfectants. This suggests that in the first few years of life there is no differentiation of gender but an emphasis on raising a healthy child. The following stage, prior to schooling, is also not gendered and includes developing the imagination with rhymes and moral themes. This non-gendered childhood changes with the school years, with girls in particular taking a visible role. The presence of tea sets and dolls emphasise their role in society and society’s expectations of their later life, with themes of domesticity and civility. The recent excavations have significantly developed our understanding of the Victorian Christchurch child and the ongoing investigations will continue to contribute to our understanding of this period, these children and their lived experiences, so watch this space…

Kim Bone

References

Bishop, J. C. and Curtis, M., 2001. Introduction. In:  J. C. Bishop and M. Curtis, eds. 2001. Play Today in the Primary School Playground: Life, Learn and Creativity. Open University Press, Buckingham, pp. 1-19.

Otago Witness. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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