Should you have been so fortunate, while wandering the streets of 1860s Christchurch, to find yourself north of the square, you may have come across an establishment bearing the name of Sydenham House and containing within its walls all manner of treasures. Stepping inside, you would have been surrounded by an elegant assortment of glass and china, exotic oranges, lemons and pineapples and a few choice canaries, fowls and prize-winning birds of all kinds. You may even have caught a glimpse of the proprietor, Mr Charles Prince, a man of excellent taste and education and the eventual, unintentional, inspiration for the naming of two of Christchurch’s southern suburbs.
We first came across the story of Charles Prince and Sydenham House earlier in the year, when we found an artefact – a double handled serving bowl – from Sydenham House on a site elsewhere in the central city. It was found blocks away from the actual location of the china shop (between Armagh and Gloucester on Colombo Street), and the bowl was marked with the name of the manufacturer (Copeland), a pattern registration diamond (with a registration date of 17th or 27th September 1861) and a banner bearing the words “Sydenham House, Christchurch, C. Prince”. As we researched the bowl and the maker’s mark, we found ourselves unravelling the tale of Charles Prince, a shopkeeper, bird importer and teacher who had a hand in naming the Christchurch suburbs of Waltham and Sydenham, through his residence and business respectively.
Charles Prince arrived in Christchurch in 1858 on the Zelandia, having previously been the principal of the Classical School of Westbury East in St Kilda and the master of Grays Grammar School in England (Christchurch City Libraries 2014). On or soon after his arrival in New Zealand, he appears to have formed one half of the partnership of Prince and Dawes, with a man named Edmund Marriott Dawes, although this was broken in 1861 (Lyttelton Times 24/04/1861: 8). Sydenham House was in operation from at least 1860, and Prince continued as proprietor of the shop until 1867, when he went bankrupt and the business was sold (Christchurch City Libraries 2014; Lyttelton Times 2/04/1867: 2).
Prince also continued his calling as a schoolmaster, filling the role of master of the Christchurch Commercial School in the 1860s in addition to founding the private Christchurch Commercial Academy in 1860, with the intention of “embracing every branch of a sound English and Commercial education” (Lyttelton Times 8/09/1860: 1). Until his bankruptcy in 1867, he also lived in a large – twelve roomed! – house known as Waltham House, “pleasantly situated in Colombo Street south, within a mile of the Town Belt (Moorhouse Ave)” (Lyttelton Times 9/03/1867: 3). The size of the house alone suggests that he was a relatively successful and affluent man – at least until he went bankrupt.
He was known, not only as an educator and a retailer of assorted finery, but also as an importer and keeper of prize-winning birds (Press 10/09/1866: 2, Lyttelton Times 10/09/1866: 2). Many of the advertisements for Sydenham House and mentions of Charles Prince in contemporary newspapers make reference to his birds, some of which won prizes at local A & P shows (my favourites are the excellently named dorking fowls!). After he went bankrupt in 1867, Prince ended up on the West Coast, where he remained traceable in the newspapers of the time due to his occupation as a schoolmaster and, amusingly, to his reputation as a bird fancier, with one article stating that he has “become prominent by his expenditure and taste in the purchase of poultry” (Grey River Argus 15/03/1873: 2, 13/05/1873: 3). Another West Coast newspaper recounted an incident in which he ran afoul of some erstwhile avian burglars who allegedly absconded with a pair of ‘Bramah’ chickens (although the article does also suggest that the birds might just have run away…; Grey River Argus 4/11/1872: 2).
However, bird burglars aside, it’s Charles Prince’s time in Christchurch that is most of interest to us today, specifically his time as proprietor of Sydenham House and resident of Waltham House. Sydenham House is described in contemporary accounts as a building “containing eight rooms, a coach house, stables, a shop and store” and was sandwiched between G. Coate’s watchmaking and jewellery store and Miss Phillip’s drapery (Lyttelton Times 16/04/1867: 6). As well as birds (and dogs!) the store appears to have sold all manner of goods, from fancy glass wares (including cake shades, decanters and custard glasses) to all manner of china (“breakfast, tea, dinner, dessert and toilet services”) and household accoutrements (candlesticks, lamps and toilet boxes; Lyttelton Times 28/09/1861: 5, 10/09/1862: 6). He also sold local and exotic delicacies, from “Canterbury grown walnuts” to pineapples, which can’t have been a common foodstuff in 19th century Christchurch (Lyttelton Times 22/03/1862: 5, 23/04/1862: 5).
The establishment also functioned as a boarding house, with a variety of tenants, including a French teacher, a writing teacher and a professor of phrenology (Lyttelton Times 30/01/1866: 3, 15/09/1866: 1, 14/02/1867: 7). This last, Mr A. S. Hamilton, was available for consultation at Sydenham House, describing himself as “twenty eight years [a] Practical Phrenologist in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and the Australian Colonies… [who] may be consulted [for] delineations of characters and advice for direction, correction and profitable application of the mental powers” (Lyttelton Times 14/02/1867: 7). I’m not sure of the efficacy of Mr Hamilton’s advice, but I know that I could definitely use some help with the “profitable application of the mental powers” this morning…
Several advertisements for Sydenham House in the Press in 1863 and 1864 are of particular interest, as they mention Prince’s intention to take orders for dinner, tea and breakfast services etc. from England, all of which could be marked with the crest, initials or “other distinctive badge” of the purchaser, if they wished (Press 12/09/1863: 1, 22/10/1864: 6). These advertisements not only provide a tangible connection between our artefact and the historical record, but also a possible one between Charles Prince and the story of John George Ruddenklau, mayor, proprietor of the City Hotel and the subject of one of our blog posts last year. J. G. Ruddenklau’s role in Christchurch’s early decades was also brought to our attention through a few personalised ceramic artefacts we found that were, coincidentally, decorated with exactly the same pattern as the Sydenham House bowl, along with Ruddenklau’s initials and the mark of the City Hotel. The latter was founded in 1864 and run by Ruddenklau until 1869: it’s not implausible to think that J. G. Ruddenklau might have ordered personalised china through Charles Prince in 1864 for his newly established hotel.
This notion of connectedness seems to be something of a theme with this artefact, and this story. It’s been fascinating, actually, researching Charles Prince and finding all of these connections – direct and indirect – between his life and business in Christchurch and other people, places and things in the city – both then and now. Initially, when I deciphered the mark on the bowl I thought that the Sydenham House mentioned must have been named after the suburb and was probably located in that general vicinity. As it turns out, it was the other way around: it seems to have been due to the fond recollections of Charles Prince’s china shop by a man named Charles Ellison that ‘Sydenham’ was first used for the local borough council in 1876 and, eventually, the actual neighbourhood south of Moorhouse Avenue (Christchurch City Libraries 2014).
A similar connection is evident for Prince’s residence, Waltham House, which played a comparably crucial yet indirect role in the naming of Waltham (of special note to those of us at Underground Overground, as our offices are in Waltham). In 1866 a group of people placed an advertisement in the Press stating that a meeting of residents at that house had unanimously decided that the neighbourhood “of Colombo Street south and the Gasworks road, leading to Wilson’s bridge” should be called Waltham (Press 26/10/1866: 1). A letter to the editor placed four days later decried it as a hoax, and offensive to the “modest and rather retiring disposition of that gentleman” (although there doesn’t seem to be any word on it from the man himself; Lyttelton Times 30/10/1866: 3). Still, the name seems to have stuck and Charles Prince, teacher and shop owner, through no fault or intention of his own, left an indelible mark on the city of Christchurch. A reminder, perhaps, that sometimes our legacies aren’t always ours to determine?
We talk about six degrees of separation (two at most in New Zealand, right?), but sometimes I think we forget that it doesn’t just apply to people in the here and now – that it doesn’t just apply to people, full stop. Increasingly, as we uncover more and more of Christchurch’s past, literally and metaphorically, we’re finding connections between the lives of the city’s inhabitants in the objects, places and moments in time where their stories cross over. These things, these tangible connections between people, are the physical embodiment of the ever increasing network of human interaction that’s built the world we live in today. It’s incredibly cool to see those connections in Christchurch’s archaeological record and the role they played in shaping the city we see around us today.
Christchurch City Libraries, 2014. [online] Available at www.christchurchcitylibraries.com
Grey River Argus. [online] Available at www.paperspast,natlib.govt.nz.
Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast,natlib.govt.nz.
Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast,natlib.govt.nz.