Safety at the sawmill and that stack of bricks

Lately I have been doing quite a bit of Job Safety Analysis paperwork (because safety in the workplace is number one priority, folks), and that got me thinking about how the people of early Christchurch might have managed their own health and safety at work. And then that got me thinking about how health and safety practices might be represented in the archaeological record, which made me reminisce about that time when we excavated Booth’s Sawmill on Lichfield Street, and found that tidy stack of bricks… thought I’d share it with you.

James Booth established his Victoria Steam Sawmills and Timber Yard on half an acre of land between Lichfield and Tuam streets around 1866. An 1875 description of his business tells us that about 10 men were employed there, and that pride of place in the mill were two circular saw benches that were powered by a 15-horsepower horizontal steam engine. In addition, the sawmill had a vertical deal frame sawing machine, and machines for planning, tongueing, grooving, beading and beveling, as well as a moulding machine for making fancy skirting boards and architraves. Oh yeah, there were also lathes and a jigging machine – (because what’s the point in having a whole lot of wood if you can’t indulge a quick jig- right?; (Star 15/2/1875:2).

Booth tried to sell his business in 1877, but was unsuccessful. Two years later he mortgaged it to William Hargreaves, though he stayed on as manager for a bit. By 1880 Booth had left the business altogether, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts by Hargreaves to sell the business after this time, the mill closed for good in 1895. It is suspected that soon afterwards Andersons Foundry occupied the mill building, though (on paper at least) they didn’t obtain the lease for the property until 1903.

We know from historic records that 19th century sawmills were notoriously dangerous places to make a living. Like other factories and workshops of the time that operated machines driven by belts connected to big noisy steam engines, there were often little or no measures in place to ensure the safety of workers. No safety guards, protective barriers, or emergency stop buttons, not to mention the mandatory wearing of personal protective equipment such as ear muffs and safety glasses. I was surprised to find out how often 19th century sawmill workplace accidents were reported in the daily papers, but also that sometimes quite gory details of these incidents were provided to readers.

I can’t help but share a few of these sawmill accidents with you, some serious, others fatal. A note of warning folks – skip this paragraph is you are a bit squeamish…

Mr Mortimer suffered a broken arm and leg when he was struck by a crane (West Coast Times 2/6/1882:2), and young lad Henry Brown had a middle finger cut off while working the circular saw (Thames Star 29/4/1891:2). Mr Henderson cut two fingers off his left hand while working the breast bench (Woodville Examiner 3/7/1891:3). Mr Powell was smacked in the face when a piece of timber came back on the circular saw. His wounds were sewed up and he was sent home (New Zealand Herald 18/2/1899:5). Mr O’Brien had a splinter pierce his cheek and tongue “transfixing them” and afterwards had to be fed through a tube (Marlborough Express 25/8/1880:2), while Mr Thompson lost his left arm at the elbow to the saw bench when he slipped shoveling sawdust (Hawera and Normanby Star 17/10/1884:3). Henry Ash was killed when his head was crushed between some logs (Grey River Argus 14/11/1884:2), Mr Faulknor got run over by a timber truck that crushed his stomach (Hastings Standard 12/2/1897:2).   Mr Anderson had his “brains knocked out” by a piece of wood that got caught in a circular saw (Wanganui Chronicle 16/3/1886:2), Mr Smith was killed instantly when he fell from a log onto the circular saw and got cut in half (Marlborough Express 19/4/1883:2) . And if you were to think that all 19th century sawmill accidents were related to being cut, squashed, or pierced, let us not forget poor 21 year old Norman McKay, who was scalded to death when the boiler at Campbell’s sawmill blew out. He died from his severe burn injuries two hours later (Oamaru Mail 4/3/1897:2).

Why weren’t you wearing a safety helmet? Image: Wanganui Chronicle 16/3/1886:2

We have found no historical records to suggest that any serious accidents, fatal or otherwise, occurred at Booth’s Sawmill, which we excavated over two weeks in late June 2014 while working on the site of the new Christchurch Justice & Emergency Services Precinct. What began as a small area of paved brick exposed below fill layers of granular ash and rubble-filled silt turned into a much larger complex of paved brick that was revealed to be the main working floor of the sawmill building. In addition, we found other paved brick surfaces outside the building, stone and brick footings onto which we suspect the sawmill’s machinery was once fixed, as well as the foundations of the sawmill’s chimney and the likely location of the timber storage yard.

The first bit of brick floor exposed. This…

….eventually turned into this! Both images: Hamish Williams.

The floor was made of three layers of brick, some laid flat and others on edge – the thickness of the brick floor is testament to the fact that this floor was built to be hard wearing and durable. Some stretches of brick were well worn, suggesting that these parts had seen heavy foot traffic over the years, and the wear to the bricks in these areas we suspect represented the main routes between different activity areas in the mill. We got some idea of where the different machines were probably once located, based on where areas of brick had suffered disturbance when these heavy machines were eventually removed. Complicating our interpretations about these different activity areas, however, was the fact that in its last 8 years of life, the mill was repurposed as a place of metalworking activity, and at least some of the existing features and parts of the mill building were modified to reflect this change in use.

Booth’s Sawmill as fully exposed. Image: Hamish Williams.

Two of the brick and stone foundations for the fixed sawmill machinery. Image: Hamish Williams.

Whether associated with the last days of the building’s use as a sawmill, or that short period afterwards in which the mill became a foundry, for me one the most memorable archaeological features uncovered at Booth’s was a row of broken bricks stacked up out of the way against the degraded remnants of one of the mill’s timber-framed walls. It was clear that these bricks had once been part of the adjacent section of floor (because the top layer of brick was missing here), but on becoming dislodged and broken, had become little more than a tripping hazard. Because no one likes a tripping hazard or falling flat on their face (especially in front of co-workers), someone had taken the initiative to remove the hazard and stack these broken bricks up out the way against the nearby wall. What do you think about our interpretation?

The degraded timbers from the collapsed wall, with the stack of bricks adjacent. Image: Hamish Williams.

The neat stack of broken bricks after removal of the degraded remnants of the timber wall, (though in this photo the bottom plate has not yet been removed). Image: Hamish Williams.

This neat stack of bricks reminded  me that archaeology is not just about the stuff and things from the past, and that all this stuff and things can inform us about was happening on a site back in the day, but that first and foremost archaeology is about people. Specifically, what they left behind can inform us about past human behavior – what might have been going on in people’s heads – their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Remember folks, situational awareness at all times – watch your step, and mind how you go.

 Hamish Williams

References

Grey River Argus [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hastings Standard [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hawera and Normanby Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Marlborough Express [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

New Zealand Herald [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Oamaru Mail [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Thames Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Wanganui Chronicle [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

West Coast Times [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Woodville Examiner [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Getting Inked.

The pen is mightier than the sword – and before the days of ball-points, one needed ink bottles to fire up their weapon of choice – that being the quill, the dip pen or the fountain pen.

Ink bottles are a common artefact found on archaeological sites – here in Christchurch and around the world. They‘re interesting artefacts, in that they’re not only special because they come in many attractive shapes, sizes and colours, but because they can also sometimes give personal insight into their past owner. They can be an indication of literacy and perhaps a penman’s attitude toward writing or correspondence – seen through the quantity or ornateness of their equipment. You may remember our “Cinderella moment” a few years back? This little glass number is a novelty inkwell in the shape of a glass slipper – the ‘burst off’ type finish is often found on ink bottles, and it’s also a manufacturing technique that can be dated (1890s to 1920s usually) – if old Cindy was a real girl, she would probably be really old by that time!

Inkwell. Also notable – the shoe style appears consistent with a late 19th century to early 20th century date. So even in the 19th century, getting inked was fashionable! Photo C. Dickson.

These are not examples that we have found in Christchurch, but I had to share them to get an idea of just how elaborate these simple ‘household’ items could be during this period…. Image: (Lindsey 2016; Pinterest).

We usually find more utilitarian examples of ink containers. Probably the most common type is also still one of the cutest. Colloquially referred to as the “penny ink”, it was named for its standardised price. This little stoneware gem was a nice, compact addition to your desktop, plus you could also balance your pen inside – and all for such an affordable price!

A penny for your thoughts? Penny ink bottle. Image: J. Hearfield.

SUCH an affordable price!! (Otautau Standard and Wallace Chronicle 27/09/1932: 3)

However, the humble penny ink is not the bottom line in the ink bottle department. Below is a picture of a few nice examples, from master inks, to church inks, to cone inks, etc. The stoneware bottles are often impressed with manufacture’s marks (usually English based ones) – these provide insight into where locally available goods were being imported from, and help us to determine when their associated artefact assemblages were deposited.

Clockwise from left: bulk ink, spouted ink, church ink (which commonly held red ink), Stephen’s ink, Blackwell & Co. ink, glass octagonal ink, open inkwell or fountain pen nib holder, glass cone ink and glass bell-shaped ink. Image: C. Dickson.

A little rarer: on the left is a Parisian or English made N. Antoine et Fils (Antoine and Sons) Encre Japonaise ink bottle. It held a dark violet to black coloured ink, and was likely to have been manufactured anytime from the 1870s (Daily Southern Cross14/07/1874: 4; Carvalho 1904: 158). On the right is a master ink labelled with an H. Morrel’s registration ink mark: “manufactured for the registrars of births, deaths and marriages.” This was a London-based ink manufacturing company. The bottle itself was also manufactured in London, by Doulton, Lambeth – which was, established in 1854 and was one of the most successful stoneware producers of the 19th century (Tyler et al. 2005: 12-13).

And lest we forget this little guy! The residue in the bottom on the bottle suggests this tiny example (or giant hand?), also once held ink.

Tiny ink on big hand? Image: C. Dickson. (Hand: J. Garland).

Again, what we have yet to find in a Christchurch context are inkwells which were designed to be portable. These came with a screw top lid to prevent spillage, and were developed around the time of the American Civil War – so soldiers could keep them on their person to write correspondence from the battlefield (Campbell 2017).  These handy items often came as part of a travel set. For enthusiasts, or for those in the writing industry, the ‘compendiums’ represented a box which held all of the equipment a scribe would require on the road: ink bottles with (travel safe) screw seal lids, quills, ink, and a sander (which held sand to sprinkle on the ink to prevent smearing; Campbell 2017).

An example that we do find of a savvy technological advance from the wonderful world of ink are syphon ink bottles. First patented in 1867 by Blackwood and Co., London – these represent an original technology in the refilling of ink bottles (Apostolakou 2014). The name is thanks to their distinctive spouted syphon tops or finishes (with pouring lip and hole to rear of neck). This finish type alleviated the (pesky?) need to pull out a cork out of the mouth of the bottle when refilling it – and the special rotatable stopper could be turned within a cork lining – this aligned the holes in the stopper with the holes in the neck and lining of the bottle, which allowed ink to flow freely out the spout as air entered the bottle through the hole opposite – and voila! No fuss, no muss…. No mess?

Blackwell and Co., syphon ink bottle, with impressed maker’s mark. Image: G. Jackson.

In reality, this invention may have saved a little elbow grease and hand staining, but its overall contribution to the evolution of writing and the ink industry pales in comparison to the widespread introduction of the fountain pen. There is a popular school of thought that Leonardo Di Vinci deserves the credit for the invention of the fountain pen – like that guy needs any more credit? (Tuscia Web, 2011). The fountain pen proved mightier than the quill because it had its own in-built ink reservoir – which one only had to refill occasionally – other dip pens and quills needed to be re-dipped in ink after every few lines of writing (just imagine the RSI implications!)

It works like magic!? (Sun 16/09/1918: 4).

These guys really know their audience… (Sun 13/09/1918: 5).

Like most things, the gradual replacement of the dip pen and inkwells with the fountain pen represents a shift made by changing technology. Human ideas were first communicated with ink-like substances through the media of cave paintings, using powered red ochre and binding animals fats. Such materials were held and transported in proto-inkwells in the form of clay pots and animal horns.  These were eventually replaced by India ink and dyes, and the glass and ceramic varieties of bottles and wells we have just discussed. The technology associated with them has come a long way, and certainly their use has become wider- spread since prehistory, as more and more people learned to read and write.

Having said this, literacy was once a concept and skill that was largely owned by the wealthy. As a rule, our capitalist societies save higher education and technological advances for the few at first, and the associated costs eventually decrease with the introduction of new and better technologies. As a result, the original form becomes more commonplace and obtainable by the masses instead of the few.  This is all too relevant to writing and writing equipment – not in the least because fountain pen nibs were originally made of gold – in favour of its non-corrosive properties, and wettability (having a smooth surface with reduced surface tension for ink to flow over). While a good fountain pen is still considered a luxury item today, this eventually became less of an issue with the introduction of better stainless steel alloy pen nips and less corrosive inks (Binder 2015).

(Free Lance 21/1/1915: 9.)

This lack of literacy might seem a foreign concept to those of us who learned to read and write from a young age – when words resonated with us and and flowed out of us like osmosis. New Zealand has one of the top 25 percent of literacy rates in the world, where 99 percent of us are literate, but this wasn’t always the case. The Education Act of 1877 saw free and secular education become compulsory the first time for 7 to 13 year olds in New Zealand (Swarbrick 2012). This did make a difference to our nations literacy,  despite the fact that this act was hard to follow for some in rural communities, where children were needed to help with manual labour. The act also standardised reading systems, when before the quality and resources between schools varied greatly (Swarbrick 2012). We have found direct evidence of our nation’s children learning to write in the forms of writing slates and slate pencils, as well as 19th century inkwells which fit into school desks. These date to before my school days – but my school desk did have the relevant hole in the top, which these bad boys would have fit into.

Well, well, well… this inkwell fits into a school desk. Image: J. Hearfield.

So what more can we expect? The introduction of the dip pen spelled the end for the quill, and was followed by the reign of the fountain pen which was halted by the typewriter. From the first personal computer to mobile phones and social media – to the introduction of the emoji and the GIPHY (my spellcheck didn’t even pick these up – they must be in the dictionary!), we are constantly replacing popular technology with new ways to communicate our personal ideas. These days we don’t even need the written or the typed word to satisfy every human emotion… we don’t even speech! So what’ s next then…Telepathy? 🙂

By Chelsea Dickson

 

References:

Apostolakou, L. 2014. Palimpsest: Ink a Day: Blackwood & Co Ink (wherein scant evidence is explored). [Online] Available at: http://www.thepalimpsest.co.uk/

Binder, R. 2015. To the Point: Nib materials[online] Available at:  http://www.richardspens.com/?page=ref/ttp/materials.htm (Accessed March 2017).

Campbell, A. 2017. History of the Inkwell/Inkstand/Desk Standish. [online] Available at: http://www.acsilver.co.uk/shop/pc/what-is-an-inkwell-history-of-inkwell-d118.htm (Accessed March 2017).

Carvalho, D., 1904. Forty Centuries of Ink. [online] Available at https://archive.org. [Accessed May 2015].

Daily Southern Cross[online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Otautau Standard and Wallace Chronicle [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Sun [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Swarbrick, N. 2012. ‘Primary and secondary education’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/primary-and-secondary-education/print (accessed 3 March 2017).

Tuscia Web 2011. Tuscia Web: Leonardo’s pen to control room. [online) Available at: http://www.tusciaweb.eu/2011/09/la-penna-di-leonardo-alla-sala-regia/ (Accessed and translated from Italian March 2017).

Tyler, K., Brown, J., Smith, T. P. and Whittingham, L., 2005. The Doulton Stoneware Pothouse in Lambeth: Excavations at 9 Albert Embankment, London. Museum of London Archaeology Service, London.