The Cater-Ring

Following on from last week’s blog post, when we discovered a tea set used by a local 19th century caterer – this time we will take a closer look at what catering may have been like for the Victorians.

Prior to this find, catering was one of those 19th century occupations that I’d taken for granted, or never given any thought to. It certainly surprised me to find such specific evidence of this industry, especially to glimpse a particular individual’s business. But hey, these are the things that keep our jobs interesting! Our bread and butter if you will…

When I first began to think about what this industry may have been like for L. J. Smith and his counterparts, I had visions of a primary school cook-off – in which everyone brings a pot-luck plate (made by their mum) to the local school gala day. But upon further research, I found that the industry was more established than this. Caterers were commonly used at many events, including children’s birthday parties, afternoon teas, garden parties, balls and dances, banquets, the races and A & P shows, to name a few.

Despite the number of events these guys must have attended, I only found one really sensational tale regarding the life of a New Zealand caterer, in which a well-known Wanganui professional slipped in the kitchen and slashed his wrist on broken glass, requiring emergency surgery (Marlborough Express 01/09/1900: 3). This is in sharp comparison to the bigger and more dramatic experiences of caterers back in Europe. London’s Evening Post regales us with tales about dodgy caterers being fined for serving cheap meats they claimed were delicacies, a mass poisoning at a medical congress banquet, in which 250 doctors became ill, and the caterer claimed he was framed by someone in a conspiracy to ruin his reputation (Evening Post 10/11/1894: 1, 03/08/1935: 28). Caterers were even being honoured at Windsor Castle for their edible menus (made of sugar tissue paper and cake frosting; Evening Post, 21/11/1906: 15).

All of this was entertaining to read, but what was it like to be a caterer in New Zealand during the 19th century? Like other occupations we have looked at on the blog, early caterers on our shores often had multi-faceted careers – chefs and restaurateurs, confectioners and bakers often moonlighted as caterers when opportunities arose, and successful proprietors were known to open up their own tearooms as a side enterprise.  Some of the professionals who appeared many times in newspapers had seemingly successful careers: one is described as “famous” in his obituary, and L. J. Smith himself is described as well respected (Auckland Star 23/06/1917: 5). A caterer’s name was also often announced in newspapers prior to an event, seemingly as a draw card to advertise the occasion, and they were subsequently thanked, sometimes with a description of the fare provided. So people were certainly interested in their work – I’m thinking the 19th century equivalent of posting a picture of your meal on Facebook?

But what kind of crust did these guys earn? I didn’t find any catering costings during my research, although I did find several bankruptcy notices, and occasions when community groups helped to sell off goods purchased for cancelled events, so the caterer wouldn’t make a loss (Taranaki Herald 11/02/1897: 2). We also know that they formed a union to raise the price of tariffs, which may have helped their profits (Grey River Argus 09/11/1907: 3). There was also always the occupational hazard of theft to consider – the poor guy in this story seems to have lost some equipment…

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

The equipment that some caterers served their fare on was alluded to last week in reference to the blue and white patterned tea set complete with the company logo. The quality and range of serving ware and equipment offered by a caterer, was no doubt related to the formality of the affair and the money spent by the patrons. One New York caterer made place markers for each of his guests in the form of recognisable caricature statuettes of them (Grey River Argus 13/07/1886: 4) – seems a bit over-the-top? More commonly, advertisements mentioned that marquees were available for hire, as well as boilers, tables, crockery, glassware, cutlery, etc. (Press 15/06/1907: 8). One proprietor even stated that her hands would never have touched the flour that made her bread, as she owned the most “up-to-date machinery” (Waikato Independent 18/05/1902: 1).

The formality and size of a catered affair would also determine if extra serving staff were required for an event. The photograph below shows the catering crew of the South Island section of the 9th contingent in which 480 people were said to have been served in four minutes!

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

If you thought that was impressive, this fun nod to old-timely sexism draws our attention to the preference of male wait staff over female waitresses for formal affairs. The author explains that women are less professional than men, and any guest conversation that a waitress might overhear will be subsequently turned into community gossip. Go figure.

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

Probably the most entertaining part of researching catering was determining what they may have served. Check out the ‘Bill of Fare’ for the Telegraph Dinner of 1862. Seven courses? And most of it French! Bon appétit!

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

I suspect not all menus were so elaborate. More humble fare may not have been as far away from what we might find at our modern equivalent of community events – like mini savouries, saveloys and fairy bread. In fact, many advertisements offered scotch pies and ‘fancy bread’, and strawberries and cream were always a special treat (Woodville Examiner 28/04/1911: 4). As many caterers also marketed themselves as confectioners, lollies (typically boiled, sometimes mixed with nuts) were on hand – and depending on the affair, a lolly scramble may have been warranted.

Lolly scramble at a 1880s child's birthday party. Image: W. Crawford. Lolly scrambles were common at community picnics and children’s birthday parties (Swarbrick 2016).

Lolly scramble at an 1880s child’s birthday party. Image: W. Crawford. Tairāwhiti Museum, Te Whare Taonga O Te Tairāwhiti. Lolly scrambles were common at community picnics and children’s birthday parties (Swarbrick 2016).

One of the most commonly catered community events during the 19th century were picnics. Organisations such as firms, churches, unions, clubs and Sunday schools held annual or even more frequent picnics. The picnic would have been a more exotic affair, and required a different menu than a sit down full course meal. Such foodstuffs would need to be served cold and stored in picnic baskets, napkins and tin containers. Common items were sandwiches, cold cuts, cakes, biscuits, cheeses, jellies and pickled fruit. Beverages commonly included ginger beer or ale, lemonade and, of course, tea! (Mitchell 1995: 16). These events (for which the caterers were often paid for by fundraising) frequently required large amounts of food. A combined Thames Sunday schools’ picnic with over 1000 children in attendance required 120 lbs of cake, 1000 dozen buns, 100 lbs of bread, 25 lbs of lollies, 50 lbs of ham, 6 lbs of tea, 25 lbs of sugar, 10 lbs of butter, 6 gallons of milk and peaches (Mitchell 1995: 27).

Essentially, whatever was on the event menu would have included a great deal of MEAT. The European settlers attempted to recreate many of their traditional foods in New Zealand, such as the standard “meat and three vege” combination, which still has its place in many New Zealand homes today (Burton 2016). The main cuisine difference between the homeland and the new frontier was that the quantity of meat consumed by the pioneers significantly increased. The availability and comparative inexpensiveness of meat in New Zealand meant that meat could be eaten for three meals a day, and fish was much less common, due to its British associations with the working class (Burton 2016). Mr Cooper, editor of The Scotsman newspaper visited New Zealand in 1897, and stated that “the fault with [New Zealand hotels] is that they offer you too much meat” and “It was my firm belief that New Zealanders eat more meat and drink more tea than any other people in the world” (Nelson Evening Mail 10/06/1897: 4). There was a small 19th century vegetarian population of New Zealand, some of which were likely to have been part of the Canterbury Dietetic Reform Association (founded in 1882), which promoted the health benefits of a vegetarian diet (Burton 2016). However, these people probably wouldn’t have been too popular at a party, nor would a caterer have been if he left meat off the menu. As Homer Simpson once said: “You don’t make friends with salad!”

Colonial Goose. A great example of the adaption of traditional British cuisine to the New Zealand colony. (Spoiler – it doesn’t: contain any traces of goose!) Goose was hard to come by in New Zealand, so lamb or mutton was used in its place. Image Insureandgo.

Colonial Goose. A great example of the adaption of traditional British cuisine to the New Zealand colony. (Spoiler – it doesn’t: contain any traces of goose!) Goose was hard to come by in New Zealand, so lamb or mutton was used in its place. Image Insureandgo.

Chelsea Dickson

 References

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

Burton, D. ‘Food – Meat’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/food/page-1 (Accessed 16 September 2016).

Grey River Argus [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Evening Post [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Marlborough Express[online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Mitchell, I. 1995 ‘Picnics in New Zealand During the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: An Interpretive Study’, MA thesis, Massey University.

Nelson Evening Mail [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Otago Witness [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Press [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Swarbrick, N. ‘Birthdays and wedding anniversaries – Celebrating birthdays’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/38840/lolly-scramble (accessed 16 September 2016).

Taranaki Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Waikato Independent [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Woodville Examiner [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Mr and Mrs Smith

 

Of all the house sections in all the world, ‘The Smiths’ had to walk into mine. Between 1897 and 1899, that is…

Today on the blog I’ll refrain from making jokes about ‘Brangelina’ and the 2004 movie that shares its name with this post (especially regarding news of their coincidentally timed divorce). Instead, I’ll tell you a tale about the trials, tribulations and triumphs that I experienced recently, while researching the history of a family with the most gloriously common name – Smith. You will also get a peek at how we carry out some of our historic research.

Smith has been the most common surname in New Zealand and England since the 19th century. So it wasn’t surprising that it was a difficult task to find information on the family of Smiths who owned a house section in Strowan between 1897 and 1899. Large deposits of domestic rubbish were found on this site, and they contained artefacts that were dated from 1897 onwards. This house section only had one previous owner, and he was known to be living in another area of Christchurch at the time, so it seemed logical that the Smiths could have deposited this rubbish.

lloyd-street-dig

Happy archaeologists recording a large rubbish pit. Image: C. Dickson

The information that we had about the Smiths was available from the certificate of title for this land parcel, and was limited to their names and occupation (Many Anne Smith, the wife of Henry William Smith (carrier)). Now this would normally be sufficient information for us to determine if this couple lived on this section at the time that they owned it, as they would usually be listed in the Wises Post Office Directories and/or the New Zealand Electoral Roll. In this instance, no one with the last name Smith was recorded to be living on or owning a section on the appropriate street in Strowan at this time, nor was there any mention of them in the newspapers – so it would be easy to assume that this rubbish pit must have been made by a later 20th century occupant of this site.

This being said, the rubbish deposits in question contained large quantities of artefacts – many with dateable manufacturers’ marks, and many which could be dated by the techniques used to make them. As no maker’s mark was later than 1897 and no machine made glass bottles were present (machine made bottles began to be produced in the first decade of the 20th century), it seemed more likely that these rubbish pits were filled in the 19th century.

lloys-street-bottle

Pharmaceutical bottle which probably represented Spencer Vincent Pharmacy, located at 214 high Street, Christchurch. This company was first mentioned in Christchurch newspapers in 1897, and this bottle represents the youngest dateable artefact from the rubbish deposit (Donaldson 1990: 151. Star 17/06/1897: 3). Image: C. Dickson

So who could have thrown out the rubbish? The neighbouring sections surrounding this land parcel were not purchased until the 20th century, and the land wasn’t located in the highly populated central city – so it also seemed unlikely that this rubbish was deposited here by people who lived in the area.  Our section was not located near the corner of an adjacent road, so it seemed unlikely that our residents would use another road for access…

However, the resources that we have available for this type of research were compiled during the 19th century when recording methods were not always reliable or consistent. As such, we do sometimes come across errors and missing information. A closer look at the postal records of an adjacent road provided a very welcome “Henry Smith (carrier)” as a resident of an unnumbered house in the relevant block along Strowan Road, despite the fact that our modern road (Lloyd Street) had been created more than a decade before! I won’t bore you with too many further details, but the situation became much more complicated from here, and involved making maps showing where all of the residents listed on both of these roads lived (for the next decade). This can be confusing, because the houses are unnumbered, and not all the houses are always listed – so the method involves chasing consistent occupation of unnumbered houses. Tricky right? (To add to the headache, there were about five mistakes in post office directory over this period, and the residents of Lloyd Street were listed on Lloyd Street some years, and Strowan Road other years). Needless to say, complicated and time consuming, but highly rewarding when the pieces (or people) fall into place (yay!). The situation resulted in evidence of consistent occupation of our section by the Smiths from 1897, and the two more families in early 20th century. Too easy?

Little personal information was available about Henry William Smith, apart from where he resided before and after he lived in Strowan, and the fact that he worked as a carrier in Christchurch in the late 19th and early 20th century. During this period, he gave evidence at a court case regarding an eviction dispute – he had helped an evicted shop owner move her soiled, rain drenched goods, after her landlord took the roof off her shop! Nice guy. Mary Anne’s occupation is recorded as a housewife carrying out domestic duties at this time.

henry-smith-hero

Henry Smith (hero!).  An excerpt from the long-winded court case. You think your landlord is unfair!? (Press 10/03/1905: 07).

In 1900, Annie and Robert Meynell purchased the property. Robert was a local contractor who cleaned rivers and drains and was wounded in WW1 (Sun 27/06/1917: 3). The Meynells had a similarly uneventful representation in the local newspapers during their lifetimes, but they leased the house for a couple of years to a character with a much more colourful past. Raphael Portelli (whose antics we have come across before), was a fishmonger who appeared in Christchurch court many times in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was charged with a flurry of misdemeanours, including, but not limited to: public drunkenness, using obscene language (Star 19/10/1892: 3), cruely ill-using a horse (Star 26/07/1899: 3), assault, and breaking a window (Star 13/06/1900: 3), driving a cart after sunset without lights 17/04/1901: 3), being drunk while driving a horse and cart (Press 17/07/1901: 3), crashing his cart into someone else’s deliberately (coincidentally, this was the cart of Peter Thompson,  who had previously charged him with assault Star 22/05/1902: 3). His ten-year-old son was even charged with stealing a tricycle (Star 18/06/1896: 3). Imagine how that getaway must have gone!

Ordinarily, it would be safe to assume that any of these residents could have deposited our assemblage, due to the time lag between the manufacture and the deposition of an artefact. However, this assemblage contained a group of artefacts which became a lot more exciting upon realising the Smiths lived here…

You may remember a matching ceramic tea set we posted on our page back in January –  It featured the monogram of a mysterious caterer that appeared to have two different initials and the ability to run his business posthumously? This tea set was found on our section.

smith-ceramic

L. J. Smith catering tea set, showing correct and incorrect monogram. Image: G. Jackson.

On further inspection, it appeared that one of the two similar sets of initials on these matching tea sets was a mistake. The correct monogram printed on these ceramics can be attributed to Leo Josephus Smith, who was a well-regarded caterer in Christchurch from 1891 to his death in 1897. He catered everything from balls and Lodge functions to school picnics, and – that’s right – he also had the last name SMITH! We have covered the fact that Smith represents a common surname, but it seems like too much of a coincidence that these artefacts turned up on a section occupied by someone with the same last name, during a contemporary time. The likely explanation is that Leo and Henry were brothers – we know from Leo’s obituary that he was the seventh son of Mr W. H. Smith, who arrived in Christchurch “with the pilgrims” (Star 25/10/1897: 4). Henry’s initials match those of Leo’s father’s and it is possible that he was given his father’s names. As the catering business appears to have continued after Leo’s death in 1897, it is possible that Henry and Mary Anne were involved in the continued operation of the business. This is supported by an advertisement in the Press in 1898 which names H. W. Smith as the caterer for a 40-year anniversary picnic of the ship Zealandia (Press 28/09/1898). It turns out that the Zealandia had a William Smith as steerage passenger (Lyttelton Times 22/09/1858: 4). It sounds a lot like this passenger was their father!

And so we come to the end of this historical journey. I hope you’ve shared my excitement about this site – it’s pretty unusual to find an artefact with someone’s name on it, and even more uncommon to have a connection between this person and the occupant of the site where it was found. What’s also cool is that fragments of this tea set were recovered from several rubbish pits at this site – which means that we can assume that they were all deposited at roughly the same time. In this instance, this can only have happened during the three years that the Smiths lived on the section – which is a small window of time in the grand scheme of archaeology!

A piece of the tea set where it was found – inside a metal barrel containing charcoal and other artefacts. Image: C. Dickson

A piece of the tea set where it was found – inside a metal barrel containing charcoal and other artefacts. Image: C. Dickson

Chelsea Dickson

References

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

Keys to the city

Did you ever wonder where the concept of locking things up came from? The reality of human nature seems to be that ever since people have owned things that are deemed valuable, they need to be protected from theft. Not to mention the need for personal protection – locking yourself in away from harm, or locking away those things or people that have been deemed unsafe to others.

Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it is thought that the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans developed mechanical locks independently from each other – highlighting the collective unconscious need to protect one’s valuables and person from this unseemly side of human nature. The idea evolved from the use of simple knots to detect if anyone had attempted to tamper with a locked place, and as time went on, locks made from wood and metal were developed and the security that they provided increased (History of Keys 2016).

Alexander the Great 'unlocks?' the Gordian knot. Image

Alexander the Great unlocks? the Gordian Knot. Image: Rugs 4.

We find several types of locks in the work that we carry out in Christchurch. Door locks from the pre-1900 houses that we record, and padlocks from excavations of pre-1900 material. The concept of a padlock is a great one! We have the Chinese from about 1000 BC to thank for the invention of a portable apparatus, the size and uses of which are so versatile that we can lock all manner of things up and away. The idea travelled to Europe via trade with the Romans several centuries later and the heart cast type became popular for locking up railway cars and controls, as they were durable in dirty and freezing conditions (History of Keys 2016).  These days we’re not just using them for railroads – they work well to secure static latches that have been fixed to the outside of a door or cupboard to keep it closed, or on the inside of a door to lock yourself in a room. How convenient! Latch and lock types that work well for this are hasp latches, and sliding bolt locks – the kind you might use on your garden shed, or on a public locker.

A hasp latch (Image: Priess 2002: 66).

A hasp latch (Image: Priess 2002: 66).

A sliding bolt is a bar which can be attached to a door and slid into a catch on the door frame to hold a door closed (Image: Priess 2002: 66).

A sliding bolt is a bar which can be attached to a door and slid into a catch on the door frame to hold a door closed (Image: Priess 2002: 66).

Padlocks consist of an enclosed body (housing), and curved bar (shackle) that is passed through a loop and secured (Priess 2002: 79). The housing shapes can vary, being symmetrical or asymmetrical, and some had key hole covers. These covers were originally attached with hinges, which were later replaced by pivoted examples. These keyhole covers can also offer additional dating and origin information as they were often stamped with maker’s marks. A popular mark was “VR”, after Queen Victoria during her reign 1837-1901 (Priess 2002: 81). Padlocks are a lock type which have been favoured historically for their flexibility, and because they are simple to make, with few working parts. But on the flip side, their simple structure means they are also easy to break open (Priess 2002: 82).

Cast iron padlock from an archaeological deposit west of the central city.

Cast iron padlock from an archaeological deposit west of the central city.

Door locks are more complicated in manufacture and form. The idea is simple – “A lock is any key-operated device attached to a door and equipped with a bolt or other member to keep the door closed” (Butter 1968: 163). But the 19th century saw many innovations in door lock technology. The most notable were the changes in material used – from wrought iron to cast iron, brass or steel, when it began to be economically viable (Priess 2002: 92).

Wooden and wrought iron rim lock. Image: K. Webb.

Wooden and wrought iron rim lock. Image: K. Webb.

Without delving into the tedious technical details – the locks that were available in the 19th century consisted of two main types – ones that are attached to the surface of the door and ones that are placed into a cavity that has been cut into the door. The surface locks consist of ‘stock locks’ and ‘rim locks’ and the cut locks are ‘flush locks’ (which were cut into the surface of the door) and ‘mortise locks’ (cut into the edge of the door).

These types are easily distinguished as the surface locks have their strike plates attached to the surface of one side of the adjacent wall, and the strike plates of a mortise or flush lock are placed within the door jamb. Also, only the front plate of the housing (lock cover) is visible with these mortise and flush locks. Sounds simple? Not always – lock reuse can make identification and dating of locks complicated, as broken locks were often replaced with new types.  Wrought iron examples could also be fixed and reworked into other things (Priess 2002: 92). Darn those thrifty Victorians!

Of the types mentioned above, rim locks and mortise locks are commonly found on the doors of Christchurch houses that were built during the 19th century. Some examples that some of our buildings archaeologists have found are pictured below.

Rim lock from a central city house. Image: P. Mitchell.

Rim lock from a central city house. Image: P. Mitchell.

 Mortise lock in situ and mortise lock close-up. Images: J. Garland and P. Mitchell.

Mortise lock in situ and mortise lock close-up. Images: J. Garland and P. Mitchell.

Mortise locks were more labour intensive to install than rim locks, as the mortise cavity in the door had to be cut. This lock type didn’t become popular until the late 19th century for this reason. But by the beginning of the 20th century mortise locks formed a major portion of the locks offered by prominent lock companies like Yale and Towne, and Sargent and Company (Priess 2002: 99). Flush locks are more commonly seen on furniture or closets, as they are inserted into the interior surface of a door or drawer, and they are usually out of sight when the drawer or door is closed (Priess 2002: 90).

The works of a few of the same lock makers are seen over and over again in our local examples – particularly the makers James Carpenter, Willenhall, England and H.&. T. Vaughan Standard Works, Willenhall (P. Mitchell and K. Webb, pers. comm.). Carpenter’s No. 60 patented lock was mentioned in the blog a few weeks ago, and this lock type was so popular that the design was counterfeited by rival lock-makers (Switzer 2013).

Jason Carpenter No. 60 rim lock and maker’s mark. The strike plate is shaped like a key! This maker was popular from the 1840s until the early 20th century (Sydney Living Museum 2016). Image: K. Webb.

Jason Carpenter No. 60 rim lock and maker’s mark. The strike plate is shaped like a key! This maker was popular from the 1840s until the early 20th century (Sydney Living Museum 2016). Image: K. Webb.

H. & T. Vaughan lock maker's mark. This company was founded in 1856, and was later responsible for the invention of the cylinder pin tumbler lock in 1910 – the easy self-locking kind which are still commonly used today (Evans 2002). Image: K. Webb.

H. & T. Vaughan lock maker’s mark. This company was founded in 1856, and was later responsible for the invention of the cylinder pin tumbler lock in 1910 – the easy self-locking kind which are still commonly used today (Evans 2002). Image: K. Webb.

So we have talked about the locks, what about the keys? They’ve enabled us to take better control of our locks and make them more exclusive as only the key holder can operate them. The first of their kind were made with wooden pins, but we can credit the Romans again for the production of metal keys – the strength of the material made it possible to make keys smaller than before and hence, more potable (History of Keys 2016). We find keys less commonly in the archaeological record, as it’s likely that the 19th century owners of these keys did not often discard them on purpose – the abundance of advertisements for locksmiths in 19th century Canterbury newspapers suggests that the skill of breaking locks was one in demand.

And who were these lock breakers behind the scenes? If you lost your key or if something went wrong with one of your locks, you’d need someone to pick it, break it, or blow it up (if you’re that desperate). Locksmiths seem to have been ‘a jack of all trades’ in New Zealand during the 1800s – they often moonlighted as plumbers, engineers, guns smiths, tinsmiths, bell hangers and gas fitters to name a few (Star 29/09/1873: 3). They appear to not only have had varied careers, but also exciting ones – among the many instances of getting called out on false alarm missions (having to open safes that were never locked, or even closed in the first place (Star 23/10/1897: 2). There were also many examples of locksmiths being the first called to the scene of a crime (often murders) to break through a locked door (Temuka Leader 16/12/1882: 3). They were also commonly called in as expert witnesses at court trials to prove if locks had been tampered with – a sort of 19th century forensics expert (Star 4/04/1900: 3). I’ve LOCKED in an example of one of these turbulent tales – it may be the craziest story I have ever read in the New Zealand newspapers – so I’ll leave it with you. Until next time.

Temuka Leader 5/5/1883: 3

Temuka Leader 5/5/1883: 3

Chelsea Dickson

References

Butter, F. J. 1968 An Encyclopaedia of Locks and Builders Hardware. Josiah Parkes, WillenhaIl, England.

Evans, J. 2002. A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers. [online] Available at: http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/Museum/locks/gazetteer/gazv.htm

History of Keys 2016 [online] http://www.historyofkeys.com/ [Accessed July 2016]

Press, P. J. 2000 ‘Historic Door Hardware’ in Karklins, K. 2000. (Ed) Studies in Material Culture Research.

Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2016]

Switzer, R., R. 2013. The Steamboat Bertrand and Missouri River Commerce. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman.

Temuka Leader [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2016]

Death and Taxes

Link

He is bed maker to the dead. The pillows which he lays never rumple. The day of interment is the theatre in which he displays the mysteries of this art.

Thomas Lamb 1811.

 

Nothing in this would can be certain except for death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin’s proverb was never more true than in the case of John C. Felton, a cabinet maker/undertaker from Rangiora who went bankrupt just before the turn of the 20th century. In fact, a site that I was working on recently was occupied by a string of undertakers who moonlighted as carpenters of some description during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The men in question – George Dale, John C. Felton, and J. M’Auliffe – left little evidence of their macabre craft behind, save a chisel and a few nails and bolts. But this was not unexpected – it isn’t often that we find artefacts which form an obvious link to a more ephemeral business like undertaking (we do find the odd ‘mummified’ cat underneath demolished houses, but that’s a bit different). In cases like these, we rely heavily on historic records of land ownership and newspaper reports to connect archaeological assemblages to their 19th century owners.

New Zealand Tablet 2/2/1894: 32

New Zealand Tablet  2/2/1894: 32

Despite the fact that humans have been dying for as long as they have been alive, ‘the undertaker’ is a relatively new profession. Before the mid-19th century the term ‘undertaker’ referred to anyone who undertook a task or enterprise, and the ‘laying out’ of a corpse in preparation for burial was a task generally carried out by female family members of the deceased, or by individuals with other nurturing roles, such as mid-wives. This role eventually transitioned into a male dominated one, in conjunction with the rise of the ideas of feminine sensibility and Victorian female respectability (Burrell 1998).

 

The profession developed as a part-time industry, associated largely with cabinet makers and carpenters, who used their skills to build coffins on the side – Dale and Felton were also both cabinet makers/carpenters – and because of the early undertaker’s associations with furniture dealing, these individuals were probably more familiar to their clients and neighbours as handymen rather than being associated exclusively with death. This early picture of the undertaker developed as populations and commercial specialisation grew – as a result, undertakers were able to dedicate all of their time and effort to the one profession (Burrell 1998). As mourners required evermore elaborate funerary displays, as characterised by the mourning obsessed Victorian era, livery men joined the funerary procession. This group of merchants acted as the suppliers of the horses and carriages to transport the deceased. This in turn gave rise to the hearse bearing undertaker (Polites 2011).

Typical turn of the century Brisbane undertaker (1902).

Typical turn of the century Brisbane undertaker (1902). Image: Polites 2011

All of this sounds relatively profitable, right?  Multifaceted business ventures in an industry which theoretically had a steady and very reliable stream of potential clientele – particularly as the world was still coming to grips with the concept of germ theory (Tremlett 2016)… But alas, John Courtney Felton went bankrupt nonetheless (Star 20/11/1899: 2). One can only speculate as to why his business was unsuccessful.

Figure 3. Hard times for the undertaker (New Zealand Herald 15/09/1923: 3)

Hard times for the undertaker (New Zealand Herald 15/09/1923: 3)

 

The same fate was not met by another notable 19th century Christchurch undertaker – a prosperous business man: Herman Franz Fuhrmann, who was German. We have met Herman Franz Fuhrmann on the blog before, and it’s possible that his business success could be related to the catchiness of his name – it sounds like it was just made for a jingle! – but regardless, he managed to expand his own undertaking and cabinet making business to include a saddler, branched out into insurance, and made a killing in the sale of the Molesworth station in Marlborough.

 

Figure 4. Rhyming makes ads cooler (Free Lance 29/03/1902: 21 ) - Is it just me or do the finials on this hearse look like shrunken heads on spikes to anyone else? Creepy!

Rhyming makes ads cooler (Free Lance 29/03/1902: 21 ) – Is it just me or do the finials on this hearse look like shrunken heads on spikes to anyone else? Creepy!

This more capitalist version of undertaking brings us a little closer to some of the more recent attitudes toward modern funerary directors. Exposés starting in the 1960s tackled the controversy of the idea of the modern undertaking and funeral industry as a profit-driven empire – making a commodity out of death, and manipulating mourning people at their most vulnerable (Mitford, 1983). This is a large and complex debate that won’t be covered here. No price lists were found for any of the undertaking services of Felton, Dale or M’Auliffe, and their advertisements and others like them from this era seemed to focus more on being sanitary, speedy and available on short notice.

 

M’Auliffe is the only one of the three undertakers in question who also advertises an embalming service (Press 3/07/1903: 8). The idea of embalming corpses (the science of preserving human remains intact, for the sanitation, presentation and preservation), can be traced to at least 5000-6000 BC and the Chinchorro culture in present day Chile and Peru (Brenner 2014). Modern embalming began in the 17th century but really didn’t take off until the American Civil War, which saw soldiers dying far from home and their families wishing their bodies to be returned home for burial. The long journeys presented the need to slow down decomposition, and led to injecting various solutions into arteries of a corpse to prevent this natural process (Chiappelli, 2008). During the 19th century, arsenic was the most favoured embalming fluid, although it was eventually replaced with less toxic chemicals in the 1900s. This occurred in order to alleviate growing concerns about ground contamination from buried embalmed bodies seeping into local water supplies – not to mention the possibility of homicide cover-ups in which any evidence of arsenic poisoning could be disguised by embalming fluid (Mettler 1890). Formaldehyde eventually replaced arsenic as the favourite solution and is still used today.

 

M’Auliffe’s multifaceted service also appeared to have run more successfully than his predecessor Felton’s, although he also had his share of hiccups. M’Auliffe may have been a funerary director who harboured a death wish, as he was charged with riding bicycle in the street in the dead of night without a light, and a mysterious fire broke out at his premises in 1912 (also in the middle of the night), destroying his house and workshop. Luckily, the property was insured (Star 21/10/1902: 3, North Otago Times 16/10/1912: 3). Dazzling reports described a scantily-clad Mrs M’Auliffe having to make her way to the ground by a rope fire escape, “with a three-year-old child clinging to her neck. Fortunately, before making her descent she had the presence of mind to throw down a mattress, otherwise the child, who let go its hold when eight or ten feet from the ground, might have met with injury” (Star 15/10/1912: 3). I can only imagine how creepy it would have been to witness the local funeral home or mortuary burning down at the start of the 20th century!

Here’s a picture of another enterprising dame escaping from a building via bedsheet rope- not the same incident, but you get the idea.

Here’s a picture of another enterprising dame escaping from a building via bedsheet rope- not the same incident, but you get the idea. Image: The Amateur Examiner

But even without the burning building, why do we generally find the concept of an undertaker creepy, particularly one from ‘olden times’? When I hear the word ‘undertaker’ or ‘mortician’, the picture of a solitary guy in black and white, with a bit of a mad scientist vibe comes to mind. Pop culture, through the horror novel and film industry, is probably largely to blame for the demonisation of the profession, but the concept of ostracising those who handle the dead is not a new one. It can also be explained by human desire and the need to survive by disassociating one’s self with dead bodies and death. The idea has been explored by acclaimed social anthropologists such as Bronislaw Malinowski, making reference to the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of 1793, where the townsmen charged free blacks with the responsibility for picking up the dead and then “shunned them as infected, vilified them as predatory” (Burrell 1998).

 

Well that brings me to the end of this undertaking… Until next time…

 

                                                                                                                                                                Chelsea Dickson.

 

 

References

 

Burrell, D. 1998. Origins of Undertaking: How antebellum merchants made death their business. Seminar in Early American History.

Brenner, E. 2014. “Human body preservation – old and new techniques.” Journal of Anatomy. Vol. 224: 316-344.

Chiappelli, J. 2008. “The Problem of Embalming”. Journal of Environmental Health 71 (5): 24.

Lamb. T. 1811. “On Burial Societies, and the Character of an Undertaker.” The Reflector: A Collection of Essays on Miscellaneous Subjects of Literature and Politics. Vol. 2. London: 1812. 143.

Free Lance. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Mettler, L. Harrison. “The Importance, from tire Medico-Legal Standpoint, of Distinguishing Between Somatic and Molecular Death.” Medico-Legal Journal 8 (1890): 172-79.

Mitford, J. 1983. American Way of Death. Fawcett.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

New Zealand Tablet. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

North Otago Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Polites, T., M. 2011. The Undertaker Undertakes [online] Available at: http://taylorpolites.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/undertaker-undertakes.html. [Accessed June 2016].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Tremlett, L. (2016). Medical Buildings and Medical Theory: An Archaeological Investigation of Ashburton Hospital, New Zealand. MA Thesis, University of Otago.

The world is your oyster – a tale of talking molluscs, bar brawls and Victorian vice…

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like oysters – they’re slimy, they look weird and they taste like the sea. So perhaps I was affected more than your average person when I recently had the task of analysing an assemblage of artefacts that provided an abundance of similarly decorated stoneware jars. These jars were all the same form, one which I had never come across before. A quick internet search determined that some collectors refer to these as ‘oyster jars’ – this was an unfamiliar term for me, and it piqued my curiosity. Further research revealed that the canning and pickling of oysters was a common enterprise in 19th century Canterbury and around the world!

DSC_5339 ed2

The stone ware jars. Image: C. Dickson.

Now, not being a fan of them, the idea of other people not only eating oysters, but eating old oysters, wasn’t appetising. But I looked at a few recipes online and, actually, the concept didn’t seem so bad – vinegar and cayenne pepper form a part of my regular diet…

Pickled Oysters recipe from 1884 – Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook.

Pickled Oysters recipe from 1884 – Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook.

Normally, it is difficult to determine the original contents of a vessel without manufacturer labels. In fact, jars and bottles with wide mouths like the ones from my assemblage may have been used to store or pickle any number of food or condiment varieties, or even viscous household items like glue or shoe polish. This being said, the large number of oyster shells that were found in the rubbish pit alongside the jars did suggest that these two items were related in this instance – and it is possible that the 19th century family that lived in the associated Rangiora house pickled their own oysters.

 A more common 19th century oyster jar shape.

A more common 19th century oyster jar shape.

The canning and preserving of oysters has taken place since 1850 (Hunt 2010), and oysters have been a commonly consumed fresh food resource here and around the world since ancient times – their consumption can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Chinese, and they are commonly found in early Māori rubbish deposits (referred to by Māori as tio). European industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries made these slippery morsels readily available to everyone and saw them become the great unifier – enjoyed by the wealthy and the poor. It was during this period that New York became the oyster capital of the world and it is said that in any day during this late 19th century, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along the New York harbour waterfront (Happillion 2016). The catch was sold to New Yorkers everywhere from street corners to high class restaurants and in every way imaginable – in the half shell, roasted and in stews.

So ingrained were oysters in 19th century popular culture they can be seen everywhere – we witness the lure of an oyster meal for both the working class and the upper class alike in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 The Walrus and the Carpenter poem, from Through the Looking Glass. In this classic children’s story, we see the overweight and well-dressed walrus swindle the hardworking carpenter out of his oyster meal, while tricking the unlucky and naïve oysters into taking part in a buffet where they’re on the menu. Perhaps not all of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland were based on nonsense?

An oyster buffet - before and after.

An oyster buffet – before and after. Image: Wikia and Classics Illustrated.

From the 1860s oysters were increasingly popular among European settlers in the colonies, and by the 1880s New Zealand joined the oyster craze with the emergence of the oyster saloon – otherwise known as the ‘oyster bar’, the ‘oyster house’ or the ‘raw bar’. Such establishments sought to offer the freshest and tastiest oysters available – generally claiming to provide fresh stock daily (New Zealand Tablet 7/8/1896: 14). Now this may not always have been the case – oysters were available locally in Christchurch and Lyttelton, but the ever popular Stewart Island beds were also supplying to Canterbury during this period (Star 17/4/1875: 1). It was during this time that Christchurch saw the emergence of several fine dining oyster options – Cashel Street’s Café De Paris provided not only the finest oysters night or day, but also quality beverages, operatic entertainment and a separate section for ladies. The establishment claimed to be ‘the best in the colony’ and its success lasted well into the 20th century.

Fresh! Press 10/3/1896: 1.

Fresh! Press 10/3/1896: 1.

At the opposite end of the etiquette scale, the more typical oyster saloon quickly became synonymous with drinking – being one of the only places to purchase cheap food late at night, as an accompaniment to beer. The phrase ‘red light’ district’ was derived from New York oyster bars, which put up red balloons to indicate that the oysters had arrived, and in London, the lighthouse building at King’s Cross flashed a beam from its turret (Smith 2015). Unsurprisingly, these establishments also developed a reputation as houses of vice – news reports from this era are frequently linked to crime –anything from publicans supplying liquor without licences (Press 2/11/1901: 7) and the use of obscene language (Star 27/7/1885: 3) to violent encounters between patrons – male and female (Press 15/7/1881: 2). There are even reports of violence between patrons and establishment owners – take this report for example: three individuals named Maloney, Larsen and Creasey (these names reminded us of some sort of gangster pantomime), got into an altercation with an oyster bar proprietor, who stabbed Maloney in the side and wounded his side-kick (Grey River Argus 26/5/1898: 4). Such reports are accompanied by letters from concerned Cantabrians, who write into the paper questioning the appropriateness of such establishments being located “under the shadow of the cathedral spire” (Star 14/3/1882: 2).

Oyster bar associated with gluttony? (New Zealand Herald 1/4/1939: 5).

Oyster bar associated with gluttony? (New Zealand Herald 1/4/1939: 5).

Further connections were made between the oyster’s aphrodisiac qualities and Victorian vice in the popular 19th century erotic magazine The Oyster, which was printed and distributed privately in London from 1883. This publication and its predecessor, The Pearl, were banned, and its author was prosecuted for the risqué content – which you can see for yourself did not consist of mere pictures of ladies’ ankles (reproductions of the issues are still available on Amazon. This is interesting stuff from before the times when science made the link between oysters being a food source high in zinc (which raises testosterone levels), as well as a source of rare amino acids that increase levels of sex hormones in men and women. Such nutritional values were also possibly known to 18th century Casanova – who reputedly consumed 50 oysters for breakfast daily, and claimed to have seduced 122 women. Or perhaps he was part of the tradition that saw oysters as an aphrodisiac due to their visual similarities with their form and that of the female anatomy…? (Schulman 2008).

Looking back further – Aphrodite (goddess of love and sex) was born from a mollusc shell and the ancient Roman physician, Galen of Pergamon, described oysters as aphrodisiacs because they were a food that was moist and warm… This being said, Galen said the same for all ‘windy’ foods (those which produce gas – if that’s what you’re into), and going even further back, Babylonians looking to increase sexual appetites bit the heads off partridges, ate their hearts and drank their blood, while the ancient Greeks dined on sparrow brains to produce a similar effect (Thring 2011; Camphausen 1999; Hoppe 2015). But I digress…

Aphrodite and her mollusk shell. Attic Red Figure, ca 370 - 360 BC, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Salonica, Italy.

Aphrodite and her mollusc shell. Attic Red Figure, ca 370 – 360 BC, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Salonica, Italy.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the reign of the humble yet hazardous oyster saloon was not to last. One can still frequent bars that specialise exclusively in oyster delicacies in cities larger than Christchurch, but over-consumption and the subsequent depletion of our local marine resources saw the end of the oyster as an abundant, ‘cheap and cheerful’ food source.  Our government began to intervene as early as 1866, with the Oyster Fisheries Act, which introduced licencing, a fishing season and the creation of artificial beds (New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18/8/1865).

As a result, oysters eventually claimed their modern status as a luxury item, to be afforded and consumed by the wealthy, or saved for special occasions. The basic idea of the oyster saloon itself evolved into what we now think of as the fish and chip shop, where we are provided with a bevy of convenient and inexpensive (and fried) seafood options. So the tradition isn’t completely dead… But maybe don’t start a bar fight on your next visit your local fish n’ chippy.

Chelsea Dickson

References

Anonymous 2016. The Oyster Vol. 1: The Victorian Underground Magazine of Erotica (online) Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Oyster-Vol-Victorian-Underground-Magazine-ebook/dp/B000MAH5H4.

Camphausen, R. C. 1999. The Encyclopaedia of Sacred Sexuality. Inner Traditions International, Rochester.

Grey River Argus. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016].

Happillion, C. 2016. The History of Oysters. [online] available at: http://theoystergourmet.com/the-story-of-oysters.

Hoppe, D. Aphrodisiacs in History. Diana Hope, M.D., INCS. [online] Available at: http://www.drdianahoppe.com/aphrodisiacs-in-history-part-1/

Hunt A., L. 2010. Fruits and Vegetables, Fish, and Oysters, Canning and Preserving. Nabu Press, Charleston.

Lincoln, M., J., B. 1884. Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book. Roberts Brothers. [online] Available at: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/books/mrslincoln/linc.pdf

New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18 August 1865 P326

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]

New Zealand Tablet. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]

Shulman M., 2008. The Science of Aphrodisiacs In U.S News & World Report 19/05/2008. [online] available at: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/sexual-and-reproductive-health/articles/2008/08/19/the-science-of-aphrodisiacs [Accessed May 2016]

Smith, D. 2015. Oyster: A Gastronomic History (with Recipes). Abrams, New York.

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]

Thring, O., 2011. Aphrodisiacs: the food of love? In The Guardian. [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/feb/11/aphrodisiacs-food-of-love. [Accessed May 2016]