Around the world in seven plates

Have you always wanted to travel the world? See the famous cathedrals of Europe? Smell the streets of China? Taste the spices of India? But travelling is expensive and everything’s just so damn far away, right? Well have we got the blog post for you. Sit back, relax (maybe even make a cup of tea), and prepare to go all the way around the world without even stepping out the front door.

We start our wild adventure around the globe in a country that may be familiar to some: England. Depicted on the plate below we can see the charming views of Nuneham Courtenay Park, located five miles south east of Oxford. Nuneham Courtenay was one of the most famous 18th century gardens, described by Horace Walpole as “the most beautiful in the world” (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 399). The central scene of the plate is one which will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with England: a canal with a bridge and a lock-keeper’s thatched cottage. A riverside walk ran along the canal, allowing visitors to get the full experience of the quaint landscape. In the background on the left side is the Nuneham Park house, the seat of Earl Harcourt, whilst in the centre is a building that was never actually built. A gothic tower was designed to be built on the hill but the building never eventuated, meaning the plate shows what could have been, but never was. The gardens are still there if you fancy seeing them yourself!

Wild Rose patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

From England we travel to the continent and the charming Swiss city of Lucerne, located on the banks of the River Reuss where it flows out of Lake Lucerne. In the background of the image is a building with two pointed spires. This is most likely the Church of St. Leodegar, named for the city’s patron saint. The church sits on the banks of Lake Lucerne, with a charming Swiss chalet standing on the opposite bank. The view on the plate depicts Lucerne as the ideal getaway spot, a nice quiet holiday location with stunning scenery.

Lucerne patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Is it really a European holiday if you didn’t go to Greece? The cradle of civilisation, founder of democracy, home of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Homer. In the chamber pot below you can explore the wonders of the ancient city of Corinth, with ruins of Greek temples located in the foreground. Classical ruins not really your thing? Then hop across to the gothic city, located just over the body of water. Does modern day Corinth have classical ruins lying next to Gothic buildings? Not according to a google image search I did, but hey, what more do you expect from travelling somewhere via a chamber pot. I’m sure if we were looking at Corinth from a plate there would be more classical temples and less medieval cities.

Corinth patterned chamber pot (it’s not a plate, but around the world in six plates and a chamber pot doesn’t sound as catchy). Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Whilst Europe might be ideal for viewing gothic style churches and classical architecture, it’s a road well-travelled for us Kiwis. This trip around the world is meant to be an adventure, full of far-flung spots around the globe. Enter Saudi Arabia. We’ve now travelled to Medina, located about two hundred miles north of Mecca. Medina is a holy city, containing the tomb of Muhammad in its main mosque, and attracts many pilgrims who visit the city on their way to Mecca. As you can see from the scene depicted on the plate, it features everything you would expect to see in the Middle East: mosques in the background, palms trees in the foreground, and most importantly camels!

Medina patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Now, let us go east. East to India! On the plate below, we can see four exotic birds flying around and landing on a willow tree. Rather than showing us a place, this plate evokes a feeling of exoticness, displaying flora and fauna we wouldn’t see at home. From the name of the pattern we can deduce it refers to the Indian city of Madras (modern day Chennai). Madras was the location of an East India Company outpost, Fort of St. George, which became the main administrative centre for the British in India. No doubt tales of the city by soldiers and traders inspired the potters back in England to recreate the essence of India in dinner ware form.

Madras patterned plate. Image: C. Watson.

India not far enough east for you? Then let’s go further along to China. The delightful scene depicted below is inspired by the city of Amoy (modern day Xiamen). Amoy is located in the Fujian Province, beside the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese port city was captured by the British in 1841 during the First Opium War. The Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 made Amoy one of the first five ports opened to British trade. The scene shown on the tea wares below was made in 1844, only a few years after the arrival of the British (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 21). The scene shows two Chinese figures resting beneath a parasol, with exotic flora surrounding them.

Amoy patterned tea wares. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Sometimes the best part of an overseas adventure is coming home. Therefore, we end our journey where we started it –  in New Zealand. This plate shows the Defiance Pattern (see a complete version here).This plate was part of a set of patterns made by Grimwades in the 1930s, referred to as “Maori ware”. The patterns show idealised scenes of Māori life, with Māori in traditional dress standing in front of whare and performing actions such as hongi or whakairo (carving). Whilst Māori ware appears very kitsch to modern tastes and raises questions about the appropriation of indigenous culture for souvenir items, it is part of a wider theme of depicting exotic views on table wares, one which began in the century before.

Defiance Pattern, an example of “Maori ware” by Grimwades. Image: C. Watson.

The vessels shown on the blog today were manufactured in England and probably designed by people who had never visited any of these countries. Instead designs were often based off the drawings or accounts of people who had. The eastern-most cities, Madras and Amoy, were British outposts, showing how the expansion of the British Empire inspired the imagination of the people back home. I think it’s quite interesting we get transfer ware depicting exotic scenes in New Zealand, arguably a location which in itself was very exotic for 19th century settlers. Whilst there are patterns such as Wild Rose which depict scenes of England, those are far outweighed by the patterns depicting classical, medieval, and exotic places.

What does this all mean? Why do we find so many dinner wares decorated with images of exotic places? I think you can look at it in two ways. Firstly, perhaps the people coming to New Zealand had an internal adventuring spirit, a hunger for the exotic. Even though they already found themselves in a country unfamiliar to the one they grew up in, they were excited by the thought of distance lands and intentionally purchased table wares depicting far-off countries. Alternatively, it could all be a case of availability and popularity. In our adventure around the globe we did not visit America, despite the fact there were many different American inspired patterns manufactured by the Staffordshire potters. The lack of any American views in our finds from Christchurch would suggest American themed dinner wares were not shipped to New Zealand, and instead were manufactured specifically for the American market. We don’t know yet if there were patterns made specifically for the New Zealand market, but its likely there was a limited range of patterns available at least when compared with what was being manufactured in England. In regards to popularity, British expansionism in the 19th century led to great interest around foreign cities and cultures, with that interest inspiring new trends in ceramic design. It may be that the owner of the Medina patterned plate purchased it simply because it was trendy, and not because they liked to picture themselves riding on a camel towards the sunset.

So many things to ponder, clearly the sign of an excellent trip. Travelling broadens the horizons, exposes us to new and different cultures, and forces us to reflect on our own culture –  often leading to questions of why we do things the way we do. Whilst we may have only travelled through plates (and a chamber pot) today, we are still left with the same questions regarding our own culture and history, and how we fit in a global world.

Clara Watson

References

Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 17801880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

 

 

 

In which a teacup is smashed against a wall in a fit of rage

One of the most fascinating things about studying and interpreting the past is the possibilities it holds. Could the broken tea cup I’ve found been smashed against a wall in a fit of rage after a wife found her husband being promiscuous with another man? Could the alcohol bottle lying at the bottom of a latrine be from a teenage son and his mates sneakily getting drunk in the backyard? Could it really be the year 2518 and we are all computer-generated simulations in an elaborate experimental archaeology project to examine consumer behaviour in the early 21st century?

Archaeology is an interesting combination of science and humanities. When we approach the past, we begin by dealing with what we know or can determine as fact…

  • This rubbish pit was located 300 mm below the top soil.
  • It contained a plate manufactured by the pottery company Pinder, Bourne and Co.
  • Pinder, Bourne and Co. operated between 1862 and 1882 so the plate must have been manufactured between 1862 and 1882.

From there we go to what we can determine as likely…

  • ceramic plates on average had a lifespan of 15-20 years, meaning the plate  was likely disposed of between 1879 and 1902, but could have been disposed of earlier or later.
  • the Johnson family was living at the property between 1870 and 1895 meaning they were likely the family who owned and disposed of the plate, but it could have also been disposed of by the families who preceded and succeeded the Johnson’s occupation.
  • the plate was decorated with a pattern featuring motifs from the Aesthetic Movement. The Aesthetic Movement was popular around the 1870s and 1880s suggesting the Johnson family were keeping up with fashion trends in homewares.

And then there’s always what’s possible…

  • Mr Johnson forgot Mrs Johnson’s birthday. In a rush he ran to the store and bought Mrs Johnson the newest, fanciest plate he could find. Mrs Johnson, however, was not appeased by the gift. She could not believe that Mr Johnson had forgotten her birthday after she had been dropping hints all week. She hated the offset designs of the Aesthetic Movement’s patterns and was a strong believer that Willow pattern was a classic which will never go out of fashion. In a rage she stormed out of the house, left Mr Johnson, and moved to Guatemala. Mr Johnson, devastated by the break up of his marriage, threw out the plate, burying his love for Mrs Johnson along with it.

 

As archaeologists we work firmly in the realms of what we can determine as fact and based on those facts what we can determine as likely. Whilst we do speculate, we generally don’t go very far outside the realms of possibility. In today’s blog post, however, I want to throw all that science and fact out the window and just run with wherever my imagination takes me.

The assemblage we’re going to be looking at today came from a single rubbish pit, found at the rear of a nineteenth century dwelling. The artefacts found in the rubbish pit included items which were typical of late 19th and early 20th century households. Several items contained manufacturer’s marks indicating they were made after 1891, but there were no items which were distinctively 20th century. This suggests the material was deposited either at the very end of 19th century, or the very beginning of the 20th. The Northey family, consisting of Paul, his wife Jane, and their son John, lived at the house between 1878 and 1926. Given the Northey’s long occupation of the property, and the date of the artefacts found in the rubbish pit, it’s highly likely they were the ones to dispose of the items.

That’s the facts folks, now let’s tell a story. The following are “extracts” from Jane Northey’s diary.

January Third, 1899.

Today was quiet. I went to the shops in the morning and purchased three bottles of Worcestershire Sauce for 1/-. An excellent bargain. Naturally, I chose Lea and Perrins. I don’t understand how these New Zealand made products can claim they taste the same as traditional English Worcester Sauce. I saw there’s even a Dunedin brand which has called itself Royal Worcestershire Sauce( making out like it’s endorsed by the king!) when really it’s made at the bottom of the world. No product which was not made in England will ever be stored on my shelves. The items you have in your house reflect on your person, and I am very much an English lady.

Good English made products were always a staple in Jane’s pantry. Image: C. Watson.

April Eighth, 1899

I could not believe it. Paul came home from work today wearing his ‘tramp’ hat. Whilst I might have tolerated him wearing such an article of clothing when I was trailing around after him on the goldfields in ’72, he now works in a respectable drapery business, and I will not have him walking around the town looking like a tramp. What would the neighbours think? We’ve spent the past twenty years building a livelihood here, extending the home, decorating the parlour –  I’ll not have people thinking we aren’t a respectable family. Rather than having yet another argument over it I offered to wash it. I’m sure there will be some way to make it fall apart in the process.

Paul’s hat. A great source of shame for Jane. Image: C. Watson.

July Fourth, 1899

I made a most excellent purchase today. I was reading in the newspaper about Strawberry Sets. Apparently, they’re all the rage in London at the moment. There’s a small handled dish to hold the strawberries on, and a sugar bowl and creamer which sit within the dish. The dish can be offered around during a garden party for people to eat strawberries off – very on trend. After reading about them I knew I just had to get one. I popped down to Ballantynes and managed to purchase my own, a dainty wee porcelain one. Of course, there aren’t any strawberries in season yet, but come November I will be prepared.

The strawberry dish from Jane’s strawberry set. Image: C. Watson.

July Fifth, 1899

Paul and I had a wicked argument last night over the Strawberry Set. He screamed at me that I shouldn’t have bought it and that my insistent spending was the reason why he went bankrupt back in ’84. I wasn’t having any of that and threw it back in his face that he promised me a better life when I followed him over here and that if we wanted to be a respectable family and impress our peers then we needed to look the part. He of course went off, ranting about the mortgages we’d taken on and that the house didn’t need to be as grand as we’d made it and that all I cared about was impressing the neighbours. Honestly, the man doesn’t understand. Of course I care about impressing the neighbours. He’s not the one who has to deal with Mrs Stevens coming over here and withering on about her new teapot and then saying “Oh, but the one you have is perfectly nice dear, it’s always sensible to purchase within your means”. Well the fight got a bit heated and he picked up my lovely flower vase that I use when I have ladies over for tea and hurled it at the wall. I couldn’t believe it. I picked up his whisky glass which was sitting on the table and hurled it back at him. That ended the fight quickly as it’s his favourite glass and he couldn’t believe I’d done it. He stormed out to the pub and I cleaned up. I hope none of the neighbours heard, although I saw Mrs Riley’s curtains twitch so I bet the nosy bat was listening in.

The remains of a fight. Jane’s vase and Paul’s favourite tumbler. Image: C. Watson.

September Tenth, 1899

Something most devastating happened today. I dropped the mixing bowl. Whilst most people might not shed a tear , most people wouldn’t have taken the effort to purchase such a wondrous mixing bowl! When I was at Mrs Riley’s house for tea last Tuesday (Mrs Riley who always makes a point of showing off her brand new set of china), the kitchen maid came running in shouting that there was a fire in the kitchen. We ran to the back of the house and saw a spark had jumped out of the range and onto the rug. We of course simply stamped out the flame, something I’m sure the ditzy kitchen maid could have done herself, but while doing so I looked around and saw Mrs Riley had plain creamware bowls in her kitchen. They looked like they were nearly thirty years old! So for all the airs she puts on it looks like the new china set is the only thing of any class which she owns. I’ve always been most aware that you never know when someone might snoop around and have made sure that the bowls I keep in my kitchen are of good quality. This bowl in particular was very nice, with moulded detail and green bands which almost match the rest of the dinner set. I feel most put out that it’s now broken.

Jane’s beloved mixing bowl. Along with some fragments of her near-matching dinner and tea sets. Image: C. Watson.

November Second, 1899

An absolute disaster of a day. I invited Mrs Riley and Mrs Stevens around for tea today. Naturally I used the good china, my Lucerne patterned set, rather than the banded set. I was most excited as I had managed to purchase some strawberries from the grocer and it was my first opportunity to use my strawberry set. Well, we were sat down in the garden sipping our tea when Mrs Stevens children came tearing into the garden chasing their new puppy. The wee monster came straight for me, I jumped up on the chair to escape its nipping jaws but in doing so dropped the cup and saucer I was holding. I couldn’t believe it. But then to make matters worse while the children were trying to grab a hold of it one of them bumped into the table, sending my strawberry set to the ground. The dish survived alright but the creamer and sugar bowl both broke. I was so livid. Mrs Stevens simpered around saying how sorry she was, and that the new puppy had been such a handful. Naturally, I just smiled and said “It’s okay dear”. It definitely was not okay. I think she set the whole situation up on purpose because she couldn’t handle that I had something which was fancier than anything she owned.

Jane’s fancy Lucerne patterned china. Image: C. Watson.

At the end of the day, these “diary entries” are completely fictional. It’s possible that these events happened, just as it’s possible that there’s still moose living in Fiordland. As archaeologists, it’s important that we focus on the known facts. Yet doing so can mean we lose sight of the humanity of the past – artefacts become data in a spreadsheet, numbers rather than objects which people owned, used and maybe even loved. Whilst the stories I’ve told here are fictional, there may be an element of truth in them. The Northey’s did take out several mortgages on their property between 1878 and 1894, and Paul Northey did declare bankruptcy in 1884. Yet despite that, they had several unusual, high-end objects. We don’t normally find fancy vases or strawberry dishes. These are the kind of artefacts I would associate with a wealthy family, or at least a family which was trying to appear wealthy and “keep up with the Joneses”, which might be what the Northey’s were doing. Narratives and stories such as these remind us that artefacts belonged to people, they’re not just broken fragments of china, and as long as we’re clear that we’re telling a story, then they are an excellent way of exploring the lives of the people of the past.

Just as long as there aren’t any aliens in the stories. Aliens and archaeology don’t go well together.

Clara Watson

 

Doe, a Deer, a (Possibly) Female Deer

Bones, of the animal variety, are a common find on historic archaeological sites in Christchurch. The vast majority of the bones we come across are sheep and cattle, with the occasional pig and chicken showing up as well. From these bones we are able to deduce the quality of diet of early Christchurch residents, with the different cuts of meat corresponding to different bones. If we have a faunal assemblage with lots of cow pelvises and rib bones, we know the people who threw the bones away were eating pretty well- lots of cuts of steak and roast beef. If we have lots of lower limb bones, like the tibia and fibula, or the radius and ulna, we know that dinner most likely consisted of beef soup or stew. As cuts of steak cost more than the shin and hock cuts, we are able to infer the wealth or status of certain occupants, all based on what bones they threw out.

Of course, we don’t just find the leftover bones from last nights dinner. Rats, rabbits and cats can all choose archaeological sites as their final places of rest- even horses! Recently, we found a bone that we had never seen before. It looked like a sheep metatarsal, but was definitely different. A little bit longer, a little bit slimmer, a little bit more gracile. We did some research and found the answer: it’s the left metatarsal of a deer!

The mystery bone: A Left Deer Metatarsal!

For those of you who aren’t experts in deer biology, the metatarsal is the rear lower leg bone. Image: adapted from Parfitt and Lister 2012: 422.

Having found this deer bone, we realised we didn’t know all that much about deer. When did they come to New Zealand? Were they introduced for eating? For shooting? For a fun and friendly pet? (it wasn’t the latter). Deer were primarily introduced into New Zealand between 1861 and 1919, however, they began to be imported into Auckland as early as 1851 (Drew 2008; Lyttelton Times 11/10/1851). Red deer were the most successful species introduced, but fallow deer, wapiti, sambar, sika, rusa, white-tailed deer and the fabled Fiordland moose were all brought to our shores (Drew 2008). The people behind the introduction of deer were the acclimatisation societies. We’ve talked about acclimatisation societies before on the blog. Essentially the Victorians thought New Zealand was a bit of a useless country when it came to wildlife (no large mammals, game, or fish) and decided to change it by introducing a heap of species.

There is perhaps no country in the world the natural zoology of which supplies so little to the subsistence or enjoyment of its inhabitants, as New Zealand. Of game there is almost none; quail, formerly plentiful, have nearly disappeared; pigeons and kakas are to be found only in the woods; ducks, eels and wild pigs complete the list. And if there are so few useful animals, those which add to the grace and enjoyment of life are scarcer still; of singing birds there are but the tui tui and the bell bird; neither of them ever heard, except in the neighbourhood of the forests…If, however, we turn from land to water, the inducements to engage in this enterprise are greater still. Our great snow rivers are absolutely without fish…At present, such rivers as the Waimakariri, the Rakaia or the Rangitata are worse than useless, obstructing travelling without assisting navigation.

-Press 17/08/1861

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was found in 1864 and by 1866 they had made an enclosure in Hagley Park for deer to be kept in once they arrived off the boat. I just want to take a moment here and emphasise how difficult it must have been just getting the deer to New Zealand. They had to live on a boat, for at least 10 weeks, being kept calm so they didn’t injure themselves or anyone else. They also needed food for that length of time, and presumably at least a little bit of exercise. In addition to all of those struggles, the ship might be wrecked along the way (Press 04/01/1868).

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society doesn’t seem to have had the best luck in obtaining deer, with lots of missed opportunities and failed attempts to secure them. When they did succeed in importing deer, it appears to have been in relatively small numbers- only one or two at a time. The deer were stored in the enclosure in Hagley Park before being released to farms in rural areas such as Culverden and Little River (Star 29/01/1874; Press 07/12/1881; Press 25/06/1884). The capturing of the deer from their enclosure didn’t always go smoothly. In 1874 the capturing of eight deer from the enclosure resulted in four being killed, one captured but unlikely to live, one escaping, one remaining in the enclosure, and one captured and healthy (Press 25/06/1874). Reading through the reports of the acclimatisation society it seems that deer in Canterbury were rare and there weren’t large ‘wild’ herds of deer like there were in other parts of the country.

Due to the lack of deer in Canterbury, fresh venison was extremely rare between the 1860s and 1880s. When fresh venison was available it appears to have been because a deer had been accidentally killed (like the accidental death of the four deer in 1874), and the mantra of ‘waste not want not’ applied. “the first four when found to be hopelessly gone were bled for venison. To put it mildly, it is to be regretted that so good an afternoon’s sport should have been had at such a sacrifice” (Press 25/06/1874).

Whenever these accidents happened, they were almost always followed by a butcher advertising fresh venison in the newspaper the next day.

The Lane Brothers appear to have been the prime butchery for obtaining venison, advertising it for sale in 1871 and 1876. In both years the meat came from deer belonging to the acclimatisation society.

Towards the late 1880s venison became more common, both in the form of canned ‘hashed’ venison (Press 28/12/1887) and fresh. With the successful introduction of deer to other parts of the country, along with improved refrigeration, there was a greater supply of fresh venison (Press 02/04/1888; Lyttelton Times 30/11/1888). It was not until the twentieth century that Canterbury’s deer population reached a high enough level to allow for hunting, with the first licenses for deer stalking in the Rakaia Gorge issued in 1907 (Press 16/04/1907).

So, what does all this mean for our deer bone? Well, our bone was found in the central city, within a layer of cultural material which we think dates to either the late 1860s or early 1870s. Based on those dates, it’s possible that our bone was from one of those early deer owned by the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society which was killed in an accident and then sold as venison. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a metatarsal, the part of the leg that was not eaten.

The haunch was the most common venison cut referred to in newspapers of the time (Press 19/05/1864). This meat cut consisted of the back leg, and presumably involved the pelvis, femur, and maybe the top end of the tibia. The tibia and fibula were likely served as a shank meat cut, but the meat surrounding the metatarsal was not eaten as there was not enough to be worthwhile. The bone may have been chopped up as a base for stocks or soups, but this is not the case with our bone as we found it whole and without butchery marks.

This may simply mean that when the carcass was butchered the lower legs were chopped off above the metatarsal and discarded. However, we thought that given the rarity of deer in New Zealand at the time, and how expensive the meat must have been, that this was a bit strange. Also, as far as we are aware, there wasn’t a butchers located near where the bone was found, and no other deer bone was found in the layer, making it seem unlikely that the bone’s disposal was just the butcher throwing away the unedible bones and meat parts.

So we did some research on uses of deer’s legs and feet and found that they were used for making bags. Called deer hock bags, these were made from the skin surrounding the metacarpal and metatarsal bones and took about four skins to make one bag. The skinning would leave the bone complete, like ours, and could explain why the metatarsal wasn’t associated with a butcher’s deposit. Alternatively, the fat and tissue surrounding the bone could be melted down for the making of glue. However, I’m assuming this would have some effect on the bone and so I don’t think this was the case.

Whatever the reason behind its discard, whether it be by butcher, tanner or glue maker, our deer bone has an interesting history to tell. Was our bone from a deer that was transported half way around the world only to die in an accident and have its meat served at the dining table of some wealthy individual and its skin turned into a bag? Possibly, and that’s archaeology for you folks.

Clara Watson

 

References

Drew, K. 2008. “Deer and Deer Farming- Introduction and Impact of Deer.” Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved October 4, 2018 (https://teara.govt.nz/en/deer-and-deer-farming/page-1).

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Parfitt, S. and Lister, A. 2012. ‘The Ungulates from the Peştera cu Oase’ in Erik TrinkausSilviu ConstantinJoco Zilhco (Eds.) Life and Death at the Pestera cu Oase: A Setting for Modern Human Emergence in Europe. OUP: USA.

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

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

 

A tea cup as a symbol of political change

As a 90s baby millennial, Helen Clark was Prime Minister from the time I started primary school to the time I started high school. I grew up in a world where in the eyes of a child there was never any doubt that a woman could be Prime Minister, and that if I wanted to be Prime Minister when I grew up then I could be. For me, being a girl was never a limitation. I’m lucky that I was born in the 1990s. If I had been born in the 1890s, my opportunities, and likely my own beliefs about what I was capable of, would have been far more limited.

Nineteenth century sentiments surrounding the role of women in society seems simply outlandish today. Image: Wright 1902.

On this day, 125 years ago, the Electoral Act 1893 was passed giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote. The success of the suffragettes was only the start of gaining equal political rights for women. It took until 1933 for the first woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament, until 1941 for women to have the right to sit on the Legislative Council and until 1997 for there to be a female Prime Minister (Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2018). Today 38 percent of our Members of Parliament are women, the highest number ever elected.

The 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage is an important marker in the campaign for women’s rights. It gives us an opportunity to look back and reflect on how far we have come as a society, but also to remember the women who campaigned for suffrage. One such woman was Ada Wells. Ada Wells was a prominent Christchurch suffragette, the first secretary of the National Council of Women of New Zealand, the co-founder of the Canterbury Women’s Institute and the first woman to be elected to the Christchurch City Council (Fogarty 1993). To put it simply, she was a bit of a bad-ass. Ada came to our attention as we recently excavated the property she was living at during the 1890s suffrage campaign. In celebration of the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, we are dedicating this blog post to Ada Wells and will be discussing her life along with what we found of her in the archaeological record.

Ada was born as Ada Pike on the 29th of April 1863, in Shepherd’s Green, Oxfordshire, England (Fogarty 1993). When she was ten years old she travelled on Merope with her parents, three sisters and one brother, arriving in Lyttelton on the 31st October 1873. She attended Avonside School for two years before switching to Christchurch West School where she went on to work as a pupil-teacher between the ages of 14 and 18. Ada was naturally intelligent and had a great interest in languages and classics. In 1881 she was awarded a university junior scholarship and went on to complete the first stage of her BA at Canterbury College. From there she was employed briefly as an assistant teacher at Christchurch Girls High School (Fogarty 1993).

Photograph of Ada Wells taken circa 1910 by an unidentified photographer. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library .

When she was 20 years old Ada married organist Harry Wells. They went on to have three daughters and one son. Despite being a prominent Christchurch musician, Harry was a drunkard with a volatile temper and was unable to hold down a steady job (Fogarty 1993). Harry’s drinking meant Ada had to support the family, taking on teaching positions and accepting private patients for massage and healing. In the late 1880s Ada became involved with the suffragette movement. She had always held strong beliefs on women’s rights and the campaign allowed her to put those beliefs into action. Her organisational talents and passion for the cause meant she played a critical role in the success of the movement (Fogarty 1993).

Ada Wells’ signature on the 1893 Suffrage Petition.

For Ada, the 1893 suffrage campaign was only the start of a long life of campaigning. The year prior to women winning the vote she had founded the Canterbury Women’s Institute, of which she was president for many years. She became the first national secretary of the National Council of Women of New Zealand in 1896, and in 1899 was elected to the Ashburton and North Canterbury United Charitable Aid Board (Fogarty 1993). She argued in favour of free kindergartens, universal access to secondary education, the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, as well as the reform of local government, the charitable aid system and prisons. In 1917 she became the first woman to be elected to the Christchurch City Council (Fogarty 1993).

National Council of Woman, Christchurch, 1896. Ada is the woman seated on the floor on the left. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Ada passed away in 1933, ending a life time of fighting for women’s rights. Her role in the success of suffragette movement cannot be over-stated. Philippa Fogarty (1993) says it best when she writes, “She played a pivotal role in the advancement of women and was a tireless campaigner in the fight for women’s equality and economic independence…Wells’s contribution to Christchurch, especially in the interests of women and children, was invaluable and sadly is often overlooked.”

Between 1892 and 1898, Ada and Harry Wells were living at a property on Mays Road. During our excavations at the property we uncovered three features containing artefacts which were likely deposited by the family. These features were all rubbish deposits. The assemblage was notable in that it was dominated by ceramic artefacts, many of which could be refitted.

Broseley patterned tea ware vessels. Image: C. Watson.

Asiatic Pheasants patterned table wares and serving wares. Image: C. Watson.

Top Row: Pompadour patterned plate, Bo’ness Daisy Chain patterned side plate. Bottom row: Madras patterned plate, European porcelain can, Frightened Ducklings patterned pitcher (Frightened Ducklings is an excellent pattern choice as who wouldn’t want to look at baby ducklings being attacked by giant flying insects while eating dinner). Image: C. Watson.

These ceramic artefacts were vessels connected to taking tea or eating food, with many of the tea serving vessels decorating in the Broseley pattern, and many of the dining vessels decorated in the Asiatic Pheasants and Pompadour patterns. This suggests to us that the Wells family, presumably Ada specifically, were using sets of vessels rather than mismatched pieces when serving tea or food. Having ceramic sets in fashionable patterns was just one of the many components of keeping a good house in Victorian era New Zealand. Ada was no doubt often entertaining guests at her house as part of her campaigning efforts, and likely put in special effort to portray the image she kept a good house so as not to let her critics argue that her life in politics was at the detriment of her role as a mother and wife. Whilst we can’t know for sure, the completeness of many of the vessels suggests they were thrown away intact. The 1890s was a particularly successful period for Ada, and it may be that during this time she purchased new sets, throwing away the older ones.

Harry Wells’ drinking was likely a strong motivator for Ada in her political work. Women in the nineteenth century were tied to their husbands, even if their husbands were abusive. Domestic abuse was a strong motivator for women to join reform movements, with many involved in both the temperance movement and the suffragette movement. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union united the causes and many suffragettes were also supporters of temperance. We found alcohol bottles in the Wells’ assemblage, suggesting that despite Ada’s efforts politically, Harry probably still consumed alcohol at home. Interestingly though, these bottles were all smaller pint sizes. It is possible that Harry was purchasing alcohol in smaller bottles, which were easier to conceal, and was only consuming alcohol at home on the sly. Alternatively, the bottles may not have held alcohol at all, and could have been reused for a completely different substance as was sometimes done in nineteenth century bottle reuse.

Alcohol bottles found at Ada and Harry Wells’ property. Image: C. Watson.

Along with all her work politically, Ada was also a mother. Ada’s role as a mother was seen in the archaeology through the presence of children’s toys. The doll’s head we found at the property was unique in that it had an additional piece of ceramic inlaid inside the head to give the appearance of teeth. The detail of the teeth would indicate that it was probably a rather lovely doll with lots of unique features. However, in its current state, with the missing eyes and sharp pointed teeth, it looks rather terrifying.

What was once likely someone’s treasured toy now resembles something out of a horror movie. Image: C. Watson.

Ada Well was a strong activist for women’s rights, and her work, along with the work of her fellow suffragettes, helped to shape society to how it is today. I think it can be quite easy to be complacent about how much society has changed in the past 125 years. So much of the Victorian material culture we deal with is instantly recognisable to us. We see artefacts like plates, bottles, tea cups, and instantly know what they are because they are objects we use every day. There is a danger to that instant recognition, as we associate the objects with how we would use them and in doing so can forget there would have been different uses for objects, and different social customs surrounding that use. It also easy to forget that people had agency and were not passively constrained to their position in society. Ada Wells and her fellow suffragettes were active agents in changing the role of women in society, using and manipulating material culture in the process of doing so. Are Ada Wells’ teacups simply vessels used to serve tea in? Or, are they symbols of political change, sipped from during meetings discussing how to change the lives of New Zealand women for the better?

Suffrage 125 reminds us that nineteenth century New Zealand was a vastly different place to modern New Zealand. The work of suffragettes such as Ada Wells helped to change the role of women in society, a role which is still changing and being re-defined today.

Clara Watson

References

Fogarty, P. 1993. ‘Wells, Ada’ in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara- the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Available: https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2w11/wells-ada (accessed 19 September 2018).

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2018. Women’s Suffrage Milestones. Available: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/suffrage-milestones (accessed 19 September 2018).

New Zealand. General Assembly Library. National Council of Women, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22694035.

Photograph of Ada Wells from Woman Today magazine. Ref: 1/2-C-016534-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22728937.

Wright, Henry Charles Clarke. 1902. Notice to epicene women. Electioneering women are requested not to call here. 12706-Alex Ferguson, Printer, Wellington. Available: http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=24361&l=en.

 

Chew with your mouth closed, my dear

The dinner party; a minefield of social etiquette and proper behaviour for both the host and the guests. For the host – the pressure of who to invite, where to sit them, what to serve them? Having the right invitation cards, the right food, the right dishes. For the guests – the importance of appearance, polite conversation, correct eating habits. All in all, a maze of social convention with the potential for disaster lying around every corner.

As archaeologists we don’t get to see the social etiquette and behaviour associated with dining directly. Whilst we might uncover the remnants of a first course meal, with the likes of a soup plate and a dessert spoon, we don’t know if the soup was drunk from the side of the spoon (not the tip!) without any audible noise or slurping, as was the polite way to do so. Instead, we have to make inferences based on the assemblage we have from the archaeological record and what we know from the social history to determine the social behaviour of the people we are studying.

Today on the blog we are going to explore Victorian dining customs and some of the etiquette surrounding them, along with how this relates to what we find in the archaeological record. Before we do that, it is worthwhile defining what meal we actually mean by ‘dinner’. Dinner is the main meal of the day. In medieval times, dinner took place at midday, with a basic breakfast served in the morning, and a light supper in the evening just before bed. The urbanisation and industrialisation which took place in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the wealthy and social elite having dinner at a later hour, as late as 9pm by the 1840s. The pushing back of dinner time led to the establishment of a ladies’ luncheon at midday, and afternoon tea between 4pm and 5pm. For working-class people dinner remained at midday, if they were able to leave work for it, or changed to the evening if they lived away from work. In nineteenth century New Zealand dinner was normally served at midday, with evening dinner developing in urban areas in the early twentieth century.

What was served for dinner and how it was served depended on a person’s wealth and status. At the elite end of the scale was the dinner party, where guests were invited for a dinner consisting of five or more courses. An 1879 article in the Southland times describes what should be served for each course. The first course was a soup course, with a vegetable and a white soup normally offered (although one should avoid the white soup with its high levels of cream unless they had ‘exceptionally powerful digestion’). This was followed by a fish course, with at least two fish served. Entrees came next along with mains, which should include roast meat and accompaniments. Dessert finished the meal before the women retired to the parlour for tea and the men discussed business.

An example meal from Alexander Filippini’s 1889 book, ‘The Table: how to buy food, how to cook it and how to serve it’. Filippini included a meal plan for every day of the year. The calf’s head was cooked in pieces and not whole, something I’m sure guests were thankful for.

From the mid-nineteenth century dinner began to be served à la Russe, where courses were served separately and in succession of each other. Prior to this, dishes from all the courses were served on the table at once in service à la Française. In service à la Russe, the only dishes on the table were plates and drinks glasses. Dishes were offered to the guests by servants on large platters, and the guests served themselves. The plates were then cleared away and replaced for the next course which was served in a similar fashion.

Dinner service had a strict etiquette in the way food was served and cleared. The maid of this dinner party, whilst bring practical in requesting the guests keep their forks, broke custom as is noted by the columnist (Free Lance 3/03/1906: pg 12).

The wealthier a household was, the more elaborate their meals were. For the middle class three courses was likely standard, with a maid to help serve the meal if possible. Meals with more courses would have been reserved for dinner parties, which would have been an opportunity for the hosts to show off. For the working classes three course meals were possible, but there would not have been a servant to help serve them.

The number of courses needing to be served, along with the manner of service, dictated the table ware set a household required. An important component of a successful dinner party was the service the dinner was served on. All of the dishes should be matching, and each item of food should be served on the appropriate dish. The rise of the middle-class led to a growth in demand for ceramic table sets, with the Staffordshire potteries responding with a variety of new vessel forms intended for wealthy customers including asparagus plates, herring dishes, chestnut baskets, and fish trowels (Barker 2010: 15).

Serving dishes decorated in the ever-popular Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Top row: platter and plate. Bottom row: pedestalled serving dish and tureen lid. Image: C. Watson.

You can never go wrong with Willow! Top row: plate, castor, ladle. Bottom row: square lid for a serving dish, large platter. Image: C. Watson.

As archaeologists we can use the ceramic assemblage recovered from a household to infer that household’s status and dining habits. When we get an assemblage with elaborate vessel forms in matching patterns and multiple vessels we can infer that the household was wealthy and likely hosting elaborate dinner parties. By the same vein, when we get an assemblage with plain ceramics and simple forms it is likely the household was poorer, and not spending their money on keeping up-to-date with the latest ceramic fashions to impress fancy dinner guests. Of course, it is never as simple as that. As the story of the Wellington dinner party shows, people made do with what they had, and whilst the hostess of the party might not have had enough forks for a multi-course dinner party, she hosted one anyway!

Inspired by this blog to host your own dinner party? Here are our favourite tips (more here) on dinner party etiquette to avoid complete and utter social embarrassment!

-never encourage a dog or cat to play with you at the table.
-never hesitate to take the last piece of bread or the last cake; there are probably more.
-never allow butter, soup or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use the napkin frequently.
-never wear gloves at the table, unless the hands for some special reason are unfit to be seen.
-never eat so much of one article so as to attract attention, as some people do who eat large quantities of butter, sweet cake, cheese or other articles.
-never allow the conversation at the table to drift into anything but chit-chat; the consideration of deep and abstruse principles will impair digestion.

Clara Watson

 

References

Barker, D. 2010. Producing for the Table: A View From the Staffordshire Potteries. In Symonds, J. (Ed). Table Settings: The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

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