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.

Toys through the years

“It must have been a happy household,” was the remark made by one of our team members when she saw the artefact assemblage we are discussing on today’s blog post. Whilst children’s artefacts are relatively common finds on New Zealand archaeological sites, we rarely get an assemblage as large and varied as this one. These finds came from a vicarage constructed between 1867 and 1868. At first glance we might not directly associate a vicarage with children, thinking instead of the religious responsibilities of clergymen and the church. However, the vicarage was home to the reverend who lived there with his family, meaning a lot of the artefacts we found related to them and their daily life.

From the 1860s through into the 1990s, various reverends and their families occupied the vicarage. Many of the families were large with lots of children. Over the years the various children who lived in the vicarage lost toys through cracks and gaps in the walls and floors, lying forgotten until the friendly archaeologist came along to find them. We’ve done a few posts on the blog before about children, however this post is a bit different as it showcases mainly twentieth century toys. Generally, we don’t collect twentieth century material as it falls outside the legal definition of archaeology, however we do when excavating under floor deposits. This is because the assemblages we find under the floor typically build up over time, and contain nineteenth century material sitting alongside twentieth century.

Enjoy looking at images of the various toys played with by the vicarage children over the years.

This rough, hand carved doll was likely made by the first reverend to live in the vicarage for his daughter. We can date the doll to the 1870s based on the context it was found in. This is the only children’s artefact featured on this post which definitively dates to the nineteenth century and it is interesting comparing it to the other toys, particularly when considering the impact of mass-production on styles and tastes. By modern standards the doll is barely a doll, with no arms or proper legs, yet it is likely the girl who owned it thought it was beautiful and treasured it dearly. Image: C. Watson.

Games, games, and more games. This compendium of fun contains three games, meaning there’s something for everyone. Made by Tower Press London, the compendium likely dates to the mid-twentieth century . My favourite part about the set is that it includes play money, even though none of the games require money. I’m just picturing kids playing the steeplechase game and taking bets on whose ‘horse’ was going to reach the finish line first. Image: C. Watson.

This paper figurine was found tucked away in the corner of the room behind the wall. Lots of the finds discussed on this blog post were found in similar places. Images: B. Thompson, C. Watson.

This piece of cardboard in a delightful shade of pink reads “wrong for once Mr Sharp Eyes, I’m same size as my brother.” It was half of an optical illusion produced by the Stereoscopic Company, advertised as a ‘novelty and trick for winter evenings.’ The other half of the illusion, which we did not find, was a similarly shaped piece of cardboard (this time in blue) reading “Come! Guess now the larger. This one, or the other?” No doubt the illusion must have been arranged in such a way that the answer wasn’t staring the observer straight in the face. Image: C. Watson.

This paper plane was a very cool find, made even cooler by the fact that we can date it based on the piece of paper its made from. The plane is constructed from an unused Airfix Products Ltd product complaint form. Airfix Products Ltd formed in 1939, meaning the paper plane must postdate this year. Image: C. Watson.

This “Indestructible” comb appears to have been reasonably accurate, with only a few teeth missing. Indestructible was a favourite descriptor for various household items, with Indestructible Shoes, Indestructible Hats, and even the Indestructible Davis, a brand of sewing machine advertised in nineteenth and early twentieth century newspapers. Image: C. Watson.

A selection of lolly wrappers found around the vicarage. The top right wrapper is for sweet cigarettes. These were a white sugar stick, similar to a modern spaceman lolly, with a red end imitating a cigarette. No doubt the child who ate it pretended they were smoking a real cigarette, something which would be very non-PC today. The bottom right wrapper is for Cadbury’s Maple Nuggets. Cadburys has a long history in New Zealand, with the brand introduced by Richard Hudson in 1868 . A quick google search revealed no results for a Cadburys Maple Nuggets product making the wrapper something of an enigma. However, lollies called maple nuggets were advertised in newspapers from 1916 through into the 1930s, suggesting the lolly was sold based on its name as opposed to the brand it was from. Image: C. Watson.

A selection of other toys found at the vicarage. Clockwise from top left: tin enamel shaped instruments, decorated with a slightly terrifying tiger and monkey. Glass marbles – these were all found under a fireplace. We think there must have been a crack in or close to the fireplace which the children would lose their marbles down when they played on the floor in front of it. Play money, possibly from the board games discussed above, and two puzzle pieces, one with a lion and the other a girl. Image: C. Watson.

Of course, it couldn’t be a post about old toys without a slightly terrifying one. This miniature plastic horse is scratching its nose with its hind leg. This is something which real life horses do, and apparently is quite hilarious to watch. Unfortunately, the manufacturers of this toy horse haven’t quite nailed the hilarity of the position and have instead ended up with something which looks more like a demon possessed horse. I think it was colouring the eyes red where they went wrong. Image. C. Watson.

If you thought the horse was terrifying then this doll’s eye is equally creepy. As a general rule of thumb Victorian era dolls are scary (check out more here) however the realism of this one, especially with its fake eye lashes, makes it particularly creepy. Image: C. Watson.

Clara Watson