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]

 

A local Lyttelton landmark lives on

This week on the blog, we look at what we found beneath a local landmark in the community of Lyttelton: the newly refurbished Albion Square.

Refurbished Albion Square, Lyttelton. Image: Christchurch City Council.

Refurbished Albion Square, Lyttelton. Image: Christchurch City Council.

The Albion Square, on the corner of London and Canterbury streets, is home of the Lyttelton War Memorial Cenotaph. It also acts as a community focal point, and is a testament to the recovery of the port town. However, the longer-standing residents of Lyttelton may recall that this was also once the site of the square’s namesake: the historic Albion Hotel.

We can trace the establishment of the first hotel at this site to 1858, when local merchant John Collier was granted a liquor licence, transforming his grocery store into the Albion Hotel. A year later he added a saddle horses for hire business to the rear of the hotel. An 1862 advertisement in the Lyttelton Times, for the lease of the hotel provides the first known description of Collier’s hotel:

The premises consist of a commodious bar, bar parlour, dining and sitting rooms, with 15 bedrooms, making up 24 beds; also skittle ground and outhouses. This establishment has for the last three years, been favoured with the support of the settlers of the Peninsula particularly.

Lyttelton Times 1/11/1862: 6.

A map of Lyttelton drawn in the 1860s shows the Albion Hotel fronting London Street. Two smaller buildings are shown to the rear of the hotel. These probably represent the outhouses and stables mentioned in newspaper sources (Lyttelton Times 8/1/1859: 5, 1/11/1862: 2).

Detail of an 1860s map of Lyttelton showing structures extant along London Street at the time. Albion  Hotel section outlined in red. Image: Rice 2004: 28.

Detail of an 1860s map of Lyttelton showing structures extant along London Street at the time. Albion Hotel section outlined in red. Image: Rice 2004: 28.

Collier was fortunate that his hotel survived the Lyttelton fire of 1870, which destroyed much of the Lyttelton central business district. In 1881, the original building was sold and removed from the site (Press 14/1/1881: 4). The sale advertisement described the old building as:

Covered with slates, and contains a large quantity of timber and bricks while the intended replacement was a stylish brick edifice to be substituted in its place, whenever the ancient hostelry is removed.

Press 21/1/1881: 2.

Later in 1881 the stables behind the hotel caught fire (Press 22/8/1881: 2). Little damage was done, but the resulting newspaper item indicates the stables were constructed from galvanised iron. The new Albion Hotel continued operating into the 20th century and can be seen in a photograph taken in 1911.  In 1943 a new façade was added to the building (Burgess 2009).

A 1911 photograph showing the Albion Hotel on the corner of London Street and Canterbury Street. Image: Burgess 2009.

A 1911 photograph showing the Albion Hotel on the corner of London Street and Canterbury Street. Image: Burgess 2009.

Over the course of the 19th century, the Albion Hotel and horse for hire business had at least 17 proprietors between them, and more still after the turn of the century. This high turnover complicated the task of attributing the artefacts recovered from the site to a specific individual. The dateable artefacts that were recovered from the site all post-date 1857, confirming that the assemblage was associated with the Albion Hotel. However, serval discreet archaeological features may have been deposited at different times.  The deposition dates of these features range from 1861 to the late 19th century. It is possible that the piece of salvaged roofing slate may have been part of the original Albion Hotel which was removed from the site in 1881 (Press 21/1/1881: 2).

An aerated water bottle manufactured by T. Raine between 1861 and 1871. Image: C. Dickson.

An aerated water bottle manufactured by T. Raine between 1861 and 1871. Image: C. Dickson.

The archaeological material that was recovered was found in a series of rubbish pits, located mainly toward the rear of the hotel site. From this evidence it is apparent that the back of the section was seen as a convenient location to dispose of the breakages and detritus associated with the day-to-day operation of the Albion Hotel. It is possible that the proprietors of the hotel may have deposited waste into these rubbish pits to avoid rubbish collection costs.

The rubbish pits contained combinations of artefacts that are signatures of 19th century hotel sites, such as alcohol bottles, matching serving ware sets and food remains. The alcohol bottles consisted mainly of black beers, though wine bottles, case gin bottles, spirit-shaped bottles and matching glass tumblers were also present. The contents of these bottles cannot be confirmed, as specific alcohol bottle shapes were commonly re-used for alternative purposes. However, it is probable that beer, wine, gin and other spirits were being served at the Albion Hotel. These vessels are also likely to only represent a fraction of the alcohol that was served. The presence of disposable clay pipes with use-wear indicates that the hotel patrons were also smoking at this site.

Rubbish pit feature consisting largely of broken 19th century alcohol bottles. Scale is in 200 mm increments. Image: M. Carter.

Rubbish pit feature consisting largely of broken 19th century alcohol bottles. Scale is in 200 mm increments. Image: M. Carter.

Stem of a clay smoking pipe manufactured by Charles Crop, London between 1856 to c.1891. Image: C. Dickson.

Stem of a clay smoking pipe manufactured by Charles Crop, London between 1856 to c.1891. Image: C. Dickson.

The matching decorative patterns that were found on ceramic tableware and servingware sets are representative of a standardised material culture, and this fashion can be associated with the Victorian idea of social respectability (Samford 1997). It is possible that this servingware is an indication that food was served at the hotel. However, there was a notable absence of condiment bottles from this site. This is unusual, as condiment bottles are typically abundant in 19th century hotel sites.

Fragments of platter and dinner plate set decorated with under-graze transfer print technique. Image C. Dickson.

Fragments of platter and dinner plate set decorated with under-graze transfer print technique. Image C. Dickson.

A number of animal bones with butchery marks were also recovered, the most common of which were cuts of lamb and mutton leg. It is probable that these cuts were being served to the patrons of the Albion Hotel. Shellfish, including oyster, rock oyster, cockle and cat’s eye were also recovered. These are all species that were locally available. There is a notable absence of fish and bird remains from the faunal assemblage. This is unusual, as 19th century hotels have been found to be more likely to serve fish and bird than private houses (Watson 2000).

A newspaper advertisement indicates that the Albion Hotel had rooms at the back that were for the owner’s family (Press 9/5/1882: 3). While both commercial and domestic items were recovered from this site, there appears to be a lack of domestic items that are typically associated with family homes. With the exception of chamber pots, this may be because hotel guests would bring these personal items with them during their visits, and would be unlikely to leave them at the hotel to be discarded.

The Albion Hotel artefact assemblage is comparable to other 19th hotel assemblages in Christchurch, such as the Oxford-on-Avon Hotel and the Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel. All three sites yielded large quantities of alcohol bottles, with black beer bottles being the most prominent. Glass servingware and matching decorative ceramic servingware sets were also present at all sites: the Asiatic Pheasants pattern was dominant at the Oxford-on-Avon, and Willow pattern was well represented at the Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel, while the Albion Hotel appears to have had sets of Willow and unidentified sponged and leaf tableware sets. Unlike Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel, no evidence that could be associated with the neighbouring stables (such as horseshoes) was recovered from this site, despite the fact that the saddled horse for hire business appears to have been long-running at this address.

Matching sponged teacup and saucer set. Image: C. Dickson.

Matching sponged teacup and saucer set. Image: C. Dickson.

By combining the historical and archaeological information from the Albion Hotel site, the activities of those who lived there was revealed to show the use and modification of the section over time. This assemblage has shed light on the operation of a 19th century hotel in Lyttelton, and the provision of food and drink in this context. This site is also comparable to other 19th century hotels within Christchurch, and has the potential to add to our general understanding of similar establishments in the area. This analysis has salvaged a snapshot of one of Lyttelton’s historic watering holes, adding to the charisma of the vibrant entertainment hub of modern Lyttelton.

 Chelsea Dickson

References

Burgess, R., 2009. Registration Report for Historic a Area: Lyttelton Township Historic Area (Vol. 2). Unpublished report for New Zealand Historic Places trust Pouhere Toanga.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed July 2014].

Press. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed July 2014].

Rice, G., 2004. Lyttelton: Port and town. An illustrated history. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Samford, Patricia M., 1997. Response to a market: Dating English underglaze transfer‐printed wares. Historical Archaeology 31 (2): 1‐30.

Watson, K., 2000. A land of plenty? Unpublished Masters thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Otago.

Of all the gin joints.

Picture this. A summer’s day: clear blue skies and the heat of the afternoon sunshine, just the hint of a breeze. You might be in a garden, sheltering from the sun in the shade of the tree or under a verandah, relaxing, maybe to music, maybe to the sound of the cicadas in the trees. And in your hand, there’s a cool, tall, oh-so-refreshing glass of gin and tonic.

It’s summer time, and the living is easy…

In the modern day, gin seems to me evocative of exactly this: the sights, sounds and heat of the summer. It’s a drink, now almost invariably paired with tonic, that exudes refreshment, breeziness and just a hint of class. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

It’s funny then, that in the 19th century, it brought to mind a whole host of other things – good and bad. While the reputation of gin had improved slightly from the days when it was referred to as ‘mother’s ruin’, a nickname derived from William Hogarth’s depiction of ‘Gin Alley’ and the gin craze of 18th century Britain, it still inspired many tirades among contemporaries regarding the evils of drink. This is especially true of the flourishing temperance movement of the late 19th century, who took great pains to relate numerous accounts of the spirit causing death and disruption in society (Wellington Independent 17/03/1847: 4). It does seem, though, from some of the accounts of gin drinking in the newspapers that they may have had a point. Drinking gin and petrol every day, for example, can’t have been good for a person.

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh to the Scottish. Images:

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh. Images: Bay of Plenty Times 15/06/1888: 4Wellington Independent 17/04/1847: 4.

Interestingly enough, though, gin was also marketed as a medicinal remedy and ‘health drink’ during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We’ve mentioned aromatic schnapps here on the blog before, a type of gin primarily advertised as a medicine, but there were many varieties of gin marketed as beneficial beverages (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 24Press 2/10/1924: 6Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). Copious amounts of alcohol were often offered to patients in hospitals during this time, as well (Colonist 12/02/1910: 4).

Gin seems to have been advertised as a remedy for everything from kidney problems to the more vague “toning up the nerves” (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15). There were even ‘gin pills’, containing “in a concentrated form all the curative properties of a pint of the finest gin” and recommended for ailments of the “kidneys and allied organs” (Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). It was also associated with the prevention of malaria, due to the common combination of gin and tonic water – the latter was invented in the mid-19th century for the express purpose of administering quinine, an anti-malarial.

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image:

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image: Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15.

From an archaeological perspective, unfortunately (as is the case with many of the beverages consumed in the 19th century), it can be difficult to identify gin bottles among the material culture we recover, especially if the labels haven’t survived. Certain bottles, such as the ‘case gin’ shape, are known to have contained gin and are easily identifiable. However, especially towards the end of the 19th century, gin was bottled in several types of bottle, often indistinguishable from those used to hold other spirits or alcoholic beverages. In these cases, we have to rely on paper labels and metal capsule bottle seals, neither of which are prone to survival in the archaeological record.

Nevertheless, the following are some of the brands and types of gin we’ve come across so far during our work here in Christchurch.

Van Dulken Weiland & Co., gin manufacturers from Rotterdam, Holland. Dutch gin – or ‘genever’/jenever – is famous as the drink from which all other ‘gins’ are essentially derived. The Dutch were producing gin from at least the 16th century onwards (maybe earlier): the drink was embraced by Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries (due in no small part to the influence of William of Orange), before being adapted over the centuries to form the spirit as we know it now (i.e. ‘London’ dry gin, etc; Van Acker – Beittel 2013). Despite the popularity of British gins in the 19th century, genever continued to be advertised and sold as a separate beverage in contemporary newspapers (Lyttelton Times 27/09/1851: 2New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 30/01/1841: 1Otago Witness 15/09/1860: 2). We don’t know much about this particular Dutch manufacturer, but it seems likely that the bottle would have contained the genever style of gin, which often has a strong malt flavour, rather than the anglicised version.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder, bearing the mark of Van Dulken Weiland & Co., Rotterdam. Image: J. Garland.

Plymouth Gin, on the other hand, is – as the name suggests – quintessentially English. It’s actually geographically locked, in that it could only be manufactured in the town of Plymouth: unlike other gin styles – like Old Tom gin, for example (I’ll come to this one in a second) – other manufacturers were forbidden from using the name for their own products. It was first produced by Coates & Co. at the famous Black Friars distillery, in the late 18th century, after one Thomas Coates joined the already established Plymouth distillery of Fox & Williamson in 1793 (Plymouth Gin Company 2015). It quickly became one of the most popular gin brands in the 19th century and, to this day, remains a distinctive and hugely popular brand. It’s also one that had strong medical associations – several advertisements found in contemporary newspapers claim it to be “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle” (Press 2/10/1924: 6).

Plymouth gin

Advertisement for Plymouth Gin, “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle.” Image: Press 2/10/1924: 6.

We’ve only found one artefact associated with Plymouth Gin here in Christchurch, in the form of a metal capsule, originally used to seal the bottle at the top. Sadly, intact and/or legible capsules like these are rare finds, due to their fragility.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Probably the most common type of gin found in on archaeological sites here in the city is Old Tom gin, a sweeter variety that was extremely popular during the late 19th century. It declined in popularity during the early decades of the 20th century but has since enjoyed something of a revival, apparently. As the story goes, it takes its name from cat (‘old toms’) shaped signs used during gin prohibition/restrictions to provide gin to the masses. Supposedly, there would be a tube under a slot in the wall: you put money in the slot and received a shot of gin through the tube. Which would be ingenious, if it’s true.

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image:

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image: Waikato Times 13/01/1855: 2.

Here in Christchurch we usually find Old Tom labels and seals in association with Sir Robert Burnett, a manufacturer and/or distributor of various alcohols and foodstuffs, operating out of London during the second half of the 19th century (Campbell et al. 2009). Old Tom was, however, made by a variety of manufacturers during this period and distributed throughout the world. One of the more entertaining and slightly horrifying articles I came across during my research features Old Tom – or at least, a drink pretending to be Old Tom. In an 1855 edition of the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, there’s an account of how a quantity of gin, “disposed of to the public as the very best Old Tom”, was in fact an un-named variety of gin that had been used to preserve the body of a Dutch captain in a barrel during a sea voyage (Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle 8/12/1855: 3). I’m betting it probably didn’t taste like Old Tom in the end.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett's Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett’s Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Finally, in the interests of improving everybody’s weekends, here are some of the 19th and early 20th century recipes I found for gin cocktails in the course of researching this post. I recommend avoiding the petrol one (above).

Perfect Lady
½ gin
½ peach brandy
¼ fresh lemon juice
Dash of egg white

Gin Puff
Old Tom gin
Sugar
Cream
Plain Soda

Gin Fizz
Gin
Crushed ice
Half a lemon
Tsp sugar
Egg white / egg yolk

“A wineglass of gin is put into a long thin glass, known all over America as a fizz glass. A tumbler is then filled up to the brim with crushed ice, half a lemon squeezed upon it, and about a teaspoonful of pulverized sugar. Pulverised sugar is what is always used for American drinks. This is all whisked up until thoroughly cold, and the tumbler is then filled up with soda water…By straining it of the ice, adding the white of an egg and whisking it all up together, we make a ‘silver fizz’. By substituting the yolk for the white and going through the same process the ‘golden fizz’ is made.”

And, for those of you with problems cleaning silk, here’s an alternative use for gin…

Mix well together ¼ lb of honey, the white of one egg, 3oz. of soft soap, one wineglass of gin and one pint of hot water. Lay the pieces of silk separately on a deal board or table and using a small brush, which must be neither too hard not too soft, scrub them on both sides with the above mixture. Have ready two pails of cold water and as soon as each breadth of silk has been well scrubbed, dip in into both pails successively and shake it about so that as much as possible the mixture shall be rinsed out. Then hang it out to dry.”

Jessie Garland

References

Campbell, M., Gumbley, W. and Hudson, B., 2009. Archaeological Investigations at the Bamber House and Wanganui Hotel sites (Town Sections 79 and 77), UCOL Whanganui Converge Redevelopment, Wanganui. Unpublished report to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Universal College of Learning.

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

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

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

Nelson Examiner and Wellington Chronicle. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Plymouth Gin Company, 2015. [online] Available at www.plymouthgin.com.

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

Van Acker – Beittel, V., 2013. Genever: 500 Years of History in a Bottle. Flemish Lion, LLC.

Wairarapa Age. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Gender matters

Gender matters. And it’s complicated, which is why writing this blog post has been particularly difficult. Why is it so complicated, from an archaeological standpoint? Well, let me try and explain.

Historical archaeology developed as a discipline in the mid-20th century and, at that time, its practitioners made all sorts of sweeping generalisations about the position of women – and other minorities – in the past (as many archaeologists at the time did, regardless of their period of expertise, and as I’m doing now). For the so-called historic period, these assumptions revolved around women as mother and domestic helpmeet, with no roles outside this, little value placed on this role, little recognition that maybe women wanted more than this and little room for any agency on the part of women.

Times have changed, and society now sees gender – and gender roles – quite differently. Historical archaeologists are no exception to this change. We now see considerable value in the role of women in the 19th century and are able to make far more nuanced interpretations about their lives and experiences.

For all this, women are still frustratingly elusive in the archaeological record. There are some artefacts that definitely indicate the presence of a woman at a site, such as a woman’s shoes, clothing or jewellery. It might be possible to use a perfume bottle to definitely link a woman to a site, or perhaps some specific medicines. The presence of girls might be able to be identified through dolls, but boys could just as easily have played with dolls. And anyway, these artefacts do little more than reinforce those gender stereotypes we’ve moved away from. They tell us that there was a woman at the site, and maybe she wore perfume. Or maybe someone gave her some perfume that she didn’t like. Who knows?

But if you’ve got a site that you know was almost exclusively occupied by women for over 40 years, that’s a whole different matter. Especially when that site was occupied by the same family for that period, which is pretty unusual in central Christchurch, regardless of the genders involved.

The site in question was that of Violet Cottage. Even the name sounds feminine, right? Well, that’s how it was known when Dr Thomas Moore – and his family – were living there. The Moore family had bought land in Canterbury in 1850, and emigrated the following year (Greenaway 2007, Lundy 2014). They settled at Charteris Bay initially, before moving to Violet Cottage. Unfortunately for Dr Moore, he only lived at the cottage for two or three years before his untimely death in 1860 (Lyttelton Times 15/2/1860: 4). Following his death, members of his family remained at  the cottage until the 20th century (H Wise and Co 1911). This included Mrs Elizabeth Moore, and the children: Elizabeth, Alice, Thomas, Jane, Ellen, Annie and Emma (H Wise & Co 1878-1979, Lundy 2014). Elizabeth lived at Violet Cottage until her death in 1887 and two of her daughters – Annie and Emma – continued to live at the cottage until the 20th century. We’ve not been able to identify how the women supported themselves after Thomas senior’s death, but there is some evidence to suggest that they had income from property near Violet Cottage (Hughes et al. 2014: 4).

 Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.


Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.

What we found at the site was perhaps surprising: there was nothing about the assemblage we recovered that suggested the artefacts were deposited by a predominantly female household. Or even that there were women living at the site: no women’s clothing, perfume bottles or shoes. Nothing specifically female at all. This is perhaps not surprising, given that we probably only recovered a fraction of the material culture discarded by the site’s occupants over the more than 40 years they lived there.

We found a fairly generic Victorian Christchurch domestic assemblage, with one exception. We only found three rubbish pits at the site, and one of these features contained almost nothing but alcohol bottles: 134 of the 146 artefacts we recovered from the feature probably contained alcohol (long-time followers of the blog will know that bottles were frequently re-used in 19th century New Zealand and may not have contained the contents suggested by their form). There was nothing about the rubbish pit that suggested the bottles had been deposited over a number of years, and the pit was probably filled over a relatively short period of time. So someone at the site may have been doing a lot of drinking – or it’s possible that the good doctor was using the alcohol for medical purposes.

 Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

Most of the remainder of the artefacts recovered from the site were either ceramics or animal bones (i.e. food waste from the Moores’ meals). The ceramics included a range of serving wares that suggested a well-to-do middle class establishment. There was a tureen, a platter, a milk jug and dinner plates, as well as more utilitarian items, such as chamber pots, a colander and a rather fabulous wash basin. There was only one tea cup, one saucer and no teapots – while that may not seem that interesting, archaeologists have often identified the presence and role of women on 19th century archaeological sites through the ritual of afternoon tea, and the material remains of that ritual. There was some evidence, however, to suggest a matching set of sprigged ware – and this may have been a tea set, as the items from this set were a milk jug, a saucer and a side plate.

 Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.


Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.

 Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The animal bones tell us that the Moores were eating mutton and beef, with a preference for mutton, and a range of both cheap and expensive cuts present – beef cheek anyone? The cuts of mutton were from both the forequarter (or shoulder) and the leg, with the latter suggesting the consumption of roast mutton. In amongst all this evidence for food and its consumption, it is perhaps surprising that no condiment containers were recovered from the site – no vinegars, salad oils or pickles.

 A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The artefact from the site that I found most evocative was a porcelain platter, made by Spode, and decorated with a blue floral pattern. The interesting thing about this platter was that the maker’s mark indicated that it was made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). That means that it was made before the Moores arrived in New Zealand, and that the Moores are very likely to have brought it with them from England, and kept it carefully and safely throughout their travels. For the family, this piece of china may have provided a direct and tangible link between the life they left behind in England and their new life here on the other side of the globe.

 A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.


A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.

We can’t relate this artefact to gender (at least, not without making a whole lot of assumptions that don’t sit comfortably), but it does tell us about the sort of items that new colonists – of a certain class – brought with them for their new lives, and their expectations of those lives: I don’t imagine that the holds of migrant ships were packed with Spode platters or ashets… This platter suggests that the Moore family expected to dine well, and possibly even to entertain, and to maintain certain standards in their new home.

Our experience at this site confirms that gender – and gender roles – can be difficult to explore archaeologically. But the question is an important one and needs to be considered carefully at any archaeological site, rather than simply making assumptions about the role of women in 19th century Christchurch.

Katharine Watson, Chelsea Dickson & Julia Hughes

References

Andersen, J. C., 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson and Williams Ltd, Christchurch.

Greenaway, R. L. N., 2007. Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour. [online] Available at: http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/heritage/cemeteries/barbadoes/barbadoesstreetcemetery.pdf [Accessed June 2014].

H. Wise & Co., 1878-1979. Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.

Hughes, J., Dickson, C. and Geary Nichol, R., 2014. 89 Chester Street East, Christchurch: report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Hawkins Ltd.

Jacobson, H. C., 1914. Tales of Banks Peninsula. Akaroa: Akaroa Mail Office.

Lundy, D., 2014. Dr. Thomas Richard Moore. [online] Available at: <http://www.thepeerage.com/p44788.htm> [Accessed June 2014].

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: <www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>. Accessed April 2014.

The Potteries, 2008. A-Z of Stoke-on-Trent Potters. [online] Available at: www.thepotteries.org.

Brewery to bonded store (or a tale involving beer, misfortune and the casualties of long distance trade)

From Staffordshire pottery to American made glass-ware, we’ve come across artefacts from all over the world on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. This prevalence of internationally made artefacts, and what it means for the city’s history, is something that’s come up frequently in previous posts on this blog. Today’s post continues to discuss that theme, albeit from a slightly different perspective – that of the importer.

Over the last little while, we’ve been looking at the artefact assemblage from a site in the central city that was associated with a bonded store from the 1860s onwards. Bonded stores (also known as bonded warehouses) were buildings in which goods could be stored and remain exempt from customs duties. They were usually used to store goods and bulk merchandise until they were distributed for retail, at which time those duties and taxes would have to be paid.

We found numerous archaeological features (mostly rubbish pits) on the site, almost all of which contained artefacts. Many of these rubbish pits contained a large number of alcohol bottles. This is not particularly unusual. What is unusual is that within each feature most of the alcohol bottles were identical and almost all of the bottle tops found were still sealed – with cork, wire seal and metal capsule.

One of the rubbish pits found at the site, containing a large number of J & R Tennent sealed bottles.

One of the rubbish pits found at the site, containing a large number of J & R Tennent sealed bottles. Image: J. Hughes.

One rubbish pit contained a total of 130 artefacts (in 454 fragments), 126 of which were black beer bottles. Although the bottles were broken, the tops and bases were almost equal in number. More significantly, all of those black beer bottles were still sealed, or found in association with their corks and capsule seals, and every single seal bore the distinctive trademarks of J & R Tennent’s Pale Ale, brewed at the Wellpark Brewery, Scotland. Most of the capsules were also stamped with the mark of Betts & Co, the company who patented and manufactured this type of metal capsule seal for bottles. Similarly trademarked bottle capsules have been found at other 1860s-1880s sites throughout New Zealand, although not in such large quantities (Petchey and Innanchai 2012).

A couple of the J & R Tennent sealed tops found in the rubbish pit. The side of the seal reads: "Bottled by J & R Tennent" and (not pictured) "Betts & Co/Patent/Patent/ Trade Mark/ London."

A couple of the J & R Tennent sealed tops found in the rubbish pit. The side of the seal reads: “Bottled by J & R Tennent” and (not pictured) “Betts & Co / Patent / Patent / Trade Mark / London.” Betts & Co were the original patentees and manufacturers of metal bottle capsules like these. They were founded in 1804, but weren’t established in London until 1840. The company continued to manufacture bottle capsules until the 1960s: these particular seals were probably made between 1860 and 1915 (Nayton 1991). Images:  J. Garland.

J & R Tennent capsule drawing

A drawing of one of the J & R Tennent bottle capsules found at this site. Note that the beer is a pale ale, and the reference to Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow. Image: J. Garland.

John and Robert Tennent were Glaswegian brewers and bottlers who began operating in the 1770s. Their business continued to be run by their descendants throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, right up until the present day (Petchey and Innanchai 2012). By the end of the 19th century they were increasingly known for the quality of their beer and were a relatively large presence in the export market for bottled beer throughout the English speaking world (Hughes 2006). In Christchurch, Tennent’s Pale Ale was sold in large quantities from the 1850s onwards by a number of Christchurch merchants such as Robert Symington, Charles Wesley Turner (my great great grandfather!), Longden & Le Cren, Robert Wilkin & Co, and Tonks, Norton & Co, among others (Lyttelton Times 6/11/1852: 312/8/1865: 1Star 22/10/1869: 4; Press 18/9/1879: 3,14/1/1891: 8).

A second rubbish pit at the site contained a similar assemblage: 125 artefacts, 88 of which were identical dark green beer bottles. Like the Tennent bottles, almost all of these were still sealed or found in association with metal capsules, wire seals and corks. Unfortunately, the seals from this feature weren’t in the best condition: only eight of them could be definitively identified to the bottler, T. B. Hall & Co, Liverpool. It seems likely, however, given the similarity of the bottles (a handful of which still had the remnants of T. B. & Hall labels on the glass), that all 88 were originally T. B. Hall & Co products.

Some of the T. B. Hall & Co bottle capsules found in the second rubbish pit. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the T. B. Hall & Co bottle capsules found in the second rubbish pit. Image: J. Garland.

This drawing of one of the T. B. Hall & Co metal capsules shows the distinctive boar trademark used by the company. Image: J. Garland.

This drawing of a T. B. Hall & Co bottle seal shows the distinctive boar trademark used by the company. Image: J. Garland.

T. B. Hall refers to Thomas Bird Hall, who operated an export bottling company in Liverpool in the latter half of the 19th century. The company became well known for their ‘Boar’s Head’ brand, which we see on the bottles found in Christchurch.  They started bottling beer under this brand in 1874, much of which was exported to British colonies, including Australia and New Zealand. They bottled a range of beers, spirits and liqueurs, including the well-known Bass and Guinness ales and stouts (Hughes 2006: 131). We have evidence for the brand being sold in Christchurch from at least 1878 until the late 1890s (Press 22/4/1878: 2; Press 23/10/1899: 4).

Interestingly, during the excavation of this rubbish pit, it was noted that most of the bottles were complete, but cracked, while they were still in the ground. Many of them fell apart as they were lifted out, suggesting that they had broken or cracked from the impact of being thrown – complete and still sealed – into the pit.

The partially excavated rubbish pit containing numerous T. B. Hall & Co sealed bottles. A couple of complete bottles are visible, sticking out of the top of the feature: one of these fell apart as it was lifted, due to the cracks already present in the glass. Image: J. Garland.

The partially excavated rubbish pit containing numerous T. B. Hall & Co sealed bottles. A couple of complete bottles are visible, sticking out of the top of the feature: one of these fell apart as it was lifted, due to the cracks already present in the glass. Image: J. Garland.

As archaeologists, we’re used to finding old or broken artefacts in archaeological assemblages  – objects that have clearly been used and discarded, due to damage, age, changes in fashion or simply because they’ve reached the end of their uselife. The fact that two rubbish pits at this site contain artefacts that have clearly not been used and, in one case, were complete when they were discarded, indicates that there must be another reason for their disposal.

Given the association of the site with a bonded store, it seems likely that these bottles were originally imported and stored at the warehouse with the intention of being distributed to local retailers and consumers. The question then remains: why were they thrown out? There are numerous potential answers to this, from damages incurred during transport to a bad quality batch of beer, a lack of demand or old, unsaleable stock. Bottled beer was a hell of a lot more unpredictable – both in quality and preservation – during the 19th century than it is now, and it wasn’t uncommon for batches to go bad, or simply be bad.

This extract from a legal case involving the supply and sale of bad beer lists just a few of the ways beer could go bad in the 19th century. Image: Colonist 26/07/1911

This extract from a legal case involving the supply and sale of bad beer lists just a few of the ways beer could go bad in the 19th century. Image: Colonist 26/7/1911: 4.

It’s easy to forget, in this age of air freight and controlled temperatures, that these goods had to come a very long way in relatively difficult conditions in order to reach our shores (and our stomachs) in the 19th century. British export beers travelled to colonies like Australia and New Zealand by ship, a journey that could take anything upwards of 100 days (by clipper, the fastest non-steam powered ship at the time). These voyages often encountered rough seas and extreme temperatures, both of which could damage cargoes of bottled beer (Hughes 2006). High temperatures (when sailing through the tropics, for example) could cause the beer itself to go off: sometimes, if it caused rapid fermentation, the bottles would explode (my personal favourite). On top of the sea voyage, of course, the bottles had to survive loading and unloading as well as transport over rough roads to their final destination. It’s hardly surprising that breakages occurred!

There were also issues with supply and demand: agents in New Zealand would have been ordering the stock well in advance (remember, 100 days or more to get here), based on predicted demand. If their predictions were wrong, products might not sell and be left, instead, to age to the point where they were both undrinkable and unsaleable, and had to be discarded. All of which leads to rubbish pits such as these, containing the physical casualties and failures of the 19th century import/export trade.

Analysis of this site is continuing but, as you can see from the small part of it that I’ve discussed here, it has the potential to provide us with a window into the realities of the goods trade in Christchurch – internationally and locally. It’s also an excellent example of the importance of archaeological context in the interpretation of artefacts and archaeological features.  Just one of these bottles, out of context, wouldn’t have nearly such an interesting story to tell.

Jessie Garland

References

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

Hughes, David. 2006. “A Bottle of Guiness Please”: the Colourful History of Guiness. Phimboy: Berkshire, England.

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

Nayton, G., 1992. Applying frontier theory to a Western Australian site: the problem of chronological control. Australasian Historical Archaeology 10: 75-91.

Petchey, P. and Innanchai, J., 2012. Bottle top capsules in New Zealand historic archaeological sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 3 (2): 1-16.

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

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