The Trooper

Ceramics have been decorated to commemorate a range of events, people and places since long before the 19th century. The practice is particularly tied to British royalty, with some rather intense results. While tankards, jugs, plaques, mugs and miniature wares are most commonly decorated for commemorative purposes, a number of different ceramic types could be used in this manner (Perry 2011). The subject of the blog today is inspired by two mustard jars from Christchurch that commemorate events from the Crimean War. The Crimean War occurred from 1853 to 1856. Caused by the failing Ottoman Empire and power struggles between countries over religious rights of access to the Holy Land, two key parts of the war are depicted on these household artefacts, the Siege of Sevastopol (also known as Sebastopol) and the Battle of Balaklava (or Balaclava; Goldi Productions Ltd 1996 & 2000Wikipedia 2017).

Source caption: “Episode of the Siege of Sebastopol During the Crimean War in 1855”, dated 19th century and credited to Adolphe Yvon. Image: Wikipedia 2015.

The first of these came from the large Justice Precinct site in the city centre. It was decorated with polychrome transfer print in a style often identified as ‘prattware’. Prattware refers to polychrome underglaze transfer printed scenes that were associated with the manufacturers F. & R. Pratt & Co. Ltd (Perry 2010). This particular jar featured a scene known as the ‘The Fall of Sebastopol 8th Sept. 1855’ (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This scene refers to one of the classic sieges of the Crimean War, which aimed to capture the significant Russian naval base in the port of Sevastopol, on the Black Sea (Bunting 2017).

Mustard jar decorated with the Fall of Sevastopol.

The print depicts and names Sir Harry Jones, the famous British military man who served in the Crimean War as commander of the British forces at the battle of Bomarsund and of the Royal Engineer forces at the Siege of Sevastopol (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). Most descriptions of this pattern presume that Sir Harry Jones is the figure on the stretcher in the scene, although there is no record of his being wounded during the battle. The full title of the pattern includes the date 8th September 1855, when the Battle of Malakoff occurred and the Russian forces began to withdraw (Atkinson 1911: 451-453; Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017).

The second mustard jar base was found on a residential site just outside the city centre. The whiteware jar had a polychrome transfer printed design depicting a battle and the words “The/…OON/CHAR…” around the base. This would have formed the full phrase: “THE DRAGOON CHARGE” (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This print depicts the Battle of Balaklava fought on 25 October 1854 as a part of the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. The Battle of Balaklava was a Russian assault on the British allied supply base that involved the famous Thin Red Line military tactic and the infamously deadly Charge of the Light Brigade (Wikipedia 2017).

‘The Dragoon Charge’ underglaze print on the Prattware mustard jar.

 

Source caption: “The Russian camp at the Genoese Castle, Balaklava.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Although no maker’s marks were evident on the base of either jar, examples of the same printed Prattware are attributed to the manufacturers John Thomas and Joseph Mayer. Thomas and Mayer manufactured pottery in Longport, Burslem, Staffordshire between 1842 and 1855 (Kowalsky & Kowalsky 1999: 274). The date range for the operation of the Thomas and Mayer company and the commemorative nature of the prints suggests a manufacturing date in the 1850s, possibly as early as late 1854 to 1855. This would have taken place while the Crimean war was still ongoing.

Although little remembered today, the Crimean War is often described as the “first truly modern war” (Groll and Frankel 2014). With the advent of new technology, industry and weaponry, the resulting high casualty rate marked this event as a significant moment in the mid-19th century. In addition to this, the perceptions of the war were shaped by real-time journalistic coverage and photographic documentation by Roger Fenton. Due to the process involved in setting up and taking photography at the time, Fenton was limited to producing images of still (sometimes staged) moments in between the carnage. Depictions of the fighting seem to be limited to paintings and prints made during the war by artist-correspondents or after the war.

Source caption: “Roger Fenton himself dressed in a Zouave uniform holding rifle. Zouaves were crack infantry units, originally composed of Algerians. During the Crimean War, Zouaves served with the French Army, allies of the British. Fenton’s self-portrait in the costume indicates the high regard the British felt for the Zouaves.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Source caption: “Two versions of the widely-acknowledged ‘first iconic war photograph’ entitled The Valley of the Shadow of Death. The lower one shows cannonballs on the road whereas above shows the road clear of ammunition. Historians have concluded that Fenton may have moved the cannonballs into the road to enhance the image. An alternative view is that soldiers were gathering the missiles for re-use and had thrown them onto the road to make them easier to collect.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Source caption: “British soldiers pose for a photographs during a break.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Polychrome transfer printed scenes like this were used on ceramic food containers throughout the latter half of the 19th century, although they are not common on Christchurch archaeological sites. The jars are an example of commemorative objects available for consumption in the wake of significant events. The participation of British soldiers in the Battle of Balaklava in particular was seen as an example of some of the finest heroic fighting of the war and many depictions of this heroism were created in art and literature (Bunting 2017). These kinds of physical reminders of formative events in national identity have been noted elsewhere in discussions of commemorative products depicting the 1899 South African War, particularly with regards to the connections between colonial and national ideologies (Lucas 2004). Although New Zealand was not directly involved in this conflict, British soldiers who fought in the war later emigrated to New Zealand (New Zealand Crimean War Veterans 2017). Such an event was part of the collective memory of 19th century British national identity, as evident in other depictions of the battle such as paintings and in the poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. As such, the presence of objects commemorating the Crimean War in 19th century New Zealand archaeological sites demonstrate these links to important historical events.

The Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb, 1881. Image: Wikipedia 2017.

The remembrance of aspects of the Crimean War continued through to the modern era. Lord Tennyson’s poem in particular formed the platform for later adaptations of and references to the event. The Charge of the Light Brigade was immortalised on screen in 1912, 1936 and 1968. Each version varies greatly in how it depicts the events of the war, in line with the time period and popular movie styles of the period. The poem has echoes in modern pop culture as Lord Tennyson’s poem formed the basis of the 1983 Iron Maiden song ‘The Trooper’ and references in movies and TV shows from Saving Private Ryan to Top Gear to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Megan Hickey

References

Atkinson, C. F., 1911. Crimean War. In Chisholm, H. (Ed). Encyopaedia Brittanica 7 (11th Edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kowalsky, A and Kowalsky, D. 1999. Encyclopaedia of Marks On American, and European Earthernware, Ironstone and Stoneware 1780-1980. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Atglen.

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2017. The Dragoon Charge – Balaklava [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/tcc2/data/patterns/d/the-dragoon-charge-balaklava/ [Accessed 05 May 2017].

“In the soil of a friendly country”: an archaeologist’s visit to Gallipoli

This blog may lean more heavily on the personal than the archaeological.

Every year, thousands of Kiwis and Aussies commemorate ANZAC Day. We take this time to reflect on the losses of war, and the terrible costs it has had for this country, as well as remember those who have fought and lost their lives in service. Thousands make the trip to Gallipoli itself, and in 2015, my friend Jack and I were among those that went to visit the place that figured so heavily in our nation’s consciousness, and our military history. Avoiding the crowds, we arrived shortly after Armistice Day.

Looking south towards ANZAC Cove. Image: Jack Auty.

For an archaeologist, it can be just as important to understand the landscape, the environmental context, as the site itself. For any who haven’t been, the Gallipoli Peninsula is a rugged landscape, characterised by steep cliffs and hill faces, and narrow ridges, now covered in regrowth of bush. Faced with these sheer faces it struck me just how difficult the fighting would have been, how every step was a struggle.

The Sphinx, one of the landforms overlooking ANZAC cove.

One of the things that only struck me once I was there, was how close everything was. The places burned into our collective memory – ANZAC cove, The Nek, Quinns Post, Hill 971, Wire Gully, Lone Pine, and Chunuk Bair – are all within a few scant kilometres of each other. The fighting took place on a few narrow ridgelines, in places barely 20 m across before plunging down steep faces. Men fought and died here over a few metres of ground.

Monuments have been built to commemorate the old battlefields, roads built to conduct the visitors between them, and the bush has reclaimed much of the peninsula, but the archaeological remnants of the fight are still present, if buried. Between 2009 and 2014, historians and archaeologists from Turkey, New Zealand, and Australia worked together to record and identify remnant evidence of the 1915 battlefields, under the Joint Historical and Archaeological Survey (JHAS). The survey was designed to only record surface evidence, and was carried out in response to allegations that the construction of the road providing access to Anzac Cove had uncovered and disturbed archaeological material, including human remains.

Among the recorded features were thousands of kilometres of trenches and tunnels. In places these remain in remarkably good condition, their zig-zags and dog-legs designed to confuse enemies and prevent easy capture of an entire section. Posts and barbed wire also remain standing, showing further steps taken to control the battlefield. Near Lone Pine the ANZAC and Turkish trenches stood in stark opposition either side of a narrow road, far too close for comfort. On the ANZAC side the trenches were clear, while the Turkish trenches were barely visible under the encroaching scrub.

The best preserved sections of the ANZAC trenches, near Lone Pine.

Trenches, complete with remnant posts and lengths of barbed wire.

Remnant Turkish trenches, largely covered in scrub.

During the JHAS, approximately 16.5 km of trenches were recorded over a 4.2 square kilometre area. These included forward trenches with their characteristic zig-zag, support trenches to usher supplies to the front line, and reserve trenches that acted as depots for soldiers and emergency supplies. In addition to the trenches were dugouts, and at least 82 tunnel openings, hinting at an as-yet-unrecorded tunnel system (Sagona 2015).

A tunnel entrance within the ANZAC trench system.

Even during our short visit, the earth and ocean was offering up its secrets, visible to any who took the time to notice. I saw shell casings and scraps of metal that had taken on the dusty hue of the surrounding clay, and artefact fragments washed up on the landing beaches. These I left in place, but those surface finds collected during the JHAS have been conserved and are now stored in the Naval Museum in Çanakkale. We know from the soldiers’ accounts that the ANZAC forces largely ate pre-packaged food such as tins of corned beef and jam, and that the Ottoman forces were fed cooked food from mobile kitchens. The JHAS recorded one of these Turkish ovens, and the distribution of food-related artefacts (mostly tin-plated steel cans) gave an indication of where the ANZACs ate. The majority were found within dugouts or support trenches, but the survey of Silt Spur showed that in that location, food refuse was found scattered with evidence of heavy conflict: shrapnel, bullet fragments, tunnel entrances and barbed wire. Here it seems the soldiers took their meals when they could under heavy fire, without being able to draw back to the relative comfort of support trenches (Sagona 2015).

Fragment of a stoneware jar or flagon that likely supplied the troops. This could have held alcohol, other beverages, foodstuffs or bulk pharmaceutical supplies.

In addition to the artefacts, the remains of the soldiers that fought and died at Gallipoli occasionally come to the surface. Many soldiers – Kiwis, Aussies, and Turkish, among others – were not able to be given proper burial, and their locations are not known. While I was walking at the Chunuk Bair Memorial for the New Zealand soldiers, I spotted something alongside one of the commemorative plaques for a New Zealand soldier. There, in the turned over soil of the garden among the names of the soldiers, was a bone. White and weathered, it was a metacarpal or metatarsal, a bone from a human hand or foot. I can’t say who the bone belonged to, whether they were young or old, or which side of the conflict they were on. One hundred years on from the terrible losses of the Gallipoli campaign, there was little to distinguish this unidentified soldier from any other.

Archaeology isn’t just an academic, dissociated exploration of the past. The remains of the past are indelibly tied to the people of today, and Gallipoli – like Wairau Bar, like Ship Cove, like Gate Pā – has value and meaning for all New Zealanders. These places, and their archaeology, need conservation, if we are to maintain the connection to them and the meaning and lessons they provide.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 1934

 

Tristan Wadsworth

References

DVA and BOSTES NSW. 2016. A landscape of war uncovered [online]. Available at: http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/landscape-of-war-uncovered/. Accessed 16 April 2017.

Cameron, D. and Donlon, D. 2005. ‘A Preliminary Archaeological Survey of the ANZAC Gallipoli Battlefields of 1915’ in Australasian Historical Archaeology, vol. 23, pp. 131-138.

Patel, S. 2013. Anzac’s Next Chapter: Archaeologists conduct the first-ever survey of the legendary WWI battlefield at Gallipoli [online]. Available at: http://www.archaeology.org/issues/92-1305/letter-from/765-anzac-gallipoli-wwi-battlefield-allied-german-ottoman/.

Sagona, A. 2015. ‘An Archaeology of the ANZAC Battlefield’ in Humanities Australia, vol. 6, pp. 34-46.

Safety at the sawmill and that stack of bricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first bit of brick floor exposed. This…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Hamish Williams

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends

A selection of the most interesting bits and pieces we’ve been working with recently here in Christchurch.

This gorgeous ceramic vessel is an 1850s-1860s chamber pot, found on a site just outside the central city. It’s decorated with the imaginatively named “Cattle Scenery” pattern, featuring, …well, cows. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

What’s known as a ‘bent’ clay smoking pipe (referring to the curve, or ‘bend’ of the stem, with the mark ‘SQUATTER’S / OWN’ impressed on the side. The other side of stem has the mark ‘SYDNEY’. Squatter’s own pipes are a little bit of a mystery – identical pipes to this one have been found on other sites here in Christchurch and in Auckland, while variations (Squatter’s Own Budgeree) have been found in several locations in Australia. The budgeree pipes are often decorated with scenes featuring Aboriginal and European figures, while the ones found in New Zealand (so far) appear to be plain. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

Another beautiful ceramic vessel. This time, it’s a saucer decorated with the pattern ‘Dresden Vignette’ and made by William Smith and Co. between 1825 and 1855. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

Marbles! So many marbles! Several of the sites we’ve been working on lately have had different marbles in the assemblages. We’ve got German glass swirl marbles (top row and third from the left in the second row), ‘commie’ marbles (far right of third and fourth rows), onionskin marbles (far right of second row), Bennington, or glazed ceramic marbles (second from left in third row), pipe clay marbles (second from left in fourth row), and porcelain marbles with fine banded decoration (far left in third row). Phew. Did you get all of that? Some of them have been heavily used (might have been a child’s favourite marble, who knows!), while others are in pretty good condition. I think my favourite is probably the onionskin: it’s got a great name, and the colours are fantastic. Image: J. Garland, C. Dickson, M. L. Bernabeu.

A serving dish or tureen lid decorated with the Wild Rose pattern, a decorative motif that depicts the gardens at Nuneham Courtenay (near Oxford, England) and was extremely popular in the 1830s-1850s period. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

This is easily the coolest thing we’ve found in a while. These stemware drinking glasses were coloured using uranium diuranate, which creates the distinctive yellow colour seen in the image to the right. But (wait for it), when you put them under a blacklight, they glow green with the light of a thousand superhero origin stories. Or alien colour schemes. Take your pick. Image: J. Garland.

It’s Friday afternoon, how about a wee tipple of gin? This fragment is from a labelled bottle of Nolet’s finest Dutch geneva. Nolet’s was established in Holland in the late 17th century by Johannes Nolet and is still in operation today. It’s the first label of its kind that we’ve found in Christchurch. Image: C. Dickson.

The ‘Grecian’ pattern, with the potter’s initials J. T. There are several different pattern variations known as ‘Grecian’ or that incorporate Greek and/or neo-classical themes into their motifs. Image: C. Dickson.

Another elaborately decorated saucer, this time displaying the Neva pattern. Confusingly for us, this is not the only 19th century ceramic pattern found under the name of ‘Neva’. This example was made by Thomas Bevington (1877 until 1891). Image: J. Garland.

How’s your reading comprehension? Up to 1870s standards? We found these pages from ‘The Royal Readers’, first published in the early 1870s, inside the walls of a schoolhouse in Governors Bay. Image: J. Garland.

The expressions on the faces of Victorian dolls never fail to amuse me. Image: C. Dickson.

Also found in the walls of the Governors Bay school house, this excerpt from ‘The School Journal.’ If you look closely you can see the typewritten words “Governors Bay, Lyttelton” in the bottom right of the fragment. Image: J. Garland.

And last, but not least, this wonderfully labelled wine bottle was identified as Champagne Vineyard Cognac, ‘Boutelleau Manager’. It appears to have been a well regarded product, if that extract from 1877 is to be believed. The bottle was found on the same Lyttelton site as the gin bottle shown above – someone had good taste! Image: C. Dickson.

Jessie Garland

No winter wonderland: a history of Christmas in New Zealand.

It’s that time of the year again, carols, Christmas shopping, annual staff parties, parades and backyard barbeques. For many of us, Christmas traditions are passed down through our families, and some of the fare found on our festive tables may be reminiscent of a Victorian Christmas, the way the occasion was once celebrated in the motherland. However, today on the blog, we compare and contrast the modern, and the Victorian New Zealand Christmas traditions, and we will see how the festive season has changed for New Zealanders over the generations.

 

The modern idea of English Christmas celebrations was introduced in the Victorian era. While Santa Claus didn’t get a foothold in our chimneys until the 1890s (or Father Christmas as he was called then), presents were still exchanged. This exchange was originally done on New Year’s Day, before Prince Albert’s introduction of his native German-style Christmas to England in the 1840s (Midgley 2010). Around this time, the gifts were nowhere near as elaborate as the modern commercialised Christmas industry (which must keep Santa’s elves rather busy year-round). Instead, they were often nuts, sweets, oranges and sometimes toys (Clarke 2007).

A ghostly looking Father Christmas (Mr. McMillan) at Heathcote School - Mrs. Yeale in foreground - Mr James Weir - Chairman School Committee - 1900 – 1910. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: Gimblett 0009.

A ghostly looking Father Christmas (Mr. McMillan) at Heathcote School – Mrs. Yeale in foreground – Mr James Weir – Chairman School Committee – 1900 – 1910. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: Gimblett 0009.

 

Christmas cards were first introduced in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole and the English illustrator, John Callcott Horsley. The practice of giving specialised cards caught on as a form of present giving in itself, and it made Christmas gift exchange more conceivable between the New Zealand settlers and their families left at home. You may recall this tin postcard we recovered from a house in central Christchurch a couple of years ago. It is dated 21st December 1914, and appears to be a homemade Christmas greeting card.

 

1914 Christmas greeting card addressed to Mary. It reads: “Forget Me Not” “Don’t laugh Mary at this dear x x. Dear Mary, just a PC [postcard], hoping you are well, as it leaves me the same well. Mary I received your loving letter, but you know that I have a lot of letters to write so I got tired. Dear Mary, you might tell Mary Martin, that I am going my holidays on Christmas to Petone. So I will not see her. I am sorry more news next time. Well fondest love from your [?] Wish you a merry Christmas x x x.” Image: C. Dickson.

1914 Christmas greeting card addressed to Mary. It reads: “Forget Me Not” “Don’t laugh Mary at this dear x x. Dear Mary, just a PC [postcard], hoping you are well, as it leaves me the same well. Mary I received your loving letter, but you know that I have a lot of letters to write so I got tired. Dear Mary, you might tell Mary Martin, that I am going my holidays on Christmas to Petone. So I will not see her. I am sorry more news next time. Well fondest love from your [?] Wish you a merry Christmas x x x.” Image: C. Dickson.

 

Essentially, the largest difference between Christmas celebrations in the old and new continents was the adaption to the warmer Christmas climate – it was the difference between ‘Jack Frost nipping at your nose’ and summertime heat waves (for us, think, more chilled sauvignon blanc, less mulled wine). The Christmas festivities were moved from indoors – huddled together by a fire, to relaxing outside in the sunshine. Instead of ‘decking the halls with bells of holly’, these new-New Zealander’s decorated their homes with evergreens and native ferns and flax, and the pōhutukawa tree became the ‘Summer Christmas Tree’ (Clarke 2007, Swarbrick 2016). However, although barbeques are ever popular, our modern Christmas tradition still fiercely clings to the concept of hot plum pudding and a roast meat dinner. This is possibly because the 19th century saw many of the early settlers longing for the white Christmas of their former homes…

 

Lyttelton Times 24/12/1859: 3

Lyttelton Times 24/12/1859: 3

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 28/12/1842: 2.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 28/12/1842: 2.

 

So what about the way people celebrated in wider community events? The first Santa parade wasn’t held in New Zealand until 1905, and before 1873, most people were required to work on Christmas Day! Law changes in 1873 and 1894 entitled most workers the day off (excluding farmers, of course). The season became more like the holiday we know it to be following the ‘Mondayising’ of Christmas and New Year’s days in 1921 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2014). During this era, many employers were known to throw company parties for their workers – so what kind of Christmas party is your workplace having this year? The team here at Underground Overground Archaeology is having a picnic in Hagley Park – this was actually a very popular way for workplaces to celebrate Christmas in New Zealand during the 19th century. Picnics required only an open space for spreading the food out and playing games, and parks offered an inexpensive venue that was able to accommodate a large number of people. These annual picnics also acted as an opportunity for employer/employee role reversal – at a company picnic the bosses would socialise with the workers, which wouldn’t have typically happened at the office or factory (Mitchell 1995: 20).

 

Christmas holidays at Wainoni, Christchurch, watching the Punch and Judy show [Jan. 1906]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0066.

Christmas holidays at Wainoni, Christchurch, watching the Punch and Judy show [Jan. 1906]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0066.

 

Christmas in the new frontier may have meant an additional challenge for some of these early female settlers who came from the higher social classes of England. Many may have been required to learn to cook for the first time since arriving on new shores – such women would have been accustomed to the services of a cook in England, but the scarcity of servants in New Zealand meant that this luxury was not guaranteed for all (Burton 2013).  Imagine if this year, you had to cook your Christmas dinner using only the cooking equipment that our ancestors used here in the 1800s! We have found a few pieces of food preparation and cooking equipment during our field work – some of these are not too dissimilar to what we use today (often just replacing similar ceramic designs with stainless steel or plastic versions). But something you might not expect is the preparation of your plum pudding in a metal cauldron! Such vessels were not only utilised for witches’ spells or storing leprechaun treasure, but for stovetop cooking as well.

 

A selection of food preparation equipment found in central Christchurch. Clockwise from left: enamel pot, drainer, colander, egg timer?, milk pan.

A selection of food preparation equipment found in central Christchurch. Clockwise from left: enamel pot, drainer, colander, egg timer? and milk pan.

A metal cauldron from central Christchurch. Image: S. Canton. Here is an 1843 exert from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol on how a cauldron like this may have been used to make a traditional Christmas pudding: "Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day! It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner's at the same time, with a laundry nest door. Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvelous pudding!" - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843).

A metal cauldron from central Christchurch. Image: S. Canton. Here is an 1843 exert from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol on how a cauldron like this may have been used to make a traditional Christmas pudding: “Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day! It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner’s at the same time, with a laundry nest door. Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvelous pudding!” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843).

 

Arguably, the most useful innovations for the cooking of your traditional Christmas roast dinner would be the coal ranges specifically designed for New Zealand’s sub-bituminous and lignite coal. The Shacklock Orion range, developed in 1873, had a shallow firebox, drawing in extra air to stop the ovens smoking, a problem with previous models. These ovens were hugely successful and remained a popular piece of kitchen equipment until the 1940s (Burton 2013).

 

Advertisement for Orion cooking range. (Southland Times 01/01/1898:1)

Advertisement for Orion cooking range (Southland Times 01/01/1898:1).

 

Another of most helpful of cooking innovations would have been the rotary type egg beater. These first appeared in the 1850s but were popularised by the Dover Egg Beater (patented in 1873). These types of beaters enabled the user beat eggs in five seconds, or to quickly whip the egg whites into stiff peaks (for your pavlova?). Before this time, eggs were beaten in a shallow earthenware pan with two forks strapped together, “a broad-bladed knife or clean switches, peeled and dried”. This was a time consuming arduous task!

 

Advertisement for a rotary style egg beater. (Manawatu Herald 8/06/1880: 1)

Advertisement for a rotary style egg beater (Manawatu Herald 8/06/1880: 1).

 

Lastly, just while we are on the subject of whipping egg whites into stiff peaks at Christmas time – this may be the perfect opportunity to put to rest the trans-Tasman dispute of the origin of the humble pav… In 2008, Professor Helen Leach of Otago University established that in 1929, New Zealand beat out Australia by publishing the first creamy meringue cake recipe called pavlova. An Australian newspaper had published a pavlova recipe slightly earlier, but it was a four layered jelly dessert (Leach 2008).  So argument over? It would seem not. It was rather trendy to name fluffy deserts after Miss Pavlova in the 1920s, but prior to her pirouetting onto our dinner tables in the early 20th century, it seems that the idea of a meringue cake served with fruit and cream was something that the Germans and Americans had been devouring for quite some time. German people who had emigrated to America took with them the idea of a schaum torte (or foam cake). Duryea Maizena (an American cornflour company), ran with this concept and printed a similar recipe to our pavlova on the back of their corn-starch packets, and these were imported into New Zealand as early as the 1890s (Eleven 2015, Otago Daily Times 28/07/1896: 3).  This product was advertised in our newspapers with a very simple yet mysterious advertisement: “Use Duryea’s Maizena” (it’s all about the subliminal messages). Simple yet effective? Maybe with a catchier jingle we would have remembered to attribute this earlier version of pav to Duryea’s, and confined the Christmas bickering to the family dinner table.

 

Merry Christmas!

By Chelsea Dickson

 

 

 

References

Burton, D., 2013. ‘Cooking – Cooking technology’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/cooking/page-1 (accessed 15 December 2016).

Clarke, A., 2007. Holiday Seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand. Auckland University Press.

Eleven, B. 2015. ‘Pavlova research reveals dessert’s shock origins’. Good Food. [online] available at: http://www.goodfood.com.au/eat-out/news/pavlova-research-reveals-desserts-shock-origins-20151010-gk5yv9

Leach, H. 2008. The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History. Otago University Press.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2014. A day off for Christmas. [online] available at: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/christmas-day-holiday, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-May-2014.

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

Swarbrick, N., ‘Public holidays – Easter, Christmas and New Year’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-holidays/page-2 (accessed 12 December 2016).