A selection of the most interesting bits and pieces we’ve been working with recently here in Christchurch.
A selection of the most interesting bits and pieces we’ve been working with recently here in Christchurch.
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).
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.
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…
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 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.
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).
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!
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.
By Chelsea Dickson
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).
It is interesting to consider how we are influenced by an intangible map of our senses and emotions tied to our place in the world. We pay little attention to how we feel walking around a familiar neighbourhood, looking at an iconic heritage building in town, or going to a public event. Yet on any given day these experiences can be very different for each person. Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog post: phenomenology and heritage. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but bear with me, I shall explain.
We often take for granted how we easily navigate through the city. We know to walk on the pavement, where to park our cars, the correct entry and exit points in a building. We practice our manners and courtesies and grumble when others make social faux pas. We live in this environment, entertaining, navigating and living in and around buildings without so much as a second thought. Phenomenology is the study of how we understand and interact with our environment. It has its origins in the study of philosophy. Philosophers Kant, Husserl and Heidegger first defined and elaborated on the subject, and it has been expanded upon through many other studies. For more (light) reading on this, have a look at Wells’ website on phenomenology, which gives a very concise run down on a very heady subject.
If we were to think about the identity of Christchurch, words which spring to my mind are as follows English, earthquakes, gardens, heritage and traffic (Figure 1). Some of you might agree with them instantly, or disagree entirely, but how did I form this vision of Christchurch? My experience is based on my knowledge of history and stories, my activities and memories created here, and assumptions formulated in my youth. This personal memory bank (without delving into the psychological theory of memories) influences the decisions I make, both consciously and unconsciously.My interest is in how people interact with heritage spaces and buildings, particularly how we interpret these spaces when we visit and participate in activities within them. My experience is different to yours, his, hers and theirs. It is this idea of experience and interpretation that feeds into phenomenological studies. Heritage buildings can be controversial (see the cathedral). They are seen through many different lenses and different eyes. People want them propped up, or torn down, others couldn’t care less about them. This begs many questions: Are heritage buildings relevant, vibrant community spaces? Are they mere sad relics of a by-gone era? White elephants in a world of progress? What is the point in keeping them? What do they say to people? Can everyone read them?
In Christchurch and wider New Zealand, gothic architecture is an indicator of local and national identity. Where heritage buildings are preserved, there is an emphasis on identity and community, based on the idea that these buildings reflect where we came from and form a picture of the place. The Arts Centre (as it is now known) is a collection of buildings constructed between 1877 and 1965 to house the educational sector of Christchurch, including the University College, the boy’s and girl’s schools, and the music and arts colleges (Figure 2, Figure 3). This was the primary campus for education before the university was relocated to Ilam in the 1970s.We have been involved with monitoring the strengthening and restoration project at the Arts Centre for several years. During our most recent work at the Arts Centre we found the remains of the ‘Tin Shed’ as it was nicknamed – the first science building constructed in Christchurch, built for the chemistry department, (Figure 5, Figure 6, Figure 7). The building was demolished in 1916, and it has largely been forgotten in history, except for a fleeting connection to Ernest Rutherford – who spent his formative years studying chemistry in the building. When we were recording the remaining piles and external foundations, I began to wonder – what do we value when it comes to our history? The archaeology in question was mostly removed, save for some sections of concrete foundations and a few piles that were able to be left in situ. This was a practical solution as the services were not able to be redirected and were vital to the endurance of the standing buildings (Figure 8). It was disappointing, but the above ground history is the most visible component of heritage and so is perceived as the principal component. This points to a dislocation from many parts of the story, especially the ordinary, unexciting bits. People aren’t campaigning to save drains or utilitarian buildings even if they are protected under our legislation. We have these magnificent buildings to symbolise our past and authenticate our identity. So where does the rest of the story and the archaeology fit in?
There are many studies that use phenomenology to explore the idea of place and history. Wells and Baldwin used two different neighbourhoods (one historic, the other a modern development) to examine what made the place feel “local” to the participants in the study (Figure 9, Figure 10, Wells and Baldwin, 2012). They used interviews and photographic survey to explore sense of place and feelings towards heritage. Where the character buildings of the suburbs were championed in the orthodox descriptions of the area, as defining the ‘feel’ or identity of the place, the participants came up with different answers. It wasn’t the buildings themselves that enhanced that neighbourhood, but the collective environment (warts and all). Walls, trees, and fountains became key for the identity of the place. The sense of place was reinforced by imaginative and taken for granted features.
Other studies about museum and tourist experiences and even local views on neighbourhood identity tell a similar story: much of what we identify in our environment is unique to our own experience, memories and imagination (Hughey-Cockerall et al. 2014, Kowalczyk, 2014). Emotional attachment to a place validated it in the eyes of the visitors. Past and future events, small details and forgotten things are highlighted in this approach and point to the value of the experience.
You might argue being impartial and presenting a singular story means that it makes all experiences equal, making it enjoyable for all. But if you take the emotion out of the city it blocks our perception (positive or negative) and generates the apathy currently influencing discussions about Christchurch and heritage. Perhaps it is time for emotion to be dragged into the commercial sector and public engagement – shining a light on the ordinary things so that we get a broader picture. This means giving all avenues of evidence equal weight: subsurface archaeology, architecture and historical narratives and documents, and examining our attitudes towards it all.
Why should it matter? It matters in the sense that heritage buildings in Christchurch and wider New Zealand are always thought of in terms of value and mostly monetary value. With the focus on the dollar sign, are we losing some of the meaning when it comes to symbols of our past? Christchurch demonstrates that it is not simply a case of demolishing the “old dungers”. The desire to retain and use these buildings is admirable, and draws many sectors of the community. The impetus to redefine Christchurch and retain the heritage is at the heart of the rebuild efforts. There are many people concerned with taking back the identity of the city- so that everyone can feel at home or welcome. There should be more discussion about what makes Christchurch ‘Christchurch’. We should pay attention to what people feel when they walk down the street and into a building. We should study how we can enhance that. If we look at the work of Katie Pickles and Fiona Farrell – they have articulated what makes this city Christchurch, and how the earthquake has affected that. An articulated phenomenological approach would validate heritage buildings through the experience of a multitude of people. Such an approach would renegotiate the urban landscape into an inspiring, vibrant setting to live in.
Farrell, Fiona, 2015. The Villa at the edge of the empire, one hundred ways to read a city. Vintage, Auckland.
Hughey-Cockerell, A., et al. 2014. Developing a sense of place in St Albans. Unpublished draft report for St Albans Residents Association. Accessed [online].
Kowalczyk, A., 2014. The phenomenology of tourism space. Turyzm 24 (1). Accessed [online] www.deepdyve.com
Pickles, K., 2016. Christchurch Ruptures. Bridget Williams Books Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand.
Strange, G., 1994. The Arts Centre of Christchurch, then and now. Clerestory Press Christchurch, N.Z.
Wells, J. C., & Baldwin, E. D. (2012). Historic preservation, significance, and age value: A comparative phenomenology of historic Charleston and the nearby new-urbanist community of I’On. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(4), 384-400.
Wikipedia, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27On,_Mount_Pleasant,_South_Carolina
It is a well-known truth, in this office at least, that archaeology and whisky go well together. Or, perhaps more accurately, that archaeologists and whisky go well together. With a few exceptions (you know who you are, gin drinkers), it is not at all uncommon to find yourself in the company of an archaeologist with a fine appreciation for a single malt (or two, or three). With that in mind, it’s a bit of a wonder that we haven’t thought to write a blog post combining the two before now (honestly, archaeology and whisky are two of my favourite things, what were we thinking).
It won’t surprise any of our readers, I think, to hear that alcohol bottles are one of the most common artefacts we find on 19th century sites (here in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand). Despite the temperance movement in the late 19th century and the many discussions and testimonies about the evils of the demon drink, alcohol remained a popular product. As with the gin bottles we discussed a while back, however, it can be difficult to know exactly which types of alcohol were originally contained in these bottles – unless we have a label or embossing (and even then, these bottles were reused over and over again for a variety of products). Fortunately for this post, as it happens, we’ve been lucky enough to find a few examples that do have labels, each with their own story to tell about whisky consumption in Christchurch.
Papers Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Townsend, B., 2015. Scotch Missed: The Original Guide to the Lost Distilleries of Scotland. Neil Wilson Publishing, England.
The first feeling that strikes everyone on coming to New Zealand is its intense want of animal life. Mountains, plains, rivers, – mere features without a soul; for you can hardly dignify the miserable ground lark, the wailing weka, or the ghoul-like eel with such a title.
– Lyttelton Times 18/02/1864: 5
When I first read the above quote, taken from a letter to the editor of the Lyttelton Times in 1864, I will admit to doing a double take. Then, to a sense of outrage and a strange urge to defend the ‘soulless’ landscape and wildlife of New Zealand from this 150 year old attack on its very being (despite the author of that sentence being unable to hear – or, I suspect, care about – my opinion). It’s such an odd, jarring statement to read about a country that now considers its natural landscape and native wildlife to be a source of pride, a country that places its mountains and plains and rivers at the heart of its national identity. Yet, this sentiment and others like it formed the impetus for one of the most influential colonial endeavours of the 19th century, one that irrevocably changed the land in which we live – to an extent that most of us don’t fully realise.
It went by the name of ‘acclimatisation’ and consisted of the deliberate introduction of “beasts, birds, fishes, and vegetable productions, of such species as may be acclimatised with probable advantage to this province and to the colony” (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2). In New Zealand, and the rest of the British colonial world, the acclimatisation movement was largely driven by ‘Acclimatisation Societies’, who made it their mission to improve the plant and animal life of the lands they had chosen to settle. Basically, they imported a bunch of animals into the country from all over the world in a venture that seems to have been part scientific curiosity, part hunger, part boredom and part an apparently inescapable need to rectify the “remarkable deficiency” of local wildlife.
There is perhaps no country in the world the natural zoology of which supplies so little to the subsistence or enjoyment of its inhabitants, as New Zealand. Of game there is almost none; quail, formerly plentiful, have nearly disappeared; pigeons and kakas are to be found only in the woods; ducks, eels and wild pigs complete the list. And if there are so few useful animals, those which add to the grace and enjoyment of life are scarcer still; of singing birds there are but the tui tui and the bell bird; neither of them ever heard, except in the neighbourhood of the forests…If, however, we turn from land to water, the inducements to engage in this enterprise are greater still. Our great snow rivers are absolutely without fish…At present, such rivers as the Waimakariri, the Rakaia or the Rangitata are worse than useless, obstructing travelling without assisting navigation.
– Press 17/08/1861: 1 (emphasis mine)
The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was first formed in 1864, modelled on the example of the London society, which aimed to introduce animals from the colonies into England, and the Victorian society, which aimed to introduce English and other colonial animals into Australia. Societies already existed in Auckland and Otago and the Canterbury branch followed in their footsteps, with the same stated intention of improving the fauna of the new colony (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2).
Early supporters and members included some of the more well-known names of the early settlement, including Edward Wakefield, Sir John Cracroft Wilson, William Guise Brittan, Joseph Brittan, W. L. Travers, William Rolleston, William Sefton Moorhouse and John Edward Fitzgerald. Some of these men had already made their own individual efforts to introduce new species to New Zealand. William Guise Brittan had imported several ‘English singing birds’, as had John Watts-Russell. Sir John Cracroft Wilson had apparently made “an attempt…on a scale of oriental magnificence to introduce the game from the North of India” (Press 17/08/1861: 1). While their stated intention included the practical provision of food for the colony, their emphasis seems to have largely been on the aesthetic and sporting (i.e. hunting and fishing) advantages of acclimatisation.
It is worth noting – in fact, important to note – that the acclimatisation societies of New Zealand weren’t the first to introduce new animals into New Zealand. Sealers, whalers, missionaries and early European visitors to the country brought with them chicken and pigs and sheep and other animals for food and companionship. Sir George Grey, the early governor of the colony, had his own collection of exotic birds and other creatures that he had imported into the country. And, of course, long before all of this, Māori had brought kiore (the Pacific rat), kurī (dog), kūmara and the ‘Polynesian suite’ of cultigens with them when they first arrived on these shores. For as long as humans have been moving around the world, they’ve been modifying the fauna and flora of the places they visit. The thing about the acclimatisation societies, though, that I think is worth emphasising, is that they were part of an organised, concerted and deliberate effort to change – to improve – the ecology of the country. It wasn’t just a hobby or a side effect of human migration. It was a bonafide movement.
Here in New Zealand, the species they introduced (and must take the blame for) include a selection of birds, fish, mammals, rodents and other creatures (bees!) – many of them now considered pests. Many of them were considered pests within a one or two decades of their introduction, to be honest. Some of them were creatures you might not have thought of as imported species, such as Ligurian bees (from Italy), bumble bees (sometimes referred to as ‘humble bees’) and lobsters. The article I found on lobsters begins with the sentence “Mr Purvis, chief engineer of the Iconic, has succeeded in bringing nine lobsters alive out of twelve” (Star 19/10/1892: 3). Well done, Mr Purvis, well done.
Birds seem to have been a particular area of interest and focus, which seems odd for an ecosystem already constructed around avian life. As well as game birds, like pheasants, quail, ducks and geese, there was an effort to introduce singing birds (clearly, Joseph Banks’ deafening dawn chorus of 1770 had lost its voice by the 1860s) and, to be honest, as many birds as they damn well could. Interestingly, the introduction of birds wasn’t a one-way street: there’s at least one account in 1872 of a shipment of 1000 tui, wax-eyes and parroquets from New Zealand to England (and a return shipment of English birds to this country).
Some of the birds introduced to New Zealand included the chukor (an Indian game bird), the magpie (thanks Australia, thanks a lot), the laughing jackass (amusingly mentioned in the papers as the Australian jackass), Virginian quail, Canadian geese, Teneriffe grouse, chickens from Kansas, swans, sparrows and German owls. The German owls are possibly my favourite, because the acclimatisation of German owls in the 19th century had turned into the GERMAN OWL MENACE by the 1930s (and yes, the caps are entirely necessary). So much so that the Canterbury association was indignant when the papers suggested that they were responsible for releasing more owls into the wild. A close second would have been the “peculiarly inoffensive” emu named Jack, who terrorised horses by trying to fraternise with them all the way back in 1865.
There was also a strong emphasis on the introduction of fish, especially trout and salmon, into the otherwise “useless” rivers of the Canterbury plains. Millions of fish were “liberated” into the streams and rivers of the district , born from ova shipped into Lyttelton from all over the world and raised in purpose-built fish ponds in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We excavated the site of the fish-ponds a while back, but there was nothing left of what was once the gateway for Canterbury’s freshwater fish populations (the Otago ones do still exist, though, and have been the subject of some cool archaeological projects over the last few years).
As well as the birds and the fishes, however, there were the beasts. Let us not forget the beasts. Possums and rabbits and deer, oh my. Polecats, even. There appear to have been wildly differing levels of success with mammals and rodents. Some, like the kangaroo or the “game from the north of India” attempted by Cracroft Wilson, weren’t hugely successful. Others, like rabbits (described as ‘evil’ as early as the 1870s), possums, hares, deer and, of course, sheep, took to New Zealand in a flash. Most of them were imported as game, rather than food (with a couple of obvious exceptions). Yes, that’s right. We have so many possums and rabbits because it seemed like a fun idea at the time.
And when I say ‘in a flash’, it’s almost an understatement. Some of their greatest successes very quickly became their greatest headaches. By 1876, the New Zealand government had to pass the Rabbit Nuisance Act in response to the success of that species. By 1882, societies were recommending that hares be killed all year round rather than just during specific seasons. By 1898 they were suggesting that people could do so without a license. By the turn of the century there were suggestions for some measure of governmental control over the power of societies and individuals to import “animals or birds that might become nuisances to the community” (Press 23/05/1894: 5) and by the mid-20th century it was generally acknowledged that many of these introduced species had done irreparable damage to the native and other introduced species of New Zealand. Let’s not forget the German Owl Menace, everybody. At the same time, despite the increasing awareness of the problems of introduced species evident among acclimatisation societies as the decades progressed, they didn’t stop doing it, even importing other species to deal with problematic ones (why hello, stoats and ferrets).
I find the whole notion of acclimatisation societies quite weird to wrap my head around, to be honest. Especially in light of the biosecurity that is now so much a part of New Zealand life. Yet, the effects of their work are everywhere. If we look at it from an archaeological perspective the efforts of these societies are present in every assemblage of animal bones we excavate from 19th century sites in Christchurch – chicken, duck, sheep, cow, pig, horse, turkey, cat, rat, goose or dog, they’re all there.
We don’t even blink at them most of the time, because we’re so used – so ‘acclimatised’ – to having these species around. They’re a part of our normal, a statement that says as much about how much the Acclimatisation Society of Canterbury (and its brethren throughout the country) changed and constructed our present day world as anything else I’ve written here. Because 150 years ago, like the settlers who brought them here, these animals were very much strangers in a foreign land. And their impact, like the impact of the colonial settlement itself (and all colonial settlements), has changed this land forever, for better or for worse. You be the judge.
 “Hmm, I wonder if these ones will survive?”
 “They wanted practically to benefit the country by increasing the food of the people, and a plant or an animal that would not thrive on the ordinary conditions of English life and cultivation was of no use to them” (Lyttlelton Times 4/12/1861: 4).
 “What ho, old chap, where’s all the fish and game at?”