Discovering Christchurch’s Classical past

Being a Roman archaeologist by trade, wherever I go in the world I seem to sniff out some classical antiquities. Some call it a talent, some call it an obsession (I’ll leave that to you to decide…). There’s something about the ancient civilisations that get me really excited and if I’ve had a tough day on a muddy site in the freezing cold New Zealand winter I go home and grab my copy of Tacitus (or watch an episode of the BBC’s ‘Rome’ –  it’s all about balance, right?) to remind me why I fell in love with archaeology.

Me, sat outside my idea of heaven: Ara Pacis Augustae, Rome. Sometimes watching Gladiator suffices though. Image: Colin Davidson.

I was exceptionally lucky to grow up right next to Hadrian’s Wall in the North East of England, so I’ve been surrounded by classical influences my entire life. This is quite likely why I wanted to go on to study it at a higher level. When I was studying Roman archaeology at Newcastle University I actually got to dig on Hadrian’s Wall a few times, so I count myself very fortunate. Moving to the opposite side of the world (literally), I have encountered a very different type of archaeology, which I love experiencing in equal measure. But I need my classical fix. Que the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re about to.

Hadrian’s Wall; once the northern boundary of the Roman Empire and keeping out those uncivilised Scots (sorry Dad). Image: Creative Commons

Now Christchurch wouldn’t be the first place I would think of when I’m wistfully daydreaming of Ancient Rome or Athens but I was wrong (shocking, I know). The University of Canterbury offers an outstanding opportunity to get up close to artefacts from the Ancient World in the form of the Teece Museum, now located in the UC Arts Building in the CBD. While visiting the museum is free, donations are strongly recommended – not only because we need to keep funding our arts and heritage sectors (I won’t start ranting, don’t worry), but because the museum itself has its origins in just that activity; donating. The James Logie Collection came from a single donor, Miss Marion Steven, in 1957. And from here the story of classical antiquities in Christchurch has grown. The collection was the ‘brainchild’ of UC Classics staff member Marion Steven (pictured below, exploring Rome a bit like myself), whose passion for Greek pottery provided the foundation for the Logie Collection. She taught at the University between 1944 and 1977 and married James Logie, Registrar of the College from 1950 until his death in 1956. The collection was established as a tribute to her husband and since then has been a commemoration to both James and Marion.

Miss Marion Steven, Rome, c.1970. Image: Copyright UC.

The story of classical antiquities in Christchurch is, however, fairly different to most places. When the 6.2 magnitude 2011 Canterbury Earthquake struck, artefacts literally jumped and turned (apparently the CCTV footage is quite something). The quakes resulted in around three quarters of the collection being damaged, but (luckily) there was no water or fire damage. If there had been, I would be telling a very different story right now. What astounds me the most about Christchurch in general are the positive perspectives that people have taken from the rebuild process, and meeting with Terri Elder (the collection’s curator who joined the team post-quake), provided me with yet another example of this. What we often don’t think about when visiting museums is the stuff that’s kept in storage. Only a small proportion of a collection is shown at any time. New exhibitions are always being put together and the artefacts that aren’t currently on display are kept in storage. Whilst the earthquake caused major issues for collection, they’ve taken the time to learn from what happened and make improvements to the storage alongside the repair of the artefacts, many of which had historic repairs that were not up to current conservatory standards.

Storage units for museums and archives are usually  large rolling units (seen below).This rolling design allows you to open one ‘corridor’ at a time and therefore doesn’t waste space in between shelves (like  a library for example). While this method is a necessity to save valuable space, I’m sure you’ll agree that  rolling units with valuable objects and earthquakes don’t really mix. While no significant damage happened to the collection that was in storage, lessons were nonetheless learnt. These lessons resulted in modifications to the storage, such as the straps across the shelves which are designed to catch and stop the boxes from falling to the floor in the event of another quake. In addition, the units all lock into place when you open them to prevent users becoming trapped between the units.

The storage units with the post-earthquake modifications. Image: Copyright UC.

As an immediate reaction following the quake, the collection was to be packed away in its entirety. This, which could be perceived as a step backwards, oddly turned into a positive for the museum as it meant that schools visiting the collection in the period after the quakes got to handle the collection because it was in storage rather than on display behind a glass case. The collection began to be used in a more hands-on manner, which makes the artefacts (as well as the time period they came from) more real and vibrant to those learning about them.  There’s often a perception that artefacts in museums aren’t to be handled, and while that’s true for the pieces on display in cases, artefacts are constantly  handled when curators, researchers and archaeologists are learning more about them.

Another positive taken from this situation was the opportunity to remove historic repairs that weren’t up to scratch, which often included staples and discoloured glues. Since these original repairs had been done, the conservation industry has moved forward in leaps and bounds. The new repairs (an example of can be seen below) are all reversible. Now that’s pretty neat. And yes, the artefacts have suffered more fractures during the recent quake but in my humble opinion these new fractures are a new addition  to the story; it was once whole, then lost and forgotten (and likely broken), then found by archaeologists (or collectors), repaired and put on display, and then caught up in the Canterbury Quakes. This is just another stepping stone in the life of an artefact.

Conservator at work on a dog mosaic. Image: Copyright UC.

Before and after treatment of a black-figure lip cup. Image: JLMC 1.53, Copyright UC.

If improvements to the storage and artefacts weren’t enough, the space in which we can now see the collection has had an upgrade too! Pictured below, the space at UC Arts Building now features cases fixed to the wall, with thick safety glass. The cases in the middle are moveable, but there are latches throughout the space that they can be attached to, so with every changing exhibition the space changes but remains safe. Within every case each artefact has a unique mount inside, invisible to the museum visitor, but designed hold the item steady in the event of more earthquakes. None of this was in place prior to 2011, so you’re able to see (or at least visualise) how hard Terri and the team have worked to make the space safe and useable.

Interior view of the Teece Museum gallery. Image: Copyright UC. Photographer Duncan Shaw Brown.

I may be a tad bias, but I think we’re exceptionally lucky to have a collection such as this in Christchurch and, with it now being housed within the CBD, there’s really no excuse not to go along and have a look for yourself. The Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities is located on Level 1 of the UC Arts city building (Old Chemistry) at 3 Hereford Street, in the historic Christchurch Arts Centre. The museum is open to the public Wednesday through to Sunday from 11am to 3pm. See you there!

 

Contact the museum:

Email: teecemuseum@canterbury.ac.nz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teecemuseum/

Instagram: www.instagram.com/teecemusem/

 

Special thanks to Terri Elder and the Teece Museum for their help in making this blog post possible.

Kathy Davidson

Under the ground, over the ground and under the floor

Underfloor deposits are as exasperating as they are exciting. Exasperating because the context is not particularly secure: objects usually accumulate under a house over time (thrown or swept from the outside, lost or dropped between the floorboards, dragged in by wind, animals or as result of construction activities). However, every cloud has a silver lining and underfloor deposits are also exciting. The dry conditions under the houses help preserve different types of artefacts to those found in the ground. As a result, underfloor deposits give us the chance to deal with well-preserved and unusual goods, which increases our knowledge about Victorian domestic culture. Always a good thing.

It can also be difficult to associate the objects from underfloor deposits with the people who used to live in the house (the artefacts usually represent a wide range of material culture, from the mid-19th century to the 20th century), unless we happen across a site where the archaeological and historical record are miraculously in alignment. In the case I’m going to talk about today, that alignment happened thanks to personal items that the occupants had lost beneath the floors of their house.

Site prior to the removal of foundations, looking east. Heaps of artefacts were found under the floor of a house in Sydenham during the works related to the demolition, foundation removal and site clearance. Image: J. Hughes.

A huge number of artefacts were scattered across the ground under the back four rooms of the house. We don’t know exactly when the house was built – all the available evidence suggests that it was during the late 19th century, but we do know that it was subsequently renovated. This means that this material may have accumulated over time under the original building and the subsequent renovations during this period. We also know that one particular family – the Rantin family – are known to have lived in this part of Southampton Street from 1883 until the mid-20th century (Press, 20/10/1896; Press 11/02/1933: 22).

James and Caroline Rantin celebrated their silver wedding in their house at Southampton Street in 1896. About 50 people were invited and derived from the description, it looks like a big social event! (Press 20/10/1896).

Overall, the assemblage was typical of a domestic context, including bottles, tea and table wares, animal bones and other stuff related to household activities, personal grooming and garments. As well as illustrating affairs of daily life, all genders and ages are present in this assemblage: men, women, children! Fantastic!

A common ‘twirly’ salad oil bottle, but unusual because of the label. WARDELL BROS & Co TEA, COFFEE AND SPICES MERCHANTS CHRISTCHURCH, DUNEDIN & WELLINGTON were three brothers: John, William, Thomas and Henry Wardell, grocers and provision merchants. Their business was established in 1887 in Christchurch, while the Wellington branch was opened in 1893. They also had a Dunedin branch, although the dates for this are unclear (The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1897). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

This castor oil bottle has a paper label that probably represented  C. and E. Morton (sons of the well-known J. T Morton company). This was originally a Scottish firm, founded in Aberdeen in 1849. By the 1860s Morton was a general provider and stocked a wide range of foodstuffs such as cheese, confectionery, corn, preserved provisions, sauces, vinegar and salt, but also apparel, books, soap and candles. Charles and Edward Morton took over their father’s company after his death in 1898 (Petchey and Innanchai 2012: 9; Graces Guide 2017). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Bay Rum was a refreshing and invigorating tonic for the hair – this particular example was manufactured and sold by Henry Arthur Papprill. His remedies were widely advertised on New Zealand newspaper during the second decade of the 20th century (Star 10/11/1913: 2; Press 6/8/1925: 6). Although primarily marketed as a hair product, Bay Rum was also used for other personal grooming issues, from skin beautification to the relief of tired feet (Bruce Herald 29/11/1898). A bit of concern about personal care and beauty, I’m guessing… Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

We’ve showed you this splendid example of recycling before on the blog. This ‘Greys’ cigarette box has been cut and reused as a shopping list, a better purpose than its original function by the way! A range of items can be read: butter, sugar, eggs, biscuits, soda, cornflour, cookies, jellies, fruit… Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Not just an affordable and simple pipe, but also one with a story to it. This smoking pipe commemorates 60 years of Victoria’s reign in 1897, while the mark refers to John McPhee, a Dunedin pipe maker from a family of Scottish pipe manufacturers. John McPhee started to make clay tobacco pipes in Dunedin around 1890 until 1908 (White 2016: 27). The McPhees appear to have been the first New Zealand clay pipe makers (White 2016: 27-28). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Anchor button. It was two-piece dome with an embossed fouled (as in, the rope twisted around it) anchor and a separate shank. It is likely to have been a cuff button, possibly associated with a navy uniform. Rather than being stitched onto the coat or jacket, these buttons were attached by a split pin, facilitating removal for cleaning, or a change of season (Lindbergh 1999: 52). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Yarn, a bobbin, an unidentified piece of fabric and one shell button were also found under the house. Spinning, sewing, mending and remaking garments, as well as marking sheets, towels, and other linens was a regular component of household work done or overseen by women (Beaudry 2006: 5). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

A perfect complement. This handbag made of leather with a metal closure and decorative stitching. Trendy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries or perhaps, just a choice according to the personal taste. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

MATHER’S INFANTS FEEDING BOTTLE LONDON MANCHESTER. This type of baby feeder was known as ‘murder’ feeder, due to the difficulty of cleaning the lid. Hygiene and related difficulties were counteracted by disinfectants, medicines or even homemade remedies (Otago Witness 15/02/1879). During the 19th century, artificial feeding became extremely popular, in part to address the lack of wet nurses. The discoveries of Pasteur and the subsequent techniques for sterilising feeding bottles improved the sanitary risks associated with artificial feeding. The use of feeding bottles became widespread: they were initially made from pewter, tin plate, earthenware and porcelain, with glass bottles gradually becoming popular from the latter decades of the 19th century onwards (Alimentarium 2016). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

So far, we have a selection of cool and interesting objects. However, we don’t yet have any direct association with the Rantin family. So, let’s demonstrate why this underfloor deposit is special.

First of all, the association of the assemblage with Rantin family is clearly evident from the appearance of the name of James Rantin on a few artefacts relating to his business and occupation as timber merchant like the bill and rebate book exposed below. His wife Caroline was the ‘executrix’ of the business until 1907, when her sons Thomas James and William Rantin took over the company as timber and coal merchants, under the name Rantin Bros (Press 3/12/1907: 1).

Top left: bill dating to July 1903 and addressed by post to James Rantin from the coal, firewood and general merchants, George McClatchie and Co. Bottom left: J. Rantin’s rebate book dating from 1897 to 1898. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Press 3/12/1907:1.

Even more intriguingly, what looks like a baseball set was also found under the house, consisting of a rubber ball and a wooden bat. This is not a common find in Christchurch archaeological sites per se, making them quite interesting artefacts just by themselves. However, a name was also written on the bat… To be honest, the name is illegible, we only figured out the surname. This was enough though, as the visible word read ‘Ratin’. The ‘n’ lacks, but we are pretty sure that it’s just an innocent bad spelling made by a child.

Baseball was played in Christchurch during the late 19th century (Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016). In fact, there were two baseball clubs in Christchurch by 1889, with the aim of providing a winter sport for cricketers who did not want to play rugby. In the early 20th century the interest in baseball was revived due to the Canadian visitors to the New Zealand International Exhibition in 1906, 1907, 1909 and 1910 (Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016). In addition, this baseball set is cool and valuable as indicates the presence of children on this site. Through play, young children were taught roles that would be important in later life. For example, emphasis on sport was particularly important for boys, who were expected to exercise their rougher instincts through play, so that they were able to behave respectably in the company of women. Girls were usually given dolls instead, in an effort to encourage maternal instincts (Prangnell and Quirck 2009: 42).

Top left: a detail of the surname Ra[n]tin written on the bat. Rubber ball with the world map engraved on it and the wooden baseball bat. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

What else do we need as archaeologists? Nothing at all! No mysteries this time. The Rantin family’s belongings accumulated under this house for decades, and it is these lost things that tell us about their lives. At this stage, we know that James and Caroline Rantin had children. And yes, their sons and daughters were Thomas James, William, Elizabeth, Emily and Caroline. A few other conclusions can be also drawn about Rantin Family. For instance, there is a possible association with the navy derived from the anchor button (or just a special affection for naval emblems). Perhaps Thomas James or William, both of whom were Canterbury soldiers during the First World War (Star 11/12/1918: 5; Otago Daily Times 12/01/1917: 3). A particular passion for the monarchy or a royalist attitude is suggested by the presence of a pipe celebrating Queen Victoria’s reign (not unusual for this period), which otherwise makes evident the habit of smoking. Products like Bay Rum show a concern for hair care and maintenance, or perhaps for the appearance in front of the judgmental eyes of society. From mundane affairs to personal traits, this is an excellent example of life in a Christchurch house back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Either way, the discovery of this assemblage was a fortunate day in the life of Underground Overground Archaeology. A piece of cake! Thanks to the fascinating underfloor archaeology indeed…

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Alimentarium, 2016 [online] Available at https://www.alimentarium.org [Accessed March 2018].

Beaudry, M.C., 2006. Findings the material culture of needlework and sewing. Yale University Press. New Haven, London.

Bruce Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Lindbergh, J., 1999. Buttoning Down Archaeology. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 17: 50-57.

Otago Witness [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Petchey, P. and Innanchai, J., 2012. Bottle Top Capsules in New Zealand Historic Archaeological Sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, Vol.3: 1-16.

Prangnell, J. and Quirk, K., 2009. Growing up on the Australian Goldfields. Historical Archaelogy, Vol. 43: 38-49.

Press [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016 [online] Available at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en [Accessed March 2018].

White, S., 2016. The McPhees, New Zealand’s First Clay Pipemakers. Archaeology in New Zealand. New Zealand Archaeological Association, Vol.59, No 3: 10-28.

Touring the past

It seems almost expected now that many of us will go on semi-frequent overseas jaunts and visit the spectacular local scenery that New Zealand has to offer. However, most of us probably don’t often think about when these destinations became tourist hotspots, or what holidays were like for the early settler “tourists” of New Zealand. Tourism was definitely not something that was initially available to all economic classes and it isn’t something we can easily identify in the archaeological record (click here to see an earlier post about early tourist souvenirs). However, even though the archaeology of a broad concept like tourism might be scarce, we sometimes find physical evidence of things located more on the periphery of tourism. But more about that next week – today we will take a look at how written records and images of destinations and transport links can give us an idea of how some lucky (or plucky) Victorians explored their new home in Aotearoa.

As previously mentioned on the blog, the desire to take a break from colonial city life was probably felt by many of Christchurch’s early inhabitants. The high temperatures of summer and the inadequate sanitation in Christchurch increased heath concerns and diseases. Day excursions out of the city were popular from the 1870s and summertime public holiday expeditions from the central city to the nearby beaches were made readily available to many city folks with the introduction of the tram system. Steam and horse trams were used from 1882, but electric trams made travel more efficient between 1905 and 1954 (after which time buses replaced them on the city routes; Christchurch City Libraries). The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw grandiose train stations being erected around the country to link more destinations together, while (perhaps more importantly), also improving transport routes for goods and trade.

Construction of the electrical tramways in Christchurch [1905]. Laying the lines in High Street. Image: CCL File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0046.

The Temuka railway station [1908]. Designed by George Troup (1863-1941), who was at the time Chief Draughtsman for New Zealand Railways, it was built in 1906. It no longer exists. Image: CCL File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0013

And here’s a similar looking version in Kaiapoi…

Kaiapoi railway station [1908]. Built in 1904, it shows the features, such as porches, turrets and lattice windows, typical to its designer, George Troup (1863-1941). Only one third of the building now remains. Image: CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0014.

A larger quantity of New Zealanders began to obtain more leisure time by the 1920s. Increased wages and the introduction of shorter working weeks gave many workers more of an opportunity to explore New Zealand’s exceptionally beautiful surroundings. With this came the hey-day of rail tourism in the 1920s and 1930s. It was at this time that New Zealanders were quoted as being “the greatest travellers in the world” by Wellington’s Evening Post (Ministry for Culture and Heritage; Evening Post 24/09/1923: 6). The statistics backed up such claims, stating that 21,000 of these “travel minded New Zealanders”  were carried as passengers on trains in the Wellington District alone, during the 1936 Easter period (Evening Post 15/4/1936: 11).

However, even before the boom in the early 20th century, tourism was present here. Some of our ancestors got to witness a few things that we didn’t, namely, what was arguably our best natural scenic attraction – the Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana. These were located in the ‘hot spot’ of Rotorua and were a must-visit destination for the visitors to New Zealand (or those who could afford it), prior to their destruction by the volcanic eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. The local Tūhourangi people were heavily involved with the tourist industry here, protecting the terraces from vandals, and providing food, transport and accommodation for visitors (McClure 2010). But this wasn’t smooth sailing – government intervention stifled Māori initiatives with levies and local Māori also had no interest being personal tourist attractions, as shown when the government constructed a model village to depict Māori lifestyle in 1903 (McClure 2010).

Group of tourists on the White Terraces, circa early 1880s (prior to the 1886 Mount Tarawera Eruption). Photograph taken by Charles S. Spencer. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference Number: PAColl-6075-58.

When travelling west from Christchurch, Aoraki/Mount Cook was the gem of the Mackenzie Country and the first Hermitage Hotel was constructed there in 1895. The mountain had been ascended for the first time the previous year, but the hotel accommodation improved visitor comfort and accessibility to the slopes. This paved the way for more tourists and future mountaineers, some of whom travelled from as far as Great Britain and the continent for the climb (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Amateur photographers were noted among such climbing parties, attracted by the “new and unique series of views” (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Women were also getting in on the action – photographs on display at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch inspired Sydney local, Emmeline Freda Du Faur, to be the first woman to scale the peak. Her 1919 climb was the fastest to that date (Langton 1996). You can learn a great deal more about the early tourism and the archaeology associated with Aoraki/Mount Cook here on one of our previous blogs.

The Hanmer Hot Springs Tea House [1905]. It opened on 21 Nov. 1904 and in the 1904/05 season earned £108. It was a popular and pleasant resort in all weathers. Image: CCL: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0002.

Satisfied customers in 1914 (Fielding Star 4/2/1914: 2).

When travelling west from Christchurch, Aoraki/Mount Cook was the gem of the Mackenzie Country and the first Hermitage Hotel was constructed there in 1895. The mountain had been ascended for the first time the previous year, but the hotel accommodation improved visitor comfort and accessibility to the slopes. This paved the way for more tourists and future mountaineers, some of whom travelled from as far as Great Britain and the continent for the climb (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Amateur photographers were noted among such climbing parties, attracted by the “new and unique series of views” (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Women were also getting in on the action – photographs on display at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch inspired Sydney local, Emmeline Freda Du Faur, to be the first woman to scale the peak. Her 1919 climb was the fastest to that date (Langton 1996). You can learn a great deal more about the early tourism and the archaeology associated with Aoraki/Mount Cook here on one of our previous blogs.

Mt. Cook and the old Hermitage before it was destroyed by flooding in 1913
[ca. 1910]. The original hotel is pictured. This was a 13-roomed house built of cob and completed in 1895. It was situated at the foot of the Mueller Glacier and accommodated about 30 guests. A cage took tourists across the Hooker River to the Tasman glacier. The hotel was damaged by flood in January 1913, and two months later was destroyed beyond repair by a second flood (Press 4/4/1913:4. The Hermitage Mount Cook centennial 1884-1984). Image and caption: CCL File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img00344.

In 1901 the control of the Hermitage Accommodation House passed to the newly formed Dept. of Tourist and Health Resorts. The 1904/05 season saw 175 visitors and earned £924 pounds. Photograph taken 1905 Image: CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0001.

The intrepid kiwi travel spirit is widely felt in our modern society. This ardent idea was clearly passed down through the generations from early pioneers who travelled to the other side of the world to make new homes for themselves. That being said, for the intrepid Victorian traveller, Fiordland must have seemed the most remote and sensational place to visit and it was frequently was – by explorers, hunters, prospectors, sealers and whalers ever since Captain Cook moored in Dusky Sound during 1773. Premier Julius Vogel introduced the New Zealand Forests Bill in 1874, recognising our forest resources as finite and although it didn’t happen until 1952 Fiordland National Park is now New Zealand’s largest conservation area. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 1880s that scientists became concerned that hunting, the introduction of predators, pests and deforestation having a negative impact on our native flora and fauna (Ministry for Culture and Heritage). The caption in the 1884 photograph below says it all: “tourists” make up a hunting party in Dusky Sound – note the woman among them who braving the elements of sun or rain.

Tourists in small boats hunting in Wet Jacket Arm, Dusky Sound, Fiordland [ca. Jan. 1884]. Burton Bros. Image: CCL, File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0006.

Of course, New Zealand pioneer travellers weren’t always confined to their new shores. Their initial journey from Great Britain to the colony was long – 75 to 120 days in a mid-19th century sailing ship, but this was shortened to about 40 days by the 1890s following the introduction of steamers to the British-New Zealand route (Wilson 2005). The faster passage made returning to Great Britain and the continent feasible for an extended period of time or for “the season.” Historically, this was a social time when the leaders of fashionable society returned to London from the country or abroad, including many young women seeking marriage prospects. Local newspaper excerpts from the late Victorian era to the Georgian era record snippets of the comings and goings of the wealthier elite, naming where and with whom they were visiting (Otago Daily Times 10/1/1913 2; Marlborough Express 18/8/1919: 8: Bay of Plenty Times 10/8/1927: Press 13/3/1928: 10). Colonists also took the opportunity to return to their homeland to visit the family they had left behind – such as the Lyttelton couple we met recently on the blog. This tragic story started with a holiday visiting family in the Orkney Islands and ended with a fatal fall from a cliff leaving only a widow to return to Lyttelton alone  (Star 20/8/1890: 3).

But on a nicer note to end – although us modern kiwis may have missed out on the wonder of the Pink and White Terraces, there is still plenty of natural beauty left for us to enjoy. The spectacular landscapes of New Zealand have been commented often in historic newspapers (Otago Daily Times 10/1/1913 2). They have also thankfully been preserved for us through conservation efforts such as Premier Richard Seddon’s 1903 Scenery Preservation Act – his vision for which saw our land not just as an economic resource but a place that had scenic, scientific and historic value (Ministry for Culture and Heritage).

Asked about the South Island on the map he is showing to the American travel agency heads, the government official dismisses it with a yawn. Scales, Sydney Ernest, 1916-2003: That? – nothing there but scenery. Otago Daily Times, 14 January 1954. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library: Reference Number: A-311-4-003.

Tune in next week for the next instalment of the historic tourist industry where we take a look at the archaeological evidence of possible tourist accommodation – specifically hotels and boarding houses.

Safe travels everyone!

 

Chelsea Dickson

References

Langton, G. 1996. ‘Du Faur, Emmeline Freda’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996, updated December, 2005. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3d17/du-faur-emmeline-freda (accessed 2 February 2018).

McClure, M. 2010. ‘Tourist industry – Māori entrepreneurs in Rotorua’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/tourist-industry/page-2 (accessed 31 January 2018)

Wilson, J. 2005. ‘The voyage out – Early steamers’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/the-voyage-out/page-6 (accessed 1 February 2018).

Wilson, J. 2006. ‘Canterbury places – Hanmer and Lewis Pass’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/canterbury-places/page-3 (accessed 1 February 2018).

The acclimatisation affair (or how we learned not to underestimate the power of the possum)

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.

The wailing weka and the ghoul-like eel. Just not good enough, apparently. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The wailing weka and the ghoul-like eel. Just not good enough, apparently. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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[1], part hunger[2], part boredom[3] 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).

Excerpts from a letter about a proposed Acclimatisation Society in Canterbury.

Excerpts from a letter about a proposed Acclimatisation Society in Canterbury. Press 17/08/1861: 1.

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.

crazy menu image

The Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, on the other hand, while also interested in the practical and sporting advantages of new animals, seem to have also had an intense interest in eating as many creatures as they could. This menu, if I may draw your attention to some of the more unusual dishes, included patty of frogs, curried opossum, jugged kangaroo and ‘fricandeau of wombat’. Image: Lyttelton Times 4/12/1861: 4. 

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.

Ligurian bees and a picture of Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume (barely relevant, yet hilarious). Images: Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.

A Ligurian bee and a picture of Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume (barely relevant, yet hilarious). Images: Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.

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.

GERMAN OWL MENACE

GERMAN OWL MENACE. Image: Press 19/07/1935: 22.

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).

A survey plan of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society grounds in 1913, including the fish ponds.

A survey plan of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society grounds in 1913, including the fish ponds. Source: Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) and licensed by LINZ for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence (link is external).

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.

TS18930819.2.45-a2-424w-c32

Yep. Good plan. Image: Star 19/08/1893: 5.

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.

bones

Bones, bones, bones. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

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.

Jessie Garland

[1] “Hmm, I wonder if these ones will survive?”

[2] “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).

[3] “What ho, old chap, where’s all the fish and game at?”

A message in a bottle

Look! Kirsa found a message in a bottle under a house. Here’s how we got the message out.

Following advice from our consultant conservator, Jessie spent half an hour carefully easing out the  cork (all the while worrying the cork would snap off!). Photo: K. Bone.


Following advice from our consultant conservator, Jessie spent half an hour carefully easing out the cork (all the while worrying the cork would snap off!). Photo: K. Bone.

 

 Easy does it: slowly pulling out the cork. Photo: K. Bone.


Easy does it: slowly pulling out the cork. Photo: K. Bone.

 Next step: getting the message out. Kirsa is carefully holding the bottle while Jessie uses the tweezers. Photo: K. Bone.


Next step: getting the message out. Kirsa is carefully holding the bottle while Jessie uses the tweezers. Photo: L. Tremlett.

 Tantalisingly close! Photo: K. Bone.


Tantalisingly close! Photo: L. Tremlett.

Special equipment: Jessie & Kirsa couldn't get the message out, so Sasha (our conservator) made some special tweezers. Here's how Sasha described her tweezers: "They're made of coat hanger wire with tips doubled over and beaten flat, covered in shrink tubing for smooth grippy surface.  The photo Jessie sent me of the message half tweezed out of the bottle was the first attempt using shorter, gentler tweezers, producing a cone shape which would have wedged in the neck.  To pull it out safely maintaining the diameter at less than the bottle neck, I needed to grab the paper at the lower inner corner and coil inwards.  It was tricky spreading the grippy tweezers either side of the paper while lowering into the bottle, which was why I gave the shorter tweezers a try first before committing and steeling myself for the job at hand." Photo: S. Stollman.

Special equipment: Jessie & Kirsa couldn’t get the message out, so Sasha (our conservator) made some special tweezers. Here’s how Sasha described her tweezers: “They’re made of coat hanger wire with tips doubled over and beaten flat, covered in shrink tubing for smooth grippy surface. The photo Jessie sent me of the message half tweezed out of the bottle was the first attempt using shorter, gentler tweezers, producing a cone shape which would have wedged in the neck. To pull it out safely maintaining the diameter at less than the bottle neck, I needed to grab the paper at the lower inner corner and coil inwards. It was tricky spreading the grippy tweezers either side of the paper while lowering into the bottle, which was why I gave the shorter tweezers a try first before committing and steeling myself for the job at hand.” Photo: S. Stollman.

 

 Sasha makes a start on extracting the message. Photo: J. Garland.


Sasha makes a start on extracting the message. Photo: J. Garland.

 

 Nearly there! Photo: J. Garland.


Nearly there! Photo: J. Garland.

 Carefully cleaning the message. Photo: K. Bone.


Carefully cleaning the message. Photo: K. Bone.

 What do you think it says? Photo: J. Garland.


What do you think it says? Photo: J. Garland.

Katharine Watson