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].

Good beard, bad beard, red beard, blue beard: facial hair in Victorian Christchurch

Part the First

Movember is upon us once again, and to celebrate Undershaved Overgrown Archaeology brings to you a brief history of facial hair in Aotearoa. Movember is all about men’s health, and we’ve previously covered health in the blog before, both mental health and otherwise, so this week it’s all beards and moustaches. Gird your goatees for a hirsute history of facial hair in the nation, followed by a review of classic beards of old Canterbury.

Important Māori who wore tā moko necessarily removed their facial hair in order to show it off, and trimmed their tui tufts by plucking with mussel shell. They may also have shaved with razor sharp tūhua/obsidian, as it was otherwise used for cutting hair (McLintock, 1966; Robley, 1896). However, some of the earliest Pākehā imagery we have of Māori – drawings done by Sydney Parkinson, the Scottish botanical illustrator on Cook’s first voyage – show a range of facial hair and top knots. It is not clear if within 3-4 years the top knots would all be replaced with the same vague haircut of shaved back and sides, and a floofy combover on top – you Millennials know who you are.

This painting was evidently done before Pākehā got the hang of drawing moko. The guy in the upper middle is so fed up with this man-bun business. Image: Parkinson, Sydney, 1745?-1771. Parkinson, Sydney, 1745-1771 :The heads of six men natives of New Zealand, ornamented according to the mode of that country. S. Parkinson del. T Chambers sculp. London, 1784. Plate XXIII.. Parkinson, Sydney, 1745-1771 :A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's ship, 'The Endeavour'. Faithfully transcribed from the papers of the late Sydney Parkinson. London; Printed for Charles Dilly, in the Poultry, and James Phillips, in the George-Yard, 1784.. Ref: PUBL-0037-23. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23044298

This painting was evidently done before Pākehā got the hang of drawing moko. The guy in the upper middle is so fed up with this man-bun business. Image: Parkinson, Sydney, 1745?-1771. Parkinson, Sydney, 1745-1771 :The heads of six men natives of New Zealand, ornamented according to the mode of that country. S. Parkinson del. T Chambers sculp. London, 1784. Plate XXIII.. Parkinson, Sydney, 1745-1771 :A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty’s ship, ‘The Endeavour’. Faithfully transcribed from the papers of the late Sydney Parkinson. London; Printed for Charles Dilly, in the Poultry, and James Phillips, in the George-Yard, 1784.. Ref: PUBL-0037-23. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23044298

During Pākehā settlement of Aotearoa, the beard was a fairly recent phenomenon, growing in popularity during the Victorian period along with changing ideals of masculinity, at a rate roughly equivalent to Queen Vicki’s bloomers. Like the modern hipster beard, the Victorian beard craze coincided with conflict in the Crimea. During the Crimean War (1854-1856), the British army relaxed their long-standing ban on beards – due to the freezing winters and difficulty in obtaining shaving soap – and servicemen were russian to grow them. Beards soon became a mark of those who had served, and the fashion subsequently spread across the British Empire. Beards could be seen on the patriotically named Mount Victoria in Auckland and Wellington, the proud imperial city of Victoria in British Columbia, the humble Victoria harbour in Hong Kong, and probably even on Lake Victoria. It is no surprise then, that on the rugged outskirts of Wikitoria’s empire, the beard held particular sway.

God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen

The beard was also considered healthy, and recommended by doctors. The face tangle was believed to filter out impurities in the air, and prevent sore throats.

A Lyttelton Times article relating a ‘stache survey provides insight into just why men of the 1860s chose the old dental duster as an accessory (Lyttelton Times, 27/4/1861: 5). Helpfully for you dear reader, I’ve put it into a table! (please send your thanks and appreciation monies to T. Wadsworth C/- Underground Overground).

Reasons for wearing a moustache, 1861.

Given reason No.
To avoid shaving 69
To avoid catching cold 32
To hide their teeth 5
To take away from a prominent nose 5
To avoid being taken as an Englishman abroad 7
Because they are in the army 6
Because they are Rifle Volunteers 221
Because Prince Albert does it 2
Because it is artistic 29
Because you are a singer 3
Because you travel a deal 17
Because you have lived long on the continent 1
Because the wife likes it 8
Because it acts as a respirator 29
Because you have weak lungs 5
Because it is healthy 77
Because the young ladies admire it 471
Because it is considered “the thing” 10
Because he chooses 1

The most common reason to wear a moustache was to impress the ladies, but there are also reasons of vanity (“to hide their teeth, to take away from a prominent nose”), and again, the perceived health benefits (“because it is healthy, because it acts as a respirator, because you have weak lungs, to avoid catching cold”). The association of moustache and military is also clear, with “because they are Rifle Volunteers” the second most common reason given for the old Magnum P.I. It is not clear if the two who responded “because Prince Albert does it” had further ornamentation for similar reasons.

Prince Albert of ‘Stache-Moburg and Goatee.

Prince Albert of ‘Stache-Moburg and Goatee. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

When the Victorians kept a stiff upper lip, they need to make sure it looked good. Moustaches were tinted and combed, and fashions changed. In 1883, a local purveyor of cosmetics said that “a year ago the fashion was to have the end stick out in a fluffy fashion, but now they want me to make it drop at the corners of the mouth” (Star, 29/8/1883: 4). There were of course products to keep it looking fresh. The below bottle of Rowland’s Macassar oil – found on several sites in Christchurch – is  described as “unsurpassed as a brillantine for the beard and moustaches, to which it imparts a soft and silky appearance” (Press, 16/10/1897: 11). We’ve also found bottles of “bay rum”, which formed part of a recipe to darken grey hair and beards (Otago Daily Times, 9/3/1915: 8).

Rowland’s Macassar Oil. Like most 19th century products, this is essentially snake oil, but without the fun of being made from actual snakes. Image: J. Garland.

Rowland’s Macassar Oil. Like most 19th century products, this is essentially snake oil, but without the fun of being made from actual snakes. Image: J. Garland.

Bay Rum. Don’t drink it, just rub it on your face and head. Image: J. Garland.

Bay Rum. Don’t drink it, just rub it on your face and head. Image: J. Garland.

But how to keep one’s soup strainer from acting in its name? On a site in Christchurch, we found a fragment of a cup with a “moustache protector”. This “yankee notion” kept one’s lip toupee clean of coffee by way of a protrusion within the cup, as modelled here by our own beard-having Hennessey (Star, 15/2/1878: 2).

In the midnight hour, he cried mo, mo, mo.

In the midnight hour, he cried mo, mo, mo.

Part the Second

In which we focus on the facial hair of the founding fathers of our fair city. We revisit some of the figures from Christchurch and the blog’s past and Tristan provides a highly subjective fever dream review of their moustaches and beards.

James Jamieson

The man:

James Jamieson carried on the proud Victorian tradition of Firstname Firstname-son and together with his brother William ran one of the leading construction companies in Christchurch, including the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Government buildings in Cathedral Square. We’ve talked on the blog before about Jamieson’s love of spreadable cheese long before Koromiko was a thing.

The moustache:

Jamieson grew the classic ‘walrus‘ moustache, and chose to draw maximum attention to it by banishing all other hair from his countenance. His care and attention in maintaining the structural integrity of his weighty moustache – enough to cause any lesser man to topple forwards – informed his construction style, and it is said[1]  that his own chrome-y dome inspired those of the basilica.

9/10

Draw your own conclusions. Confirmed Illuminati. Image: Photograph of Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament by Greg O’Beirne.

Draw your own conclusions. Confirmed Illuminati. Image: Photograph of Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament by Greg O’Beirne.

Charles Obins Torlesse

The man:

Nephew to New Zealand company agent Arthur Wakefield, Torlesse became a surveyor working under Captain Thomas, chief surveyor for the Canterbury Association. Torlesse made the very first sketch map of Canterbury in 1849, illustrating the vast plains and resources that would draw Pākehā settlers to the area (Montgomery and McCarthy, 2004). He is said to have made the first ascent of a Southern Alps peak – now Mount Torlesse – by a Pākehā. He was a pretty cool bloke, more (t) or less (e).

Sketch map of the country intended for the settlement of Canterbury. Charles Obin Torlesse, 1849. Image: Wikimedia Commons. (Attentive readers will note the originally intended location of Christchurch at the head of Lyttelton Harbour. Inattentive readers GET NOTHING).

Sketch map of the country intended for the settlement of Canterbury. Charles Obin Torlesse, 1849. Image: Wikimedia Commons. (Attentive readers will note the originally intended location of Christchurch at the head of Lyttelton Harbour. Inattentive readers GET NOTHING).

The moustache:

Torlesse sported what is known as ‘friendly’ mutton chops, as popularised by Lemmy from Motorhead, and the general Burnside, for whom sideburns are named (seriously). These are not the distinctly un-friendly sideburns worn by Hugh Jackman/Wolverine, Elvis, and every jerk from the 70s. Ever the surveyor, Torlesse surveyed himself 75% facial hair, leaving the lower lip and jaw free for you to swipe right on Chinder.

8/10

charles_torlesse

Charles Obin Torlesse. He’s seen some things. Image: Wikipedia Commons.

John George Ruddenklau

The man:

John George Ruddenklau, his name is my name too. Ruddenklau was one of Christchurch’s early success stories, being a self-made man who worked his way up from an hotelier in 1864 to a retired hotelier in 1869, and from Mayor of Christchurch in 1881 to a retired former Mayor of Christchurch in the late 1880s. Ruddenklau’s City Hotel was successful enough that it had its own brand of dinnerware, which we have found on other hotel sites in Christchurch.

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug (with beard!), decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R. Image: J. Garland.

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug (with beard!), decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R. Image: J. Garland.

The beard:

Old J.G. had the kind of dense ruggedy beard typical of big deal businessmen in the 19th century, modern hipsters, and, er, delicious mussels. This particular photo of sad Ruddenklau shows just how he kept it so lush: it was well watered by his mayoral tears. Poor, sad-looking Ruddenklau.

John George Ruddenklau, blinging it up. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

John George Ruddenklau, blinging it up. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Dr Alfred Charles Barker

The man:

Dr A.C. Barker was one of Christchurch’s earliest amateur photographers, and is responsible for many of the earliest photographs of our city. Here at Underlit Overexposed, we’ve used Barker’s photography to illustrate how useful even the most mundane details of these images are in terms of historical information. So feel free to continue to capture your messy room in the background of your selfies, or even better, just go take photos of street kerbs! For anyone that’s interested in either selfies or photographs as a historical resource in little old New Zealand, you can go here to listen to oral historian Rosemary Baird discuss that very thing.

The beard:

Speaking of selfies, Barker took a few himself.

Here, Barker poses nonchalantly with his camera equipment, while showing off some serious mutton chops. If Bigfoot photographic evidence was this clear, he would have his own talk show by now. But nobody would watch it because podcasts fill that place in society these days. Get with the future Bigfoot!

dr_a-_c-_barker

“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to shave the face, is just friggin silly”. Apologies to Tim Minchin. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

This photo shows Bigfoot later in life, with a big old beard. Or Barker, probably. By this stage, Barker’s beard is perfectly complimented by a faux-Shakespeare haircut, which you don’t see enough these days. “There’s many a man has more hair than wit” the bard said, but considering Barker’s beard, I’m not sure what that says.

Sir John Cracroft Wilson

The man:

Wilson was a pioneering figure in Christchurch, being a former British army officer in India, who brought a number of his Indian servants with him when he settled in Christchurch. Cashmere is named for Kashmir in India/Pakistan, where Wilson served, and the adjacent suburb of Cracroft is named for…something. I forget. We’ve talked about Wilson’s home, now gone, before, but Wilson’s stone servant’s quarters still stands, and small portion of a mighty drain built by WIlson’s Indian servants remains nearby. This is a rare example of a drain lined with dressed stone, because, well, the dude liked stone. And who can blame him.

Cracroft's stone-line drain. Image: K. Webb.

Cracroft’s stone-line drain. Image: K. Webb.

The beard:

Wilson lived into his blankety blanks, and had the rare opportunity to grow a solid white beard. But as can be seen in the photo, Wilson’s facia hair went beyond the simple Santa beard and itself slipped into the snowy fey realm from which that fatherly character came, becoming an almost imperceptible, ethereal beard-shaped hole between realities. Wilson’s ghostly beard and eerie floating face were perfectly suited to snow-bound late 19th century Christchurch. Wilson would prowl the snows, camouflaged by his beard, shielding his nose with his hand to sneak up on unknowing foxes and seals. Or I might be thinking of polar bears. It is now impossible to tell.

10/10

cracroft

Sir John Cracroft Wilson, slowly fading from this photograph. Quick, somebody play “Johnny B. Goode”. Image, Acland, 1975.

 

Show your support for Movember, by visiting its website. Show your support for moustaches in general by doing the finger guns to the next person you see with one. Pew-pew-pew!

References

Acland, L.G.D., 1975. The Early Canterbury Runs. Fourth ed. Christchurch, N.Z.: Whitcoulls Ltd.

McLintock, A.H., 1966. Stone Tools. In: An Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Available at: <http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/maori-material-culture/page-8>.

Montgomery, R., and McCarthy, K., 2004. The map that made Canterbury – or, how a little-known sketch map by Charles Obins Torlesse was transformed into Canterbury Association advertising in London. Records of the Canterbury Museum, 18, pp.51–65.

Robley, H.G., 1896. Moko; or Maori Tattooing. London: Chapman and Hall Ltd.

 

[1] By me, just now, completely unfounded.

The bitter waters of archaeology

This week on the blog, we delve – or dive, even (sorry, I can already tell you that this post will be filled with water puns) – into the bitter waters of the 19th century, by which I mean mineral and healing waters, not some kind of allegorical reference to a difficult period of the past. This watery submersion (sorry, can’t help myself) came about following the discovery of an unusual bottle in a recent assemblage that turned out to have originally contained German mineral water, exported from a small town called Friedrichshall to New Zealand from the 1870s onwards. It’s not the first example of German mineral water we’ve come across here in Christchurch and well, it got me thinking. And researching. Basically, I fell down the well (see what I did there?) into the world of healing waters and haven’t quite surfaced since.

Bottle base embossed with C. OPPEL / FRIEDRICHSHALL. The source of this descent into watery madness. Image: J. Garland.

Bottle base embossed with C. OPPEL / FRIEDRICHSHALL. The source of this descent into watery madness. Image: J. Garland.

The concept of water, specifically mineral water, as an elixir of health has been around for centuries – millennia, even. We’ve all heard stories of springs and pools that could miraculously cure the sick and restore the health of the ailing, in both the historical and fictional worlds. The notion of water – or rather, the ‘waters’ of certain places – as more than just a necessity of survival, as a life-giving (or life preserving) force is so prevalent in our collective psyche that it trickles through our pop culture, past (Jane Austen springs to mind) and present (Pirates of the Caribbean’s fountain of youth, for example).

During our period of study – the 19th and early 20th centuries – there are numerous references to springs, wells, pools, aquifers and other bodies of water with healing properties, sometimes bordering on the magical. The healing waters of Bath were, thanks to the Romans and Miss Austen, among many others, well-known for their alleged ability to cure anything from leprosy to rheumatism. There were several locations on the continent, including Royat in France, Pistyan in ‘Czecho-Slovakia’, Marienbad in Bohemia, Vichy in France, and Salsomaggiore in Lombardy. In California, the town of Carlsbad (not quite Carlsberg, as I thought for a while) was named after a famous Bohemian spa following the discovery of mineral water there in the 1880s. In Scotland, the well of St Maelrubha in Loch Maree, Ross-shire, “was credited with the wonderful powers of curing the insane” and, in possibly my favourite example, there was a pub in London that offered eye lotion made from the healing water in the cellar along with the normal beers and spirits. Apparently, the water contained high levels of zinc, which may have been “soothing to the eye.”

In which a publican has a strange clause in his lease regarding some mineral water in the cellar. Image:

In which a publican has a strange clause in his lease regarding some mineral water in the cellar. Image: Auckland Star 9/12/1932: 13.

New Zealand has its own tradition of healing waters, of course, the most famous of which is the thermal springs and waters at Rotorua. Other places in the country home to the miraculous springs of good health included Te Aroha, Puriri, and Waiwera. Dunedin soda water manufacturers the Thomson brothers also took advantage of the country’s natural resources and sold Wai-Rongoa (healing water), “the celebrated mineral water from the famed North Taeri Springs” during the early 20th century. Christchurch apparently tried to have healing waters, but the so-called mineral waters of Heathcote turned out just to be water. Nice try, Heathcote.

Advertisement for Wai-Rongoa, the healing water of the North Taeri Springs and Waiwera.

Advertisement for Wai-Rongoa, the healing water of the North Taeri Springs and the Waiwera Hot Springs. Image: Grey River Argus 21/09/1909: 4 and New Zealand Herald 15/05/1875: 4.

Archaeologically, here in Christchurch, the use of and belief in healing waters is represented through the bottled ‘bitter waters’ and ‘seltzer waters’ imported from Europe – like the Friedrichshall bottle – that survive in the archaeological record. To date, interestingly, all of the examples we’ve found have been German or Hungarian. We’ve mentioned the Nassau selter water bottles before on the blog, stoneware bottles that contained the waters of the Ober and Nieder Selters of Nassau, a Duchy (prior to 1866) and town in Imperial Prussia (after annexation in 1866). As well as these, and the aforementioned Friedrichshall bottle, we’ve also found examples of Hunyadi Janos, a Hungarian export which contained the waters of a spring in Ofen and was advertised as a medicinal remedy. Interestingly, both the Friedrichshall and Hunyadi products are referred to as ‘bitter waters’, marketed primarily as relief for constipation, obstruction of the bowels and congestions. Even more interestingly, Friedrichshall bitter waters also claimed that by “banishing lassitude and melancholy, [it] renders occupation a pleasure instead of labour”, while Hunyadi Janos was apparently “especially efficacious” in the treatment of obesity. So, you know, good to know.

Nassau selter waters (top left) and Hunyadi Janos bitter waters (top right), along with an advertisement for Hunyadi Janos extolling its healing properties. Images:

Nassau selter waters (top left) and Hunyadi Janos bitter waters (top right), along with an advertisement for Hunyadi Janos extolling its healing properties. Neither of these were supposed to taste very good, although I did find one advertisement that described the taste of bitter waters as “peculiarly pleasant”, which sounds like advertising speak if I ever heard it. Images: J. Garland (top left) Underground Overground (top right) and New Zealand Herald 2/11/1906: 2.

As a side note, searching for ‘bitter waters’ in old newspapers certainly brought home the melodrama of the 19th century. In addition to the actual products I was searching for, the phrase seems to have been something of a favourite among Victorian writers. Just a few of the examples I found included the bitter waters of sectarian intolerance, adversity, defeat, controversy, science (the bitter waters of science! Oh, science), national humiliation, penury, existence (existentialism was alive and well in the 1800s, apparently), class prejudices, tyranny and “the bitter waters of the cup of sorrow”, which seems excessively depressing.

Anyway, moving on. Back to the bitter waters of health. There’s two main things I find interesting about these Victorian healing waters. One is that, unlike so many of the other ‘medicinal’ remedies we’ve talked about here on the blog, the alleged health benefits of these mineral waters were not – and are not – wholly unfounded. They’re unlikely to have immediately cured rheumatism or leprosy through bathing (although there may have been other benefits, like the invigoration of muscles in warm water, relaxation etc.), but the ingestion of mineral waters may in fact have had some merit. I can’t speak for the specifics – presumably, mineral water didn’t really cure obesity or ‘render occupation a pleasure’ all by itself – but it’s fairly well established that certain minerals are an important part of human health and nutrition. Certainly, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn’t just quacks advocating for their use (I’m not a health professional and am leery of saying anything wrong here, can you tell?).

The second thing is the apparent scepticism with which these claims of healing waters were treated which, again, runs contrary to so many of the weird and wonderful products we’ve talked about here before. There’s numerous instances of waters being tested to determine the levels of minerals present and compared to various sources around the world. If they didn’t contain the acceptable levels of minerals, they were publicly outed as ‘just water’ (Heathcote, definitely looking at you). It’s telling that the truly reputable mineral waters of the 19th century are all derived from springs and wells in areas where the geological characteristics of the surrounding land have made possible the absorption of minerals and salts into the very waters of the earth, so to speak. Like little old geothermal New Zealand or Hungary and Germany, apparently, if we’re looking just at Christchurch’s archaeological record.

It's not completely related, but it made me laugh and it certainly illustrates that scepticism (and sarcasm) was alive and well in the 19th century. Image:

It’s not completely related, but it made me laugh and it certainly illustrates that scepticism (and sarcasm) was alive and well in the 19th century. Image: Patea Mail 21/04/1881: 4.

There’s so many things about this whole notion of healing waters that is fascinating to me and I can’t quite articulate all of them (I guess I still haven’t really surfaced from that well I mentioned at the beginning). Not just the physical properties of the waters themselves, but the things they tell us about our view of ‘health’ – I’m thinking here about emphasis placed on characteristics like ‘purity’ and descriptors like ‘natural’, ‘fresh’ ‘cool’ and ‘clean’ – and the ways that view of health has changed and endured over the centuries. Even here and now, we might scoff at the notion of ‘healing waters’, and I imagine very few of you would go and buy a bottle of mineral water to stave off constipation, but water is still intrinsically associated with health and some waters are still considered better – healthier – than others. New Zealand spring water, for example, is marketed in part through its connection to the idea of this country as clean, green, pure and natural: in other words, healthy. In that regard, at least, we’re just following in the footsteps of our ancestors.

Jessie Garland

The fascist punishment: a foul taste used for foul purposes

It’s made from plant seeds named for their resemblance to a tick and has been known through history as the ‘golden nectar of nausea’ and the ‘fascist punishment’, among other things. When combined with chlorine, it forms a “a substance of horny character” (immature as I am, I may have laughed at that) and its taste has been commonly described as repulsive. We find the distinctive cobalt blue bottles it used to come in on 19th and early 20th century sites throughout Christchurch, where it was used to traumatise young children in the name of good health for decades.

Got it yet?

I am, of course, talking about castor oil, the scourge of the bowels (apparently), lubricator of flying machines and converter of communists (I’ll explain later, it’s kind of awful). Castor oil, which comes from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant, has been cultivated in Europe since at least the 16th century, and was used during the 19th and early 20th centuries for a plethora of things, some of them more dubious than others.

Castor oil bottles, commonly found on 19th century archaeological sites in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand. Image: J. Garland.

Castor oil bottles, commonly found on 19th century archaeological sites in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand. As well as a laxative and purgative, castor oil was used to prevent flies from landing around children’s eyes, as a way of preventing gun powder from getting wet, as a perfume base and a beauty product (with the slogan ‘Feed your face with castor oil!) and as a lubricant for early flying machines. it was surprisingly versatile. Image: J. Garland.

Primarily, it was used for personal health care, mostly advertised as a laxative and/or purgative for cases of constipation and diarrhoea, over eating or general digestive problems. One specific account describes it as “a medicament for putting the internal economy in order after bouts of overeating,” which is just the most delightful turn of phrase. It was often given to young babies, especially earlier in the 19th century, although this was later discouraged as an unnecessary and occasionally dangerous thing to do (there are several accounts of babies or young children dying as a result of the wrongful administration of castor oil, usually due to reactions with other substances). It wasn’t particularly dangerous for adults, unless there were other health complications, although there were some cases of people dying after mistaking acid or caustic disinfectants like Lysol for castor oil (yikes).

In which both babies and castor oil are old fashioned. Image: Auckland Star 31/05/1924: 18.

In which both babies and castor oil are old fashioned. Image: Auckland Star 31/05/1924: 18.

A very very high number of the articles and advertisements for castor oil were concerned with the taste. Some described it as repulsive, some as sickening. One writer even used the phrase “the smooth, mucilaginous, euphorbiaceous, nauseous castor oil” which manages to both be technically accurate (translated as ‘sticky nausea inducing oil from the Euphorbiaciae taxa of plants’) and convey an almost onomatopoeic sense of revulsion. Needless to say, there are numerous recommendations on how to disguise the taste, both for yourself and any unsuspecting victims (usually children) you might have.

Among the recommended ways of hiding the taste of castor oil are: mixing it with scrambled eggs; ‘floating’ it on milk; putting it in lemonade; orange juice or other citrus flavours; hiding it in candy (this seems particularly cruel); and mixing it with cocoa to form ‘castor oil chocolate’ (which sounds awful, to be honest). The chocolate is particularly interesting, thanks to one account of a court case in Christchurch in which a local chemist was prosecuted for selling a product labelled castor oil chocolate that actually contained mostly phenolpthalen, a weak acid also used as a laxative. So, yeah, laxative chocolates. Who knew. Also still a thing, apparently.

Castor oil taste

Top: Even Tom hated the taste of castor oil. Image: Tom and Jerry Cartoon “Baby Puss” 1943. Bottom: 1928 joke about disguising the taste of castor oil. Image: Evening Post 23/03/1924: 21.

Apparently, a lot of these methods didn’t actually do a whole lot to disguise the taste of the oil. Neither did the ‘tasteless’ castor oils advertised actually manage to do what they claimed. Castor oil continued to taste bad enough that the taking of it was considered a punishment, especially by children. In fact, it was administered as a punishment, and this is where it gets interesting. And political. And a bit sinister. Because castor oil wasn’t just given as a punishment to school children (which is bad enough, when you think about the laxative properties…) but, particularly during the 20th century, was also forcibly given or used as a threat against adults – specifically and most commonly by fascists.

In which the Scottish lag behind the Americans in

In which the Scottish lag behind the Americans in methods by which to punish school children. Image: Auckland Star 7/06/1884: 4.

The first mention I found of this was a notice in the newspaper stating that several men had been imprisoned for “administering castor oil to communists,” which seemed a bit weird but kind of funny. Then I read some more and, yeah, not so funny. Castor oil was used by the Fascisti in 1920s and 1930s Italy to punish dissenters, subversives and enemies of fascism, basically by holding them down and forcing them to suffer from uncontrollable diarrhoea that could last for days. It served the purpose of exerting control over individuals, humiliating them and immobilising them, or at least restricting their movement (Strange History 2014). “Castor oil cudgels” became so synonymous with Mussolini and the Italian fascists that George Bernard Shaw had to write a defense of fascism in 1937 to explicitly state that the success of the ideology wasn’t just due to the use of castor oil.

In which a fascist Pinnochio forces

In which a fascist Pinocchio forces castor oil down the throat of a communist. Image via Overland Journal.

The use of castor oil in this way was adopted by other extremist political groups during the first half of the 20th century. The Nazis used it as a threat against newspaper editors who might consider attacking them in print; royalists in France used it in combination with tar to attack anti-royalist deputies; fascists in England used in an assault on a journalist; secret police in Cuba allegedly forced newspaper staff to drink it at gunpoint in 1934 to “forestall revolutionary outbreak” and it was used by the rebels in Spain in the late 1930s. It was, as it turns out, an exceedingly common tool of political punishment.

nazis and castor oil

In which the Nazis use castor oil to threaten the freedom of the press. Image: Auckland Star 5/11/1930: 7.

You can actually sort of see the beginnings of the use of castor oil in this way during the earlier 19th century: although not explicitly used as it was in the 20th century, it’s mentioned occasionally as a kind of social purgative, playing on the perceived purgative and laxative qualities of the product and applying them to society or sub-sets of society in general. One account talks about administering castor oil to the entire Department of Public Works, another of using it to “sweep away the all highly paid noodles and useless sinecurists” in the Railway Department. Another example attempted to solve the drunk ‘problem’ in America by offering drunkards a choice of castor oil or gaol (which kind of seems like a non-choice to me, but I guess not). The same principle was applied in Italy again during the 1920s, where it was less of a choice and more of a ‘if we catch you drunk, we will forcibly feed you castor oil to sober you up, totally for the good of society.’

In which drunkards are given a choice. Image:

In which drunkards are given a choice. Image: Press 1/12/1936: 11.

Now, there’s no evidence to suggest that the castor oil bottles we find in Christchurch were used for anything outside their health or mechanical-related functions, but it does make you think about a whole field of things our archaeological experience doesn’t usually touch on. I spent a while wondering if the use of castor oil as a political punishment was equivalent to the New Zealand trend of throwing random things at politicians, but I don’t think it is. It’s far more insidious than that, far too related to those characteristics of ‘purging’ – and not just because of the association with fascism and the abuses of Mussolini and Hitler. It’s the subversion of a household product – of the function of a household product – into a tool for social oppression and control. Proof that anything can become an instrument of torture (not to put too fine a word on it) if you add enough violence and a dash of radical ideology. It’s been over half a century since this particular form of that was popular, but don’t tell me that the thought’s not still a bit terrifying.

(I tried to think of a way to end this on a lighter note and get us back to the chocolate flavoured drugs and ‘substance of horny character’, but I couldn’t figure it out. Sorry. Blame fascism.)

Jessie Garland.

References:

Strange History, 2014. Mussolini’s Secret Weapon: Castor Oil. In Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog. [online] Available at: www.strangehistory.net. 

Tiso, G., 2014. Making real a fascist puppet. In Overland. [online] Available at: www.overland.org.au.

Just what the doctor ordered!

When it comes to the weird and wonderful in 19th century life, it’s hard to go past the field of medicine: specifically, pharmaceutical and ‘self-care’ remedies. Health-related products can be some of the wackiest and most interesting things we find in the archaeological record, especially when they’re put into the context of contemporary advertising and marketing strategies. They also offer us the opportunity to understand the health concerns of people in the past: not just what they actually suffered from and how they treated it, but what they thought they suffered from and what they considered to be healthy.

Mostly, though, they’re fascinating. And often hilarious.

With that in mind, the following are some of our favourites. Enjoy!

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Lamplough’s Effervescing Pyretic Saline. A ‘cure-all’ patent medicine, Lamplough’s Saline was made by Henry Lamplough, based in Holborn, London, in the latter half of the 19th century. It was advertised as a remedy for SO many ailments, from cholera and smallpox to ‘eruptive skin’, sea sickness and headaches. Several of the advertisements emphasise its efficacy in preventing tropical and colonial diseases, which suggests that it was aimed more at the export market than the local one. Image (clockwise, from top left): G. Jackson, Wikimedia, Otago Witness 19/10//1888: 40, Wanganui Herald 19/09/1887:2.

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St Jacobs Oil, the “Great German Remedy”, was advertised primarily as a pain reliever. One article describes it as a “standard pain remedy for bruises, sprains or sores in man or beast” (Otago Witness 26/04/1893: 3) and the “conquers pain” tagline was common in advertisements for the oil. According to the British Medical Journal in 1894, St Jacobs Oil was 84% turpentine with traces of camphor 10% ether, 5% alcohol, 2% carbolic acid, 0.4% capsicum and 0.01% aconite. While aconite (and capsicum, to a degree) is known to have pain-relieving properties, particularly for rheumatism and as an anti-inflammatory, turpentine and carbolic acid are more commonly used as antiseptics or disinfectants. Carbolic acid, in particular, is now considered to be fairly toxic. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 28/04/1883: 3.

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Eucalyptus oil was a popular remedy during the 19th century as, to a degree, it still is now. Although this particular bottle is embossed with the name of R. G. Bosisto, no information could be found about this person. It’s possible that the bottle was associated with Joseph Bosisto, a well-known eucalyptus oil manufacturer who began harvesting and selling the oil in 1853, either as a derivative of his product or an imitation. Advertisements for the oil provide an interesting example of how medical advertising can reflect the health concerns of the past as much as the properties of the actual medicine.. In the 1880s, many of the advertisements emphasise the usefulness of eucalyptus oil as a remedy for cholera, while in the early 20th century, at the height of the influenza epidemic, the advertisements were all about its use in alleviating colds and influenza. Image: J. Garland, Southland Times 8/08/1883:2Dominion 18/09/1919:2.

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Bishop’s Granular Citrate of Lithia and Citrate of Magnesia, the creations of Alfred Bishop, a London chemist established in 1857. The magnesia was advertised for stomach ailments, as a product “surpassing the ordinary seidletz powder”, while the lithia seems to have primarily been advertised as a remedy for gout. One recipe for the citrate of magnesia suggests that it contained a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid (which is awfully close to baking powder, when you think about it…). Image: J. Garland, Otago Daily Times 12/01/1900: 8, Otago Witness 01/02/1868: 10.

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Holloway’s Ointment and Pills, advertised as ‘cure anything’ products, listed everything from asthma and cancer to ‘female complaints’ within the scope of their curative abilities. They were the brainchild of Thomas Holloway, who began selling his ointment and pills in the 1830s in England. He was something of an advertising pioneer, an approach that paid off for him: by the mid-19th century Holloway’s products had become hugely popular and he had amassed a significant fortune. Although it seems to be unclear exactly what was in the ointment, the pills were later discovered to contain non-medicinal, but harmless ingredients like ginger, soap and castor oil. Image: J. Garland, Poverty Bay Herald 21/04/1884: 4Tuapeka Times 22/12/1870: 10Clutha Leader 25/06/1880: 7.

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Charles Hockin, chemist, was based in London in the early to mid-19th century. He retired in 1859, although the company continued under the name of Hockin, Wilson/Welson & Co. The firm produced a variety of products, including digestive drops, ginger beer powder, essence of Rennett, “inexhaustible salts” and liver pills. Chief among them though, was a product called Seidlitz Powder, a “gentle medicine” that was somehow also a “purgative salt”, marketed as long lasting and a remedy for day to day ailments (including the ever present bilious attacks!). Image: J. Garland, Thames Adviser 13/04/1878: 4Lyttelton Times 14/01/1857: 12.

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This bottle, embossed with “PRESTON SALTS” appears to have contained Mounsey’s Preston Smelling Salts, the type of salts used to revive fainting ladies (or men, one supposes). Recipes published in 1854 and 1892 indicate that the salts were largely ammonia based, containing a solution of ammonia, powdered chloride of ammonia and powdered carbonate of ammonia in addition to powdered carbonate of potassium, oil of bergamot, oil of clove and sometimes oil of lavender. Several types of smelling salts existed during the 19th century, but Preston Salts seems to have been among the higher quality ones available. It was advertised in New Zealand from the 1850s onwards. Image: J. Garland, Lyttelton Times 12/02/1853: 3.

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Ford’s Pectoral Balsam of Horehound was first patented by Robert Ford in 1816. The original mixture contained horehound (a plant with medicinal qualities), liquorice root, water, spirit of wine, gum camphore, Turkish opium, “benjamin” (actually benzoin), squill (another medicinal plant), oil of aniseed and clarified honey. The recipe was later modified by his successor, Thomas Ford, in 1830, although the modifications seem to have been minimal. It was advertised as a remedy for respiratory ailments, including influenza, asthma and coughs. Image: C. Dickson, Wellington Independent 17/10/1865: 8.

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The “unequalled and invincible” Woods Great Peppermint Cure claimed to cure coughs and colds and was the creation of chemist W. E. Woods, a New Zealand chemist. Woods first set up shop in Hastings, Hawkes Bay, in 1881 before moving to Wellington and eventually to Sydney, where he died in 1927. W. E. Woods & Co., New Zealand, however, remained active his death. Image: C. Dickson, Hawkes Bay Herald 13/06/1895: 2, 13/06/1895: 4.

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The one and only Califig, “nature’s own laxative”. Advertised primarily for bowel complaints, the California Syrup of Figs also claimed to alleviate the problems of heartburn, bad breath and loss of appetite. It was particularly targeted at mothers, as a remedy for unhappy children, with one advertisement bearing the tagline “once ‘touchy’ and tearful, now full of fun, his system cleansed with Califig.” Image: J. Garland, Bottlepickers,  New Zealand Herald 8/02/1942: 3.

Jessie Garland