Life’s a beach

It’s that time of year again, the summer season is upon us, and this year has really has brought the heat! With much of the country sweltering in the late 20s and early 30s lately, it’s made us appreciate the modern conveniences of air conditioning and short sleeves. As discussed in the blog post we did about winter earlier this year, there was a time when the people of Christchurch had to brave the seasonal extremes of climate without our handy newfangled innovations. But it wasn’t all about sunburn, droughts and overheating, the people of historic Canterbury managed to find plenty of ways to enjoy themselves in the warmer months, so grab yourselves a chilled beverage and let’s explore the recreational history of Canterbury’s summers together.

As ever, the beach was a popular holiday choice for many sun lovers. Christchurch has a few great ones to choose from, and below is a picture of a scene that might be familiar to some of you. It’s the Sumner settlement in 1900, where you can see many visitors enjoying the sunshine and crowding in the streets. It looks like it would be hot work in all those layers of clothing!

Sumner in 1900: already a favourite holiday resort. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0096.

The children of the province were particularly taken with the summer months. The generally accepted Victorian ideal of childhood was that good children were well presented, “should be seen and not heard”, and self-discipline was encouraged in all things. But as a reprieve, the beach provided the perfect location for a children’s play area, where they had the opportunity to be as noisy as they wished within the expansive outdoors on offer. The images below depict children enjoying the beaches around the turn of the 20th century, but we know that these same localities had been used for similar recreation during the 19th century. Local newspapers report on annual Sunday school beachside picnics and donkey rides for both children and the unfortunate inmates of the Sunnyside Asylum (Star 21/2/1898: 2).

Some more Sumner land marks that might be recognisable. Children padding near the pier at Cave Rock, Sumner beach, decorated for a summer carnival, Christchurch [1906]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0053.

Swimmers in the surf, possibly at a Wellington beach [ca. 1900] Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0010.

Very adorable! Children taking donkey rides on Sumner beach, Christchurch [ca. 1905] Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 5, IMG0019.

With the increase in seaside visitors, the safety of those enjoying the water eventually came to be monitored. 1911 saw the establishment of the Sumner Royal Surf and Lifesaving Club, and the organisation constructed their first pavilion on Sumner Beach in 1913. Before this time, a lifeboat had been formally purchased for local aquatic emergencies in 1894, but it was deemed inadequate and was updated in 1898. However, this new boat still proved still insufficient to save the life of aeronaut, Captain Lorraine, who drowned the following summer, during a tragically failed hot air balloon display for the people of Sumner (Boyd 2009-2010: 16-17; Marlborough Express 3/11/1899: 3).

A demonstration of artificial respiration at the opening of the lifesaving season: team lined up behind the reel. [4 Dec. 1926] Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0056.

For many Cantabrians, winter is to snow, what snow is to skiing, and similarly, the raising of temperatures in the region spelled the perfect chance to get involved with some extra-curricular sporting activities. It’s generally accepted that surfing first originated in Hawaii, and was recorded by Joseph Banks during Captain Cook’s first visit to Tahiti. But we all know that the sport (or “art form” as the Hawaiians viewed it), didn’t stay isolated in the Polynesian Islands. Unfortunately, we couldn’t locate any historic images of locals riding the waves at Sumner and Taylor’s Mistake as they do now, but the photo below suggests that people were taking part in New Zealand by at least around 1910.

A man surfing, possibly at a Wellington beach [ca. 1910] Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0011.

The value that the European settlers placed on team sports was much greater than their regard for individual ones, due to their associations with the Victorian ideals of self-discipline and conformity over individualism (Boyd 2009-2010: 13). This made summertime team sports like rowing and sailing coveted pastimes. Between 1860 and 1866, the first Christchurch and interprovincial rowing regattas took place in the McCormack’s Bay estuary and the Union and Avon clubs had sheds built in the area. However, due to the problems caused by the sandbars in the estuary, these regattas were moved to Lake Forsyth by 1888 (Boyd 2009-2010: 13-14).

The Christchurch Sailing Club was formally established in the mid-19th century and such sporting ventures also proved to be an enjoyable summer pastime for those more affluent and outdoorsy residents of Christchurch. The tramway from Christchurch to Sumner (constructed in 1888), provided convenient transport from the sweltering city to the Sumner beachside and the McCormack’s Bay Estuary – despite sewage disposal issues in the area (which sometimes saw the overflow of septic tanks resulting in raw sewage visibly floating in the estuary), this area was described as an “ideal playground for aquatic sportsmen” (Boyd 2009-2010: 13; Lyttelton Times 16/8/1888: 3).  New Brighton also formally established their own sailing club in 1890 – their opening day entailed a festive and exotic celebration of a boat procession covered in Chinese lanterns, complete with fireworks and general revelry and merriment (Boyd 2009-2010: 13-14).

Yachts of the Christchurch Sailing Club fleet under sail near the pier at Cave Rock, Sumner [1906]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0054.

Summer sailing wasn’t only reserved for the wealthy. If one replaced a yacht with a steamer they could take a holiday excursion to beautiful destinations on the Christchurch Peninsula. Jaunts like these were available to the masses for the Canterbury Anniversary of European settlement (December 16). This day was a holiday for many and the tickets for this expedition were “moderately priced” – this made the excursions accessible to many citizens and the newspapers correctly predicted that “a large number of people will avail themselves of the opportunity for a day of recreation on the peninsula” (Lyttelton Times 11/12/1861: 4). These steamers annually carried with them picnic lunches, bands and shooting parties to act as entertainment in the day’s celebrations.

An advertisement for the excursion. Image: Lyttelton Times 12/12/1860: 5.

One didn’t need to leave the city to take part in summer recreational activities. For those who stayed on shore in Christchurch City for anniversary day, there was always a game of cricket or other outdoor sports to be had, including trotting and rifle matches (Lyttelton Times 17/12/1862: 4; 27/12/1864: 4). We kiwis love our sports after all! Additionally, the annual horticultural show was not to be missed, and “The Garden City” had its fair share of outdoor spaces to enjoy. Business ventures like Mr. Kohler’s Hotel and Pleasure Gardens offered a variety of outdoor pursuits, including swimming baths, a maze and displays of “ancient armour and weapons of warfare” I wish they were still open!

Is cricket your whole world? A very interestingly decorated cricket bat and ball that we found on an archaeological site in the Christchurch Central City. The ball has clearly been well worn around the Northern Hemisphere… Image: J. Garland and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Summertime recreation presented in a tidy package at Kohler’s Garden’s (formerly Taylor’s Gardens and was located near the intersection of what is now Hagley Avenue and Waller terrace). Image: Press 9/11/1865: 1).

We’ve talked about annual Christmas dos before on the blog, and just like now, summertime brought a welcome reprieve for some lucky workers in the form of an annual staff function – this often took the form of a company picnic. But these weren’t limited to workplace festivities, the ‘picnic season’ was utilised by many for fundraising events and it spanned the entire summer season and then some (from November through to May). This also included a several public or holidays like The Prince of Wales’s birthday (November 9), Canterbury Anniversary, Christmas and New Year. Public holidays were exceptionally popular for community picnics, with most people having a break from work without the conflict of Sabbaths schedules, and the city even put on extra trains at such times to transport revel makers to more exotic locations (Clayworth 2013).

A garden party held to aid the Christchurch Hospital Lady Visitors’ funds [17 Nov. 1910]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0053.

For those who wanted to escape the city for more than just the day, there were some other options. Holidaying in the “great kiwi batch” among beautiful New Zealand localities was an idea that reached peak popularity in the 1940s to 1960. These structures were inexpensive to erect, as they were often constructed with salvaged materials (Bennett 2014). However, baches first started popping up during the late 19th century, and they were simple structures, like the one shown below. (Swarbrick 2013). Similarly, camping became widely popular in the 20th century, but was first introduced during the 19th century. At this time, hunters, shepherds and very early settlers camped in the open air, under the stars for lack of better accommodation options, but recreational camping by New Zealand’s wealthy classes is recorded near the turn of the century. In 1907, one of our most famous authors, Katherine Mansfield, embarked on a six-week long summer camping trip in the central North Island. She and her group of friends explored the area in horse-drawn wagons and they slept in tents (Derby 2013).

Chopping wood for the fire at a holiday bach [ca. 1900]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 13, IMG0063.

Putting the billy on at a holiday bach [ca. 1900]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 13, IMG0065.

As much as playing at the beach and hanging at the family batch is a great way to spend warm leisurely days, we should also touch on the discomfort that was sometimes felt by those who couldn’t escape the hot dusty streets of the city, or by local farmers for whom the lack of rain brought crippling droughts. We all know Canterbury to be a relatively dry region, but sometimes the high temperatures brought with it real hardships. Admittedly, the drought of 1878 was felt worse in Australia, but the lowland areas of Canterbury received half their normal rainfall that year and, as a result, grain yields were so low that it was not economic to reap the crop (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/4/1878: 2; Burton and Peoples 2008: 6).

During the early years of European settlement, the annual elevated temperatures also brought with them the ravages of fever and disease, including malaria (Press 16/11/1864: 2). 1875 saw a typhoid fever epidemic in New Zealand, and 323 town and city dwellers perished (Rice 2011). Christchurch citizens were some of the worst sufferers, the death rate being 2.27 per 1000 people, the next highest being Auckland at 1.79 per 1000 (Globe 21/12/1876: 2). Newspaper reports indicate that people were aware of the heat being a factor in the spreading of disease, along with defective sewerage systems (of course! Lyttelton Times 22/5/1875: 3; Globe 4/12/1876: 3). This was also during the era that people began to voice their ideas about germ theory, although at this time, the Christchurch District Health Board maintained that the typhoid outbreak arose from miasma, and “would soon go away” (Globe 16/1/1865: 3; 4/12/1876: 3). The “south drain” of Christchurch took the blame for the spreading of the disease by miasma, and residents of the day believed that “every hot day of hot summer weather adds to the number of victims and helps swell the death rate” (Globe 21/12/1876: 2).

She’s thinking about it in 1916! Auckland Star 5/2/1816: 2.

To leave you on a sunnier note – the lighter side of deadly epidemics… Observer 23/5/1914: 11.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Chelsea Dickson

References

Bennett, K. 2014. Rich Pickings: Abandoned vessel material reuse on Rangitoto Island, New Zealand. A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Maritime Archaeology. Department of Archaeology. Flinders University of South Australia.

Boyd. F. 2009-2010. A Recreational and Social History of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. A report prepared for Lincoln University (Faculty of Environment, Society and Design. Summer Scholarship, 2009/2010, Environment Canterbury, the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. Ihutai Trust and the Tertiary Commission. [online] Available at: https://researcharchive.lincoln.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10182/2404/Avon_Heathcote_estuary.pdf?sequence=1.

Burton, R. and Peoples, S. 2008. Learning from past adaptations to extreme climatic events: A case study of drought Part B: Literature Review MAF Policy – Climate Change CC MAF- POL 2008 – 17 (124-3) Climate Change ‘Plan of Action’ Research Programme 2007/2008. AgResearch Ltd for The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Clayworth, P.  ‘Picnics and barbecues – Family and community picnics, 1800s to 1920s’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [Online] Available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/picnics-and-barbecues/page-1 (accessed 14 December 2017).

Derby, M. 2013., ‘Camping’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Available at:  http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/camping (accessed 14 December 2017).

Rice, G. 2011. ‘Epidemics – Epidemics, pandemics and disease control’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand [online] Available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/epidemics/page-1 (accessed 15 December 2017).

Swarbrick, N, 2013. ‘Holidays – Holiday accommodation’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand [online] Available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/holidays/page-5 (accessed 14 December 2017).

 

 

 

Up in smoke: Christchurch Destructor

At the turn of the 20th century, Christchurch’s rubbish disposal underwent a fiery transformation.

After 50 years of settlement, Christchurch was facing a rubbish crisis that was starting to get people worried. The council’s weekly kerbside rubbish collection service, which had been around for 14 years, was working well, but all the rubbish dumps were filling up fast (Lyttelton Times 23/7/1886: 4). The biggest city dump was located out of town in the sand hills near New Brighton. Thanks to all the fish heads, food scraps, and other tasty morsels that were being dumped here on a regular basis, this dump was also home to a large rat population. In early 1900 there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney, Australia. There was a genuine fear that if just one infected stowaway rat made it ashore to Christchurch, it could easily infect all the other rats and then everyone would be doomed (Press 26/2/1900: 4). If the dump rats got infected with the plague, and then they migrated into town pied piper style, then it would be game over man, game over.

On a Victoria Street site some time ago I found two pits filled entirely with rat bones, evidence of a local rat eradication program. There were the remains of 34 rats in one pit and 21 in the other. Both images: Hamish Williams.

Attempts had been made at various times to reduce the bulk of all of the rubbish at the dump, and bring down the resident rat population by setting the dump ablaze. It sort of worked, but not very well, and eventually these fires had to be put out (as best as they could) because the smoke was a nuisance. Dump rats would even be implicated in starting dump fires, the little buggers. Rats burrowed through all the mountains of rubbish, and in doing so created little air vents that helped reignite the smouldering remains of earlier dump fires (Press 17/4/1900:6). Nice one dump rats.

Fire was seen as the solution to Christchurch’s rubbish problem, but it wasn’t just a case of starting larger fires at the dump and letting them burn for longer. What Christchurch needed was a machine that was able to burn all the city rubbish in a much more controlled fashion, at higher temperatures, and for longer periods of time. What the city needed, and what the city later got, was THE DESTRUCTOR. Problem solved.

‘Destructors’ were the name given by English municipal engineers of the 19th century to big furnaces that were designed specifically for incinerating all different types of urban rubbish on an industrial scale (Moore 1898). Instead of getting rid of rubbish by carting it away and dumping it, rubbish would be burnt to a crisp in a Destructor, and in doing so would be transformed into a product that was then much less of a problem to deal with, and one that could even prove useful. I think Wellington was the first city in the country to get a Destructor, in 1889 (Press 11/5/1889: 6). Christchurch got its Destructor in 1902. Auckland got one in 1905. Auckland’s Muncipal Destructor building still stands.

Schematic of a late 19th century Destructor furnace. Burn it up, little man, and keep shovelling! Image: Moore 1898.

The Christchurch City Council ordered its destructor from the English engineering firm Meldrum Brothers in August 1900 (Press 28/8/1900: 3). It was a ‘six celled Beaman and Deas’ Destructor that was capable of incinerating both rubbish and night soil. Under normal operating conditions, each of the six cells of the furnace was capable of burning up to 24 tonnes of unsorted rubbish a day (Star 28/8/1900: 1). Because of all the smoke and stench it would produce, the Council had difficulty finding a suitable place to put it. Eventually, they decided to put it right in the middle of town, close to the corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets, a stone’s throw away from what is now the Margaret Mahy Playground.  With much pomp and ceremony, the Destructor was officially opened on the 30th of May 1902 (Press 31/5/1902: 5).

A 1920 aerial photo of central Christchurch. Can you spot the Destructor? It’s the one with the smokiest chimney of course. Image: reproduced courtesy of Christchurch City Libraries: CCL Photo CD 3, IMG0026.

After some 36 years of service, the Destructor burnt its last load of rubbish on 14 April 1938 (Press 14/4/1938: 8). The council then went back to dumping rubbish, though by now this was carried out in a much more organised and sanitary manner. With greater emphasis paid to covering the rubbish immediately after it was dumped, there were now thankfully fewer problems with the dump rats. When the destructor building and its massive brick chimney was demolished the following year, the city lost an iconic landmark of a building, though few would mourn the loss of the Destructor (Press 10/2/1939: 12). Its chimney was the tallest in town, but apart from the odd times when it was out of action and undergoing repairs, it blazed up a cloud of dirty filthy smoke pretty much 24/7.

The chimney was demolished entirely by hand, quite an achievement. Image: Press 8/4/1939: 21.

The Destructor was a cleverly designed furnace. Although it needed a good amount of coal to get the fires up to temperature, once it got going, little additional input of coal was typically required to keep the fires burning – rubbish would be the main source of fuel. Before being tipped into the furnace, the rubbish was usually raked over and given some form of a preliminary sort-through. All sorts of things ended up at the Destructor, but thankfully not all of it ended up in the flames. Some things, like scrap metal and rags, could be separated out for recycling. A pair of frightened kittens that a stoker found tied up in a paper bag one time were saved from certain death, but other animals were not so lucky. Stray dogs and unwanted feral cats sometimes ended up on top of the sacrificial pyre, these poor creatures drowned beforehand in a well reserved exclusively for this grisly purpose (Press 23/8/1905: 8). Large quantities of fish waste from city fish markets proved somewhat tricky to burn. Wet and slimy, incinerating this kind of waste consumed more coal and as such cost the council lots of money. Later they decided that all this fish waste would be better disposed of by carting it out of town where it could be recycled into agricultural fertiliser. This saved the Council up to 35 tonnes of coal per year (Press 16/7/1932: 16). Nice.

Must have been a hot and sweaty job feeding the Destructor, that’s probably why this fella is wearing a towel round his shoulders, so he could easily mop the sweat from his brow. Image: Press 10/7/1932: 17 .

The Destructor didn’t just incinerate rubbish and dead animals, it was a multi-purpose machine that was also the city’s first power plant. From 1903 the destructor’s steam boilers powered generators that produced electricity for the local grid: the power of rubbish lit the city streets at night (Press 1/8/1903: 7). From 1908, exhaust gases from the destructor were piped underground to heat the neighbouring Tepid Baths (Christchurch’s first indoor public swimming pool). In this way rubbish enabled people to backstroke and breaststroke in heated comfort all year round. The waste by-product produced by the Destructor, called clinker, was not left to go to waste either, but proved to be a valuable and useful material in building city roads.

Destructor clinker! Image: Hamish Williams.

I first came to know of clinker after being called out to a SCIRT job on Eastern Terrace, when a layer of the stuff was found by a crew replacing a broken stormwater pipe. It was a real eureka moment for me when I worked out exactly what it was. By 1928, more than 4800 tonnes of the stuff were produced annually, and almost all of it was put to good use by the council in building and repairing city streets (Galbraith 1928). As later SCIRT works confirmed, this clinker fill was laid down all over the place, mostly as a road formation base course, particularly in locations where the underlying natural substrate was ‘peaty and soft’ (Galbraith 1928).

Road formation related stratigraphy, as was exposed in the side of a SCIRT pipe trench in Beckenham. The layer of Destructor clinker is the dirty brown looking layer at the bottom, capped by two layers of modern hard fill. Image: Hamish Williams.

Depending on what it had been before it was fed into and thus transformed by the Destructor, clinker proved to be often quite variable in appearance. Sometimes the clinker was very glassy, black and shiny, (reminding me of meteorites, not dissimilar to the one found by this lucky young fella) and sometimes it was a dirty brown rusty colour (from all the half burnt iron nails and bits of tin cans). More often than not both types of clinker had little inclusions of semi-melted bits of bottle glass and twice vitrified ceramic sherds in it, a strange sight indeed. We didn’t find too much clinker underneath central city streets, but we did find it in the central city around the banks of the Avon/Ōtākaro River. It was found in abundance below those suburban roadways that flank the Heathcote/ Ōpāwaho River. The silty riverside suburbs of Beckenham, St Martins, and Opawa proved to be serious clinker hotspots!

A chunk of Destructor clinker. This one came from a thick clinker layer exposed during excavations for the construction of the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial wall. Clinker had been used to build up the south bank of the Ōtākaro/Avon River as part of early 20th century river landscape improvement works. Close by on the opposite bank we also found (at shallow depth) crushed clinker footpaths. Image: Hamish Williams.

We mostly found Destructor clinker on the road reserve – public land – and where we found it, we usually didn’t find any 19th century rubbish. However, in those few places where we did find 20th century clinker and 19th century rubbish in close proximity, the 19th century artefacts were always found at a lower stratigraphic level. Because we know that Destructor clinker was only produced between 1902 and 1938, this stuff has proved very super helpful for dating archaeological deposits, especially when we find it on private property (curiously it has turned up a couple of times in backyard rubbish pits). Why throw away a bit of rubbish clinker? I guess maybe someone picked a bit of it up from somewhere thinking it was a rare and valuable meteorite, then realised it was just a bit of old burnt rubbish and chucked it away. Just a guess. Any thoughts?

Maybe because the story of the Destructor is a bit steampunk, or maybe because it reminds me about how persistent the people of the past were in finding solutions to the environmental problems that they faced, I find the whole story of the Destructor very fascinating. I like thinking about how resourceful the local council was more than 100 years ago, recycling what they could, and transforming what they couldn’t recycle into something that could be reused in a practical way, while powering the city in the process. Reduce, reuse, recycle – this modern mantra that we all should live by is certainly nothing new.

Hamish Williams

References

Galbraith, A.R. 1928. Report on the Reconstruction and Maintenance of the City Highways and Bridges. Wellington N.Z: Witcombe & Tombs.

Moore, E.C. 1898. Sanitary Engineering: a Practical Treatise. London: B.T. Batsford.

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

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

Tanks!

Anyone in the office will tell you that I have a keen interest in military history, especially anything related to the World War 2 period. I like my airplanes, yes (hats off to the de Havilland Mosquito, that twin engine plywood wonder) but I’m also a big fan of tanks. Last week I officially added to my bucket list a visit to the Tank Museum in Bovington. Camp Bovington in Dorset is the birthplace of the tank, and Camp Bovington’s Tank Museum has on display the largest collection of tanks in the world. One day I will make that pilgrimage…

I’ve been thinking about armoured vehicles a little more than usual recently. Perhaps this has been because some large construction sites that I’ve worked on lately have felt a bit like urban battlegrounds, bustling with big machines, and complete with all the smoke, dust, noise, and chaos of an urban war zone set against a ruinous backdrop of a half demolished/half rebuilt city. Reminiscent of that time in 1942 when I stood with my comrades in defence of the Stalingrad Tractor Factory? Hmm, maybe only just a little.

After an epic binge on David Fletcher’s Tank Chats last week, I decided that a blogpost about my two favourite Christchurch tanks was long overdue. First though, a few fast facts about tanks. The tank as we know it was developed in 1915 as an experimental weapon to break the stalemate of the trenches on the Western Front (Lest we forget). The Brits were the first to put the tank into battle, at the Somme in September 1916, where it had some success. The first British tank was called ‘Little Willy’. Little Willy was soon replaced by ‘Big Willy’ (the rhomboid shaped Mark 1) because Little Willy wasn’t long enough to cross trenches (sometimes it seems, size IS everything). Tanks were not actually developed by the Army, as one would naturally assume, but by the Navy, and they called them ‘Landships’. To throw the Boche off the scent, a less descriptive name was adopted as a security measure – tanks. The name stuck. Water tanks as a war winning wonder weapon? Yeah right! Codewords always work in wartime.

Of course, not all tanks are weapons of war, and the tanks that have popped up in Christchurch’s archaeological record in recent times were not designed and built to serve as offensive weapons, though they certainly did play a part in fighting different sorts of battles. So, let me tell you about two of my favourite Christchurch tanks.

The Fire Tank

I had my first run in with one of the city’s fire tanks in a trench on Manchester Street in July 2015, when SCIRT were digging up the road to lay a new water mains pipe. It was well concealed at shallow depth below the road surface, and at first glance I was a little intimidated by its immense size – it was nearly 40 metres long!

The Manchester Street tank, as first exposed. Image: Hamish Williams.

The fire tank on Manchester Street was one of six built by the City Council in 1885 for the fire brigade so they could better wage war against fire. Fire was a serious and recurrent threat to Christchurch in the early years, because so many buildings were of timber construction and they often stood so close to each other. A small fire in one building could very quickly turn into an inferno capable of destroying a whole city block. Because the council did not begin works on developing a high pressure piped water supply system until 1909, at first the fire brigade had to make do fighting the flames with water they got from local wells, or with what could be pumped directly from the Avon River. This was a less than satisfactory arrangement, especially when wells were dry, artesians yielded only a trickle, or worse still, if fires broke out at some distance from the river, and the fire brigade’s hoses weren’t long enough.

Each of the six tanks built in 1885 had a capacity of 25,000 gallons (approximately 114,000 litres) and were capable of supplying water over a radius of 1000 feet (305 metres). Each tank cost £300 to build, and each were served by their own artesian wells (Press 31/12/1884:2). Just completed, in September 1885 the Manchester Street tank was the lucky tank selected for official testing.  It was calculated that the steam powered pumps of the brigade’s two fire engines ‘Deluge’ and ‘Extinguisher’ would be able to drain the entire tank in just over 33 minutes, however they managed to empty it in 31 minutes – quite an impressive achievement (Star 23/9/1885:2, Star 29/9/1885:3). In the following years the underground tanks proved to be an efficient weapon that saved people and property, however they sometimes had a tendency to overflow through their manhole access covers, of which there was one at each end (Press 12/1/1886:2). Even after the fire tanks were to some extent made obsolete – when the high pressure water reticulation network was finally laid on – these underground fire tanks were not forgotten or destroyed, but were retained, held back in ‘strategic reserve’, just in case.

Fire Tank! Image: Hamish Williams.

Well built, the fire tank had an arched roof and brick walls three layers thick, with an internal width of 2.2 metres and a height of 1.8 metres. Despite the efforts of two pumps, it was not possible to remove all of the water from the tank, which had its crown arch broken out so the new water mains pipe could be laid right through its entire length. It was difficult to investigate this feature because of all the water, and because this tank was technically a confined space, our access was restricted on safety grounds. Tanks sure can be dangerous for archaeologists!

The tank, after half the water was pumped out and the crown of the arch removed. Image: Hamish Williams.

The fire tank stands out as a favourite tank of mine not just because of its impressive size, but also because, like many of the 19th century structural features about the city that we have been lucky enough to investigate, it had been built entirely by hand, brick by brick. Furthermore, these bricks had been laid in a bloody great big deep trench that had been dug by hand, in a part of the city where there are elevated groundwater levels. Build a massive underground water tank in a swamp? Best of British to you mate!

The northern end of the tank, after being filled in with hard fill in preparation for laying the new water mains. Image: Hamish Williams.

Ship Tank

Much smaller than the fire tank, the ship tank was uncovered earlier this year at shallow depth in what was originally the backyard of the Occidental Hotel. This 4 ft cubic tank of mild steel had been buried in the ground for use, we strongly suspect, as a cesspit. When the hotel was connected to the city’s newly completed sewer system in 1882, the tank was filled in, mostly with bricks and other building debris that we reckon came from the demolition of the back part of the hotel.

The ship tank cesspit. In the background Angel and Teri are exposing the foundations of one of the hotel’s fireplaces. Maybe a bit more about that feature in a future blogpost folks, so watch this space. Image: Hamish Williams.

Brick rubble in the tank. The foundations of the hotel’s fireplace was built from the same kind of bricks that were dumped in the tank – so there’s a connection there. Image: Hamish Williams.

In amongst the fill of the tank, we found a large cast-iron lid of 480 mm diameter that provided confirmation for us that this old steel tank was in fact a repurposed ship tank, made by John Bellamy’s tank works in Millwall, London. From the 1850s these riveted steel boxes with tight fitting circular lids began, in increasing numbers, to replace wooden barrels for the transport of drinking water and other perishable items in the holds of ships. Ship tanks have been found in numerous 19th century archaeological contexts across the world. In Australia, ship tanks were cleverly adapted for other uses, including rainwater tanks, sheep dips, eucalyptus oil stills and water troughs (Pearson 1992). A John Bellamy tank of identical form has also been found at Lusitania Bay on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, where it is suspected to have been used for the storage of penguin oil, of all things.

The cast-iron ship tank lid, marked JOHN BELLAMY  BYNG STREET/ MILLWALL  LONDON. In the middle of the lid is a central bung, which could be removed to allow access to the tank without having to remove the whole lid. Image: Hamish Williams.

It’s hard to say which Christchurch tank is actually my favourite of the two, both have their charms. I think that if I had to choose just one though, I would have to choose the ship tank. Why? Because the ship tank that we found behind the hotel demonstrates adaptive reuse – something that archaeologists always have to consider when making interpretations about things from the past. Over their lifetime, artefacts both big and small can be modified to serve different functions, and these modifications can reflect different owners, ideas, and changing circumstances (among an infinite number of other possible things). An impervious steel tank built for the storage of water was later modified for the purpose of storing poo, well before the completion of Christchurch’s sewerage system meant that on site poo storage was no longer necessary. On top of this, the tank ended its use-life as a convenient place for dumping rubbish. In a similar vein I suppose, the modified ship tank reminds me of different kind of Christchurch tank –the Bob Semple Tank. If the perceived threat of Japanese invasion at the outbreak of World War 2 makes you think about how you can defend New Zealand’s shores when your Home Defence force has no tanks, all you need to do is modify, arm, and armour up a bunch of old Public Works Department D8 caterpillar tractors in a most Monty Python-esque fashion in the local railway workshop. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have any standardised design blueprints, or if you don’t even know whether it will work. If the enemy don’t arrive, and your underpowered, under-armoured, silly looking impractical tractor tanks end up being the target of public ridicule, hey, you can always find another use for them, you can always change them back.

Hamish Williams

References

Pearson, M. 1992. From Ship to the Bush: Ship Tanks in Australia. Australasian Historical Archaeology 10(1) 22-29.

Phillips, T., 2010. Always Ready: Christchurch Fire Brigade: 1860-2010. Christchurch: New Zealand Fire Service, Transalpine Fire Region.

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

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

Winter is coming…

The chilly weather in Christchurch of late has many of us dreaming of glistening seas, white sand beaches and pina coladas. A while ago, “winter is coming” gags were being fired about among the many Game of Thrones fans, and it is very apparent that winter has indeed come to Christchurch this year. But before the days of heatpumps and rubber hot water bottles, there was a time when the hardy early settlers of Canterbury braved the wild winters of the second half of the 19th century, and they had to make do with their wits, woollies and inner warmth to survive the mid-year season.

Ok, that was the last one, I promise. Image.

We may think that our winter blast has been pretty chilly this year, but it’s nothing compared to the winters of 1862 and 1867. During such times, it was said that it wasn’t uncommon to see icicles clinging to a man’s moustache even in the middle of a fine day – a fine excuse to get rid of one’s moustache I would think (Grey River Argus, 17/7/1918: 2). It makes for an amusing image, but 1895 saw the bitterest winter in the 19th and most of the 20th century. This was the year that Lyttelton Harbour froze and Lake Alexandrina froze so thick that three hundred cattle were able to walk over the lake. A few people even died from being caught outside or drowning (Kuzma 2014). The animals fared the worst of it though, dogs died, frozen stiff in their kennels, and after all was said and done, it was estimated that 2 million sheep perished (Kuzma 2014). This was not only because the snow cover left them with no grass to eat, causing sheep to consume the wool off each other’s backs, but their wool also froze (often fixing them to the snow). This left them essentially ‘sheepsicles’ – some having between four and six inches of ice on their backs which enabled them to only move their heads up and down ‘like armadillos’ (Kuzma 2014, Otago Witness 4/7/1895: 23). Naturally, it wasn’t just the region’s farmers that were adversely affected by the storm – in Christchurch City, three inches fell in two hours one morning, leaving the streets a ‘slushy mess’ (Kuzma 2014). Approximately one hundred men were employed under the city’s Winter Work Fund to clear footpaths and crossings the next day, causing delays to tram services (one of which was derailed by the ice), and frozen pipes and pumps caused a nightmare for the city plumbers (Kuzma 2014).

Snow on Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, 1862. Image CCL. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0055. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

Riccarton Mill in a snowy July 1895. Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0018. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

A tram runs into difficulties, at the corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets, when Christchurch was hit by snow. 1918? Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0092. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

But winter didn’t always generate the doom and gloom of being trapped by snow and rising mutton prices, amplified by the decimation of the sheep population (North Otago Times 6/8/1895: 1). For many of us in the south, the snow season  also brings the excitement of winter sports and the same was true for our Cantabrian ancestors, who also partook. We have previously mentioned the 1930s ice skating rink near Mt Harper, and the remains of the 1885 Palace Skating Rink were also found in the Christchurch central city several years ago (ArchSite 2012). Scottish immigrants also introduced curling to the south of New Zealand in the 1860s, and the sport soon spread throughout the south. By 1900, there were nine clubs and we’re happy to say that these snowy sports weren’t exclusively enjoyed by men – there were also women’s curling teams by the 1890s (Swarbrick 2013). Unfortunately, we can’t talk 19th century about skiing here – the first attempt to establish skiing as a sport in New Zealand wasn’t made until 1909 when Captain Head and Lawrence Earle introduced skis to the guides at Mount Cook. It was more than ten years later that the first ski races took place in New Zealand (Snow Sports NZ). But hey, don’t let that stop you!

Skating In North Hagley Park, c.1945. Image: by Kete Site Admin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

With all these cold temperatures it’s unsurprising that 19th century winter made people feel a little ‘under the weather’ – just as an aside, this phrase did not always refer to feeling ill in the flu season. Originally it was a sailors term, meaning to feel seasick or to be adversely affected by bad weather. The phrase was initially ‘under the weather bow’ (the weather bow being the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing). Interesting, no? Anyway, the people of Victorian Canterbury suffered from many health-related ailments. We can see this in the plethora of pharmaceutical bottles we find in archaeological assemblages and in the newspaper advertisements of the time. These bottles contained (often dubious) cure-all remedies for respiratory conditions. You may have come across some of these before on the blog, such as Baxter’s Lung Preserver, which was a local Christchurch product created in the 19th century and it’s still sold today. John Baxter started out as a young chemist in the 1860s and because pharmaceutical companies weren’t required to list the active ingredients in their products during the 19th century, we don’t know exactly what the Lung Preserver contained. Many other pharmaceutical companies took advantage of this lack of regulation and it’s probable that many of the cure-all remedies available to sick 19th century consumers were mainly alcohol based formulations. The advertisement below comes complete with testimonials from satisfied customers if you click on the article link.

Evening Post 29/8/1885: 2

Baxter’s Lung Preserver, Christchurch, bottle. Image: J. Garland.

Another respiratory remedy that we have covered here before is Wood’s Peppermint Cure. This product claimed to do largely the same thing as Baxter’s, in that it was said to cure coughs and colds. This one was associated with some more interesting advertisement angles, and seems to be endorsed by the gods? This stuff must have been good!

Inangahua Times 5/8/1897: 4. Wood’s Peppermint Cure. Image: C. Dickson.

It’s likely that people were more often “under the weather” during this time than is common today, due to the difference in sanitation and living standards. Flush toilets, sinks and baths didn’t become widespread in New Zealand until the 20th century, and it wasn’t until this time that the development of hydroelectricity provided the instant availability of hot water for personal and domestic cleaning (Pollock 2011). Houses themselves were less weather tight – we often find evidence of newspapers plugging drafts in 19th century Christchurch houses. The condition of some dwellings were so poor that it brought about the introduction of the first state houses for renters, firstly in 1906 and on a larger scale during the 1930s (Pollock 2011). But undeniably, the most beneficial introduction was the revolutionary antibiotics that were no-doubt more medically effective than an alcohol based cure-all remedy.

Although houses weren’t as cozy, the wily Cantabrians had their own in-house methods of keeping warm in the winter. You’re probably aware of the existence of bed warmers, which originally took the form of a metal container filled with hot coals, but I was interested to discover that hot water bottles are not a modern invention. Those of us who don’t have electric blankets probably still take advantage of the soft rubber models, but ceramic and copper examples were commonly used by our ancestors. These were naturally hot to the touch, so knitted hot water bottle cozies with drawstrings were employed to transport them from the kitchen to the bedroom… Does your Nana knit something similar? (Cook 2012). The hand warmer, for example, has been used worldwide for centuries, and is still used by skiers today. During the Victorian era, ladies sported heated miniature water bottles, tucked into their fur hand muffs for outdoor adventures. For the less wealthy, hot potatoes, coals or stones sufficed as an alternative (Cook 2012). The heating of such items was usually done in the fireplace – some bedrooms and reception rooms had these, but the kitchen fireplace was the often the focal point of the house and it was utilised as an evening gathering place for families to keep warm, talk and work on small tasks (Cook 2012).

From left: Copper hot water bottle, Doulton’s ceramic hot water bottle, bed warmer. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any examples of these in our Christchurch archaeological assemblages to date. Image.

One of the most important things to note is that the nature of 19th century work, society and dress kept the chills largely at bay. Beds were warmed by more bodies than we might be used to – so while it was typical for a couple to have a bed to themselves, the children often slept all together, separated by gender to provide more room… “there were three in the bed and the little one said…roll over?” (Cook 2012). The Victorians also performed more sweat inducing physical labour than we might be used to. Chopping wood, keeping animals, preparing food – even the most everyday chores, from childhood to old age, required more constant physical activity than they do for us (lazy?) modern folk. (Wilham 2009). Additionally, while Gumboots, Swandries, and Kathmandu down jackets revolutionised how we brave the elements in the 20th and 21st centuries, Victorians knew how to successfully bundle up by layering their clothing. Men wore long johns under their outfits and women sported layers of petticoats. Winter wardrobes were primarily made of wool and included coats, trousers, often a waistcoat and shirt and a felt hat. Oilskin raincoats, leggings and hats were also fashioned for wet conditions, making their outerwear (somewhat) impermeable to water (Labrum 2008). So, let it rain!

New Zealand Herald 28/8/1937: 2.

A woollen waistcoat found in Central Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Victorians spent their winter months. We hate to leave you out in the cold, but it’s nearly time to cozy up indoors for the weekend cause, baby, it’s cold outside!

Chelsea Dickson

References

ArchSite 2012. M35/731.

Cook T. 2012. Keeping Warm the Old Way. The Bologazine. [online] Available at: http://www.theblogazine.com/2012/12/keeping-warm-the-old-way/.

Kuzma, J. 2014. The 1895 Snowstorm. Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network. [online] available at: https://environmentalhistory-au-nz.org/2014/03/the-1895-snowstorm/

Labrum. B. 2008. ‘Rural clothing – Hats, footwear and oilskins’, [online] available at: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-clothing/page-3 (accessed 21 July 2017)

Pollock, K. 2011. ‘Public health – Healthy bodies’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, [online] available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-health/page-4 (accessed 21 July 2017).

Swarbrick, N. 2013. ‘Ice sports – Curling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ice-sports/page-1 (accessed 21 July 2017).

Wilham P. 2009. Staying War: How the Victorians Did. [Online] Available at: http://victorianantiquitiesanddesign.blogspot.co.nz/2009/01/staying-warm-how-victorians-did-it.html.

And when I get that feeling…

In the lyrics to his hit 1982 song, Sexual Healing, Marvin Gaye cries out (in smooth and sultry tones, really) for a remedy that will relieve his mind, restore his emotional stability, stop the “blue teardrops” falling and calm the sea “stormin’ inside of me.” It may surprise you to discover that, amazingly and with only a tiny bit of artistic license (well, sort of), this song works rather well as an allegory for Victorian attitudes to sex. Yep, you heard me. Particularly if you listen to them the day after reading an 1840s-1860s treatise on sexual health, impotence and general quackery (do not recommend for the squeamish…). It’s the last lines, usually faded out past the point of hearing in recorded versions, that really clinch it: “please don’t procrastinate,” he sings softly, “it’s not good to masturbate.”

Bet you didn’t know about that line did you.

I realise that this foray into 1980s R & B and/or the (surprisingly very graphic) world of Victorian sexual health is somewhat out of character for this blog, but do bear with us, dear reader. Let us take you on a journey down the rabbit hole to a side of 19th century life not often talked about, and definitely not often found archaeologically.

It all began a few weeks ago, with the discovery of a relatively unassuming pharmaceutical bottle in an assemblage from the 1870s-1880s. Plain in form and resembling the many tinctures of cough medicine, pain killers, oils and blood purifiers we commonly find on Victorian sites, the bottle was also embossed with an unusual product name: Perry’s Cordial Balm of Syriacum. The name references Syria, which at the time had both exotic and biblical connotations that were exploited by medical entrepreneurs, as well as an earlier well-known remedy called Solomon’s Balm of Gilead (which itself references biblical healing…; Helfand 1989). The product, as it turns out, was a patent medicine primarily advertised as a remedy for three things: syphilis, gonorrhea and sexual impotence. Specifically:

THE CORDIAL BALM OF SYRIACUM is a gentle stimulant and renovator of the impaired functions of life, and is exclusively directed to the cure of such complaints as arise from the disorganization of the Generative System, whether constitutional or acquired, loss of sexual power, and debility arising from syphilis; and is calculated to afford decided relief to those who by early indulgence in solitary habits have weakened the powers of their system, and fallen into a state of chronic debility, by which the constitution is left in a deplorable state…The consequences arising from this dangerous practice are not confined to its pure physical result, but branch to moral ones; leading the excited, deviating mind into a fertile field of seductive error – into a gradual and total degradation of manhood…How many at eighteen receive the impression of the seeds of syphilitic disease itself? The consequences of which travel out of the ordinary tract of bodily ailment, covering the frame with disgusting evidences of its ruthless nature, and impregnating the wholesome stream of life with mortal poison; conveying into families the seeds of disunion and unhappiness; undermining domestic harmony; and striking at the very soul of human intercourse.”

-The Cambrian, 9/09/1843, p. 1

Yikes. Various advertisements for the balm in the 1850s and 1860s claimed that it was a “never-failing remedy for Spermatorrhoea”, “loss of manly power”, “obstinate gleet[1]”, “tic-dolereaux” and “the prostration and languor produced by sojourning in the colonies or hot climates” (New Zealander 17/08/1861: 6). It, apparently, also “favoured the reproduction of the semen and strengthened at the same time the secretory vessels and the resevoirs” and “removed radically all the affections of the genital parts in both sexes; substituting vigour for impotence, and fecundity in place of barrenness” (Perry and Perry 1841). All of which is a lot for one little remedy to do. Although it was apparently “adapted for both sexes”, it is worth noting that most of the advertisements targeted men. When female complaints were discussed, the most attention was paid to the illnesses and dangers of menopause (or, as described at the time, “the turn of life”) and the “safe conduct” promised by the use of the Balm of Syriacum (Perry and Perry 1841: 62).

Perry’s Cordial Balm of Syriacum bottle, found in Christchurch. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

The actual contents of the balm are unknown, although it may have contained origanum syriacum, which was believed to have blood purifying abilities (Watson 2013: 90). Other similar products, such as the Balm of Gilead, are believed to have contained nothing more than “a few spices and herbs dissolved in a substantial percentage of fine old French brandy” (Helfand 1989: 155). As such, while they may have made the patient feel better for a little while – or  as one person puts it, mistake “the frenzy of inebriation for the natural glow of renovated health” – they are unlikely to have achieved any of the lofty goals outlined in their advertisements (Wilson 2008).

Advertisement for Perry’s Cordial Balm of Syriacum. Note the long litany of ailments it will allegedly relieve. Image: New Zealander 17/08/1861: 6.

The balm was made and sold by R. & L. Perry, London ‘surgeons’ who made quite a name for themselves as specialists in sexual health, specifically the treatment of impotence and the clap. They were self-described consulting surgeons and medical men who “feel that we are not exceeding the limits of truth, or transgressing the bounds of professional etiquette, in asserting that our mode of practice…has been productive of the happiest and most successful results in the treatment of sexual debility in both sexes” (Perry and Perry 1841: vi). In this statement, they were supported by a multitude of (somewhat similar) testimonials from patients who listed, in sometimes excruciating detail, the symptoms and maladies of which they had been cured. In truth, however, they were quacks.

Quackery – animal magnetism, as it happens – in action, c. 1780. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

A good part of what we know about the Perrys and their medical beliefs comes from their book The Silent Friend[2], a treatise on onanism (masturbation) and its consequences, such as impotence, as well as venereal and syphilitic diseases. The Silent Friend contained in its many pages of flowery language, a 65 page long diatribe against “solitary indulgence”, constant advertisements for the Balm of Syriacum and other medicines, numerous descriptions of the symptoms and manifestations of gonorrhea and syphilis, and several disturbing recommendations for the treatment of said venereal diseases. I think my favourite might be the injection of a mixture of lead sulphate (toxic), zinc sulphate, rose water (inexplicably) and opium into sensitive areas. Kids, do not try this at home…

Although the graphic detail of both disease and treatment is morbidly fascinating, it’s the fixation of the authors on the dangers of onanism that I find particularly curious.The Perrys were of the opinion that masturbation not only destroyed the health and mind of the individual, it was a danger to “the welfare of the empire” due to the ways it destroyed man’s emotional, moral and procreative abilities and passed those same debilities on to any children such a sufferer might manage to have. Interestingly, this was a fear that was shared among many in Victorian society: it had become more and more widespread in the 18th century and by the mid-19th century, quack doctors like R. & L. Perry were perpetuating and exploiting the fear and shame associated with masturbation, including the notion that it was responsible for impotence. The list of things caused by such self-indulgence is long and contains a wide range of physical, mental and moral symptoms, to the point where almost any failing of a man or his character could be blamed on his own weakness (oddly enough, no reference is made by the Perrys to women suffering from this particular problem…)

This man is apparently suffering from too much solitary indulgence. “He less resembled a living creature than a corpse; lying upon straw, meagre, pale, and filthy, casting forth an infectious stench, almost incapable of motion, a watery palish blood issued from the nose, his tongue was frightfully swelled, and saliva constantly flowed from his mouth.” Image: The Silent Friend, p. 32.

Sufferers of this terrible malady reported, among other things too graphic to include, that (and do keep in mind those Marvin Gaye lyrics…):

  • “the powers of the mind were much weakened, my judgment had lost its solidity, my head was confused and subject to frequent swimmings”
  • “he often shed tears involuntarily, and a quantity of corrosive pus continually issued from the corners of his eyes”
  • “my spirits greatly depressed, so that at times I could scarcely refrain from sighing and involuntary weeping”
  • “a disordered stomach, dry consumptive cough, weakness in the voice, hoarseness, shortness of breath on the least exercise”

In general, the various treatments for onanism, as well as the ubiquitously suggested Balm of Syriacum, of course, are just as horrifying as those suggested for venereal diseases. Potential cures ranged from cauterizations and blisterings of the penis (yikes, again) to the application of camphor to the genitals, the use of a ‘curative belt’ which sent shocks of electricity through one’s groin, and that old favourite, arsenic (McLaren 2007: 134). Also, specifically in the case of onanism and impotence, matrimony was recommended. The Perrys were strong advocates, surprisingly given our usual impression of Victorians, for a healthy sex life, but only within the confines of marriage. Marriage, and procreation, were after all, the purpose of human existence.

On marriage. Image: The Silent Friend, p. 129.

There’s something of a curious juxtaposition here, I think, between the repressed sexuality and morals of Victorian society and the quackery that very much played on the fears and habits exacerbated by social silence on the subject of sex. It’s visible in the lack of discussion around such matters in daily life and the utter relish with which books like The Silent Friend describe, in extraordinarily graphic terms, the consequences of ‘bad’ sexual habits. I started this post with Marvin Gaye and a tongue in cheek reading of a beloved song (sorry, everyone), but as I’ve written it, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about how much the social censorship, shame and plain old lack of information encouraged the spread of venereal disease and general ill health in the Victorian era (and our own, as it happens, don’t think we’re past this yet). Society created a vacuum into which so-called doctors like R. & L. Perry could step with alacrity and success, virtually unchallenged[3], to both exploit those unspoken fears and spread their own misinformation, in horrendous and alarming detail. Some things are better talked about, as it turns out, than hidden under the bed.

In the words of another (maybe less beloved song), let’s talk about sex, people. And always avoid treatments and doctors that recommend injecting lead sulphate into your genitals. If you’ve learned anything from this blog, let it be that.

Jessie Garland

[1] One anecdote recounted the curing of an obstinate gleet “by the injection of punch, a remedy suggested in a convivial moment; another time by green tea” (Perry and Perry 1841).

[2] The full title is, in fact, The Silent Friend: A Medical Work, On The Disorders Produced By The Dangerous Effects of Onanism, All It’s Dreadful Consequences Considered, Including Nervous and Sexual Debility, Impotency, &C., And On Venereal And Syphilitic Diseases, With Plain Directions For The Removal Of Secondary Symptoms, Gonorrhoea or Clap, Gleets, Strictures, Whites, And All Diseases Of The Urinary Passages, Without The Use of Mercury, Confinement, Or Hinderance from Business; Followed By General Instructions For The Perfect Restoration Of Those Who Are Incapacitated From Entering Into The Holy State Of Marriage; By The Evil Consequences Arising From Early Abuse, Or Syphilitic Infection. Which is really quite a mouthful. I definitely do not recommend looking up gleets, strictures or whites unless you’re sure you want to know. And gonorrhoea, for that matter.

[3] There were some who did challenge these ideas and practices, I just haven’t had a chance to really talk about them.

References

Helfand, W. H., 1989. President’s Address: Samuel Solomon and The Cordial Balm of Gilead. In Pharmacy in History, Vol. 31(4), pp. 151-159.

McLaren, A., 2007. Impotence: A Cultural History. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Perry, R. and Perry, L., 1841. The Silent Friend: A Medical Work, On The Disorders Produced By The Dangerous Effects of Onanism, All It’s Dreadful Consequences Considered, Including Nervous and Sexual Debility, Impotency, &C., And On Venereal And Syphilitic Diseases, With Plain Directions For The Removal Of Secondary Symptoms, Gonorrhoea or Clap, Gleets, Strictures, Whites, And All Diseases Of The Urinary Passages, Without The Use of Mercury, Confinement, Or Hinderance from Business; Followed By General Instructions For The Perfect Restoration Of Those Who Are Incapacitated From Entering Into The Holy State Of Marriage; By The Evil Consequences Arising From Early Abuse, Or Syphilitic Infection. Self published. [online] Available at: https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=i1t1p2YRahcC&dq=the+silent+friend&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Ritz, D., 2010. Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. Omnibus Press, London.

Watson, L., 2013. Tom Tiddler’s Ground: Irregular Medical Practitioners and Male Sexual Problems in New Zealand, 1858-1908. In Medical History, Vol. 57(4), p. 537-558. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3865952/#fnr16 

Wilson, B., 2008. Decency and Disorder: the Age of Cant 1789-1837. Faber and Faber.