The sad story of the secret staircase

The thing about being a buildings archaeologist is that even though some houses might look the same, the story of their occupants and occupation is always different. These stories of occupation are not always revealed in the archaeology of the buildings themselves, and are usually unearthed by our team of historians. When recording a house in the central city, we were confronted with a building that was most intriguing from a buildings archaeology perspective and had a sad story to match.

A house with a sad secret. Image: P. Mitchell.

What made the house different was a ‘secret staircase’ located in the kitchen wall. From a buildings archaeology point of view this staircase didn’t appear to be an original feature, as its installation meant that one of the rooms in the house was unusable. Nor did it appear to have been used for some time, as the floorboards had been replaced where the stairs had once exited on the second floor, and the wall in the second-floor room where a doorway associated with the stairs had been located had been relined in the late 19th century. So why was it there?

A cupboard in the wall? Image: P. Mitchell.

Perhaps. Image: P. Mitchell.

Or perhaps not. Image: P. Mitchell.

There be stairs. Image: P. Mitchell.

The floor of the nursery looks a bit suspicious. Image: P. Mitchell.

Archaeological investigation. Image: P. Mitchell.

More questions than answers. Image: P. Mitchell.

The difference in wall lining is a clue. Image: P. Mitchell.

The other side of the wall. The upright timber is a clue. Image: P. Mitchell.

This notch in the upright timber indicates that it was part of a door frame. Image: P. Mitchell.

With various holes cut in the wall the picture becomes clearer. The red dotted line outlines the doorway. Image: P. Mitchell.

Historian Chelsea Dickson was tasked with uncovering the story of the construction and occupation of the house. What she discovered, and how it meshed with the buildings archaeology, is related below in the ‘Sad Story of the Secret Staircase.’

When Henry Wilkinson, a cobbler and shoe merchant, purchased the relevant land parcel from Cyrus Davie in 1872 he was looking to build a home for himself and his family. His wife Anna Maria, two daughters Laura (the eldest) and Louisa, and his son James Walter were no doubt looking forward to the prospect of living in a brand new home close (but not too close) to town, with the river nearby and Linwood East School just a short walk up Barbadoes Street.

Building started soon after the section was purchased, and the house was complete and the family had moved in by December 1872. Unfortunately, the reason we know that Henry and his family were in occupation of the house at the time is because of the funeral notice for the middle child, Louisa, who passed away in the house aged 7½ (Press 2/12/1872). This tragedy was followed 18 days later when the youngest child, James Walter, passed away aged 4 years (Press 20/12/1872).

By September 1873 Anna Maria had also passed away, aged 37, leaving only Henry and Laura at the house.

In 1874 Henry advertised the four front rooms of the dwelling to let as “the front apartments, four rooms, for a respectable family, of three to four adults, next to Mrs Cyrus Davie’s” (Lyttelton Times 9/4/1874: 4). In order for the tenants to access the kitchen, which was located in the rear of the building, Henry had a staircase built into the wall between the kitchen and the parlour, which provided access from the front upstairs bedroom to the kitchen.

This is the ‘secret staircase’.

Presumably the secret staircase went out of use when Henry ceased letting out the front four rooms of his house, probably in 1875 when he married Annie Martha Griffiths, and hopefully lived happily ever after.

Peter Mitchell

References

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register.

LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A/S 1 – Subdivisions of town reserves register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].

Church and Chocolate: A History of Easter in New Zealand

One of our final blog posts of 2016 took a look at the history of Christmas in New Zealand. In the same festive spirit, this week it seems appropriate to explore the tradition of Easter – from the time when the idea first arrived here with the European settlers until today.

An Easter greeting card (Auckland Star 31/3/1934: 2).

As is the case with Christmas, we all know that Easter was primarily regarded in New Zealand as a religious holiday. But it wasn’t always a ‘holiday’ as such – Good Friday was regarded by Catholics and Anglicans (the two religious groups who recognised Easter in 19th century New Zealand), to be the most solemn day of the year. Good Friday represents the crucifixion day of Jesus, and was traditionally preceded by a (very un-festive) 40 days of Lent, which involved fasting, celibacy and no celebration to speak of. Possibly not unexpectedly, this practice didn’t really catch on with other religious groups in New Zealand – even Anglicans didn’t adhere to Lent with as much fervour as the Victorian Catholics (Clarke 2007: 123-124).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that colonial New Zealand was more secular than the home country, just that attitudes toward religious belief valued the idea of religious freedom. Even though Anglicans were the largest religious group in 19th century New Zealand, they made up less than half of the pakeha population, and it was hard for any one church to impose their ideas onto communities with such diverse views (Clarke 2007: 120).

It also must have been difficult to get into the spirit of a festival that was supposed to celebrate the start of spring – during New Zealand’s autumn. The name ‘Lent’ comes from ‘lengthen’ (West Germanic), and ‘lencten’ springtime (Old English), reflecting the start of spring when the days become longer (Clarke 2007: 120). It made good sense for the Europeans to fast at the end of winter, when food supplies were lowest, but in the southern hemisphere, Easter falls at the end of summer, when food was most abundant (Clarke 2007: 120) – and we know kiwis are just as sensible as the Europeans, right!?

Easter Monday in Cathedral Square, Christchurch (1907). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: The Weekly Press 10/4/1907: 50.

The evolution of the Easter break turning into just that – a break, happened in New Zealand before the same occurred in the motherland. New Zealand was first to introduce Easter Monday as a day off work, which was a result of the Easter holiday being slowly adopted by New Zealand Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists in the 20th century, as they mixed with Catholic and Anglican communities (Swarbrick 2012). With the introduction of the five day, instead of six-day working week, the introduction of Easter Monday as a holiday offered the opportunity of an extended break for holiday makers (Clarke 2007: 161). It was declared to be the “second carnival day of the year” in 1881, “the close of the summer and the precursor to the winter season.” (New Zealand Herald 19/4/1881: 4). This idea was also a carryover from Lent, when feasting, sport and recreation followed the end of the fasting (Clarke 2007: 151). Travelling out of town for the long weekend was well ingrained in our national psyche by at least the early 20th century – the advertisement below represents one of many that were directed toward Easter holiday makers.

(Hastings Standard 13/4/1916: 2).

Holidaying was not the only leisure activity typically enjoyed by the Easter crowds. Sports like hunting were popular activities among men and boys of most backgrounds (Star 21/4/1897: 4). It was possibly so desired by the colonists because hunting was very restricted by England’s poaching laws during the 19th century and long before – at a time when this activity was only available to the wealthy (Clarke 2007: 155). In New Zealand, anyone could hunt or fish within the (much more lax), game laws, and licences were so affordable that most people had the opportunity to shoot or fish legally (Clarke 2007: 155). But let’s not forget sports that involved women! Racing and golf tournaments over the Easter break were also plentiful.

Miss Cowlishaw competing in the Christchurch Golf Club’s Easter Tournament held on the Shirley Links (1908). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0073.

Military training camps were also a weekend activity undertaken by Easter revellers. These represented the predecessors to today’s territorial forces, and included 50 to 100 volunteers per camp (Clarke 2007: 156). During the mid 1880s, 8000 men were part of this nation-wide force. Some Māori participated alongside Pākehā, and some made up distinctively Māori corps, such as the Thames Native Rifle Volunteers (formed 1874; Clarke 2007: 156). But it wasn’t all target practice and taking orders – these groups were as much social clubs as serious military forces (Clarke 2007: 156).

A view of the camp of the Blue Force at Sheffield. Webb and Bunz (photographer). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: The Canterbury Times, 10/4/1907: 45.

Demonstrations were held by the cops each Easter at a few locations around the country. The weekend schedule consisted of drills on Thursday and Good Friday, a parade on Sunday, and the celebrations culminated on Easter Monday with a major field exercise or sham-fight (Clarke 2007: 157). But all the fun wasn’t just to be had by the men-at-arms, many spectators attended, and some camps included contests, bands and balls (Clarke 2007: 158).  Nearby hotels also made roaring trades in the evening from associated celebrating (Clarke 2007: 159).

The Easter manoeuvres of the Canterbury volunteers at the Sheffield Camp. 31 Mar. 1907 Webb and Bunz (photographer). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: The Canterbury Times, 10/4/1907: 45.

But what about the chocolate? And the bunny who brings the chocolate? Like Easter itself, the tradition of the humble Easter egg has its birth in Europe too. During the middle ages, eggs were included in the long list of foods that were forbidden to be consumed during Lent – until Henry VIII relaxed these uncomfortable rules to only exclude meat (good old Henry – that guy loved to make changes; Clarke 2007: 120). The chocolate covered treats that we know today are a 20th century invention, as is the fluffy bunny who carries them. However, both ideas do have their roots in history which pre-dates Christianity – the name ‘Easter’ derives from the pagan fertility goddess ‘Eastre’ – who was a figure of worship relating to spring harvest rituals and celebrations. She was associated with rabbits (due to the speed in which they multiply), and eggs are also commonly associated with fertility and rebirth (Holloway 2014).

Eastre – pagan goddess of spring. Image.

The little chocolate balls of joy began life in Germany and France during the late 18th century, but their association with Easter didn’t become widely spread until the late 19th century when technological advances allowed for mass production. Instead, it was common to decorate eggs – probably often with coloured dyes. Such festive eggs were given as gifts to children at Easter time, and the happy recipients would play games with them such as rolling them down hills (Clarke 2007: 148). Does that sound familiar to anyone else? It immediately reminded me of the annual Jaffa Roll down Baldwin Street, Dunedin (the word’s steepest street). I couldn’t find any links between these two activities, but doesn’t the idea seem very reminiscent?

Jaffa Roll, Baldwin Street. Let’s assume smaller scale? Image.

Image: Pintrest.

Unfortunately, we have never found any evidence of these festive eggs on a Christchurch archaeological site. The closest things we’ve found are decorated egg cups, which were commonly used as part of a breakfast table setting. Less commonly, we also come across undecorated ceramic eggs – thought to have been used in chicken coops to encourage hens to lay their eggs in a common place. It’s probable that real eggs were the ones that were decorated at home for the season (Clarke 2007: 148), although it’s also possible that pre-decorated ceramic eggs may have had their place among the Eastertide celebrations of the wealthy.

Egg cups and an undecorated ceramic egg. Yes, that beige egg cup is in the shape of a dog…

Eggs and bunnies aren’t the only Easter traditions that have origin in pagan belief. This article published in the Evening Post outlines the hot cross buns classical roots – linked with fertility, hunting and the Moon:

Evening Post 21/5/1938:17

We can’t argue that today the common belief is that hot cross buns reflect the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. This was also obviously the common conception of our ancestors, but it seems that some of our predecessors had a few different ideas regarding the origin of the tasty treats:

King Country Chronicle 8/5/1915:3

This article also touches on the superstition that hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday because it was considered lucky. Bread that was baked on this day was thought by some to not spoil and have magical healing properties. Again, this superstition pre-dates Christianity (Clarke 2001: 150). But regardless of their mystical powers or where they came from, there’s no denying that hot cross buns were enjoyed by the masses here in the 19th century – much as they are today. Nineteenth century newspapers were filled with advertisements for hot cross buns, stating that no pre-orders were too small, nor too large.

Wanganui Herald 11/4/1906: 7

They were so well loved that one’s Thursday night pre-orders were not always safe. Newspaper report an 1890s Easter crime spree – describing thieves who followed a baker’s delivery man doorstep to doorstep, stealing the buns on Easter morning (New Zealand Times 5/4/1890:5). How disappointing! So, if I could leave you with a piece of advice this Eastertide – maybe don’t store your hot cross buns on your back doorstep this year guys!

Happy egg day, you eggs.

By Chelsea Dickson

 

References

Alison Clarke, 2007. Holiday seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in nineteenth-century New Zealand. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

Holloway, A. 2014. Ancient Origins: The Ancient Pagan Origins of Easter. [online] Available at: http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/ancient-pagan-origins-easter-001571?page=0%2C1

Swarbrick, N. 2012. ‘Public holidays – Easter, Christmas and New Year’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-holidays/page-2 (accessed April 2017).

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Lyttelton Times 24/12/1859: 3

Lyttelton Times 24/12/1859: 3

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Merry Christmas!

By Chelsea Dickson

 

 

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Cater-Ring

Following on from last week’s blog post, when we discovered a tea set used by a local 19th century caterer – this time we will take a closer look at what catering may have been like for the Victorians.

Prior to this find, catering was one of those 19th century occupations that I’d taken for granted, or never given any thought to. It certainly surprised me to find such specific evidence of this industry, especially to glimpse a particular individual’s business. But hey, these are the things that keep our jobs interesting! Our bread and butter if you will…

When I first began to think about what this industry may have been like for L. J. Smith and his counterparts, I had visions of a primary school cook-off – in which everyone brings a pot-luck plate (made by their mum) to the local school gala day. But upon further research, I found that the industry was more established than this. Caterers were commonly used at many events, including children’s birthday parties, afternoon teas, garden parties, balls and dances, banquets, the races and A & P shows, to name a few.

Despite the number of events these guys must have attended, I only found one really sensational tale regarding the life of a New Zealand caterer, in which a well-known Wanganui professional slipped in the kitchen and slashed his wrist on broken glass, requiring emergency surgery (Marlborough Express 01/09/1900: 3). This is in sharp comparison to the bigger and more dramatic experiences of caterers back in Europe. London’s Evening Post regales us with tales about dodgy caterers being fined for serving cheap meats they claimed were delicacies, a mass poisoning at a medical congress banquet, in which 250 doctors became ill, and the caterer claimed he was framed by someone in a conspiracy to ruin his reputation (Evening Post 10/11/1894: 1, 03/08/1935: 28). Caterers were even being honoured at Windsor Castle for their edible menus (made of sugar tissue paper and cake frosting; Evening Post, 21/11/1906: 15).

All of this was entertaining to read, but what was it like to be a caterer in New Zealand during the 19th century? Like other occupations we have looked at on the blog, early caterers on our shores often had multi-faceted careers – chefs and restaurateurs, confectioners and bakers often moonlighted as caterers when opportunities arose, and successful proprietors were known to open up their own tearooms as a side enterprise.  Some of the professionals who appeared many times in newspapers had seemingly successful careers: one is described as “famous” in his obituary, and L. J. Smith himself is described as well respected (Auckland Star 23/06/1917: 5). A caterer’s name was also often announced in newspapers prior to an event, seemingly as a draw card to advertise the occasion, and they were subsequently thanked, sometimes with a description of the fare provided. So people were certainly interested in their work – I’m thinking the 19th century equivalent of posting a picture of your meal on Facebook?

But what kind of crust did these guys earn? I didn’t find any catering costings during my research, although I did find several bankruptcy notices, and occasions when community groups helped to sell off goods purchased for cancelled events, so the caterer wouldn’t make a loss (Taranaki Herald 11/02/1897: 2). We also know that they formed a union to raise the price of tariffs, which may have helped their profits (Grey River Argus 09/11/1907: 3). There was also always the occupational hazard of theft to consider – the poor guy in this story seems to have lost some equipment…

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

The equipment that some caterers served their fare on was alluded to last week in reference to the blue and white patterned tea set complete with the company logo. The quality and range of serving ware and equipment offered by a caterer, was no doubt related to the formality of the affair and the money spent by the patrons. One New York caterer made place markers for each of his guests in the form of recognisable caricature statuettes of them (Grey River Argus 13/07/1886: 4) – seems a bit over-the-top? More commonly, advertisements mentioned that marquees were available for hire, as well as boilers, tables, crockery, glassware, cutlery, etc. (Press 15/06/1907: 8). One proprietor even stated that her hands would never have touched the flour that made her bread, as she owned the most “up-to-date machinery” (Waikato Independent 18/05/1902: 1).

The formality and size of a catered affair would also determine if extra serving staff were required for an event. The photograph below shows the catering crew of the South Island section of the 9th contingent in which 480 people were said to have been served in four minutes!

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

If you thought that was impressive, this fun nod to old-timely sexism draws our attention to the preference of male wait staff over female waitresses for formal affairs. The author explains that women are less professional than men, and any guest conversation that a waitress might overhear will be subsequently turned into community gossip. Go figure.

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

Probably the most entertaining part of researching catering was determining what they may have served. Check out the ‘Bill of Fare’ for the Telegraph Dinner of 1862. Seven courses? And most of it French! Bon appétit!

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

I suspect not all menus were so elaborate. More humble fare may not have been as far away from what we might find at our modern equivalent of community events – like mini savouries, saveloys and fairy bread. In fact, many advertisements offered scotch pies and ‘fancy bread’, and strawberries and cream were always a special treat (Woodville Examiner 28/04/1911: 4). As many caterers also marketed themselves as confectioners, lollies (typically boiled, sometimes mixed with nuts) were on hand – and depending on the affair, a lolly scramble may have been warranted.

Lolly scramble at a 1880s child's birthday party. Image: W. Crawford. Lolly scrambles were common at community picnics and children’s birthday parties (Swarbrick 2016).

Lolly scramble at an 1880s child’s birthday party. Image: W. Crawford. Tairāwhiti Museum, Te Whare Taonga O Te Tairāwhiti. Lolly scrambles were common at community picnics and children’s birthday parties (Swarbrick 2016).

One of the most commonly catered community events during the 19th century were picnics. Organisations such as firms, churches, unions, clubs and Sunday schools held annual or even more frequent picnics. The picnic would have been a more exotic affair, and required a different menu than a sit down full course meal. Such foodstuffs would need to be served cold and stored in picnic baskets, napkins and tin containers. Common items were sandwiches, cold cuts, cakes, biscuits, cheeses, jellies and pickled fruit. Beverages commonly included ginger beer or ale, lemonade and, of course, tea! (Mitchell 1995: 16). These events (for which the caterers were often paid for by fundraising) frequently required large amounts of food. A combined Thames Sunday schools’ picnic with over 1000 children in attendance required 120 lbs of cake, 1000 dozen buns, 100 lbs of bread, 25 lbs of lollies, 50 lbs of ham, 6 lbs of tea, 25 lbs of sugar, 10 lbs of butter, 6 gallons of milk and peaches (Mitchell 1995: 27).

Essentially, whatever was on the event menu would have included a great deal of MEAT. The European settlers attempted to recreate many of their traditional foods in New Zealand, such as the standard “meat and three vege” combination, which still has its place in many New Zealand homes today (Burton 2016). The main cuisine difference between the homeland and the new frontier was that the quantity of meat consumed by the pioneers significantly increased. The availability and comparative inexpensiveness of meat in New Zealand meant that meat could be eaten for three meals a day, and fish was much less common, due to its British associations with the working class (Burton 2016). Mr Cooper, editor of The Scotsman newspaper visited New Zealand in 1897, and stated that “the fault with [New Zealand hotels] is that they offer you too much meat” and “It was my firm belief that New Zealanders eat more meat and drink more tea than any other people in the world” (Nelson Evening Mail 10/06/1897: 4). There was a small 19th century vegetarian population of New Zealand, some of which were likely to have been part of the Canterbury Dietetic Reform Association (founded in 1882), which promoted the health benefits of a vegetarian diet (Burton 2016). However, these people probably wouldn’t have been too popular at a party, nor would a caterer have been if he left meat off the menu. As Homer Simpson once said: “You don’t make friends with salad!”

Colonial Goose. A great example of the adaption of traditional British cuisine to the New Zealand colony. (Spoiler – it doesn’t: contain any traces of goose!) Goose was hard to come by in New Zealand, so lamb or mutton was used in its place. Image Insureandgo.

Colonial Goose. A great example of the adaption of traditional British cuisine to the New Zealand colony. (Spoiler – it doesn’t: contain any traces of goose!) Goose was hard to come by in New Zealand, so lamb or mutton was used in its place. Image Insureandgo.

Chelsea Dickson

 References

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

Burton, D. ‘Food – Meat’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/food/page-1 (Accessed 16 September 2016).

Grey River Argus [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Evening Post [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Marlborough Express[online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Nelson Evening Mail [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

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

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

Swarbrick, N. ‘Birthdays and wedding anniversaries – Celebrating birthdays’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/38840/lolly-scramble (accessed 16 September 2016).

Taranaki Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Waikato Independent [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Woodville Examiner [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Picturing Christchurch

As a researcher for Underground Overground Archaeology, I spend my time searching written and visual sources for historical information on the sites the archaeologists are working on. The newspapers available on Papers Past are some of the best sources for rediscovering nineteenth-century Christchurch. Photographs, where they are available, offer additional layers of information not available in the written sources. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Christchurch City Libraries, Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Library of New Zealand  have many photographs of early Christchurch online. The website Early New Zealand Photographers and their Successors offers information on photographers and examples of their work.

We are indebted to amateur photographer Dr Alfred Charles Barker, immigrant on the Charlotte Jane in 1850 and the settlement’s doctor, for many of the views of the growing city. He photographed early buildings, local residents and Christchurch city streets. The Canterbury Museum holds a collection of his glass plate negatives, many of which are available to view online.

A number of professional photographers set up businesses in Christchurch during the nineteenth century, producing views of the city and as well as portraits of its inhabitants. The first professional photographer, John Crombie, arrived in 1857 from Auckland. In that year the Lyttelton Times announced that “Photography has broken out like an epidemic amongst us”:

Crombie only stayed for a few months, but by 1865 there were seven photographers operating in the city (The Southern Provinces Almanac, 1865). Over the next 25 years, Christchurch would be home to over 40 studios. Last year Christchurch Uncovered looked at Charles Lawrence who had a photography studio on Oxford Terrace.

There was a thriving market in the sale of photographic views of the new settlement. These were often posted to friends and relatives overseas to show the “improvements” of Christchurch. In 1880 the studio of Edmund Wheeler and his son Edmund Richard Wheeler advertised that they would mount photographs purchased from them into an album and send it free of charge (Star 12/4/1880: 1). Wheeler and Son was one of the longest-lived of Christchurch’s nineteenth-century establishments, operating for nearly 50 years. They set up on Colombo Street in 1865 and moved into Cathedral Square in 1880 where the business remained until 1914 when it went bankrupt (The Southern Provinces Almanac 1865; Star 12/4/1880: 1 and 9/6/1914: 5). Like other photographers, the studio’s main activity was taking portraits, and they produced thousands.

Unidentified woman, by E. Wheeler's Studio. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Album 107.

Unidentified woman, by E. Wheeler’s Studio. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Album 107.

During the 1870s they issued an album of photographs of Christchurch and other locations around the country, which they described as “one of the most complete yet made of New Zealand Views”:

Nearly 20 years later in 1896, Wheeler and Son, in partnership with the New Zealand Scenery Publishing & Co., issued “The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery,” another compilation of photographs taken around the country:

High Street, Christchurch, by Wheeler and Son. Image: The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery.

High Street, Christchurch, by Wheeler and Son. Image: The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery.

Other Christchurch photographers also produced images of the city. John Gaul, who set up on Colombo Street in 1872, advertised in 1873 that he had in stock over 100 views of Christchurch and vicinity taken by William Sherlock, who was working in Gaul’s studio at the time (H. Wise & Co. 1872-73: 230):

Sherlock’s Christchurch photographs had been described in glowing terms in the Star newspaper in 1872. His views of the Avon were touted as “perfect gems” and Sherlock’s talent as a photographer commended:

Christchurch’s bridges proved to be popular subjects for photographers, partly due to their scenic nature but also because they were a symbol of engineering and progress. The studio of Thomas Easter and Frank Wallis produced a carte de visite (small photograph mounted on card measuring 6.5 cm x 10 cm) of the Victoria Bridge:

Victoria Bridge, by Easter and Wallis. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Box 85, No. 10.

Victoria Bridge, by Easter and Wallis. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Box 85, No. 10.

Photographs of public buildings and churches like this one taken by Peter Niels Schourup were likewise very marketable:

Photographers from outside of Christchurch also produced views of the city. The Dunedin studio Burton Brothers visited Christchurch in the 1880s and took a number of photographs of the city’s buildings and streets:

A photograph they took of the intersection of Hereford Street and High Street features the Fisher building prominently in the centre. Christchurch Uncovered looked at the Reverend Thomas Richard Fisher several years ago.

Streetscapes such as this one of Oxford Terrace are valuable for researching nineteenth-century Christchurch buildings. The photograph shows Oram’s Royal Hotel in a high degree of detail, and even the hotel’s sign is clearly shown:

Detail of Oram's Royal Hotel.

Detail of Oram’s Royal Hotel.

Detail of Oram's Royal Hotel sign.

Detail of Oram’s Royal Hotel sign.

A Burton Brothers photograph of Hereford Street shows the building now known as Shand’s Emporium that has been recently moved to Manchester Street:

Detail of Shand's Emporium.

Detail of Shand’s Emporium.

In addition to buildings, we do a lot of research on Christchurch’s nineteenth-century roads and drainage. A photograph of “Colombo Road” in Sydenham, shows one of the channels that ran along the roadside to help combat the city’s drainage problems:

Detail of drainage channel alongside Colombo Road.

Detail of drainage channel alongside Colombo Road.

Unfortunately, only a small number of Christchurch’s streets and buildings were photographed during the nineteenth century, and thousands of the glass plate negatives from photography studios were lost during the First World War when glass was in short supply. Australian companies purchased them for as little as 3 pence per dozen, and one Auckland studio sold 6,000 of their negatives for the war effort (Press 29/5/1916: 6). A Sydney company visited Christchurch photography studios in 1916 and purchased a number of negatives of the old Canterbury identities.

Jill Haley

References

H. Wise & Co., 1878‐1979. Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.

Lyttelton Times [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed September 2016].

Press [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed September 2016].

Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed September 2016].