A little more Lyttelton history

During recent earthquake repairs at a residential property on well-known Sumner Road in Lyttelton, our archaeologists uncovered a small assemblage of artefacts that represented everyday Victorian household items. At first glance these appeared a somewhat ordinary – but when Lydia Mearns (one of our historic researchers), delved deeper into the history of this domestic house site, she uncovered the history of a local couple who experienced their share of turbulent times during the late 19th century.

A selection of the domestic artefacts found at this site. A (from left): dinner plate, clay pipe, transfer printed plate. B: leather shoes. C: pharmaceutical bottle with “W” embossed on the base (we aren’t too sure who made this one), wide mouth pickle bottle, aerated water bottle – made by J. F. Wyatt, Lyttelton, between 1889 and 1835 (Donaldson: 1991: 266-267). W.D. and H.O. Wills cigarette tin lid (this tobacco company was known by this name from 1830 onwards; Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences 2017). Image: C. Dickson.

The young settlers, Robert Flett and his wife, Isabella Gaudie Flett, emigrated from the Scottish Orkney Islands in 1863 and arrived in Lyttelton on board the Tiptree (Sun 3/12/1915: 11). The couple initially settled on land that they purchased in Hawkhurst Road, and during the late 1860s, they began to accumulate residential sections on Sumner Road. By 1874, they had purchased two neighbouring town sections –  one to live on, and the other to keep as an investment. The first record of their occupation of Sumner Road was in 1872, and this placed the Fletts as residents on the section that was adjacent to our archaeological site. This is where the couple would spend most of their time for the next few decades (H. Wise & Co. 1872-1884).

Detail from a photograph taken between 1876 and the early 1880s showing a number of small cottages present along the Sumner Road in the vicinity of our site. Image: Bradley, c.1876-1880.

Robert Flett was a ship’s carpenter, who went into partnership with a fellow named Peter Loutitt, in the construction and operation of a patent slipway on Dampier’s Bay Road. From this slipway, the pair launched and repaired many ships in the Lyttelton Port, and their company name featured heavily in the local newspapers throughout the 1860s as a common place to fix up one’s boat (Globe 16/6/1875: 3; Press 25/9/1872: 3; Star 17/2/1869: 2). However, despite its popularity, the specific location of this slipway is not exactly known – articles mention that it was situated near the gasworks and “near the bathing sheds” on Norwich Quay and an approximation of what we’ve deemed as its most likely location (based on this description), is shown below.

1860s plan of the western Lyttelton Port showing the approximate future location of Robert Flett’s patent slipway near the gasworks and the “bathing shed” (Lyttelton Times 25/9/1872: 2Sun 3/12/1915: 11). Image: Rice 2004: 28.

During their time in Lyttelton together, Robert and Isabella featured in the local newspapers several times. Most of these reports weren’t happy ones, as things began to go wrong for the couple a few years after they started buying their properties. They experienced great loss when Robert’s brother, ship Captain William Flett, died a tragic death in 1873. He drowned ten miles of Godley Head on a voyage from Picton, then Isabella’s father also died three years later (back home in the Orkney  Islands), at age 78 (Press 31/12/1873: 2; Lyttelton Times 14/12/1896: 2). Through all of this, the Fletts were also experiencing some trying times socially. Robert Flett’s acquaintances described him as “an inoffensive quiet man”, who had a “frank and cheerful disposition, and [was] much esteemed by all who knew him (Press 21/8/1890: 4).” But despite his this, his character was called into question in court when he was charged with assaulting one of his former tenants in 1867, with whom he had had many grievances (Lyttelton Times 15/2/1867: 2).

Isabella is documented as experiencing her own petty troubles, with her incessant letter writing battles with the local drainage board over the drainage of their properties, the retaining walls and the maintenance of the Sumner Road street frontage (Press 2/4/1890: 3, 4/12/1894: 6; Star 23/2/1886: 3, 9/3/1886: 3). The tone and quantity of this correspondence suggests that she wasn’t very popular with these local bodies. She’s also recorded offering a reward for her lost, precious heart shaped greenstone brooch in 1875 (Globe 9/9/1875: 2). It was lucky that she didn’t lose more one day in 1890, as a sketchy door to door salesman arrived on her doorstep one afternoon peddling his wares. Isabella purchased an album of views from him, but this was immediately after he allegedly broke in and entered a neighbouring house and stole eight pounds from a pocketbook (Press 24/2/1890: 3). Close call.

Some ink bottles found on the property. With this much ink, one can write many letters… to drainage boards etc… Image: C. Dickson.

Despite all their major and minor personal troubles, the Fletts were managed to amass themselves a tidy little property empire in Lyttelton by the end of the 1880s. Their tenant seeking efforts were well recorded in local newspaper advertisements, and the article below shows just how well they were doing by 1889, with no less than seven properties to Robert’s name! (Star 29/2/1888: 3).

The Flett estate for sale! This advertisement of their seven house mini property empire notes Robert Flett’s intention to sell up and leave the colony… for good? (Star 2/3/1889: 4). The property business seems to have been going swimmingly, as they were all let to good tenants.

Perhaps having not found the perfect buyers for all of their properties, Robert and Isabella left Lyttelton in April 1890 to visit their hometown of Birsay, Orkney Islands (without selling their empire). However, the events surrounding their departure are a little strange – the above advertisement seems to suggests that it was Robert’s intention to emigrate back to Orkney permanently. He even held an auction at their Sumner Road home in March of 1890, in an attempt to sell all of their household furniture as “he was leaving for England.” (Press 18/3/1890: 8). But despite these attempts to sell up, it was later reported that the Fletts were merely holidaying in the Scottish Isles? I suppose one way of financing your summer holiday would be to sell everything you own… but it seems a little short-sighted, don’t you think?

Whether it was Fletts intention to emigrate back to Orkney for good or just to holiday, we will never know for certain. But during their time in Scotland, tragedy struck again for their family when Robert fell off a cliff to his death! (Archives New Zealand, 1891; Star 20/8/1890: 3). The events surrounding his fall were also a little unusual… like something out of  a dramatic movie scene. Local news reports of the incident depict Robert dangling over a cliff in an attempt to reach a lost gun. How Robert managed to lose his firearm off the edge of a cliff face isn’t known – he had gone out shooting alone early that morning, and an unnamed witness had spied him on a nearby beach fetching a boat hook to snag the gun from wherever it had fallen. But the coastal winds were probably blowing hard that day – Robert was not seen falling off the cliff but he also wasn’t ever seen again. His body was not even able to be found after the accident due to a fierce storm that hit the next day, which caused the loss of even more lives in the sea below.

The tragic story of Mr Flett’s death… and some other tragic deaths (Star 20/8/1890: 3). It seems Isabelle Flett was still avidly penning letters at this time.

The unfortunate Mrs Flett, now a widow, returned to Lyttelton alone, where she had no other family. Perhaps she preferred to change her immigration plans and go back to where she and her late husband had enjoyed success together in their property development schemes, especially now that her father was no longer home in Scotland? The Sumner Road properties remained in her ownership until her death in 1915, and the 1907 Lyttelton Valuation Roll, indicated that Mrs Flett had four houses on Sumner Road that year (Sun 3/12/1915: 11). The age of these houses was recorded as being between 30 and 50 years old at this time and this provides a construction date for the four dwellings between 1857 and 1877 – proving them to be the same legacy left by Robert to Isabella (Archives New Zealand, 1878: 80). The map of Lyttelton drawn by J R Williams in 1910 shows the footprint of the four houses on Mrs Flett’s land, including a dwelling at the modern address of our Sumner Road archaeological site (Figure 4). This dwelling does not have the same footprint as the extant building on this section so it must have been demolished sometime in the 20th century.

Detail from 1910 map of Lyttelton showing the land owned by Mrs Flett on the Sumner Road (outlined in red) and showing the footprint of a cottage present on our section (outlined in blue). Image: Williams, 1910.

This probably happened around 1917, when the trustees of Mrs Flett’s estate, Thomas Taylor and Andrew Kirk, advertised for the removal of “three cottages fronting the Sumner Road”, in January 1917 (Star 27/1/1917: 4). A few days after this, the advertisement was taken out in the newspaper because one of the dwellings previously owned by Mrs Flett had burnt down before it could be removed (Star 6/1/1917: 10). The rest of the cottages also appear to have been removed later that year as there are no residents recorded in the 1918 street directories on the land previously owned by the Fletts (H. Wise & Co. 1918: 567).

Detail from a photograph of the Sumner Road taken between 1919 and 1925, showing a new house on the section where the artefacts were found (indicated with red arrow), while the location of adjacent site where the Flett’s once lived is vacant (indicated with a blue arrow). Image: Anon, c.1919-1925.

As the small assemblage of artefacts that were found at this site were located within the boundaries of the neighbouring section to the Flett’s, it’s probable that they were dropped or thrown away by one of their tenants. The manufacturing dates of the artefacts we showed you at the start of this post suggest that this tenant was most likely Edward James Norris (who we know very little about). But regardless of this gap in the historical record, we were able to stumble across this intriguing narrative about Mr and Mrs Flett and their story in the early history of Lyttelton.   

Chelsea Dickson

References

Anon, c.1919-1925. Lyttelton wharves, Canterbury, showing harbour, ships, houses and buildings. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, 1/1-009876-G Available at: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/29946642 [Accessed October 2017].

Archives New Zealand, 1891. Probate, Robert Flett Lyttelton Christchurch, Canterbury. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Regional Office, CAHX-2989-CH171-65-CH2083/1891. Available at < https://familysearch.org/ > [Accessed October 2017].

Bradley, c.1876-1880s. Overlooking Port Lyttelton and Township. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, PAColl-6407-57. Available at: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23220714 [Accessed October 2017].

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectibles Club, Christchurch.

H. Wises & Co. 1866-1954 [online]. Available at http://home.ancestry.com.au/.

Rice. G. 2004. Lyttelton: Port and Town. An Illustrated History.

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. 2017. Metal cigarette tin used in Antarctica 2017, Museum of Applied Arts &amp; Sciences. [online] Available at: https://collection.maas.museum/object/257736. Accessed 20 November 2017.

 

Canterbury Corner

Down on the corner of a Lyttelton street, there was a butcher, a courier and a large family to meet… Or at least, one could have met them about 150 odd years ago when three early settler families in Lyttelton combined their lives and livelihoods for three generations through marriage links.

Last year, Angel Trendafilov (one of our archaeologists), was called out to a house site in Lyttelton, where a large deposit of 19th century domestic refuse was found during the excavation for new foundation piles. This rubbish pit was found beneath a layer of introduced soil that contained many artefacts. Several matching artefact fragments were found in the introduced layer and the rubbish pit, telling us that that the soil from the upper layer had probably once been a part of the rubbish pit. At some point, the top of the pit must have been disturbed and some of its contents redeposited during ground levelling works at the site.

A photo of the house site showing the pile holes. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Angel noticed that this introduced upper soil layer was found above a drainpipe that had been manufactured by the Christchurch Brick Company (CBC). This company started as a merger between Wigram Brothers and T. N. Horsley and Co. in 1903 and the lack of disturbance observed in the relevelling layer suggest that the pipes had been laid before the site was relevelled. This suggests that the relevelling is likely to have occurred sometime after 1903, while the large rubbish pit beneath this layer must have been deposited sometime prior to this.

Drainpipe pipe with maker’s mark. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The artefacts found in this rubbish pit and ground relevelling fill layer were typical 19th century domestic types. That is to say, they were ceramic tea wares, table wares and beverage and food containers, household artefacts like chamber pots, jugs, candle holders, pharmaceutical items, and personal items like clay pipes and leather shoes. Food remains were also present in the forms of shells and bones, and from these remains it’s apparent that the people who threw them out were fans of oysters, cockles, and mutton. Only a small amount of the mutton bones had evidence of butchery, so it’s possible that they represented several sheep that were not butchered for meat. Alternatively, it’s probably more likely that the bones were used to make soups, stocks or stews.

Some of the cool clay pipes found at the site. Row A: clay pipe with “T D” and “28” mark B: Davidson, T., and Co. clay pipe (manufactured 1861 and 1910). C: clay pipe with rope decoration, and clay pipe with wheat decoration. Image: C. Dickson.

The manufacturing techniques used on these artefacts and the maker’s marks that were present suggested that this rubbish pit could not have been deposited before the 1870s. We know from researching the history of the site that people had lived on this residential section from at least 1864, but the story of the families who lived in the area proved to be a knotty tale. So allow me to unravel it for you…

If we trace back the history of land subdivisions and ownership, we can see that a large section of this town block was first purchased by David Patton Dimond in 1855. Dimond had also owned the adjoining town section (fronting Winchester Street), since 1851 and would eventually raise a family and run a business from here (LINZ, 1850: 71-72). This family consisted of David and his wife Elwina Scott, whom he married in 1853, and the four children that they had during the 1850s (Rootsweb 2006). David worked as carter/carrier, and during the 1860s he ran a courier business in partnership with his brother, Sydney Dimond, from the Winchester Street property – which they imaginatively called “Dimond Brothers” (Lyttelton Times 22/7/1854: 8). The Dimond Brothers partnership dissolved in 1866, but David continued the business himself, with it later becoming known as “Dimond and Son” when his son David George Dimond, joined the business (some more creative names here; Lyttelton Times 6/1/1866: 4; H. Wise & Co., 1883-1884: 147).

The notice of dissolution (Lyttelton Times 6/1/1866: 4).

In 1858, Dimond subdivided and sold a part of his section to George Scott (senior), and Moses Cryer (LINZ 1850: 71). This section comprised most of the northern half of the town section (where our property is now located), leaving a narrow area to the west that may have been used as an access road.

Detail from the Lyttelton Deeds Index Register showing the 1858 subdivision (in green), of the town section. Image: LINZ 1850: 543.

Moses Cryer was the earliest butcher in Lyttelton, and he was involved with the planning of the first road over the Port Hills (Press 12/9/1893: 5; New Zealand Herald 7/1/1935: 10). He didn’t keep his share of the property for long but sold his interest to George Scott (or perhaps another member or the Scott clan), in 1859 (LINZ 1850: 554). To make matters a little more interesting, George Scott’s daughter was the aforementioned Elwina Scott, making him David Dimond’s father-in-law. George’s sons, Samuel Francis Scott and George Francis Scott, also had a fraternal business in Lyttelton (this one was named Messrs G. F. and S. F. Scott), and together they ran the Mitre Hotel and the Robin Hood Inn (finally a great name), located on Norwich Quay, until 1857 (Lyttelton Times 11/3/1857: 12).

Another one bites the dust (Lyttelton Times 16/7/1857: 6).

This tangled web of small-town marriage wove further in 1855, when Samuel Francis Scott married Anne Cryer (Moses Cryer’s daughter; Lyttelton Times 28/3/1855: 3). We could tell by a newspaper birth announcement and the electoral rolls that Samuel and Anne lived at the Canterbury Street address from at least 1864, and they were likely to have stayed there until they moved their family to Southbridge in 1867 (Lyttelton Times 6/9/1864: 4; H. Wise & Co. 1878-1879: 155). This suggests that the two fathers, Moses Cryer and George Scott, may have purchased the section to build a home for their children to start a family in, right next door to Samuel’s sister Elwina. Isn’t that nice! What’s also nice is that this suggests the strong possibility that the archaeological material found on this site is associated with the Samuel Scott/Anne Cryer family’s occupation of the section between c. 1864 and 1876.

But this isn’t our only option – confidently attributing archaeological finds on densely populated town sections is rarely so simple. Following Samuel Scott’s departure to Southbridge in 1876, Scott sold the property back to (his now relative) David Dimond. David then mortgaged his large property several times to the Lyttelton Permanent Building Society, and with the funding this raised, he probably built several structures on it (LINZ 1850: 543). David also advertised a six-roomed property to let on Canterbury Street, but it is not known if any tenants moved in.

A lonely home (Star 12/10/1876: 2).

In 1900, David subdivided his property again, and by this time, there were at least three large dwellings present in the area (LINZ, 1900). However, no structures were present in the section where our artefacts were found, suggesting that the dwelling occupied by the Scott/Cryer family in the 1860s and 1870s had been demolished by 1900. Thomas Martin Lewington (ship joiner and inventor of an automatic sheep carcass counter), had leased the neighbouring back section from at least 1896 and in 1901, he purchased it (as well as the section containing our archaeological site; Evening Star 17/2/1891: 3; LINZ, 1901; H. Wise & Co., n.d. :19; Press 15/3/1940: 10).

Plan showing buildings present in the area during 1900. The vacant section fronting Canterbury Street on the plan was the location of the archaeological site. The building visible in the northwest of the plan is probably the Lewington family home. Image: LINZ, 1900.

As the adjacent Canterbury Street section was probably vacant during the later decades of the 19th century, it may have acted as a convenient place where the neighbouring Lewingtons or the Dimond families could have disposed of their household trash before a new house was built on the section. On-site domestic rubbish deposition like this was common in Canterbury during the 19th century, and archaeological evidence from other local domestic sites suggest that citizens often buried or burnt their own rubbish on-site (Wilson 2005). We’ve seen examples of refuse dumping at neighbouring vacant sections like this before on Canterbury archaeological sites, so without the presence of any artefacts that could be specifically attributed to any of the families, it’s difficult to tell who this rubbish belonged to.

Map showing all the buildings present in the area by 1910. The building that was present at the location our archaeological site (outlined in red), is likely that to be the same building that was standing until its post-earthquake demolition. The presence of the extant house in 1910 indicates that the rubbish pit, pipe laying and the relevelling of the site all occurred before this date. Image: Williams 1910.

Despite the uncertainties, this site offered us a fascinating history of some of the earliest settlers of Lyttelton, and it proved to be a great example of close family ties, family enterprise, not to mention, confusingly repeated family names.

Chelsea Dickson

References

Wise & Co., n.d. Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories.

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds Index – Lyttelton B, Canterbury. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

LINZ, 1900. DP 1623, Canterbury. Landonline.

Williams, J.R., 1910. Plan of Lyttelton Sewerage.

Wilson, J. et. al. 2005. Contextual Historical Overview for Christchurch City. Christchurch City Council. Available  at: https://www.ccc.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Culture-Community/Heritage/ChristchurchCityContextualHistoryOverviewTheme11-docs.pdf  [Accessed May 2016).