Touring the past

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

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

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

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

And here’s a similar looking version in Kaiapoi…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe travels everyone!


Chelsea Dickson


Langton, G. 1996. ‘Du Faur, Emmeline Freda’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996, updated December, 2005. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 2 February 2018).

McClure, M. 2010. ‘Tourist industry – Māori entrepreneurs in Rotorua’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 31 January 2018)

Wilson, J. 2005. ‘The voyage out – Early steamers’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 February 2018).

Wilson, J. 2006. ‘Canterbury places – Hanmer and Lewis Pass’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 February 2018).


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


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

Star [online]. Available at

Whisky, that philosophic wine, that liquid sunshine

It is a well-known truth, in this office at least, that archaeology and whisky go well together. Or, perhaps more accurately, that archaeologists and whisky go well together. With a few exceptions (you know who you are, gin drinkers), it is not at all uncommon to find yourself in the company of an archaeologist with a fine appreciation for a single malt (or two, or three). With that in mind, it’s a bit of a wonder that we haven’t thought to write a blog post combining the two before now (honestly, archaeology and whisky are two of my favourite things, what were we thinking).

It won’t surprise any of our readers, I think, to hear that alcohol bottles are one of the most common artefacts we find on 19th century sites (here in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand). Despite the temperance movement in the late 19th century and the many discussions and testimonies about the evils of the demon drink, alcohol remained a popular product. As with the gin bottles we discussed a while back, however, it can be difficult to know exactly which types of alcohol were originally contained in these bottles – unless we have a label or embossing (and even then, these bottles were reused over and over again for a variety of products). Fortunately for this post, as it happens, we’ve been lucky enough to find a few examples that do have labels, each with their own story to tell about whisky consumption in Christchurch.


“Black  beer” bottles of various sizes found in Christchurch. While a large number of these were probably used for beer, the larger quart sizes in particular would also have been commonly used for spirits like whisky and gin. Image: J. Garland.

Johnnie Walker.

Old Johnnie Walker. Established in Kilmarnock in the mid-19th century, John Walker (and then John Walker and Sons) has making whisky for far longer than some of you might be aware. It’s advertised in New Zealand newspapers throughout the latter decades of the 19th century. This particular bottle, found on a site in Rangiora, has been cut with a hot wire around the shoulder of the bottle to create a preserving jar out of the base (the jar like shape of the cut base would be used to store fruit or preserves and sealed with wax). Image: C. Dickson (left), Southland Times 16/04/1887: 4 (right).

Genuine pure whisky will never injure the system.

Advertisements for whisky in the 19th century were many and varied. This one, for Teacher and Sons, makes the oft-used claim that “Genuine pure whisky will never injure the system; it is the common inferior stuff which is the curse of the world.” Image: Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 3/06/1904: 2.

removing the drunk from whisky

In which an enterprising chemist with only the best of intentions claims to have removed the “drunk” from whisky, but not the exhilarating powers. Amazingly, his discovery doesn’t seem to have taken off. Image: Dunstan Times 30/08/1909: 2.


This label has a bit of a story behind it. We sent it off to the good folks at Whisky Galore, who managed to trace it to the Saucel distillery in Paisley, Scotland – one of the biggest distilleries of the late 19th century (apparently producing over a million gallons a year in the 1890s), but one that has now been completely erased from the landscape. The distillery was established c. the 1790s and continued through into at least the early 20th century (it was taken over by the Distiller’s Company in the early 1900s). It was bought by James Stewart and Co. in 1825 and, although it was resold in 1830 to Graham Menzies, continued to carry the Stewart name for quite some time. There are several advertisements to be found in New Zealand newspapers in the 1860s and 1870s for Saucel or ‘Stewart’s’ whisky from Paisley. Image: J. Garland (left), Taranaki Herald 05/03/1864: 4 (right).

squirrel whisky

Squirrel whisky! We do not recommend. Image: Tuapeka Times 8/07/1908: 1.


Another old establishment, the Kirkliston distillery was established in 1795 in West Lothian, Scotland. It had a series of owners during the 19th century, including Andrew Stein, who installed a Stein continuous triple still, John Buchanan and Co. and, eventually, John Stewart and Co., who bought it in 1855. Stewart and Co. installed a Coffey still, taking the distillery back to large scale grain distilling rather than using pot-stills. John Stewart and Co., and the Kirkliston distillery, were one of the six Scottish whisky manufacturers who formed the Distillers Company in 1877 (see below!). The Kirkliston distillery was apparently also a large producer, with estimates of 700 000 gallons a year in the 1880s. It’s quite often mentioned in New Zealand newspapers, especially in the 1860s and 1870s. Image: (from top right down) C. Dickson, Press 4/01/1865: 2Otago Daily Times 1/09/1865: 1Press 16/11/1864: 5 and Dickson, C. (right).

doctor's special

See? Whisky is totally medicinal. Image: New Zealand Herald 29/07/1925: 12. 


Thom and Cameron may be the most common whisky manufacturer we’ve come across in the archaeological record (this is not to say that they were the most commonly consumed, just that their bottles may survive better in the ground that most). They were established in 1850 and had premises in Glasgow, although I’m not sure if this is where the distillery was or not. They made a variety of whiskies, including Glenroy, Rob Roy, Hawthorn, Old Highland Whisky, Special Reserve Whisky and, my personal favourite, Long John Whiskey (named after Ben Nevis whisky distiller John Macdonald, who was apparently quite tall). A description of their distillery in 1888 mentions “immense vats of American oak’, including some that held 10 000 gallons. Image: J. Garland (left), Press 03/10/1895: 1. 

Thom and Cameron

We also found the fragments of a Thom and Cameron jubilee whisky jug on a site on St Asaph Street last year. The jug, which depicts a particularly sour faced looking Victoria (she has definitely got her eye on you), would have been made in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 50 years on the throne. Image: C. Dickson (left) and The Sale Room (right).

idle men need duff's whisky

Idle men need Duff’s whisky. Now you know. Image: Auckland Star 9/09/1933: 8.

Distiller's Company

This flask has a metal capsule seal with the mark of the Distillers Company Ltd, or D. C. L. These guys were formed in 1877 by six Scottish distilleries. By the early to mid-20th century, they had become one of the leading whisky (and pharmaceuticals) companies in Scotland. Image: J. Garland (left), Press 22/04/1916: 5. 

heddle leith

We don’t know much about this one, unfortunately. James Heddle was a whisky, gin and cordial manufacturer or distributor based in Leith, Scotland during the latter half of the 19th century. We have advertisements for his products in New Zealand during the 1870s, including for lime cordial, old tom gin and scotch whisky. Image: C. Dickson (left),  Wanganui Herald 16/05/1879: 4Press 22/03/1871: 4Press 13/01/1925: 10.


As well as importing bottles of whisky, people imported casks and bottled the spirits here. This bottle label says “SCOTCH WHISKY, bottled in New Zealand by B. Perry, OCCIDENTAL HOTEL.” The Occidental was a well-known and well-loved establishment on Hereford Street in Christchurch that was still running until just before the earthquakes. Benjamin Perry, who was proprietor of the hotel during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, holds the distinction of being one of the only licensed victuallers in the city to never be in breach of his liquor license. We couldn’t find any specific reference to whisky being bottled at the hotel (although we did find other references to whisky at the hotel…), but we did find a notice in the paper in the 1910s advertising for washed whisky bottles, presumably for that very same purpose. Image: J. Garland (left), Sun 27/07/1918: 11 (top right), Press 17/01/1903: 8.

ruining the whisky punch

And, last but not least, whatever you do, don’t ruin the whisky punch with water. Image: Evening Star 23/01/1884: 2.

Jessie Garland


Papers Past. [online] Available at

Townsend, B., 2015. Scotch Missed: The Original Guide to the Lost Distilleries of Scotland. Neil Wilson Publishing, England.

Spirits, skittles and a stolen goose: the life and times of the Caversham Hotel

John Bent leaned over and grabbed the goose. There was a whole flock of them in the street—surely one wouldn’t be missed? It was 11pm, and he had been drinking heavily all night. In his muddled state it seemed like a good idea. “Leave it alone,” his mate Edward Banks warned him. He too was drunk. But Bent ignored him, and the two men walked off with the bird. From his seat in the Caversham Hotel, Robert Hallam saw all this happen, and he told Smith, the hotel’s proprietor, that one of his geese was being nicked. This was not the first time the hotel had lost one of its flock. They were worth 8 shillings each, and Smith was determined not to lose another one. He rushed outside and called to Bent to drop the goose, who, in his panic, threw it over a fence. The next day, Constable Jeffreys paid Bent a visit. Bent said that he knew nothing about the matter but, so that no further bother had to be made, offered to pay for the goose. The constable was not interested in Bent’s simple solution and instead charged him with theft. He was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment (Lyttelton Times 6/5/1868: 2).

During the nineteenth century, hotels were gathering places for the community and sites for a variety of events, and the Caversham Hotel was no exception. As expected, the local newspapers were filled with stories of drunken and disorderly behaviour and the occasional petty theft, but the hotel was also a recreational place for many people to enjoy a meal and some entertainment, as well as a home for others. Its walls witnessed the everyday life of its visitors and residents. The theft of Smith’s goose in 1868 is just one of an infinite number of small stories that make up the history of the Caversham Hotel.

When John Franklin Smart opened Caversham House (as it was then called) on the corner of Madras and St Asaph streets in 1852, that part of Christchurch was the edge of the struggling new settlement, but by the time the hotel closed in 1910, it had been engulfed by the growing city. Smart’s choice of that area was strategic, and he was able to take advantage of traffic passing in and out of Christchurch. As soon as the hotel opened, he advertised in the Lyttelton Times:

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

In 1862 John Townsend Parkinson, the new proprietor of the hotel, remodelled and enlarged the building, renaming his premises the Caversham Hotel (Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1). It seemed to have been a good year for Parkinson. On Anniversary Day (originally held in December), he was “feeling desirous of giving his friends and the public an opportunity of enjoying themselves” and set up games of quoits, greasy pole (climbing a greased pole), jumping in sacks and donkey racing in the paddocks adjoining the hotel (Lyttelton Times 13/12/1862: 5).

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

In February 1863, Parkinson’s good feelings had changed, and he poisoned himself with strychnine. Poor business decisions as well as the recent hotel work had put him deeply into debt. Several days before his death, the hotel’s barman noticed that Parkinson seemed to be inattentive and disordered. To Parkinson’s wife, who knew nothing about his financial difficulties, he appeared to be in a cheerful mood. When he heard that news of his debt had been published in a report, he sent an advertisement to the Standard offering a reward of £20 for delivery of the “scoundrel” who had written it. The next morning, he decided to take his own life. Soon after swallowing the strychnine, the barman found him on his bed in a seizure. The doctor was called, but the poison had taken its effect and Parkinson died (Lyttelton Times 7/2/1863: 4).

After Parkinson’s death, John Franklin Smart took over the hotel again, and by the end of 1863, Thomas Howes had taken up its management (Press 23/7/1863: 5; Lyttelton Times 14/3/1863: 6). The next year, the hotel was put up for sale:

The main amusement of the Caversham Hotel, like other licensed hotels, was the bar. Over nearly 60 years, the hotel sold a range of wines, ales and spirits. As luck would have it, a few artefacts were found at this site which reflected this drinking culture. These were commonly found bottle types which would have contained beer, wine and gin. As is typical of hotel sites (where patrons dined as well as drank), a serving tureen, salad oil bottles and wide mouth jars which may have contained other condiments or food were also uncovered. The most exciting find was a large flagon that may have once provided cider, beer or water to the hotel guests (Oswald et al. 1982: 74). The flagon was largely intact, and was made by Stephen Green Imperial Pottery Factory, in Lambeth, between 1820 and 1858 (Godden 1991: 289). What was unusual about this vessel was the maker’s mark – it contained the phrase “glass lined inside.” Now lining the inside of a hefty ceramic beverage container with fragile glass didn’t seem like a smart idea to me – but luckily it mustn’t have to Stephen Green either – the phrase actually refers to the glaze of the vessel. Specifically, when the outer vessel was salt-glazed, the inside was glazed with liquid prior to firing (Wood 2014: 102).

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker's mark. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker’s mark. Image: C. Dickson.

This flagon was extra cool because its manufacturing date supported our idea that these artefacts were likely to have been thrown away into an open roadside drain, and accumulated over time. This accumulation would have happened between the formation of St Asaph Street in the 1850s and the laying of the adjacent lateral wastewater pipeline in 1882 – this pipeline forms part of a broader network of waste water pipes dating to the 1880s in central Christchurch. Much of this network is still present and in use today. In fact, last year we uncovered another section of this earthenware pipeline which had a manufacturer’s mark revealing that the Christchurch Drainage Board imported the city’s sewage pipes from Scotland, rather than being locally sourced (ArchSite 2015).

In addition to being an accommodation house and pub, the Caversham Hotel provided games such as billiards and skittles, an early form of bowling that dates back to ancient times and is the forerunner of today’s 10-pin bowling. Its association with pubs and good times is summed up in the expression ‘Life isn’t all beer and skittles’. The game could be played outside on a lawn or inside in an alley and was seen as a working-class amusement that often included gambling (Lyttelton Times 20/6/1865: 6). The Caversham Hotel was one of a handful of establishments that had an indoor alley, and it was the scene of several petty crimes in the 1870s. In 1874 Joseph Hannan stole a purse, pipe and about £5 from Charles Oliver, who had fallen asleep on a bench in the alley, and in 1877 Richard Coleman was found guilty of taking a coat from a table (Star 19/6/1874: 2 and 12/3/1877: 2). During the 1880s the hotel also had an outdoor skittle ground, which was the site of several competitive matches during the decade (Star 31/1/1885: 2).

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

 In 1882, owner Edward Ravenhill had the ageing hotel rebuilt in brick (Press 16/5/1882: 4). Fifteen years later, in 1897, the hotel was again in need of repairs, and Ravenhill had the building pulled down and rebuilt on the site with “all modern conveniences” and “every comfort” (Press 11/11/1897: 8). The furniture and effects from the old hotel were sold at auction, and they included, among other things, a billiard table, two pianos, bedsteads, washstands, mats and carpets, 50 Australian chairs, Japanese chairs, kitchen utensils, 50 pictures and even “stuffed birds in cases” (Star 7/8/1897: 5).

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

During the demolition work, an 1815 copy of Volume VI of A Select British Theatre was found, reportedly in excellent condition and “quite as good as when it was first issued” (Press 7/6/1897: 5). It contained five plays adapted for the theatre by John Philip Kemble. Who owned this volume? A theatre lover who stayed at the hotel? A university student who stopped in for a drink one night? A thief who hid the book to avoid the constable? The history of the book will remain a mystery, but it shows how diverse life at the hotel was.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Ravenhill’s new hotel did not last long.  In 1910 the building was sold at auction in sections for removal, ending its 58-year history. The auction lots included a two-roomed cottage measuring 22 by 16 feet, 35 doors with frames, iron of all sizes, tiled grates, mantelpieces, pipes, boilers, shelving, gates, signposts and timber of every description (Press 7/2/1910: 12).

Jill Haley and Chelsea Dickson


ArchSite, 2015. M35/1353. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Godden, G., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Crown Publishers, New York.

Lyttelton Times [online] Available at [Accessed August 2016].

Oswald, A., Hildyard, R. J. C. & Hughes, R., G. 1982. English Brown Stoneware 1670-1900. Faber and Faber Limited., London.

Press [online] Available at [Accessed August 2016].

Star [online] Available at [Accessed August 2016].

Wood, F., L., 2014. The World of British Stoneware: It’s History, Manufacture and Wares. Troubador Publishing Ltd.

The world is your oyster – a tale of talking molluscs, bar brawls and Victorian vice…

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like oysters – they’re slimy, they look weird and they taste like the sea. So perhaps I was affected more than your average person when I recently had the task of analysing an assemblage of artefacts that provided an abundance of similarly decorated stoneware jars. These jars were all the same form, one which I had never come across before. A quick internet search determined that some collectors refer to these as ‘oyster jars’ – this was an unfamiliar term for me, and it piqued my curiosity. Further research revealed that the canning and pickling of oysters was a common enterprise in 19th century Canterbury and around the world!

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The stone ware jars. Image: C. Dickson.

Now, not being a fan of them, the idea of other people not only eating oysters, but eating old oysters, wasn’t appetising. But I looked at a few recipes online and, actually, the concept didn’t seem so bad – vinegar and cayenne pepper form a part of my regular diet…

Pickled Oysters recipe from 1884 – Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook.

Pickled Oysters recipe from 1884 – Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook.

Normally, it is difficult to determine the original contents of a vessel without manufacturer labels. In fact, jars and bottles with wide mouths like the ones from my assemblage may have been used to store or pickle any number of food or condiment varieties, or even viscous household items like glue or shoe polish. This being said, the large number of oyster shells that were found in the rubbish pit alongside the jars did suggest that these two items were related in this instance – and it is possible that the 19th century family that lived in the associated Rangiora house pickled their own oysters.

 A more common 19th century oyster jar shape.

A more common 19th century oyster jar shape.

The canning and preserving of oysters has taken place since 1850 (Hunt 2010), and oysters have been a commonly consumed fresh food resource here and around the world since ancient times – their consumption can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Chinese, and they are commonly found in early Māori rubbish deposits (referred to by Māori as tio). European industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries made these slippery morsels readily available to everyone and saw them become the great unifier – enjoyed by the wealthy and the poor. It was during this period that New York became the oyster capital of the world and it is said that in any day during this late 19th century, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along the New York harbour waterfront (Happillion 2016). The catch was sold to New Yorkers everywhere from street corners to high class restaurants and in every way imaginable – in the half shell, roasted and in stews.

So ingrained were oysters in 19th century popular culture they can be seen everywhere – we witness the lure of an oyster meal for both the working class and the upper class alike in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 The Walrus and the Carpenter poem, from Through the Looking Glass. In this classic children’s story, we see the overweight and well-dressed walrus swindle the hardworking carpenter out of his oyster meal, while tricking the unlucky and naïve oysters into taking part in a buffet where they’re on the menu. Perhaps not all of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland were based on nonsense?

An oyster buffet - before and after.

An oyster buffet – before and after. Image: Wikia and Classics Illustrated.

From the 1860s oysters were increasingly popular among European settlers in the colonies, and by the 1880s New Zealand joined the oyster craze with the emergence of the oyster saloon – otherwise known as the ‘oyster bar’, the ‘oyster house’ or the ‘raw bar’. Such establishments sought to offer the freshest and tastiest oysters available – generally claiming to provide fresh stock daily (New Zealand Tablet 7/8/1896: 14). Now this may not always have been the case – oysters were available locally in Christchurch and Lyttelton, but the ever popular Stewart Island beds were also supplying to Canterbury during this period (Star 17/4/1875: 1). It was during this time that Christchurch saw the emergence of several fine dining oyster options – Cashel Street’s Café De Paris provided not only the finest oysters night or day, but also quality beverages, operatic entertainment and a separate section for ladies. The establishment claimed to be ‘the best in the colony’ and its success lasted well into the 20th century.

Fresh! Press 10/3/1896: 1.

Fresh! Press 10/3/1896: 1.

At the opposite end of the etiquette scale, the more typical oyster saloon quickly became synonymous with drinking – being one of the only places to purchase cheap food late at night, as an accompaniment to beer. The phrase ‘red light’ district’ was derived from New York oyster bars, which put up red balloons to indicate that the oysters had arrived, and in London, the lighthouse building at King’s Cross flashed a beam from its turret (Smith 2015). Unsurprisingly, these establishments also developed a reputation as houses of vice – news reports from this era are frequently linked to crime –anything from publicans supplying liquor without licences (Press 2/11/1901: 7) and the use of obscene language (Star 27/7/1885: 3) to violent encounters between patrons – male and female (Press 15/7/1881: 2). There are even reports of violence between patrons and establishment owners – take this report for example: three individuals named Maloney, Larsen and Creasey (these names reminded us of some sort of gangster pantomime), got into an altercation with an oyster bar proprietor, who stabbed Maloney in the side and wounded his side-kick (Grey River Argus 26/5/1898: 4). Such reports are accompanied by letters from concerned Cantabrians, who write into the paper questioning the appropriateness of such establishments being located “under the shadow of the cathedral spire” (Star 14/3/1882: 2).

Oyster bar associated with gluttony? (New Zealand Herald 1/4/1939: 5).

Oyster bar associated with gluttony? (New Zealand Herald 1/4/1939: 5).

Further connections were made between the oyster’s aphrodisiac qualities and Victorian vice in the popular 19th century erotic magazine The Oyster, which was printed and distributed privately in London from 1883. This publication and its predecessor, The Pearl, were banned, and its author was prosecuted for the risqué content – which you can see for yourself did not consist of mere pictures of ladies’ ankles (reproductions of the issues are still available on Amazon. This is interesting stuff from before the times when science made the link between oysters being a food source high in zinc (which raises testosterone levels), as well as a source of rare amino acids that increase levels of sex hormones in men and women. Such nutritional values were also possibly known to 18th century Casanova – who reputedly consumed 50 oysters for breakfast daily, and claimed to have seduced 122 women. Or perhaps he was part of the tradition that saw oysters as an aphrodisiac due to their visual similarities with their form and that of the female anatomy…? (Schulman 2008).

Looking back further – Aphrodite (goddess of love and sex) was born from a mollusc shell and the ancient Roman physician, Galen of Pergamon, described oysters as aphrodisiacs because they were a food that was moist and warm… This being said, Galen said the same for all ‘windy’ foods (those which produce gas – if that’s what you’re into), and going even further back, Babylonians looking to increase sexual appetites bit the heads off partridges, ate their hearts and drank their blood, while the ancient Greeks dined on sparrow brains to produce a similar effect (Thring 2011; Camphausen 1999; Hoppe 2015). But I digress…

Aphrodite and her mollusk shell. Attic Red Figure, ca 370 - 360 BC, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Salonica, Italy.

Aphrodite and her mollusc shell. Attic Red Figure, ca 370 – 360 BC, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Salonica, Italy.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the reign of the humble yet hazardous oyster saloon was not to last. One can still frequent bars that specialise exclusively in oyster delicacies in cities larger than Christchurch, but over-consumption and the subsequent depletion of our local marine resources saw the end of the oyster as an abundant, ‘cheap and cheerful’ food source.  Our government began to intervene as early as 1866, with the Oyster Fisheries Act, which introduced licencing, a fishing season and the creation of artificial beds (New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18/8/1865).

As a result, oysters eventually claimed their modern status as a luxury item, to be afforded and consumed by the wealthy, or saved for special occasions. The basic idea of the oyster saloon itself evolved into what we now think of as the fish and chip shop, where we are provided with a bevy of convenient and inexpensive (and fried) seafood options. So the tradition isn’t completely dead… But maybe don’t start a bar fight on your next visit your local fish n’ chippy.

Chelsea Dickson


Anonymous 2016. The Oyster Vol. 1: The Victorian Underground Magazine of Erotica (online) Available at:

Camphausen, R. C. 1999. The Encyclopaedia of Sacred Sexuality. Inner Traditions International, Rochester.

Grey River Argus. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2016].

Happillion, C. 2016. The History of Oysters. [online] available at:

Hoppe, D. Aphrodisiacs in History. Diana Hope, M.D., INCS. [online] Available at:

Hunt A., L. 2010. Fruits and Vegetables, Fish, and Oysters, Canning and Preserving. Nabu Press, Charleston.

Lincoln, M., J., B. 1884. Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book. Roberts Brothers. [online] Available at:

New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18 August 1865 P326

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Smith, D. 2015. Oyster: A Gastronomic History (with Recipes). Abrams, New York.

Star. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2016]

Thring, O., 2011. Aphrodisiacs: the food of love? In The Guardian. [online] Available at: [Accessed May 2016]