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).

 

Toilet humour

This week on the blog, a selection of chamber pots for your perusal, ranked according to my entirely objective, and not at all arbitrary, assessment of how fancy they are. This is accompanied by my very best attempt at using as many euphemisms for talking to God on the porcelain telephone as I can bring myself to type. Starting right now.

(Fair warning, I got most of the euphemisms from the internet. I’m not entirely convinced that they’re all actually things that people say. I also struggled to say most of them out loud, let along type them up in a blog post, so these are some of the more innocuous ones…)

Fancy rating: fairly fancy. Who doesn’t want a lovely flared rim chamber pot decorated with cows in which to see a man about a horse (how confusing).  This one, which we’ve featured here on the blog before, is decorated with the pattern “Cattle Scenery” and dates to the 1850s-1860s. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Fancy rating: understated fancy. This porcelain throne is literally porcelain, unlike the others in this post, which are all refined earthenware. It may not have the charming farm animals or gaudy colours of its compatriots, but this is the kind of commode used by somebody who actually says commode and refuses to refer to doing one’s business at any time, by any kind of phrase. Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: boring but perfectly serviceable vessel for going where even the emperor must go on foot. I don’t really have anything to say about this one. It’s…respectable? Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: middling fancy, with aspirations of grandeur.  A person could check the plumbing using this and remain secure in the knowledge that while they may not own a castle, they can at least squat over the towers of one when they want to. This particular potty was found on the site of a china shop, so, unlike most of the chamber pots we find, it might not have actually been used. Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: classical overtones, with points for the purple. This pattern is known as the ‘Alma’ pattern, or rather, is one of several 19th century patterns known by that name. It may refer to a small river in the Crimea that was home to a significant battle between the armies of Britain, France, Turkey and Russia during the Crimean war. I very much doubt that the Crimea, its rivers and the war, were on anybody’s mind while using this to change the water on the goldfish (seriously, who says this!?), but you never do know. Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: stately. A slightly different shape to some of the others, this chamber pot is both tall and sturdy, with an imposing cold marble look to it and a spacious interior. The sort of porcelain – or marble – throne from which one reigns over one’s bodily functions, as one should. Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: as fancy as those “paintings” we used to make as kids with some paint and half a potato carved to act as a stamp. I kind of like this one, though. It’s somehow cheerful. If you had to visit kermit (apparently it’s Cockney rhyming slang, see if you can work it out), it’s not a bad option. Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: very. Decorated with the pattern ‘May Morn’, this glossy, beautifully shaped chamber pot is possibly the most elegant vessel for answering the call of nature that I think we’ve found to date. Maybe we should all decorate our toilets with scenes of springtime in the country. It (like most of the chamber pots in this post) would likely have been part of a bedroom set that included a wash basin and pitcher. Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: not at all. Plain, serviceable and child-sized, this is the most basic of vessels in which to sprinkle the tinkle. Image: J. Garland.

Fancy rating: relatively elegant, entirely inoffensive repository with which to refresh the body. Late Spode, made by W. T. Copeland in the latter half of the 19th century. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

I could bring myself to use it, but points to “humping the cats loin” for the strangest euphemism I came across.

Jessie Garland

Finding out more, under the floor

Recently, Peter Mitchell, one of our building archaeology specialists, recorded a 19th century residential dwelling just on the edge of Christchurch’s Central City. This dwelling was similar in form and function to others we have seen in Canterbury – it was a square plan salt box cottage, made of weatherboard timber with a corrugated iron roof. During demolition, it became apparent there were at least four phases of construction in this building, with the first phase represented by a cottage with a two-room gable section at the front and a smaller single room gable kitchen/scullery at the rear (Mitchell 2017).

The salt box cottage, as it stood before prior to demolition. Image P. Mitchell.

Scale drawing of the south elevation of the salt box cottage with the hypothesised Phase 1 building marked by the dotted lines. Image: P. Mitchell.

After the house was recorded, it was demolished due to earthquake damage, and when 19th century houses are taken apart like this, we have a great opportunity to see what lies beneath them. Fortunately, for those of us who are into a bit of material culture, this often means artefacts!

With these types of ‘underfloor’ deposits, individual artefacts can often be spatially associated with the individual rooms under which they are found. This can be pretty interesting when the functions of the artefacts are related to the functions of these rooms – for instance, when one finds food remains and condiment bottles under the kitchen. We’ve posted about nice examples of this before on the blog, but things don’t always work out quite so conveniently. Original contexts aren’t always so clear when building alterations are made, when walls are moved and when room functions change. And, unfortunately, sometimes artefacts that are scattered on the ground surface also get accidentally moved around during demolition (by those pesky mechanical excavators, or by falling building materials). As a result, the artefacts can lose their original provenance information. Alas, this is what happened to the artefacts that were found under our salt box cottage. But all is not lost – we still recovered some cool artefacts from under this house which can add to our knowledge of Victorian domestic goods and tell us about the lives of the people who resided in this house back in the 19th century.

Artefacts found under the house following demolition.

As a general trend, underfloor contexts frequently provide a superior preservation situation to scatters of artefacts that are found under the ground. In many cases, the conditions underneath structures are relatively dry, and rubbish that is thrown, placed or lost under a building is largely safe from the taphonomic processes that affect artefacts in the ground. These processes vary depending on the context of those sub-surface deposits, but many of the factors – such as moisture, disturbance from foot or vehicle traffic, the chemical and biological composition of the soil – that weather and adversely affect artefacts underground are not so applicable to underfloor contexts. As a result, fragile artefacts like paper, textiles or leather, are often found underneath the floors of houses in relatively good condition (that is, if they haven’t been subject to flooding, mould and gnawing by cats and rodents). Artefact life is hard, no?

But despite these dangers, the cottage assemblage provided us with several interesting household vessels – by which I mean non-food related artefacts associated with the day to day activities of the cottage household. For example, we recovered the ‘chimney’ section of a glass oil or kerosene lamp (visible below). This vessel had a (very well preserved) Brendel and Loewig maker’s mark stamped in on the outside, which is exciting because this is a unique find in our Christchurch assemblages to date. The company initials were featured within a round starburst motif with the words “BALDUR BRENNER 20””added to the mark (Brenner translates to burner in German, and this section of the mark probably describes that size and lamp model). Further research on this company indicated that Brendel and Loewig were founded in 1861 in Berlin, by Otto Brendel and Carl Loewig, as a metal and paint shop. In addition to the bird cages (very niche?), washing bowls and kitchen utensils they made, they also made chandeliers, stall lanterns and oil lamps (which amounts to a very eclectic mix of specialties). They had several ownership changes but largely kept the company in the family until Otto’s son Erich became the sole owner from 1906 onwards. This company was so successful that it remains in operation under different ownership in Germany today (Designretter 2017).

Brendel and Loewig lamp.

An example of a similar German 20” “brenner” from Stoll, 1889 – a rival German lighting company. Image. This is what our lamp would have looked like when it was whole.

Not to be left out, we also recovered a bottle of Spooner’s Royal Navy Boot Dressing – this product was essentially boot polish, the remnants of which can still be seen in the bottom of the vessel if you look closely. Spooner’s were a Melbourne based company that made polish and dressings for leather products such as footwear and horse saddles etc. Similar bottles to this one have been found in several other New Zealand archaeological sites, in contexts dating between the 1890s until the 1910s.

Front and reverse of Spooner’s boot dressing bottle embossed with their maker’s mark. The tell-tale Spooner’s boot can be seen on the front of this vessel.

As you can see, Spooner and Co., had some interesting and inappropriate names for their boot polish colours… “Cobra” “Satin Blacking” and “Maori Gloss” are featured in this advertisement… Something tells us this wouldn’t be an item that would be stocked in today’s local supermarkets. Marlborough Express 20/2/1903: 3

This is also the site where we found the Ezra Kelley watch oil bottle from Massachusetts that we showed you a couple of weeks ago. At first glance, it seems like the previous owner of this product likely took some pride in their possessions – polishing their boots and lubricating their pocket watches.

Can’t get enough of that Ezra Kelley pocket watch oil.

So, who was this pocket watch sporting, shiny booted person who lived our salt box cottage? Unfortunately, historical records don’t provide us with a clear indication of a specific culprit – in fact, these artefacts were actually likely to have been deposited by more than one occupant of the cottage over an unknown period of time. One of the drawbacks of underfloor deposits is that they lack the closed, ‘discrete’ context of deposits like rubbish pits, the nature of which allows us to narrow down when assemblages were discarded and whether that deposition happened in one event (or, if there are layers in a pit, in several different events that can be dated). Instead, artefacts that are found underneath structures could have been discarded separately over an unknown period, anytime between the date of initial building construction and the date that they were found. This is often seen under historical buildings that have gaps between the wooden floorboards through which small artefacts could fall. Or alternatively, as in this case, it happens in structures that have gaps between the floor and foundations, where rubbish could have been deliberately thrown under the building or dragged under by animals. The reality is that not enough research has been carried out on underfloor assemblages to be sure how these types of assemblages are deposited and accumulated. But that doesn’t mean we are left completely in the dark – for the purposes of dating the assemblages that we find in these contexts, we can make calculated guesses, taking into account the manufacturing date ranges for the individual artefacts that we find. We can also further compare these dates with the construction phases of the associated buildings, suggesting when items are most likely to have been first deposited or subsequently moved around.

Our salt box cottage section has a long history of occupation starting from the early 1860s. Even before it was built, the site was home to an earlier residence and a retail store. The occupants of these buildings may have discarded their own rubbish or possessions on the land, and any such artefacts may still remain elsewhere on this site. However, due to the location that our artefact assemblage was found (directly underneath the floorboards of the cottage), it is likely that they would have been accidentally lost, or deliberately discarded by the occupants of this building, rather than the earlier ones. So when did this happen?

The cottage was built around 1875 by William Ellis Voller and it was inhabited by several individuals after him. Many of the artefacts have long ranging manufacturing dates which span the occupation period of multiple known residents of the cottage and this makes it is difficult to determine exactly who they might be associated with. Potential suspects included Voller himself, between at least 1875 and c. 1878, followed immediately by John Goodman. Goodman sold the property in 1890, at which time the house was in its second phase of construction, which we know because it was advertised in local newspapers as having four rooms (which was one more than the original three). Samuel Thomas Longley resided in the dwelling between 1890 and 1893, after which time he sold it to a widow, Mrs Eliza Ann Friedman. Friedman remained a resident until 1903, so it is likely to have been Eliza who deposited the Spooner’s boot polish. The same can’t be said for the rest of the assemblage though, which could have been associated with any of the previous occupants of the cottage.

An 1877 Map of Christchurch, showing a building present on William Voller’s section (outlined in red). Image: Strouts, 1877.

It’s in confusing times like these that it can be helpful to find a personal artefact that can be directly associated with different individuals, genders or ages – certainly, the presence of a child’s shoe and a possible wooden spinning top toy suggests that these artefacts would likely have been discarded by one of the occupants who had a young family – but no records of children at this property have been found to date.

Possessions of a nameless child.

Another mystery, another site, another day in the life of Underground Overground Archaeology. Until next time.

 Chelsea Dickson

References

Designretter 2017. Lighting Manufacturer from Germany: Brendel and Loewig [English Translation Online] Available at: https://translate.google.co.nz/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.designretter.de/&prev=search.

 

 

The spoils of oils

We all know that fish oil is great for our skin and hair but does the use of whale oil tickle your moral compass? It was utilised for many household purposes during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and today we will take a look at a couple of men who made a big splash in the whale oil industry.

Not too long ago, a miniature vial was found in one of our artefact assemblages from Christchurch’s Central City. This vessel had “Ezra Kelley” embossed on the base, which we traced to a 19th century watchmaker from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Ezra Kelley was a special fellow in the 19th century watchmaking and repairing scene, because he was the first maker to commercially use oil from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish (pilot whales) to lubricate watch mechanisms (Goodwin 2016). Prior to this, olive and vegetable oils were used instead. Oil extracted from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish had been used by carpenters to sharpen their tools without the risk of rust since 1816, but it wasn’t until 1829 that the sailor, Solomon Cook, sent the first batch of blackfish jaw oil to Kelley for testing (Goodwin 2016). Kelley found it superior to all other oils, as it didn’t congeal at low temperatures, nor did it rust brass, and its light and fine properties also gave it a low freezing point. This made it a suitable, year-round lubricant for delicate machinery such as clocks, watches, and sewing machines (at a lower grade, sperm whale oil was advertised as best for sewing machines, firearms, and telegraphs; Goodwin 2016). In 1884, Kelley began selling this new oil (supplied by the Cook family), for a whopping US $5-$15 per gallon, which converts to around US $111 – $333 in today’s money (Goodwin 2016). As a comparison, a barrel of modern crude oil, contains 42 gallons and sells for $90-$110 (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale oil was so expensive at this time due to supply and demand, but also for one other key reason – it’s lubrication properties were worth it (Cherrybalmz 2017).

Ezra Kelley watch oil bottle found in the Central City. Image: C. Dickson.

Sperm Sewing Oil! Also found in Christchurch Central City, this bottle probably contained a lower grade of whale oil than what Kelley made. Image: C. Dickson.

Just like a fine wine, Kelley’s oil improved with age. The processing of his blackfish oil included a two-year aging stage after the oil had been gently heated to remove excess water. Processors then spread the oil out into thin layers and slowly froze it, causing any solids to precipitate within it, which could be later strained through a cloth. The more competently this process was carried out, and the fresher the oil was, the better the grade of lubricant could be produced – the premium Blackfish grades could operate reliably below -50°F (-45.6 degrees Celsius; Cherrybalmz 2017). So, you could be cold, but you’d always know what time it is.

Ezra Kelley oil advertisement c. 1890. Image.

It seems that Kelley’s major failing was that his oil sold too profitably. All his success didn’t go unnoticed by the rival oil seller, William Foster Nye, who originally dealt in other oil types, like burning oils, castor oil and salad oil. After witnessing Kelley’s success, Nye subsequently developed a method for processing “fish jaw oil” – capitalising on Kelley’s discoveries and managing to secure a British distributor six months after his first advertisement. Having captured the British market, Nye was able to undercut his predecessor’s prices by offering large discounts to his customers and he was so successful at this that he managed to absorb Kelley’s business by 1896 (Zabawski 2017). Within the year, the new company was responsible for nine-tenths of the global supply of fish jaw oil raw materials and it ran a monopoly of the industry that would last until the decline of whaling during the next century (Nye 2017, Zabawski 2017). However, the end of whaling didn’t spell the end for Nye -the fish jaw oil continued to be sold into the 1970s, but the threat of whale extinction and the technological advances of synthetic oils ended the company’s reliance on blackfish/porpoises and the era of synthetic fluids began (Zabawski 2017). Due to their ability to adapt, the Nye oil company remains in operation today (Nye 2017).

Nye advertisement. Date unknown. Image.

‘Watching’ an 1886 whale massacre… Image: Attic Paper.

Massachusetts, where Kelley and Nye were both based, was once a hub for whale oil production. Specifically, New Bedford Massachusetts was such a busy whaling port that it was known as “The City That Lit the World” and, “The Whaling City”, because during the 19th century, it was one of the most important whaling ports in the world, along with Nantucket, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut (Huntington 2009). This American whaling industry had a strong focus on spermaceti (the waxy oil found in the head of sperm whales), named after an initial misconception that the substance was the coagulated semen of sperm whales… Unfortunate naming aside, this oil type was commonly used in candle manufacture and in oil lamps when distilled – its natural properties produced bright, clear flames when burnt, without excess smoke (McNamara 2017).

As most Kiwis know, New Zealand was not exempt from what we now consider to be a barbaric industry. Eighteenth and 19th century whaling ships visited the waters around the country, and this natural resource began to be exploited off our coasts before New Zealand was even settled by Europeans. The industry began to decline here by the early 1840s, as over exploited whales became scarce and New Zealand’s new government imposed duties and port charges on whaling ships (Phillips 2006). Occasionally, American whaling ships still visited in the mid-1800s, the last of which was probably the Charles W. Morgan, in 1894 (Phillips 2006). However, pilot whales to this day are notorious for stranding on our beaches, and beached whales continued to be used as a resource in the 20th century.

Cutting up the blubber of beached pilot whales. New Zealand, 1911? Arthur James Northwood (1881-1949) Image.

Men boiling down blackfish blubber, Tokerau Beach. Taaffe, James Thomas Benjamin, d 1971: Photographs of the Far North district, Northland region. Ref: 1/2-026801-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23070974. Image. Date unknown.

Clearly, 18th and 19th century society didn’t share the modern distaste for the whaling industry. As you’ve seen, Kelley and Nye’s advertisements for their whale oil often pictured the graphic scenes depicting whales being caught and processed, and given how successful these companies were, this violence can’t have been a deterrent for sales. Herman Melville also provides us with insight into how revered whale products were – calling whale oil “as rare as the milk of queens” in his classic, Moby Dick, which was written in this era (Melville 1851). Essentially, the entire industry is a parallel to crude oil in today’s market, given the similarities in costs, peoples dependence on it and its range of applications.

These applications included not only lubrication and illumination, but also the manufacture of soaps, paint, varnish, margarine, and as a treatment for textiles and rope. “Whalebone” which was commonly found in corsets, was not actually what it describes – it was not bone, but baleen from whales (a form of keratin – the same material as human fingernails), and its purpose is to filter plankton into whales mouths. Baleen is strong but flexible (which are similar properties to that of plastic), and it was not only used in other attire like shirt collars and eyeglass frames, but also for buggy whips, hair and chimney brushes and umbrellas (Cherrybalmz 2017). It was also featured as a key component of early springs, including carriage, mattress, and piano springs (Cherrybalmz 2017). To continue with the industry comparison, in 1891 a pound of ‘whalebone’ was worth up to US $7 – that’s nearly $200 per pound today! (Cherrybalmz 2017). In 1882, a single whale produced 6000 gallons of oil and 2550 pounds of baleen, for a combined worth of $11,200 – or roughly a quarter million dollars in today’s money – and this was just from one animal! (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale teeth (or ivory) were also marketable to whalers, but these yielded smaller profits than whale oil. Teeth were regularly carved by whalers in a practice known as scrimshaw, and they often featured intricate designs and nautical themes. Such artefacts are now collectors’ items and museum pieces, providing historians with a glimpse into the whaling industry through the depictions rendered by those who drove it.

A New Zealand example of scrimshaw depicting the whaling ship ‘Pacific’ and compass points, which were formed by intersecting harpoons. The tooth is inscribed with “28th January 1860, Captain Sherburd”. The reverse is inscribed with a poem reading: “Sudden death to our best friends. Success to their killers long life to our Sailors’ wives and greasy luck to the whalers.” This ship was reported in the Otago Daily Times as sinking on the 13th of February 1864 at Patterson’s inlet on Stewart Island in a heavy westerly gale. Image.

Thankfully, since the decline of the whaling industry in the late 19th century and the development of new technologies, most of the applications of whale oil have been replaced with superior products – margarine is now made with vegetable oil and lamps began to be filled with cleaner, less smelly, and cheaper kerosene. It was a relief to many in the 1920s when fashion moved away from women wearing corsets, but those who still want to add a little ‘boning’ support to a frock, now use plastic instead of baleen. The vocal anti-whaling sentiment is strong among New Zealanders today, and since 1978, whales within New Zealand’s 200-nautical-mile (370 km) zone have been protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. A short time later, in 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling, which has all but eliminated the use of whale oil today. Cheers Greenpeace!

Chelsea Dickson

 

References

Cherrybalmz 2017. Gun lubricant history: Sperm whale oil. [online] available at: http://www.cherrybalmz.com/history-sperm-whale-oil

Goodwin, P. 2016. Ezra Kelley Watch Oil [online] Available at: http://educators.mysticseaport.org/artifacts/ezra_kelley_watch_oil/

Huntington, T. 2009. “Treasure Trove of Documents Discovered in Whaling Town,” American Heritage.

McNamara, R. 2017. Whaling industry produced oil, candles, and household tools: whales were the raw materials for many useful objects In the 1800s. [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/products-produced-from-whales-1774070

Nye 2017. A History of Nye: The Beginning of Cilliam F. Nye Inc. [online] Available at: https://www.nyelubricants.com/stuff/contentmgr/files/0/582d6e5844567263cbd951ebdb44f573/en/nye_history_overview.pdf

Phillips, J. 2006. ‘Whaling – Ship-based whaling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/whaling/page-1 (Accessed 14 September 2017)

Zabawski. E. 2017. Purposeful porpoise oil. [online] available at: http://www.stle.org/files/TLTArchives/2017/01_January/From_the_Editor.aspx