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

 

 

The strange adventures of Etienne Brocher (aka Stephen Bosher, aka Stephen Brocher, aka the Petone murderer)

Bricks are the best thing that I find. That’s my answer to the most common question an archaeologist is asked. Bricks? Why bricks? Because they always have the best stories to tell! Brickmaking was a booming industry in the 19th century. Fortunes could be made and lost, and opportunities to climb the ranks of society were ready for the taking. Through brickmaking, workhouse orphans would become influential businessmen and labourers would grab political power. And then there were the criminals and schemers trying their best to hang on for the ride…

Recently I was sent out to Akaroa to investigate an old brick kiln on Rue Grehan. The kiln itself is in a very good state of preservation, and many of its original features remain intact. It’s a small, simple, rectangular kiln, set some distance from the road at the foot of L’Aube hill. The elevation facing the road has been replaced in the 20th century. No one driving past would have given it a second thought, but, as most kilns that survive today are of the large robust Hoffman type, this small kiln is a very rare and valuable artefact of Victorian industry.

The 19th century south elevation of the brick kiln on Rue Grehan. A bricked up door is visible towards the middle of the image. Unfortunately a better photograph wasn’t possible due to the foliage. Image: M. Hennessey.

A bricked up opening in the south elevation. The original function was probably to add fuel to the kiln (scale = 1m). Image: M. Hennessey.

The bricks that had been used to build the Kiln were marked ‘EB’ – and with the help of the Akaroa museum, and a healthy amount of background research, it was discovered that this mark belonged to Etienne Jean Brocher.

‘EB’ marked brick used to build the kiln on Rue Grehan, Akaroa. Image: M. Hennessey.

Brocher, a French immigrant, had arrived in Lyttelton in 1876 when he was about 19 years old (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3). Upon arriving in New Zealand he took up work as ships cook aboard the ketch Alice Jane.

He supplemented his legitimate employment with a second job: petty criminal and scammer.

His early criminal career started off slowly. In 1875 he was arrested for forging cheques to buy boots in Timaru. At his arrest he gave an alias, Stephen Brocher, and when he appeared in front of the magistrate he gave the ultimate of novice defence strategies – I don’t speak English (an unfortunate condition that appears to have only affected him when dealing with law enforcement). Unfortunately for Brocher the magistrate saw straight through this well-crafted subterfuge and assigned an interpreter, and Brocher spent a stint in Lyttelton gaol (Timaru Herald 3/2/1875: 3, Timaru Herald 29/9/1875).

On his release Brocher moved to Akaroa, where he got work as a carter, before finding work with brickmaker, Joseph Libeau (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 27/6/1879: 2). While in Akaroa, Brocher entered into a feud with local man, Chas Lemmonnier. In 1877 Lemmonnier accused Brocher of kicking him. The reason for the assault? Lemmonnier had made the gravest of offences, and had called Brocher a COWARD and a PRUSSIAN!

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880:2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

While Brocher had denied kicking Lemmonenier, a medical certificate was produced to the contrary. And where had Brocher kicked Lemmonnier? Right in the, ahem, family jewels.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

In 1878 he married the daughter of Joseph Libeau, Josephine (Alaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 1878: 2). Josephine owned a small plot of land in Grehan Valley that had been subdivided from the larger rural section owned by her father and, while we’ll never know for sure, it seems likely that Brocher married her to get access to this property (LINZ c.1860: 1016). Josephine, being fairly astute, never transferred ownership of the property to her husband.

Brocher constructed the brick kiln on Josephine’s property, and begins appearing in the local newspaper as a brickmaker starting in 1881 (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3).

The only problem? Brocher wasn’t very good at it…

In 1881 Brocher entered into litigation against John Dixon, who had received a load of bricks six months prior.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Brocher gave up brickmaking shortly after, and began a new career as a photographer (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3). He also continued his new-found interest in litigation, suing Josephine’s brother for £9 4s 6d in 1881, and continuing his feud with Chas Lemmonnier, suing him for £1 15s that same year (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 13/5/1881: 2).

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 22/11/1881: 3.

Always trying to get his hands on more money, Brocher was “connected with some trouble about a sum of money collected for a Catholic Church”, and stole the deeds of his father in law, Joseph Libeau, to take out a fraudulent mortgage on his property. His inability to produce his father in law’s signature stopped his attempt (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4).

Finally, in 1882, Brocher decided that the marriage to Josephine wasn’t working as he had envisioned. The brickmaking business had failed, and photography wasn’t letting him pay his growing debts, let alone making him wealthy.

On 26 December he stole a horse and bridle from his brother in law, Henry, and abandoned Josephine and their son and daughter (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4). He rode the horse to Lyttelton, where he sold the horse, and then boarded a ship for Sydney, before going back to France. A warrant was put out for his arrest. Of interest, a distinguishing feature is a bullet wound on his right leg, perhaps a souvenir from earlier dealings…

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 6, 1882: 9.

The editor of the Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser made it clear how the Akaroa population felt of Brocher’s departure without paying down his debts.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 10/1/1882: 2.

And so, was that the end for Etienne Brocher’s story? Not by a long shot. In fact, things were just getting started.

Following his arrival in France, Brocher was immediately arrested for being naturalised in New Zealand without the consent of his parents, and for not serving in the military (New Zealand Times 1896: 3). After refusing to join the 37th Regiment of infantry at Troyes Champagne he was sentenced to 5 years military detention in Africa. Then, after serving his time, he was sent to the first battalion of Light Infantry at Mascara, Algeria (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3).

Following his military service, he returned to New Zealand in 1890, eventually settling in Petone, Wellington, under the pseudonym Stephen Bosher (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3, Ashburton Guardian 1896: 2, Star 25/3/1897: 2). He re-appears in the New Zealand historic record in 1896 when, as Stephen Bosher, he is implicated in the brutal murder of elderly shop keepers, Joseph and Emma Jones.

The murder had occurred on the evening of 27 August 1896. The Jones’ had been interrupted by an unknown assailant while eating dinner. A struggle had ensued, in which the assailant had thrown pepper into Mr Jones face, blinding him. Mr Jones was then stabbed three times in the back. The body of Mrs Jones was found in a hallway leading from the kitchen to the front door (Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6). She had received a single stab wound to the chest (Evening Post 29/8/1896: 5).  The motivation for the murder was unclear as the cash box belonging to the Jones’ had been left behind, and it appeared nothing had been stolen (Evening Post 29/8/1896:5; 31/8/1896: 6). The murder made national headlines.

Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6.

Brocher had gone to the Jones’ shop to collect a package the morning after the murder. After he failed to get a response from the Jones’ he asked a neighbour to check on them. The bodies of Mr and Mrs Jones were discovered by the neighbour. Brocher then entered the house, saw the bodies himself, and alerted the police to the crime (Evening Post 14/1/1897: 2).

Initially a man named James Shore was accused of the murder, and Brocher was brought in as a witness (Evening Post 16/11/1896: 6). Shore was a known drunk, and an easy target for law enforcement, although luckily for Shore he had spent the night of the murder annoying the local Petone residents in a drunken haze. His whereabouts on that night were well-known, and he could not be placed at the crime scene (Evening Post 17/11/1896: 5). Attention turned to Brocher as a suspect.

The case against Brocher was incredibly flimsy, and came down to some very circumstantial evidence:

  • Mr Jones ledger book showed that he had been the last person to purchase something from the store that night,
  • It was discovered that Brocher had an almost £3 debt to Jones,
  • The knife wounds described by the coroner supposedly matched a knife owned by Brosher – although the knife was never found, and the description of the blade was based entirely on witness testimony,
  • A muddy footprint found in the Jones’ scullery matched a pair of boots owned by Brocher – although Brocher had entered the house the morning the bodies were discovered prior to alerting the police.

Perhaps, in any regular case, this evidence could have been argued away by a competent lawyer. Unfortunately, since arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had been up to his old tricks.

After arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had attempted to contact Josephine to ask if he should come home. She sent back a single word reply: “No”.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

During the murder case against Shore, Brocher was arrested for selling a cart to two separate people, while also taking out a loan on the same cart.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Brocher re-appeared in court later that day on a separate charge. As it turned out, the cart he attempted to sell to Smart and Zachariah may have been stolen from W. H. Cook.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Then, while in prison, Brocher attempted to again contact his wife, Josephine, in Akaroa. This was a huge mistake. Brocher had since re-married. The only problem? He and Josephine had never been formally divorced, and they were still married. That, and he had told his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, that he had never been previously married (Evening Post 23/10/1896: 6). The letter had been intercepted by a jailer, and the revelation made national scandal!

Evening Post 14/11/1896: 5.

Josephine attended the hearing for his bigamy case, not once looking at her husband.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

Brocher was sentenced to two years imprisonment both for the case of the cart and for the charge of bigamy, to be served concurrently (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5).

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 20, 1896: 216.

While in prison, Brocher was charged with the murder of Mr and Mrs Jones. With the gossip about the bigamy still warm the case became something of a soap opera.

At the beginning, Brocher clearly felt that he was going to be let go.

Evening Post 13/1/1897: 6.

A suggestion was made that Mr Jones’ eyes should be photographed, as the image of the murderer would be captured in his retina, although the editor of the North Otago Times noted that the last thing Mr Jones saw was pepper…

North Otago Times 1/10/1896: 3.

And a witness gave his testimony in a fake French accent…

Evening Post 15/1/1897: 6.

While another gave testimony in fake broken English.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

Brocher had been concerned that he would be accused of the murder because throwing pepper is a “foreign trick”.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

And of course, Josephine made a statement as to the character of her previous husband.

Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4.

Ultimately it was the bigamy case that would be Brocher’s downfall. Previously, his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, had not been expected to testify against her husband (Hastings Standard 14/11/1896: 2). But after it was clear that she was not his wife she was open to questioning by law enforcement. Mary Anne Reece gave testimony that her husband had been acting strangely that night, was shaken, had a cut on his hand, and that she had seen the supposed murder weapon and it had gone missing following the murders (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5). The fact that her entire life had just been destroyed by the bigamy case doesn’t appear to have had much sway over the court.

His criminal past (including outstanding warrant for his arrest for the horse and bridle), the bigamy case, the fact that he had a history as a scammer, and now the testimony from Mary Anne Reece meant that opinion was quickly turning against Brocher. In many ways, it no longer mattered if he was guilty of the murders…. In the eyes of the public he was absolutely guilty of something.

Brocher’s story ends in 1897 when he was sentenced to death for the Petone murders. In his final statement he reaffirms his innocence, and accuses some of the witnesses of lying to the court (Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2). He would later forgive these witnesses with his last words at the gallows (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2.

Etienne Brocher was hanged at the Terrace Gaol on 21 April 1897 (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Matt Hennessey

 

References

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Ashburton Guardian. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Hastings Standard. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Mataura Ensign. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Police Gazettes. [online]. Available at https://www.archway.archives.govt.nz/.

New Zealand Times. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

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

Land Information New Zealand, c,1860. Deeds index – C/S 8 – Subdivisions of rural sections register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

 

Safety at the sawmill and that stack of bricks

Lately I have been doing quite a bit of Job Safety Analysis paperwork (because safety in the workplace is number one priority, folks), and that got me thinking about how the people of early Christchurch might have managed their own health and safety at work. And then that got me thinking about how health and safety practices might be represented in the archaeological record, which made me reminisce about that time when we excavated Booth’s Sawmill on Lichfield Street, and found that tidy stack of bricks… thought I’d share it with you.

James Booth established his Victoria Steam Sawmills and Timber Yard on half an acre of land between Lichfield and Tuam streets around 1866. An 1875 description of his business tells us that about 10 men were employed there, and that pride of place in the mill were two circular saw benches that were powered by a 15-horsepower horizontal steam engine. In addition, the sawmill had a vertical deal frame sawing machine, and machines for planing, tongueing, grooving, beading and bevelling, as well as a moulding machine for making fancy skirting boards and architraves. Oh yeah, there were also lathes and a jigging machine – (because what’s the point in having a whole lot of wood if you can’t indulge a quick jig- right?; Star 15/2/1875:2).

Booth tried to sell his business in 1877, but was unsuccessful. Two years later he mortgaged it to William Hargreaves, though he stayed on as manager for a bit. By 1880 Booth had left the business altogether, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts by Hargreaves to sell the business after this time, the mill closed for good in 1895. It is suspected that soon afterwards Andersons Foundry occupied the mill building, though (on paper at least) they didn’t obtain the lease for the property until 1903.

We know from historic records that 19th century sawmills were notoriously dangerous places to make a living. Like other factories and workshops of the time that operated machines driven by belts connected to big noisy steam engines, there were often little or no measures in place to ensure the safety of workers. No safety guards, protective barriers, or emergency stop buttons, not to mention the mandatory wearing of personal protective equipment such as ear muffs and safety glasses. I was surprised to find out how often 19th century sawmill workplace accidents were reported in the daily papers, but also that sometimes quite gory details of these incidents were provided to readers.

I can’t help but share a few of these sawmill accidents with you, some serious, others fatal. A note of warning folks – skip this paragraph is you are a bit squeamish…

Mr Mortimer suffered a broken arm and leg when he was struck by a crane (West Coast Times 2/6/1882:2), and young lad Henry Brown had a middle finger cut off while working the circular saw (Thames Star 29/4/1891:2). Mr Henderson cut two fingers off his left hand while working the breast bench (Woodville Examiner 3/7/1891:3). Mr Powell was smacked in the face when a piece of timber came back on the circular saw. His wounds were sewed up and he was sent home (New Zealand Herald 18/2/1899:5). Mr O’Brien had a splinter pierce his cheek and tongue “transfixing them” and afterwards had to be fed through a tube (Marlborough Express 25/8/1880:2), while Mr Thompson lost his left arm at the elbow to the saw bench when he slipped shoveling sawdust (Hawera and Normanby Star 17/10/1884:3). Henry Ash was killed when his head was crushed between some logs (Grey River Argus 14/11/1884:2), Mr Faulknor got run over by a timber truck that crushed his stomach (Hastings Standard 12/2/1897:2).   Mr Anderson had his “brains knocked out” by a piece of wood that got caught in a circular saw (Wanganui Chronicle 16/3/1886:2), Mr Smith was killed instantly when he fell from a log onto the circular saw and got cut in half (Marlborough Express 19/4/1883:2) . And if you were to think that all 19th century sawmill accidents were related to being cut, squashed, or pierced, let us not forget poor 21 year old Norman McKay, who was scalded to death when the boiler at Campbell’s sawmill blew out. He died from his severe burn injuries two hours later (Oamaru Mail 4/3/1897:2).

Why weren’t you wearing a safety helmet? Image: Wanganui Chronicle 16/3/1886:2

We have found no historical records to suggest that any serious accidents, fatal or otherwise, occurred at Booth’s Sawmill, which we excavated over two weeks in late June 2014 while working on the site of the new Christchurch Justice & Emergency Services Precinct. What began as a small area of paved brick exposed below fill layers of granular ash and rubble-filled silt turned into a much larger complex of paved brick that was revealed to be the main working floor of the sawmill building. In addition, we found other paved brick surfaces outside the building, stone and brick footings onto which we suspect the sawmill’s machinery was once fixed, as well as the foundations of the sawmill’s chimney and the likely location of the timber storage yard.

The first bit of brick floor exposed. This…

….eventually turned into this! Both images: Hamish Williams.

The floor was made of three layers of brick, some laid flat and others on edge – the thickness of the brick floor is testament to the fact that this floor was built to be hard wearing and durable. Some stretches of brick were well worn, suggesting that these parts had seen heavy foot traffic over the years, and the wear to the bricks in these areas we suspect represented the main routes between different activity areas in the mill. We got some idea of where the different machines were probably once located, based on where areas of brick had suffered disturbance when these heavy machines were eventually removed. Complicating our interpretations about these different activity areas, however, was the fact that in its last 8 years of life, the mill was repurposed as a place of metalworking activity, and at least some of the existing features and parts of the mill building were modified to reflect this change in use.

Booth’s Sawmill as fully exposed. Image: Hamish Williams.

Two of the brick and stone foundations for the fixed sawmill machinery. Image: Hamish Williams.

Whether associated with the last days of the building’s use as a sawmill, or that short period afterwards in which the mill became a foundry, for me one the most memorable archaeological features uncovered at Booth’s was a row of broken bricks stacked up out of the way against the degraded remnants of one of the mill’s timber-framed walls. It was clear that these bricks had once been part of the adjacent section of floor (because the top layer of brick was missing here), but on becoming dislodged and broken, had become little more than a tripping hazard. Because no one likes a tripping hazard or falling flat on their face (especially in front of co-workers), someone had taken the initiative to remove the hazard and stack these broken bricks up out the way against the nearby wall. What do you think about our interpretation?

The degraded timbers from the collapsed wall, with the stack of bricks adjacent. Image: Hamish Williams.

The neat stack of broken bricks after removal of the degraded remnants of the timber wall, (though in this photo the bottom plate has not yet been removed). Image: Hamish Williams.

This neat stack of bricks reminded  me that archaeology is not just about the stuff and things from the past, and that all this stuff and things can inform us about was happening on a site back in the day, but that first and foremost archaeology is about people. Specifically, what they left behind can inform us about past human behaviour – what might have been going on in people’s heads – their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Remember folks, situational awareness at all times – watch your step, and mind how you go.

 Hamish Williams

References

Grey River Argus [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hastings Standard [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hawera and Normanby Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Marlborough Express [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

New Zealand Herald [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Oamaru Mail [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Thames Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Wanganui Chronicle [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

West Coast Times [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Woodville Examiner [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

The Cater-Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

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

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

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

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

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

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

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea Dickson

 References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death and Taxes

Link

He is bed maker to the dead. The pillows which he lays never rumple. The day of interment is the theatre in which he displays the mysteries of this art.

Thomas Lamb 1811.

 

Nothing in this would can be certain except for death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin’s proverb was never more true than in the case of John C. Felton, a cabinet maker/undertaker from Rangiora who went bankrupt just before the turn of the 20th century. In fact, a site that I was working on recently was occupied by a string of undertakers who moonlighted as carpenters of some description during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The men in question – George Dale, John C. Felton, and J. M’Auliffe – left little evidence of their macabre craft behind, save a chisel and a few nails and bolts. But this was not unexpected – it isn’t often that we find artefacts which form an obvious link to a more ephemeral business like undertaking (we do find the odd ‘mummified’ cat underneath demolished houses, but that’s a bit different). In cases like these, we rely heavily on historic records of land ownership and newspaper reports to connect archaeological assemblages to their 19th century owners.

New Zealand Tablet 2/2/1894: 32

New Zealand Tablet  2/2/1894: 32

Despite the fact that humans have been dying for as long as they have been alive, ‘the undertaker’ is a relatively new profession. Before the mid-19th century the term ‘undertaker’ referred to anyone who undertook a task or enterprise, and the ‘laying out’ of a corpse in preparation for burial was a task generally carried out by female family members of the deceased, or by individuals with other nurturing roles, such as mid-wives. This role eventually transitioned into a male dominated one, in conjunction with the rise of the ideas of feminine sensibility and Victorian female respectability (Burrell 1998).

 

The profession developed as a part-time industry, associated largely with cabinet makers and carpenters, who used their skills to build coffins on the side – Dale and Felton were also both cabinet makers/carpenters – and because of the early undertaker’s associations with furniture dealing, these individuals were probably more familiar to their clients and neighbours as handymen rather than being associated exclusively with death. This early picture of the undertaker developed as populations and commercial specialisation grew – as a result, undertakers were able to dedicate all of their time and effort to the one profession (Burrell 1998). As mourners required evermore elaborate funerary displays, as characterised by the mourning obsessed Victorian era, livery men joined the funerary procession. This group of merchants acted as the suppliers of the horses and carriages to transport the deceased. This in turn gave rise to the hearse bearing undertaker (Polites 2011).

Typical turn of the century Brisbane undertaker (1902).

Typical turn of the century Brisbane undertaker (1902). Image: Polites 2011

All of this sounds relatively profitable, right?  Multifaceted business ventures in an industry which theoretically had a steady and very reliable stream of potential clientele – particularly as the world was still coming to grips with the concept of germ theory (Tremlett 2016)… But alas, John Courtney Felton went bankrupt nonetheless (Star 20/11/1899: 2). One can only speculate as to why his business was unsuccessful.

Figure 3. Hard times for the undertaker (New Zealand Herald 15/09/1923: 3)

Hard times for the undertaker (New Zealand Herald 15/09/1923: 3)

 

The same fate was not met by another notable 19th century Christchurch undertaker – a prosperous business man: Herman Franz Fuhrmann, who was German. We have met Herman Franz Fuhrmann on the blog before, and it’s possible that his business success could be related to the catchiness of his name – it sounds like it was just made for a jingle! – but regardless, he managed to expand his own undertaking and cabinet making business to include a saddler, branched out into insurance, and made a killing in the sale of the Molesworth station in Marlborough.

 

Figure 4. Rhyming makes ads cooler (Free Lance 29/03/1902: 21 ) - Is it just me or do the finials on this hearse look like shrunken heads on spikes to anyone else? Creepy!

Rhyming makes ads cooler (Free Lance 29/03/1902: 21 ) – Is it just me or do the finials on this hearse look like shrunken heads on spikes to anyone else? Creepy!

This more capitalist version of undertaking brings us a little closer to some of the more recent attitudes toward modern funerary directors. Exposés starting in the 1960s tackled the controversy of the idea of the modern undertaking and funeral industry as a profit-driven empire – making a commodity out of death, and manipulating mourning people at their most vulnerable (Mitford, 1983). This is a large and complex debate that won’t be covered here. No price lists were found for any of the undertaking services of Felton, Dale or M’Auliffe, and their advertisements and others like them from this era seemed to focus more on being sanitary, speedy and available on short notice.

 

M’Auliffe is the only one of the three undertakers in question who also advertises an embalming service (Press 3/07/1903: 8). The idea of embalming corpses (the science of preserving human remains intact, for the sanitation, presentation and preservation), can be traced to at least 5000-6000 BC and the Chinchorro culture in present day Chile and Peru (Brenner 2014). Modern embalming began in the 17th century but really didn’t take off until the American Civil War, which saw soldiers dying far from home and their families wishing their bodies to be returned home for burial. The long journeys presented the need to slow down decomposition, and led to injecting various solutions into arteries of a corpse to prevent this natural process (Chiappelli, 2008). During the 19th century, arsenic was the most favoured embalming fluid, although it was eventually replaced with less toxic chemicals in the 1900s. This occurred in order to alleviate growing concerns about ground contamination from buried embalmed bodies seeping into local water supplies – not to mention the possibility of homicide cover-ups in which any evidence of arsenic poisoning could be disguised by embalming fluid (Mettler 1890). Formaldehyde eventually replaced arsenic as the favourite solution and is still used today.

 

M’Auliffe’s multifaceted service also appeared to have run more successfully than his predecessor Felton’s, although he also had his share of hiccups. M’Auliffe may have been a funerary director who harboured a death wish, as he was charged with riding bicycle in the street in the dead of night without a light, and a mysterious fire broke out at his premises in 1912 (also in the middle of the night), destroying his house and workshop. Luckily, the property was insured (Star 21/10/1902: 3, North Otago Times 16/10/1912: 3). Dazzling reports described a scantily-clad Mrs M’Auliffe having to make her way to the ground by a rope fire escape, “with a three-year-old child clinging to her neck. Fortunately, before making her descent she had the presence of mind to throw down a mattress, otherwise the child, who let go its hold when eight or ten feet from the ground, might have met with injury” (Star 15/10/1912: 3). I can only imagine how creepy it would have been to witness the local funeral home or mortuary burning down at the start of the 20th century!

Here’s a picture of another enterprising dame escaping from a building via bedsheet rope- not the same incident, but you get the idea.

Here’s a picture of another enterprising dame escaping from a building via bedsheet rope- not the same incident, but you get the idea. Image: The Amateur Examiner

But even without the burning building, why do we generally find the concept of an undertaker creepy, particularly one from ‘olden times’? When I hear the word ‘undertaker’ or ‘mortician’, the picture of a solitary guy in black and white, with a bit of a mad scientist vibe comes to mind. Pop culture, through the horror novel and film industry, is probably largely to blame for the demonisation of the profession, but the concept of ostracising those who handle the dead is not a new one. It can also be explained by human desire and the need to survive by disassociating one’s self with dead bodies and death. The idea has been explored by acclaimed social anthropologists such as Bronislaw Malinowski, making reference to the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of 1793, where the townsmen charged free blacks with the responsibility for picking up the dead and then “shunned them as infected, vilified them as predatory” (Burrell 1998).

 

Well that brings me to the end of this undertaking… Until next time…

 

                                                                                                                                                                Chelsea Dickson.

 

 

References

 

Burrell, D. 1998. Origins of Undertaking: How antebellum merchants made death their business. Seminar in Early American History.

Brenner, E. 2014. “Human body preservation – old and new techniques.” Journal of Anatomy. Vol. 224: 316-344.

Chiappelli, J. 2008. “The Problem of Embalming”. Journal of Environmental Health 71 (5): 24.

Lamb. T. 1811. “On Burial Societies, and the Character of an Undertaker.” The Reflector: A Collection of Essays on Miscellaneous Subjects of Literature and Politics. Vol. 2. London: 1812. 143.

Free Lance. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Mettler, L. Harrison. “The Importance, from tire Medico-Legal Standpoint, of Distinguishing Between Somatic and Molecular Death.” Medico-Legal Journal 8 (1890): 172-79.

Mitford, J. 1983. American Way of Death. Fawcett.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

New Zealand Tablet. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

North Otago Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].

Polites, T., M. 2011. The Undertaker Undertakes [online] Available at: http://taylorpolites.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/undertaker-undertakes.html. [Accessed June 2016].

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

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

Tremlett, L. (2016). Medical Buildings and Medical Theory: An Archaeological Investigation of Ashburton Hospital, New Zealand. MA Thesis, University of Otago.