Early Christchurch women, breaking the rules: the exhibition.

The ideal Victorian woman

In Victorian society, a woman was to be meek, mild, virtuous and peaceful (Whiteside 2007). She was expected to marry and have children. She would stay at home, looking after her children and her husband and keeping the house perfectly. Public affairs were men’s matters, although a woman might engage in charitable or other social works, but nothing that could in any way be construed as ‘masculine’. She was selfless – everyone else always came first. She certainly wasn’t involved in politics, and nor did she run a business. At least, that was the theory!

Left: M Heslop & Co (Christchurch) fl 1870s: Portrait of unidentified man, woman and child. Ref: PA2-2063. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23056667. Right: well, it would be an alternative middle class family! Image: Observer 14/11/1903.

In fact, this standard was mostly applied to middle class women, and it seems to have been much less unusual for working class women to, well, work. But there were middle class women who broke these ‘rules’ of Victorian society too, in a range of ways. Discovering the lives of a number of these women in 19th century Christchurch – and our fascination with their ‘hidden’ lives – has led us to curate an exhibition: Women breaking the rules. You can see the physical display at Rewind at Ferrymead Heritage Park on Sunday 14 October, and also follow these women’s stories online via our Instagram exhibition @womenbreakingtherules.

Designed by A. Gibson.

But regardless of class, women were always defined in relation to the men in their life, whether father, brother or husband. So, being a spinster could be difficult and challenging. Much as we might not like it in this day in age, men provided often critical financial security for the women in their lives, particularly in a world where there was no pension or unemployment benefit, let alone a domestic purposes benefit. In fact, there was no state support of any kind in New Zealand until the end of the 19th century, and the poor were reliant on charities for support.

Unlike spinsters, widows seem to have had far more freedom and to have been more ‘respectable’ than unmarried women. While their situation might have been financially difficult, the range of jobs society approved of them taking on was broader than the range available for single women. And widows – as in some of the stories here – often ended up running their husband’s businesses, meaning they took on a variety of professions (Bishop 2012).

Women and work

Yes, women did work in the Victorian era! And not just as domestic servants – although this was far and way the most common occupation for women. In fact, some women ran businesses of their own. The jobs that women took on, though, and even many of the businesses they ran, tended to involve caring, or to be domestic in character. Jobs like teaching or nursing were both acceptable for middle class women (Bishop 2012).

Working class women could take on quite a range of work: dressmaker, needlework, hotelkeeping, storekeeping, confectionary, haberdashery, drapery and so on. Women could also earn money by taking in boarders, doing laundry or by looking after other women’s children. And let’s not ignore that they could be prostitutes. These were all ways of earning money that might fly under the radar and not be recorded officially (Bishop 2012).

Just relaxing under a tree, along with other women, working in the seaside or the countryside, riding a horse… working women and classy ones, all sort of women depicted through the artefacts! Image: J. Garland, C. Watson and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Telling women’s stories

As regular readers of the blog will know, researching the lives of most people who lived in 19th century New Zealand is tricky – official records can be patchy or may not even exist (Minchinton 2017). People only turned up in the newspapers if they were famous, got in trouble or were advertising for servants, leasing or selling properties. Unless someone has a really unusual name, you often can’t be certain you’re researching the right person.

Mary Portelli, the antithesis of the Victorian ideal, a woman in endless trouble! Images. Right: Star 29/05/1895: 3. Left: Southland Times 20/09/1906: 2.

Studying women’s lives is even harder. For one thing, they changed their surname when they married. Then, they were often referred to only as Mrs…, without their first name, or including their husband’s name instead – for example, Mrs L. J. Smith. Women who ran businesses often traded under their husband’s name, or didn’t advertise at all (Bishop 2012). And, in general, women’s activities meant they didn’t end up in the newspaper.

The branded china L. J. Smith – and presumably Elizabeth, L. J. Smith’s wife – used at events he organised as caterer. Image: C. Dickson.

Despite these difficulties, archaeology and history reveal the lives of six Christchurch women who, in one way or another, broke the rules of late 19th and early 20th century society: Fanny Cole, prohibitionist; Elizabeth Robinson, chemist; Sarah Gault, dressmaker; Elizabeth Smith, caterer; Caroline Rantin, timber and coal merchant; and Mary Portelli, woman in trouble.

There are no Māori women in this exhibition, unfortunately, because we’ve not found any record of Māori women living in 19th century Christchurch. This isn’t to say that they weren’t, just that we’ve not found them yet. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend checking out the book He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century.

Why are these women important?

These six women were not the only exceptional ones who broke the rules. It turns out that there were many more women pushing the boundaries of Victorian society than we initially expected. The six women we’ve featured in this exhibition serve to highlight the lives and occupations of all these women, along with their concerns and daily battles and how they struggled against what was accepted and respectable (Whiteside 2007), whilst working within the confines of the ideals of that time. But slowly, slowly, pushing these boundaries would come to change society as a whole. So, let’s look at the archaeology and the historical record and bring women into the picture!

This exhibition is a joint production between Underground Overground Archaeology and the Christchurch Archaeology Project.

Katharine Watson and Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References 

Bishop, Catherine, 2012. “Commerce Was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington.” PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Minchinton, Barbara, 2017. “’Prostitutes’ and ‘lodgers’ in Little Lon: construction a list of occupiers in nineteenth-century Melbourne”. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 35, pp. 64-70.

Whiteside, Heidi, 2017. “’We Shall Be Respectable’: Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttelton 1851-1893”. MA thesis, University of Canterbury.

Hotels, what versatile places!

It’s been a busy month for Underground Overground Archaeology as we’ve been actively involved in New Zealand Archaeology Week 2018 running displays, historical tours, and talks – all of them highly successful thanks to history and archaeology lovers across the country!

Since we love Christchurch historical archaeology, a tribute to hotels is in order. These are spaces which were witness to the everyday life of both visitors and residents in the 19th and early 20th century, places in which the public and private sphere merged. This blog ties in with two events which took place during Archaeology Week 2018. An exhibition at the South Library displaying artefacts from hotels in Christchurch and Lyttelton held over the last month (perhaps you checked it out!). Also, a fantastic new Heritage Trail App was released during Archaeology Week named ‘Public Houses, Private Lives’. It is available for download from app stores and gives you the chance to discover some of the central Christchurch hotels for yourself. So, there are no excuse to get into it! Easy peasy! In keeping with the theme of hotels, today we’ll track down some distinctive aspects and activities that happened in the Christchurch hotels throughout the Victorian era… Righty-ho!

Observer 30/04/1910: 16. I couldn’t start without an image as ‘suite-able’ as this one! No comment from the Gender and Feminist Archaeologist…except perhaps to say that this is an illustrative example of the male perspective.

Hotels in mid-late 19th century not only offered accommodation and entertainment to residents and visitors, they were a central hub for the community (for better or for worse). As establishments with bars or pubs, alcohol could be provided cheaply and in copious quantities to patrons.

A variety of alcohol bottles recovered from the Occidental Hotel, where the alcohol bottles made up half of the artefacts found! All different shapes and sizes to cover all sort of consumer tastes: black beer, wine, porter, stout and other spirit or liquor bottles. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Archaeologically, we can certainly attest to the fact that alcohol was widely consumed at hotels as it forms much of the tangible evidence derived from the finds. Either dumped at the rear of the sections, thrown away into an open ditch or even accumulated underneath the dwelling. The Wheatsheaf Hotel was no exception. It was built by John Shand and Herbert Coupe in 1865. The men were granted a general license for premises, but they neglected to take it up within the prescribed time. The license was cancelled, and they had to reapply (whoops!). They didn’t waste their time in obtaining alcohol though. Lots of artefacts were found under the floor, dominated by a huge quantity of bottle corks, indicating that the patrons of the hotel certainly enjoyed a drink (or two). It’s worth noting that some of the alcohol bottles uncovered had been discarded whole and unexpectedly still sealed.

Top: Heaps of corks! Bottom: Sealed bottle! Specifically, Boord’s Gin. Joseph Boord was a distiller, who became famous for the Old Tom style of gin (Stephenson 2016). He first registered his ‘cat and barrel’ trademark for Old Tom gin in 1849. The trademark featured a cat sitting on top of a wooden cask. Boord stated that this was a pun referencing the ‘Old Tom’ in the name of the gin, which was named after a man called Thomas Chamberlain. Joseph Boord was still in business in 1903, when the company defended the trademark against a rival distillery. Image: C. Dickson.

Historically, local newspapers recorded a variety of stories of drunken and disorderly behaviour that resulted from such easy access to alcohol, including sporadic burglaries, drowning, assaults and murders, to name a few.

Criminal activity at 19th century hotels. Clockwise from left: Observer (6/04/1907: 12), Grey River Argus (14/10/1885: 2) and Press (14/07/1876: 3).

Drinking went hand in hand with other activities, like smoking, or games such as billiards, skittles and dominoes. The presence of clay pipes on hotel sites may be evidence for the social side of pipe smoking, or an indication of providing ‘home comforts’ to hotel guests. In regard to gambling, the City Hotel became famous for (ostensibly) having the best billiard room in New Zealand. The Caversham Hotel, in addition to being an accommodation house and pub, also provided games such as billiards and skittles (an early form of bowling). During the 1880s the hotel had an outdoor skittle ground, which was the site of several competitive matches during the decade (Star 31/01/1885: 2).

Left: Clay smoking pipes stems from the Oxford Hotel site made by Charles Crop, a London pipe manufacturer operating during the 19th century. His pipes are commonly found on archaeological sites in New Zealand and Australia (Ayto 1999: 14, Brassey 1991: 30, Macready et al. 1990: 57). Image: J. Garland. Right: Cutty smoking pipe and a clay pipe decorated with a three-masted sailing ship (most likely a clipper) and an anchor looped with rope on opposite sides of the bowl. Image: C. Dickson.

There is no archaeological record of billiards or skittles but of dominoes instead! Playing pieces consisted of a bone face and a thicker wooden backing. The game of dominoes was a popular pastime among both children and adults, particularly in pub or hotel contexts (Bone et al. 2017). Very few dominoes have been found on Christchurch archaeological sites, but at least one was found on the site of a 19th century hotel. Image: C. Dickson.

Leaving aside the drinking culture and related habits for a while, hotels hosted several sporting and social meetings and events, and many proprietors became notable figures in the community thanks to the visibility and respectability of their establishments. John George Ruddenklau was one of those gentlemen. He opened the City Hotel on the corner of Colombo, Cashel and High Streets (what used to be known as the Triangle Centre) in 1864. Although no archaeology was found on the site of the City Hotel, tiny pieces of a saucer and a teacup were found in other central Christchurch sites with the initials J.G.R. and the name ‘City Hotel’ transfer printed into the design. An excellent example of personal and commercial branding in the Victorian era. These marked ceramics suggest that Rudenklau was prosperous enough to afford its own customised china. Exactly how that china ended up on other sites in the city is unknown. He may have sold or given it away after his retirement in 1869, or it may have been ‘taken’ by guests of the hotel at any point during its operation.

Left: Shamrock patterned saucer and teacup with the City Hotel and the initials J.G.R printed on it. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: John George Ruddenklau, c. 1892. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0097.

Hotels were also recreational places to enjoy a meal and some entertainment, as well as providing a home away from home for travellers. A wide variety of table and serving wares is considered a characteristic of non-domestic assemblages like hotels, boarding houses and other commercial establishments associated with the provision of food and drink (Lawrence et al. 2009: 75-77). The presence of matching sets may indicate that the hotel chose to serve meals on matching plates and dishes, likely representing what must have been a first-class dinner experience for the guests. In particular, the Occidental Hotel became one of the most well-known hotels in Christchurch, with a room maintained solely for the use of visiting members of the Parliament – a clear indicator of the hotel status.

This set of Belmont patterned vessels made by the Staffordshire potter Pinder, Bourne and Co. (1862-1882) were found on the Occidental Hotel site. The range of tableware recorded, showed that dining was a formal activity at this site, with specialised forms such as a ladle, a cover dish, tureens and a number of plates and other serving wares.

Personal items are scarcely identified on hotel assemblages. These goods hold great value for archaeologists as they tell us about private lives within public spaces (i.e. hotels) in the Victorian era and provide evidence of daily domestic life within this unique space. They may have belonged to the proprietors, visitors or haven been provided to guests by the hotel itself. Their rarity is also what makes them captivating for us.

Perfume bottles. Right: This one may have held a fragrance, based on its size and octagonal shape, similar to the J. M. Farina Cologne bottles found on other Christchurch archaeological sites. Left: Piesse and Lubin bottle. They were perfume manufacturers established in 1855 in London. Their fragrance was first advertised for sale in New Zealand newspapers as early as 1857 (Wellington Independent 20/05/1857: 3). In the 19th century, perfume became intimately entangled with gender. Despite the growing popularity of perfumes in the written record towards the end of the 19th century, especially for women, we don’t find that many perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Clockwise from top: John Gosnell’s Cherry Toothpaste first produced in the 1850s, hair comb made from vulcanite or vulcanised rubber (brushing and combing the hair was a frequent recommendation in the 19th century newspapers and magazines to encourage a healthy hair), bone toothbrush made in Liverpool by an unknown manufacturer. Image: J. Garland.

To conclude our particular approach to the daily life at Christchurch hotels though the artefacts and other sources, I’ll return to the beginning: hotels were an important part of the social development of both the public and private areas in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Who knew hotels were such versatile places!

Just witty! (Observer 7/09/1912: 17).

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Ayto, E. G., 1994. Clay Tobacco Pipes. Shire Publications

Bone, K., Dickson, C. and Whybrew, C., 2017. 6 Winchester Street, Lyttelton: Report on Archaeological Monitoring. Unpublished report for Holloway Builders Ltd.

Brassey, R., 1991. Clay Tobacco Pipes from the Site of the Victoria Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 9: 27-30.

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

Grey River Agust. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Lawrence, S., Brooks, A. and Lennon, J., 2009. Ceramics and Status in Regional Australia. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 27: 67-78.

Macready, S. and Goodwyn, J., 1990. Slums and Self-Improvement. The History and Archaeology of the Mechanics Institute, Auckland, and it’s Chancery Street Neighbourhood, Vol 2: The Artefacts and Faunal Material. Science and Research Report 92, Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Observer. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Stephenson, T., 2016. The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace. Ryland Peters and Small, London.

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].