Winter is coming…

The chilly weather in Christchurch of late has many of us dreaming of glistening seas, white sand beaches and pina coladas. A while ago, “winter is coming” gags were being fired about among the many Game of Thrones fans, and it is very apparent that winter has indeed come to Christchurch this year. But before the days of heatpumps and rubber hot water bottles, there was a time when the hardy early settlers of Canterbury braved the wild winters of the second half of the 19th century, and they had to make do with their wits, woollies and inner warmth to survive the mid-year season.

Ok, that was the last one, I promise. Image.

We may think that our winter blast has been pretty chilly this year, but it’s nothing compared to the winters of 1862 and 1867. During such times, it was said that it wasn’t uncommon to see icicles clinging to a man’s moustache even in the middle of a fine day – a fine excuse to get rid of one’s moustache I would think (Grey River Argus, 17/7/1918: 2). It makes for an amusing image, but 1895 saw the bitterest winter in the 19th and most of the 20th century. This was the year that Lyttelton Harbour froze and Lake Alexandrina froze so thick that three hundred cattle were able to walk over the lake. A few people even died from being caught outside or drowning (Kuzma 2014). The animals fared the worst of it though, dogs died, frozen stiff in their kennels, and after all was said and done, it was estimated that 2 million sheep perished (Kuzma 2014). This was not only because the snow cover left them with no grass to eat, causing sheep to consume the wool off each other’s backs, but their wool also froze (often fixing them to the snow). This left them essentially ‘sheepsicles’ – some having between four and six inches of ice on their backs which enabled them to only move their heads up and down ‘like armadillos’ (Kuzma 2014, Otago Witness 4/7/1895: 23). Naturally, it wasn’t just the region’s farmers that were adversely affected by the storm – in Christchurch City, three inches fell in two hours one morning, leaving the streets a ‘slushy mess’ (Kuzma 2014). Approximately one hundred men were employed under the city’s Winter Work Fund to clear footpaths and crossings the next day, causing delays to tram services (one of which was derailed by the ice), and frozen pipes and pumps caused a nightmare for the city plumbers (Kuzma 2014).

Snow on Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, 1862. Image CCL. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0055. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

Riccarton Mill in a snowy July 1895. Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0018. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

A tram runs into difficulties, at the corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets, when Christchurch was hit by snow. 1918? Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0092. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

But winter didn’t always generate the doom and gloom of being trapped by snow and rising mutton prices, amplified by the decimation of the sheep population (North Otago Times 6/8/1895: 1). For many of us in the south, the snow season  also brings the excitement of winter sports and the same was true for our Cantabrian ancestors, who also partook. We have previously mentioned the 1930s ice skating rink near Mt Harper, and the remains of the 1885 Palace Skating Rink were also found in the Christchurch central city several years ago (ArchSite 2012). Scottish immigrants also introduced curling to the south of New Zealand in the 1860s, and the sport soon spread throughout the south. By 1900, there were nine clubs and we’re happy to say that these snowy sports weren’t exclusively enjoyed by men – there were also women’s curling teams by the 1890s (Swarbrick 2013). Unfortunately, we can’t talk 19th century about skiing here – the first attempt to establish skiing as a sport in New Zealand wasn’t made until 1909 when Captain Head and Lawrence Earle introduced skis to the guides at Mount Cook. It was more than ten years later that the first ski races took place in New Zealand (Snow Sports NZ). But hey, don’t let that stop you!

Skating In North Hagley Park, c.1945. Image: by Kete Site Admin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

With all these cold temperatures it’s unsurprising that 19th century winter made people feel a little ‘under the weather’ – just as an aside, this phrase did not always refer to feeling ill in the flu season. Originally it was a sailors term, meaning to feel seasick or to be adversely affected by bad weather. The phrase was initially ‘under the weather bow’ (the weather bow being the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing). Interesting, no? Anyway, the people of Victorian Canterbury suffered from many health-related ailments. We can see this in the plethora of pharmaceutical bottles we find in archaeological assemblages and in the newspaper advertisements of the time. These bottles contained (often dubious) cure-all remedies for respiratory conditions. You may have come across some of these before on the blog, such as Baxter’s Lung Preserver, which was a local Christchurch product created in the 19th century and it’s still sold today. John Baxter started out as a young chemist in the 1860s and because pharmaceutical companies weren’t required to list the active ingredients in their products during the 19th century, we don’t know exactly what the Lung Preserver contained. Many other pharmaceutical companies took advantage of this lack of regulation and it’s probable that many of the cure-all remedies available to sick 19th century consumers were mainly alcohol based formulations. The advertisement below comes complete with testimonials from satisfied customers if you click on the article link.

Evening Post 29/8/1885: 2

Baxter’s Lung Preserver, Christchurch, bottle. Image: J. Garland.

Another respiratory remedy that we have covered here before is Wood’s Peppermint Cure. This product claimed to do largely the same thing as Baxter’s, in that it was said to cure coughs and colds. This one was associated with some more interesting advertisement angles, and seems to be endorsed by the gods? This stuff must have been good!

Inangahua Times 5/8/1897: 4. Wood’s Peppermint Cure. Image: C. Dickson.

It’s likely that people were more often “under the weather” during this time than is common today, due to the difference in sanitation and living standards. Flush toilets, sinks and baths didn’t become widespread in New Zealand until the 20th century, and it wasn’t until this time that the development of hydroelectricity provided the instant availability of hot water for personal and domestic cleaning (Pollock 2011). Houses themselves were less weather tight – we often find evidence of newspapers plugging drafts in 19th century Christchurch houses. The condition of some dwellings were so poor that it brought about the introduction of the first state houses for renters, firstly in 1906 and on a larger scale during the 1930s (Pollock 2011). But undeniably, the most beneficial introduction was the revolutionary antibiotics that were no-doubt more medically effective than an alcohol based cure-all remedy.

Although houses weren’t as cozy, the wily Cantabrians had their own in-house methods of keeping warm in the winter. You’re probably aware of the existence of bed warmers, which originally took the form of a metal container filled with hot coals, but I was interested to discover that hot water bottles are not a modern invention. Those of us who don’t have electric blankets probably still take advantage of the soft rubber models, but ceramic and copper examples were commonly used by our ancestors. These were naturally hot to the touch, so knitted hot water bottle cozies with drawstrings were employed to transport them from the kitchen to the bedroom… Does your Nana knit something similar? (Cook 2012). The hand warmer, for example, has been used worldwide for centuries, and is still used by skiers today. During the Victorian era, ladies sported heated miniature water bottles, tucked into their fur hand muffs for outdoor adventures. For the less wealthy, hot potatoes, coals or stones sufficed as an alternative (Cook 2012). The heating of such items was usually done in the fireplace – some bedrooms and reception rooms had these, but the kitchen fireplace was the often the focal point of the house and it was utilised as an evening gathering place for families to keep warm, talk and work on small tasks (Cook 2012).

From left: Copper hot water bottle, Doulton’s ceramic hot water bottle, bed warmer. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any examples of these in our Christchurch archaeological assemblages to date. Image.

One of the most important things to note is that the nature of 19th century work, society and dress kept the chills largely at bay. Beds were warmed by more bodies than we might be used to – so while it was typical for a couple to have a bed to themselves, the children often slept all together, separated by gender to provide more room… “there were three in the bed and the little one said…roll over?” (Cook 2012). The Victorians also performed more sweat inducing physical labour than we might be used to. Chopping wood, keeping animals, preparing food – even the most everyday chores, from childhood to old age, required more constant physical activity than they do for us (lazy?) modern folk. (Wilham 2009). Additionally, while Gumboots, Swandries, and Kathmandu down jackets revolutionised how we brave the elements in the 20th and 21st centuries, Victorians knew how to successfully bundle up by layering their clothing. Men wore long johns under their outfits and women sported layers of petticoats. Winter wardrobes were primarily made of wool and included coats, trousers, often a waistcoat and shirt and a felt hat. Oilskin raincoats, leggings and hats were also fashioned for wet conditions, making their outerwear (somewhat) impermeable to water (Labrum 2008). So, let it rain!

New Zealand Herald 28/8/1937: 2.

A woollen waistcoat found in Central Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Victorians spent their winter months. We hate to leave you out in the cold, but it’s nearly time to cozy up indoors for the weekend cause, baby, it’s cold outside!

Chelsea Dickson

References

ArchSite 2012. M35/731.

Cook T. 2012. Keeping Warm the Old Way. The Bologazine. [online] Available at: http://www.theblogazine.com/2012/12/keeping-warm-the-old-way/.

Kuzma, J. 2014. The 1895 Snowstorm. Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network. [online] available at: https://environmentalhistory-au-nz.org/2014/03/the-1895-snowstorm/

Labrum. B. 2008. ‘Rural clothing – Hats, footwear and oilskins’, [online] available at: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-clothing/page-3 (accessed 21 July 2017)

Pollock, K. 2011. ‘Public health – Healthy bodies’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, [online] available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-health/page-4 (accessed 21 July 2017).

Swarbrick, N. 2013. ‘Ice sports – Curling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] available at: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ice-sports/page-1 (accessed 21 July 2017).

Wilham P. 2009. Staying War: How the Victorians Did. [Online] Available at: http://victorianantiquitiesanddesign.blogspot.co.nz/2009/01/staying-warm-how-victorians-did-it.html.

Church and Chocolate: A History of Easter in New Zealand

One of our final blog posts of 2016 took a look at the history of Christmas in New Zealand. In the same festive spirit, this week it seems appropriate to explore the tradition of Easter – from the time when the idea first arrived here with the European settlers until today.

An Easter greeting card (Auckland Star 31/3/1934: 2).

As is the case with Christmas, we all know that Easter was primarily regarded in New Zealand as a religious holiday. But it wasn’t always a ‘holiday’ as such – Good Friday was regarded by Catholics and Anglicans (the two religious groups who recognised Easter in 19th century New Zealand), to be the most solemn day of the year. Good Friday represents the crucifixion day of Jesus, and was traditionally preceded by a (very un-festive) 40 days of Lent, which involved fasting, celibacy and no celebration to speak of. Possibly not unexpectedly, this practice didn’t really catch on with other religious groups in New Zealand – even Anglicans didn’t adhere to Lent with as much fervour as the Victorian Catholics (Clarke 2007: 123-124).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that colonial New Zealand was more secular than the home country, just that attitudes toward religious belief valued the idea of religious freedom. Even though Anglicans were the largest religious group in 19th century New Zealand, they made up less than half of the pakeha population, and it was hard for any one church to impose their ideas onto communities with such diverse views (Clarke 2007: 120).

It also must have been difficult to get into the spirit of a festival that was supposed to celebrate the start of spring – during New Zealand’s autumn. The name ‘Lent’ comes from ‘lengthen’ (West Germanic), and ‘lencten’ springtime (Old English), reflecting the start of spring when the days become longer (Clarke 2007: 120). It made good sense for the Europeans to fast at the end of winter, when food supplies were lowest, but in the southern hemisphere, Easter falls at the end of summer, when food was most abundant (Clarke 2007: 120) – and we know kiwis are just as sensible as the Europeans, right!?

Easter Monday in Cathedral Square, Christchurch (1907). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: The Weekly Press 10/4/1907: 50.

The evolution of the Easter break turning into just that – a break, happened in New Zealand before the same occurred in the motherland. New Zealand was first to introduce Easter Monday as a day off work, which was a result of the Easter holiday being slowly adopted by New Zealand Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists in the 20th century, as they mixed with Catholic and Anglican communities (Swarbrick 2012). With the introduction of the five day, instead of six-day working week, the introduction of Easter Monday as a holiday offered the opportunity of an extended break for holiday makers (Clarke 2007: 161). It was declared to be the “second carnival day of the year” in 1881, “the close of the summer and the precursor to the winter season.” (New Zealand Herald 19/4/1881: 4). This idea was also a carryover from Lent, when feasting, sport and recreation followed the end of the fasting (Clarke 2007: 151). Travelling out of town for the long weekend was well ingrained in our national psyche by at least the early 20th century – the advertisement below represents one of many that were directed toward Easter holiday makers.

(Hastings Standard 13/4/1916: 2).

Holidaying was not the only leisure activity typically enjoyed by the Easter crowds. Sports like hunting were popular activities among men and boys of most backgrounds (Star 21/4/1897: 4). It was possibly so desired by the colonists because hunting was very restricted by England’s poaching laws during the 19th century and long before – at a time when this activity was only available to the wealthy (Clarke 2007: 155). In New Zealand, anyone could hunt or fish within the (much more lax), game laws, and licences were so affordable that most people had the opportunity to shoot or fish legally (Clarke 2007: 155). But let’s not forget sports that involved women! Racing and golf tournaments over the Easter break were also plentiful.

Miss Cowlishaw competing in the Christchurch Golf Club’s Easter Tournament held on the Shirley Links (1908). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0073.

Military training camps were also a weekend activity undertaken by Easter revellers. These represented the predecessors to today’s territorial forces, and included 50 to 100 volunteers per camp (Clarke 2007: 156). During the mid 1880s, 8000 men were part of this nation-wide force. Some Māori participated alongside Pākehā, and some made up distinctively Māori corps, such as the Thames Native Rifle Volunteers (formed 1874; Clarke 2007: 156). But it wasn’t all target practice and taking orders – these groups were as much social clubs as serious military forces (Clarke 2007: 156).

A view of the camp of the Blue Force at Sheffield. Webb and Bunz (photographer). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: The Canterbury Times, 10/4/1907: 45.

Demonstrations were held by the cops each Easter at a few locations around the country. The weekend schedule consisted of drills on Thursday and Good Friday, a parade on Sunday, and the celebrations culminated on Easter Monday with a major field exercise or sham-fight (Clarke 2007: 157). But all the fun wasn’t just to be had by the men-at-arms, many spectators attended, and some camps included contests, bands and balls (Clarke 2007: 158).  Nearby hotels also made roaring trades in the evening from associated celebrating (Clarke 2007: 159).

The Easter manoeuvres of the Canterbury volunteers at the Sheffield Camp. 31 Mar. 1907 Webb and Bunz (photographer). Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: The Canterbury Times, 10/4/1907: 45.

But what about the chocolate? And the bunny who brings the chocolate? Like Easter itself, the tradition of the humble Easter egg has its birth in Europe too. During the middle ages, eggs were included in the long list of foods that were forbidden to be consumed during Lent – until Henry VIII relaxed these uncomfortable rules to only exclude meat (good old Henry – that guy loved to make changes; Clarke 2007: 120). The chocolate covered treats that we know today are a 20th century invention, as is the fluffy bunny who carries them. However, both ideas do have their roots in history which pre-dates Christianity – the name ‘Easter’ derives from the pagan fertility goddess ‘Eastre’ – who was a figure of worship relating to spring harvest rituals and celebrations. She was associated with rabbits (due to the speed in which they multiply), and eggs are also commonly associated with fertility and rebirth (Holloway 2014).

Eastre – pagan goddess of spring. Image.

The little chocolate balls of joy began life in Germany and France during the late 18th century, but their association with Easter didn’t become widely spread until the late 19th century when technological advances allowed for mass production. Instead, it was common to decorate eggs – probably often with coloured dyes. Such festive eggs were given as gifts to children at Easter time, and the happy recipients would play games with them such as rolling them down hills (Clarke 2007: 148). Does that sound familiar to anyone else? It immediately reminded me of the annual Jaffa Roll down Baldwin Street, Dunedin (the word’s steepest street). I couldn’t find any links between these two activities, but doesn’t the idea seem very reminiscent?

Jaffa Roll, Baldwin Street. Let’s assume smaller scale? Image.

Image: Pintrest.

Unfortunately, we have never found any evidence of these festive eggs on a Christchurch archaeological site. The closest things we’ve found are decorated egg cups, which were commonly used as part of a breakfast table setting. Less commonly, we also come across undecorated ceramic eggs – thought to have been used in chicken coops to encourage hens to lay their eggs in a common place. It’s probable that real eggs were the ones that were decorated at home for the season (Clarke 2007: 148), although it’s also possible that pre-decorated ceramic eggs may have had their place among the Eastertide celebrations of the wealthy.

Egg cups and an undecorated ceramic egg. Yes, that beige egg cup is in the shape of a dog…

Eggs and bunnies aren’t the only Easter traditions that have origin in pagan belief. This article published in the Evening Post outlines the hot cross buns classical roots – linked with fertility, hunting and the Moon:

Evening Post 21/5/1938:17

We can’t argue that today the common belief is that hot cross buns reflect the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. This was also obviously the common conception of our ancestors, but it seems that some of our predecessors had a few different ideas regarding the origin of the tasty treats:

King Country Chronicle 8/5/1915:3

This article also touches on the superstition that hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday because it was considered lucky. Bread that was baked on this day was thought by some to not spoil and have magical healing properties. Again, this superstition pre-dates Christianity (Clarke 2001: 150). But regardless of their mystical powers or where they came from, there’s no denying that hot cross buns were enjoyed by the masses here in the 19th century – much as they are today. Nineteenth century newspapers were filled with advertisements for hot cross buns, stating that no pre-orders were too small, nor too large.

Wanganui Herald 11/4/1906: 7

They were so well loved that one’s Thursday night pre-orders were not always safe. Newspaper report an 1890s Easter crime spree – describing thieves who followed a baker’s delivery man doorstep to doorstep, stealing the buns on Easter morning (New Zealand Times 5/4/1890:5). How disappointing! So, if I could leave you with a piece of advice this Eastertide – maybe don’t store your hot cross buns on your back doorstep this year guys!

Happy egg day, you eggs.

By Chelsea Dickson

 

References

Alison Clarke, 2007. Holiday seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in nineteenth-century New Zealand. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

Holloway, A. 2014. Ancient Origins: The Ancient Pagan Origins of Easter. [online] Available at: http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/ancient-pagan-origins-easter-001571?page=0%2C1

Swarbrick, N. 2012. ‘Public holidays – Easter, Christmas and New Year’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-holidays/page-2 (accessed April 2017).

No winter wonderland: a history of Christmas in New Zealand.

It’s that time of the year again, carols, Christmas shopping, annual staff parties, parades and backyard barbeques. For many of us, Christmas traditions are passed down through our families, and some of the fare found on our festive tables may be reminiscent of a Victorian Christmas, the way the occasion was once celebrated in the motherland. However, today on the blog, we compare and contrast the modern, and the Victorian New Zealand Christmas traditions, and we will see how the festive season has changed for New Zealanders over the generations.

 

The modern idea of English Christmas celebrations was introduced in the Victorian era. While Santa Claus didn’t get a foothold in our chimneys until the 1890s (or Father Christmas as he was called then), presents were still exchanged. This exchange was originally done on New Year’s Day, before Prince Albert’s introduction of his native German-style Christmas to England in the 1840s (Midgley 2010). Around this time, the gifts were nowhere near as elaborate as the modern commercialised Christmas industry (which must keep Santa’s elves rather busy year-round). Instead, they were often nuts, sweets, oranges and sometimes toys (Clarke 2007).

A ghostly looking Father Christmas (Mr. McMillan) at Heathcote School - Mrs. Yeale in foreground - Mr James Weir - Chairman School Committee - 1900 – 1910. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: Gimblett 0009.

A ghostly looking Father Christmas (Mr. McMillan) at Heathcote School – Mrs. Yeale in foreground – Mr James Weir – Chairman School Committee – 1900 – 1910. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: Gimblett 0009.

 

Christmas cards were first introduced in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole and the English illustrator, John Callcott Horsley. The practice of giving specialised cards caught on as a form of present giving in itself, and it made Christmas gift exchange more conceivable between the New Zealand settlers and their families left at home. You may recall this tin postcard we recovered from a house in central Christchurch a couple of years ago. It is dated 21st December 1914, and appears to be a homemade Christmas greeting card.

 

1914 Christmas greeting card addressed to Mary. It reads: “Forget Me Not” “Don’t laugh Mary at this dear x x. Dear Mary, just a PC [postcard], hoping you are well, as it leaves me the same well. Mary I received your loving letter, but you know that I have a lot of letters to write so I got tired. Dear Mary, you might tell Mary Martin, that I am going my holidays on Christmas to Petone. So I will not see her. I am sorry more news next time. Well fondest love from your [?] Wish you a merry Christmas x x x.” Image: C. Dickson.

1914 Christmas greeting card addressed to Mary. It reads: “Forget Me Not” “Don’t laugh Mary at this dear x x. Dear Mary, just a PC [postcard], hoping you are well, as it leaves me the same well. Mary I received your loving letter, but you know that I have a lot of letters to write so I got tired. Dear Mary, you might tell Mary Martin, that I am going my holidays on Christmas to Petone. So I will not see her. I am sorry more news next time. Well fondest love from your [?] Wish you a merry Christmas x x x.” Image: C. Dickson.

 

Essentially, the largest difference between Christmas celebrations in the old and new continents was the adaption to the warmer Christmas climate – it was the difference between ‘Jack Frost nipping at your nose’ and summertime heat waves (for us, think, more chilled sauvignon blanc, less mulled wine). The Christmas festivities were moved from indoors – huddled together by a fire, to relaxing outside in the sunshine. Instead of ‘decking the halls with bells of holly’, these new-New Zealander’s decorated their homes with evergreens and native ferns and flax, and the pōhutukawa tree became the ‘Summer Christmas Tree’ (Clarke 2007, Swarbrick 2016). However, although barbeques are ever popular, our modern Christmas tradition still fiercely clings to the concept of hot plum pudding and a roast meat dinner. This is possibly because the 19th century saw many of the early settlers longing for the white Christmas of their former homes…

 

Lyttelton Times 24/12/1859: 3

Lyttelton Times 24/12/1859: 3

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 28/12/1842: 2.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 28/12/1842: 2.

 

So what about the way people celebrated in wider community events? The first Santa parade wasn’t held in New Zealand until 1905, and before 1873, most people were required to work on Christmas Day! Law changes in 1873 and 1894 entitled most workers the day off (excluding farmers, of course). The season became more like the holiday we know it to be following the ‘Mondayising’ of Christmas and New Year’s days in 1921 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2014). During this era, many employers were known to throw company parties for their workers – so what kind of Christmas party is your workplace having this year? The team here at Underground Overground Archaeology is having a picnic in Hagley Park – this was actually a very popular way for workplaces to celebrate Christmas in New Zealand during the 19th century. Picnics required only an open space for spreading the food out and playing games, and parks offered an inexpensive venue that was able to accommodate a large number of people. These annual picnics also acted as an opportunity for employer/employee role reversal – at a company picnic the bosses would socialise with the workers, which wouldn’t have typically happened at the office or factory (Mitchell 1995: 20).

 

Christmas holidays at Wainoni, Christchurch, watching the Punch and Judy show [Jan. 1906]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0066.

Christmas holidays at Wainoni, Christchurch, watching the Punch and Judy show [Jan. 1906]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0066.

 

Christmas in the new frontier may have meant an additional challenge for some of these early female settlers who came from the higher social classes of England. Many may have been required to learn to cook for the first time since arriving on new shores – such women would have been accustomed to the services of a cook in England, but the scarcity of servants in New Zealand meant that this luxury was not guaranteed for all (Burton 2013).  Imagine if this year, you had to cook your Christmas dinner using only the cooking equipment that our ancestors used here in the 1800s! We have found a few pieces of food preparation and cooking equipment during our field work – some of these are not too dissimilar to what we use today (often just replacing similar ceramic designs with stainless steel or plastic versions). But something you might not expect is the preparation of your plum pudding in a metal cauldron! Such vessels were not only utilised for witches’ spells or storing leprechaun treasure, but for stovetop cooking as well.

 

A selection of food preparation equipment found in central Christchurch. Clockwise from left: enamel pot, drainer, colander, egg timer?, milk pan.

A selection of food preparation equipment found in central Christchurch. Clockwise from left: enamel pot, drainer, colander, egg timer? and milk pan.

A metal cauldron from central Christchurch. Image: S. Canton. Here is an 1843 exert from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol on how a cauldron like this may have been used to make a traditional Christmas pudding: "Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day! It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner's at the same time, with a laundry nest door. Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvelous pudding!" - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843).

A metal cauldron from central Christchurch. Image: S. Canton. Here is an 1843 exert from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol on how a cauldron like this may have been used to make a traditional Christmas pudding: “Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day! It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner’s at the same time, with a laundry nest door. Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvelous pudding!” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843).

 

Arguably, the most useful innovations for the cooking of your traditional Christmas roast dinner would be the coal ranges specifically designed for New Zealand’s sub-bituminous and lignite coal. The Shacklock Orion range, developed in 1873, had a shallow firebox, drawing in extra air to stop the ovens smoking, a problem with previous models. These ovens were hugely successful and remained a popular piece of kitchen equipment until the 1940s (Burton 2013).

 

Advertisement for Orion cooking range. (Southland Times 01/01/1898:1)

Advertisement for Orion cooking range (Southland Times 01/01/1898:1).

 

Another of most helpful of cooking innovations would have been the rotary type egg beater. These first appeared in the 1850s but were popularised by the Dover Egg Beater (patented in 1873). These types of beaters enabled the user beat eggs in five seconds, or to quickly whip the egg whites into stiff peaks (for your pavlova?). Before this time, eggs were beaten in a shallow earthenware pan with two forks strapped together, “a broad-bladed knife or clean switches, peeled and dried”. This was a time consuming arduous task!

 

Advertisement for a rotary style egg beater. (Manawatu Herald 8/06/1880: 1)

Advertisement for a rotary style egg beater (Manawatu Herald 8/06/1880: 1).

 

Lastly, just while we are on the subject of whipping egg whites into stiff peaks at Christmas time – this may be the perfect opportunity to put to rest the trans-Tasman dispute of the origin of the humble pav… In 2008, Professor Helen Leach of Otago University established that in 1929, New Zealand beat out Australia by publishing the first creamy meringue cake recipe called pavlova. An Australian newspaper had published a pavlova recipe slightly earlier, but it was a four layered jelly dessert (Leach 2008).  So argument over? It would seem not. It was rather trendy to name fluffy deserts after Miss Pavlova in the 1920s, but prior to her pirouetting onto our dinner tables in the early 20th century, it seems that the idea of a meringue cake served with fruit and cream was something that the Germans and Americans had been devouring for quite some time. German people who had emigrated to America took with them the idea of a schaum torte (or foam cake). Duryea Maizena (an American cornflour company), ran with this concept and printed a similar recipe to our pavlova on the back of their corn-starch packets, and these were imported into New Zealand as early as the 1890s (Eleven 2015, Otago Daily Times 28/07/1896: 3).  This product was advertised in our newspapers with a very simple yet mysterious advertisement: “Use Duryea’s Maizena” (it’s all about the subliminal messages). Simple yet effective? Maybe with a catchier jingle we would have remembered to attribute this earlier version of pav to Duryea’s, and confined the Christmas bickering to the family dinner table.

 

Merry Christmas!

By Chelsea Dickson

 

 

 

References

Burton, D., 2013. ‘Cooking – Cooking technology’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/cooking/page-1 (accessed 15 December 2016).

Clarke, A., 2007. Holiday Seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand. Auckland University Press.

Eleven, B. 2015. ‘Pavlova research reveals dessert’s shock origins’. Good Food. [online] available at: http://www.goodfood.com.au/eat-out/news/pavlova-research-reveals-desserts-shock-origins-20151010-gk5yv9

Leach, H. 2008. The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History. Otago University Press.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2014. A day off for Christmas. [online] available at: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/christmas-day-holiday, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-May-2014.

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

Swarbrick, N., ‘Public holidays – Easter, Christmas and New Year’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-holidays/page-2 (accessed 12 December 2016).

 

A man & his dream

Today I’m going to tell you about what is possibly my all-time favourite archaeological site (there is another contender, but it doesn’t have any connection to Christchurch or Canterbury so is unlikely to feature here). I reckon this site has pretty well everything going for it: a spectacular location, cool archaeology just lying around waiting to be explored and an excellent story. You see, it’s the story of a person (a man, as it happens, but that’s not that relevant) with a passion, who was determined to pursue their dream. And all of those things come together to form a place and story I love.

The site’s on the true right of the Rangitata River, in the lee of Mt Harper. It’s rugged country, made famous recently by a certain movie trilogy, and made famous in the 19th century by Samuel Butler, although he was on the other side of the river. It’s mountainous, there is a river (obviously) and there are lakes. And lots and lots of tussock. Not so much bush. It’s my kind of place. And there’s snow on the tops. And in winter there’ll be ice. Which is the crucial detail for this story.

Yes, ice.

The Mt Harper ice rink, from the slopes of Mt Harper. Image: K. Watson

The Mt Harper ice rink, from the slopes of Mt Harper. The trees were planted to provide shelter for both the rink and the Barkers. Image: K. Watson

You see, this was also Wyndham Barker’s kind of place (that’s a Barker of the Barkers of jam-making and photography fame). Barker was a man who loved ice skating. Not too much is known about his early life, but his first wife was a Dutch woman and the couple and their children lived in the Netherlands for a time in the 1910s, and the story goes that this is where Barker learned to ice skate. Certainly, there wouldn’t have been a whole lot of places he could have learnt to ice skate in New Zealand.

By the early 1930s, Barker and his second wife were back in New Zealand, and Barker and his two brothers had taken up the Ben McLeod run, on the true left of the Rangitata, just opposite Mt Harper. And Wyndham set about building an ice rink. Not just any ice rink, mind: an outdoor rink, with natural ice (to be fair, this would be the easiest sort of ice rink to build at the time).

Barker strikes me as the sort of person who’d have put a fair amount of thought into just where he was going to build his rink. This was no casual, carefree enterprise. This was a man on a mission, determined to bring the sport he loved to New Zealand. The site he chose was by no means easy to access – today, from Geraldine (the nearest settlement), it still takes over an hour (and a boat ride) to get there. And once you got over the river, there was quite a bit of swampy ground to cover before reaching Barker’s site (just perfect for getting a 4WD stuck in. It’s not an adventure if you don’t get stuck, right?). So the first thing Barker did in the summer of 1931-32 was build a causeway across the swampy ground to his proposed ice rink. And then work got underway on a house for himself and Brenda, his second wife.

The Barkers' house, which lies between the rink and the river, and looks out over the rink (albeit at a distance). The Barkers lived here year round, growing all their own vegetables, in what would have been a particularly harsh environment. Image: K. Watson.

The Barkers’ house, which lies between the rink and the river, and looks out over the rink (albeit at a distance). The Barkers lived here year round, growing all their own vegetables, in what would have been a particularly harsh environment. Image: K. Watson.

In spite of Barker’s careful approach, he got one thing wrong: the site of the first rink he built, in that summer of 1931-32. This site was some 300 m from the base of Mt Harper, and too exposed to the nor’west, which howls down the Rangitata – and rippled the ice. The first rink was prepared by ploughing and working the ground to level it, and building sod walls to contain the water. The causeway from the river bank connected directly to these walls, ensuring that skaters would not get their feet wet (assuming, of course, that they hadn’t got wet feet crossing the river). The great thing is you can still walk across this causeway, should your boat happen to land you in the right place. But it wouldn’t be fieldwork if you didn’t get your feet wet.

The plough used to form the first rink? Who knows, but it was undoubtedly used to form an ice rink. And the roller in the background was no doubt used to level the ground. Image: K. Watson.

The plough used to form the first rink? Who knows, but it was undoubtedly used to form an ice rink. And the roller in the background was no doubt used to level the ground. Image: K. Watson.

From the archaeology (the sod walls survive), we know that the first rink was triangular, and it was fed by a water race that took water from a nearby stream. The flow of water into the rink was controlled by a timber and concrete gate. Getting the flow just right was critical: too much water and it might not freeze. Too little and, well, there wouldn’t be enough ice. Barker was later to perfect a system of getting the ice in just the right condition by slowly building up layers of ice over a number of nights, and keeping it smooth with a Model-T Ford (known as Matilda. Or maybe it was Betsy. Sources disagree.) fitted with a grader blade. Cracks and holes were repaired with hot water. And sometimes the ice was sluiced with water from the hydropower scheme. Yep, you read that right, a hydropower scheme. So they could skate under lights at night, of course. See, isn’t this the best story?

The shed that housed the pelton wheel (which remains inside) for the hydropower scheme. This was installed by the 1938 skating season. Image: K Watson.

The shed that housed the pelton wheel (which remains inside) for the hydropower scheme. This was installed by the 1938 skating season. Image: K Watson.

After the failure of the first rink, Barker rethought his approach, and consequently built a new rink closer to Mt Harper. Oh, and by this time Wyndham and Brenda were living there year-round, in their corrugated iron-clad timber-lined house, with central heating. Well, you wouldn’t want to live in the mountains without central heating, would you? And let’s not forget that Wyndham had lived in Europe, and Europeans are so sensible about home heating. Not only was their house warm, it contained a workshop for repairing skates.

Tools for repairing ice skates, in the Barkers' house, with boxes for storing skates on each side. Image: K. Watson.

Tools for repairing ice skates, in the Barkers’ house, with boxes for storing skates on each side. Image: K. Watson.

It’s not entirely clear how the rink complex developed. It seems like the winter of 1933 might have been a bit of a trial run for the Barkers, after the failure of the previous winter, and that 1934 was the first major public season. By 1936, there were at least two rinks. Over the next few years, these rinks would be subdivided into smaller areas, and there may have been as many as seven rinks at one time, one of which was dedicated to ice hockey. One of the reasons for subdividing the large rinks into smaller areas seems to have been that the ice was no longer freezing as well. An early sign of climate change, perhaps? (This was in the 1940s.)

Along with all those rinks, there were also several buildings, including the White hut, a skate shed, men’s toilets, another toilet block (possibly for the women?!) and a ticket office. By the 1940s (after Barker had sold the rink), there was a shelter for the ice hockey rink and a refrigeration unit (to deal with the diminishing ice situation). This last ultimately ended up at the Centaurus rink in Christchurch. And of course there was the shed for the pelton wheel for the hydropower, installed by 1938.

The door to the White hut. Image: K. Watson.

The door to the White hut. Image: K. Watson.

Let’s go back to the White hut (imaginatively named for its white coat of paint…). This was actually built as a cow byre, for Sissy the cow (true story) – perhaps further evidence of the European influence on the Barkers? Not only did the Barkers drink Sissy’s milk, it was also used in drinks for skaters. In the 1940s, after the Barkers left, the hut was used for accommodation. Now it’s the only weather-proof building at the rink (although not possum-proof…).

In 1946, the Barkers left the rink, gifting it to the people of Canterbury. It was not to last much longer, however, with public use of the rink ceasing in the mid-1950s.

And what remains today? Pretty well everything – you can walk along the sod walls that surrounded the rinks, clamber through the remains of the Barkers’ house and, if you’re feeling energetic, scramble up to the water race that supplied the hydropower scheme. It’s easy to conjure up images of groups of people skating under the stars and lights, with the snow- capped peaks glistening in the distance, the laughter, the friendships formed. For me, it’s a magic place. I hope Wyndham Barker felt that he’d succeeded in his ambitions. Certainly, he left something pretty awesome behind.

Katharine Watson