O flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again? Well, maybe in Christchurch!

Christchurch is rightly or wrongly traditionally thought of as an English city, but at every turn we can see a glimpse of England’s arch enemy…the Scots. While they may now technically be at peace, they do still meet annually on the battlefield (ok, pitch) in a fight to the death (ok, 80 minutes of rugby) to claim the Calcutta Cup. It’s very serious business. This national identity notion that we all subscribe to is a funny thing. The majority of us are extremely proud to be the nationality that we are. I, for example, am very proud to be Scottish and even though we don’t have the strongest rugby team, I will always fiercely support them. And quite frankly, who wouldn’t be proud to be from a country whose national animal is unicorn. Yes, that’s right, a mythical beast. In our defence unicorns were thought to be real in Western countries until the early 1800s.

In my (almost) two years so far in New Zealand one of the main things I’ve picked up on is the way people are so passionately proud of being Kiwi, but also of the different cultures that have combined to make New Zealand what it is today. We don’t have to search too in depth into Christchurch’s history before we see a glimpse of that Scottish influence. Riccarton? Named after the parish that the Deans brothers came from in Ayrshire, Scotland. The River Avon? Named after their grandfather’s stream on his farm back in Scotland. That’s two very distinctive features of Christchurch, that the majority of us will think about or talk about on a daily basis, with origins half the world away. The Deans brothers were among the first to settle in Christchurch after being less than impressed with their assigned land in Wellington and Nelson. Having moved to New Zealand by myself in the modern day and age where I can FaceTime my family or hop on a flight home fairly regularly, I have the upmost respect for the earliest of settlers who travelled via boat and more often than not would not see their family again. It is however almost a bit of a mistake that the Deans ended up here in what was to become Christchurch, but a happy one at that. It is at Riccarton Bush that would be the site of their first farm and where the suburb of Riccarton would get its name. In the image below we can see some of the earliest buildings of Christchurch, built by the brothers. A far cry from the Riccarton we know today.

The stackyard at Riccarton c. 1860 showing a barn (left), the ploughman’s cottage (centre), and Deans Cottage (right). Image: Orwin 2015: 115.

Another set of Scottish brothers who made a huge contribution to Christchurch are Peter and David Duncan, who founded their business P & D Duncan Ltd in Christchurch. You might recognise the name as the business only ceased  operations in 1986, or because one of their 20th century buildings branded with “P & D DUNCAN LTD” can still be seen on St Asaph Street ( pictured just below). The pair contributed to the development of New Zealand agriculture through their foundries which, as previously mentioned, operated up until the late 20th century (Kete Christchurch, 2018).

Still in use today! Although not as a foundry as the Duncan brothers had originally intended. Image: Kete Christchurch.

The earliest immigrants were quite obviously bringing their skills to Christchurch and establishing businesses using said skills in order to better themselves. It is, therefore, a little surprising that when the Christchurch Drainage Board began their mammoth task of building a sewer system to support the growing population in 1878, they opted to import the sewer pipes all the way from Scotland rather than sourcing them locally. The earthenware pipes, branded with “J BINNIE / GARTCOSH”, were shipped directly from Glasgow (Press 14/12/1878: 2, Star 26/8/1879: 3). Understandably this annoyed the ratepayers somewhat –  if there were local businesses who could supply the goods, why did they need to fork out to get the pipes shipped from quite literally half the world away? (Star 29/5/1880:3). Predictably, not all the pipes made it to New Zealand in one piece.

Above: The J. Binnie / Gartcosh makers mark. Below: Not all of the pipes appear to have made it in one piece, take note of that mighty crack. Image: Hamish Williams

When thinking about the English we often think about tea as their national drink, but what about the Scots? Whisky, quite naturally. I was introduced to it at a young age in an attempt to get me to stop crying while I was teething…and I’ve been hooked ever since! Just kidding, following my dabble as a toddler, I waited until 18 to enjoy this Scottish tradition. We find whisky bottles, along with other types of alcohol bottles, fairly regularly in Christchurch (not that I’m suggesting anything about Cantabrian drinking habits!). This whisky bottle found in Victoria Square had an embossing on the base reading “JOHN STEWART & Co / KIRKLISTON”, which immediately indicates that the bottle originally contained Scottish Whisky made in the Kirkliston distillery in West Lothian, Scotland. The Kirkliston distillery was first established in 1795 and went through several owners before Stewart and Co. took over in 1855, installing a Coffey still and converting it to a primarily grain-based distillery. In 1877, John Stewart and Co. were one of the six Scottish whisky distillers to form the Distiller’s Company Ltd., who continued in business well into the 20th century. We can even easily assign the dates 1855 until 1877 for production of this particular bottle (Townsend 2015:125-127).

John Stewart and Co. whisky bottle, dating back to the early days of Christchurch. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu

The Scottish countryside was even celebrated through romantic imagery on ceramics. A pattern aptly named ‘Scotch Scenery’ depicts a Scottish highland shepherd and shepherdess resting at the foot of a tree. The highland landscape, with stone cliffs, waterfalls, and trees, is visible behind the couple (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2018). Ceramics patterns are often used to depict (often quite idealised) images of people, places and activities for mass consumption. Whoever owned this vessel may have been a proud Scot themselves, dreaming of home, or just someone with very good taste.

A Scottish lass and laddie reclining in the highland landscape – a lovely little print on a ceramic found in central Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

And to end my ramblings on Scotland in Christchurch I can’t think of a better artefact. As I’ve said in a previous post, one of my favourite things to find on site is clay pipes. Often they’re stamped with “EDINBURGH” or “GLASGOW” with the makers name as well (I once even found one embossed with “DAVIDSON / GLASGOW” – us Davidsons get everywhere). But these two examples are a little bit special. They feature our national symbol, the thistle! While the English have the rose and Kiwis have the fern, we have a spikey (yet beautiful) thistle. The patriotic motifs became increasingly popular during the 19th century as manufacturers began to cater for “ethnic and national sentiments” (Bradley 2000: 112). Similar to the way I wear my Scotland rugby shirt (emblazoned with the thistle) with pride today, some of the earliest settlers may have smoked their thistle clad pipe with a similar sort of feeling. Now there’s a nice thought.

Clay smoking pipes decorated with the thistle motif found in Christchurch city centre. Image: J. Garland.

A huge thank you to my colleagues at UOA for sharing their Scottish stories and finds of Christchurch with me.

Kathy Davidson

References

Bradley, C., 2000. Smoking Pipes for the Archaeologist. In Karklins, K. (Ed.) Studies in Material Culture Research, p. 104-133. Society for Historical Archaeology, Pennsylvania.

Kete Christchurch, 2018. P & D Duncan Ltd. [online] Available at: http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/site/topics/show/1950-p-and-d-duncan-ltd#.Wyhva6l9gnU [Accessed 19 June 2018].

Orwin, J., 2015, Riccarton and the Deans Family: History and Heritage. David Bateman: Auckland.

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ [Accessed June 2018].

Christchurch City Libraries, 2018. Riccarton Bush (Pūtaringamotu), Riccarton House, and Deans Cottage. [online] https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/riccarton-bush/ [Accessed 19 June 2018].

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ [Accessed June 2018].

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

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2018. Scotch Scenery [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/ [Accessed June 2018].

Uncovering Victoria Square

In 1848, when the City of Christchurch was nothing but a design concept of the Canterbury Association back in London the idea of a ‘little slice of England’ (but half the world away) was born (Rice 2014, 9). Exactly how well this vision was realised on the ground is debatable, but to many, the city continues to possess an English identity, despite going on to be home to immigrants from across the globe (Cookson 2000, 13). The Association was formed with the purpose of creating a colony here in the Canterbury Region and had the somewhat romantic notion of building an Anglican community with a handpicked selection of English society (Rice 2014, 9). To some extent this was arguably achieved by the Association’s Chief Surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas. A city constructed around a cathedral and college, a characteristic that seems very English to any Brit like myself, was created. To this very day, despite its recent changes, I can confirm that Christchurch is a place where any Brit can come and feel oddly at home even though they’re in a city quite literally the farthest from home they could possibly be. An enduring feat that Thomas would surely be proud of.

The task of surveying the town sites of Lyttleton, Sumner, and Christchurch was undertaken by Anglo-Irish lawyer Edward Jollie. It is in 1850 that we first see a mention of Victoria Square, or Market Place as it was originally named, inked on Jollie’s Black Map of Christchurch. Hailing from a British market town myself it’s easy to see why the square was incorporated into city plans. Such squares are a common feature in towns and cities across the UK and it’s understandable why Market Place became an important attribute of this new city. Not only would it immediately remind new immigrants and settlers of home, it would also come to benefit the city’s residents in a practical sense; here people would be able to sell their produce to one another and build the foundations of new businesses. From the city’s founding to present day the area has remained a public space and, although it has undergone a number of transformations, it has provided the people of Christchurch and visitors alike with a civic space for trade, socialising, and entertainment.

In spite of the area being set aside by the Association as a commercial area it wasn’t until 1853 that the proposed markets were actually held, when the rules and regulations were finally decided upon. As soon as the markets officially started however, Market Place began to flourish and quickly became a hub of activity for Cantabrians. During its history the square has been used for a range of activities and purposes. From animal pound to racehorse breeding and, at one time, a watering hole for visiting circus elephants! Such use of the area may have deviated from the traditional use for a market square but nonetheless provides an entertaining and unique history. The square was also utilised in a more normal manner:  butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, drapers, shoemakers and importers, wool and grain dealers, and builders all operated out of and around the outskirts of Market Place at some point (Rice 2014). The square was also home to immigration barracks, the police station, the first post office, and Market Hall at one point. Although hard to imagine now, the square was once a densely built up area filled with wooden structures.

The 1850s-1870s could safely be considered the ‘boom’ era in the commercial use of Market Place. Empty town sections were being snapped up following the 1870s wheat boom and it was then that all of the construction within the square took place as a result of an influx of civic and commercial activity (Rice 2014, 87). The initial wooden buildings built around the outskirts of the square were replaced by two-three storey buildings in brick, stone, stucco and slate by the late 1870s, a reflection of Christchurch’s rapid growth.

Elephants in the Avon! A rather bizarre sight when a visiting circus decided to let the elephants cool down in 1934. Press (17/01/1934: 16)

By the mid-1880s this commercial boom had almost run its course. Although shops and hotels remained around the outskirts of the square, the times were changing in Christchurch, with the growth of other commercial areas in the city. However, despite the commercial period of the square coming to an end, the 1880s would see the beginning of a new venture for Market Place with the installation of the steam and horse tram from 1880. The line bisected the square diagonally along Whatley Road (later Victoria Street) and was part of the Papanui Line. This line was the most heavily used and as a result would have kept the square busy, even when trade was declining. The tram would go on to be turned into an electric line and ran from 1905 until its closure in 1954. Victoria Street continued to be used through the square following the closure of the tram until 1988 when the entire square was pedestrianised (Rice 1987, 117).

A built up Market Place in 1862 looking north east. Image: CCL. File reference: CCL PhotoCD 16, IMG0003.

During this transition from a commercial to public space the recognisable features of the present day Victoria Square, such as the statues of Queen Victoria and Captain Cook as well as the recently refurbished Bowker Fountain, were installed. It was during this transformation at the turn of the 20th century, following the death of Queen Victoria, that Market Place was officially renamed Victoria Square.

The Papanui line ran through Victoria Square until it was decommissioned in the 1950s. Image: Alexander, 1993.

Victoria Square would go on to be redeveloped in the 1980s and, most recently, in 2017/2018 as part of the rebuild programme following the Canterbury earthquakes. During the most recent redevelopment archaeologists were able to gain new insights into the early days of the square, and broader life within Christchurch. Excavations revealed structural remains of the early infrastructure of Market Place and several rubbish pits, finding over 1100 artefact fragments. Many of these fragments would go on to help piece us together the early history of the square.

The assemblage recovered from Victoria Square consisted of a variety of artefacts including ceramic and glass, but, rather surprisingly, was predominantly made up of footwear. The sheer volume of shoes found during the recent works (117 shoes coming from one rubbish alone) was confusing for a time. The types of shoes found within the square varied greatly and would have belonged to men, women, and children. Following a little investigation it appeared that perhaps it wasn’t so odd that so many boots were being found: Yorkshire House at the Market Square was in fact having a “Great Clearing Sale. We know from newspaper advertisements that John Caygill was operating out of Market Place as an importer and manufacturer of footwear from 1864 (Lyttelton Time 16/08/1864: 1). Caygill later moved his premises to High Street in 1876 where he was advertised as selling ladies and children’s footwear (Lyttleton Times 20/05/1876). It is quite possible that a number of our shoes weren’t travelling very far before finding themselves in ground and may have been part of a mass disposal before moving premises, which would explain the quantity of shoes found.

John Caygill was advertising his shoe sale at Market Place and could very well be one of the sources of all our buried shoes. Star (8/11/1869: 2).

Some examples of the ankle boots recovered from Victoria Square. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Within this collection of footwear a number of rubber shoes were identified with maker’s marks. Because of these marks it was then possible to trace some of the companies and subsequently the origins of the shoes. One example of this is the North British Rubber Company, which originates from Edinburgh. Their shoes and boots were in production from 1856 until 1956 and they largely exported their products to other countries for a range of rubber needs and purposes including mechanical, engineering and agricultural uses (French 2006). Like fitting a puzzle together, it was possible to trace the origins of these small fragments of rubber to Scotland, 18,591km away. It’s quite possible that John Caygill was importing these very boots to sell in his store at the Market Place.

Footwear made by the North British Rubber Co. from Edinburgh. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

A personal favourite find with origins in Scotland, like myself, is the clay pipe. While pipe fragments aren’t an unusual find on sites in Christchurch they’re always welcome, as they’re usually embossed with the company’s name and place of creation. It’s therefore possible to know a considerable amount about the object immediately after excavation, something that’s not always the case. In this case we can see that this clay pipe came from Edinburgh and was made by ‘THO.WHITE & CO’ translating into Thomas White & Co. who produced pipes from 1823 to 1876 (Bradley 2000: 117). As ‘home’ for me is just over an hour from Edinburgh I do get rather attached to my Scottish finds. Perhaps this is because I know that they’ve made a similar journey to myself to get here (although I’m guessing my air travel would have been a lot more comfortable than their sea voyage).

Another find from Scotland! The Thomas White and Co. smoking pipe. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Another interesting find was two Bell and Black matchboxes. Richard Bell originally began a match business in London in the 1830s and was later joined by Black (Anson 1983). Their matchboxes are found across sites in both New Zealand and Australia dating to the mid-late 19th century. What is particularly nice about these matchboxes, however, is that they later began to be produced in Wellington when a factory was opened in 1895. Their success story brought them on a journey from England to New Zealand, where the matches are produced to this day.

Two examples of Bell and Black matchboxes were found during recent excavations. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

One of the few examples of New Zealand made artefacts that were recovered during recent works is the J. M. & Co. bottle, which was found complete (a small victory for any archaeologist). The initials embossed refer to Joseph Milsom and his aerated water company. Several branches of the he Milsom family set up factories in Lyttelton and Christchurch during the 19th century, and according to the Wises Directory (1872-1873) Joseph Milsom and Co. was established in 1860.

The (whole!) Joseph Milsom aerated water bottle. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

All dateable artefacts recovered from the Victoria Square excavation can quite easily be associated with the early commercial ‘boom’ period of the Market Place (1850s-1870s). The majority of these findings also supported what we know about the strong export markets from England and Scotland, which supplied the colonies of Australia and New Zealand. In fact, only a few of the artefacts with maker’s marks recovered from the square were found to be made in New Zealand. While this is not unusual for the period it does provide us with an insight into what those early years must have been like for immigrants; everything they had once taken for granted as being easily accessible now had to be shipped from the other side of the world and this perhaps goes some way to putting into perspective how challenging life must have been. The challenges and risks businesses would have to take, with no guarantee of success, in order to import goods from Europe is an overwhelming thought.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, there has been and still is a lot going on in and around Victoria Square, which has always been a focal point of Christchurch. It’s somewhere that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working over the past year as it’s been given a new lease of life and putting all the puzzle pieces together to create a picture of early commercial Christchurch has been extremely rewarding. Although its role has changed over time the square has served the public of Christchurch since the city’s foundation. It is a place that has always been dear to people’s hearts and while we’ve been able to uncover a little of the past during the recent renovations, the square will continue in its role as a public space for future residents, as intended by Thomas and Jollie so long ago.

Kathy Davidson

References

Alexander, M., 1993. Tram to the Terminus: the Christchurch Tramway Board and its electric tramways 1921-54. Christchurch N.Z: A&M and Tramway Historical Society.

Anson, D., 1983. Typology and Seriation of Wax Vesta Tin Matchboxes from Central Otago: A New Method of Dating Historic Sites in New Zealand. [online] Available at http://nzarchaeology.org/cms/NZJA/Vol%205%201983/NZJA5.115-138Anson.pdf [Accessed November 2017]

Bradley, C., 2000. Smoking Pipes for the Archaeologist. In Karklins, K. (Ed.) Studies in Material Culture Research, p. 104-133. Society for Historical Archaeology, Pennsylvania.

Cookson, J., 2000, ‘Pilgrims’ Progress – Image, Identity and Myth in Christchurch in Southern Capital Christchurch Towards a City Biography 1850-2000, Canterbury University Press: Christchurch NZ.

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectibles Club, Christchurch

Grace’s Guide, 2018. The North British Rubber Company. [online] Available at: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/North_British_Rubber_Co [Accessed April 2018].

Rice, G., 2014, Victoria Square: Cradle of Christchurch. Canterbury University Press: Christchurch NZ.

Tasker, J., 1993. NZ Matches and Matchboxes. Ohinemuri Regional History Journal, Vol. 37. [online] Available at http://www.ohinemuri.org.nz/journals/65-journal-37-september-1993/1370-nz-matches-and-matchboxes [Accessed November 2017].

 

Under the ground, over the ground and under the floor

Underfloor deposits are as exasperating as they are exciting. Exasperating because the context is not particularly secure: objects usually accumulate under a house over time (thrown or swept from the outside, lost or dropped between the floorboards, dragged in by wind, animals or as result of construction activities). However, every cloud has a silver lining and underfloor deposits are also exciting. The dry conditions under the houses help preserve different types of artefacts to those found in the ground. As a result, underfloor deposits give us the chance to deal with well-preserved and unusual goods, which increases our knowledge about Victorian domestic culture. Always a good thing.

It can also be difficult to associate the objects from underfloor deposits with the people who used to live in the house (the artefacts usually represent a wide range of material culture, from the mid-19th century to the 20th century), unless we happen across a site where the archaeological and historical record are miraculously in alignment. In the case I’m going to talk about today, that alignment happened thanks to personal items that the occupants had lost beneath the floors of their house.

Site prior to the removal of foundations, looking east. Heaps of artefacts were found under the floor of a house in Sydenham during the works related to the demolition, foundation removal and site clearance. Image: J. Hughes.

A huge number of artefacts were scattered across the ground under the back four rooms of the house. We don’t know exactly when the house was built – all the available evidence suggests that it was during the late 19th century, but we do know that it was subsequently renovated. This means that this material may have accumulated over time under the original building and the subsequent renovations during this period. We also know that one particular family – the Rantin family – are known to have lived in this part of Southampton Street from 1883 until the mid-20th century (Press, 20/10/1896; Press 11/02/1933: 22).

James and Caroline Rantin celebrated their silver wedding in their house at Southampton Street in 1896. About 50 people were invited and derived from the description, it looks like a big social event! (Press 20/10/1896).

Overall, the assemblage was typical of a domestic context, including bottles, tea and table wares, animal bones and other stuff related to household activities, personal grooming and garments. As well as illustrating affairs of daily life, all genders and ages are present in this assemblage: men, women, children! Fantastic!

A common ‘twirly’ salad oil bottle, but unusual because of the label. WARDELL BROS & Co TEA, COFFEE AND SPICES MERCHANTS CHRISTCHURCH, DUNEDIN & WELLINGTON were three brothers: John, William, Thomas and Henry Wardell, grocers and provision merchants. Their business was established in 1887 in Christchurch, while the Wellington branch was opened in 1893. They also had a Dunedin branch, although the dates for this are unclear (The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1897). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

This castor oil bottle has a paper label that probably represented  C. and E. Morton (sons of the well-known J. T Morton company). This was originally a Scottish firm, founded in Aberdeen in 1849. By the 1860s Morton was a general provider and stocked a wide range of foodstuffs such as cheese, confectionery, corn, preserved provisions, sauces, vinegar and salt, but also apparel, books, soap and candles. Charles and Edward Morton took over their father’s company after his death in 1898 (Petchey and Innanchai 2012: 9; Graces Guide 2017). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Bay Rum was a refreshing and invigorating tonic for the hair – this particular example was manufactured and sold by Henry Arthur Papprill. His remedies were widely advertised on New Zealand newspaper during the second decade of the 20th century (Star 10/11/1913: 2; Press 6/8/1925: 6). Although primarily marketed as a hair product, Bay Rum was also used for other personal grooming issues, from skin beautification to the relief of tired feet (Bruce Herald 29/11/1898). A bit of concern about personal care and beauty, I’m guessing… Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

We’ve showed you this splendid example of recycling before on the blog. This ‘Greys’ cigarette box has been cut and reused as a shopping list, a better purpose than its original function by the way! A range of items can be read: butter, sugar, eggs, biscuits, soda, cornflour, cookies, jellies, fruit… Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Not just an affordable and simple pipe, but also one with a story to it. This smoking pipe commemorates 60 years of Victoria’s reign in 1897, while the mark refers to John McPhee, a Dunedin pipe maker from a family of Scottish pipe manufacturers. John McPhee started to make clay tobacco pipes in Dunedin around 1890 until 1908 (White 2016: 27). The McPhees appear to have been the first New Zealand clay pipe makers (White 2016: 27-28). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Anchor button. It was two-piece dome with an embossed fouled (as in, the rope twisted around it) anchor and a separate shank. It is likely to have been a cuff button, possibly associated with a navy uniform. Rather than being stitched onto the coat or jacket, these buttons were attached by a split pin, facilitating removal for cleaning, or a change of season (Lindbergh 1999: 52). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Yarn, a bobbin, an unidentified piece of fabric and one shell button were also found under the house. Spinning, sewing, mending and remaking garments, as well as marking sheets, towels, and other linens was a regular component of household work done or overseen by women (Beaudry 2006: 5). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

A perfect complement. This handbag made of leather with a metal closure and decorative stitching. Trendy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries or perhaps, just a choice according to the personal taste. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

MATHER’S INFANTS FEEDING BOTTLE LONDON MANCHESTER. This type of baby feeder was known as ‘murder’ feeder, due to the difficulty of cleaning the lid. Hygiene and related difficulties were counteracted by disinfectants, medicines or even homemade remedies (Otago Witness 15/02/1879). During the 19th century, artificial feeding became extremely popular, in part to address the lack of wet nurses. The discoveries of Pasteur and the subsequent techniques for sterilising feeding bottles improved the sanitary risks associated with artificial feeding. The use of feeding bottles became widespread: they were initially made from pewter, tin plate, earthenware and porcelain, with glass bottles gradually becoming popular from the latter decades of the 19th century onwards (Alimentarium 2016). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

So far, we have a selection of cool and interesting objects. However, we don’t yet have any direct association with the Rantin family. So, let’s demonstrate why this underfloor deposit is special.

First of all, the association of the assemblage with Rantin family is clearly evident from the appearance of the name of James Rantin on a few artefacts relating to his business and occupation as timber merchant like the bill and rebate book exposed below. His wife Caroline was the ‘executrix’ of the business until 1907, when her sons Thomas James and William Rantin took over the company as timber and coal merchants, under the name Rantin Bros (Press 3/12/1907: 1).

Top left: bill dating to July 1903 and addressed by post to James Rantin from the coal, firewood and general merchants, George McClatchie and Co. Bottom left: J. Rantin’s rebate book dating from 1897 to 1898. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Press 3/12/1907:1.

Even more intriguingly, what looks like a baseball set was also found under the house, consisting of a rubber ball and a wooden bat. This is not a common find in Christchurch archaeological sites per se, making them quite interesting artefacts just by themselves. However, a name was also written on the bat… To be honest, the name is illegible, we only figured out the surname. This was enough though, as the visible word read ‘Ratin’. The ‘n’ lacks, but we are pretty sure that it’s just an innocent bad spelling made by a child.

Baseball was played in Christchurch during the late 19th century (Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016). In fact, there were two baseball clubs in Christchurch by 1889, with the aim of providing a winter sport for cricketers who did not want to play rugby. In the early 20th century the interest in baseball was revived due to the Canadian visitors to the New Zealand International Exhibition in 1906, 1907, 1909 and 1910 (Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016). In addition, this baseball set is cool and valuable as indicates the presence of children on this site. Through play, young children were taught roles that would be important in later life. For example, emphasis on sport was particularly important for boys, who were expected to exercise their rougher instincts through play, so that they were able to behave respectably in the company of women. Girls were usually given dolls instead, in an effort to encourage maternal instincts (Prangnell and Quirck 2009: 42).

Top left: a detail of the surname Ra[n]tin written on the bat. Rubber ball with the world map engraved on it and the wooden baseball bat. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

What else do we need as archaeologists? Nothing at all! No mysteries this time. The Rantin family’s belongings accumulated under this house for decades, and it is these lost things that tell us about their lives. At this stage, we know that James and Caroline Rantin had children. And yes, their sons and daughters were Thomas James, William, Elizabeth, Emily and Caroline. A few other conclusions can be also drawn about Rantin Family. For instance, there is a possible association with the navy derived from the anchor button (or just a special affection for naval emblems). Perhaps Thomas James or William, both of whom were Canterbury soldiers during the First World War (Star 11/12/1918: 5; Otago Daily Times 12/01/1917: 3). A particular passion for the monarchy or a royalist attitude is suggested by the presence of a pipe celebrating Queen Victoria’s reign (not unusual for this period), which otherwise makes evident the habit of smoking. Products like Bay Rum show a concern for hair care and maintenance, or perhaps for the appearance in front of the judgmental eyes of society. From mundane affairs to personal traits, this is an excellent example of life in a Christchurch house back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Either way, the discovery of this assemblage was a fortunate day in the life of Underground Overground Archaeology. A piece of cake! Thanks to the fascinating underfloor archaeology indeed…

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Alimentarium, 2016 [online] Available at https://www.alimentarium.org [Accessed March 2018].

Beaudry, M.C., 2006. Findings the material culture of needlework and sewing. Yale University Press. New Haven, London.

Bruce Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Lindbergh, J., 1999. Buttoning Down Archaeology. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 17: 50-57.

Otago Witness [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Petchey, P. and Innanchai, J., 2012. Bottle Top Capsules in New Zealand Historic Archaeological Sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, Vol.3: 1-16.

Prangnell, J. and Quirk, K., 2009. Growing up on the Australian Goldfields. Historical Archaelogy, Vol. 43: 38-49.

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

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

Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016 [online] Available at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en [Accessed March 2018].

White, S., 2016. The McPhees, New Zealand’s First Clay Pipemakers. Archaeology in New Zealand. New Zealand Archaeological Association, Vol.59, No 3: 10-28.

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

 

 

An archaeological treasure trove!

As explained at length in the past, archaeologists don’t much like the use of the word ‘treasure‘. But this really is an archaeological treasure trove – lots and lots of artefacts, from which we shall learn lots and lots of fantastic information. Angel is responsible for this beautifully excavated feature, which we think was probably associated with the London and Paris House, a fancy goods store on Colombo Street in the 1860s and early 1870s. Enjoy!

The beginning… Image: A. Trendafilov.

This brick-lined feature was, as you can see, chock-full of artefacts, most of which were concentrated at the top of the feature, indicating that there were at least two deposition events. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A slightly different view of the feature. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A fabulous water filter, from London (it’s the second one of these we’ve found, but this one’s far more complete). Image: A. Trendafilov.

The base of that fabulous water filter. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Barry’s Tricopherous… Image: A. Trendafilov.

Ceramics, waiting to be excavated. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A cup, possibly bearing a message for a child? Image: A. Trendafilov.

All done! Well, nearly. Next up: analysis and research and more great stories! Image: A. Trendafilov.

A happy archaeologist! Image: H. Williams.