Cocaine Cough Medicine and Liquid Mercury Eye Drops

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and the number of people coughing and sneezing in the office is increasing day by day. Flu season is here, and with it comes the variety of cough mixtures, cough lollies, honey and lemon teas, and other concoctions all designed to try and make it through the day without your colleagues wanting to evict you from the office.

Never be the person who sits in the corner of the office coughing all day. Image: Meme Generator.

Our Victorian forebearers also struggled with the common cold, but not to fear, they too had cough medicine. We’ve talked about pharmaceutical products on the blog before (see here, and here and here), mainly about how most Victorian medicines claimed to be made from ‘secret recipes’ that could not only cure your cough, but also improve your complexion, grow back your receding hairline, stop a heart attack, cure epilepsy and fix any and all gastro related incidents (I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but only a little). Every time we research a new Victorian medicine it always feels like the claims get more and more extraordinary. So, without further ado, here’s five more Victorian medicine bottles that we’ve found on archaeological sites.

Are you wanting something that will help with consumption, wasting diseases, nervous debility, indigestion, constipation, dyspepsia, cholera, rickets, bone softening, bronchitis, coughs, colds and more? Then look no further than Maltine. Maltine was an extract of malted barley, wheat and oats that was highly fortified with alcohol. The product was first created by John Carnrick (1837-1903), a pharmacologist who invented a range of different pharmaceutical substances (Sullivan 2009). The product was marketed firstly as a nutritional supplement for those who were struggling to eat due to illness but, like most Victorian medicines, could be used to cure any and all ailments. Along with plain Maltine, there was Maltine with Cod Liver Oil, Maltine with Peptones, and Maltine with Coca Wine. For those of you not familiar with Victorian medicines, coca wine is literally wine and cocaine. It’s no surprise that Maltine with Coca Wine was the most popular product, selling around 10,000 bottles a year in the late nineteenth century (Sullivan 2009).

This bottle of Maltine was made by the London-based Maltine Manufacturing Company. The Maltine Manufacturing Company had been established by 1882 and was advertising the sale of its products in New Zealand from 1886 (New Zealand Mail 26/03/1886: 28). Image: C. Watson.

When I said before that Maltine could cure any and all ailments, I wasn’t exaggerating. Image: New Zealand Mail 9/4/1886: 28.

When contemplating which particular brand of medicine to take, appearance is an important thing to consider. Luckily Alfred Bishop’s Granular Citrate of Magnesia is “perfectly white and delicately clean” meaning there’s no worries there. Bishop’s advertisements for his product talk a lot about the medicine’s looks; in another the granules are described as “handsome in appearance”. Now, the fact that Bishop focused so much on the appearance of his product in advertisements is somewhat hilarious given that his Granular Citrate of Magnesia was actually just a laxative. The product likely contained a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid, common ingredients in laxatives of the day (Era Formulary 1893). Of course, the product wasn’t obviously advertised as a laxative, rather it was said to help “stomach ailments”, but we all know what that means.

A handsome bottle for a handsome product. Alfred Bishop, based in London, established his business in 1857 and sold a range of different citrates and pharmaceutical products. Image: C. Watson.

Speaking of laxatives, here’s another good one: J. C. Eno’s Effervescing Fruit Salts. Eno’s Fruit Salts were created by the pharmacist James Crossley Eno in the mid-nineteenth century and were advertised as a remedy for constipation, bowel complaints and general health issues (Colonist 11/07/1907, Otago Daily Times 20/10/1893). Similar to Bishop’s citrate magnesia, the product was a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid, with a bit of Rochelle salt thrown in as well (Era Formulary 1893). I’m not going to say much more about the product, because the advertisement below really speaks for itself. Who would have thought a laxative was so crucial to the development of the British Empire.

Eno’s Fruit Salts bottle. Eno began selling his products in Newcastle from the 1850s, but it wasn’t until 1876 that he trademarked the ‘Fruit Salt’ brand. Image: C. Watson.

Possibly the best medicine advertisement ever. Image: Otago Daily Times.

I’m very sceptical about the claims made by this next product. Singleton’s Golden Eye Ointment could cure all eye disorders, everything from helping sore eyes, to getting rid of styes and ulcers, helping inflammation, fixing weak and watery eyes, and restoring eyelashes (Evening Star 18/08/1929; New Zealand Mail 25/11/1903; 21/12/1899; Press 18/06/1936). In fact the ointment was such an amazing product that it was able to cure a large number of British soldiers who eyes were injured from the hot desert sand in Egypt (Barker 2019). The reason why I’m so sceptical is because the ointment contained quicksilver (The Mirror 1834). Quicksilver is of course liquid mercury. The mercury was heated with nitric acid until the product evaporated, leaving behind salts. These salts were then mixed with clarified butter to produce an ointment that was rubbed on the eyelids at night. I’m not a chemist or a doctor, but I imagine rubbing anything that contains mercury on your eyelids is not going to be safe.

This is known as a pedestal pot. The ointment was placed on the top of the pedestal and secured with a layer of wax paper. Whilst most of the other pharmaceutical product we’ve mentioned in this blog were invented in the nineteenth century, the recipe for this one dates back to the sixteenth century. Dr. Johnson, a physician operating in Elizabethan times, was apparently the creator of the ointment and passed the recipe to George Hind in his will. The recipe was then passed on from generation to generation, with the name Singleton being added when Thomas Singleton married into the family (Barker 2019). Image: C. Watson.

Whilst the nineteenth century was renowned for its patent medicines, that made extraordinary claims despite containing dubious ingredients, it was also a period of many medical advances. One of those advances was germ theory and the realisation that cleanliness and sterilisation would help prevent infection and disease. An important background figure in these advances was Dr. Frederick Crace Calvert, a Manchester analytical chemist. Calvert was the first person to commercially produce carbolic acid (phenol), doing so under his company F. C. Calvert and Co. Calvert’s phenol products were used by Joseph Lister in his work on antiseptic surgery, and had many far-reaching applications (Grace’s Guide 2017).

Caption: Established in 1859, F. C. Calvert and Co. made various household disinfectants and cleaners using their carbolic acid, along with medicinal products. This bottle likely contained a disinfectant. Image: C. Watson.

So there you have it, medicine in the nineteenth century. A mixture of products that actually helped, products that might do something, and products that will probably poison you in the long run.

Clara Watson

The Curious Case of the Red Building

The two-storey red building in the centre of Christchurch was like many typical pre-1900 buildings that had been modified over the years. The veranda was enclosed to provide more rooms within the building and multiple other extensions and rooms had been added over the years. The building had even been divided into flats which is not a strange sight for such a large old building in the centre of Christchurch. What was curious about this building was the saltbox cottage butted against its east exterior wall.

The west elevation of the two-storey building at the time of demolition. Due to the proximity of the fence and the overgrown trees detailed photography of this elevation was restricted, so this drawing is the best way to show this elevation. Figure: J. Hearfield.

The south elevation of the saltbox cottage joined to the main two-storey house on the left. Image: P. Mitchell.

There was a building built on this property between 1877 and June 1881. Through historical research we were able to pin down the occupation of this land to this time period due to a map in 1877 showing no dwellings recorded on the town section (Strouts, 1877) and June 1881 was when this building named ‘Gidleigh’ is first mentioned in newspapers as a property advertised for let (Press 3/6/1881:1). During this time the property was owned by Church Property Trustees (CPT) who are likely to have developed the property before renting it out to Mr Neville George Barnett. Until 1884 Barnett consistently advertised his services as an organist and professor of music at this address. In February 1884 Barnett accepted a position in Auckland and relocated to the North Island (Star 16/2/1884:2). In 1884 Barnett assigned his lease to a Mr George Frederick Tendall, who had been living next door at ‘Penwynholme’, with his family (LINZ, 1850: 340; Press 12/9/1882:1).

Within the first year of leasing the property Mr George Frederick Tendall and his wife Mrs G. F. Tendall (Eliza), built an extension, to be used as a school room (Lyttelton Times 3/5/1884:7).

Mrs Tendall begs to announce, she is about to have built a large and commodious Schoolroom, which will enable her to take an increased number of pupils. She offers a thorough education, including religious instruction, in the subjects usually taught in private schools…” (Lyttelton Times 3/5/1884:7).

Post-1910s additions to the buildings included an extension on the north elevation of the two-storey building that was completed before 1955 and a lean-to on the east elevation of the 1884 extension. During this time the buildings were converted into seven flats, which included the addition of more kitchens and bathrooms and altered the larger rooms with partition walls to create multiple rooms. At some point after 1955 the front veranda on the west elevation of the two-storey building was converted into two more rooms with the addition of a French door on the new west elevation. These additions changed the number of rooms in the two-storey building from the original eight rooms to 22 rooms and in the saltbox cottage it changed the number of rooms from four rooms to five rooms.

Aerial imagery from 1955 shows the north extension and the front veranda still in place. Image: National Library of New Zealand.

The ground-floor layout of the buildings before it was demolished in 2018. Figure: J. Hearfield.

Research into the history of this site provided no insight into what came first – the two-storey building or the cottage. No mention of the cottage could be found in the historical documents. During the recording of the building they both had similar building techniques and materials. These included:

Wide timber floorboards, measuring to 150 mm, are common in pre-1900 buildings and were found within both buildings. Image: P. Mitchell.

Split laths and plaster in the walls and ceilings of both buildings, which is another characteristic of a mid-19th century dwelling; not usually seen in buildings built after about 1880. Image: P. Mitchell.

Example of the bricks found in both buildings in all three original fireplaces. The bricks had frogs but did not have any makers marks and appeared to be pressed but not machine made. Image: J. Hearfield.

These three building materials found throughout the two buildings indicate they were built before 1900 as spilt lath and plaster, large timber floorboards and pressed bricks are common in buildings built in New Zealand before 1900 (Arden and Bowman 2004; 163,170 & 171). With no evidence in the history it could only be hypothesised at this point that both buildings were originally built within the same time period.

It wasn’t until the buildings were demolished that the truth was revealed. Underneath the floor of both buildings was a shared concrete and limestone ring foundation. This provided us with the evidence that these two buildings would have been built at the same time. But how unusual for a large building to have a small cottage butted against it.

An example of the foundations used for both buildings. Image: J. Hearfield.

After much discussion, it became clear exactly why there were two buildings built at the same time on this section – it was actually one large dwelling. Within the two-storey building there was no fireplace with an opening large enough to be the kitchen fireplace. The only fireplace large enough for cooking was in the cottage. This led us to the conclusion that there could have been an internal door from the hall in the two-storey building into the cottage. This means that the cottage would have been used as a utilitarian annex and functioned as the kitchen, scullery and servant quarters.

Newspaper article talking about the lease of the property and mentions servant bedroom and scullery (Lyttelton Times 9/6/1881:8).

What we have concluded may have been the original layout of the building in 1881. Image: J. Hearfield.

Whilst many pre-1900 buildings show evidence of a divide between public and private spheres, including areas that were designated for servants such as the kitchen and their living quarters, this usually is shown in the difference between decorative features such as skirting boards and architraves. However, this building took it to a whole other level by making the servant quarters look like a completely different building. Perhaps this was to give the servants a feeling of having their own space or else was it the owner wanting separatism between the family and their servants?

Jamie-Lee Hearfield

References

Arden, S., and Bowman, I., 2004. The New Zealand Period House: A conservation guide. Random House New
Zealand, Auckland.

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register. Archives New
Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [accessed 07/18].

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [accessed 07/18].

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [accessed 07/18].

Strouts, F., 1877. Map of Christchurch,

Black Beers and Ring Seals: the underdogs of the artefact world

This week’s blog was inspired by a Facebook comment on our previous blog post. You might remember that in the last blog we went through some of the artefacts we’ve uncovered over the past six months. One set of artefacts we included were black beer bottles of various shapes. In the blog post I wrote that black beer bottles weren’t particularly interesting or unusual as we find them all the time, but I included them in the blog as I liked the photo of the different shapes lined up together. One of our reader’s commented back saying that she found it interesting learning more about black beer bottles and the range of products they held.

This comment somewhat surprised me as I don’t always find black beer bottles the most interesting of artefacts, and led me to ponder the value we place on ‘rarity’. Does an artefact have more value if it’s unusual? Does an artefact have less value if it’s common? Arguably, for archaeologists, the value of an artefact is in its ability to tell us about the people who used it and discarded it – rarity is the realm of collectors and antique dealers. Yet rarity and commonness does have its use in interpretation – artefacts that are commonly found likely represent objects that were cheap, easily available, or fashionable. Artefacts that are more unusual suggest there were other factors behind their purchase. This means the ‘rarity’ or ‘commonness’ of an artefact is useful for interpreting what an artefact means, what it can say about the people who owned it. Yet when it comes to the physical object itself, there’s just not the same feeling of excitement and intrigue when pulling a broken black beer bottle base out of a bag when compared to pulling out a complete porcelain vase. You could say, that all artefacts are valuable, but some artefacts are more valuable than others. Putting that pondering aside, this week on the blog we’re going to focus on two of the artefacts we find in nearly every archaeological site: black beer and ring seal bottles.

Just last week one of our archaeologists exclaimed, “Black beer bottles! Again! Every site! Black beer bottles! We must have thousands of them!”. And I’d say we probably do. Black beer bottles and ring seal bottles are the most common glass artefacts that we find. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these bottles, this is what they look like:

Or at least this is what they normally look like by the time we get to them. If we’re lucky we find complete bottles but most of the time we’re just left with tops and bases. Image: C. Watson.

Black beer bottles appear black (they’re actually a dark olive colour) and ring seal bottles are green in colour (like the one in the top right corner). Black beer bottles come in pint and quart sizes in two different shapes, normal and squat. We refer to them as small, tall, small squat and large squat, but that’s just our terminology and you might see different names for the shapes. Ring seal bottles look like a champagne bottle (they also get called that, along with ring seal beer and ring seal wine bottles). They typically come in pint and quart sizes, although we’ve found miniature ones before as well. In addition to these we also get stout, Bordeaux, hock or rhine, and cognac bottle shapes.

This image brings to mind the song ‘99 bottles of beer on the wall’ (you can thank me later for getting it stuck in your head). Some of the many black beer and ring seal type bottles we get. From left to right: stout, tall black beer, small black beer, large squat black beer, small squat black beer, small ring seal, large ring seal, cognac, Bordeaux. Image: C. Watson.

While many of these names are also a type of alcoholic beverage (such as cognac), they’re used to describe the shape of the bottle rather than the specific contents. Typically, these styles of bottles were used for all types of alcohol, be that beer, wine or spirits. The bottles were  usually imported into the country with the alcoholic content already inside  – we found hundreds of still sealed bottles that contained Pale Ale at a bonded warehouse site (presumably they went off on the journey over and that’s why they were thrown out). Once in New Zealand the bottles were sold, the contents consumed, and the empty bottles collected by local brewers who refilled the bottles with their own product and re-labelled them. Alternatively, the bottles were just thrown out leaving us to find them quite a few years later. Prior to 1922 all glass bottles were imported into New Zealand, meaning there was a limited supply of bottles and companies often advertised in newspapers for more. Bottle shortages affected all businesses that sold bottled products, not just brewers, which led to companies bottling their product in whatever type of bottle they could get their hands on. In other parts of the country, ring seal and black beer bottles have been found with labels for ginger beer, lemonade, and lemon essence, although in Christchurch we’ve mostly only come across labels for alcoholic drinks.

A typical sight in a nineteenth century newspaper: an advertisement for a company wanting wine and beer bottles.

Some of the labelled ring seal and black beer bottles we’ve found to date in Christchurch: a Bass Ale (that had a message inside), a Crown Brewery, and a Treble London Stout. Image: J. Garland and C. Watson.

When we analyse these bottles, we look at several different attributes. Many of these focus on describing the physical appearance of the bottle – what colour it is, the shape of the different portions including the finish (top), the neck, the shoulder, the body and the base (who knew there were so many parts to a bottle), and which portions are present. Recording these allows us to see what variation exists within a bottle type, and (where possible) to link those variations to specific processes in the manufacture of the bottle.

Typical variation in black beer bottle finishes and bases. Looking at the bottle finishes we have a finish that tapers up on the left, a finish that is flat with a bead or collar below the flat section in the middle, and one that is curved with a skirt below the curved section on the right. The bases are a bit easier to see the differences. The one on the left has a conical profile whilst the one on the right is more domed and has a small pimple off-set from the centre. Image: C. Watson.

We also record how the bottle was manufactured.  In the nineteenth century, manufacture of glass bottles was done by hand, with the glass-blower blowing the bottle into a mould. Different types of moulds were used, with each mould leaving different types of seams on the body of the mould. Black beer bottles were normally formed in single or three-piece dip moulds, whilst ring seals were either dip-moulded or turn-moulded. Occasionally they were made in a two-piece cup bottom mould, but this is less common. The types of moulds used by glass blowers changed over the nineteenth century, giving us an indication of when the bottle was likely made. If you’re interested in bottle manufacture, I definitely recommend checking out the SHA Website as it’s an absolute treasure trove of information.

Some of the many moulds used by nineteenth century glass makers. The glass was blown into the mould to form the body and base of the bottle, with the finish applied by hand (finishing the bottle- get it). Images taken from the SHA Website.

Finally, we record any embossing or labels on the bottle. When these are present, they can tell us either who made the bottle or what it likely contained. This in turn can help us to date when the bottle was likely manufactured. Unfortunately, paper labels don’t normally survive being in the ground for over a hundred years and we don’t find them that often. Embossing is more common, normally found on the base of black beer bottles.

Sometimes these marks are just a letter or a number, other times they’re a manufacturer’s initials. Two marks that turn up time and time again are those for Richard Cooper and Thomas Wood. Cooper and Wood were partners at the Portobello glass works in Scotland between 1859 and 1866. During that time the bases of their bottles were embossed with “COOPER & WOOD”.  In 1866 the pair broke their partnership and divided the company and factory into two separate glass works. Cooper retained the larger portion of the glass works and operated under the name Richard Cooper and Co until 1895, when the firm became a limited company. Thomas Wood built a new glass works next to the old factories, remaining in business until 1920. Richard Cooper and Thomas Wood both continued to emboss the bases of their bottles using their surname and Portobello.

Cooper and Wood black beer bottle bases. The one on the left was made by Thomas Wood whilst the one on the right was made by Richard Cooper. Both were likely manufactured between 1866 and 1885 after the separate glass works were established. Image: C. Watson.

So there you have it, black beer and ring seal bottles. Not the most unusual or unique of artefacts but still interesting in their own right. And in many ways the fact that these bottles are so common is what makes them valuable, as they represent an everyday quintessential item of nineteenth century life.

One of my favourite photos from the nineteenth century. Entitled “Scandinavian picnic with beer bottles”, it looks like a lot more fun than any picnic I’ve ever been on. I can count at least 23 ring seal bottles in the photograph. From the looks of it they’re all quart sized meaning there’s about 20 litres of beer being or waiting to be drunk. Not bad for an afternoon’s effort. Image: Scandinavian picnic with beer bottles, Lowry Bay. Ref: 1/2-052226-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23033621.  

Clara Watson

2018: We Out

And just like that another year has passed us by. 2018 has been a year of changes here at Underground Overground. It’s with a very heavy heart we’ve said a few goodbyes to some tremendously talented archaeologists; Chelsea, Shana, Matt, Jessie, Teri and Maria. All of which have left a very big hole in the UOA family. We have however had a new addition with Michael joining the team along with Clara and Jamie becoming permanent full-timers following the completion of their Masters at Otago (Congrats – you guys rock!). Let’s take a look at some of our highlights from the year.

We got to work in some pretty cool places…

Costa del Timaru. Image: Megan Hickey.

Tikao Bay. We get paid to go to these places, it’s a pretty sweet deal I know! Image: Megan Hickey.

When the Christchurch office met the Dunedin office. The two joined forces for our dig at Redcliff. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Just when you think these locations can’t get any better,  we met some furry friends that really were the icing on the cake. And if you missed Hamish’s We Dig Cats blog now’s the purr-fect time to give it a read (sorry, that was claw-ful).

Did you get my good side? Image: Hamish Williams.

RIP Muncho (pictured here on a 19th century salt-glazed sewer pipe.. We also sadly lost another team member this year, the best archaeology cat you could wish for; Muncho. Image: Hamish Williams.

But on a slightly more positive note, Monty the sausage dog joined the team. Image: Clara Watson.

Of course we found some cool features…

Perhaps the best road reserve find of the year – a 1880s stone pedestrian crossing on Norwich Quay, Lyttelton. Find out more about this fine feature, and road formation archaeology here. Image: Hamish Williams.

Our buildings archaeologist’s have been busy finding hidden 19th century gems in Rangiora. Images: Jamie Hearfield.

A gully in Akaroa containing (literally) hundreds of artefacts. Image: Maria Lillo Bernabeu.

We also came across some interesting people from the past.

This year we celebrated the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, which saw New Zealand become the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections (check out our blog post A tea cup as a symbol of political change from September to read our tribute to those amazing women who helped make it all happen). Not only did women get the right to vote, but women were also eligible to sit on many councils and boards (although women were not eligible to become members of Parliament until 1919!). Mrs Elizabeth Yates became the first Mayor of the Onehunga District in Auckland in December 1893, just three months after women had been given the right to vote (Star 20/11/1893: 3, Press 1/12/1893: 5). Unfortunately this was an exception and not the rule, and Canterbury’s local governing bodies continued to be populated by men throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

During our research of Canterbury’s past we often come across some interesting insights into those men who made up these governing bodies. For example, the Superintendents of Canterbury. When the New Zealand Constitution Act was passed in Government in June 1852, the Province of Canterbury was officially formed and a Provincial Council was elected to govern it. At the head of the Council was the position of Superintendent. During the tenure of the provincial system Canterbury had four Superintendents; James Edward Fitzgerald (1853-1857), William Sefton Moorhouse (1857-1863), Samuel Bealey (1863-1868), and William Rolleston (1868-1876). These four gentlemen held different opinions on the best way to govern and what ought to be prioritised, and not unlike the government today, their opinions sometimes conflicted. In 1869 Alfred Charles Barker, a prominent Christchurch photographer, took two photos of two of the Superintendents of Canterbury, Rolleston and Fitzgerald, which highlighted and made fun of this fact. The first photo, entitled “The Argument”, shows the two superintendents apparently having a heated discussion (Figure 1), while the second photo, entitled “Result of the Argument”, shows them apparently resolving their differences with a (mock) fist fight (Figure 2).

Photgraph entitled “The Argument”, showing Superintendents James Fitzgerald (Left) and William Rolleston (Right) in discussion. Image: Barker, 1869b.

Photograph entitled “Result of the Argument” showing Superintendents James Fitzgerald (Left) and William Rolleston (Right) having a mock fight. Image: Barker, 1869.

Unfortunately, not all of the disagreements between Canterbury’s official elite were so jovially represented. In 1900, a disagreement between Sumner’s Mayor William Rollitt and Councillor Charles Hulbert, resulted in a heated argument which was recorded in the local newspapers the following day. The two men exchanged impassioned words before members began to storm out of the session without a quorum being met (Figure 3). We can only hope if women had been present their behaviour would have been more considered!

Excerpt from the Star newspaper, recording the heated argument between Sumner Mayor William Rollitt and Councillor Charles Hulbert. Image: Star 20/4/1900: 1

As always we found some cool artefacts to keep our specialists busy…

Some lovely tea wares from one of our favourite suffragists (not suffragette) here at underover, the infamous Ada Wells! Image: Clara Watson.

Anyone would think Cantabrians enjoy a beverage or two…at least one of our Lichfield Street sites would suggest. Image: Clara Watson.

And of course we couldn’t talk about 2018 and artefacts without doing a wee shout out to the Convention Centre. One of our largest sites to date, but also one of the coolest with some amazing artefacts found!

Some of the many many cool artefacts recovered from the Convention Centre.

From everyone here at Underground Overground Archaeology we wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The blog will be back at the end of January.

Underground Overground Archaeology

Doe, a Deer, a (Possibly) Female Deer

Bones, of the animal variety, are a common find on historic archaeological sites in Christchurch. The vast majority of the bones we come across are sheep and cattle, with the occasional pig and chicken showing up as well. From these bones we are able to deduce the quality of diet of early Christchurch residents, with the different cuts of meat corresponding to different bones. If we have a faunal assemblage with lots of cow pelvises and rib bones, we know the people who threw the bones away were eating pretty well- lots of cuts of steak and roast beef. If we have lots of lower limb bones, like the tibia and fibula, or the radius and ulna, we know that dinner most likely consisted of beef soup or stew. As cuts of steak cost more than the shin and hock cuts, we are able to infer the wealth or status of certain occupants, all based on what bones they threw out.

Of course, we don’t just find the leftover bones from last nights dinner. Rats, rabbits and cats can all choose archaeological sites as their final places of rest- even horses! Recently, we found a bone that we had never seen before. It looked like a sheep metatarsal, but was definitely different. A little bit longer, a little bit slimmer, a little bit more gracile. We did some research and found the answer: it’s the left metatarsal of a deer!

The mystery bone: A Left Deer Metatarsal!

For those of you who aren’t experts in deer biology, the metatarsal is the rear lower leg bone. Image: adapted from Parfitt and Lister 2012: 422.

Having found this deer bone, we realised we didn’t know all that much about deer. When did they come to New Zealand? Were they introduced for eating? For shooting? For a fun and friendly pet? (it wasn’t the latter). Deer were primarily introduced into New Zealand between 1861 and 1919, however, they began to be imported into Auckland as early as 1851 (Drew 2008; Lyttelton Times 11/10/1851). Red deer were the most successful species introduced, but fallow deer, wapiti, sambar, sika, rusa, white-tailed deer and the fabled Fiordland moose were all brought to our shores (Drew 2008). The people behind the introduction of deer were the acclimatisation societies. We’ve talked about acclimatisation societies before on the blog. Essentially the Victorians thought New Zealand was a bit of a useless country when it came to wildlife (no large mammals, game, or fish) and decided to change it by introducing a heap of species.

There is perhaps no country in the world the natural zoology of which supplies so little to the subsistence or enjoyment of its inhabitants, as New Zealand. Of game there is almost none; quail, formerly plentiful, have nearly disappeared; pigeons and kakas are to be found only in the woods; ducks, eels and wild pigs complete the list. And if there are so few useful animals, those which add to the grace and enjoyment of life are scarcer still; of singing birds there are but the tui tui and the bell bird; neither of them ever heard, except in the neighbourhood of the forests…If, however, we turn from land to water, the inducements to engage in this enterprise are greater still. Our great snow rivers are absolutely without fish…At present, such rivers as the Waimakariri, the Rakaia or the Rangitata are worse than useless, obstructing travelling without assisting navigation.

-Press 17/08/1861

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was found in 1864 and by 1866 they had made an enclosure in Hagley Park for deer to be kept in once they arrived off the boat. I just want to take a moment here and emphasise how difficult it must have been just getting the deer to New Zealand. They had to live on a boat, for at least 10 weeks, being kept calm so they didn’t injure themselves or anyone else. They also needed food for that length of time, and presumably at least a little bit of exercise. In addition to all of those struggles, the ship might be wrecked along the way (Press 04/01/1868).

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society doesn’t seem to have had the best luck in obtaining deer, with lots of missed opportunities and failed attempts to secure them. When they did succeed in importing deer, it appears to have been in relatively small numbers- only one or two at a time. The deer were stored in the enclosure in Hagley Park before being released to farms in rural areas such as Culverden and Little River (Star 29/01/1874; Press 07/12/1881; Press 25/06/1884). The capturing of the deer from their enclosure didn’t always go smoothly. In 1874 the capturing of eight deer from the enclosure resulted in four being killed, one captured but unlikely to live, one escaping, one remaining in the enclosure, and one captured and healthy (Press 25/06/1874). Reading through the reports of the acclimatisation society it seems that deer in Canterbury were rare and there weren’t large ‘wild’ herds of deer like there were in other parts of the country.

Due to the lack of deer in Canterbury, fresh venison was extremely rare between the 1860s and 1880s. When fresh venison was available it appears to have been because a deer had been accidentally killed (like the accidental death of the four deer in 1874), and the mantra of ‘waste not want not’ applied. “the first four when found to be hopelessly gone were bled for venison. To put it mildly, it is to be regretted that so good an afternoon’s sport should have been had at such a sacrifice” (Press 25/06/1874).

Whenever these accidents happened, they were almost always followed by a butcher advertising fresh venison in the newspaper the next day.

The Lane Brothers appear to have been the prime butchery for obtaining venison, advertising it for sale in 1871 and 1876. In both years the meat came from deer belonging to the acclimatisation society.

Towards the late 1880s venison became more common, both in the form of canned ‘hashed’ venison (Press 28/12/1887) and fresh. With the successful introduction of deer to other parts of the country, along with improved refrigeration, there was a greater supply of fresh venison (Press 02/04/1888; Lyttelton Times 30/11/1888). It was not until the twentieth century that Canterbury’s deer population reached a high enough level to allow for hunting, with the first licenses for deer stalking in the Rakaia Gorge issued in 1907 (Press 16/04/1907).

So, what does all this mean for our deer bone? Well, our bone was found in the central city, within a layer of cultural material which we think dates to either the late 1860s or early 1870s. Based on those dates, it’s possible that our bone was from one of those early deer owned by the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society which was killed in an accident and then sold as venison. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a metatarsal, the part of the leg that was not eaten.

The haunch was the most common venison cut referred to in newspapers of the time (Press 19/05/1864). This meat cut consisted of the back leg, and presumably involved the pelvis, femur, and maybe the top end of the tibia. The tibia and fibula were likely served as a shank meat cut, but the meat surrounding the metatarsal was not eaten as there was not enough to be worthwhile. The bone may have been chopped up as a base for stocks or soups, but this is not the case with our bone as we found it whole and without butchery marks.

This may simply mean that when the carcass was butchered the lower legs were chopped off above the metatarsal and discarded. However, we thought that given the rarity of deer in New Zealand at the time, and how expensive the meat must have been, that this was a bit strange. Also, as far as we are aware, there wasn’t a butchers located near where the bone was found, and no other deer bone was found in the layer, making it seem unlikely that the bone’s disposal was just the butcher throwing away the unedible bones and meat parts.

So we did some research on uses of deer’s legs and feet and found that they were used for making bags. Called deer hock bags, these were made from the skin surrounding the metacarpal and metatarsal bones and took about four skins to make one bag. The skinning would leave the bone complete, like ours, and could explain why the metatarsal wasn’t associated with a butcher’s deposit. Alternatively, the fat and tissue surrounding the bone could be melted down for the making of glue. However, I’m assuming this would have some effect on the bone and so I don’t think this was the case.

Whatever the reason behind its discard, whether it be by butcher, tanner or glue maker, our deer bone has an interesting history to tell. Was our bone from a deer that was transported half way around the world only to die in an accident and have its meat served at the dining table of some wealthy individual and its skin turned into a bag? Possibly, and that’s archaeology for you folks.

Clara Watson

 

References

Drew, K. 2008. “Deer and Deer Farming- Introduction and Impact of Deer.” Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved October 4, 2018 (https://teara.govt.nz/en/deer-and-deer-farming/page-1).

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

Parfitt, S. and Lister, A. 2012. ‘The Ungulates from the Peştera cu Oase’ in Erik TrinkausSilviu ConstantinJoco Zilhco (Eds.) Life and Death at the Pestera cu Oase: A Setting for Modern Human Emergence in Europe. OUP: USA.

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

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