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

 

 

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.

Cambridge Terrace: a tale of boats, banks and fluvial fun

When you think about the Avon River running through Christchurch, you might imagine punting boats and kayaks in Hagley Park. Such attractions in our garden city are far from new and, recently, a few of us here at Underground Overground Archaeology have had the opportunity to learn more about how a section of the Avon was utilised and modified in the early days of our city. As a result, we have managed to catch a glimpse of how the early settlers modified the wider landscape to suit their needs.

Prior to the arrival of the of the first European settlers, Māori had long been living in the Ōtautahi/Christchurch area, utilising the rivers as transport corridors as well as a source of fish and wetland birds. The river was originally known by Māori as Ōtākaro, and was renamed the Avon River by John Deans in the 1840s. Upon arriving in the new settlement in December 1850, Dr Alfred Charles Barker described the Avon as “everywhere bordered with a luxuriant growth of flax” (Lamb, 1981: 93). Barker’s photograph of the Avon River dating to 1860 shows the river banks still in that primitive condition.

A. C. Barker’s photograph of Christchurch from the Provincial Council Building, showing the banks of the Avon in their early state. Image: Canterbury Photography.

The first known development to have occurred on the river bank along this section of Cambridge Terrace was the erection of the Montreal Street bridge in 1861. This single-lane cart bridge would have been a great boon to Christchurch’s citizens, who previously had to cross the river at the Victoria Street bridge when passing through the city (Ince, 1998: 38). It was not until the establishment of the Christchurch City Council in 1862, however, that the first official landscaping of the river bank was undertaken. In July, a newly established ‘planting committee’ declared that three lines of trees (consisting of Lombardy poplars, sycamore, blue gum, laburnum, pineaster firs and weeping willows) were to be planted along southern bank of the river, between Montreal and Hereford streets (Lyttelton Times 16/7/1862: 4). By January 1863, the council had appointed a government gardener to oversee further landscaping around the city (Lyttelton Times 3/1/1863: 4). But it was the hard labour gang that the council most frequently employed in maintaining the river bank, particularly in clearing the refuse that was often discarded in the hollows of the river bank reserve by nearby residents (Lyttelton Times 5/5/1868: 2, Press 16/6/1868: 2).

In 1870, the mayor made a proposal to level the northern bank of the river between the Montreal and Hereford street bridges, as part of his idea to form a promenade along the bank (Star 19/7/1870: 2). Although it is not clear if these works were undertaken at the time, this may have been the beginning of the footpaths that many pedestrians still meander along today.

By 1875, the landscape of the river bank was changing again. The council was forced to authorise the construction of a new bridge in Montreal Street in September 1875, when the timber piles of the original bridge were found to have rotted (Ince, 1998: 38-41). William Aitken also erected the Montreal Street boatsheds here in this year. Permission to do so was granted by the city council, on condition Aitken paid a ground rent of £5 per annum and was not to charge more than a shilling an hour for the use of his boats (Star 12/10/1875: 2). J. McLean took over as proprietor of the boatsheds in 1882, and continued to run them into the 20th century. Fire broke out in the boatsheds in 1919, and although they managed to survive the blaze, they were not so lucky in 1929 when they were completely destroyed by arson (Star 29/12/1919: 8; Lamb, 1981: 111). Photographs of the sheds in 1888 and the early 1920s shows the boatsheds changed little over the years – though the foliage on the banks surrounding them certainly grew denser.

The Montreal Street boatsheds in 1888. Image: Lamb, 1981: 5.

The Montreal Street Boatsheds in the 1920s. Image: Lamb, 1981: 112.

The archaeology that was uncovered from the river banks of the Avon varied in condition. We found concentrations of scattered artefacts on the north bank, all of which were highly fragmented. These artefacts probably represent the random discarding of rubbish or items that were lost by the people who used the area as a recreational space. Alternatively, they may represent the efforts of the city council to fill in the natural depressions in the bank (not an economic recession pun), in an attempt to flatten the land. Such maintenance occurred in 1894 and 1908, to “render the banks of the river better looking” (Press 11/5/1894: 3; 3/8/1908: 9). However they were deposited, these artefacts were probably further fragmented by the trampling of foot traffic of the visitors to the area, and/or by the installation of pedestrian pathways to this side of the bank in 1941 (Canterbury Maps, 2017).

north bank. Clockwise from left: pathway along the Avon River, an archaeological feature uncovered, close-up on a scattered deposit of highly fragmented artefacts, inside the pathway, zoomed out view of the pathway. Images: M. Hickey.

Another way these artefacts could have ended up on this river bank relates to the nearby (and very hygienic), Corporation Baths (ArchSite 2013). These were located downstream from this site, between Cambridge Terrace and Rhododendron Island, and their maintenance required the Avon River to be dredged in 1877. The extent of the dredging along the Avon River is not known, but evidence from a nearby archaeological site suggests that material dredged from the river may have ended up further along the river bank, at least as far north as the Cambridge Terrace/Durham Street intersection (ArchSite 2013). It’s possible that the artefacts found at our site may also represent some of this dredged material. Sadly, these baths were forced to close at the end of the bathing season of 1886 due to the increase in sewage and other discharged wastes from the hospital less than 400 metres upstream (Press 9/2/1886: 2)!

In stark contrast to the fragmentary artefacts found on the northern bank, many complete glass bottles and a clay pipe were found slightly downstream on the southern river bank. No ceramic artefacts were found on this side, and it’s very likely that these artefacts were discarded by people into, or near to, the river. These items would have floated downstream to the southern bank, where they were deposited by natural fluvial processes. The absence of ceramic in the southern assemblage supports this theory – as broken plates don’t make good flotation devices! It’s a very tidy way to look at artefact fluvial deposition… as tidy as rubbish floating down the river can look anyway.

A selection of the ‘floating’ artefacts from the south bank. Clockwise from left: clay smoking pipe, spirit bottle, ring seal wine or beer bottle, torpedo (soda water) bottle, wide mouth pickle jar. Image: C. Dickson.

This assemblage from the southern bank could also be more accurately dated because the artefacts were literally capped by modifications of the river bank in 1914. At this time, concrete edging (or sheet piling), was added to the bank, and a concrete fill layer was added above the layer of silty soil that contained the artefacts. This leaves us with (equally as tidy) pre-1914 deposition date for these artefacts.

Excavation of the south Bank of the Avon River. Image: M. Hickey.

So, we’ve covered the material and condition of the artefacts found, but what about what they were used for? The answer is a gosh darn lot of alcohol bottles and some tobacco pipes… because… Avon River boat party?! Hey, it’s possible! But perhaps more generally, this area was used primarily as recreational space since the 19th century, and the artefacts that we found probably reflect that. The assemblage notably lacked the tea and table ware ceramic vessels that typically characterise a domestic household assemblage, and other common household artefacts were also absent here.

Whether we are looking at punting parties or river refuse, this Cambridge Terrace site offered us a rare opportunity to consider the use of a primarily recreational public space in Christchurch. We were able to take a wider look at modification of the early cityscape – Christchurch was not always the flat landscape that we know today, we have shaped it to be that way over time, to suit our needs. During this project, we encountered an unexpected abundance of historical data regarding the 19th century use and modification of this section of the Avon River –  we could combine this information with an example of a less common process of artefact deposition… and fluvial fun was had by all.

By Chelsea Dickson and Lydia Mearns.

References

ArchSite, 2013. M35/1063. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

ArchSite, 2014. M35/1783. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Canterbury Maps, 2017. Canterbury. [online] Available at: <http://canterburymaps.govt.nz/> [Accessed 1 Jan. 2017].

Hickey, M., Dickson, C. and Mearns, L. 2017. 60 Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Ōtākaro Limited.

Ince, J. A., 1998. A City of Bridges: a history of bridges over the Avon and Heathcote rivers in Christchurch. Christchurch, N.Z.: Christchurch City Council.

Lamb, R., 1981. From the Banks of the Avon: The Story of a River. Christchurch, N.Z.: A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd.

Williams, H., and Dickson, C. 2017. Durham Street South/Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for the Fletcher Construction Company and the Christchurch City Council.

 

 

Getting Inked.

The pen is mightier than the sword – and before the days of ball-points, one needed ink bottles to fire up their weapon of choice – that being the quill, the dip pen or the fountain pen.

Ink bottles are a common artefact found on archaeological sites – here in Christchurch and around the world. They‘re interesting artefacts, in that they’re not only special because they come in many attractive shapes, sizes and colours, but because they can also sometimes give personal insight into their past owner. They can be an indication of literacy and perhaps a penman’s attitude toward writing or correspondence – seen through the quantity or ornateness of their equipment. You may remember our “Cinderella moment” a few years back? This little glass number is a novelty inkwell in the shape of a glass slipper – the ‘burst off’ type finish is often found on ink bottles, and it’s also a manufacturing technique that can be dated (1890s to 1920s usually) – if old Cindy was a real girl, she would probably be really old by that time!

Inkwell. Also notable – the shoe style appears consistent with a late 19th century to early 20th century date. So even in the 19th century, getting inked was fashionable! Photo C. Dickson.

These are not examples that we have found in Christchurch, but I had to share them to get an idea of just how elaborate these simple ‘household’ items could be during this period…. Image: (Lindsey 2016; Pinterest).

We usually find more utilitarian examples of ink containers. Probably the most common type is also still one of the cutest. Colloquially referred to as the “penny ink”, it was named for its standardised price. This little stoneware gem was a nice, compact addition to your desktop, plus you could also balance your pen inside – and all for such an affordable price!

A penny for your thoughts? Penny ink bottle. Image: J. Hearfield.

SUCH an affordable price!! (Otautau Standard and Wallace Chronicle 27/09/1932: 3)

However, the humble penny ink is not the bottom line in the ink bottle department. Below is a picture of a few nice examples, from master inks, to church inks, to cone inks, etc. The stoneware bottles are often impressed with manufacture’s marks (usually English based ones) – these provide insight into where locally available goods were being imported from, and help us to determine when their associated artefact assemblages were deposited.

Clockwise from left: bulk ink, spouted ink, church ink (which commonly held red ink), Stephen’s ink, Blackwell & Co. ink, glass octagonal ink, open inkwell or fountain pen nib holder, glass cone ink and glass bell-shaped ink. Image: C. Dickson.

A little rarer: on the left is a Parisian or English made N. Antoine et Fils (Antoine and Sons) Encre Japonaise ink bottle. It held a dark violet to black coloured ink, and was likely to have been manufactured anytime from the 1870s (Daily Southern Cross14/07/1874: 4; Carvalho 1904: 158). On the right is a master ink labelled with an H. Morrel’s registration ink mark: “manufactured for the registrars of births, deaths and marriages.” This was a London-based ink manufacturing company. The bottle itself was also manufactured in London, by Doulton, Lambeth – which was, established in 1854 and was one of the most successful stoneware producers of the 19th century (Tyler et al. 2005: 12-13).

And lest we forget this little guy! The residue in the bottom on the bottle suggests this tiny example (or giant hand?), also once held ink.

Tiny ink on big hand? Image: C. Dickson. (Hand: J. Garland).

Again, what we have yet to find in a Christchurch context are inkwells which were designed to be portable. These came with a screw top lid to prevent spillage, and were developed around the time of the American Civil War – so soldiers could keep them on their person to write correspondence from the battlefield (Campbell 2017).  These handy items often came as part of a travel set. For enthusiasts, or for those in the writing industry, the ‘compendiums’ represented a box which held all of the equipment a scribe would require on the road: ink bottles with (travel safe) screw seal lids, quills, ink, and a sander (which held sand to sprinkle on the ink to prevent smearing; Campbell 2017).

An example that we do find of a savvy technological advance from the wonderful world of ink are syphon ink bottles. First patented in 1867 by Blackwood and Co., London – these represent an original technology in the refilling of ink bottles (Apostolakou 2014). The name is thanks to their distinctive spouted syphon tops or finishes (with pouring lip and hole to rear of neck). This finish type alleviated the (pesky?) need to pull out a cork out of the mouth of the bottle when refilling it – and the special rotatable stopper could be turned within a cork lining – this aligned the holes in the stopper with the holes in the neck and lining of the bottle, which allowed ink to flow freely out the spout as air entered the bottle through the hole opposite – and voila! No fuss, no muss…. No mess?

Blackwell and Co., syphon ink bottle, with impressed maker’s mark. Image: G. Jackson.

In reality, this invention may have saved a little elbow grease and hand staining, but its overall contribution to the evolution of writing and the ink industry pales in comparison to the widespread introduction of the fountain pen. There is a popular school of thought that Leonardo Di Vinci deserves the credit for the invention of the fountain pen – like that guy needs any more credit? (Tuscia Web, 2011). The fountain pen proved mightier than the quill because it had its own in-built ink reservoir – which one only had to refill occasionally – other dip pens and quills needed to be re-dipped in ink after every few lines of writing (just imagine the RSI implications!)

It works like magic!? (Sun 16/09/1918: 4).

These guys really know their audience… (Sun 13/09/1918: 5).

Like most things, the gradual replacement of the dip pen and inkwells with the fountain pen represents a shift made by changing technology. Human ideas were first communicated with ink-like substances through the media of cave paintings, using powered red ochre and binding animals fats. Such materials were held and transported in proto-inkwells in the form of clay pots and animal horns.  These were eventually replaced by India ink and dyes, and the glass and ceramic varieties of bottles and wells we have just discussed. The technology associated with them has come a long way, and certainly their use has become wider- spread since prehistory, as more and more people learned to read and write.

Having said this, literacy was once a concept and skill that was largely owned by the wealthy. As a rule, our capitalist societies save higher education and technological advances for the few at first, and the associated costs eventually decrease with the introduction of new and better technologies. As a result, the original form becomes more commonplace and obtainable by the masses instead of the few.  This is all too relevant to writing and writing equipment – not in the least because fountain pen nibs were originally made of gold – in favour of its non-corrosive properties, and wettability (having a smooth surface with reduced surface tension for ink to flow over). While a good fountain pen is still considered a luxury item today, this eventually became less of an issue with the introduction of better stainless steel alloy pen nips and less corrosive inks (Binder 2015).

(Free Lance 21/1/1915: 9.)

This lack of literacy might seem a foreign concept to those of us who learned to read and write from a young age – when words resonated with us and and flowed out of us like osmosis. New Zealand has one of the top 25 percent of literacy rates in the world, where 99 percent of us are literate, but this wasn’t always the case. The Education Act of 1877 saw free and secular education become compulsory the first time for 7 to 13 year olds in New Zealand (Swarbrick 2012). This did make a difference to our nations literacy,  despite the fact that this act was hard to follow for some in rural communities, where children were needed to help with manual labour. The act also standardised reading systems, when before the quality and resources between schools varied greatly (Swarbrick 2012). We have found direct evidence of our nation’s children learning to write in the forms of writing slates and slate pencils, as well as 19th century inkwells which fit into school desks. These date to before my school days – but my school desk did have the relevant hole in the top, which these bad boys would have fit into.

Well, well, well… this inkwell fits into a school desk. Image: J. Hearfield.

So what more can we expect? The introduction of the dip pen spelled the end for the quill, and was followed by the reign of the fountain pen which was halted by the typewriter. From the first personal computer to mobile phones and social media – to the introduction of the emoji and the GIPHY (my spellcheck didn’t even pick these up – they must be in the dictionary!), we are constantly replacing popular technology with new ways to communicate our personal ideas. These days we don’t even need the written or the typed word to satisfy every human emotion… we don’t even speech! So what’ s next then…Telepathy? 🙂

By Chelsea Dickson

 

References:

Apostolakou, L. 2014. Palimpsest: Ink a Day: Blackwood & Co Ink (wherein scant evidence is explored). [Online] Available at: http://www.thepalimpsest.co.uk/

Binder, R. 2015. To the Point: Nib materials[online] Available at:  http://www.richardspens.com/?page=ref/ttp/materials.htm (Accessed March 2017).

Campbell, A. 2017. History of the Inkwell/Inkstand/Desk Standish. [online] Available at: http://www.acsilver.co.uk/shop/pc/what-is-an-inkwell-history-of-inkwell-d118.htm (Accessed March 2017).

Carvalho, D., 1904. Forty Centuries of Ink. [online] Available at https://archive.org. [Accessed May 2015].

Daily Southern Cross[online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Otautau Standard and Wallace Chronicle [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Sun [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Swarbrick, N. 2012. ‘Primary and secondary education’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/primary-and-secondary-education/print (accessed 3 March 2017).

Tuscia Web 2011. Tuscia Web: Leonardo’s pen to control room. [online) Available at: http://www.tusciaweb.eu/2011/09/la-penna-di-leonardo-alla-sala-regia/ (Accessed and translated from Italian March 2017).

Tyler, K., Brown, J., Smith, T. P. and Whittingham, L., 2005. The Doulton Stoneware Pothouse in Lambeth: Excavations at 9 Albert Embankment, London. Museum of London Archaeology Service, London.

 

It’s better when we stick together.

What would we do without glue? Well, it’s estimated that each person in  U.S.A and the U.K. uses 18.2kgs of glue annually. I’m probably more of a Sellotape/Blu-Tack person myself, but those statistics sound impressive! The development of commercial synthetic glues dates from the 1920s and has taken us a long way from using flour and water as wallpaper paste to the point where modern super glues are able to surgically glue flesh wounds together (or accidentally glue your fingers together during your latest DIY project), or even take forensic fingerprints from glass or plastic surfaces.

It’s widely accepted that the first evidence of glue was a substance made by the Neanderthals ca.15000 years ago. They added animal fat to pigment to make water resistant cave paintings in Lascaux. Not to be left out, the Ancient Egyptians made use of similar animal glues in wooden furnishings and the production of papyrus, and the application of animal glue by the Ancient Greeks and Romans can still be seen today in mosaics and mended pottery. From this time until the innovations of the industrial revolution, glue was largely made from animal hides, bones, connective tissue (collagen) and hooves (not just from old horses that were sent to the glue factory). These organic sources were boiled and reduced to gelatine and could be used or dried and stored as a powder. The powder could be later mixed with water and cooked until the desired thickness was obtained (History of Glue 2016).

The first British glue patent was issued in about 1750 but, closer to home, the New Zealand Glue Company had been operating in Woolsten, Christchurch since before 1875. Christchurch’s drainage board petitioned the court for the factory to cease from discharging its effluent into the Heathcote River (Star 15/03/1918: 6, Sun 16/03/1918: 11).

Auckland Star 16/05/1936: 4)

Auckland Star 16/05/1936: 4)

From the industrial revolution to the 1920s both homemade and commercial adhesives were usually based on natural sources. Recipes required at least two basic components— a binder and a solvent.  Extra ingredients were used to increase tack, improve water resistance, flexibility, strength, shelf life and repel insects (Cannon 2010). For instance, animal glue was often cooked with an acid such as vinegar or nitric acid to keep it liquid at room temperature (Cannon 2010). The addition of coagulated cow’s blood was also handy, as it became waterproof when heated. Other binders such as gelatin, fish glue, starch, flour, dextrin, and gum arabic (from the acacia tree), rubber, and egg albumen were also used (Cannon 2010).

Phew! As a reward for sticking with me for the scientific portion of this post – hold tight for a selection of these really great vintage glue jokes…

(Wairarapa Daily Times 23/01/1897: 2).

(Wairarapa Daily Times 23/01/1897: 2).

(North Otago Times 06/07/1901: 1)

(North Otago Times 06/07/1901: 1).

Funny right? Now for the specifics – the pot of glue that inspired this post was one that we have found a few times in Christchurch. It was manufactured by Gloy Glue during the early 20th century, (though this company was formed by the 1890s). The proprietor was A. Wilme Collier who operated his adhesive business from 8th Avenue Works, Manor Park, London. This company also manufactured special pastes for photographic purposes, as displayed at the British Industries Fair in 1922 (Blanco & Bull 2013).

The recipe for the vintage Gloy Glue formula is not available. This is often the case with patent records (which can be vague), and they sometimes included statements allowing the patent holder the right to change the formulation or substitute ingredients at will (Cannon 2010). However, Gloy was later reported to have contained dextrin (from starch), mixed with magnesium chloride – which is sometimes used as a coagulant to make products thicker and more viscous. Vegetable glues like this were popular for paper, as they are fast setting, but have a low bond strength (Cannon 2010: 18). Modern day internet reviews appear to be critical of Gloy Glue’s quality. But in my opinion, any manufacturing company that survives for over a century shows real stick-ability, so they must have been doing something right.

Early 20th century Gloy Glue pot. Image: J. Garland.

Early 20th century Gloy Glue pot. Image: J. Garland.

Perhaps their success was partly due to their catchy marketing – Gloy was first advertised in New Zealand newspapers in 1914, and was amusingly described as “A clean paste for clean people.” Enticing!

 (Grey River Argus 6/06/1914: 5).

(Grey River Argus 6/06/1914: 5).

Rhyming works! A 20th century advertisement for Gloy. The texts reads: The label is red and “Gloy” pale blue, the bottle is one to remember you. Armed with brush you go ahead “Gloying” daily for daily bread.

Rhyming works! A 20th century advertisement for Gloy. The texts reads:
The label is red and “Gloy” pale blue,
the bottle is one to remember you.
Armed with brush you go ahead
“Gloying” daily for daily bread.

It may be that we come across adhesive bottles much more frequently than we are able to identify – they were often packaged in bottles that were the same as those used for ink, and the main defining characteristic of such a bottle would be a wide mouth to access its viscous contents (Lindsey 2016). As is the problem with most artefact identification, general shapes and typing can only take us so far – product manufacturers don’t always adhere to the status quo of shapes. For instance, here is another example of a Gloy glue pot: this type of wide mouth stone ware jar (without the Gloy label), could have contained any number of viscous products.

The type of adhesive pots that we most often see in our assemblages may also have originally contained mucilage – mucilage being the sticky substance found in plants like aloe vera. Although mucilage for adhesive purposes is generally made of seaweed, flax seed, bark and roots (Lindsey 2016).

uoarch-glue

Type of glue or mucilage pot commonly found in Christchurch. Image J. Garland.

Just like animal glue, mucilage is non-toxic. So in the 19th century it would have been fine for the weird kid at school to be eating paste – in fact, other usages for mucilage (that’s a mouth-full), was its common inclusion in cough medicine and as an alleviator of sore throats.  See below for a homemade recipe for children’s cough syrup from 1907. I’m not sure how many of us have exotic South American plant species in our pantries – but hey, it’s organic!

Cromwell Argus 13/05/1907: 7.

Cromwell Argus 13/05/1907: 7.

Using slightly more common ingredients, here’s a 19th century recipe for mucilage that you can try yourself:

New Zealand Herald 2/08/1893: 5.

(New Zealand Herald 2/08/1893: 5).

Within the New Zealand newspaper archives we can see the application of glue developing from more practical DIY uses – like plugging draughts in your floor (New Zealand Herald 29/08/1931: 6), and simple advertisements and recipes for strong glue (Otago Witness 23/10/1875: 3), or waterproof glue (Bruce Herald 8/6/1888: 6) – to its use in leisure projects for the 20th century idle housewife.

(New Zealand Herald 21/03/1874: 1). Perfume to taste? Hair is organic too.

(New Zealand Herald 21/03/1874: 1). Perfume to taste? Hair is organic too.

These more modern glue ads offered descriptions for an array of craft and knick-knack projects, from instructions for  “smartening” one’s umbrella by gluing a bottle cap to it (Evening Post 16/04/1938: 19), and  “silencing” one’s chairs and trays by gluing felt to their undersides (New Zealand Herald 1/08/1925: 6). You could even use glue to stiffen the train of your wedding dress, and thus render train bearers unnecessary in your wedding party (Evening Post 2/11/1938: 25). If you’re more even game than those dames, you could build an 8ft canoe out of 35 coat-hangers, a few strips of canvas, bit of oil cloth, two pieces of wood, a box of drawing pins, paper clips, and a bottle of glue (this sounds like MacGyver recipe!) – and it cost less than 30 shillings to make! (Evening Post 11/01/1937: 6).

The same archives inform us that glue was also employed for more criminal enterprises at this time – most amusingly, in a Parisian jewellery heist, featuring a Baroness with literal sticky fingers! She was caught stealing a diamond ring which was stuck with glue to the palm of her hand (Mataura Ensign 1/05/1911: 5 ). Also, you may have heard about the starving citizens of Leningrad having to eat the glue off their wallpaper during the siege of WWII? – Here, an Oldham street vendor uses glue to thicken and strengthen the gravy in his pies! To make matters worse, he stole the glue (Grey River Argus 13/06/1905: 4). When he was caught, he was sentenced to three months hard labour (for stealing the glue, not for feeding glue to his patrons). But like I said, it’s organic, and contains only 5.9 calories per postage stamp!

By Chelsea Dickson

References

Blanco & Bull 2013. Swift Polish & Blacking Co. [online] Available at:  http://www.blancoandbull.com/boot-cleaning/swift-polish-blacking-co/

Cannon, A., 2010 Australian Adhesives for Paper 1870-1920. 2010 AICCM Book, Paper and Photographic Materials Symposium. [online] Available at:  https://aiccm.org.au/sites/default/files/docs/BPG2010/AICCM_B%26P2010_Cannon_p15-21.pdf

Gloy Manufacturing Company, Ltd 1897, Patent, Application for Trade Mark titles Gloy depicting octopus in respect of a semi-fluid substances called ‘gloy’ which is used for adhesive purposes by the “Gloy” Manufacturing Company Limited, National Archives of Australia, series number A11708, control symbol 2001, barcode 4993635.