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

 

Early Christchurch women, breaking the rules: the exhibition.

The ideal Victorian woman

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

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

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

Designed by A. Gibson.

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

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

Women and work

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

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

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

Telling women’s stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are these women important?

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

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

Katharine Watson and Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References 

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

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

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

Walk this way

Lyttelton is a fun and exciting place to do archaeology. I’ve been lucky enough to get to do a bit of archaeology in Lyttelton in the last few months, mainly out in the road, because of the digging that’s been going on for the installation of new sewer pipelines. Once completed, these pipelines will make Te Whakaraupō / Lyttelton Harbour a much happier and healthier place: for the people, for the fishes, and for the mermaids. Although road formation archaeology (concerned with exploring how historic roads and their footpaths were formed and have changed over time) is not necessarily the most glamourous subject of archaeological enquiry, I’ve become rather fascinated by it lately, and so I thought that I’d share.

Built on the steep sides of an extinct volcano, Lyttelton’s topography presented all sorts of challenges for 19th century roadbuilders. It’s much easier building a road on the flat – Christchurch was lucky in this respect, (even if their roads had to be formed across swamp). Lyttelton had it tough – building roads on a sloping terrain is so much trickier. Civic authorities had to first work out the best levels and gradients for the roads to be formed at, so they could then work out which parts needed to be cut down, and which parts built up. Many of these cuttings needed to be supported by retaining walls so they wouldn’t collapse.  Drainage was especially important, so the roads and retaining walls wouldn’t wash away in bad weather. The steep gullies that ran through the town were perhaps however the biggest of challenges that faced 19th century road builders. These gullies carried stormwater off the hills into the harbour – and in many places were impassably wide and deep. Stone culverts and brick sewers were laid along the length of them before they were all filled in by the late 1880s; often with clay and rock derived from road formation works that were happening elsewhere. And then of course there are those flat parts of Lyttelton that were reclaimed from the harbour – where precious flat land for roads and port infrastructure was created not by building up or cutting down the existing terrain, but by building outwards from the edge of it, into the water.

The 1880s red scoria retaining wall on Brittan Terrace, Lyttelton, exposed in section. This was one of my favourite 19th century retaining walls that I had the pleasure of recording with SCIRT, during the course of it being repaired and rebuilt. Image: Hamish Williams.

A small section of the brick barrel drain on Hawkhurst Road, Lyttelton. This drain was built in sections throughout the 1870s and early 1880s down the side of Salt’s Gully, before the gully was filled in and Hawkhurst Road built on top of it. Image: Hamish Williams.

Road formation stratigraphy exposed underneath Norwich Quay, Lyttelton. I could determine that there was at least five different road surfacing events, because there were five different layers of rocks laid down one over top of another. Image: Hamish Williams.

Road formation stratigraphy – the differential layers of gravel, stones, and rocks laid down in times past to surface the roads before they were sealed – is at the best of times pretty hard to interpret. Unless diagnostic artefacts are found in association with particular layers, when exactly these layers were laid down is notoriously hard to pin down, even when you have historic records to help you make sense of it. Every now and then however, strange and unusual things, (or things that are strangely familiar) surface that are a little easier to make sense of and date – like the Norwich Quay crossing.

The Norwich Quay crossing

By 1860 the two main thoroughfares in the port town, Norwich Quay and London Street, were formed, in places with rudimentary footpaths on either side, but most other roads were little more than rough tracks cut through the tussock-covered hills (Rice 2004: 26). £30,000 had already been spent by the Provincial Council in forming the Sumner Road by this time – the critical overland goods route between the Lyttelton and Christchurch – but locals were irate that they couldn’t just walk a little distance down the road to the shops without having to inconveniently wade through mud. “Norwich Quay is a filthy slough, Oxford Street worse than any newly ploughed field, and London Street an alternation of watery mud and muddy water reported one local (Lyttelton Times 23/6/1860: 4).  In 1874 the footpath along Norwich Quay was reported as being “in a totally disgraceful state, and totally unfit for ladies”, who shouldn’t have had to make their way through ankle deep mud to get to the railway station (Lyttelton Times 5/8/1874: 2, Globe 6/8/1874: 2).

High leather boots up to the neck indispensable. Must have been pretty bad. Image: Star 29/6/1868: 4.

Trenching along Norwich Quay, approaching the Oxford Street intersection, looking east. Image: Hamish Williams.

In early June, I found some evidence of how different sections of the Norwich Quay roadway had been built up over time. Some of the most interesting road formation archaeology was uncovered at the intersection of Norwich Quay and Oxford Street, when the sewer pipeline trenching was passing through. Historically this has always been one of Lyttelton’s busiest intersections (and it still is today). Here was the location of the Post Office (built 1875), and on the opposite corner the offices of the Lyttelton Harbour Board (built 1880). You had to pass through this intersection to get to the wharves and jetties, and the railway station and gasworks was only just down the road a bit. Here evidence of historic road formation layers were well preserved beneath the modern asphalt road surface. Crossing at right angles to the trench and in perfect alignment with the footpath on the eastern side of Oxford Street, was exposed the remains of what turned out to be an old pedestrian crossing. Today pedestrians are spoilt for choice with three pedestrian crossings at the intersection to choose from, back in the 19th century they had just one.

Lyttelton. Burton Brothers Studio, Dunedin, NZ. Image credit: Te Papa (C.011652). Looking south along Oxford Street, this post-1880s photograph of the Norwich Quay intersection shows the Lyttelton Harbour Board offices at left, and at right, the Lyttelton Post Office. The pedestrian crossing can be seen at left.

The stone pedestrian crossing as first exposed by the hydro excavation team. Image: Hamish Williams.

The hydro excavation team found it first, at days end and at shallow depth when searching with water blasting wands and suction hoses for all the important pipes and cables that were not to be damaged by the digger. Only a small patch of the crossing’s stone cobbles (or setts – to be more accurate) was exposed – so I went to work to expose the rest of it. These were covered in a very hard, compacted gravel that was covered with a very sticky, stinky coal tar – not very easy stuff to dig through. Trading in my trowel for a 4-pound mallet and cold chisel, I managed to get only perhaps about half of it exposed before it got too dark to see what I was doing. Those short winter days, roll on Summer.

Half of the stone pedestrian crossing that I excavated by mallet and cold chisel in the failing light of a cold Winter’s day, looking north. Image: Hamish Williams.

The next day, as the digger punched through the stone crossing, I was able to confirm that it was approximately 1.75 m wide, (the same width as the footpath) and had been made from dark grey basalt rocks of various sizes firmly bedded into the underlying natural loess clay. The top of the stone crossing was not flat – instead it had a bit of a curvature or camber to it, which would have helped it to shed water when it rained. The rocks that made up the centre-line of the crossing were taller and were bedded deeper into the clay than the rest. This certainly would have made the whole crossing a lot more durable. Historic records suggest that this stone crossing may have been buried around 1914, after the Lyttelton Borough Council decided to spend big money modernising its streets by tar sealing them (Lyttelton Times 14/10/1913: 8).

The stone crossing in section, looking north up Oxford Street. I’m a big fan of the fat sticks of footpath chalk, like the pink stuff you can see here, handy bit of toolbox kit for marking out the edges of archaeological things. Image: Hamish Williams.

When was this Norwich Quay pedestrian crossing constructed? It is hard to say for certain, though it appears in a couple of post 1880 photographs– so our best guess is that it was built around about this time. According to an August 1880 newspaper report, the Council works committee had finally decided to upgrade all the footpaths around the intersection at this time, a works programme that may have included the construction of the crossing (Lyttelton Times 4/8/1880: 6).

The Oxford Street Norwich Quay intersection today, looking southeast. Image: Hamish Williams.

The Norwich Quay crossing was a fun feature to investigate and record, it reminded me once again that history is all around us. The past isn’t buried deep, it’s there just below the surface. The streets we walk today are the same streets walked by the people of the past – all the streets a stage and all of us merely players.

Hamish Williams

Lyttelton, 1880s. Burton Brothers Studio, Dunedin, NZ. It’s hard to determine from historic photos to what extent people silly-walked the mean streets of Lyttelton in the 19th century, but by the looks of this picture, it appears that people weren’t afraid of just standing around like they were waiting for something to happen. Image: Te Papa (0.031057) [original], Hamish Williams and Zoë Meager [mash up].

References

Globe [online]. Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

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

Rice, G. 2004. Lyttelton Port and Town: An Illustrated History. Christchurch N.Z: Canterbury University Press.

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