Bits and Bobs (again)

It’s been a while since we last did one of these, so here are some of our most interesting finds from the past six months.

I love this plate, but really, how could you not?! A Roman soldier on a rearing horse standing on a plinth, very majestic. The Latin phrase in the maker’s mark Vincit Veritas translates as Truth Conquers or Truth Prevails, very fitting for the image. This phrase was used by C. and J. Shaw in all their marks, although it’s not known if they were the manufacturers of the vessels, or if they were retailers who applied their own mark to the wares they bought and sold. The pair seem to have been operating roughly between 1841 and 1850, making this plate over 150 years old! Image: C. Watson

Black beer bottles are one of the most common artefacts we find on archaeological sites (I know I promised you interesting finds at the start of this post, but they look so nice all lined up in a row). Black beer is a generic term applied bottles of this style. We divide that into four sub-types: tall, small, large squat and small squat to differentiate between the different shapes and sizes. Whilst they might be called black beers that doesn’t mean they contained beer, these were used as general bottles for all types of alcohol and spirits, along with non-alcoholic beverages and sometimes even condiments and essences. Image: C. Watson.

It’s always exciting when we find multiple plates with the same pattern- leads us to wonder if people were cleaning out their china cabinet, and if so, why? These plates are decorated with the Columbia pattern which was a serial pattern produced by a variety of manufacturers, meaning there’s lots of variations to the design (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 90). Common elements of this pattern are the shrine, the trees, a central river, distant mountains, and figures in the foreground. These plates were made by Davenport, and due to the “2.65” mark we know they were manufactured in February of 1865 (Gibson 2011: 61). Image: C. Watson.

This style of button, known as a trouser button in Britain and a suspender button in America, was used to fasten work shirts and trousers (Lindbergh 1999: 52). The buttons were made from a single sheet of copper alloy and often have an inscription running around the edge- like this one! Image: C. Watson.

I think I may just like images of bottles all lined up in a row, as none of these are overly unusual either. I guess that’s because so many of the artefacts we find are just fragments, meaning when we have complete or near complete objects it’s always exciting, even if we’ve found them complete before. Here we have a selection of various sauce and salad oil bottles, my favourite is the one in the middle. Image: C. Watson.

How idyllic does the farmhouse depicted on this cup and saucer look. It seems very quaint and summery, possibly the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. Unfortunately, we don’t know who made the cup and saucer, or what the pattern is called, so I’m unable to offer any real commentary other than isn’t it lovely. Image: C. Watson.

This artefact is cool, even if I have absolutely no idea what it is. It’s made from leather and is folded into a roughly cuboid shape, although a crease running diagonally along the front face suggests it might once have been ovoid. There’s no stitching at all, although one side is open so there may have been and it’s worn away. But the thing that makes this artefact so interesting is the small wooden sphere which sits perfectly inside the hole- blocking it. Based on that, the running theory is that it was potentially some type of water bag or storage bag, but we’re really not that sure. The fun and games of finding weird objects! Image: C. Watson.

I assumed this pot lid was going to be for toothpaste when it first appeared on my desk. I was wrong. It actually held anchovy paste, which sounds absolutely revolting. When complete the pot lid would have read “REAL GORGONA/ ANCHOVY PASTE/ SO/ HIGHLY APPROVED OF/ FOR TOAST SANDWICHES &c”. I can certainly think of nicer things to put in a sandwich! Whilst there’s no brand name included on the lid it was most likely made by John Burgess who sold imported luxury foods, including anchovies that were caught by fishing boats off Leghorn, from 1760 onwards. Image: C. Watson.

If you’re into makeup then the brand Rimmel is probably familiar. Believe it or not the company was founded all the way back in 1834 by Eugene Rimmel and his son. Eugene Rimmel was a perfumer and we find these Rimmel perfume bottles relatively often, suggesting the brand was popular even back in the nineteenth century. Image: C. Watson.

Once again, I don’t know the maker of this bowl, or the pattern name. I just think it’s pretty. Image: C. Watson.

Clara Watson

References

Coysh, A., & Henrywood, R. 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 1780-1880. Michigan: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1982.

Gibson, E. 2011. Ceramic Makers’ Marks. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Lindbergh, J. 1999. Buttoning Down Archaeology. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 17, 50–57.

In which a teacup is smashed against a wall in a fit of rage

One of the most fascinating things about studying and interpreting the past is the possibilities it holds. Could the broken tea cup I’ve found been smashed against a wall in a fit of rage after a wife found her husband being promiscuous with another man? Could the alcohol bottle lying at the bottom of a latrine be from a teenage son and his mates sneakily getting drunk in the backyard? Could it really be the year 2518 and we are all computer-generated simulations in an elaborate experimental archaeology project to examine consumer behaviour in the early 21st century?

Archaeology is an interesting combination of science and humanities. When we approach the past, we begin by dealing with what we know or can determine as fact…

  • This rubbish pit was located 300 mm below the top soil.
  • It contained a plate manufactured by the pottery company Pinder, Bourne and Co.
  • Pinder, Bourne and Co. operated between 1862 and 1882 so the plate must have been manufactured between 1862 and 1882.

From there we go to what we can determine as likely…

  • ceramic plates on average had a lifespan of 15-20 years, meaning the plate  was likely disposed of between 1879 and 1902, but could have been disposed of earlier or later.
  • the Johnson family was living at the property between 1870 and 1895 meaning they were likely the family who owned and disposed of the plate, but it could have also been disposed of by the families who preceded and succeeded the Johnson’s occupation.
  • the plate was decorated with a pattern featuring motifs from the Aesthetic Movement. The Aesthetic Movement was popular around the 1870s and 1880s suggesting the Johnson family were keeping up with fashion trends in homewares.

And then there’s always what’s possible…

  • Mr Johnson forgot Mrs Johnson’s birthday. In a rush he ran to the store and bought Mrs Johnson the newest, fanciest plate he could find. Mrs Johnson, however, was not appeased by the gift. She could not believe that Mr Johnson had forgotten her birthday after she had been dropping hints all week. She hated the offset designs of the Aesthetic Movement’s patterns and was a strong believer that Willow pattern was a classic which will never go out of fashion. In a rage she stormed out of the house, left Mr Johnson, and moved to Guatemala. Mr Johnson, devastated by the break up of his marriage, threw out the plate, burying his love for Mrs Johnson along with it.

 

As archaeologists we work firmly in the realms of what we can determine as fact and based on those facts what we can determine as likely. Whilst we do speculate, we generally don’t go very far outside the realms of possibility. In today’s blog post, however, I want to throw all that science and fact out the window and just run with wherever my imagination takes me.

The assemblage we’re going to be looking at today came from a single rubbish pit, found at the rear of a nineteenth century dwelling. The artefacts found in the rubbish pit included items which were typical of late 19th and early 20th century households. Several items contained manufacturer’s marks indicating they were made after 1891, but there were no items which were distinctively 20th century. This suggests the material was deposited either at the very end of 19th century, or the very beginning of the 20th. The Northey family, consisting of Paul, his wife Jane, and their son John, lived at the house between 1878 and 1926. Given the Northey’s long occupation of the property, and the date of the artefacts found in the rubbish pit, it’s highly likely they were the ones to dispose of the items.

That’s the facts folks, now let’s tell a story. The following are “extracts” from Jane Northey’s diary.

January Third, 1899.

Today was quiet. I went to the shops in the morning and purchased three bottles of Worcestershire Sauce for 1/-. An excellent bargain. Naturally, I chose Lea and Perrins. I don’t understand how these New Zealand made products can claim they taste the same as traditional English Worcester Sauce. I saw there’s even a Dunedin brand which has called itself Royal Worcestershire Sauce( making out like it’s endorsed by the king!) when really it’s made at the bottom of the world. No product which was not made in England will ever be stored on my shelves. The items you have in your house reflect on your person, and I am very much an English lady.

Good English made products were always a staple in Jane’s pantry. Image: C. Watson.

April Eighth, 1899

I could not believe it. Paul came home from work today wearing his ‘tramp’ hat. Whilst I might have tolerated him wearing such an article of clothing when I was trailing around after him on the goldfields in ’72, he now works in a respectable drapery business, and I will not have him walking around the town looking like a tramp. What would the neighbours think? We’ve spent the past twenty years building a livelihood here, extending the home, decorating the parlour –  I’ll not have people thinking we aren’t a respectable family. Rather than having yet another argument over it I offered to wash it. I’m sure there will be some way to make it fall apart in the process.

Paul’s hat. A great source of shame for Jane. Image: C. Watson.

July Fourth, 1899

I made a most excellent purchase today. I was reading in the newspaper about Strawberry Sets. Apparently, they’re all the rage in London at the moment. There’s a small handled dish to hold the strawberries on, and a sugar bowl and creamer which sit within the dish. The dish can be offered around during a garden party for people to eat strawberries off – very on trend. After reading about them I knew I just had to get one. I popped down to Ballantynes and managed to purchase my own, a dainty wee porcelain one. Of course, there aren’t any strawberries in season yet, but come November I will be prepared.

The strawberry dish from Jane’s strawberry set. Image: C. Watson.

July Fifth, 1899

Paul and I had a wicked argument last night over the Strawberry Set. He screamed at me that I shouldn’t have bought it and that my insistent spending was the reason why he went bankrupt back in ’84. I wasn’t having any of that and threw it back in his face that he promised me a better life when I followed him over here and that if we wanted to be a respectable family and impress our peers then we needed to look the part. He of course went off, ranting about the mortgages we’d taken on and that the house didn’t need to be as grand as we’d made it and that all I cared about was impressing the neighbours. Honestly, the man doesn’t understand. Of course I care about impressing the neighbours. He’s not the one who has to deal with Mrs Stevens coming over here and withering on about her new teapot and then saying “Oh, but the one you have is perfectly nice dear, it’s always sensible to purchase within your means”. Well the fight got a bit heated and he picked up my lovely flower vase that I use when I have ladies over for tea and hurled it at the wall. I couldn’t believe it. I picked up his whisky glass which was sitting on the table and hurled it back at him. That ended the fight quickly as it’s his favourite glass and he couldn’t believe I’d done it. He stormed out to the pub and I cleaned up. I hope none of the neighbours heard, although I saw Mrs Riley’s curtains twitch so I bet the nosy bat was listening in.

The remains of a fight. Jane’s vase and Paul’s favourite tumbler. Image: C. Watson.

September Tenth, 1899

Something most devastating happened today. I dropped the mixing bowl. Whilst most people might not shed a tear , most people wouldn’t have taken the effort to purchase such a wondrous mixing bowl! When I was at Mrs Riley’s house for tea last Tuesday (Mrs Riley who always makes a point of showing off her brand new set of china), the kitchen maid came running in shouting that there was a fire in the kitchen. We ran to the back of the house and saw a spark had jumped out of the range and onto the rug. We of course simply stamped out the flame, something I’m sure the ditzy kitchen maid could have done herself, but while doing so I looked around and saw Mrs Riley had plain creamware bowls in her kitchen. They looked like they were nearly thirty years old! So for all the airs she puts on it looks like the new china set is the only thing of any class which she owns. I’ve always been most aware that you never know when someone might snoop around and have made sure that the bowls I keep in my kitchen are of good quality. This bowl in particular was very nice, with moulded detail and green bands which almost match the rest of the dinner set. I feel most put out that it’s now broken.

Jane’s beloved mixing bowl. Along with some fragments of her near-matching dinner and tea sets. Image: C. Watson.

November Second, 1899

An absolute disaster of a day. I invited Mrs Riley and Mrs Stevens around for tea today. Naturally I used the good china, my Lucerne patterned set, rather than the banded set. I was most excited as I had managed to purchase some strawberries from the grocer and it was my first opportunity to use my strawberry set. Well, we were sat down in the garden sipping our tea when Mrs Stevens children came tearing into the garden chasing their new puppy. The wee monster came straight for me, I jumped up on the chair to escape its nipping jaws but in doing so dropped the cup and saucer I was holding. I couldn’t believe it. But then to make matters worse while the children were trying to grab a hold of it one of them bumped into the table, sending my strawberry set to the ground. The dish survived alright but the creamer and sugar bowl both broke. I was so livid. Mrs Stevens simpered around saying how sorry she was, and that the new puppy had been such a handful. Naturally, I just smiled and said “It’s okay dear”. It definitely was not okay. I think she set the whole situation up on purpose because she couldn’t handle that I had something which was fancier than anything she owned.

Jane’s fancy Lucerne patterned china. Image: C. Watson.

At the end of the day, these “diary entries” are completely fictional. It’s possible that these events happened, just as it’s possible that there’s still moose living in Fiordland. As archaeologists, it’s important that we focus on the known facts. Yet doing so can mean we lose sight of the humanity of the past – artefacts become data in a spreadsheet, numbers rather than objects which people owned, used and maybe even loved. Whilst the stories I’ve told here are fictional, there may be an element of truth in them. The Northey’s did take out several mortgages on their property between 1878 and 1894, and Paul Northey did declare bankruptcy in 1884. Yet despite that, they had several unusual, high-end objects. We don’t normally find fancy vases or strawberry dishes. These are the kind of artefacts I would associate with a wealthy family, or at least a family which was trying to appear wealthy and “keep up with the Joneses”, which might be what the Northey’s were doing. Narratives and stories such as these remind us that artefacts belonged to people, they’re not just broken fragments of china, and as long as we’re clear that we’re telling a story, then they are an excellent way of exploring the lives of the people of the past.

Just as long as there aren’t any aliens in the stories. Aliens and archaeology don’t go well together.

Clara Watson

 

‘Archaia’ and ‘Logos’, what even is archaeology?

The word archaeology comes from the Greek archaia (“ancient things”) and logos (“theory” or “science”). So, archaeologists study past societies through the material culture. In other words, we write the history analysing what people threw away or left behind. That’s what it is, although the origin of archaeology was quite different!

Back in the day, great discoveries of ancient civilizations enchanted the curiosity of those intrepid explorers who travelled the world looking for antiquities. The ruins of Troy and the image of Henrich Schliemann’s wife wearing the Priam’s Treasure (referred to as “Jewels of Helen”) as well as the Tutankhamun tomb are probably two of the most iconic finds of the last centuries. On 22 November 1922 when Lord Carnavon enquired anxiously “Can you see anything?” and Howard Carter replied “Yes, wonderful things”, expressing the grandeur of the ancient world. Those expeditions became the excuse to plunder historical sites to boost either personal or museum collections, with no further interest other than hunting treasures, contradicting the rightful purpose of archaeology.

Left: Sophia Schliemann wearing some of the gold jewellery from the Priam’s Treasure. Right: Howard Carter and the Tutankhamun tomb. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

The archaeological discoveries at ancient cities also inspired the decoration on contemporary ceramics. Tea, table and serving wares also became a mechanism to emulate the magnificent past. Idyllic depictions of exotic and remote places, scenes with ruins of Greece, Rome and oriental inspired scenes are all relatively common finds on Christchurch archaeological sites.

Left: Medina patterned plate. It is likely that this pattern draws inspiration from Medina, the city in Saudi Arabia to the north of Mecca. Image: J. Garland. Right: drainer decorated with the Corinthian pattern, the name of which refers to one of the three Greek architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, with ruins and columns depicted on the scene. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

From left to right. We don’t know what the title of the pattern was, but the fragment clearly features a hand painted Grecian figure. The name of the following patterns: Egyp[t] or Egyp[tian] and Persian also evoking past cultures. However, in these examples, the scene depicted is unknown as we only found a tiny piece of ceramic! Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

At that time of treasure hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the object itself pulled out of its place was the centre of attention. And that’s not our job. Rather than treasures by themselves, artefacts are precious because they help us to interpret and understand how people used to live. That’s their actual value. And that’s possible to achieve when studying the objects in relation to the context in which they were found. During the latter half of the 20th century, archaeology grew up as science, with the development of methods of fieldwork, recording and cataloguing and the use of specific tools and technologies, shared with other disciplines like anthropology or geology. Archaeology is a social science, so archaeologists are scientists. Unlike fossickers or curio hunters, archaeologists always take notes and make drawings and plans. This is key, because archaeology is essentially preservation by record.

Archaeologist in action! Left: Hamish taking notes on site. Image: T. Anderson. Right: Hamish and I drawing and old curb in the city. Image: H. Williams.

By the sounds of it, the real profile of an archaeologist is unlike the idealised portrait of it. We are far away from one of the most popular archaeologists ever. Who pops up in our minds when thinking of archaeology? Of course, Indiana Jones… except for Hamish! Both share part of the outfit, it’s not the whip but the cool felt hat! Well, archaeologists wear usually safety helmets on site, but in their spare time, wherever archaeologists go, the hat would be a perfect accessory, aye?

Left: Indiana Jones. Image: Rex/Shutterstock. Right: Hamish wearing his felt hat at the Edwin Fox Maritime museum in Picton. Archaeologists do love to soak up the local history! Image: H. Williams.

The fictional image of a female archaeologist is probably even less accurate. Can’t find anything in common between Lara Croft and us. Well, she is presented as a highly intelligent, athletic and beautiful archaeologist… Maybe it is a little bit like us.

Beyond the stereotypes and the history of archaeology, constructed by and starring male archaeologists like Carter or Schliemann, there were women archaeologists as well, although it was ‘not a common thing, for obvious reasons’ (Star 15/04/1914: 7). Perhaps because those were so obvious (irony on going!), none of those reasons were nuanced… Anyway, the point is that Jeanette Le Fleming was an archaeologist. She married in 1885 Sir William Le Fleming, born in Christchurch in 1861, eight Baronet of Rydal and prominent settler in Taranaki district (Evening Post 3/11/1945: 11).

New Zealand’s newspapers in 1932 reported Jeanette’s return to New Zealand after a long trip. ‘In her capacity of archaeologist’ (crikey!), she had visited Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Denmark and investigated ruins in Zimbabwe. Among her experiences overseas, she considered her study of the ruins at Zimbabwe the most interesting of her professional experiences. There Jeanette analysed the acropolis and temple erected under the influence of Babylonian civilization. She wrote many articles on travel subjects, ancient history and archaeology. She published under a nom de plume, ‘which she keeps in complete secret’ and not even her sister was aware of her identification with a certain writer and archaeologist (Evening Post 25/01/1932: 10). Apart from Europe and Russia, Jeanette also travelled to Central and South America, India, China and Japan, among many other places. She preferred travelling alone (yes, a pioneer of women solo travellers!) as she was never afraid, and always keen to nature, climates, archaeology, medieval and other modern curiosities, as well as the present economic conditions of each country (Evening Star 14/12/1936).

Honestly, I’m so jealous! What an inspirational woman! Loving what I also love (and archaeologist in general!), travelling, exploring new places and cultures, being curious all the time, asking questions and looking for answers! Eventually, Jeanette Le Fleming died at her home in 1944, after a long and undoubtedly interesting life! (Evening Post 3/05/1944: 8).

Jeanette Le Fleming. Image: Evening Star 24/09/1938.

As archaeologists working in post-earthquake Christchurch, we also have stories and the archaeology of the early city to tell you through Christchurch Uncovered blog, Facebook, Instagram and public archaeology events. Unquestionably, scientifically recording the past is the best way to preserve it in partnership with all of you, committed people, aware of the significance of our heritage as the witness of the history, the vestiges of the past from which we can learn so much.

To conclude, a summary that describes best what an archaeologist is, how our current day-to-day goes… Love it.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/ (Accessed October 2018).

Paper Past, 2018. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ (Accessed October 2018).

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.

Chew with your mouth closed, my dear

The dinner party; a minefield of social etiquette and proper behaviour for both the host and the guests. For the host – the pressure of who to invite, where to sit them, what to serve them? Having the right invitation cards, the right food, the right dishes. For the guests – the importance of appearance, polite conversation, correct eating habits. All in all, a maze of social convention with the potential for disaster lying around every corner.

As archaeologists we don’t get to see the social etiquette and behaviour associated with dining directly. Whilst we might uncover the remnants of a first course meal, with the likes of a soup plate and a dessert spoon, we don’t know if the soup was drunk from the side of the spoon (not the tip!) without any audible noise or slurping, as was the polite way to do so. Instead, we have to make inferences based on the assemblage we have from the archaeological record and what we know from the social history to determine the social behaviour of the people we are studying.

Today on the blog we are going to explore Victorian dining customs and some of the etiquette surrounding them, along with how this relates to what we find in the archaeological record. Before we do that, it is worthwhile defining what meal we actually mean by ‘dinner’. Dinner is the main meal of the day. In medieval times, dinner took place at midday, with a basic breakfast served in the morning, and a light supper in the evening just before bed. The urbanisation and industrialisation which took place in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the wealthy and social elite having dinner at a later hour, as late as 9pm by the 1840s. The pushing back of dinner time led to the establishment of a ladies’ luncheon at midday, and afternoon tea between 4pm and 5pm. For working-class people dinner remained at midday, if they were able to leave work for it, or changed to the evening if they lived away from work. In nineteenth century New Zealand dinner was normally served at midday, with evening dinner developing in urban areas in the early twentieth century.

What was served for dinner and how it was served depended on a person’s wealth and status. At the elite end of the scale was the dinner party, where guests were invited for a dinner consisting of five or more courses. An 1879 article in the Southland times describes what should be served for each course. The first course was a soup course, with a vegetable and a white soup normally offered (although one should avoid the white soup with its high levels of cream unless they had ‘exceptionally powerful digestion’). This was followed by a fish course, with at least two fish served. Entrees came next along with mains, which should include roast meat and accompaniments. Dessert finished the meal before the women retired to the parlour for tea and the men discussed business.

An example meal from Alexander Filippini’s 1889 book, ‘The Table: how to buy food, how to cook it and how to serve it’. Filippini included a meal plan for every day of the year. The calf’s head was cooked in pieces and not whole, something I’m sure guests were thankful for.

From the mid-nineteenth century dinner began to be served à la Russe, where courses were served separately and in succession of each other. Prior to this, dishes from all the courses were served on the table at once in service à la Française. In service à la Russe, the only dishes on the table were plates and drinks glasses. Dishes were offered to the guests by servants on large platters, and the guests served themselves. The plates were then cleared away and replaced for the next course which was served in a similar fashion.

Dinner service had a strict etiquette in the way food was served and cleared. The maid of this dinner party, whilst bring practical in requesting the guests keep their forks, broke custom as is noted by the columnist (Free Lance 3/03/1906: pg 12).

The wealthier a household was, the more elaborate their meals were. For the middle class three courses was likely standard, with a maid to help serve the meal if possible. Meals with more courses would have been reserved for dinner parties, which would have been an opportunity for the hosts to show off. For the working classes three course meals were possible, but there would not have been a servant to help serve them.

The number of courses needing to be served, along with the manner of service, dictated the table ware set a household required. An important component of a successful dinner party was the service the dinner was served on. All of the dishes should be matching, and each item of food should be served on the appropriate dish. The rise of the middle-class led to a growth in demand for ceramic table sets, with the Staffordshire potteries responding with a variety of new vessel forms intended for wealthy customers including asparagus plates, herring dishes, chestnut baskets, and fish trowels (Barker 2010: 15).

Serving dishes decorated in the ever-popular Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Top row: platter and plate. Bottom row: pedestalled serving dish and tureen lid. Image: C. Watson.

You can never go wrong with Willow! Top row: plate, castor, ladle. Bottom row: square lid for a serving dish, large platter. Image: C. Watson.

As archaeologists we can use the ceramic assemblage recovered from a household to infer that household’s status and dining habits. When we get an assemblage with elaborate vessel forms in matching patterns and multiple vessels we can infer that the household was wealthy and likely hosting elaborate dinner parties. By the same vein, when we get an assemblage with plain ceramics and simple forms it is likely the household was poorer, and not spending their money on keeping up-to-date with the latest ceramic fashions to impress fancy dinner guests. Of course, it is never as simple as that. As the story of the Wellington dinner party shows, people made do with what they had, and whilst the hostess of the party might not have had enough forks for a multi-course dinner party, she hosted one anyway!

Inspired by this blog to host your own dinner party? Here are our favourite tips (more here) on dinner party etiquette to avoid complete and utter social embarrassment!

-never encourage a dog or cat to play with you at the table.
-never hesitate to take the last piece of bread or the last cake; there are probably more.
-never allow butter, soup or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use the napkin frequently.
-never wear gloves at the table, unless the hands for some special reason are unfit to be seen.
-never eat so much of one article so as to attract attention, as some people do who eat large quantities of butter, sweet cake, cheese or other articles.
-never allow the conversation at the table to drift into anything but chit-chat; the consideration of deep and abstruse principles will impair digestion.

Clara Watson

 

References

Barker, D. 2010. Producing for the Table: A View From the Staffordshire Potteries. In Symonds, J. (Ed). Table Settings: The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Free Lance [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.