Piles, bones and marbles: what was under the Godleys’ house?

Way back in the winter of 2012, at the height of the post-earthquake demolition, I was pretty excited to learn we were going to get the chance to investigate the site of John and Charlotte Godley’s house in Lyttelton. John was a prominent figure in the Canterbury Association, the young settlement’s Chief Agent and is often regarded as one of Canterbury’s founding fathers. Charlotte was his wife and the author of a fantastic volume of letters that record so much detail about life in the new settlement and – importantly for this tale – the house they lived in. And then there was Arthur Godley, their son, born in 1847.

John Robert Godley. Image: Wikipedia.

The house was built for the Godleys in late 1849/early 1850, by the advance party of Canterbury Association surveyors sent to carry out some of the ground work to establish the colony. The house was ready for occupation when the Godleys arrived in Lyttelton in April 1850, although the Godleys only stayed a few days before travelling to Wellington to await the arrival of the first Canterbury Association ships. John Robert Godley later recorded that “after seeing it, we could not help laughing at our own anticipation of a shed on a bare beach with a fire at the door”, while Charlotte thought the house to be “…the best looking house we have yet seen in New Zealand”, and she particularly admired the “… kind of pantry” (Amodeo 2003: 117).

Charlotte Godley, 1877. Image: Wikipedia.

The house might have looked good, but the practicalities of living in it were trying, as Charlotte was to discover when the family returned to the house in December 1850: both dust and rain came in through the walls, depending on the weather. Charlotte records one sleepless night when the wind howled all night and the house creaked like a ship. She rose in the morning to find the inside of the house covered in dust, including all the furniture and all her dresses. The rain that seeped in through the poorly lined walls caused the drawing room wallpaper to come unstuck (Godley 1951: 170, 191). This anecdote’s a great one, because it tells us that (a) the house had wallpaper – in early 1850s Lyttelton! – and (b) that it had a drawing room. Historical records tell us that the house had six rooms (although it’s worth noting that Victorian room counts often didn’t include halls, pantries and/or similar service rooms), but don’t list what these were.

Lyttelton, with Immigrants’ Barracks and settlers’ houses, 1852? Frederick Aloysius Weld, 1823-1891. Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference number: B-139-004. The Godleys’ house is the building with three gables in the middle of the picture.

In spite of the “kind of pantry”, meat did not last well in the house, lasting on average two days before going off (Godley 1951: 155). This wasn’t really anything to do with this particular house, it was more about life in the 19th century… but it is relevant to this story. For John and Charlotte’s position in Canterbury meant that they entertained very regularly, hosting tea parties nearly every evening in December 1850 (Godley 1951: 153, 155, 161). And then there were the guests who stayed the night – or several nights, leading Charlotte to refer to John’s dressing room (yes, a dressing room! More on that in a moment), as “the spare room of Lyttelton” (Godley 1951: 172).

So, the dressing room, which seems fairly extraordinary to me in Lyttelton in the early 1850s. But John was an important man in the colony, and perhaps his status was such that a dressing room may have been required. I also wonder if the dressing room functioned as a study/office for John. When he got the chance to use it. Early in 1851, there was a plan to turn it into a dining room (Godley 1951: 153) – indicating both that the house didn’t already have one (perhaps guests ate in the kitchen or the drawing room?) and that the dressing room was of a decent size. Whether or not it ever became a dining room isn’t clear – there may not have been the opportunity, given how frequently it was used as a bedroom.

The dressing room wasn’t the only room to have been used as a bedroom – in August 1851 the bathroom was converted into a bedroom for a visiting Canterbury Association official (Godley 1951: 226). Perhaps John had finally put his foot down about the use of dressing room as a bedroom? The presence of a bathroom is also intriguing. Clearly the house didn’t have any running water, although a well was dug specially for it (Amodeo 2003: 116). The bathroom may have contained a bath or even a commode.

In terms of the other rooms in the house, Charlotte records the presence of a kitchen in the house, although the initial one must have been somewhat unsatisfactory, as Charlotte referred to a new kitchen in March 1851, complete with stove and “refractory chimney” (Godley 1951: 184). We know, too, that Charlotte and John had a bedroom in the house, as did young Arthur – the three seemed to alternate between sleeping up and downstairs. We know the Godleys had servants, and it’s possible that a servant may have lived in too. But perhaps the most interesting use of a room in the house was as the Lyttelton library, which started operation here in June 1851 (Burgess 2009: Appendix 4).

When it came time to do the archaeological work on the site, I really wasn’t sure what we’d find. Or, indeed, if we’d find anything related to the c.1850 building. But we did! Lots and lots of piles, and some pile holes: brick piles, timber piles and stone piles, specifically. The house sat on timber piles (identified as mātai and kōwhai) and its verandahs – on the north and west elevations – sat on stone piles. This is interesting, because it wasn’t long before houses in Christchurch and Lyttelton were supported by stone piles, stone being a much more readily available material than timber. The other intriguing feature found under the house was a mysterious brick pit…

Underneath the Godleys’ house. Image: G. Gedson.

We’ve no idea what this was used for, or even how old it was – it certainly predated the 1943 building constructed where the Godleys’ house had stood, but this feature was able to remain in situ and so we didn’t get to look at the bricks it was made from. One of the notable things about this feature was that it contained lots of animal bones, almost all of which was bird bone and all of which is likely to have been food waste. The bones were from at least two domestic ducks and at least one brown teal duck. The brown teal duck must pre-date the 1900s, as it gradually disappeared from the South Island prior to this date (Williams and Dumbell 1996). So, perhaps food from the Godleys’ table? There’s no way of knowing.

The mysterious brick pit, found at the rear of the house. Image: G. Gedson.

Amongst the other intriguing artefacts from under the house were several marbles, which were found scattered on the ground surface, and in some of the pile holes. Marbles aren’t uncommon on archaeological sites (see here for more information), but finding eight is. Half of these were lying on the surface under the 1943 building and the other half were in the piles holes. Realistically, given the nature of marbles – small round things designed to roll – these could have been deposited at any time from the house’s construction until the site was built on again following its demolition. So, sadly, we can’t say that young Arthur Godley was playing with these marbles, but nor can we entirely discount the possibility (although some of the types found date to the later part of the 19th century, so he definitely wasn’t playing with those ones).

Marbles! Image: J. Garland & L. Dawson.

We found a range of other artefacts at the site, too, most of which was the normal detritus of mid-late 19th century European life in Canterbury. Nothing, regrettably, that could be associated directly with the Godleys. But we only looked at part of the site, and it is possible that more remains outside the footprint of the area we excavated. And possibly the best outcome of this project is that the piles – and the mystery brick feature – have been preserved in situ for the future. And for me, the site provided a great opportunity to explore the lives of John and Charlotte Godley, leading me to Charlotte’s wonderful letters and to a wealth of information about life in Lyttelton at the beginning of the European settlement.

Katharine Watson & Kirsa Webb

References

Amodeo, C., 2003. Forgotten Forty-Niners: being an account of the men & women who paved the way in 1849 for the Canterbury Pilgrims in 1850. The Caxton Press, Christchurch.

Burgess, R., 2009. Lyttelton Township Historic Area. Registration report for a historic area (Volume 2). Unpublished report for the New Zealand Historic Places Pouhere Taonga.

Godley, C., 1951. Letters from Early New Zealand. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Christchurch.

Williams, M. and Dumbell, G. 1996. Brown teal (pateke) Anas chlorotis recovery plan. Threatened Species Recovery Plan No 19. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Odds and ends

A selection of the most interesting bits and pieces we’ve been working with recently here in Christchurch.

This gorgeous ceramic vessel is an 1850s-1860s chamber pot, found on a site just outside the central city. It’s decorated with the imaginatively named “Cattle Scenery” pattern, featuring, …well, cows. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

What’s known as a ‘bent’ clay smoking pipe (referring to the curve, or ‘bend’ of the stem, with the mark ‘SQUATTER’S / OWN’ impressed on the side. The other side of stem has the mark ‘SYDNEY’. Squatter’s own pipes are a little bit of a mystery – identical pipes to this one have been found on other sites here in Christchurch and in Auckland, while variations (Squatter’s Own Budgeree) have been found in several locations in Australia. The budgeree pipes are often decorated with scenes featuring Aboriginal and European figures, while the ones found in New Zealand (so far) appear to be plain. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

Another beautiful ceramic vessel. This time, it’s a saucer decorated with the pattern ‘Dresden Vignette’ and made by William Smith and Co. between 1825 and 1855. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

Marbles! So many marbles! Several of the sites we’ve been working on lately have had different marbles in the assemblages. We’ve got German glass swirl marbles (top row and third from the left in the second row), ‘commie’ marbles (far right of third and fourth rows), onionskin marbles (far right of second row), Bennington, or glazed ceramic marbles (second from left in third row), pipe clay marbles (second from left in fourth row), and porcelain marbles with fine banded decoration (far left in third row). Phew. Did you get all of that? Some of them have been heavily used (might have been a child’s favourite marble, who knows!), while others are in pretty good condition. I think my favourite is probably the onionskin: it’s got a great name, and the colours are fantastic. Image: J. Garland, C. Dickson, M. L. Bernabeu.

A serving dish or tureen lid decorated with the Wild Rose pattern, a decorative motif that depicts the gardens at Nuneham Courtenay (near Oxford, England) and was extremely popular in the 1830s-1850s period. Image: M. L. Bernabeu.

This is easily the coolest thing we’ve found in a while. These stemware drinking glasses were coloured using uranium diuranate, which creates the distinctive yellow colour seen in the image to the right. But (wait for it), when you put them under a blacklight, they glow green with the light of a thousand superhero origin stories. Or alien colour schemes. Take your pick. Image: J. Garland.

It’s Friday afternoon, how about a wee tipple of gin? This fragment is from a labelled bottle of Nolet’s finest Dutch geneva. Nolet’s was established in Holland in the late 17th century by Johannes Nolet and is still in operation today. It’s the first label of its kind that we’ve found in Christchurch. Image: C. Dickson.

The ‘Grecian’ pattern, with the potter’s initials J. T. There are several different pattern variations known as ‘Grecian’ or that incorporate Greek and/or neo-classical themes into their motifs. Image: C. Dickson.

Another elaborately decorated saucer, this time displaying the Neva pattern. Confusingly for us, this is not the only 19th century ceramic pattern found under the name of ‘Neva’. This example was made by Thomas Bevington (1877 until 1891). Image: J. Garland.

How’s your reading comprehension? Up to 1870s standards? We found these pages from ‘The Royal Readers’, first published in the early 1870s, inside the walls of a schoolhouse in Governors Bay. Image: J. Garland.

The expressions on the faces of Victorian dolls never fail to amuse me. Image: C. Dickson.

Also found in the walls of the Governors Bay school house, this excerpt from ‘The School Journal.’ If you look closely you can see the typewritten words “Governors Bay, Lyttelton” in the bottom right of the fragment. Image: J. Garland.

And last, but not least, this wonderfully labelled wine bottle was identified as Champagne Vineyard Cognac, ‘Boutelleau Manager’. It appears to have been a well regarded product, if that extract from 1877 is to be believed. The bottle was found on the same Lyttelton site as the gin bottle shown above – someone had good taste! Image: C. Dickson.

Jessie Garland

Just kidding around

Presenting a selection of children’s ceramic plates and cups excavated in Christchurch for your perusal, with commentary.

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It’s a bit blurry, this one (nothing but the best for the children!). If you can’t quite make it out, one image shows a woman sitting down and a child dancing or hopping or just waving its arms about and the other features a group of adults and children standing around outdoors in front of a tree. One of them may be a nun, or a ghost (you can see the fence through her – it’s – robes, a bit) or even a ghost nun, although the more I look at it the more I think that might just be the blurriness. Disappointing, in a way. A ghost nun would make things interesting. Image: J. Garland.

French farm

Lots of children’s ceramics featured the alphabet, functioning as a way to teach children their letters while still feeding them, I guess. These letters are often found on the rim (or marly) of plates or in a cluster on the side of cups. This ABC plate has been spiced up by the addition of a centurion (or a similarly be-plumed and be-shielded chap), with a spiffing blue painted robe. I have no idea what’s happening in the rest of the image, but I like to imagine that it features said chap with sword being defeated by a child with the power of pen and ink (old adages and all). Image: J. Garland.

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In which girls with umbrellas and boys with hoops get told off by adults. I think that’s what’s happening here (I may be reading too much into this). The look on the boy’s face as he stares down the man with the parcel is part defiance and part abject misery and his body language is very much “I do not want to be part of this conversation.” Hoop and stick, the game that he’s playing in the image, was a popular and common Victorian children’s pastime, the object of which was to keep the hoop rolling for as long as you could. Image: J. Garland.

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Yes, that does indeed appear to be a child being spanked by another child, with one arm in a sling, while adults look on. I don’t really have any explanation for this one. Image: J. Adamson.

T is for Tunnel

“T is for Tunnel, that’s under the bridge. Here the whistle is heard with a very long sound.” It turns out that this image was sourced from a mid-19th century book called “Cousin Chatterbox’s Railway Alphabet” (G. Law, pers. comm.), which explains the subject matter somewhat. Image: J. Garland.

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The depiction of children making themselves useful through work or trades is a relatively common feature of these ceramics. Instilling a good work ethic while they’re young and all that (hurrah, capitalism!). While I haven’t been able to trace this one any further, I have come across similar images – of children selling birds (yes, birds) and going to market. There’s even a series featuring ‘the little doctor’, ‘the little blacksmith’ and ‘the little cooper’ (Riley 1991). Note the overglaze paint colouring the image as well. Image: J. Garland.

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Another two ABC plates, this time featuring ‘THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH’ print and ‘THE NEW PONY.’ Work AND play this time. The colouring of these two suggests that they might have been bought or sold together, perhaps as part of a children’s ceramic set. I am curious about why they only colour each figure’s trousers. And why they coloured them yellow. Yellow trousers seem so incongruous with what we think of the Victorians. Image: J. Garland.

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In which a suspicious looking character hides a letter in a tree for his lady love. I have several thoughts about this. First of all, that seems like a bad choice of hiding place. Unless you know she’s going to come and find it straight away (in which case, just wait for her and don’t be so suspicious), it’s not ideal. It’ll probably get damp, a squirrel or some other nefarious animal may abscond with it and, even if it is still there, there’s no guarantee that she’ll find it when she comes looking. Second of all, she’s right behind you. Image: G. Jackson.

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Dr Franklin’s Maxims does indeed refer to the one and only Benjamin Franklin, whose bits and bobs of wisdom were published in Poor Richard’s Almanac in the mid-18th century. They were then later adopted for use on children’s ceramics in the 19th century. This particular one, if complete, would read “Fly pleasure and it will follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift. Now I have a sheep and a cow everybody bids me good morrow.” Wise words, Dr Franklin, wise words. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

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Ah, the old dressing up like foxes (is that a fox? It may be a cat) and lions and playing with riding crops. Note that the lion is wearing slippers and socks under his costume (which is better than the fashion crime of sandals and socks I thought I was looking at to start with). You young rogues! Come along! Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

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Enough now, enough. Image: J. Garland.

Jessie Garland

References

Riley, Noel., 1991. Gifts for Good Children: The History of Children’s China, Part 1, 1790-1890. Richard Dennis, Somerset.

Pieces of the Past

This week on the blog we’re sending you over to Pieces of the Past, an online exhibition we’ve curated as part of Beca Heritage Week here in Christchurch. The exhibition features the staff of Underground Overground Archaeology and their favourite artefacts. There’s a wealth of different objects and stories there (and a suspicious number of caffeine related biographies for our archaeologists), from a sheep hoof on a stick to pocket watches, spinning tops and poems about cowboys.

In fact, we may have been so excited about it that we modified (or butchered, depends on your point of view) a famous song in our excitement.

Glass eyes on skulls and sheep hooves on sticks,
Old broken watches and bright orange bricks,
Upright pianos, still with their strings,
These are a few of our favourite things.

Lost spinning tops and pointy bone hooks,
Cheese jars and Marmite and Rantin’s old books,
Cowboys and boats and small figurines,
These are a few of our favourite things.

When the trowel scrapes,
When the glass breaks,
When we’re feeling bored,
We simply remember our favourite things,
And then we don’t feel so bad.

Check it out here. 

All dolled up

To many people they’re simply a nostalgic throwback to childhood. To some, they’re treasures to be collected and curated. To others, they’re objects of horror, a sentiment encouraged by tv, films and a particular island in Mexico. To archaeologists, they’re the remnants of long lost childhoods, a personal and sometimes poignant reminder of the children that came before us. They make visible an aspect of life in the past that is so often hidden, in both the archaeological and historical records.

They’re also cute and creepy by turns. The following are some of our favourites from Christchurch. Enjoy!

This one seems disappointed.

The porcelain head of an infant in a bonnet, with painted cheeks and hair and a disappointed expression. Which is disconcerting on a baby. That face says to me “did you really just do that?” (left), “I can’t believe you just did that” (right). Image: J. Garland.

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This one, on the other hand, is disapproving. A lot of Victorian dolls seem to me to be either disappointed or disapproving. Which either says something about the Victorians or something about me. Let’s not go there. The rouged cheeks on this particular head are a common feature (see some of the examples below), although these ones are more than usually pronounced. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

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A small boy, raising his face to the heavens and pleading… for his lost innocence? The whereabouts of his lower body? For someone to please, please take the bib off?  This one is probably one of the creepiest doll artefacts we’ve found (picture it emerging from the earth, seriously), but it’s an unusual example of a clearly male doll. Most of the dolls we find are either recognisably female or figurines of babies too young to differentiate between. Also, his upper lip makes him look a little bit like he has a moustache. Image: J. Garland.

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I get ‘unimpressed’ from this one. She was found on the site of a 19th century hotel (the Zetland Arms) on Lichfield Street, meaning that she may have originally belonged to a child visiting the hotel or the child of one of the hotel keepers. This particular doll is also likely to have been manufactured in Germany, as many dolls were during the latter half of the 19th century. Image: J. Garland.

This particularly shapely calf comes with a lovely little ankle boot.

This particularly shapely dismembered calf comes with a lovely little ankle boot, painted on over the glaze. Limbs like this one were often attached to a fabric body, tied using the groove you can see just below the top of the leg. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

I love this one. She looks like a soothsayer.

I love this one. She looks like a soothsayer. A smirking soothsayer. She definitely knows something that you don’t. And her hair is amazing. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

I find this one unsettling. One of my colleagues thinks it's adorable. You be the judge. If you look closely you can see that the baby is holding a rattle

I find this one unsettling. One of my colleagues thinks it’s adorable. You be the judge. If you look closely you can see that the baby is holding a rattle in one hand and there’s the edge of a quilt or blanket visible in the bottom right corner. The whole thing forms the lid to a small porcelain container of some sort, perhaps one that contained something associated with children or infants. Image: J. Garland.

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The always wonderful, yet completely awful Frozen Charlotte or ‘pudding doll’, named after the ballad about a girl who went out in the cold without a coat and froze to death… Image: J. Garland.

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One thing that I find really interesting to note with dolls is the various different hairstyles they showcase. Much as we do today, the Victorians reflected changing fashions and social ideals in the toys and figurines they made for their children. Image: J. Garland.

More often than you might think, we just get a torso. Or an arm. A foot. A disconcerting remnant of somebody's once beloved toy. Sometimes, when struck by a combination of melancholy and melodrama, I find myself thinking 'archaeology: it's all just lost and broken things' and that sentiment never seems more apt than when you're looking at a bunch of broken dolls. Image: J. Garland.

More often than you might think, we just get a torso. Or an arm. A foot. A disconcerting remnant of somebody’s once beloved toy. Sometimes, when struck by a combination of melancholy and melodrama, I find myself thinking ‘archaeology: it’s all just lost and broken things’ and that sentiment never seems more apt than when you’re looking at a bunch of broken dolls. Image: J. Garland.

Then again, sometimes you get the head of a figurine wearing a fantastic

Then again, sometimes you come across the porcelain head of a a man in a very fine hat, and it’s a different story altogether. Image: J. Garland.

Jessie Garland