Up in smoke: Christchurch Destructor

At the turn of the 20th century, Christchurch’s rubbish disposal underwent a fiery transformation.

After 50 years of settlement, Christchurch was facing a rubbish crisis that was starting to get people worried. The council’s weekly kerbside rubbish collection service, which had been around for 14 years, was working well, but all the rubbish dumps were filling up fast (Lyttelton Times 23/7/1886: 4). The biggest city dump was located out of town in the sand hills near New Brighton. Thanks to all the fish heads, food scraps, and other tasty morsels that were being dumped here on a regular basis, this dump was also home to a large rat population. In early 1900 there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney, Australia. There was a genuine fear that if just one infected stowaway rat made it ashore to Christchurch, it could easily infect all the other rats and then everyone would be doomed (Press 26/2/1900: 4). If the dump rats got infected with the plague, and then they migrated into town pied piper style, then it would be game over man, game over.

On a Victoria Street site some time ago I found two pits filled entirely with rat bones, evidence of a local rat eradication program. There were the remains of 34 rats in one pit and 21 in the other. Both images: Hamish Williams.

Attempts had been made at various times to reduce the bulk of all of the rubbish at the dump, and bring down the resident rat population by setting the dump ablaze. It sort of worked, but not very well, and eventually these fires had to be put out (as best as they could) because the smoke was a nuisance. Dump rats would even be implicated in starting dump fires, the little buggers. Rats burrowed through all the mountains of rubbish, and in doing so created little air vents that helped reignite the smouldering remains of earlier dump fires (Press 17/4/1900:6). Nice one dump rats.

Fire was seen as the solution to Christchurch’s rubbish problem, but it wasn’t just a case of starting larger fires at the dump and letting them burn for longer. What Christchurch needed was a machine that was able to burn all the city rubbish in a much more controlled fashion, at higher temperatures, and for longer periods of time. What the city needed, and what the city later got, was THE DESTRUCTOR. Problem solved.

‘Destructors’ were the name given by English municipal engineers of the 19th century to big furnaces that were designed specifically for incinerating all different types of urban rubbish on an industrial scale (Moore 1898). Instead of getting rid of rubbish by carting it away and dumping it, rubbish would be burnt to a crisp in a Destructor, and in doing so would be transformed into a product that was then much less of a problem to deal with, and one that could even prove useful. I think Wellington was the first city in the country to get a Destructor, in 1889 (Press 11/5/1889: 6). Christchurch got its Destructor in 1902. Auckland got one in 1905. Auckland’s Muncipal Destructor building still stands.

Schematic of a late 19th century Destructor furnace. Burn it up, little man, and keep shovelling! Image: Moore 1898.

The Christchurch City Council ordered its destructor from the English engineering firm Meldrum Brothers in August 1900 (Press 28/8/1900: 3). It was a ‘six celled Beaman and Deas’ Destructor that was capable of incinerating both rubbish and night soil. Under normal operating conditions, each of the six cells of the furnace was capable of burning up to 24 tonnes of unsorted rubbish a day (Star 28/8/1900: 1). Because of all the smoke and stench it would produce, the Council had difficulty finding a suitable place to put it. Eventually, they decided to put it right in the middle of town, close to the corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets, a stone’s throw away from what is now the Margaret Mahy Playground.  With much pomp and ceremony, the Destructor was officially opened on the 30th of May 1902 (Press 31/5/1902: 5).

A 1920 aerial photo of central Christchurch. Can you spot the Destructor? It’s the one with the smokiest chimney of course. Image: reproduced courtesy of Christchurch City Libraries: CCL Photo CD 3, IMG0026.

After some 36 years of service, the Destructor burnt its last load of rubbish on 14 April 1938 (Press 14/4/1938: 8). The council then went back to dumping rubbish, though by now this was carried out in a much more organised and sanitary manner. With greater emphasis paid to covering the rubbish immediately after it was dumped, there were now thankfully fewer problems with the dump rats. When the destructor building and its massive brick chimney was demolished the following year, the city lost an iconic landmark of a building, though few would mourn the loss of the Destructor (Press 10/2/1939: 12). Its chimney was the tallest in town, but apart from the odd times when it was out of action and undergoing repairs, it blazed up a cloud of dirty filthy smoke pretty much 24/7.

The chimney was demolished entirely by hand, quite an achievement. Image: Press 8/4/1939: 21.

The Destructor was a cleverly designed furnace. Although it needed a good amount of coal to get the fires up to temperature, once it got going, little additional input of coal was typically required to keep the fires burning – rubbish would be the main source of fuel. Before being tipped into the furnace, the rubbish was usually raked over and given some form of a preliminary sort-through. All sorts of things ended up at the Destructor, but thankfully not all of it ended up in the flames. Some things, like scrap metal and rags, could be separated out for recycling. A pair of frightened kittens that a stoker found tied up in a paper bag one time were saved from certain death, but other animals were not so lucky. Stray dogs and unwanted feral cats sometimes ended up on top of the sacrificial pyre, these poor creatures drowned beforehand in a well reserved exclusively for this grisly purpose (Press 23/8/1905: 8). Large quantities of fish waste from city fish markets proved somewhat tricky to burn. Wet and slimy, incinerating this kind of waste consumed more coal and as such cost the council lots of money. Later they decided that all this fish waste would be better disposed of by carting it out of town where it could be recycled into agricultural fertiliser. This saved the Council up to 35 tonnes of coal per year (Press 16/7/1932: 16). Nice.

Must have been a hot and sweaty job feeding the Destructor, that’s probably why this fella is wearing a towel round his shoulders, so he could easily mop the sweat from his brow. Image: Press 10/7/1932: 17 .

The Destructor didn’t just incinerate rubbish and dead animals, it was a multi-purpose machine that was also the city’s first power plant. From 1903 the destructor’s steam boilers powered generators that produced electricity for the local grid: the power of rubbish lit the city streets at night (Press 1/8/1903: 7). From 1908, exhaust gases from the destructor were piped underground to heat the neighbouring Tepid Baths (Christchurch’s first indoor public swimming pool). In this way rubbish enabled people to backstroke and breaststroke in heated comfort all year round. The waste by-product produced by the Destructor, called clinker, was not left to go to waste either, but proved to be a valuable and useful material in building city roads.

Destructor clinker! Image: Hamish Williams.

I first came to know of clinker after being called out to a SCIRT job on Eastern Terrace, when a layer of the stuff was found by a crew replacing a broken stormwater pipe. It was a real eureka moment for me when I worked out exactly what it was. By 1928, more than 4800 tonnes of the stuff were produced annually, and almost all of it was put to good use by the council in building and repairing city streets (Galbraith 1928). As later SCIRT works confirmed, this clinker fill was laid down all over the place, mostly as a road formation base course, particularly in locations where the underlying natural substrate was ‘peaty and soft’ (Galbraith 1928).

Road formation related stratigraphy, as was exposed in the side of a SCIRT pipe trench in Beckenham. The layer of Destructor clinker is the dirty brown looking layer at the bottom, capped by two layers of modern hard fill. Image: Hamish Williams.

Depending on what it had been before it was fed into and thus transformed by the Destructor, clinker proved to be often quite variable in appearance. Sometimes the clinker was very glassy, black and shiny, (reminding me of meteorites, not dissimilar to the one found by this lucky young fella) and sometimes it was a dirty brown rusty colour (from all the half burnt iron nails and bits of tin cans). More often than not both types of clinker had little inclusions of semi-melted bits of bottle glass and twice vitrified ceramic sherds in it, a strange sight indeed. We didn’t find too much clinker underneath central city streets, but we did find it in the central city around the banks of the Avon/Ōtākaro River. It was found in abundance below those suburban roadways that flank the Heathcote/ Ōpāwaho River. The silty riverside suburbs of Beckenham, St Martins, and Opawa proved to be serious clinker hotspots!

A chunk of Destructor clinker. This one came from a thick clinker layer exposed during excavations for the construction of the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial wall. Clinker had been used to build up the south bank of the Ōtākaro/Avon River as part of early 20th century river landscape improvement works. Close by on the opposite bank we also found (at shallow depth) crushed clinker footpaths. Image: Hamish Williams.

We mostly found Destructor clinker on the road reserve – public land – and where we found it, we usually didn’t find any 19th century rubbish. However, in those few places where we did find 20th century clinker and 19th century rubbish in close proximity, the 19th century artefacts were always found at a lower stratigraphic level. Because we know that Destructor clinker was only produced between 1902 and 1938, this stuff has proved very super helpful for dating archaeological deposits, especially when we find it on private property (curiously it has turned up a couple of times in backyard rubbish pits). Why throw away a bit of rubbish clinker? I guess maybe someone picked a bit of it up from somewhere thinking it was a rare and valuable meteorite, then realised it was just a bit of old burnt rubbish and chucked it away. Just a guess. Any thoughts?

Maybe because the story of the Destructor is a bit steampunk, or maybe because it reminds me about how persistent the people of the past were in finding solutions to the environmental problems that they faced, I find the whole story of the Destructor very fascinating. I like thinking about how resourceful the local council was more than 100 years ago, recycling what they could, and transforming what they couldn’t recycle into something that could be reused in a practical way, while powering the city in the process. Reduce, reuse, recycle – this modern mantra that we all should live by is certainly nothing new.

Hamish Williams

References

Galbraith, A.R. 1928. Report on the Reconstruction and Maintenance of the City Highways and Bridges. Wellington N.Z: Witcombe & Tombs.

Moore, E.C. 1898. Sanitary Engineering: a Practical Treatise. London: B.T. Batsford.

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

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

Sublime weed, Lady Nicotine… the smoking vice!

‘Tobacco divine, rare, which goes far beyond all their panaceas, potable gold, a remedy to diseases…But, as it is commonly abused by most men, who take it as tinkers do ale, it’s a plague, a mischief, a violent purge of goods, lands, health, hellish, devilish, and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul’ (Burton, 1948: 577).

Tobacco is a plant native to America, originally used in religious and medicinal practices by Native Americans. When Christopher Columbus arrived in America in 1492, the locals gave him dried tobacco leaves and then…consumption of tobacco took off among Europeans (Dayton University 2017).

This amazing French moulded clay pipe shows a Native American figure crouching at the front of the bowl, with a smoking pipe in his hand and tobacco leaves decorating the bowl on either side. We don’t yet know who the figure is, but it is the coolest artefact I’ve ever seen so far and also, it fits perfectly with our topic today, doesn’t it? Image: J. Garland.

Tobacco was likely first dried or toasted and chewed, or powdered for inhalation through the nose in what is known as ‘snuffing’. More recently, men and women started using pipes and the predecessors to modern cigarettes to smoke tobacco as a daily narcotic.

A slightly more modern container for ‘dried tobacco’. The label on this tin, found underneath the floors of a farmhouse on the outskirts of Christchurch, indicates that it originally contained cut cake tobacco, possibly originating in Antwerp. Cut cake tobacco was advertised for sale in tins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Mt Ida Chronicle 19/4/1888: 2): the most commonly referenced types appear to be Empire Cut Cake, from Dobie and Sons, and Four-Square Cut Cake (Auckland Star 29/6/1936: 14, Marlborough Express 8/8/1877: 3). Image: J. Garland.

The popularity of tobacco grew quickly in Europe due to its hypothetical curative properties, which were particularly encouraged by Jean Nicot, from whom the genus Nicotiana took the name (Rogers 2010). Over the years scientists began to investigate the chemicals in tobacco and came to understand the dangerous effects that smoking produces. As early as 1826, the pure form of nicotine was discovered and the conclusion drawn that it constituted a harmful poison (Rodgman and Perfetti 2013).

Left: Manawatu Times 18/04/1925: 3. Right top: Auckland Star 24/03/1931: 13. Right bottom: Northern Advocate 11/03/1932: 8.

While the English developed a predilection for the pipe, the Spanish preferred the cigar and The French took a liking to snuff. It was in Spain that the tobacco manufacturing industry produced the small and cheaper versions of the cigar, famously hand-rolled by women workers in Seville. That image captured the imaginations in France, and cigarritos became cigarettes, one of the most commonly used words in the world (Random History 2007-2017).

Snuff! Not just appreciated by the French, if this English bottle is anything to go by. Taddy & Co. snuff jar from London. Taddy and Co. were tobacconists and snuff merchants with a long history – this particular jar dates to their 19th century operations at 45 Minories, London. The company was established in 1740 in London as sellers of tobacco, snuff and tea (Matlach 2013). They became one of the most important tobacco companies in Britain and were well known for their cigarette cards showing famous actors, actresses, footballers or cricketers. The first of its kind that we’ve seen! Image: J. Garland.

‘Morris Cigarettes’ box. In 1847, the famous Philip Morris was established, selling hand rolled Turkish cigarettes. Cigarettes became popular around this time when soldiers brought them back to England from the Russian and Turkish soldiers. Philip Morris was a British tobacconist and cigarette importer, who first manufactured Morris cigarettes, known as ‘Philip Morris English ovals’, in 1854. The name was later used for ‘Philip Morris Inc. Ltd’, established in New York in 1902 (Wikipedia 2017), when he set up a New York headquarters to market its cigarettes, including a now famous Malboro brand. In 1924 Morris began to market its cigarettes to women and gained 38% of the market. ‘Morris Cigarettes’ were first advertised in New Zealand newspapers in 1910 (Temuka Leader 4/01/1910: 1). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Smoking for pleasure received its greatest endorsement from Sir Walter Raleigh in the 16th century (Latham 2017), and even today, smoking remains prevalent in many cultures, despite its increasing reputation as a bad habit.

A saucer, decorated with a Chinese scene in which a long pipe is smoked. How cool is that? CHANG is the pattern name. This Chinoiserie design featured two figures, dressed in oriental clothing, in a garden or house and the saucer. was made by Holland and Green, in production between 1853 and 1882 (Godden 1991: 331). Image: J. Garland.

Tobacco smoking arrived in New Zealand with the earliest European settlers and tobacco consumption increased quickly during the mid and late 19th century. It wasn’t just an elitist habit, but was also widely spread among the middle and lower classes, especially among working men. Tobacco was fairly accessible at all levels of society and, increasingly, the paraphernalia of smoking – such as clay tobacco pipes – were cheap and disposable.

One of our favourite artefact types, as you well know. In the second half of the 19th century the production of decorated clay pipes increased. These commemorated events, carried slogans and advertisements, animals, fruits or flowers, and they were categorised as fancy clays or fancies (Ayto 1994: 7). We’ve talked about them a few times in older posts either on the blog or Facebook because they are pretty, and we love them! A perfect example of these ‘fancies’ is this smoking pipe featuring the royal bust of Queen Victoria on one side and the words ROYAL JUBILEE PIPE on the other side. This pipe was made for commemorating 60 years of Victoria’s reign in 1897. Also, the name of DUNEDIN is impressed on the one side of the stem, while M[C]PHEE is impressed on the other, referring to George McPhee. He was a tobacco pipe maker in Glasgow from 1861 onwards with his wife, who was a tobacco pipe trimmer (White 2016: 16). George McPhee arrived in New Zealand in 1880. George’s son, John McPhee, started pipe making experiments with a concerted effort to re-launch the business in Dunedin around 1890 and he was making clay tobacco pipes until 1908 (White 2016: 27). The McPhees were at the front of a brand-new industry for New Zealand and they appeared to be the first New Zealand clay pipe makers (White 2016: 27-28). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

The stem of this pipe, collected from a Christchurch site, is longer than 120 mm, indicating that it belonged to a long pipe like a churchwarden. This type of pipe was easily broken, and it was said that Charles Dickens invented that name or at least he was the responsible for perpetuating the name (Ayto 1994: 6). Churchwarden pipes were mentioned in New Zealand newspapers from at least 1872 onwards (West Coast Times 16/10/1872). The stem had a W. SOUTHORN & CO / BROSELEY maker’s mark, referring to William Southorn, a tobacco pipe manufacturer based in Broseley, Shropshire, England. He established his pipeworks as early as 1823 and they were making tobacco pipes until the 1950s (Science Museum 2017). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

It wasn’t until 1900 when cigarritos became the most common tobacco product on the market. Along with modern advertising, a key innovation took place at the end of the 19th century century: Virginian James Bonsack patented a machine in 1881 that produced 200 cigarettes per minute, as many in a day as forty human employees rolling by hand! Cigarette smoking increased during the World Wars, during which they were given free to soldiers. An easy way for the companies to create loyal customers! Evidence of this universally widespread habit is recorded archaeologically – we’ve found a variety of American and British brands under the floors of Christchurch houses.

W.D. and H.O. Wills maker’s mark on the top of the lid. This company was founded in 1786 and went by various names before 1830 when it became W.D. and H.O. Wills. Tobaccos and cigarettes made by W.D. and H.O. Wills were very popular with New Zealand smokers. The company began manufacturing tobacco products in New Zealand in 1919 at its factory in Petone, Wellington (British American Tobacco New Zealand 2017). Tobacco was processed and sold under several brand names, some of which were still used by Imperial Tobacco until the second half of the 20th century. The company pioneered the use of cigarette cards within their packaging. Image: C. Dickson.

Top: Cardboard cigarette boxes. CHESS SPECIALLY SELECTED VIRGINIA LEAF/ HIGNETT Bros & Co / ENGLAND CIGARETTES. Bottom: THE ‘GREYS’ SILK CUT VIRGINIA TOBACCO. This second one was reused as a shopping list, headed with the words: ‘Supply Stores’. A range of items can be read: ‘butter, sugar, eggs, […], biscuits, soda, […], cornflour, cookies, jellies, […] fruit, […], dried fruit. What a splendid example of reusing and recycling! Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Top and bottom view of a matchbox. Matchboxes are a relatively uncommon find on Christchurch archaeological sites. They are made of tin, which often remained heavily rusted but still identifiable by the shape. It is believed that Richard Bell from Wandsworth, London, was the earliest exclusive manufacturer of matches (as we know them now), from 1832 onwards (Anson, 1983). Unluckily, this example lacks embossing and we don’t have any information about manufacturer and/or brand, which is a shame. It is a good one though! Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Luckily, we also have a tiny piece of an embossed matchbox! Bell and Black were a match making partnership operating during the mid- 19th century, although exact dates are unclear. Richard Bell began a match business in London in the 1830s and was joined at some point by Black (Anson 1983). Bell and Black matchboxes have been found on sites throughout New Zealand and Australia dating to the mid-late 19th century and accounted for 13% of all matches imported into New Zealand between 1870-1894 (Tasker 1993). The New Zealand market was as good as gold for Bell and Black and in 1895, they decided to open a factory in Wellington. In 1910 the two-successful match producing factories in New Zealand became one: Bryant and May, Bell and Company (Tasker 1993). The new firm consolidated its position and still produces most of the matches used in New Zealand. Left: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Grey River Argus 21/07/1894: 4.

Tobacco also played a significant role in the construction of identity and gender, the notions of masculinity and femininity from the 19th century onwards, both here in New Zealand and across the world. According to the principles of liberalism, men were all self-controlled and rational, while women were biologically incapable of both values (Hilton 2000). The image of respectable male smoker was constructed in the public sphere, into which women could not enter without putting their reputation into risk. And of course, a respectable female didn’t smoke.

How to resist to the charms of cigarettes? Advice for women! Due to their maternal role as the caretakers of children, they shouldn’t smoke? Fair enough, says Dr Roberston Wallace…Gender does matter, and smoking was supposed to be – and probably, actually was – a man thing . Press 27/05/1905: 9.

Observer 7/05/1898: 13. Mrs Cunnington was member of Women’s Social and Politic League, and highly influential in cultural and social life in Christchurch in the late 19th and early 20th century. Of course, you know what I’m thinking…she was colleague of another politically active woman: Fanny Cole. Instead of an image of the popular Sir Walter Raleigh encouraging the smokers, I chose Mrs Cunnington, because she was a woman also endorsing smoking as a good thing, at a time when smoking was a practice typically associated with men. We love (well, I love) transgressor women (in the positive meaning of the word): women who broke the established rules to achieve equality rights. And Mrs Cunnington was one of those, as was Mrs Cole, in their different ways.

As the Temperance Union brawled to reduce alcohol consumption, women also starred in the struggle against the vice of smoking. Observer 1/10/1901: 12.

The male smoker was not just a consumer, but instead a true friend and a passionate follower of the goddess nicotine. The pleasure of smoking could be enjoyed along with other entertainments like dancing, drinking or gambling, a kind of freedom only stopped apparently, by getting married (see below).

Observer 1/02/1908: 17.

Lastly, let’s say that smoking as male habit turns around well into the 20th century, when women began to smoke, in part to liberate themselves symbolically from political and social oppression. Smoking as an expression of maturity, sexiness and sophistication linked to the liberal notions of independence and individuality, eventually lessened the male monopoly on tobacco.

See, definitely entangled with gender issues! Free Lance 18/07/1914: 8.

Evening Post 3/12/1927: 15. Hope you allow me the ironies today. I absolutely agree, it seems a comfy suit. But I don’t understand why in particular for the smokers. Ha! Gotcha! To put the smoking stuff in your pockets! There is no doubt, clever design!

Unfortunately, we haven’t found much sure evidence of women smoking (or specifically of men, to be fair) in the archaeological record. Women feature as decoration on clay pipes, and we’ve found a few examples decorated in styles usually associated with ‘the feminine’, but – as we’ve discussed before on the blog – attributing gender to objects in archaeology is not always as easy as we would like.

Feminine pipes? Who knows! Anyway, on top, two colourful pipes decorated with flowers and at the bottom, a fancy pipe with a female figure ridding side-saddle along the stem. Certainly, an elegant lady! Image: J. Garland.

At this point, only left an essential question…is smoking a vice?

What a witty man… Observer 1/12/1906: 16.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Anson, D., 1983. Typology and Seriation of Wax Vesta Tin Matchboxes from Central Otago: A New Method of Dating Historic Sites in New Zealand. [online] Available at http://nzarchaeology.org/cms/NZJA/Vol%205%201983/NZJA5.115-138Anson.pdf [Accessed November 2017]

Ayto, E. G., 1994. Clay Tobacco Pipes. Shire Publications.

British American Tobacco New Zealand, 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.batnz.com/group/sites/BAT_9VNKQW.nsf/vwPagesWebLive/DO9T5K5C [Accessed November 2017}

Burton, R., 1948. The Anatomy of Melancholy. Tudor Publishing. New York.

Dayton University, 2017. The History of Tobacco, [online] Available at: http://academic.udayton.edu/health/syllabi/tobacco/history.htm [Accessed November 2017]

Godden, G., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Crown Publishers, New York.

Hilton, M., 2000. Smoking in British popular culture 1800-2000. Perfect Pleasures. Manchester University Press. Manchester and New York.

Latham, A.M.C., 2017. Sir Walter Raleigh. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Raleigh-English-explorer [Accessed November 2017]

Paper Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed November 2017]

The Long Tobacco Road. A History of Smoking from Ritual to Cigarette, 2009. [online] Available at: http://www.randomhistory.com/2009/01/31_tobacco.html [Accessed November 2017]

Rodgman, A. and Perfetti, A., 2013. The Chemical Components of Tobacco and Tobacco Smoking. CRC Press. Taylor & Francis Group. Boca Raton. London. New York.

Tasker, J., 1993. NZ Matches and Matchboxes. Ohinemuri Regional History Journal, Vol. 37. [online] Available at http://www.ohinemuri.org.nz/journals/65-journal-37-september-1993/1370-nz-matches-and-matchboxes [Accessed November 2017].

White, S., 2016. The McPhees: New Zealand’s first clay pipemakers. Archaeology in New Zealand, v. 59, pp.10-28.

 

Long-drops from long ago

It’s something so mundane that it forms a part of our everyday lives and it’s as inescapable as death and taxes. Even though we spoke of it last week on the blog, it’s something people don’t often speak about and it’s something we all have a very private and personal relationship with. In fact, this topic harbors so much taboo that it’s widely considered impolite to discuss one’s poo. I’m sorry!

Our evasion of our natural bodily processes was probably not always the norm. The Romans gifted us the first predecessor of a plumbed “toilet” – which consisted of a flowing water channel over which a series of hollow seats were sometimes built. But the Romans didn’t break down any of the aforementioned taboo walls… (in a sense, because they never built any walls in their latrines anyway). Instead, their public toilets were a communal affair, where a one handled their daily task sitting alongside his neighbor. They shared not only their sounds, smells and over all experience, but they even shared the cleaning sponge stick – the ancestor of our disposable toilet paper (side note – this is where the phrase ‘don’t get the wrong end of the stick’ derives).

However, when considering the attitudes of our conservative Victorian ancestors, it’s not hard to imagine the air of confidentiality that surrounded their ‘bathroom’ visits. The emergence of this modern western concept of privacy and secrecy during these practices is probably largely due to the evolution of the latrine structure itself, which eventually developed from a hole dug in a field to an enclosed, single occupancy arrangement. In this secluded situation, outsiders don’t specifically know what is taking place during these intimate moments and society sort of lost the concept of what was considered normal bodily functions. As result, secrecy, euphemisms and comical deflection ensued. [Insert toilet humour here].

We’re going to dive into these messy issues today as we discuss this less than glamorous topic of the Victorian privies/long-drops we have found. Before the days of flushing toilets and hand sanitiser, the citizens of 19th century Christchurch usually took care of their “business” in outhouses in their backyards. These tended to be situated at the rear of their property, within convenient stumbling distance of the house for ease of night-time visits (Butcher & Smith 2010).

An archaeologist sitting in a cesspit. Image: H. Williams.

We’ve found quite a few of these features on Christchurch archaeological sites, and it appears that it wasn’t just private human waste that was being deposited down the loo. The plethora of rubbish we find in them is very similar to the refuse found in domestic rubbish pits, an indication that privies were also used as a place to discard normal household items like table ware dishes and broken glass bottles. What is not always immediately apparent is why privies were used as a garbage disposal shoot in every case. Our data seems to show that the Christchurch Victorians often filled in their long-drops with household refuse when they ceased to be used. It also seems very logical that in the possible haste that one can sometimes be under to relieve oneself, or while fumbling about with way too many layers of intricate Victorian clothing, something might accidentally drop from a pocket down the hatch. If this had happened to me, I personally wouldn’t have gone reaching into a long-drop to fish out any lost possessions. But as well as that, it’s possible that this dark (and conveniently open), hole in the ground offered an opportune receptacle to throw out the odd plate fragment that someone may have accidentally broken… perhaps wanting to hide the evidence from a mother or wife?

… But the evidence doesn’t always stay hidden. Us nosy archaeologists come snooping 150-odd years later and we don’t tend to mind getting our hands a little dirty (once this ‘matter’ has decomposed). We will find the things that have been dropped in deliberately, accidentally or sneakily, although we may not always be able to tell the difference.

A typical privy showing how these features look when first found, half sectioned and then fully removed. This one had timber at the base. Image: J. Garland.

The image above is a typical example of an excavated long-drop. In this case, no structural features such as building foundations or post holes were found surrounding the privy, but it was almost certainly originally covered. The feature itself was roughly square in shape, and relatively deep when compared with the (much shallower) features that were found elsewhere on the section. This suggested that it was dug for a purpose (at this point we need not mention this purpose) other than rubbish disposal, a great example of a dis-used latrine that was filled in with refuse at a later date.

A collection of some of the unfortunate ceramic forms that had been dropped off down this loo. Image: J. Garland.

An archaeological deposit of toilet rubbish… or deposit of rubbish toilets? The image on the left shows an in situ deposit that was almost exclusively broken up sanitary ware (wash basins and toilet pans etc). The picture on the right is one of these fragments up close, which was made by Doulton and Co. ca. 1882-1891. This feature was found on the site inhabited by the Taylor and Oakley firm, who exhibited “toilet seats and other articles, painted and artistically decorated” at the Christchurch exhibition in 1884 (Star 12/1/1884: 4). It is likely that this assemblage represents broken or wasted stock from the commercial enterprise which had been deliberately smashed for easier disposal. Image: H.Williams and J. Garland.

Even if any of these forms represented broken items that had been hidden down the toilet, our finds aren’t getting anyone in trouble 150 years later. Where these clumsy individuals may have gotten caught out is when these privies were cleaned and emptied. Previous research on domestic archaeological sites the in U.S.A indicates that the typical life cycle of a privy included episodes of deposition and cleaning. The regularity of cleaning would depend on the rapidity of filling and this would naturally be related to the size of the privy, the number of users, and the kinds of deposition (Lee Decker 1994: 356). This research also suggests that some privies may have been filled in as short a time as six months, while other studies have suggested that the filling process extended over a period of several decades (Lee Decker 1994: 356). Such clean outs of privies may have been performed by a member of the household rather than a licensed ‘night soil man’ (Lee Decker 1994:356). Hamish Williams has discussed the night soil man on the blog before, – he told us that “the cargo of this fantastic public servant was collected from one’s property in the wee hours, carted away then dumped on the fringes of town. From 1886 in Christchurch, a specially converted tram was employed between the hours of midnight and 5am to take tanks of ‘night soil’ waste out to the Council’s newly established ‘rubbish reserve’ in Linwood (Alexander 1985:11). This service cost a household seven pennies a week (Clark 1878:14).”

Recently, I had the privilege (?) of analysing an artefact assemblage that came from a very special (probable) privy in Central Christchurch. Shown below, this latrine was located on the property of Cyrus Davie and his family. Davie was an early European settler to Christchurch and was employed as the town surveyor in Christchurch’s infancy. The first family home on his section was constructed by 1855, and the long-drop or cesspit feature in question was conveniently located near the site of this dwelling. This likely privy feature was identified as such because privies/long-drops are generally narrow and deep, while cesspits are generally wider then they are deep (this one had properties of the latter but due to the extent of the earthworks planed on this site, it was not able to be excavated completely).

The stratigraphic profiles of the privy feature. Image: S. Dooley.

What’s extra exciting about this site is that we found two additional, irregularly shaped deposits of dark soil, containing artefacts that were ‘scat-tered’ everywhere. These deposits were located elsewhere on the section and were identified as probable deposits of night soil (human waste). The archaeological contexts and artefact similarities identified between these deposits and the privy feature suggested that they were temporally related and it’s likely that the two night soil deposits represented clean out waste from the long drop. We also found a Thomas Hide and Edward De Carle token in one of these deposits. This may represent one of those items that were accidentally dropped down the throne, never to be seen again. After all, who actually wants to throw their money down the toilet?

One of the probable night soil deposits. The cross-section of the feature is shown on the left, and the feature after excavation is shown on the right. Image: P. Mitchell.

Wasted money… This Thomas Hide and Edward De Carle token was found in one of the night soil deposit features. It would have been used in lieu of normal currency (across the ditch), for this Melbourne Based grocery, wine and spirit merchants between 1857 and 1861 (Museums Victoria 2017). Image: J. Garland.

As mentioned, privy features are a type of deposit that can accumulate over a long period of time, but the artefacts from this example appeared to have been recovered from the same stratigraphic layer. The two night soil deposits were found in a relatively secure context – underneath another building on the property that were known to have been constructed by 1862. If these features do relate to a privy and the associated clean out deposits, the privy would have been conveniently located to the east of the main Davie house, while the privy clean out deposits would be located much further away from main house. This would have been preferable for smell and hygiene reasons.

So, while it seems most likely that this wealth of human excrement once belonged to the Davie family, they were not the only 19th century inhabitants of this section. For one short year, in 1881, the Davies leased their home to none other than Sir Julius Von Haast (the German explorer, geologist and the founder of Canterbury Museum). So maybe, just maybe, the archaeologists who excavated these features were privy to the private fecal matter of one of New Zealand’s most famous European settlers.

Chelsea Dickson

 

 

References

Alexander, M., 1985. Rails in the roads – the steam and horse tram era in Christchurch. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Transport Board / Tramway Historical Society.

Butcher, M. & Smith, I., 2010. Talking trash: classifying rubbish-bearing deposits from colonial New Zealand sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1(1): 43-61.

Clark, W. 1878. Drainage Scheme for Christchurch and the Suburbs [Online] Available at: http://canterbury.royalcommission.govt.nz/documents-by-key/20110929.36

Garland, J., Webb, K. J., Haley, J. and Bone, K., 2015. The Music Centre, 150, 154 and 156 Armagh Street: Report on Archaeological Investigations, Vol. 1. Unpublished report for The Music Centre.

LeeDecker, C. H. 1994. Discard Behaviour on Domestic Historic Sites: Evaluation of Contexts for the Interpretation of Household Consumption Patterns. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Vol. 1(4): 345-375.

Museums Victoria Collections 2017. [online] Available at: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/55261 [Accessed 09 October 2017].

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2016. Christchurch Justice & Emergency Services Precinct archaeological report. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A Short History of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Drainage Board.

Gin! That aromatic schnapps, that bright moon beam, the Mother’s Ruin…

Archaeologists and whisky go well together. I agree with that universal truth. However, I fit in the gin lovers team at the office. So, as Jessie did one year ago, I’m writing a post combining two of my favourite things: archaeology and gin.

To be honest, the blog today is also inspired by two recent personal and professional experiences. On the one hand, I’ve been on holidays in Spain and I drank a few gin and tonics over there, enjoying the warm and sunny days with family and friends. On the other hand, I’ve been working on Christchurch assemblages dominated by alcohol bottles for the last few months. And, now that I’m back in New Zealand and ready for the summer, well, I have to ask, who is the queen of that season? It is, of course, that most infernal of paradoxes, the drink that is both the fiend and that pure essence and bright spirit…Gin!

Gin and tonics. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

We’ve talked before about gin, its good and bad reputation and the uses and brands found on 19th century Christchurch sites. We even showed you several gin recipes! However, that was a long time ago and we’ve come across even more gin bottles to share with you, along with new discoveries and perspectives on this popular product, which originated in Europe as far back as the Middle Ages.

Do you think that they deserve another drink? I don’t think that I could walk over the Serpentine (my tipsy body balance is not that good)… Despite the many efforts of the Temperance Union, alcohol consumption was a common social practice and problem throughout the 19th century. Image: Auckland Star 02/07/1904: 10.

Those of you who regularly read this blog know well that bottles are the most common artefacts recovered from 19th century historical sites in Christchurch and elsewhere in New Zealand. You will also know from us that labels and embossing are the best clues we can find to guess what a bottle contained. So, here’s a few that we’ve been able to identify as gin…

The most common gin bottle type that we find is the case gin, easily identifiable and so named for the shape that allowed it to be packed and shipped to be exported to the colonies by the case load.

This case gin bottle has the remains of a red label. Unfortunately, it cannot be associated with any manufacturer or product, although it is very likely that the bottle originally contained gin. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

As well as the classic case gin bottle, we’ve found a variety of other gin bottle shapes. This appreciated and valued extract of juniper berries was stored in both ceramic and glass bottles of different shapes and sizes. The brands and manufacturers were stamped on the bottles using labels, embossing, blob seals and incised marks.

So, here we go…

OLD TOM GIN. A classic! It’s a sweeter style of gin (also referred to as a cordial) that was popular in the latter half of the 19th century. It’s having something of a renaissance at the moment, especially in cocktails, although to be honest, I prefer the drier styles of gin. The label on this  Old Tom Cordial bottle reads ‘Swaine, Boord and Co.’, referring to a company that used an “Old Tom” cat on a barrel as their trademark. This trademark was registered by Joseph Boord in 1849. There are various stories involving cats and the origin of the name, but the general consensus is that the gin was named after Thomas Chamberlain, an early 19th century distiller (Foundry, 2017). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

HENKES GENEVA. J. H. Henkes was a gin distillery located on the Voorhaven in Delftshaven, Rotterdam and established in 1824. This Dutch region was known for its gin during the 19th century. It is unclear when the distillery ceased operations, although their name continued to be trademarked in the 20th century. Actually, Henkes Schnapps was still being advertised in New Zealand in the 1920s and 1930s. The first advertisement for the J. H. Henkes gin in NZ newspapers is in 1869 and refers to ‘J. H. Henkes Prize Medal Stone Gin’ (Nelson Evening Mail 05/12/1873: 3). Images: J. Garland (left) and New Zealand Herald 17/11/1931: 3 (right).

BLANKENHEYM & NOLET’S GIN. Blankenheym and Nolet was a distillery established in 1714 in Schiedam, a Dutch city well-known for its production of Genever (or Dutch gin). It is believed that they created the ‘Oude Genever’ (Nicks Wine Merchants, 2017). Their aromatic schnapps was advertised in New Zealand from 1877 well into the 20th century and was described as ‘the purest spirit in the market’ (Evening Post 11/09/1901: 2). By the end of the 19th century, the circular impressed marks were being replaced with paper labels and by the early 20th century the stoneware bottles themselves were declining in popularity (Garland et al. 2014: 158-169). Images: M. Lillo Bernabeu (left) and Evening Post 11/09/1901: 2 (right).

BOOTH’S DRY GIN. Booth’s were established in the 16th century as wine merchants, but by 1740 they had begun operating a distillery in London (Difford’s Guide 2014). Their products remained popular during the 19th and 20th centuries and Booth’s gin was heavily advertised in New Zealand newspapers of the period. Booth’s got the highest award from the Institute of Hygiene (the origin of the Society of Public Health) as the purest and finest Dry Gin, fair enough to taste it! Image: M. L. Bernabeu (left) and Press 13/02/1935: 16 (right).

GILBEY’S GIN. Brothers Walter and Alfred Gilbey founded their business in 1857 in London, as wine and spirits merchants and soon began to produce spirits, particularly London dry gin (Difford’s Guide 2017). The third brother, Henry, joined the firm in 1865. They opened branches in Ireland, Scotland and by the 1920s the company also had gin distilleries in Australia and Canada (Difford’s Guide 2017). Gilbey’s gin was widely advertised in New Zealand newspapers from the end of 19th century onwards. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu (left) and New Zealand Herald 24/05/1932:15 (right).

Do you like flavoured gin? Have a look at this special Gilbey’s Orange Gin made from the ‘pure juice of the Seville orange’. I still prefer the original sour taste of this marvellous schnapps… Image: Press 1/04/1934: 13.

BOLS GIN. Erven Lucas Bols, Lootsje, Amsterdam was a company formed in the late 16th century in the business of producing, distributing, selling and marketing gin and other liquors. By the 1820s, the distillery introduced a new gin, defined by a better balance of malt wine, neutral grain alcohol and botanicals (Bols Amsterdam 2017). Despite its claim to be the oldest distillery brand in the world, Bols Gin was first mentioned in New Zealand newspapers in the 1920s, described as ‘a tonic 350 years old’ supplied by ‘hotels, clubs or merchants’ (New Zealand Herald 19/10/1925: 13). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu (left) and New Zealand Herald 19/10/1925: 13 (right).

Bols Gin is well worth a mention, because it seems to be (supposedly) the perfect pick-me-up…if you are a sports person, a businessman (or woman), if you feel sick, tired or want to sleep well and wake up fresh, that’s it! A shot of gin will work it out! Have you taken yours? I got my one! See below to find yours!

Do you feel sick or a bit weak? Are you a hay fever sufferer? Get into the gin! (New Zealand Herald 14/01/1926: 10).

Do you play cricket, bowling, tennis? After your physical effort, you deserve the gin! (New Zealand Truth 25/07/1925: 6).

If you like playing football, you also need a refreshment after a strenuous match to recover energy! (New Zealand Herald 20/07/1925: 10).

That’s my one! Finally, I’ve found the antidote to keep me awake the whole day, particularly at ‘siesta’ (nap) time. The secret of my happiness and joy… (New Zealand Herald 23/07/1925: 7).

It is also quite common to have trouble sleeping sometimes… (New Zealand Herald 23/11/1925: 7).

At this point, we have everything we need to enjoy a nip of gin: several brands to choose and a range of perfect excuses to drink it! To complete this heavenly sin, the archaeological record also offers us what we need: a glass. Glass table ware is often encountered on Christchurch sites, mostly fragmented and incomplete. While the tumblers were probably used as drinking vessels for either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages, stemmed drinking glasses were exclusively intended for alcoholic drinks such as sherry, port, brandy, cognac, champagne, sparkling wines and why not? Gin or maybe whisky?

Tumblers (top) and stemmed drinking glasses (bottom). The two bright glasses are my favourite! They are decorated with a diamond pattern in an unusual shade of lime green. These were made of glass known as uranium glass, ‘canary’ glass or ‘vaseline’ glass, containing oxide diuranate uranium as a colouring agent (Jones 2000: 147). It became popular during the mid-19th century, in particular from the 1880s until the 1920s (Jones 2000: 147). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

As we keep uncovering 19th century artefacts, the information about alcohol consumption in Christchurch is continuously updating. But let me finish as I began, referring to my lovely colleagues. I would like to send a message to the majority of whisky drinkers at the office. Will you be able to resist the charms of the Mother’s Ruin?

Otago Daily Times 28/04/1927: 4.

Perhaps, you will become gin lovers sooner that you might think, keeping in mind that ‘good gin makes and ideal morning refresher…with ginger ale, squash and soda, ginger beer or tonic water’ (heaps of choices, including yummy ice cream!) and the summer is coming… (although I’m aware of your whisky loyalty, my buddies!). I’m not trying to persuade you all to convert, I promise…

New Zealand Herald 7/01/1925.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Auckland Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed October 2017]

Bols Amsterdam, 2017. [online] Available at https://bols.com/brand-promise [Accessed October 2017]

Difford’s Guide, 2017. History of Gin (1831-1953). [online] Available at https://www.diffordsguide.com/encyclopedia/1060/bws/history-of-gin-1831-to-1953 [Accessed October 2017]

Evening Post. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed October 2017]

Foundry, G., 2017. An Intro to Old Tom Gin. [online] Available at http://www.ginfoundry.com/insights/introduction-old-tom-gin/ [Accessed October 2017].

Garland, J., Carter, M. and Geary Nichol, R., 2014. The Terrace, M35/1050, Christchurch: Report on Archaeological Investigations, Vol. 1. Unpublished report for Hereford Holdings.

Jones, O. R., 2000. A Guide to Dating Glass Tableware: 1800 – 1940. In Karklins, K. (Ed). Studies in Material Culture Research. Society for Historical Archaeology, Pennsylvania.

Nelson Evening Mail. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed October 2017]

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed October 2017]

New Zealand Trust. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed October 2017]

Nicks Wine Merchants, 2017. Blankenheym & Nolet Oude Genever. [online] Available at https://www.nicks.com.au/blankenheym-nolet-oude-genever-jenever-1000ml [Accessed October 2017]

Stichting Vrienden van de Oude, 2011. Pelgrimvaderskerk Rotterdam-Delfshaven [online] Available at http://www.pilgrimfatherschurch.org/en/history-of-delfshaven [Accessed October 2017]

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed October 2017]

Van Kessel, I. 2002. Merchants, Missionaries & Migrants: 300 years of Dutch- Ghanian Relations.

 

The spoils of oils

We all know that fish oil is great for our skin and hair but does the use of whale oil tickle your moral compass? It was utilised for many household purposes during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and today we will take a look at a couple of men who made a big splash in the whale oil industry.

Not too long ago, a miniature vial was found in one of our artefact assemblages from Christchurch’s Central City. This vessel had “Ezra Kelley” embossed on the base, which we traced to a 19th century watchmaker from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Ezra Kelley was a special fellow in the 19th century watchmaking and repairing scene, because he was the first maker to commercially use oil from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish (pilot whales) to lubricate watch mechanisms (Goodwin 2016). Prior to this, olive and vegetable oils were used instead. Oil extracted from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish had been used by carpenters to sharpen their tools without the risk of rust since 1816, but it wasn’t until 1829 that the sailor, Solomon Cook, sent the first batch of blackfish jaw oil to Kelley for testing (Goodwin 2016). Kelley found it superior to all other oils, as it didn’t congeal at low temperatures, nor did it rust brass, and its light and fine properties also gave it a low freezing point. This made it a suitable, year-round lubricant for delicate machinery such as clocks, watches, and sewing machines (at a lower grade, sperm whale oil was advertised as best for sewing machines, firearms, and telegraphs; Goodwin 2016). In 1884, Kelley began selling this new oil (supplied by the Cook family), for a whopping US $5-$15 per gallon, which converts to around US $111 – $333 in today’s money (Goodwin 2016). As a comparison, a barrel of modern crude oil, contains 42 gallons and sells for $90-$110 (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale oil was so expensive at this time due to supply and demand, but also for one other key reason – it’s lubrication properties were worth it (Cherrybalmz 2017).

Ezra Kelley watch oil bottle found in the Central City. Image: C. Dickson.

Sperm Sewing Oil! Also found in Christchurch Central City, this bottle probably contained a lower grade of whale oil than what Kelley made. Image: C. Dickson.

Just like a fine wine, Kelley’s oil improved with age. The processing of his blackfish oil included a two-year aging stage after the oil had been gently heated to remove excess water. Processors then spread the oil out into thin layers and slowly froze it, causing any solids to precipitate within it, which could be later strained through a cloth. The more competently this process was carried out, and the fresher the oil was, the better the grade of lubricant could be produced – the premium Blackfish grades could operate reliably below -50°F (-45.6 degrees Celsius; Cherrybalmz 2017). So, you could be cold, but you’d always know what time it is.

Ezra Kelley oil advertisement c. 1890. Image.

It seems that Kelley’s major failing was that his oil sold too profitably. All his success didn’t go unnoticed by the rival oil seller, William Foster Nye, who originally dealt in other oil types, like burning oils, castor oil and salad oil. After witnessing Kelley’s success, Nye subsequently developed a method for processing “fish jaw oil” – capitalising on Kelley’s discoveries and managing to secure a British distributor six months after his first advertisement. Having captured the British market, Nye was able to undercut his predecessor’s prices by offering large discounts to his customers and he was so successful at this that he managed to absorb Kelley’s business by 1896 (Zabawski 2017). Within the year, the new company was responsible for nine-tenths of the global supply of fish jaw oil raw materials and it ran a monopoly of the industry that would last until the decline of whaling during the next century (Nye 2017, Zabawski 2017). However, the end of whaling didn’t spell the end for Nye -the fish jaw oil continued to be sold into the 1970s, but the threat of whale extinction and the technological advances of synthetic oils ended the company’s reliance on blackfish/porpoises and the era of synthetic fluids began (Zabawski 2017). Due to their ability to adapt, the Nye oil company remains in operation today (Nye 2017).

Nye advertisement. Date unknown. Image.

‘Watching’ an 1886 whale massacre… Image: Attic Paper.

Massachusetts, where Kelley and Nye were both based, was once a hub for whale oil production. Specifically, New Bedford Massachusetts was such a busy whaling port that it was known as “The City That Lit the World” and, “The Whaling City”, because during the 19th century, it was one of the most important whaling ports in the world, along with Nantucket, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut (Huntington 2009). This American whaling industry had a strong focus on spermaceti (the waxy oil found in the head of sperm whales), named after an initial misconception that the substance was the coagulated semen of sperm whales… Unfortunate naming aside, this oil type was commonly used in candle manufacture and in oil lamps when distilled – its natural properties produced bright, clear flames when burnt, without excess smoke (McNamara 2017).

As most Kiwis know, New Zealand was not exempt from what we now consider to be a barbaric industry. Eighteenth and 19th century whaling ships visited the waters around the country, and this natural resource began to be exploited off our coasts before New Zealand was even settled by Europeans. The industry began to decline here by the early 1840s, as over exploited whales became scarce and New Zealand’s new government imposed duties and port charges on whaling ships (Phillips 2006). Occasionally, American whaling ships still visited in the mid-1800s, the last of which was probably the Charles W. Morgan, in 1894 (Phillips 2006). However, pilot whales to this day are notorious for stranding on our beaches, and beached whales continued to be used as a resource in the 20th century.

Cutting up the blubber of beached pilot whales. New Zealand, 1911? Arthur James Northwood (1881-1949) Image.

Men boiling down blackfish blubber, Tokerau Beach. Taaffe, James Thomas Benjamin, d 1971: Photographs of the Far North district, Northland region. Ref: 1/2-026801-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23070974. Image. Date unknown.

Clearly, 18th and 19th century society didn’t share the modern distaste for the whaling industry. As you’ve seen, Kelley and Nye’s advertisements for their whale oil often pictured the graphic scenes depicting whales being caught and processed, and given how successful these companies were, this violence can’t have been a deterrent for sales. Herman Melville also provides us with insight into how revered whale products were – calling whale oil “as rare as the milk of queens” in his classic, Moby Dick, which was written in this era (Melville 1851). Essentially, the entire industry is a parallel to crude oil in today’s market, given the similarities in costs, peoples dependence on it and its range of applications.

These applications included not only lubrication and illumination, but also the manufacture of soaps, paint, varnish, margarine, and as a treatment for textiles and rope. “Whalebone” which was commonly found in corsets, was not actually what it describes – it was not bone, but baleen from whales (a form of keratin – the same material as human fingernails), and its purpose is to filter plankton into whales mouths. Baleen is strong but flexible (which are similar properties to that of plastic), and it was not only used in other attire like shirt collars and eyeglass frames, but also for buggy whips, hair and chimney brushes and umbrellas (Cherrybalmz 2017). It was also featured as a key component of early springs, including carriage, mattress, and piano springs (Cherrybalmz 2017). To continue with the industry comparison, in 1891 a pound of ‘whalebone’ was worth up to US $7 – that’s nearly $200 per pound today! (Cherrybalmz 2017). In 1882, a single whale produced 6000 gallons of oil and 2550 pounds of baleen, for a combined worth of $11,200 – or roughly a quarter million dollars in today’s money – and this was just from one animal! (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale teeth (or ivory) were also marketable to whalers, but these yielded smaller profits than whale oil. Teeth were regularly carved by whalers in a practice known as scrimshaw, and they often featured intricate designs and nautical themes. Such artefacts are now collectors’ items and museum pieces, providing historians with a glimpse into the whaling industry through the depictions rendered by those who drove it.

A New Zealand example of scrimshaw depicting the whaling ship ‘Pacific’ and compass points, which were formed by intersecting harpoons. The tooth is inscribed with “28th January 1860, Captain Sherburd”. The reverse is inscribed with a poem reading: “Sudden death to our best friends. Success to their killers long life to our Sailors’ wives and greasy luck to the whalers.” This ship was reported in the Otago Daily Times as sinking on the 13th of February 1864 at Patterson’s inlet on Stewart Island in a heavy westerly gale. Image.

Thankfully, since the decline of the whaling industry in the late 19th century and the development of new technologies, most of the applications of whale oil have been replaced with superior products – margarine is now made with vegetable oil and lamps began to be filled with cleaner, less smelly, and cheaper kerosene. It was a relief to many in the 1920s when fashion moved away from women wearing corsets, but those who still want to add a little ‘boning’ support to a frock, now use plastic instead of baleen. The vocal anti-whaling sentiment is strong among New Zealanders today, and since 1978, whales within New Zealand’s 200-nautical-mile (370 km) zone have been protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. A short time later, in 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling, which has all but eliminated the use of whale oil today. Cheers Greenpeace!

Chelsea Dickson

 

References

Cherrybalmz 2017. Gun lubricant history: Sperm whale oil. [online] available at: http://www.cherrybalmz.com/history-sperm-whale-oil

Goodwin, P. 2016. Ezra Kelley Watch Oil [online] Available at: http://educators.mysticseaport.org/artifacts/ezra_kelley_watch_oil/

Huntington, T. 2009. “Treasure Trove of Documents Discovered in Whaling Town,” American Heritage.

McNamara, R. 2017. Whaling industry produced oil, candles, and household tools: whales were the raw materials for many useful objects In the 1800s. [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/products-produced-from-whales-1774070

Nye 2017. A History of Nye: The Beginning of Cilliam F. Nye Inc. [online] Available at: https://www.nyelubricants.com/stuff/contentmgr/files/0/582d6e5844567263cbd951ebdb44f573/en/nye_history_overview.pdf

Phillips, J. 2006. ‘Whaling – Ship-based whaling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/whaling/page-1 (Accessed 14 September 2017)

Zabawski. E. 2017. Purposeful porpoise oil. [online] available at: http://www.stle.org/files/TLTArchives/2017/01_January/From_the_Editor.aspx