An archaeological treasure trove!

As explained at length in the past, archaeologists don’t much like the use of the word ‘treasure‘. But this really is an archaeological treasure trove – lots and lots of artefacts, from which we shall learn lots and lots of fantastic information. Angel is responsible for this beautifully excavated feature, which we think was probably associated with the London and Paris House, a fancy goods store on Colombo Street in the 1860s and early 1870s. Enjoy!

The beginning… Image: A. Trendafilov.

This brick-lined feature was, as you can see, chock-full of artefacts, most of which were concentrated at the top of the feature, indicating that there were at least two deposition events. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A slightly different view of the feature. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A fabulous water filter, from London (it’s the second one of these we’ve found, but this one’s far more complete). Image: A. Trendafilov.

The base of that fabulous water filter. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Barry’s Tricopherous… Image: A. Trendafilov.

Ceramics, waiting to be excavated. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A cup, possibly bearing a message for a child? Image: A. Trendafilov.

All done! Well, nearly. Next up: analysis and research and more great stories! Image: A. Trendafilov.

A happy archaeologist! Image: H. Williams.

The Trooper

Ceramics have been decorated to commemorate a range of events, people and places since long before the 19th century. The practice is particularly tied to British royalty, with some rather intense results. While tankards, jugs, plaques, mugs and miniature wares are most commonly decorated for commemorative purposes, a number of different ceramic types could be used in this manner (Perry 2011). The subject of the blog today is inspired by two mustard jars from Christchurch that commemorate events from the Crimean War. The Crimean War occurred from 1853 to 1856. Caused by the failing Ottoman Empire and power struggles between countries over religious rights of access to the Holy Land, two key parts of the war are depicted on these household artefacts, the Siege of Sevastopol (also known as Sebastopol) and the Battle of Balaklava (or Balaclava; Goldi Productions Ltd 1996 & 2000Wikipedia 2017).

Source caption: “Episode of the Siege of Sebastopol During the Crimean War in 1855”, dated 19th century and credited to Adolphe Yvon. Image: Wikipedia 2015.

The first of these came from the large Justice Precinct site in the city centre. It was decorated with polychrome transfer print in a style often identified as ‘prattware’. Prattware refers to polychrome underglaze transfer printed scenes that were associated with the manufacturers F. & R. Pratt & Co. Ltd (Perry 2010). This particular jar featured a scene known as the ‘The Fall of Sebastopol 8th Sept. 1855’ (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This scene refers to one of the classic sieges of the Crimean War, which aimed to capture the significant Russian naval base in the port of Sevastopol, on the Black Sea (Bunting 2017).

Mustard jar decorated with the Fall of Sevastopol.

The print depicts and names Sir Harry Jones, the famous British military man who served in the Crimean War as commander of the British forces at the battle of Bomarsund and of the Royal Engineer forces at the Siege of Sevastopol (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). Most descriptions of this pattern presume that Sir Harry Jones is the figure on the stretcher in the scene, although there is no record of his being wounded during the battle. The full title of the pattern includes the date 8th September 1855, when the Battle of Malakoff occurred and the Russian forces began to withdraw (Atkinson 1911: 451-453; Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017).

The second mustard jar base was found on a residential site just outside the city centre. The whiteware jar had a polychrome transfer printed design depicting a battle and the words “The/…OON/CHAR…” around the base. This would have formed the full phrase: “THE DRAGOON CHARGE” (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This print depicts the Battle of Balaklava fought on 25 October 1854 as a part of the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. The Battle of Balaklava was a Russian assault on the British allied supply base that involved the famous Thin Red Line military tactic and the infamously deadly Charge of the Light Brigade (Wikipedia 2017).

‘The Dragoon Charge’ underglaze print on the Prattware mustard jar.

 

Source caption: “The Russian camp at the Genoese Castle, Balaklava.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Although no maker’s marks were evident on the base of either jar, examples of the same printed Prattware are attributed to the manufacturers John Thomas and Joseph Mayer. Thomas and Mayer manufactured pottery in Longport, Burslem, Staffordshire between 1842 and 1855 (Kowalsky & Kowalsky 1999: 274). The date range for the operation of the Thomas and Mayer company and the commemorative nature of the prints suggests a manufacturing date in the 1850s, possibly as early as late 1854 to 1855. This would have taken place while the Crimean war was still ongoing.

Although little remembered today, the Crimean War is often described as the “first truly modern war” (Groll and Frankel 2014). With the advent of new technology, industry and weaponry, the resulting high casualty rate marked this event as a significant moment in the mid-19th century. In addition to this, the perceptions of the war were shaped by real-time journalistic coverage and photographic documentation by Roger Fenton. Due to the process involved in setting up and taking photography at the time, Fenton was limited to producing images of still (sometimes staged) moments in between the carnage. Depictions of the fighting seem to be limited to paintings and prints made during the war by artist-correspondents or after the war.

Source caption: “Roger Fenton himself dressed in a Zouave uniform holding rifle. Zouaves were crack infantry units, originally composed of Algerians. During the Crimean War, Zouaves served with the French Army, allies of the British. Fenton’s self-portrait in the costume indicates the high regard the British felt for the Zouaves.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Source caption: “Two versions of the widely-acknowledged ‘first iconic war photograph’ entitled The Valley of the Shadow of Death. The lower one shows cannonballs on the road whereas above shows the road clear of ammunition. Historians have concluded that Fenton may have moved the cannonballs into the road to enhance the image. An alternative view is that soldiers were gathering the missiles for re-use and had thrown them onto the road to make them easier to collect.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Source caption: “British soldiers pose for a photographs during a break.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Polychrome transfer printed scenes like this were used on ceramic food containers throughout the latter half of the 19th century, although they are not common on Christchurch archaeological sites. The jars are an example of commemorative objects available for consumption in the wake of significant events. The participation of British soldiers in the Battle of Balaklava in particular was seen as an example of some of the finest heroic fighting of the war and many depictions of this heroism were created in art and literature (Bunting 2017). These kinds of physical reminders of formative events in national identity have been noted elsewhere in discussions of commemorative products depicting the 1899 South African War, particularly with regards to the connections between colonial and national ideologies (Lucas 2004). Although New Zealand was not directly involved in this conflict, British soldiers who fought in the war later emigrated to New Zealand (New Zealand Crimean War Veterans 2017). Such an event was part of the collective memory of 19th century British national identity, as evident in other depictions of the battle such as paintings and in the poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. As such, the presence of objects commemorating the Crimean War in 19th century New Zealand archaeological sites demonstrate these links to important historical events.

The Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb, 1881. Image: Wikipedia 2017.

The remembrance of aspects of the Crimean War continued through to the modern era. Lord Tennyson’s poem in particular formed the platform for later adaptations of and references to the event. The Charge of the Light Brigade was immortalised on screen in 1912, 1936 and 1968. Each version varies greatly in how it depicts the events of the war, in line with the time period and popular movie styles of the period. The poem has echoes in modern pop culture as Lord Tennyson’s poem formed the basis of the 1983 Iron Maiden song ‘The Trooper’ and references in movies and TV shows from Saving Private Ryan to Top Gear to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Megan Hickey

References

Atkinson, C. F., 1911. Crimean War. In Chisholm, H. (Ed). Encyopaedia Brittanica 7 (11th Edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kowalsky, A and Kowalsky, D. 1999. Encyclopaedia of Marks On American, and European Earthernware, Ironstone and Stoneware 1780-1980. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Atglen.

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2017. The Dragoon Charge – Balaklava [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/tcc2/data/patterns/d/the-dragoon-charge-balaklava/ [Accessed 05 May 2017].

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.

Spirits, skittles and a stolen goose: the life and times of the Caversham Hotel

John Bent leaned over and grabbed the goose. There was a whole flock of them in the street—surely one wouldn’t be missed? It was 11pm, and he had been drinking heavily all night. In his muddled state it seemed like a good idea. “Leave it alone,” his mate Edward Banks warned him. He too was drunk. But Bent ignored him, and the two men walked off with the bird. From his seat in the Caversham Hotel, Robert Hallam saw all this happen, and he told Smith, the hotel’s proprietor, that one of his geese was being nicked. This was not the first time the hotel had lost one of its flock. They were worth 8 shillings each, and Smith was determined not to lose another one. He rushed outside and called to Bent to drop the goose, who, in his panic, threw it over a fence. The next day, Constable Jeffreys paid Bent a visit. Bent said that he knew nothing about the matter but, so that no further bother had to be made, offered to pay for the goose. The constable was not interested in Bent’s simple solution and instead charged him with theft. He was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment (Lyttelton Times 6/5/1868: 2).

During the nineteenth century, hotels were gathering places for the community and sites for a variety of events, and the Caversham Hotel was no exception. As expected, the local newspapers were filled with stories of drunken and disorderly behaviour and the occasional petty theft, but the hotel was also a recreational place for many people to enjoy a meal and some entertainment, as well as a home for others. Its walls witnessed the everyday life of its visitors and residents. The theft of Smith’s goose in 1868 is just one of an infinite number of small stories that make up the history of the Caversham Hotel.

When John Franklin Smart opened Caversham House (as it was then called) on the corner of Madras and St Asaph streets in 1852, that part of Christchurch was the edge of the struggling new settlement, but by the time the hotel closed in 1910, it had been engulfed by the growing city. Smart’s choice of that area was strategic, and he was able to take advantage of traffic passing in and out of Christchurch. As soon as the hotel opened, he advertised in the Lyttelton Times:

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

In 1862 John Townsend Parkinson, the new proprietor of the hotel, remodelled and enlarged the building, renaming his premises the Caversham Hotel (Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1). It seemed to have been a good year for Parkinson. On Anniversary Day (originally held in December), he was “feeling desirous of giving his friends and the public an opportunity of enjoying themselves” and set up games of quoits, greasy pole (climbing a greased pole), jumping in sacks and donkey racing in the paddocks adjoining the hotel (Lyttelton Times 13/12/1862: 5).

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

In February 1863, Parkinson’s good feelings had changed, and he poisoned himself with strychnine. Poor business decisions as well as the recent hotel work had put him deeply into debt. Several days before his death, the hotel’s barman noticed that Parkinson seemed to be inattentive and disordered. To Parkinson’s wife, who knew nothing about his financial difficulties, he appeared to be in a cheerful mood. When he heard that news of his debt had been published in a report, he sent an advertisement to the Standard offering a reward of £20 for delivery of the “scoundrel” who had written it. The next morning, he decided to take his own life. Soon after swallowing the strychnine, the barman found him on his bed in a seizure. The doctor was called, but the poison had taken its effect and Parkinson died (Lyttelton Times 7/2/1863: 4).

After Parkinson’s death, John Franklin Smart took over the hotel again, and by the end of 1863, Thomas Howes had taken up its management (Press 23/7/1863: 5; Lyttelton Times 14/3/1863: 6). The next year, the hotel was put up for sale:

The main amusement of the Caversham Hotel, like other licensed hotels, was the bar. Over nearly 60 years, the hotel sold a range of wines, ales and spirits. As luck would have it, a few artefacts were found at this site which reflected this drinking culture. These were commonly found bottle types which would have contained beer, wine and gin. As is typical of hotel sites (where patrons dined as well as drank), a serving tureen, salad oil bottles and wide mouth jars which may have contained other condiments or food were also uncovered. The most exciting find was a large flagon that may have once provided cider, beer or water to the hotel guests (Oswald et al. 1982: 74). The flagon was largely intact, and was made by Stephen Green Imperial Pottery Factory, in Lambeth, between 1820 and 1858 (Godden 1991: 289). What was unusual about this vessel was the maker’s mark – it contained the phrase “glass lined inside.” Now lining the inside of a hefty ceramic beverage container with fragile glass didn’t seem like a smart idea to me – but luckily it mustn’t have to Stephen Green either – the phrase actually refers to the glaze of the vessel. Specifically, when the outer vessel was salt-glazed, the inside was glazed with liquid prior to firing (Wood 2014: 102).

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker's mark. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker’s mark. Image: C. Dickson.

This flagon was extra cool because its manufacturing date supported our idea that these artefacts were likely to have been thrown away into an open roadside drain, and accumulated over time. This accumulation would have happened between the formation of St Asaph Street in the 1850s and the laying of the adjacent lateral wastewater pipeline in 1882 – this pipeline forms part of a broader network of waste water pipes dating to the 1880s in central Christchurch. Much of this network is still present and in use today. In fact, last year we uncovered another section of this earthenware pipeline which had a manufacturer’s mark revealing that the Christchurch Drainage Board imported the city’s sewage pipes from Scotland, rather than being locally sourced (ArchSite 2015).

In addition to being an accommodation house and pub, the Caversham Hotel provided games such as billiards and skittles, an early form of bowling that dates back to ancient times and is the forerunner of today’s 10-pin bowling. Its association with pubs and good times is summed up in the expression ‘Life isn’t all beer and skittles’. The game could be played outside on a lawn or inside in an alley and was seen as a working-class amusement that often included gambling (Lyttelton Times 20/6/1865: 6). The Caversham Hotel was one of a handful of establishments that had an indoor alley, and it was the scene of several petty crimes in the 1870s. In 1874 Joseph Hannan stole a purse, pipe and about £5 from Charles Oliver, who had fallen asleep on a bench in the alley, and in 1877 Richard Coleman was found guilty of taking a coat from a table (Star 19/6/1874: 2 and 12/3/1877: 2). During the 1880s the hotel also had an outdoor skittle ground, which was the site of several competitive matches during the decade (Star 31/1/1885: 2).

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

 In 1882, owner Edward Ravenhill had the ageing hotel rebuilt in brick (Press 16/5/1882: 4). Fifteen years later, in 1897, the hotel was again in need of repairs, and Ravenhill had the building pulled down and rebuilt on the site with “all modern conveniences” and “every comfort” (Press 11/11/1897: 8). The furniture and effects from the old hotel were sold at auction, and they included, among other things, a billiard table, two pianos, bedsteads, washstands, mats and carpets, 50 Australian chairs, Japanese chairs, kitchen utensils, 50 pictures and even “stuffed birds in cases” (Star 7/8/1897: 5).

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

During the demolition work, an 1815 copy of Volume VI of A Select British Theatre was found, reportedly in excellent condition and “quite as good as when it was first issued” (Press 7/6/1897: 5). It contained five plays adapted for the theatre by John Philip Kemble. Who owned this volume? A theatre lover who stayed at the hotel? A university student who stopped in for a drink one night? A thief who hid the book to avoid the constable? The history of the book will remain a mystery, but it shows how diverse life at the hotel was.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Ravenhill’s new hotel did not last long.  In 1910 the building was sold at auction in sections for removal, ending its 58-year history. The auction lots included a two-roomed cottage measuring 22 by 16 feet, 35 doors with frames, iron of all sizes, tiled grates, mantelpieces, pipes, boilers, shelving, gates, signposts and timber of every description (Press 7/2/1910: 12).

Jill Haley and Chelsea Dickson

References:

ArchSite, 2015. M35/1353. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

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

Lyttelton Times [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed August 2016].

Oswald, A., Hildyard, R. J. C. & Hughes, R., G. 1982. English Brown Stoneware 1670-1900. Faber and Faber Limited., London.

Press [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed August 2016].

Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed August 2016].

Wood, F., L., 2014. The World of British Stoneware: It’s History, Manufacture and Wares. Troubador Publishing Ltd.

The Big House in a little town

The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons

– Fyodor Dostoevsky

One of the challenges faced by any new colony is what to do with the non-conformists, renegades, and criminals. The ideal, of course, is that your new paradise will be carefully designed to have eliminated these undesirable elements. The reality, however, is far from the ideal. The first lock-up in the Canterbury (consisting of three blockhouses) was located in Akaroa, a significant distance away from the growing towns of Christchurch and Lyttelton (Gee 1975: 5). These blockhouses appear to have been used until John Godley arrived on the scene in April 1850 and was appointed as the resident magistrate of Lyttelton (Gee 1875: 7). With his appointment, the location of the lock-ups/gaols moved to the fledgling port-town instead. The earliest gaols in Lyttelton were improvised and, for some enterprising fellows, rather portable. One particularly slapstick story of a runaway gaol involves some opportunistic pranking by the future gaol warden, Edward Seagar:

One night the prisoners in the lock-up, a flimsy, A-frame construction, took up the floor boards, lifted the building and walked away with it. Seagar arranged ropes and stakes in such a way that the escapees unknowingly headed towards the police station further down the hill (Young 2014).

The landing of passengers from the Charlotte Jane, Randolph, Cressy, and Sir George Seymour in Lyttelton c. 1850. Plenty of open space for pranks. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

The landing of passengers from the Charlotte Jane, Randolph, Cressy, and Sir George Seymour in Lyttelton c. 1850. Plenty of open space for pranks. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

The first permanent gaol buildings in the settlement were constructed between 1851 and c.1857-1861 on Oxford Street, using both hired and prison labour (Gee 1975: 8, 10). Later buildings followed the design of B. W. Mountfort, who also designed the Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum (Heritage New Zealand 2016). The decision to construct a gaol in a small town like Lyttelton may seem odd to us today, but the reasoning was fairly straightforward. Lyttelton was the bigger town at the time and the new buildings replaced the earlier makeshift prisons near the contemporary police station and court (Gee 1975: 10).

The Lyttelton Gaol, date unknown. Image: Cyclopedia Company Limited 1903. A later image of the gaol c. 1900 can be viewed here.

The Lyttelton Gaol, date unknown. Image: Cyclopedia Company Limited 1903. A later image of the gaol c. 1900 can be viewed here.

Early conditions in this gaol, according to some commentators, had something of a Dickensian feel:

The early days were those of the cat [of nine tails whip] and the triangle, of the 70lb dragging irons, the days of scanty clothing, poor food, the days when the warder was king (Gee 1975: 2).

Others have argued that, in light of the standards at the time, the treatment of the prisoners was not quite as cruel as it may seem to us today (Gee 1975: 10). Conditions were hampered by one major issue which arose in this early period – the swelling gaol population. This population growth was exacerbated by the incarceration of debtors and the mentally ill. The housing of the mentally ill at the gaol was particularly concerning to many (Young 2014). The young townships of Lyttelton and Christchurch simply did not have the facilities to deal with these patients at the time. To their credit, it was intended that the patients be housed in the new Christchurch Hospital, until there was a furore in response to this plan (Gee 1975: 35). The population pressures eased with the construction of Sunnyside Asylum in 1863, and the opening of the prison in Addington in the 1870s (Gee 1975: 30, 87).

Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum. Image: Te Papa O.034082.

Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum. Image: Te Papa O.034082.

Part of the Addington Prison complex, c. 2005. Image: Wikimedia Commons. The prison is now a backpackers.

Part of the Addington Prison complex, c. 2005. Image: Wikimedia Commons. The prison is now a backpackers.

The position of the gaol within town life is quite interesting. As illustrated in the image above, the large Gothic style buildings were quite a dominating feature of the town. In addition to this, the prisoners were involved with a number of town works (discussed further below) and services which ensured a high public presence (Heritage New Zealand 2016). These services included a printing shop, a laundrette for the Lyttelton Hospital and Orphanage and the Immigration Department, and a baking contract for the orphanage (Gee 1975: 17). However, one comment from a resident regarding the communities’ view of the gaol (made after the demolition of the gaol in the 1920s) is particularly telling:

We never thought about the gaol.  We just knew it was there and that was it. But many people couldn’t have been pleased about it because there are few photographs of it and no paintings as far as I have found (C. Fletcher in Gee 1975: 87).

A rather macabre aspect of the prison, which feels particularly repugnant to us today, is that between 1868 and 1918 seven men convicted of murder were executed at the gaol. This was an aspect of the gaol that was a source of curiosity for some of the younger residents, but of dread for most. One resident stated: “In a little place like Lyttelton the knowledge of an impending execution used to hang like a pall over the whole town” (I. Gray in Gee 1975: 47). It is quite a stretch for me to imagine a community continuing with their daily lives in the anticipation of such an event. Executions appear to have been so entrenched in the town’s psyche that despite the fact that the bell did not toll for the last execution in 1918, many residents insist they remember it ringing (Gee 1975: 47).

A poem by Basil Dowling. The role of the hangman was a necessary part of the justice system, which carried a heavy stigma for the men who did the job. There are a number of cases where officers had to smuggle the hangman in to avoid the curiosity and/or anger of the general public.

A poem by Basil Dowling. The role of the hangman was a necessary part of the justice system, but carried a heavy stigma for the men who did the job. There are a number of cases where officers had to smuggle the hangman in on the eve of the execution to avoid the curiosity and/or anger of the general public.

The archaeological legacy of the prison and prisoners remain visible in many aspects of the town today. All that remains of the gaol itself are concrete retaining walls, a small block of cells, pedestrian pathways and concrete steps. These remains are an important archaeological site, particularly as they are demonstrative of some of the earliest use of concrete in New Zealand (Heritage New Zealand 2016).

The remaining cells and concrete walls of the prison. Image: A. Bulovic, 2013 Peeling Back History.

The remaining cells and concrete walls of the prison. Image: A. Bulovic, 2013 Peeling Back History.

However, we can also see the influence of the gaol on the Lyttelton settlement through other features of the town. Prisoners sentenced to hard labour were part of gangs put to work on public works, such as road formation and retaining wall construction. In particular, the red volcanic retaining walls constructed during this period have been described as a distinctive part of the townscape. Unfortunately, as with much of Lyttelton’s heritage, a number of these walls have been repaired or replaced after the damage from the earthquakes.

Earthquake damaged walls at the corner of Coleridge Terrace and Dublin Street. Image: M. Hickey, 2015.

Earthquake damaged walls at the corner of Coleridge Terrace and Dublin Street. Image: M. Hickey, 2015.

 The newly constructed concrete wall on Sumner Road, with partial re-facing using the volcanic stone from the demolished wall. The re-facing will occur on as many of the key retaining walls across the town, as funding allows. Image: M. Hickey, 2016.

The newly constructed concrete wall on Sumner Road, with partial re-facing using the volcanic stone from the demolished wall. The re-facing will occur on as many of the key retaining walls across the town as funding allows. Image: M. Hickey, 2016.

A collapsed wall at 61 St Davids Street. Image: M. Hickey, 2016.

A collapsed wall at 61 St Davids Street. Image: M. Hickey, 2016.

The same wall after deconstruction and reconstruction work (all completed by hand). Image: M. Hickey, 2016.

The same wall after deconstruction and reconstruction work (all completed by hand). Image: M. Hickey, 2016.

The port also benefited from convict labour in the form of reclamation construction and wharf building (Gee 1975: 17). Another notable site of works is the fortifications at Ripapa Island, which were constructed in the 1860s and 1870s by the Hard Labour Gang and were even used to house some prisoners (Gee 1975: 22). Prisoners housed on the island reportedly included members of the Parihaka resistance movement in Taranaki in 1880s (Donna R 2014). These men are remembered today during a service on the 5th of November each year and a memorial at Rapaki (Lyttelton Community House Trust 2013).

In many ways, the Lyttelton Gaol was a product of its time; the morality of Victorian Britain, the realities of a new colonial land and the challenges of a growing society. However, the legacy of the gaol should not be limited to a grim spectre of past principles. Prisoners made a considerable contribution to the development of the town through the construction of infrastructure. Despite the recent changes to the townscape, the influence of the gaol remains a visible part of Lyttelton’s heritage.

Megan Hickey

References

Gee, D. 1975. The Devil’s Own Brigade: A History of the Lyttelton Gaol 1860-1920. Wellington: Millwood Press Ltd.