Medicating the masses: a wholesale druggist in Edwardian Christchurch.

In our last post, Jeremy talked about the site of H. F. Stevens, wholesale druggist, on Worcester Street near Cathedral Square. We excavated the site in 2011 and found a number of artefacts, including the Udolpho Wolfe’s bottles featured last week. We also found a range of other pharmaceutical remedies, local and international in origin, and a few household artefacts. These artefacts let us catch a glimpse of what went on inside a successful wholesale pharmaceutical company in Edwardian Christchurch.

One of the artefact deposits exposed during our excavation of the H. F. Stevens site on Worcester Street. Image:

One of the artefact deposits exposed during our excavation of the H. F. Stevens site on Worcester Street. Image: Matt Carter

H. F. Stevens. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

H. F. Stevens. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

Henry Francis Stevens established himself as a wholesale druggist in 1887. It’s not clear whether he had any official medical or pharmaceutical training before he began his business , but his father, George, had been a dispensing apothecary in England. It’s quite likely that Henry gained some experience with the distribution and retail of pharmaceutical products as a result of his father’s occupation and applied it to his fledgling business in Christchurch.

Initially, Stevens operated out of a building at 112 Manchester Street, but shifted to premises at 138 Cashel Street in the early 1890s.  Finally, in 1906, he moved again, this time to a large custom-built building in Worcester Street, a prime location in the heart of the Christchurch’s central business district. The new building was designed by local architect Alfred Henry Hart, who died fairly soon after its construction, in 1908. Described as having an “elaborate Edwardian façade” (Christchurch City Libraries), the building was laid out with a warehouse and yard to the rear and offices and a service counter at the front of the building. Stevens employed a number of clerks and assistants in the business, who would have filled these offices and manned the counter every day.

Loasby's Mighty Cough Cure

Advertisement for Loasby’s Cough Remedy, stocked and distributed by H. F. Stevens.
Image: Ashburton Guardian, 1909.

Stevens was a successful businessman, something we can see in the numerous advertisements for his products in the newspapers of the time. These ads tell us that he sold and distributed all kinds of things, from culinary essences, scented oils and shampoo to cures for dyspepsia, coughs, headaches and various other ailments. Products like Golden Valley Ointment, Wilson’s Pepsin and Cascara, Hendy’s Celebrated Juleptia for the Hair and Loasby’s Mighty Cough Cure were all available ‘wholesale from H. F. Stevens’.

Golden Valley Ointment

Advertisement for Golden Valley Ointment, a skin remedy stocked by H. F. Stevens. Image: Press, 1916.












During our archaeological investigation of the site, a range of domestic and commercial artefacts were found, including a toothpaste pot, food-related objects, animal bones and soda water and alcohol bottles, as well as a large number of pharmaceutical and cosmetic containers. This is typical of the range of artefacts found during the archaeological excavation of late 19th and early 20th century businesses in Christchurch.

Artefacts from the H. F. Stevens site

Some of the artefacts found at the H. F. Stevens site. From left to right are three Symington’s Coffee and Chicory bottles, an Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle and a small ceramic bottle of Stephen’s Ink. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

The pharmaceutical bottles and cosmetic products found would have been stocked in the H. F. Stevens warehouse and sold, along with items like the toothpaste pot. A number of different ink brands were excavated, including Stephens Ink, Fields Ink and Antoine’s ‘Encre Japonaise’. These were almost certainly used by the clerks employed by Stevens, as they recorded incoming and outgoing goods and kept the accounts of his thriving business. It’s possible that the soda water bottles (sometimes known as aerated water) were also being sold on the premises, but it’s equally possible that they were being drunk by Stevens or his employees during their working day.

Anchovy paste jar found at the H. F. Stevens site. The label reads “ANCHOVY PASTE / For SANDWICHES. / BY APPOINTMENT / PURVEYORS to / Her MAJESTY. / PREPARED BY/ CROSSE & BLACKWELL / ESTABLISHED / IN 1706 / 21.SOHO SQUARE. / LONDON”. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

And what about the food-related artefacts found at the site? These included a platter, a tureen and an egg cup, as well as the bones from several meals, a jar of anchovy paste and salad oil and Worcestershire sauce bottles. While the last three products may have been sold by H. F. Stevens, the presence of the other meal debris suggests that meals may have been served at the building. Not enough is known about the company to know whether they may have served their employees meals, or whether they may have had functions for the directors on the premises.

Although we found numerous pharmaceutical bottles at the site, only a few were labelled with a product name. These included cosmetic and so-called medicinal products such as Bonnington’s Irish Moss, Eno’s Fruit Salts, Barry’s Pearl Cream and Resinol. Both Bonnington’s Irish Moss and Eno’s Fruit Salts may be a familiar names to many, as they’re still made today.

Advertisement for Eno's Fruit Salts from 1935. Image: Auckland Star, 1935.

Advertisement for Eno’s Fruit Salts from 1935. Image: Auckland Star, 1935.



Bonnington’s was created by George Bonnington in Christchurch in the 1870s and sold throughout the following decades for the relief of coughs, colds and other respiratory illnesses, while Eno’s Fruit Salts were marketed as an antacid or remedy for gastrointestinal complaints. Resinol and Barry’s Pearl Cream, on the other hand, were both cosmetic products. Resinol (“for a fresh and velvety complexion!”) was created in Baltimore, Maryland, by Dr Merville Hamilton Carter, while Barry’s Pearl Cream (“for an alabaster complexion!”) was first made by an American named Alexander Barry, in New York.


Advertisement for Bonnington’s Irish Moss published in 1915. Image: Hawera and Normanby Star, 1915.

Barry's Pearl Cream

Advertisement for Barry’s Pearl Cream from 1876. Image: New Zealand Herald, 1876.

One of the most interesting things about the pharmaceutical bottles from the site is that no advertisements were found in newspapers of the time connecting H. F. Stevens with these products. This is despite the many, many, advertisements found in contemporary newspapers for products sold by Stevens. This contrast between the archaeological and historical record highlights the power of archaeology to provide us with information about a site or a business that might be missing from the historical record.

Although we didn’t find many artefacts from this site, they did tell us some things about H. F. Stevens’s business that we weren’t aware of. From products we didn’t know he stocked to information about the daily activities of the people he employed, the archaeology revealed some of the little pieces of history that had been lost from our records and, in doing so, enriched our understanding of this site and its place in Edwardian Christchurch.

Jessie Garland


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Auckland Star. [online] Available at:

Carter, M. and Moyle, J., 2011. 148 Gloucester Street, 32 Cathedral Square, 103 & 105 Worcester Street, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. [online] Available at:

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Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District], 1903. [online] Available at:

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Moyle, J., 2012. An Exploration of the EAMC Database: The Assessment of a Potential Tool for Developing the Practice of Historical Archaeology within New Zealand. Unpublished BA Hons dissertation, University of Otago.

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Christchurch: a global city

Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps. It sounds pretty exotic, right? As it happens, bottles that contained this schnapps are frequently found on 19th century archaeological sites all over the western world. The particular example of the bottle we’re featuring today was found during the excavation of the site of H. F. Stevens Ltd’s premises. Stevens was a wholesale chemist who was based in Worcester Street, near Cathedral Square, from the early 20th century And no, the chemist wasn’t drinking on the side – the schnapps was marketed as a medicine, and its presence at the site is representative of Christchurch’s position within a global trade network.

A Udolpho Wolfe's Aromatic Schnapps bottle found at the former site of H. F. Stevens's wholesale chemist. Image: J. Moyle.

A Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle found at the former site of H. F. Stevens’s wholesale chemist. Image: J. Moyle.

Our modern economic system is based on mass international exchange: the exchange of ideas, of labour and of goods. It’s all too easy to think that this system is a product of the late 20th century. In fact, international trade goes back to the Stone Age, but it was developments in the 19th century that really saw a global economy develop. Mass production, the forceful opening of new markets through colonial expansion and the rise of modern capitalist structures such as joint stock companies in the 19th century enabled the building of big business and the export of products all over the world.

Christchurch’s 19th century archaeology offers tangible evidence of this system. Many of the artefacts we find on 19th century sites in the city come not just from England – the country that most European settlers in Christchurch called home – but from all over the world. Amongst these, Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps provides a particularly good example of the development of trade and industry in the 19th century.

Evening Post 21:6:1877 page 2

An 1877 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe’s Schiedam Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Evening Post 21/6/1877:2.

The eccentrically named Udolpho Wolfe was a Jewish-American of German extraction. His family was notable in the United States even without their schnapps legacy. Udolpho’s father was a major in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, as well as being a friend of the fifth American president, James Monroe. Young Udolpho started his career in the 1820s, working for his elder brother Joel, a wine and sprit merchant. At the age of 21 Udolpho became a partner in the business. In 1839 the business went international when the brothers opened a distillery in Schiedam, Holland. And in 1848 Udolpho (now the senior partner) introduced Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps to the world.

Unlike the sweet fruity schnapps many will be familiar with in New Zealand today, Udolpho’s schnapps was a grain-based alcohol, flavoured with juniper berry essence. The spirit savvy amongst you will realise that this means that it was just plain old gin. What made the schnapps special was the way it was marketed. Sold not as a ‘frivolous beverage’, Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps was instead marketed as a wonderful medicine. In the (somewhat elaborate) words of the manufacturer:

As a tonic and corrective it is a positive specific, and will be found to prevent and remove the troubles occasioned by malarious influences or impure water, and is therefore an indispensable vade mecum for travellers and those who are unacclimated. At the same time its palatable flavour, and generally salutary qualities render it eminently desirable as a healthful substitute for the fiery potations which, in this country especially, are productive of such deleterious consequences.

            New Zealand Herald 29/9/1874: 3

Once described as a “vigorous advertiser” (Putnam’s Magazine 14 (23): 638), it seems that Udolpho Wolfe did everything he could to make sure that this was the perspective held by all potential consumers.

An 1874 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe's Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Auckland Star 14/3/1874: 1.

An 1874 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Auckland Star 14/3/1874: 1.

His approach must have worked, as the business of schnapps went from strength to strength. Supposedly over 90,000 cases of a dozen quart bottles (or two dozen pint bottles) were being moved per year by the 1870s; that’s at least 1 million schnapps bottles sold around the world.

Aside from this prodigious quantity, the international aspect of the trade is quite remarkable. After being produced in Schiedam, the schnapps destined for consumption in the United States, Central America and the Caribbean was shipped to New York City for bottling and distribution. Meanwhile, schnapps to be sold in Europe, South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand was sent from Schiedam to Hamburg, where it was bottled and then shipped away. This, then, was an American company, producing liquor in Holland, bottling it in America and Germany, and exporting it to the four corners of the globe. Because of this massive trade one can now find bottles bearing the label ‘Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps’ in archaeological sites around the globe.

Having finished its long journey from Europe to Christchurch, the schnapps – and other medicines – would have been distributed by H. F. Stevens to chemists in the city, thus enabling the citizens of Christchurch to indulge in the ‘healthy benefits’ of Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps, along with the rest of the world. Even in the 19th century, Christchurch was part of the global economic system.

Jeremy Moyle


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