The changing face of a 19th century farmstead

We have published previously on the importance of buildings, be they residential or commercial, as an artefact in understanding 19th century culture in New Zealand. While it’s easy to overlook the humble cottage as a source of archaeological data, houses are a snapshot that capture not only information about the person who constructed the building, their wealth and social standing for example, but also provide a glimpse of the larger economy in which the house was built. However, buildings go beyond that, and by investigating alterations we can make a profile of the people who lived there and track technological and stylistic changes through time.

Towards the end of last year, we were contracted to investigate and record a farmstead in Halswell. At the time of recording it was the location of a heavily modified Victorian ‘L-plan’ cottage and several outbuildings. Historical research for the Halswell area is notoriously difficult due to a general lack of sources, although we did know from land records and a valuation issued in 1905 that the farm had been purchased by Cornelius Murphy in 1871, and that the house was standing on the property by at least c.1881.

What made the property special is that the house had remained the home of the murphy family until recently, being passed down through the generations.

Northeast elevation of the cottage.

Plan of the house as it was prior to demolition.

From the outset the house appeared to be a standard 19th century cottage that had been heavily modified in the 20th century. Most of the wall linings, original skirtings and cornices, and ceilings had been replaced. A large section of the original timber floor of Room 10 was missing (see the above floor plan for room numbers). Even the original sash windows had been replaced with timber framed casement windows. At least three large extensions had also been made in the 20th century.

But by peeling back the layers, the original house started coming to the surface. Cuts in the weatherboards on the northwest elevation suggested the original house was much shorter. Weatherboards were discovered behind the wall lining on the northeast wall of Room 6. A fireplace had been removed in Room 3. At least two walls had been removed in Room 10, one of which would have originally formed a hallway between Rooms 10 and 1. Cut marks in the weatherboards on the northeast elevation suggest a door had been removed from between the two windows under the veranda.

Northwest elevation of the house. The red arrow indicates cut marks in the weatherboards that correspond with the back wall of Room 10.

Cut marks in the weather boards highlighted in the above image.

Original weatherboards exposed in the northeast elevation of Room 6 (the back wall of Room 4).

Southwest elevation of Room 3. A brick fireplace had been removed and replaced with an electric heater.

Room 10 looking north. Note that a wall has been removed separating what probably would have been two bedrooms.

Marks on the floorboards in Room 10 show where a wall once ran. (The wall to the right is Room 1).

A little bit of deconstruction work revealed even more treasures. A covered over window frame was revealed in the northeast wall of Room 9 (the wall separating Room 9 from 10) confirming that this was the original back wall of the house. A covered over door frame was also present in this wall.

A covered over window frame revealed in Room 9.

Covered over door frame in Room 9 that originally gave access to Room 10.

Plan of the house with the (known) removed walls, doors and window indicated in red.

Removal of the floorboards in Room 9 revealed that the floor sat on stone piles and brick piles. The piles were marked ‘B’ (a marked used by John Brightling 1880-c. 1898) suggesting this was a 19th century room, although, as it had covered over an original window,  Room 9 must have been a 19th century alteration to the house!

The removal of the floorboards in Room 9 revealed stone and brick piles.

A red brick used as a pile. The brick was marked ‘B’ suggesting this was a 19th century addition.

Then removal of the wallpaper in Room 1 revealed a hidden door in the northwest wall!

Covered over door in room 1 – an idea of the original layout of the house is taking shape.

What is likely the original wallpaper was also revealed. This had probably been preserved under the original architraves.

The original wallpaper of Room 1.

So now we had a house with at least one removed hallway, and a bedroom with two doors….

More secrets were revealed during the demolition. The original gable roof line was made visible above the southeast wall of Room 1. The demolition of the back-to-back fireplaces in Rooms 1 and 10 revealed that the fireplace of Room 10 had originally been a very tall 1.2 m. Big enough for a cooking range perhaps?

Demolition of the house revealed the original gable roof structure above the southeast wall of room 1, indicating that this was the original outside wall of the house.

Fireplace in Room 10 as it looked prior to the demolition.

The fireplace revealed behind the 20th century facade. The fireplace was originally arched, and about 1.2 m tall.

The bricks for this fireplace were marked ‘RS’ – a mark used by Royse, Stead and Co. between 1875 – c.1882.

‘RS’ stamped brick taken form the chimney of the fireplaces in Rooms 1 and 10.

The completed demolition revealed the that Rooms 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 and part of 9 (mentioned above) had been constructed on stone piles, suggesting the they were all 19th century constructions. Can any more information be pulled from the foundations? Yes! Luckily the concrete foundation that had supported the original fireplace in Room 3 was still in situ, and still had a layer of bricks affixed to it.

Foundations of the house, looking west.

A row of stone piles that ran under the southeast walls of Rooms 1 and 10. Looking southwest.

Foundation of the fireplace that originally sat in Room 3. Looking southeast.

Red brick from the above fireplace foundation. While faint, the letter B can be made out.

The bricks were marked ‘B’, suggesting that rooms 3, 4 and part of 9 were contemporary constructions.

Putting all the information together, we can piece together the life history of the house.

The building had begun life as a simple box cottage, constructed by Cornelius Murphy between 1871 and 1881. The house had four rooms. Room 1 was probably a living room, while Room 10 was likely to have been two bedrooms and a kitchen. The small stature of the house probably reflects the financial means of Cornelius as his farm was just starting out.

Approximate plan of the original house constructed by Cornelius Murphy. Not depicted – an unknown number of windows that couldn’t be identified during the recording.

A decade after the farm was established the Murphy family had become relatively well off, and the little house was no longer suitable for the family. The house was extended between 1880 and 1900 with the addition of Rooms 3 ,4 and 9. Room 9 was a reasonable size and probably became the kitchen. The extensions would forgo the tongue and groove panel and wallpaper wall linings of the original house and would instead use more expensive (and higher status) lath and plaster.

The house at it probably appeared after the extensions in c.1880-1898.

Further additions to the house could be dated using aerial photography (Canterbury Maps n.d.). The house was extended again in the early 20th century with the addition of Rooms 5 and 6 before 1944  (which included indoor toilet facilities). Rooms 7 and 8 were added, and Room 9 was extended, between 1980-1984. This added a modern bathroom and kitchen. Finally Room 11, a conservatory, was added in the 1990s.

But this is just the beginning of the story this house has to tell. Makers marks found on the roofing iron, timber, nail, and brick samples collected during the demolition, wallpaper patterns, and analysis of wall linings will all provide vital information that will inform us about the choices made by Cornelius in the construction of his home, and of the wider economy that played a part in the construction of the building.

And all this is before we get to the analysis of the outbuildings and other archaeology found on the site.

Touring the past

It seems almost expected now that many of us will go on semi-frequent overseas jaunts and visit the spectacular local scenery that New Zealand has to offer. However, most of us probably don’t often think about when these destinations became tourist hotspots, or what holidays were like for the early settler “tourists” of New Zealand. Tourism was definitely not something that was initially available to all economic classes and it isn’t something we can easily identify in the archaeological record (click here to see an earlier post about early tourist souvenirs). However, even though the archaeology of a broad concept like tourism might be scarce, we sometimes find physical evidence of things located more on the periphery of tourism. But more about that next week – today we will take a look at how written records and images of destinations and transport links can give us an idea of how some lucky (or plucky) Victorians explored their new home in Aotearoa.

As previously mentioned on the blog, the desire to take a break from colonial city life was probably felt by many of Christchurch’s early inhabitants. The high temperatures of summer and the inadequate sanitation in Christchurch increased heath concerns and diseases. Day excursions out of the city were popular from the 1870s and summertime public holiday expeditions from the central city to the nearby beaches were made readily available to many city folks with the introduction of the tram system. Steam and horse trams were used from 1882, but electric trams made travel more efficient between 1905 and 1954 (after which time buses replaced them on the city routes; Christchurch City Libraries). The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw grandiose train stations being erected around the country to link more destinations together, while (perhaps more importantly), also improving transport routes for goods and trade.

Construction of the electrical tramways in Christchurch [1905]. Laying the lines in High Street. Image: CCL File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0046.

The Temuka railway station [1908]. Designed by George Troup (1863-1941), who was at the time Chief Draughtsman for New Zealand Railways, it was built in 1906. It no longer exists. Image: CCL File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0013

And here’s a similar looking version in Kaiapoi…

Kaiapoi railway station [1908]. Built in 1904, it shows the features, such as porches, turrets and lattice windows, typical to its designer, George Troup (1863-1941). Only one third of the building now remains. Image: CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0014.

A larger quantity of New Zealanders began to obtain more leisure time by the 1920s. Increased wages and the introduction of shorter working weeks gave many workers more of an opportunity to explore New Zealand’s exceptionally beautiful surroundings. With this came the hey-day of rail tourism in the 1920s and 1930s. It was at this time that New Zealanders were quoted as being “the greatest travellers in the world” by Wellington’s Evening Post (Ministry for Culture and Heritage; Evening Post 24/09/1923: 6). The statistics backed up such claims, stating that 21,000 of these “travel minded New Zealanders”  were carried as passengers on trains in the Wellington District alone, during the 1936 Easter period (Evening Post 15/4/1936: 11).

However, even before the boom in the early 20th century, tourism was present here. Some of our ancestors got to witness a few things that we didn’t, namely, what was arguably our best natural scenic attraction – the Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana. These were located in the ‘hot spot’ of Rotorua and were a must-visit destination for the visitors to New Zealand (or those who could afford it), prior to their destruction by the volcanic eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. The local Tūhourangi people were heavily involved with the tourist industry here, protecting the terraces from vandals, and providing food, transport and accommodation for visitors (McClure 2010). But this wasn’t smooth sailing – government intervention stifled Māori initiatives with levies and local Māori also had no interest being personal tourist attractions, as shown when the government constructed a model village to depict Māori lifestyle in 1903 (McClure 2010).

Group of tourists on the White Terraces, circa early 1880s (prior to the 1886 Mount Tarawera Eruption). Photograph taken by Charles S. Spencer. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference Number: PAColl-6075-58.

When travelling west from Christchurch, Aoraki/Mount Cook was the gem of the Mackenzie Country and the first Hermitage Hotel was constructed there in 1895. The mountain had been ascended for the first time the previous year, but the hotel accommodation improved visitor comfort and accessibility to the slopes. This paved the way for more tourists and future mountaineers, some of whom travelled from as far as Great Britain and the continent for the climb (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Amateur photographers were noted among such climbing parties, attracted by the “new and unique series of views” (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Women were also getting in on the action – photographs on display at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch inspired Sydney local, Emmeline Freda Du Faur, to be the first woman to scale the peak. Her 1919 climb was the fastest to that date (Langton 1996). You can learn a great deal more about the early tourism and the archaeology associated with Aoraki/Mount Cook here on one of our previous blogs.

The Hanmer Hot Springs Tea House [1905]. It opened on 21 Nov. 1904 and in the 1904/05 season earned £108. It was a popular and pleasant resort in all weathers. Image: CCL: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0002.

Satisfied customers in 1914 (Fielding Star 4/2/1914: 2).

When travelling west from Christchurch, Aoraki/Mount Cook was the gem of the Mackenzie Country and the first Hermitage Hotel was constructed there in 1895. The mountain had been ascended for the first time the previous year, but the hotel accommodation improved visitor comfort and accessibility to the slopes. This paved the way for more tourists and future mountaineers, some of whom travelled from as far as Great Britain and the continent for the climb (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Amateur photographers were noted among such climbing parties, attracted by the “new and unique series of views” (Press 15/2/1896: 7). Women were also getting in on the action – photographs on display at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch inspired Sydney local, Emmeline Freda Du Faur, to be the first woman to scale the peak. Her 1919 climb was the fastest to that date (Langton 1996). You can learn a great deal more about the early tourism and the archaeology associated with Aoraki/Mount Cook here on one of our previous blogs.

Mt. Cook and the old Hermitage before it was destroyed by flooding in 1913
[ca. 1910]. The original hotel is pictured. This was a 13-roomed house built of cob and completed in 1895. It was situated at the foot of the Mueller Glacier and accommodated about 30 guests. A cage took tourists across the Hooker River to the Tasman glacier. The hotel was damaged by flood in January 1913, and two months later was destroyed beyond repair by a second flood (Press 4/4/1913:4. The Hermitage Mount Cook centennial 1884-1984). Image and caption: CCL File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img00344.

In 1901 the control of the Hermitage Accommodation House passed to the newly formed Dept. of Tourist and Health Resorts. The 1904/05 season saw 175 visitors and earned £924 pounds. Photograph taken 1905 Image: CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0001.

The intrepid kiwi travel spirit is widely felt in our modern society. This ardent idea was clearly passed down through the generations from early pioneers who travelled to the other side of the world to make new homes for themselves. That being said, for the intrepid Victorian traveller, Fiordland must have seemed the most remote and sensational place to visit and it was frequently was – by explorers, hunters, prospectors, sealers and whalers ever since Captain Cook moored in Dusky Sound during 1773. Premier Julius Vogel introduced the New Zealand Forests Bill in 1874, recognising our forest resources as finite and although it didn’t happen until 1952 Fiordland National Park is now New Zealand’s largest conservation area. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 1880s that scientists became concerned that hunting, the introduction of predators, pests and deforestation having a negative impact on our native flora and fauna (Ministry for Culture and Heritage). The caption in the 1884 photograph below says it all: “tourists” make up a hunting party in Dusky Sound – note the woman among them who braving the elements of sun or rain.

Tourists in small boats hunting in Wet Jacket Arm, Dusky Sound, Fiordland [ca. Jan. 1884]. Burton Bros. Image: CCL, File Reference: CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0006.

Of course, New Zealand pioneer travellers weren’t always confined to their new shores. Their initial journey from Great Britain to the colony was long – 75 to 120 days in a mid-19th century sailing ship, but this was shortened to about 40 days by the 1890s following the introduction of steamers to the British-New Zealand route (Wilson 2005). The faster passage made returning to Great Britain and the continent feasible for an extended period of time or for “the season.” Historically, this was a social time when the leaders of fashionable society returned to London from the country or abroad, including many young women seeking marriage prospects. Local newspaper excerpts from the late Victorian era to the Georgian era record snippets of the comings and goings of the wealthier elite, naming where and with whom they were visiting (Otago Daily Times 10/1/1913 2; Marlborough Express 18/8/1919: 8: Bay of Plenty Times 10/8/1927: Press 13/3/1928: 10). Colonists also took the opportunity to return to their homeland to visit the family they had left behind – such as the Lyttelton couple we met recently on the blog. This tragic story started with a holiday visiting family in the Orkney Islands and ended with a fatal fall from a cliff leaving only a widow to return to Lyttelton alone  (Star 20/8/1890: 3).

But on a nicer note to end – although us modern kiwis may have missed out on the wonder of the Pink and White Terraces, there is still plenty of natural beauty left for us to enjoy. The spectacular landscapes of New Zealand have been commented often in historic newspapers (Otago Daily Times 10/1/1913 2). They have also thankfully been preserved for us through conservation efforts such as Premier Richard Seddon’s 1903 Scenery Preservation Act – his vision for which saw our land not just as an economic resource but a place that had scenic, scientific and historic value (Ministry for Culture and Heritage).

Asked about the South Island on the map he is showing to the American travel agency heads, the government official dismisses it with a yawn. Scales, Sydney Ernest, 1916-2003: That? – nothing there but scenery. Otago Daily Times, 14 January 1954. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library: Reference Number: A-311-4-003.

Tune in next week for the next instalment of the historic tourist industry where we take a look at the archaeological evidence of possible tourist accommodation – specifically hotels and boarding houses.

Safe travels everyone!

 

Chelsea Dickson

References

Langton, G. 1996. ‘Du Faur, Emmeline Freda’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996, updated December, 2005. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3d17/du-faur-emmeline-freda (accessed 2 February 2018).

McClure, M. 2010. ‘Tourist industry – Māori entrepreneurs in Rotorua’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/tourist-industry/page-2 (accessed 31 January 2018)

Wilson, J. 2005. ‘The voyage out – Early steamers’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/the-voyage-out/page-6 (accessed 1 February 2018).

Wilson, J. 2006. ‘Canterbury places – Hanmer and Lewis Pass’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/canterbury-places/page-3 (accessed 1 February 2018).

2017: The year that was

Yet another year gone! It’s been a strange one, out there in the world, but here at Underground Overground it’s been a year of excavation, discoveries, stories and all things archaeological.

In the proper spirit of history, let’s take a look back at the archaeological year that was…

We dug some holes and, in true archaeological fashion, sat in them. Image: Hamish Williams.

We found some things. This archaeological treasure trove was discovered on Colombo Street, on a site linked to early (1860s) shops. 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. The material from this site is still keeping us busy…Image: Angel Trendafilov.

At times, the archaeology got a bit topsy-turvy. Or, as one Facebook commenter was witty enough to suggest, a bit tipsy-turvy. Image: Hamish Williams.

Well, would you look at that. Image: Hamish Williams.

We got a bit bogged down at times…
This waterlogged cellar was an unexpected find on Colombo Street, with several artefacts – including shoes – found in association. Image: Shana Dooley.

We drew some things. Image: Hamish Williams.\

We got really excited about this 1880s brick kiln. Image: Matt Hennessey.

We even found a secret door.  Image: Matt Hennessey.

Out at the Lyttelton Port, excavations revealed the remains of a hidden piece of maritime infrastructure, thought to be part of the No 1. Breastworks structure first constructed c. 1879-1882. Image: Megan Hickey.

Stepping ashore in Lyttelton, we came across the oldest drain of the year.  This unusual pointy roofed flat bottomed stone drain was built by the Canterbury Provincial Council in 1857 to drain the Lyttelton Gaol and is still in use today. Parts of it were replaced by a brick barrel drain in the 1870s, but this particular section wasn’t, as by this time it had a substantial gaol building built atop of it (the fellas in the top image are standing on its concrete foundation). There is a local legend that some prisoners attempted a Steve McQueen style great escape through this drain back in the day, but we couldn’t find any supporting documentary evidence. Images: Hamish Williams (top) and John Walter, Christchurch City Council (bottom).

We were lucky enough to do a lot of work out in Akaroa this year, including research into the 1840s blockhouse in German Bay, this replica model of which was built for the 1906-1907 International Exhibition in Christchurch.  The replica may look a lot like a chook-house, but the full-sized versions were built as fortified retreats for the early settlers after the departure of the Navy. Image: Buckland, Jessie Lillian, 1878-1939. Claude Jean-Baptiste Eteveneaux standing next to a model of a blockhouse, Akaroa, Canterbury – Photograph taken by Jessie Buckland. The Press (Newspaper) :Negatives. Ref: 1/2-040963-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/29945245.

Easily the best historical gem for this year (in my humble opinion), found in the deeds index. Image: LINZ.

The year was remarkable for the number of fancy things found, from this rather gaudy looking lustre vase to…

…to these flash looking tobacco pipes. Image: Jessie Garland.

There were trade tokens aplenty. Image: Jessie Garland.

And Edwardian board games! Image: Maiden Built Ltd.

And nested paua shell! So much paua shell. Image: Megan Hickey.

Along with a plethora of other things. This is just a tiny selection of the artefacts we’ve found this year. From temperance tickets and snuff jars, to Russian Bears Grease, Lyttelton water, steam ship transfer prints and, of course, Old Tom gin. Image: Jessie Garland.

We made an exhibition of ourselves at times, from the displays at South Library and Christ’s College for Archaeology Week to the opening of the new Christchurch and Emergency Services Precinct building. Images: Chelsea Dickson and Jessie Garland.

Some of the crew (the sketchy characters) even found themselves featuring in the story of Ōtautahi. We highly recommend checking these creative hoardings out, either in person or through the website. Image: Felicity Jane Powell.

So, from those of us at Underground Overground this year, here’s hoping you all have a fantastic Christmas and new year break. See you next year!

 

A little more Lyttelton history

During recent earthquake repairs at a residential property on well-known Sumner Road in Lyttelton, our archaeologists uncovered a small assemblage of artefacts that represented everyday Victorian household items. At first glance these appeared a somewhat ordinary – but when Lydia Mearns (one of our historic researchers), delved deeper into the history of this domestic house site, she uncovered the history of a local couple who experienced their share of turbulent times during the late 19th century.

A selection of the domestic artefacts found at this site. A (from left): dinner plate, clay pipe, transfer printed plate. B: leather shoes. C: pharmaceutical bottle with “W” embossed on the base (we aren’t too sure who made this one), wide mouth pickle bottle, aerated water bottle – made by J. F. Wyatt, Lyttelton, between 1889 and 1835 (Donaldson: 1991: 266-267). W.D. and H.O. Wills cigarette tin lid (this tobacco company was known by this name from 1830 onwards; Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences 2017). Image: C. Dickson.

The young settlers, Robert Flett and his wife, Isabella Gaudie Flett, emigrated from the Scottish Orkney Islands in 1863 and arrived in Lyttelton on board the Tiptree (Sun 3/12/1915: 11). The couple initially settled on land that they purchased in Hawkhurst Road, and during the late 1860s, they began to accumulate residential sections on Sumner Road. By 1874, they had purchased two neighbouring town sections –  one to live on, and the other to keep as an investment. The first record of their occupation of Sumner Road was in 1872, and this placed the Fletts as residents on the section that was adjacent to our archaeological site. This is where the couple would spend most of their time for the next few decades (H. Wise & Co. 1872-1884).

Detail from a photograph taken between 1876 and the early 1880s showing a number of small cottages present along the Sumner Road in the vicinity of our site. Image: Bradley, c.1876-1880.

Robert Flett was a ship’s carpenter, who went into partnership with a fellow named Peter Loutitt, in the construction and operation of a patent slipway on Dampier’s Bay Road. From this slipway, the pair launched and repaired many ships in the Lyttelton Port, and their company name featured heavily in the local newspapers throughout the 1860s as a common place to fix up one’s boat (Globe 16/6/1875: 3; Press 25/9/1872: 3; Star 17/2/1869: 2). However, despite its popularity, the specific location of this slipway is not exactly known – articles mention that it was situated near the gasworks and “near the bathing sheds” on Norwich Quay and an approximation of what we’ve deemed as its most likely location (based on this description), is shown below.

1860s plan of the western Lyttelton Port showing the approximate future location of Robert Flett’s patent slipway near the gasworks and the “bathing shed” (Lyttelton Times 25/9/1872: 2Sun 3/12/1915: 11). Image: Rice 2004: 28.

During their time in Lyttelton together, Robert and Isabella featured in the local newspapers several times. Most of these reports weren’t happy ones, as things began to go wrong for the couple a few years after they started buying their properties. They experienced great loss when Robert’s brother, ship Captain William Flett, died a tragic death in 1873. He drowned ten miles of Godley Head on a voyage from Picton, then Isabella’s father also died three years later (back home in the Orkney  Islands), at age 78 (Press 31/12/1873: 2; Lyttelton Times 14/12/1896: 2). Through all of this, the Fletts were also experiencing some trying times socially. Robert Flett’s acquaintances described him as “an inoffensive quiet man”, who had a “frank and cheerful disposition, and [was] much esteemed by all who knew him (Press 21/8/1890: 4).” But despite his this, his character was called into question in court when he was charged with assaulting one of his former tenants in 1867, with whom he had had many grievances (Lyttelton Times 15/2/1867: 2).

Isabella is documented as experiencing her own petty troubles, with her incessant letter writing battles with the local drainage board over the drainage of their properties, the retaining walls and the maintenance of the Sumner Road street frontage (Press 2/4/1890: 3, 4/12/1894: 6; Star 23/2/1886: 3, 9/3/1886: 3). The tone and quantity of this correspondence suggests that she wasn’t very popular with these local bodies. She’s also recorded offering a reward for her lost, precious heart shaped greenstone brooch in 1875 (Globe 9/9/1875: 2). It was lucky that she didn’t lose more one day in 1890, as a sketchy door to door salesman arrived on her doorstep one afternoon peddling his wares. Isabella purchased an album of views from him, but this was immediately after he allegedly broke in and entered a neighbouring house and stole eight pounds from a pocketbook (Press 24/2/1890: 3). Close call.

Some ink bottles found on the property. With this much ink, one can write many letters… to drainage boards etc… Image: C. Dickson.

Despite all their major and minor personal troubles, the Fletts were managed to amass themselves a tidy little property empire in Lyttelton by the end of the 1880s. Their tenant seeking efforts were well recorded in local newspaper advertisements, and the article below shows just how well they were doing by 1889, with no less than seven properties to Robert’s name! (Star 29/2/1888: 3).

The Flett estate for sale! This advertisement of their seven house mini property empire notes Robert Flett’s intention to sell up and leave the colony… for good? (Star 2/3/1889: 4). The property business seems to have been going swimmingly, as they were all let to good tenants.

Perhaps having not found the perfect buyers for all of their properties, Robert and Isabella left Lyttelton in April 1890 to visit their hometown of Birsay, Orkney Islands (without selling their empire). However, the events surrounding their departure are a little strange – the above advertisement seems to suggests that it was Robert’s intention to emigrate back to Orkney permanently. He even held an auction at their Sumner Road home in March of 1890, in an attempt to sell all of their household furniture as “he was leaving for England.” (Press 18/3/1890: 8). But despite these attempts to sell up, it was later reported that the Fletts were merely holidaying in the Scottish Isles? I suppose one way of financing your summer holiday would be to sell everything you own… but it seems a little short-sighted, don’t you think?

Whether it was Fletts intention to emigrate back to Orkney for good or just to holiday, we will never know for certain. But during their time in Scotland, tragedy struck again for their family when Robert fell off a cliff to his death! (Archives New Zealand, 1891; Star 20/8/1890: 3). The events surrounding his fall were also a little unusual… like something out of  a dramatic movie scene. Local news reports of the incident depict Robert dangling over a cliff in an attempt to reach a lost gun. How Robert managed to lose his firearm off the edge of a cliff face isn’t known – he had gone out shooting alone early that morning, and an unnamed witness had spied him on a nearby beach fetching a boat hook to snag the gun from wherever it had fallen. But the coastal winds were probably blowing hard that day – Robert was not seen falling off the cliff but he also wasn’t ever seen again. His body was not even able to be found after the accident due to a fierce storm that hit the next day, which caused the loss of even more lives in the sea below.

The tragic story of Mr Flett’s death… and some other tragic deaths (Star 20/8/1890: 3). It seems Isabelle Flett was still avidly penning letters at this time.

The unfortunate Mrs Flett, now a widow, returned to Lyttelton alone, where she had no other family. Perhaps she preferred to change her immigration plans and go back to where she and her late husband had enjoyed success together in their property development schemes, especially now that her father was no longer home in Scotland? The Sumner Road properties remained in her ownership until her death in 1915, and the 1907 Lyttelton Valuation Roll, indicated that Mrs Flett had four houses on Sumner Road that year (Sun 3/12/1915: 11). The age of these houses was recorded as being between 30 and 50 years old at this time and this provides a construction date for the four dwellings between 1857 and 1877 – proving them to be the same legacy left by Robert to Isabella (Archives New Zealand, 1878: 80). The map of Lyttelton drawn by J R Williams in 1910 shows the footprint of the four houses on Mrs Flett’s land, including a dwelling at the modern address of our Sumner Road archaeological site (Figure 4). This dwelling does not have the same footprint as the extant building on this section so it must have been demolished sometime in the 20th century.

Detail from 1910 map of Lyttelton showing the land owned by Mrs Flett on the Sumner Road (outlined in red) and showing the footprint of a cottage present on our section (outlined in blue). Image: Williams, 1910.

This probably happened around 1917, when the trustees of Mrs Flett’s estate, Thomas Taylor and Andrew Kirk, advertised for the removal of “three cottages fronting the Sumner Road”, in January 1917 (Star 27/1/1917: 4). A few days after this, the advertisement was taken out in the newspaper because one of the dwellings previously owned by Mrs Flett had burnt down before it could be removed (Star 6/1/1917: 10). The rest of the cottages also appear to have been removed later that year as there are no residents recorded in the 1918 street directories on the land previously owned by the Fletts (H. Wise & Co. 1918: 567).

Detail from a photograph of the Sumner Road taken between 1919 and 1925, showing a new house on the section where the artefacts were found (indicated with red arrow), while the location of adjacent site where the Flett’s once lived is vacant (indicated with a blue arrow). Image: Anon, c.1919-1925.

As the small assemblage of artefacts that were found at this site were located within the boundaries of the neighbouring section to the Flett’s, it’s probable that they were dropped or thrown away by one of their tenants. The manufacturing dates of the artefacts we showed you at the start of this post suggest that this tenant was most likely Edward James Norris (who we know very little about). But regardless of this gap in the historical record, we were able to stumble across this intriguing narrative about Mr and Mrs Flett and their story in the early history of Lyttelton.   

Chelsea Dickson

References

Anon, c.1919-1925. Lyttelton wharves, Canterbury, showing harbour, ships, houses and buildings. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, 1/1-009876-G Available at: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/29946642 [Accessed October 2017].

Archives New Zealand, 1891. Probate, Robert Flett Lyttelton Christchurch, Canterbury. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Regional Office, CAHX-2989-CH171-65-CH2083/1891. Available at < https://familysearch.org/ > [Accessed October 2017].

Bradley, c.1876-1880s. Overlooking Port Lyttelton and Township. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, PAColl-6407-57. Available at: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23220714 [Accessed October 2017].

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectibles Club, Christchurch.

H. Wises & Co. 1866-1954 [online]. Available at http://home.ancestry.com.au/.

Rice. G. 2004. Lyttelton: Port and Town. An Illustrated History.

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. 2017. Metal cigarette tin used in Antarctica 2017, Museum of Applied Arts &amp; Sciences. [online] Available at: https://collection.maas.museum/object/257736. Accessed 20 November 2017.

 

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.