Early Christchurch women, breaking the rules: the exhibition.

The ideal Victorian woman

In Victorian society, a woman was to be meek, mild, virtuous and peaceful (Whiteside 2007). She was expected to marry and have children. She would stay at home, looking after her children and her husband and keeping the house perfectly. Public affairs were men’s matters, although a woman might engage in charitable or other social works, but nothing that could in any way be construed as ‘masculine’. She was selfless – everyone else always came first. She certainly wasn’t involved in politics, and nor did she run a business. At least, that was the theory!

Left: M Heslop & Co (Christchurch) fl 1870s: Portrait of unidentified man, woman and child. Ref: PA2-2063. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23056667. Right: well, it would be an alternative middle class family! Image: Observer 14/11/1903.

In fact, this standard was mostly applied to middle class women, and it seems to have been much less unusual for working class women to, well, work. But there were middle class women who broke these ‘rules’ of Victorian society too, in a range of ways. Discovering the lives of a number of these women in 19th century Christchurch – and our fascination with their ‘hidden’ lives – has led us to curate an exhibition: Women breaking the rules. You can see the physical display at Rewind at Ferrymead Heritage Park on Sunday 14 October, and also follow these women’s stories online via our Instagram exhibition @womenbreakingtherules.

Designed by A. Gibson.

But regardless of class, women were always defined in relation to the men in their life, whether father, brother or husband. So, being a spinster could be difficult and challenging. Much as we might not like it in this day in age, men provided often critical financial security for the women in their lives, particularly in a world where there was no pension or unemployment benefit, let alone a domestic purposes benefit. In fact, there was no state support of any kind in New Zealand until the end of the 19th century, and the poor were reliant on charities for support.

Unlike spinsters, widows seem to have had far more freedom and to have been more ‘respectable’ than unmarried women. While their situation might have been financially difficult, the range of jobs society approved of them taking on was broader than the range available for single women. And widows – as in some of the stories here – often ended up running their husband’s businesses, meaning they took on a variety of professions (Bishop 2012).

Women and work

Yes, women did work in the Victorian era! And not just as domestic servants – although this was far and way the most common occupation for women. In fact, some women ran businesses of their own. The jobs that women took on, though, and even many of the businesses they ran, tended to involve caring, or to be domestic in character. Jobs like teaching or nursing were both acceptable for middle class women (Bishop 2012).

Working class women could take on quite a range of work: dressmaker, needlework, hotelkeeping, storekeeping, confectionary, haberdashery, drapery and so on. Women could also earn money by taking in boarders, doing laundry or by looking after other women’s children. And let’s not ignore that they could be prostitutes. These were all ways of earning money that might fly under the radar and not be recorded officially (Bishop 2012).

Just relaxing under a tree, along with other women, working in the seaside or the countryside, riding a horse… working women and classy ones, all sort of women depicted through the artefacts! Image: J. Garland, C. Watson and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Telling women’s stories

As regular readers of the blog will know, researching the lives of most people who lived in 19th century New Zealand is tricky – official records can be patchy or may not even exist (Minchinton 2017). People only turned up in the newspapers if they were famous, got in trouble or were advertising for servants, leasing or selling properties. Unless someone has a really unusual name, you often can’t be certain you’re researching the right person.

Mary Portelli, the antithesis of the Victorian ideal, a woman in endless trouble! Images. Right: Star 29/05/1895: 3. Left: Southland Times 20/09/1906: 2.

Studying women’s lives is even harder. For one thing, they changed their surname when they married. Then, they were often referred to only as Mrs…, without their first name, or including their husband’s name instead – for example, Mrs L. J. Smith. Women who ran businesses often traded under their husband’s name, or didn’t advertise at all (Bishop 2012). And, in general, women’s activities meant they didn’t end up in the newspaper.

The branded china L. J. Smith – and presumably Elizabeth, L. J. Smith’s wife – used at events he organised as caterer. Image: C. Dickson.

Despite these difficulties, archaeology and history reveal the lives of six Christchurch women who, in one way or another, broke the rules of late 19th and early 20th century society: Fanny Cole, prohibitionist; Elizabeth Robinson, chemist; Sarah Gault, dressmaker; Elizabeth Smith, caterer; Caroline Rantin, timber and coal merchant; and Mary Portelli, woman in trouble.

There are no Māori women in this exhibition, unfortunately, because we’ve not found any record of Māori women living in 19th century Christchurch. This isn’t to say that they weren’t, just that we’ve not found them yet. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend checking out the book He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century.

Why are these women important?

These six women were not the only exceptional ones who broke the rules. It turns out that there were many more women pushing the boundaries of Victorian society than we initially expected. The six women we’ve featured in this exhibition serve to highlight the lives and occupations of all these women, along with their concerns and daily battles and how they struggled against what was accepted and respectable (Whiteside 2007), whilst working within the confines of the ideals of that time. But slowly, slowly, pushing these boundaries would come to change society as a whole. So, let’s look at the archaeology and the historical record and bring women into the picture!

This exhibition is a joint production between Underground Overground Archaeology and the Christchurch Archaeology Project.

Katharine Watson and Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References 

Bishop, Catherine, 2012. “Commerce Was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington.” PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Minchinton, Barbara, 2017. “’Prostitutes’ and ‘lodgers’ in Little Lon: construction a list of occupiers in nineteenth-century Melbourne”. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 35, pp. 64-70.

Whiteside, Heidi, 2017. “’We Shall Be Respectable’: Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttelton 1851-1893”. MA thesis, University of Canterbury.

Chew with your mouth closed, my dear

The dinner party; a minefield of social etiquette and proper behaviour for both the host and the guests. For the host – the pressure of who to invite, where to sit them, what to serve them? Having the right invitation cards, the right food, the right dishes. For the guests – the importance of appearance, polite conversation, correct eating habits. All in all, a maze of social convention with the potential for disaster lying around every corner.

As archaeologists we don’t get to see the social etiquette and behaviour associated with dining directly. Whilst we might uncover the remnants of a first course meal, with the likes of a soup plate and a dessert spoon, we don’t know if the soup was drunk from the side of the spoon (not the tip!) without any audible noise or slurping, as was the polite way to do so. Instead, we have to make inferences based on the assemblage we have from the archaeological record and what we know from the social history to determine the social behaviour of the people we are studying.

Today on the blog we are going to explore Victorian dining customs and some of the etiquette surrounding them, along with how this relates to what we find in the archaeological record. Before we do that, it is worthwhile defining what meal we actually mean by ‘dinner’. Dinner is the main meal of the day. In medieval times, dinner took place at midday, with a basic breakfast served in the morning, and a light supper in the evening just before bed. The urbanisation and industrialisation which took place in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the wealthy and social elite having dinner at a later hour, as late as 9pm by the 1840s. The pushing back of dinner time led to the establishment of a ladies’ luncheon at midday, and afternoon tea between 4pm and 5pm. For working-class people dinner remained at midday, if they were able to leave work for it, or changed to the evening if they lived away from work. In nineteenth century New Zealand dinner was normally served at midday, with evening dinner developing in urban areas in the early twentieth century.

What was served for dinner and how it was served depended on a person’s wealth and status. At the elite end of the scale was the dinner party, where guests were invited for a dinner consisting of five or more courses. An 1879 article in the Southland times describes what should be served for each course. The first course was a soup course, with a vegetable and a white soup normally offered (although one should avoid the white soup with its high levels of cream unless they had ‘exceptionally powerful digestion’). This was followed by a fish course, with at least two fish served. Entrees came next along with mains, which should include roast meat and accompaniments. Dessert finished the meal before the women retired to the parlour for tea and the men discussed business.

An example meal from Alexander Filippini’s 1889 book, ‘The Table: how to buy food, how to cook it and how to serve it’. Filippini included a meal plan for every day of the year. The calf’s head was cooked in pieces and not whole, something I’m sure guests were thankful for.

From the mid-nineteenth century dinner began to be served à la Russe, where courses were served separately and in succession of each other. Prior to this, dishes from all the courses were served on the table at once in service à la Française. In service à la Russe, the only dishes on the table were plates and drinks glasses. Dishes were offered to the guests by servants on large platters, and the guests served themselves. The plates were then cleared away and replaced for the next course which was served in a similar fashion.

Dinner service had a strict etiquette in the way food was served and cleared. The maid of this dinner party, whilst bring practical in requesting the guests keep their forks, broke custom as is noted by the columnist (Free Lance 3/03/1906: pg 12).

The wealthier a household was, the more elaborate their meals were. For the middle class three courses was likely standard, with a maid to help serve the meal if possible. Meals with more courses would have been reserved for dinner parties, which would have been an opportunity for the hosts to show off. For the working classes three course meals were possible, but there would not have been a servant to help serve them.

The number of courses needing to be served, along with the manner of service, dictated the table ware set a household required. An important component of a successful dinner party was the service the dinner was served on. All of the dishes should be matching, and each item of food should be served on the appropriate dish. The rise of the middle-class led to a growth in demand for ceramic table sets, with the Staffordshire potteries responding with a variety of new vessel forms intended for wealthy customers including asparagus plates, herring dishes, chestnut baskets, and fish trowels (Barker 2010: 15).

Serving dishes decorated in the ever-popular Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Top row: platter and plate. Bottom row: pedestalled serving dish and tureen lid. Image: C. Watson.

You can never go wrong with Willow! Top row: plate, castor, ladle. Bottom row: square lid for a serving dish, large platter. Image: C. Watson.

As archaeologists we can use the ceramic assemblage recovered from a household to infer that household’s status and dining habits. When we get an assemblage with elaborate vessel forms in matching patterns and multiple vessels we can infer that the household was wealthy and likely hosting elaborate dinner parties. By the same vein, when we get an assemblage with plain ceramics and simple forms it is likely the household was poorer, and not spending their money on keeping up-to-date with the latest ceramic fashions to impress fancy dinner guests. Of course, it is never as simple as that. As the story of the Wellington dinner party shows, people made do with what they had, and whilst the hostess of the party might not have had enough forks for a multi-course dinner party, she hosted one anyway!

Inspired by this blog to host your own dinner party? Here are our favourite tips (more here) on dinner party etiquette to avoid complete and utter social embarrassment!

-never encourage a dog or cat to play with you at the table.
-never hesitate to take the last piece of bread or the last cake; there are probably more.
-never allow butter, soup or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use the napkin frequently.
-never wear gloves at the table, unless the hands for some special reason are unfit to be seen.
-never eat so much of one article so as to attract attention, as some people do who eat large quantities of butter, sweet cake, cheese or other articles.
-never allow the conversation at the table to drift into anything but chit-chat; the consideration of deep and abstruse principles will impair digestion.

Clara Watson

 

References

Barker, D. 2010. Producing for the Table: A View From the Staffordshire Potteries. In Symonds, J. (Ed). Table Settings: The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Free Lance [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

What we find from the Antipodes

‘If you dig a hole through the centre of the Earth, you would arrive in New Zealand’. As Spanish children, we learnt that at school. Spain is the Antipodes of New Zealand. Both countries are at the same time joined and separated by geography. Beyond that, other connections arise between the two sides of the world either under the ground or over the ground.

Pete is digging a hole in a Christchurch site. Where is he able to reach going deeper under the ground? Keep in mind that the Antipodes of Christchurch is Foz, a town in the region of Galicia, north of Spain… Image: A. Trendafilov.

Luckily, as archaeologists, we don’t have to excavate too deep below Christchurch before we uncover traces of Spain. When I come across these rare finds relating to where I am from, a feeling of joy, but also nostalgia comes over me.

Thinking about Spain, people often identify the paella as our national dish. But, the regions of Spain are so different, from the landscapes and weather to the culture, language, history and food. Such diversity is what I like the most because that’s what makes Spain what it is. And yes, paella is our speciality in Valencia, cooked with chicken, rabbit and snails in inland regions, or with seafood on the coast. Either ways, it’s yummy!

Paella. This one is a veggie version that we cooked a couple of weeks ago. It was delicious! Image. M. Lillo Bernabeu.

The next thought (or perhaps the first for some) to come to mind when considering Spain is flamenco. Flamenco is probably the most well-known Spanish tradition for almost everybody around the world. Flamenco is an essential part of the cultural identity in Andalusia, the south of Spain. This dance is characterised by its emotional intensity, expressive movements of the arms, tapping of the feet and the use of castanets. Castañuelas, a hand-held percussion instrument often associated with Spanish folklore, have a long history going back thousands of years. So, it was a bit surprising and unique to find a pair of wooden castanets in a 19th century Christchurch site! They first appear in New Zealand newspapers in 1847 as part of a Charles Dickens story and seem to have been advertised for sale from the mid-1860s – early 1870s (New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian 14/07/1847: 3, Daily Southern Cross 10/12/1873: 1).

Left: the pair of castanets found on a Christchurch archaeological site. When my colleagues first found them, they thought they were little wooden owls, and now they can’t un-see the owls! Image: J. Garland. Right: me, my hands, playing castanets. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Besides the castanets, other artefact types more frequently found, like ceramics or glass bottles, also have Spanish nuances. While we are used to seeing ceramic patterns inspired by the Ancient Greek or Rome, Oriental themes or European country images, those inspired by Spain sceneries are quite scarce and unusual for the New Zealand consumers. However, a few patterns identified by name are directly associated with my homeland. The scenes are usually idealisations rather than realistic images of the place, produced by the potters to supply the consumer’s demand. But, whoever purchased these ceramics enhancing Spanish imagery had the chance to travel to the Antipodes through their vessels, and of course, an exquisite taste! Based on the examples found in Christchurch so far, it seems that Andalucia, the region of the south of Spain with its Medieval past, was quite inspirational for the manufacturers.

Andalusia patterned plate. The central scene features Spanish monks or friars praying in front of a monument with a building in the foreground and trees around. Image: J. Garland.

This is the first Montilla pattern identified from a Christchurch site. It’s a lovely romantic pattern with trees, a lake and a building in the background. The building might be a church based on the religious imagery noted, such as crosses and a female statue standing on the doorway, likely to have represented a virgin or saint. The name Montilla refers to a Spanish town in the province of Cordoba, Andalucia. It gives its name to Amontillado sherry and is also known for its pottery (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 252). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Montilla pattern, again! This second version of Montilla pattern features a single flower in the centre of the vessel instead. Both Montilla patterns were made by Davenport (1794-1887; Godden 1991: 189). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu

Following Spanish traces through 19th century Christchurch, some bottles also remind me of my country of origin. They weren’t made in Spain, but the embossing included the name of the product in English, and also in Spanish! The chosen ones are two of the Barry’s Celebrated Toilet Preparations: ‘Tinte Negro’ (Black Hair Dye) and his skin tonic ‘Crema de Perlas’ (Pearl’s Cream). Alexander C. Barry was a New York wigmaker, selling cosmetics and other personal grooming goods, in particular, related to the hair care. All of these were widely advertised in New Zealand newspapers throughout the 19th well into the 20th century (Otago Daily Times 12/04/1873: 4).

Left: Crema de Perlas de Barry. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Barry’s Pearl Cream advertisement. Image: Otago Daily Times 12/04/1873: 4.

Left: Tinte Negro. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Barry’s hair dye advertisement. Image: Otago Daily Times 12/04/1873: 4.

Certainly, it’s an empiric fact that if we dig a hole in Christchurch we do find Spanish evidence through the artefacts, without the need to keep digging beyond the centre of the Earth. Yet I can’t finish my rambling on Spaniards in Christchurch by focusing only on what is found under the ground, because walking around Christchurch and looking overground (see what I did there!), the Spanish influence is visible in the architecture as well. Thinking of Spanish architecture, everybody I’m sure agrees, our benchmark is Antonio Gaudi, Modernisme, Barcelona. Spain’s stylish influence is visible on one of the most iconic streets in Christchurch though. The beautiful, colourful and distinctive buildings of New Regent Street were designed by Francis Willis and built in the Spanish Mission style dating to 1932. They combine some of the characteristic traits of the style, like medallions, shaped gables, tiled window hoods and twisted columns (Donna R. 2015). This stylistic movement arose in the early 20th century as a revival of the Spanish Colonial architecture carried out in the Americas during the period of colonization.

Spanish friends walking on New Regent Street and spell bounded by the lovely buildings. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

To conclude, after digging holes under the ground and looking over the ground in Christchurch, there is a historical connection between New Zealand and Spain that I couldn’t miss. All of us are aware of those European settlers, who arrived in Aotearoa during the 19th century. Among these intrepid immigrants, there is at least one Spaniard. He didn’t dig a hole through the centre of the Earth to arrive in the Antipodes. He took a boat instead. His name was Manuel Jose Frutos Huerta, a whaler born in 1811 in Valverde del Majano, Segovia, in a region of the centre of Spain. Manuel Jose landed in Port Awanui, near Ruatoria in the early 1830s and never left the land of the long white cloud. He married five maori women of the Ngati Porou iwi, had eight children and became a successful trader. Nowadays, his descendants number up to 14,000 whanau members, making the Paniora New Zealand’s largest recorded family. Well, this would have been the Spanish contribution to the mixture of diverse cultures that make New Zealand what it is today.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Burns, D., 2010. 180 years of solitude. [online] Available at: https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/180-years-of-solitude/?state=requireRegistration [Accessed July 2018].

Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 1780‐1880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

Daily Southern Cross [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2018]

Donna, R. 2015. New Regent Street. [online] Available at: https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/blogs/post/new-regent-street/ [Accessed July 2018].

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

New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2018]

Otago Daily Times. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2018]

O flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again? Well, maybe in Christchurch!

Christchurch is rightly or wrongly traditionally thought of as an English city, but at every turn we can see a glimpse of England’s arch enemy…the Scots. While they may now technically be at peace, they do still meet annually on the battlefield (ok, pitch) in a fight to the death (ok, 80 minutes of rugby) to claim the Calcutta Cup. It’s very serious business. This national identity notion that we all subscribe to is a funny thing. The majority of us are extremely proud to be the nationality that we are. I, for example, am very proud to be Scottish and even though we don’t have the strongest rugby team, I will always fiercely support them. And quite frankly, who wouldn’t be proud to be from a country whose national animal is unicorn. Yes, that’s right, a mythical beast. In our defence unicorns were thought to be real in Western countries until the early 1800s.

In my (almost) two years so far in New Zealand one of the main things I’ve picked up on is the way people are so passionately proud of being Kiwi, but also of the different cultures that have combined to make New Zealand what it is today. We don’t have to search too in depth into Christchurch’s history before we see a glimpse of that Scottish influence. Riccarton? Named after the parish that the Deans brothers came from in Ayrshire, Scotland. The River Avon? Named after their grandfather’s stream on his farm back in Scotland. That’s two very distinctive features of Christchurch, that the majority of us will think about or talk about on a daily basis, with origins half the world away. The Deans brothers were among the first to settle in Christchurch after being less than impressed with their assigned land in Wellington and Nelson. Having moved to New Zealand by myself in the modern day and age where I can FaceTime my family or hop on a flight home fairly regularly, I have the upmost respect for the earliest of settlers who travelled via boat and more often than not would not see their family again. It is however almost a bit of a mistake that the Deans ended up here in what was to become Christchurch, but a happy one at that. It is at Riccarton Bush that would be the site of their first farm and where the suburb of Riccarton would get its name. In the image below we can see some of the earliest buildings of Christchurch, built by the brothers. A far cry from the Riccarton we know today.

The stackyard at Riccarton c. 1860 showing a barn (left), the ploughman’s cottage (centre), and Deans Cottage (right). Image: Orwin 2015: 115.

Another set of Scottish brothers who made a huge contribution to Christchurch are Peter and David Duncan, who founded their business P & D Duncan Ltd in Christchurch. You might recognise the name as the business only ceased  operations in 1986, or because one of their 20th century buildings branded with “P & D DUNCAN LTD” can still be seen on St Asaph Street ( pictured just below). The pair contributed to the development of New Zealand agriculture through their foundries which, as previously mentioned, operated up until the late 20th century (Kete Christchurch, 2018).

Still in use today! Although not as a foundry as the Duncan brothers had originally intended. Image: Kete Christchurch.

The earliest immigrants were quite obviously bringing their skills to Christchurch and establishing businesses using said skills in order to better themselves. It is, therefore, a little surprising that when the Christchurch Drainage Board began their mammoth task of building a sewer system to support the growing population in 1878, they opted to import the sewer pipes all the way from Scotland rather than sourcing them locally. The earthenware pipes, branded with “J BINNIE / GARTCOSH”, were shipped directly from Glasgow (Press 14/12/1878: 2, Star 26/8/1879: 3). Understandably this annoyed the ratepayers somewhat –  if there were local businesses who could supply the goods, why did they need to fork out to get the pipes shipped from quite literally half the world away? (Star 29/5/1880:3). Predictably, not all the pipes made it to New Zealand in one piece.

Above: The J. Binnie / Gartcosh makers mark. Below: Not all of the pipes appear to have made it in one piece, take note of that mighty crack. Image: Hamish Williams

When thinking about the English we often think about tea as their national drink, but what about the Scots? Whisky, quite naturally. I was introduced to it at a young age in an attempt to get me to stop crying while I was teething…and I’ve been hooked ever since! Just kidding, following my dabble as a toddler, I waited until 18 to enjoy this Scottish tradition. We find whisky bottles, along with other types of alcohol bottles, fairly regularly in Christchurch (not that I’m suggesting anything about Cantabrian drinking habits!). This whisky bottle found in Victoria Square had an embossing on the base reading “JOHN STEWART & Co / KIRKLISTON”, which immediately indicates that the bottle originally contained Scottish Whisky made in the Kirkliston distillery in West Lothian, Scotland. The Kirkliston distillery was first established in 1795 and went through several owners before Stewart and Co. took over in 1855, installing a Coffey still and converting it to a primarily grain-based distillery. In 1877, John Stewart and Co. were one of the six Scottish whisky distillers to form the Distiller’s Company Ltd., who continued in business well into the 20th century. We can even easily assign the dates 1855 until 1877 for production of this particular bottle (Townsend 2015:125-127).

John Stewart and Co. whisky bottle, dating back to the early days of Christchurch. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu

The Scottish countryside was even celebrated through romantic imagery on ceramics. A pattern aptly named ‘Scotch Scenery’ depicts a Scottish highland shepherd and shepherdess resting at the foot of a tree. The highland landscape, with stone cliffs, waterfalls, and trees, is visible behind the couple (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2018). Ceramics patterns are often used to depict (often quite idealised) images of people, places and activities for mass consumption. Whoever owned this vessel may have been a proud Scot themselves, dreaming of home, or just someone with very good taste.

A Scottish lass and laddie reclining in the highland landscape – a lovely little print on a ceramic found in central Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

And to end my ramblings on Scotland in Christchurch I can’t think of a better artefact. As I’ve said in a previous post, one of my favourite things to find on site is clay pipes. Often they’re stamped with “EDINBURGH” or “GLASGOW” with the makers name as well (I once even found one embossed with “DAVIDSON / GLASGOW” – us Davidsons get everywhere). But these two examples are a little bit special. They feature our national symbol, the thistle! While the English have the rose and Kiwis have the fern, we have a spikey (yet beautiful) thistle. The patriotic motifs became increasingly popular during the 19th century as manufacturers began to cater for “ethnic and national sentiments” (Bradley 2000: 112). Similar to the way I wear my Scotland rugby shirt (emblazoned with the thistle) with pride today, some of the earliest settlers may have smoked their thistle clad pipe with a similar sort of feeling. Now there’s a nice thought.

Clay smoking pipes decorated with the thistle motif found in Christchurch city centre. Image: J. Garland.

A huge thank you to my colleagues at UOA for sharing their Scottish stories and finds of Christchurch with me.

Kathy Davidson

References

Bradley, C., 2000. Smoking Pipes for the Archaeologist. In Karklins, K. (Ed.) Studies in Material Culture Research, p. 104-133. Society for Historical Archaeology, Pennsylvania.

Kete Christchurch, 2018. P & D Duncan Ltd. [online] Available at: http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/site/topics/show/1950-p-and-d-duncan-ltd#.Wyhva6l9gnU [Accessed 19 June 2018].

Orwin, J., 2015, Riccarton and the Deans Family: History and Heritage. David Bateman: Auckland.

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ [Accessed June 2018].

Christchurch City Libraries, 2018. Riccarton Bush (Pūtaringamotu), Riccarton House, and Deans Cottage. [online] https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/riccarton-bush/ [Accessed 19 June 2018].

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ [Accessed June 2018].

Townsend, B., 2015. Scotch Missed: The Original Guide to the Lost Distilleries of Scotland. Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd., Britain.

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2018. Scotch Scenery [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/ [Accessed June 2018].

We dig cats

Whether you share your home with one or not, they say that you’re either a cat person or a dog person. Hamish’s mid-week ‘hands up if you’re a dog person or a cat person’ office poll revealed that most of us here at Underground Overground Archaeology are cat people, and the majority of us have furry four-legged friends at home that love us (or just love our ability to open cat biscuit bags and jelly meat tins for them). Why do archaeologists dig cats so much? Perhaps because cats are both ANCIENT and MAGICAL. As if the internet didn’t already have enough cat content, here’s our long overdue cat archaeology blog. What more can I say? Meow Meow Meow.

The mandatory Grumpy Cat internet meme. Image: https://www.instagram.com/p/nY-DSzk5Ck/

Ancient Cat

DNA studies suggest that the domestic cat (Felis catus) emerged as a distinct and separate species from their ancestors – the African wild cat (Felis silvestris lybica) in the Middle East something like 10,000 years ago. From here they spread out across the globe, travelling alongside us humans as we explored and settled new lands (Marchini 2016). Dogs have been [hu]man’s best friend for longer than cats (about 15,000 years) and, although it’s not a race folks, dogs did in fact make it to Aotearoa New Zealand long before cats did, in the 13thcentury with their East Polynesian peoples (it is not recorded whether these kurī dogs made the trip half-hanging out the window of the waka the whole way).

It is generally agreed that cats sort of domesticated themselves when we decided to settle down and become farmers at the beginning of the great ‘Agricultural Revolution’. We started growing and storing grain and this attracted rats and mice, which in turn attracted into our farming settlements the wild cats for an easy feed. It was a mutually beneficial relationship – we got pest control and they got full bellies. They have stuck around with us ever since.

Sacred to the people of ancient Egypt, killing a cat was a crime punishable by death, and after your cat died, you’d shave off your eyebrows to let everyone know you missed your moggie. Cats were mummified, just like people were, to allow them passage to the afterlife, and to show respect to the cat goddess ‘Bastet’. This culture of cat worship meant that there would eventually be thousands, if not millions of mummified cats in Egypt. Towards the end of the 19thcentury these were being exported to England in great quantities to be pulverized into ‘mummy manure’ – a potash rich fertiliser that was reasonably cheap at about £4 a ton. (South Canterbury Times 26/4/1890: 3). I bet this magical ancient cat powder made the potatoes grow big.

Mummified cat – ancient Egypt, 2000-100 BCE. Image: Science Museum, London. CC BY 4.0.

Ship cat

Because they were so good at catching vermin, cats have been carried on ships since ancient times, and it was ship cats that would first make it to New Zealand. Cats are important at sea because they offer crew companionship and a sense of home. Captain James Cook had cats on board the Endeavour, and cats would also have been on board the different sealing, whaling, and trading vessels that began to visit New Zealand waters in increasing numbers from the late 18thcentury onwards. Sadly history rarely records the names of these pioneering, sea-legged cats.

Convoy, the ship’s cat aboard HMS Hermione. Convoy slept in his own little hammock – how cute is that. Sadly, Convoy perished in 1942 along with 87 of his crew mates after the light cruiser he served on was torpedoed in the Mediterranean by the German submarine U-205. Rest in peace, little Convoy, rest in peace. Image: courtesy Imperial War Museum (Image A6410).

House Cat

Like many 19thcentury towns and cities, early Christchurch had its fair share of problems with rodent infestations, so keeping a household cat was a good way of keeping the vermin population down. In addition, everyone knows that regular cat cuddles keep the black dog at bay. It’s hard to say how many cats there were in early Christchurch, though they were certainly common enough pets by the 1880s that the proper way to care for them should be the subject of an 1884 newspaper article.

Although adept hunters capable of catching their own food, cats need to be fed regularly by their humans to keep them healthy and happy. They should be fed at least once a day, but preferably twice, on a diet of at the very least bread and milk, or potatoes mashed up in milk, or potatoes mashed up with gravy. Pussy cat is healthiest when she gets meat at least once a day, and fish is a good treat, especially if pussy cat is sick. Horse-flesh is ok sometimes, but too much will have a laxative effect. Pussy cat must always have access to a saucer of clean water, and this should be replaced every morning – cats like their water fresh. Cats also need access to grass to chew on – if none is available to the city cat, some should be pulled and placed between two bricks in the scullery, where here it should keep fresh for a week. Most importantly, pussy cat’s food should be nice and clean, as clean as the dish it is served on (Lyttelton Times 23/8/1884: 6).

This pit (at top) containing exclusively the bones of 34 rats (at bottom) which was found on a Victoria Street site suggests that 19th century Christchurch once had a vermin problem of epic proportions. Both images: Hamish Williams.

Ceramic cat figurine found on a Lyttelton site. Image: Maria Lillo Bernabeu.

We have found quite a few cats on archaeological sites in Christchurch, and there have also been a few cats that have also found us on archaeological sites. The cats that have shown up on our sites (without correct PPE mind you) have been mostly pretty helpful with our investigations, but in true cat fashion, only when it suits them.

Rubbish pit feature half sectioned by cat. The excavation field notes that this cat wrote up about this feature were somewhat illegible. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

This skinny cat with the David Bowie eyes showed up on one of my Lyttelton sites a couple of years back. He helped me record the stratigraphy, but only in exchange for all the bacon out of my paleo salad. In the end, he stuck around not much longer than I ended up sticking to my grain-free fad diet. Image: Hamish Williams.

Before it was demolished in 2014, Kirsa recorded this category 2 Heritage New Zealand listed convent building in Rangiora. A number of the corner bricks around the main entrance of this 1907 building had little kitty paw print impressions on them. Not dissimilar to the kitty paw prints left on the 1st century AD Roman tiles that archaeologists found in Nottinghamshire, check out a picture of it here. Image: Kirsa Webb.

Of all the cats that we have found on archaeological sites, none have been found in discrete deposits that we could identify as representing intentional cat burials. I’ve dug up a dog that had been buried out the back of an old hotel (we named this pub-dog Barclay) and I helped dig up a dog that had been buried next to a ditch behind an old foundry (we named this dog Rusty). But we haven’t yet found any deliberate cat burials. All of the cat remains we have found have been the dried up and naturally mummified or completely skeletonized remains of cats which had crawled in underneath old buildings and died. At the best of times it’s pretty much impossible to tell how long they had been there. Regardless, the location where these moggies expired I plot on the site plan, in addition to the location at the back of the section where I formally lay them to rest. Rest in peace anonymous house cat from the past, rest in peace.

This naturally mummified cat was one of the first I found in Christchurch, underneath a house in Addington. I gave him a proper burial at the back of the section, and named him Max – the Cat Warrior. Image: Hamish Williams.

This one-legged articulated cat skeleton I found last August underneath and 1860s dwelling on Kilmore Street. He can’t have possibly crawled in under there with only one leg, leading me to conclude that his other three legs had been taken away post-mortem by rats. Image: Hamish Williams.

Rest in peace, one-legged cat. Rest in peace. Image: Hamish Williams.

Clever Cats

Not just household pets and vermin catchers in 19thcentury Christchurch, cats were also, for a short time, stage spectacles. Between June and early August 1897 William and Musgrove’s ‘Matsa Vaudeville Company’ toured New Zealand, performing for the people of Christchurch with a six-night season at the Theatre Royal. Star of the show was Europe’s renowned ‘Cat King’ Mr Leoni Clarke and his menagerie of performing cats, rats, mice, and canaries. Clarke was evidently something of a Dr Doolittle, and in his early career went by the name of ‘The Professor’ (I couldn’t find out if this was just his early stage name or if Mr Clarke had actually been a zoology professor). So popular was the show expected to be, that special late night tram services were put on to all the suburbs during the season so that all patrons would be able to get home afterwards (Star 3/7/1897: 6).

Star of the 1897 Matsa Vaudeville Company: Mr Leoni Clarke – ‘The Cat King’. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22685244. Ref: Eph-B-VARIETY-1897-01-1.

Contemporary descriptions of Clark’s animal show suggest it really was something to behold. The cats and monkeys first held a hurdle race, before the cats tightrope-walked a pole ‘thickly studded with canaries, mice, and white rats’. The cats and monkeys then jumped through burning hoops, before the cats entertained the audience with a boxing match. Clarke was perhaps most famous for pioneering the ‘parachuting cat’ act. The cat climbs up a long rope suspended from the ceiling to reach a basket with parachute. At the given signal, the cat descends down by parachute safely into Clarke’s arms (Taranaki Herald 19/6/1897: 2). I don’t know about you, but I’d pay top dollar to see that.

Are Cats easy to train? “There is no animal I know of half so hard to train as a cat” said the Professor. Cats are very scarey. How do you accustom them to the audience? “ Why, that’s easy enough,” replied the Professor. “ I rehearse them at first before a gang of roughs with orchestra accompaniment. The roughs make noise enough, and after a few months the cats don’t mind an audience any more than I do.” How well do they stand the show life? “Not very well. They are continually dying, and there are times when the whole troupe will get the sulks.” Do you ever get scratched? The Professor replied by holding up both hands. They were simply covered with scratches. “They can’t hurt me by scratching,” said the Professor. “I’m tough” (Lyttelton Times 19/5/1891: 2).

Clarke was not the first of Europe’s famous 19thcentury animal trainers, nor would he be the last. Certainly there was good money in training and showing cats – Clarke later reckoned he made up to £100 a week from his cat show (Wanganui Chronicle18/6/1917: 6). The cat thing must have gotten old pretty quick though, because by December 1898 Clarke had seemingly given up on cats and was instead touring his boxing kangaroo around the London music halls (New Zealand Times 3/12/1898: 1).

Space Cat

According to some ancient astronaut theorists, cats are magical creatures that were worshipped as gods in Ancient Egypt because (just like pineapples) they are not of this world. Although the extraterrestrial origins of cats certainly cannot be ruled out, I am unaware of any firm archaeological evidence to support such a theory (and I’ve certainly not found any supporting archaeological evidence myself). Knowing how smart and secretive cats can be, I don’t think that they would give away much in the way of clues if indeed they were from outer space (but do check out this video). Regardless, just in case cats are from out of this world and they indeed have a grand plan in store for us, let us always be kind to, and show respect for the cats, and indeed all other animals, in life and in death.

Muncho the space cat (2016-2018) and 19th century salt-glazed sewer pipes. Rest in peace space cat, rest in peace. Image: Hamish Williams.

Hamish Williams

References

Marchini, L. 2006. Of mousers and men: The archaeology of the Domestic Cat. Current Archaeology 318. [Online. Available at:] https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/archaeology-of-the-domestic-cat.htm. [Accessed 25/05/2018].

Lyttelton Times. [online]. Available at http://papaerspast.natlib.govt.nz

New Zealand Times. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

South Canterbury Times. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Star. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Taranaki Herald. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz