Whisky, that philosophic wine, that liquid sunshine

It is a well-known truth, in this office at least, that archaeology and whisky go well together. Or, perhaps more accurately, that archaeologists and whisky go well together. With a few exceptions (you know who you are, gin drinkers), it is not at all uncommon to find yourself in the company of an archaeologist with a fine appreciation for a single malt (or two, or three). With that in mind, it’s a bit of a wonder that we haven’t thought to write a blog post combining the two before now (honestly, archaeology and whisky are two of my favourite things, what were we thinking).

It won’t surprise any of our readers, I think, to hear that alcohol bottles are one of the most common artefacts we find on 19th century sites (here in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand). Despite the temperance movement in the late 19th century and the many discussions and testimonies about the evils of the demon drink, alcohol remained a popular product. As with the gin bottles we discussed a while back, however, it can be difficult to know exactly which types of alcohol were originally contained in these bottles – unless we have a label or embossing (and even then, these bottles were reused over and over again for a variety of products). Fortunately for this post, as it happens, we’ve been lucky enough to find a few examples that do have labels, each with their own story to tell about whisky consumption in Christchurch.

dsc_7168ed1

“Black  beer” bottles of various sizes found in Christchurch. While a large number of these were probably used for beer, the larger quart sizes in particular would also have been commonly used for spirits like whisky and gin. Image: J. Garland.

Johnnie Walker.

Old Johnnie Walker. Established in Kilmarnock in the mid-19th century, John Walker (and then John Walker and Sons) has making whisky for far longer than some of you might be aware. It’s advertised in New Zealand newspapers throughout the latter decades of the 19th century. This particular bottle, found on a site in Rangiora, has been cut with a hot wire around the shoulder of the bottle to create a preserving jar out of the base (the jar like shape of the cut base would be used to store fruit or preserves and sealed with wax). Image: C. Dickson (left), Southland Times 16/04/1887: 4 (right).

Genuine pure whisky will never injure the system.

Advertisements for whisky in the 19th century were many and varied. This one, for Teacher and Sons, makes the oft-used claim that “Genuine pure whisky will never injure the system; it is the common inferior stuff which is the curse of the world.” Image: Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 3/06/1904: 2.

removing the drunk from whisky

In which an enterprising chemist with only the best of intentions claims to have removed the “drunk” from whisky, but not the exhilarating powers. Amazingly, his discovery doesn’t seem to have taken off. Image: Dunstan Times 30/08/1909: 2.

saucel-paisley

This label has a bit of a story behind it. We sent it off to the good folks at Whisky Galore, who managed to trace it to the Saucel distillery in Paisley, Scotland – one of the biggest distilleries of the late 19th century (apparently producing over a million gallons a year in the 1890s), but one that has now been completely erased from the landscape. The distillery was established c. the 1790s and continued through into at least the early 20th century (it was taken over by the Distiller’s Company in the early 1900s). It was bought by James Stewart and Co. in 1825 and, although it was resold in 1830 to Graham Menzies, continued to carry the Stewart name for quite some time. There are several advertisements to be found in New Zealand newspapers in the 1860s and 1870s for Saucel or ‘Stewart’s’ whisky from Paisley. Image: J. Garland (left), Taranaki Herald 05/03/1864: 4 (right).

squirrel whisky

Squirrel whisky! We do not recommend. Image: Tuapeka Times 8/07/1908: 1.

Kirkliston

Another old establishment, the Kirkliston distillery was established in 1795 in West Lothian, Scotland. It had a series of owners during the 19th century, including Andrew Stein, who installed a Stein continuous triple still, John Buchanan and Co. and, eventually, John Stewart and Co., who bought it in 1855. Stewart and Co. installed a Coffey still, taking the distillery back to large scale grain distilling rather than using pot-stills. John Stewart and Co., and the Kirkliston distillery, were one of the six Scottish whisky manufacturers who formed the Distillers Company in 1877 (see below!). The Kirkliston distillery was apparently also a large producer, with estimates of 700 000 gallons a year in the 1880s. It’s quite often mentioned in New Zealand newspapers, especially in the 1860s and 1870s. Image: (from top right down) C. Dickson, Press 4/01/1865: 2Otago Daily Times 1/09/1865: 1Press 16/11/1864: 5 and Dickson, C. (right).

doctor's special

See? Whisky is totally medicinal. Image: New Zealand Herald 29/07/1925: 12. 

thom-and-cameron-for-blog

Thom and Cameron may be the most common whisky manufacturer we’ve come across in the archaeological record (this is not to say that they were the most commonly consumed, just that their bottles may survive better in the ground that most). They were established in 1850 and had premises in Glasgow, although I’m not sure if this is where the distillery was or not. They made a variety of whiskies, including Glenroy, Rob Roy, Hawthorn, Old Highland Whisky, Special Reserve Whisky and, my personal favourite, Long John Whiskey (named after Ben Nevis whisky distiller John Macdonald, who was apparently quite tall). A description of their distillery in 1888 mentions “immense vats of American oak’, including some that held 10 000 gallons. Image: J. Garland (left), Press 03/10/1895: 1. 

Thom and Cameron

We also found the fragments of a Thom and Cameron jubilee whisky jug on a site on St Asaph Street last year. The jug, which depicts a particularly sour faced looking Victoria (she has definitely got her eye on you), would have been made in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 50 years on the throne. Image: C. Dickson (left) and The Sale Room (right).

idle men need duff's whisky

Idle men need Duff’s whisky. Now you know. Image: Auckland Star 9/09/1933: 8.

Distiller's Company

This flask has a metal capsule seal with the mark of the Distillers Company Ltd, or D. C. L. These guys were formed in 1877 by six Scottish distilleries. By the early to mid-20th century, they had become one of the leading whisky (and pharmaceuticals) companies in Scotland. Image: J. Garland (left), Press 22/04/1916: 5. 

heddle leith

We don’t know much about this one, unfortunately. James Heddle was a whisky, gin and cordial manufacturer or distributor based in Leith, Scotland during the latter half of the 19th century. We have advertisements for his products in New Zealand during the 1870s, including for lime cordial, old tom gin and scotch whisky. Image: C. Dickson (left),  Wanganui Herald 16/05/1879: 4Press 22/03/1871: 4Press 13/01/1925: 10.

Occidental

As well as importing bottles of whisky, people imported casks and bottled the spirits here. This bottle label says “SCOTCH WHISKY, bottled in New Zealand by B. Perry, OCCIDENTAL HOTEL.” The Occidental was a well-known and well-loved establishment on Hereford Street in Christchurch that was still running until just before the earthquakes. Benjamin Perry, who was proprietor of the hotel during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, holds the distinction of being one of the only licensed victuallers in the city to never be in breach of his liquor license. We couldn’t find any specific reference to whisky being bottled at the hotel (although we did find other references to whisky at the hotel…), but we did find a notice in the paper in the 1910s advertising for washed whisky bottles, presumably for that very same purpose. Image: J. Garland (left), Sun 27/07/1918: 11 (top right), Press 17/01/1903: 8.

ruining the whisky punch

And, last but not least, whatever you do, don’t ruin the whisky punch with water. Image: Evening Star 23/01/1884: 2.

Jessie Garland

References

Papers Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

The Cater-Ring

Following on from last week’s blog post, when we discovered a tea set used by a local 19th century caterer – this time we will take a closer look at what catering may have been like for the Victorians.

Prior to this find, catering was one of those 19th century occupations that I’d taken for granted, or never given any thought to. It certainly surprised me to find such specific evidence of this industry, especially to glimpse a particular individual’s business. But hey, these are the things that keep our jobs interesting! Our bread and butter if you will…

When I first began to think about what this industry may have been like for L. J. Smith and his counterparts, I had visions of a primary school cook-off – in which everyone brings a pot-luck plate (made by their mum) to the local school gala day. But upon further research, I found that the industry was more established than this. Caterers were commonly used at many events, including children’s birthday parties, afternoon teas, garden parties, balls and dances, banquets, the races and A & P shows, to name a few.

Despite the number of events these guys must have attended, I only found one really sensational tale regarding the life of a New Zealand caterer, in which a well-known Wanganui professional slipped in the kitchen and slashed his wrist on broken glass, requiring emergency surgery (Marlborough Express 01/09/1900: 3). This is in sharp comparison to the bigger and more dramatic experiences of caterers back in Europe. London’s Evening Post regales us with tales about dodgy caterers being fined for serving cheap meats they claimed were delicacies, a mass poisoning at a medical congress banquet, in which 250 doctors became ill, and the caterer claimed he was framed by someone in a conspiracy to ruin his reputation (Evening Post 10/11/1894: 1, 03/08/1935: 28). Caterers were even being honoured at Windsor Castle for their edible menus (made of sugar tissue paper and cake frosting; Evening Post, 21/11/1906: 15).

All of this was entertaining to read, but what was it like to be a caterer in New Zealand during the 19th century? Like other occupations we have looked at on the blog, early caterers on our shores often had multi-faceted careers – chefs and restaurateurs, confectioners and bakers often moonlighted as caterers when opportunities arose, and successful proprietors were known to open up their own tearooms as a side enterprise.  Some of the professionals who appeared many times in newspapers had seemingly successful careers: one is described as “famous” in his obituary, and L. J. Smith himself is described as well respected (Auckland Star 23/06/1917: 5). A caterer’s name was also often announced in newspapers prior to an event, seemingly as a draw card to advertise the occasion, and they were subsequently thanked, sometimes with a description of the fare provided. So people were certainly interested in their work – I’m thinking the 19th century equivalent of posting a picture of your meal on Facebook?

But what kind of crust did these guys earn? I didn’t find any catering costings during my research, although I did find several bankruptcy notices, and occasions when community groups helped to sell off goods purchased for cancelled events, so the caterer wouldn’t make a loss (Taranaki Herald 11/02/1897: 2). We also know that they formed a union to raise the price of tariffs, which may have helped their profits (Grey River Argus 09/11/1907: 3). There was also always the occupational hazard of theft to consider – the poor guy in this story seems to have lost some equipment…

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

Auckland Star 05/08/1943:6

The equipment that some caterers served their fare on was alluded to last week in reference to the blue and white patterned tea set complete with the company logo. The quality and range of serving ware and equipment offered by a caterer, was no doubt related to the formality of the affair and the money spent by the patrons. One New York caterer made place markers for each of his guests in the form of recognisable caricature statuettes of them (Grey River Argus 13/07/1886: 4) – seems a bit over-the-top? More commonly, advertisements mentioned that marquees were available for hire, as well as boilers, tables, crockery, glassware, cutlery, etc. (Press 15/06/1907: 8). One proprietor even stated that her hands would never have touched the flour that made her bread, as she owned the most “up-to-date machinery” (Waikato Independent 18/05/1902: 1).

The formality and size of a catered affair would also determine if extra serving staff were required for an event. The photograph below shows the catering crew of the South Island section of the 9th contingent in which 480 people were said to have been served in four minutes!

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

Otago Witness 26/02/1902: 39

If you thought that was impressive, this fun nod to old-timely sexism draws our attention to the preference of male wait staff over female waitresses for formal affairs. The author explains that women are less professional than men, and any guest conversation that a waitress might overhear will be subsequently turned into community gossip. Go figure.

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

Auckland Star 10/12/1926:7

Probably the most entertaining part of researching catering was determining what they may have served. Check out the ‘Bill of Fare’ for the Telegraph Dinner of 1862. Seven courses? And most of it French! Bon appétit!

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

Lyttelton Times 12/07/1862:5

I suspect not all menus were so elaborate. More humble fare may not have been as far away from what we might find at our modern equivalent of community events – like mini savouries, saveloys and fairy bread. In fact, many advertisements offered scotch pies and ‘fancy bread’, and strawberries and cream were always a special treat (Woodville Examiner 28/04/1911: 4). As many caterers also marketed themselves as confectioners, lollies (typically boiled, sometimes mixed with nuts) were on hand – and depending on the affair, a lolly scramble may have been warranted.

Lolly scramble at a 1880s child's birthday party. Image: W. Crawford. Lolly scrambles were common at community picnics and children’s birthday parties (Swarbrick 2016).

Lolly scramble at an 1880s child’s birthday party. Image: W. Crawford. Tairāwhiti Museum, Te Whare Taonga O Te Tairāwhiti. Lolly scrambles were common at community picnics and children’s birthday parties (Swarbrick 2016).

One of the most commonly catered community events during the 19th century were picnics. Organisations such as firms, churches, unions, clubs and Sunday schools held annual or even more frequent picnics. The picnic would have been a more exotic affair, and required a different menu than a sit down full course meal. Such foodstuffs would need to be served cold and stored in picnic baskets, napkins and tin containers. Common items were sandwiches, cold cuts, cakes, biscuits, cheeses, jellies and pickled fruit. Beverages commonly included ginger beer or ale, lemonade and, of course, tea! (Mitchell 1995: 16). These events (for which the caterers were often paid for by fundraising) frequently required large amounts of food. A combined Thames Sunday schools’ picnic with over 1000 children in attendance required 120 lbs of cake, 1000 dozen buns, 100 lbs of bread, 25 lbs of lollies, 50 lbs of ham, 6 lbs of tea, 25 lbs of sugar, 10 lbs of butter, 6 gallons of milk and peaches (Mitchell 1995: 27).

Essentially, whatever was on the event menu would have included a great deal of MEAT. The European settlers attempted to recreate many of their traditional foods in New Zealand, such as the standard “meat and three vege” combination, which still has its place in many New Zealand homes today (Burton 2016). The main cuisine difference between the homeland and the new frontier was that the quantity of meat consumed by the pioneers significantly increased. The availability and comparative inexpensiveness of meat in New Zealand meant that meat could be eaten for three meals a day, and fish was much less common, due to its British associations with the working class (Burton 2016). Mr Cooper, editor of The Scotsman newspaper visited New Zealand in 1897, and stated that “the fault with [New Zealand hotels] is that they offer you too much meat” and “It was my firm belief that New Zealanders eat more meat and drink more tea than any other people in the world” (Nelson Evening Mail 10/06/1897: 4). There was a small 19th century vegetarian population of New Zealand, some of which were likely to have been part of the Canterbury Dietetic Reform Association (founded in 1882), which promoted the health benefits of a vegetarian diet (Burton 2016). However, these people probably wouldn’t have been too popular at a party, nor would a caterer have been if he left meat off the menu. As Homer Simpson once said: “You don’t make friends with salad!”

Colonial Goose. A great example of the adaption of traditional British cuisine to the New Zealand colony. (Spoiler – it doesn’t: contain any traces of goose!) Goose was hard to come by in New Zealand, so lamb or mutton was used in its place. Image Insureandgo.

Colonial Goose. A great example of the adaption of traditional British cuisine to the New Zealand colony. (Spoiler – it doesn’t: contain any traces of goose!) Goose was hard to come by in New Zealand, so lamb or mutton was used in its place. Image Insureandgo.

Chelsea Dickson

 References

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

Burton, D. ‘Food – Meat’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/food/page-1 (Accessed 16 September 2016).

Grey River Argus [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

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

Marlborough Express[online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Mitchell, I. 1995 ‘Picnics in New Zealand During the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: An Interpretive Study’, MA thesis, Massey University.

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

Otago Witness [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

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

Swarbrick, N. ‘Birthdays and wedding anniversaries – Celebrating birthdays’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/38840/lolly-scramble (accessed 16 September 2016).

Taranaki Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Waikato Independent [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Woodville Examiner [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Picturing Christchurch

As a researcher for Underground Overground Archaeology, I spend my time searching written and visual sources for historical information on the sites the archaeologists are working on. The newspapers available on Papers Past are some of the best sources for rediscovering nineteenth-century Christchurch. Photographs, where they are available, offer additional layers of information not available in the written sources. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Christchurch City Libraries, Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Library of New Zealand  have many photographs of early Christchurch online. The website Early New Zealand Photographers and their Successors offers information on photographers and examples of their work.

We are indebted to amateur photographer Dr Alfred Charles Barker, immigrant on the Charlotte Jane in 1850 and the settlement’s doctor, for many of the views of the growing city. He photographed early buildings, local residents and Christchurch city streets. The Canterbury Museum holds a collection of his glass plate negatives, many of which are available to view online.

A number of professional photographers set up businesses in Christchurch during the nineteenth century, producing views of the city and as well as portraits of its inhabitants. The first professional photographer, John Crombie, arrived in 1857 from Auckland. In that year the Lyttelton Times announced that “Photography has broken out like an epidemic amongst us”:

Crombie only stayed for a few months, but by 1865 there were seven photographers operating in the city (The Southern Provinces Almanac, 1865). Over the next 25 years, Christchurch would be home to over 40 studios. Last year Christchurch Uncovered looked at Charles Lawrence who had a photography studio on Oxford Terrace.

There was a thriving market in the sale of photographic views of the new settlement. These were often posted to friends and relatives overseas to show the “improvements” of Christchurch. In 1880 the studio of Edmund Wheeler and his son Edmund Richard Wheeler advertised that they would mount photographs purchased from them into an album and send it free of charge (Star 12/4/1880: 1). Wheeler and Son was one of the longest-lived of Christchurch’s nineteenth-century establishments, operating for nearly 50 years. They set up on Colombo Street in 1865 and moved into Cathedral Square in 1880 where the business remained until 1914 when it went bankrupt (The Southern Provinces Almanac 1865; Star 12/4/1880: 1 and 9/6/1914: 5). Like other photographers, the studio’s main activity was taking portraits, and they produced thousands.

Unidentified woman, by E. Wheeler's Studio. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Album 107.

Unidentified woman, by E. Wheeler’s Studio. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Album 107.

During the 1870s they issued an album of photographs of Christchurch and other locations around the country, which they described as “one of the most complete yet made of New Zealand Views”:

Nearly 20 years later in 1896, Wheeler and Son, in partnership with the New Zealand Scenery Publishing & Co., issued “The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery,” another compilation of photographs taken around the country:

High Street, Christchurch, by Wheeler and Son. Image: The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery.

High Street, Christchurch, by Wheeler and Son. Image: The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery.

Other Christchurch photographers also produced images of the city. John Gaul, who set up on Colombo Street in 1872, advertised in 1873 that he had in stock over 100 views of Christchurch and vicinity taken by William Sherlock, who was working in Gaul’s studio at the time (H. Wise & Co. 1872-73: 230):

Sherlock’s Christchurch photographs had been described in glowing terms in the Star newspaper in 1872. His views of the Avon were touted as “perfect gems” and Sherlock’s talent as a photographer commended:

Christchurch’s bridges proved to be popular subjects for photographers, partly due to their scenic nature but also because they were a symbol of engineering and progress. The studio of Thomas Easter and Frank Wallis produced a carte de visite (small photograph mounted on card measuring 6.5 cm x 10 cm) of the Victoria Bridge:

Victoria Bridge, by Easter and Wallis. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Box 85, No. 10.

Victoria Bridge, by Easter and Wallis. Image: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Box 85, No. 10.

Photographs of public buildings and churches like this one taken by Peter Niels Schourup were likewise very marketable:

Photographers from outside of Christchurch also produced views of the city. The Dunedin studio Burton Brothers visited Christchurch in the 1880s and took a number of photographs of the city’s buildings and streets:

A photograph they took of the intersection of Hereford Street and High Street features the Fisher building prominently in the centre. Christchurch Uncovered looked at the Reverend Thomas Richard Fisher several years ago.

Streetscapes such as this one of Oxford Terrace are valuable for researching nineteenth-century Christchurch buildings. The photograph shows Oram’s Royal Hotel in a high degree of detail, and even the hotel’s sign is clearly shown:

Detail of Oram's Royal Hotel.

Detail of Oram’s Royal Hotel.

Detail of Oram's Royal Hotel sign.

Detail of Oram’s Royal Hotel sign.

A Burton Brothers photograph of Hereford Street shows the building now known as Shand’s Emporium that has been recently moved to Manchester Street:

Detail of Shand's Emporium.

Detail of Shand’s Emporium.

In addition to buildings, we do a lot of research on Christchurch’s nineteenth-century roads and drainage. A photograph of “Colombo Road” in Sydenham, shows one of the channels that ran along the roadside to help combat the city’s drainage problems:

Detail of drainage channel alongside Colombo Road.

Detail of drainage channel alongside Colombo Road.

Unfortunately, only a small number of Christchurch’s streets and buildings were photographed during the nineteenth century, and thousands of the glass plate negatives from photography studios were lost during the First World War when glass was in short supply. Australian companies purchased them for as little as 3 pence per dozen, and one Auckland studio sold 6,000 of their negatives for the war effort (Press 29/5/1916: 6). A Sydney company visited Christchurch photography studios in 1916 and purchased a number of negatives of the old Canterbury identities.

Jill Haley

References

H. Wise & Co., 1878‐1979. Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.

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

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

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

The acclimatisation affair (or how we learned not to underestimate the power of the possum)

The first feeling that strikes everyone on coming to New Zealand is its intense want of animal life. Mountains, plains, rivers, – mere features without a soul; for you can hardly dignify the miserable ground lark, the wailing weka, or the ghoul-like eel with such a title.

– Lyttelton Times 18/02/1864: 5

When I first read the above quote, taken from a letter to the editor of the Lyttelton Times in 1864, I will admit to doing a double take. Then, to a sense of outrage and a strange urge to defend the ‘soulless’ landscape and wildlife of New Zealand from this 150 year old attack on its very being (despite the author of that sentence being unable to hear – or, I suspect, care about – my opinion). It’s such an odd, jarring statement to read about a country that now considers its natural landscape and native wildlife to be a source of pride, a country that places its mountains and plains and rivers at the heart of its national identity. Yet, this sentiment and others like it formed the impetus for one of the most influential colonial endeavours of the 19th century, one that irrevocably changed the land in which we live – to an extent that most of us don’t fully realise.

The wailing weka and the ghoul-like eel. Just not good enough, apparently. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The wailing weka and the ghoul-like eel. Just not good enough, apparently. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

It went by the name of ‘acclimatisation’ and consisted of the deliberate introduction of “beasts, birds, fishes, and vegetable productions, of such species as may be acclimatised with probable advantage to this province and to the colony” (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2). In New Zealand, and the rest of the British colonial world, the acclimatisation movement was largely driven by ‘Acclimatisation Societies’, who made it their mission to improve the plant and animal life of the lands they had chosen to settle. Basically, they imported a bunch of animals into the country from all over the world in a venture that seems to have been part scientific curiosity[1], part hunger[2], part boredom[3] and part an apparently inescapable need to rectify the “remarkable deficiency” of local wildlife.

There is perhaps no country in the world the natural zoology of which supplies so little to the subsistence or enjoyment of its inhabitants, as New Zealand. Of game there is almost none; quail, formerly plentiful, have nearly disappeared; pigeons and kakas are to be found only in the woods; ducks, eels and wild pigs complete the list. And if there are so few useful animals, those which add to the grace and enjoyment of life are scarcer still; of singing birds there are but the tui tui and the bell bird; neither of them ever heard, except in the neighbourhood of the forests…If, however, we turn from land to water, the inducements to engage in this enterprise are greater still. Our great snow rivers are absolutely without fish…At present, such rivers as the Waimakariri, the Rakaia or the Rangitata are worse than useless, obstructing travelling without assisting navigation.

– Press 17/08/1861: 1 (emphasis mine)

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was first formed in 1864, modelled on the example of the London society, which aimed to introduce animals from the colonies into England, and the Victorian society, which aimed to introduce English and other colonial animals into Australia. Societies already existed in Auckland and Otago and the Canterbury branch followed in their footsteps, with the same stated intention of improving the fauna of the new colony (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2).

Excerpts from a letter about a proposed Acclimatisation Society in Canterbury.

Excerpts from a letter about a proposed Acclimatisation Society in Canterbury. Press 17/08/1861: 1.

Early supporters and members included some of the more well-known names of the early settlement, including Edward Wakefield, Sir John Cracroft Wilson, William Guise Brittan, Joseph Brittan, W. L. Travers, William Rolleston, William Sefton Moorhouse and John Edward Fitzgerald. Some of these men had already made their own individual efforts to introduce new species to New Zealand. William Guise Brittan had imported several ‘English singing birds’, as had John Watts-Russell. Sir John Cracroft Wilson had apparently made “an attempt…on a scale of oriental magnificence to introduce the game from the North of India” (Press 17/08/1861: 1). While their stated intention included the practical provision of food for the colony, their emphasis seems to have largely been on the aesthetic and sporting (i.e. hunting and fishing) advantages of acclimatisation.

crazy menu image

The Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, on the other hand, while also interested in the practical and sporting advantages of new animals, seem to have also had an intense interest in eating as many creatures as they could. This menu, if I may draw your attention to some of the more unusual dishes, included patty of frogs, curried opossum, jugged kangaroo and ‘fricandeau of wombat’. Image: Lyttelton Times 4/12/1861: 4. 

It is worth noting – in fact, important to note – that the acclimatisation societies of New Zealand weren’t the first to introduce new animals into New Zealand. Sealers, whalers, missionaries and early European visitors to the country brought with them chicken and pigs and sheep and other animals for food and companionship. Sir George Grey, the early governor of the colony, had his own collection of exotic birds and other creatures that he had imported into the country. And, of course, long before all of this, Māori had brought kiore (the Pacific rat), kurī (dog), kūmara and the ‘Polynesian suite’ of cultigens with them when they first arrived on these shores. For as long as humans have been moving around the world, they’ve been modifying the fauna and flora of the places they visit. The thing about the acclimatisation societies, though, that I think is worth emphasising, is that they were part of an organised, concerted and deliberate effort to change – to improve – the ecology of the country. It wasn’t just a hobby or a side effect of human migration. It was a bonafide movement.

Here in New Zealand, the species they introduced (and must take the blame for) include a selection of birds, fish, mammals, rodents and other creatures (bees!) – many of them now considered pests. Many of them were considered pests within a one or two decades of their introduction, to be honest. Some of them were creatures you might not have thought of as imported species, such as Ligurian bees (from Italy), bumble bees (sometimes referred to as ‘humble bees’) and lobsters. The article I found on lobsters begins with the sentence “Mr Purvis, chief engineer of the Iconic, has succeeded in bringing nine lobsters alive out of twelve” (Star 19/10/1892: 3). Well done, Mr Purvis, well done.

Ligurian bees and a picture of Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume (barely relevant, yet hilarious). Images: Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.

A Ligurian bee and a picture of Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume (barely relevant, yet hilarious). Images: Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.

Birds seem to have been a particular area of interest and focus, which seems odd for an ecosystem already constructed around avian life. As well as game birds, like pheasants, quail, ducks and geese, there was an effort to introduce singing birds (clearly, Joseph Banks’ deafening dawn chorus of 1770 had lost its voice by the 1860s) and, to be honest, as many birds as they damn well could. Interestingly, the introduction of birds wasn’t a one-way street: there’s at least one account in 1872 of a shipment of 1000 tui, wax-eyes and parroquets from New Zealand to England (and a return shipment of English birds to this country).

Some of the birds introduced to New Zealand included the chukor (an Indian game bird), the magpie (thanks Australia, thanks a lot), the laughing jackass (amusingly mentioned in the papers as the Australian jackass), Virginian quail, Canadian geese, Teneriffe grouse, chickens from Kansas, swans, sparrows and German owls. The German owls are possibly my favourite, because the acclimatisation of German owls in the 19th century had turned into the GERMAN OWL MENACE by the 1930s (and yes, the caps are entirely necessary). So much so that the Canterbury association was indignant when the papers suggested that they were responsible for releasing more owls into the wild. A close second would have been the “peculiarly inoffensive” emu named Jack, who terrorised horses by trying to fraternise with them all the way back in 1865.

GERMAN OWL MENACE

GERMAN OWL MENACE. Image: Press 19/07/1935: 22.

There was also a strong emphasis on the introduction of fish, especially trout and salmon, into the otherwise “useless” rivers of the Canterbury plains. Millions of fish were “liberated” into the streams and rivers of the district , born from ova shipped into Lyttelton from all over the world and raised in purpose-built fish ponds in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We excavated the site of the fish-ponds a while back, but there was nothing left of what was once the gateway for Canterbury’s freshwater fish populations (the Otago ones do still exist, though, and have been the subject of some cool archaeological projects over the last few years).

A survey plan of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society grounds in 1913, including the fish ponds.

A survey plan of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society grounds in 1913, including the fish ponds. Source: Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) and licensed by LINZ for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence (link is external).

As well as the birds and the fishes, however, there were the beasts. Let us not forget the beasts. Possums and rabbits and deer, oh my. Polecats, even. There appear to have been wildly differing levels of success with mammals and rodents. Some, like the kangaroo or the “game from the north of India” attempted by Cracroft Wilson, weren’t hugely successful. Others, like rabbits (described as ‘evil’ as early as the 1870s), possums, hares, deer and, of course, sheep, took to New Zealand in a flash. Most of them were imported as game, rather than food (with a couple of obvious exceptions). Yes, that’s right. We have so many possums and rabbits because it seemed like a fun idea at the time.

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Yep. Good plan. Image: Star 19/08/1893: 5.

And when I say ‘in a flash’, it’s almost an understatement. Some of their greatest successes very quickly became their greatest headaches. By 1876, the New Zealand government had to pass the Rabbit Nuisance Act in response to the success of that species. By 1882, societies were recommending that hares be killed all year round rather than just during specific seasons. By 1898 they were suggesting that people could do so without a license. By the turn of the century there were suggestions for some measure of governmental control over the power of societies and individuals to import “animals or birds that might become nuisances to the community” (Press 23/05/1894: 5) and by the mid-20th century it was generally acknowledged that many of these introduced species had done irreparable damage to the native and other introduced species of New Zealand. Let’s not forget the German Owl Menace, everybody. At the same time, despite the increasing awareness of the problems of introduced species evident among acclimatisation societies as the decades progressed, they didn’t stop doing it, even importing other species to deal with problematic ones (why hello, stoats and ferrets).

I find the whole notion of acclimatisation societies quite weird to wrap my head around, to be honest. Especially in light of the biosecurity that is now so much a part of New Zealand life. Yet, the effects of their work are everywhere. If we look at it from an archaeological perspective the efforts of these societies are present in every assemblage of animal bones we excavate from 19th century sites in Christchurch – chicken, duck, sheep, cow, pig, horse, turkey, cat, rat, goose or dog, they’re all there.

bones

Bones, bones, bones. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

We don’t even blink at them most of the time, because we’re so used – so ‘acclimatised’ – to having these species around. They’re a part of our normal, a statement that says as much about how much the Acclimatisation Society of Canterbury (and its brethren throughout the country) changed and constructed our present day world as anything else I’ve written here.  Because 150 years ago, like the settlers who brought them here, these animals were very much strangers in a foreign land. And their impact, like the impact of the colonial settlement itself (and all colonial settlements), has changed this land forever, for better or for worse. You be the judge.

Jessie Garland

[1] “Hmm, I wonder if these ones will survive?”

[2] “They wanted practically to benefit the country by increasing the food of the people, and a plant or an animal that would not thrive on the ordinary conditions of English life and cultivation was of no use to them” (Lyttlelton Times 4/12/1861: 4).

[3] “What ho, old chap, where’s all the fish and game at?”

“A healthy mind and human happiness”

Here in New Zealand, we like to think ourselves as a nation of outdoor enthusiasts, always off tramping, kayaking, mountain biking, etc. But it wasn’t always thus. Our love affair with the outdoors began in the mid-late 19th century and was part of a movement seen throughout much of the western world, as people began to use their increased leisure time – and the wonders of the railways – to explore the world around them. This isn’t the time to dwell on the other factors that led to this movement, but there were a number of spurs, including increasing industrialisation and urbanisation (both of which were linked to an increasing awareness that the natural environment was threatened by these processes), and the rise of the middle class.

Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

This post continues the theme of exploring Christchurch’s hinterland and, somewhat more explicitly than the other posts in the series, documents some of the factors that led to New Zealand’s increasing engagement with the outdoors in the early-mid 20th century. The exploration, development and use of Aoraki and Kura Tāwhiti were both related to this theme but in many ways, Locke Stream Hut epitomises it. It’s also an intriguing example of attempted social engineering, and the development of our network of back country huts and tracks. The hut lies (as its name suggests) on Locke Stream, on the true left of the Taramakau River, just below Harper Pass.

Location map. Image: Google.

Location map. Image: Google.

Like Aoraki and Kura Tāwhiti, Māori were here long before Pākehā. The area was used particularly by Māori from Tai Poutini as a trail when travelling via Harper Pass with pounamu (Brailsford 1996: 99). Well-known 19th century Māori journeys across the pass include parties fleeing up the Hurunui River and over Harper Pass to Tai Poutini following the Ngāti Toa raid on Kaiapoi pā in 1832 (Pascoe 1955). And Māori were instrumental in the Pākehā ‘discovery’ of the route to the West Coast via Harper Pass. Many gold miners would subsequently use this route, until it was superseded by the Arthurs Pass route, after which it seems to have been little used by Pākehā. The route would return to prominence (of a sort) in the early-mid 20th century.

The kitchen/dining area, Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

The kitchen/dining area, Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

Pākehā exploration of the outdoors was initially led by the elite (as seen at Aoraki), as they had both the time and money to make the long journeys required. By the early-mid 20th century, New Zealand had developed to the point where tourism had spread beyond the preserve of the wealthy few. The development of the railway network had a significant part to play in this, as did legislation enshrining the 40 hour week, passed in 1936. Now not only were people able to reach the outdoors easily, they also had a weekend in which to be able to explore further afield. Histories of outdoor pursuits in New Zealand give a sense of the sheer unbridled joy that the young men and women who took advantage of these opportunities found in them – try the wonderful Shelter from the Storm or any of the histories of club ski-fields (I’m sure Tramping covers this too, but unfortunately I’ve not read it yet).

One of the wonderful spikes used in the construction of the hut. Image: K. Watson.

One of the wonderful spikes used in the construction of the hut. Image: K. Watson.

At the same time that weekends became real and official, one William Parry – known as Bill – was becoming increasingly concerned about the health and fitness of New Zealanders (he was also quite big on vegetarianism, too). Parry was a member of the Labour government during the Depression (as well as being one of the founding members of the Labour Party) and, from 1935, Minister of Internal Affairs (Gustafson 2012). He used this position to tackle his concerns about the nation’s health and well-being, arranging a conference in August 1937 to discuss ways “to judiciously guide the people in the wiser use of the increased leisure time at their disposal.” (AJHR 1938 H22). Amongst other things, the conference concluded that physical fitness and recreation were vital for “a healthy mind and human happiness” (AJHR 1938 H22). As a result, the Physical Welfare and Recreation Act was passed in November 1937, which led to the establishment of the Department of Internal Affairs’ Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch and the National Council of Physical Welfare and Recreation (AJHR 1938 H22).

The hand-adzed timber framework. Image: K. Watson.

The hand-adzed timber framework. Image: K. Watson.

The newly established Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch set about encouraging ‘group travel’ (which sounds a bit like my idea of hell) – which it defined as low-cost and low-stress recreational activity by groups in the natural environment, a policy that had apparently been very successful elsewhere in the world (AJHR 1939 H22). The Branch decided that mountain tracks – “quiet pathways into the country where people could rest from the noise and bustle of the modern city” (EP 28/12/1944) – were the ideal destination for group travel. But many existing tracks were deemed to be unsuitable for this low-cost low-stress travel, being overcrowded, too expensive and/or too arduous (none of which would be good for your stress levels). The Branch felt its duty was to “provide recreation for New Zealand people on the lower levels of income, people who would be pleased with a less luxurious and much less expensive track system that young workers can afford…to reduce the cost while easing the degree of exertion and increasing the comfort.” (EP 28/12/1944). And from this grew the Mountain Huts and Tracks programme, which led to the reopening of the Harper track, and the construction of Locke Stream Hut (along with several other huts). The other track opened up as a result of this programme was the Tararua track.

The Harper Pass track was re-cut in 1939-40, with the plan being that there were would be five huts on it. Huts No. 1 (Lake Taylor Hut) and 2 (Lake Sumner Hut) were extant by early 1940 (AJHR 1940 H22). Hut No. 4 – Locke Stream Hut – was built shortly afterwards, with some of the materials packed in by horse and the timbers cut on site. Which means that the hut has fabulous hand-adzed tōtara floor slabs, which are a thing of beauty. It’s also got a timber framework (kawaka and tōtara) and, respecting the sensibilities of the era, a central common area with two bunkrooms either side, one for men and one for women (no longer enforced!). As is typical of back country huts all over New Zealand, it’s clad in corrugated iron (original) – less typically, it’s lined with ply (not original). All in all, the hut is a wonderful example of the use of traditional construction methods and consequently, full of character. I highly recommend a visit!

The rather fabulous floorboards! Image: K. Watson.

The rather fabulous floorboards! Image: K. Watson.

If you do decide to visit the hut, stop and think for a moment about the social and political processes that led to its construction. And put aside thoughts about a paternalistic government to reflect on the freedom experienced by those who took advantage of these opportunities during the early-mid 20th century. Because, for many of those who did, it wasn’t just an opportunity to escape the city, it was also – in many cases – an opportunity to escape their elders, and some of the social norms of the day. I’m not suggesting that people went completely crazy (although I’m sure some must have), but there’s a wonderful sense of freedom that permeates social histories of outdoor activities during this period.

Katharine Watson & Rosie Geary Nichol

(& with thanks to the Department of Conservation, who funded this work)

References

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives. [online] Available at: www.atojs.natlib.govt.nz.

Brailsford, B., 1996. Greenstone Trails: The Maori and pounamu. Stoneprint Press, Hamilton.

Evening Post. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Gustafson, B., 2012. Parry, William Edward – Parry, William Edward. [online] Available at: www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/3p12/parry-william-edward.

Pascoe, J., 1955. The Maori and the mountains. Te Ao Hou: The New World No.12. Held in DOC file on Locke Stream Hut.