‘Archaia’ and ‘Logos’, what even is archaeology?

The word archaeology comes from the Greek archaia (“ancient things”) and logos (“theory” or “science”). So, archaeologists study past societies through the material culture. In other words, we write the history analysing what people threw away or left behind. That’s what it is, although the origin of archaeology was quite different!

Back in the day, great discoveries of ancient civilizations enchanted the curiosity of those intrepid explorers who travelled the world looking for antiquities. The ruins of Troy and the image of Henrich Schliemann’s wife wearing the Priam’s Treasure (referred to as “Jewels of Helen”) as well as the Tutankhamun tomb are probably two of the most iconic finds of the last centuries. On 22 November 1922 when Lord Carnavon enquired anxiously “Can you see anything?” and Howard Carter replied “Yes, wonderful things”, expressing the grandeur of the ancient world. Those expeditions became the excuse to plunder historical sites to boost either personal or museum collections, with no further interest other than hunting treasures, contradicting the rightful purpose of archaeology.

Left: Sophia Schliemann wearing some of the gold jewellery from the Priam’s Treasure. Right: Howard Carter and the Tutankhamun tomb. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

The archaeological discoveries at ancient cities also inspired the decoration on contemporary ceramics. Tea, table and serving wares also became a mechanism to emulate the magnificent past. Idyllic depictions of exotic and remote places, scenes with ruins of Greece, Rome and oriental inspired scenes are all relatively common finds on Christchurch archaeological sites.

Left: Medina patterned plate. It is likely that this pattern draws inspiration from Medina, the city in Saudi Arabia to the north of Mecca. Image: J. Garland. Right: drainer decorated with the Corinthian pattern, the name of which refers to one of the three Greek architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, with ruins and columns depicted on the scene. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

From left to right. We don’t know what the title of the pattern was, but the fragment clearly features a hand painted Grecian figure. The name of the following patterns: Egyp[t] or Egyp[tian] and Persian also evoking past cultures. However, in these examples, the scene depicted is unknown as we only found a tiny piece of ceramic! Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

At that time of treasure hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the object itself pulled out of its place was the centre of attention. And that’s not our job. Rather than treasures by themselves, artefacts are precious because they help us to interpret and understand how people used to live. That’s their actual value. And that’s possible to achieve when studying the objects in relation to the context in which they were found. During the latter half of the 20th century, archaeology grew up as science, with the development of methods of fieldwork, recording and cataloguing and the use of specific tools and technologies, shared with other disciplines like anthropology or geology. Archaeology is a social science, so archaeologists are scientists. Unlike fossickers or curio hunters, archaeologists always take notes and make drawings and plans. This is key, because archaeology is essentially preservation by record.

Archaeologist in action! Left: Hamish taking notes on site. Image: T. Anderson. Right: Hamish and I drawing and old curb in the city. Image: H. Williams.

By the sounds of it, the real profile of an archaeologist is unlike the idealised portrait of it. We are far away from one of the most popular archaeologists ever. Who pops up in our minds when thinking of archaeology? Of course, Indiana Jones… except for Hamish! Both share part of the outfit, it’s not the whip but the cool felt hat! Well, archaeologists wear usually safety helmets on site, but in their spare time, wherever archaeologists go, the hat would be a perfect accessory, aye?

Left: Indiana Jones. Image: Rex/Shutterstock. Right: Hamish wearing his felt hat at the Edwin Fox Maritime museum in Picton. Archaeologists do love to soak up the local history! Image: H. Williams.

The fictional image of a female archaeologist is probably even less accurate. Can’t find anything in common between Lara Croft and us. Well, she is presented as a highly intelligent, athletic and beautiful archaeologist… Maybe it is a little bit like us.

Beyond the stereotypes and the history of archaeology, constructed by and starring male archaeologists like Carter or Schliemann, there were women archaeologists as well, although it was ‘not a common thing, for obvious reasons’ (Star 15/04/1914: 7). Perhaps because those were so obvious (irony on going!), none of those reasons were nuanced… Anyway, the point is that Jeanette Le Fleming was an archaeologist. She married in 1885 Sir William Le Fleming, born in Christchurch in 1861, eight Baronet of Rydal and prominent settler in Taranaki district (Evening Post 3/11/1945: 11).

New Zealand’s newspapers in 1932 reported Jeanette’s return to New Zealand after a long trip. ‘In her capacity of archaeologist’ (crikey!), she had visited Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Denmark and investigated ruins in Zimbabwe. Among her experiences overseas, she considered her study of the ruins at Zimbabwe the most interesting of her professional experiences. There Jeanette analysed the acropolis and temple erected under the influence of Babylonian civilization. She wrote many articles on travel subjects, ancient history and archaeology. She published under a nom de plume, ‘which she keeps in complete secret’ and not even her sister was aware of her identification with a certain writer and archaeologist (Evening Post 25/01/1932: 10). Apart from Europe and Russia, Jeanette also travelled to Central and South America, India, China and Japan, among many other places. She preferred travelling alone (yes, a pioneer of women solo travellers!) as she was never afraid, and always keen to nature, climates, archaeology, medieval and other modern curiosities, as well as the present economic conditions of each country (Evening Star 14/12/1936).

Honestly, I’m so jealous! What an inspirational woman! Loving what I also love (and archaeologist in general!), travelling, exploring new places and cultures, being curious all the time, asking questions and looking for answers! Eventually, Jeanette Le Fleming died at her home in 1944, after a long and undoubtedly interesting life! (Evening Post 3/05/1944: 8).

Jeanette Le Fleming. Image: Evening Star 24/09/1938.

As archaeologists working in post-earthquake Christchurch, we also have stories and the archaeology of the early city to tell you through Christchurch Uncovered blog, Facebook, Instagram and public archaeology events. Unquestionably, scientifically recording the past is the best way to preserve it in partnership with all of you, committed people, aware of the significance of our heritage as the witness of the history, the vestiges of the past from which we can learn so much.

To conclude, a summary that describes best what an archaeologist is, how our current day-to-day goes… Love it.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/ (Accessed October 2018).

Paper Past, 2018. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ (Accessed October 2018).

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.

The archaeology of natural disasters

When people first settled in Aotearoa, they had no idea that they were sitting upon a slice of one of two supercontinents; Gondwanaland. Around eighty-three million years ago this slice we now live on, known to us as Zealandia, broke away. We wouldn’t recognise Zealandia as it was then; most of it is now underwater. The bits which still protrude above sea level is New Zealand. The earth’s crust is still on the move though, which we can see on the surface through earthquakes, volcanoes and smaller geothermal vents (McLauchlan 2014: 7-8). All of these things are familiar to any New Zealander. While I don’t believe earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are events we’ll ever become used to, we now understand why they happen and are better equipped to deal with the aftermath.

Long before I had even stepped foot on the South Island, on 22nd February 2011 at 12.51pm an earthquake, with its epicentre in Lyttelton and a magnitude of 6.3, struck Canterbury (GeoNet 2018). Although we are now able to understand (thanks to modern scholarship) why earthquakes happen, it does not make the loss of life any easier. Unlike the previous earthquake that had struck Canterbury in 2010, this one took the lives of 185 people and had a devastating effect on the city’s infrastructure and landscape. While the Garden City had felt the effect of earthquakes in past, none had quite the same effect as these ones.

An example of damage to the Cathedral by an earlier quake to hit Christchurch in 1888. Photo: Christchurch City Library CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0059.

Damage to buildings in the CBD, Christchurch following the February 2011 earthquake. Photo: GeoNet.

Large rock falls in Sumner, Christchurch triggered by the February 2011 earthquake. Photo: GeoNet.

Since nothing with this much of a devastating impact has happened within New Zealand since the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in 1931, how are we supposed to know how to deal with the situation? Well, we don’t really. There is not really a right or wrong answer to this. We, as archaeologists, sit on a cusp of responsibility; to record the archaeology (that is anything pre-1900) for future generations and research whilst the demolition and regeneration of the city takes place, but also to do so quickly and not hinder these vital works whilst providing the best advice we can. I wasn’t here when the earthquakes took place but almost seven years on from the last severe earthquake of 2011, I find myself working on earthquake projects. The city is reinventing itself and will be for the foreseeable future. We’ve spoken on the blog previously about the challenges we face working in archaeology during natural disasters, but I want to take a more theoretical approach to disaster archaeology today. Theory plays a huge role in our interpretations within archaeology, but we tend to leave that for the reports and scholarly papers. I wanted to share with you today the theory I’ve applied whilst studying the impact of earthquakes and (especially) their aftermath.

First on the scene: archaeologists and tanks in the CBD following the February 2011 quake. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

So, here’s the technical bit: as archaeologists here in New Zealand we work under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act. This however was superseded by the Canterbury Earthquake (Historic Place Act) Order 2011 following the earthquakes. This order meant that the process of application for an archaeological authority was much quicker, and we were able to fulfil that moral obligation of not slowing down works.

Much of the CBD resembled this post quakes. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

The historical facades, that have for so long been associated with Christchurch by many, suffered extensive damage during the 2011 quake and had to be demolished. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

Often when we think of the archaeology of natural disasters our minds jump to the destruction of Pompeii or Pleistocene extinction. But what many forget, including archaeologists, is we all live through natural disasters and the archaeology that they create . In fact, here in Christchurch we have lived through/are still living through such a unique archaeological experience it can be difficult to know what to do with all the information. As it is a requirement by law to have an archaeological authority before altering or removing an archaeological site, you can imagine how much of Christchurch this would have affected. The entire CBD is considered a high risk zone for pre-1900 activity. A positive (for lack of a better word) is the huge wealth of information we’ve been able to retrieve about Christchurch and its formative years during post-earthquake works. Following the initial demolition of unsafe buildings much of this debris has been removed, exposing the 19th and 20th century layers in the archaeological record, which we have recorded as works have happened to avoid this information being lost forever. American archaeologist Shannon Lee Dawdy, who worked as an advisor post-Hurricane Katrina,  rightly argued that the moving of debris, the burying of past living surfaces and the rearranging of the landscape post disaster exposes the relationship between people and their landscape (2006: 720). Here in Christchurch, archaeologists were on the ground and in the red zone immediately. I’m able to talk to my colleagues here and find out how the major and minor decisions regarding the removal of debris and dirt changed the landscape of the city. For the past seven years archaeologists have been working constantly to keep up with the speed of the city’s demolition and rebuild, and now we’re making the transition from earthquake based work back to the ‘normal’ way of doing things.

“The Latin root for resilience is salire, to jump or spring.” – Hayward 2013: 37

When disasters strike a community, the challenges that come with this test more than just our physical resilience, but our economy, democracy, and our emotions (Hayward 2013: 36). A topic that we don’t talk about too often on this blog is the emotional aspect of archaeology. Most people become archaeologists because they want to understand the history of the everyday men and women, not just those in the history books (or at least this was a big factor for me). Through the study of phenomenology (the study of consciousness and direct experiences) and taphonomy (the study of the formative and disturbance processes effecting the archaeological record) I have been piecing together the changes in Christchurch and the impact that has had on the people, specifically their emotional experience and how, through the changing landscape, we’re able to express the way we feel. Emotions can, however, be hard to interpret as (in most cases) we are unable to leave an imprint of our emotions within the archaeological record that will one day excavated or recorded by  future archaeologists. One way we can do this however, is to memorialise the event that took place and the life that was lost. Most scholars agree that the critical ingredient of a disaster is the victims (Torrence & Grattan 2002: 5). To remember these victims’ reaction to disaster is one way we do this; for example we see monuments across the world to commemorate those who lost their lives in war. As material reminders of the past, these monuments form part of the archaeological record, as much as any of the buildings and artefacts left behind. Within Christchurch we can see the poignant 185 white chairs, including one baby seat. This is a temporary art installation by artist Pete Majendie, but there has been an outcry to keep the chairs as they have become symbolic in remembering the victims and the quake. One idea is to permanently install the chairs, each different and individual, at the site of the CTV building where so many lost their lives in an almost ‘ground zero’ nature (185 Empty Chairs, 2016). A more permeant feature to recently be added is the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial Wall, which has the names of those who lost their lives etched into the stone. This is an enduring way to remember those that lost their lives and enters their names into the archaeological record, making our emotions clear for years to come through these commemorations. In fact, the memorial is a fantastic example of how the landscape was deliberately altered to create this monument as they significantly excavated the river bank for the wall.

The temporary art installation 185 Empty Chairs, which is beginning to take a more permanent place in the ‘new’ Christchurch. Photo: Instagram.

Before: the riverbank where the Earthquake Memorial now stands. Photo: Megan Hickey

During: the redesign of the riverbank. Photo: Megan Hickey.

After: The Christchurch Earthquake Memorial, part of the Otakaro Avon River Precinct project opened 2011, where the names of those who lost their lives are to be permanently remembered. Photo: Kathy Davidson.

The landscape of Christchurch changed so quickly that people became lost in their own city, quite literally not able to find their way around, as the landmarks they had once used as guideposts no longer stood. I, for example, never saw the ‘old’ Christchurch that locals speak so fondly of. It’s a strange thought that two people in the same city can have such different relationships with the same place. I have experienced a modern city blossom from destruction, however many people remember the ‘old’ city and its subsequent demolition. Even a year and a half ago when I moved to the city, there were still huge areas of debris and buildings still being pulled down. Within recent months it feels like the rebuild has really picked up momentum, and it’s quite honestly an exciting city to be in. To have played (a small) role in that process has been an amazing experience. We’re living in a city that faced crisis, but rebuilt itself unlike so many ancient civilisations where natural disaster often resulted in the dramatic end of a culture (Dawdy 2006: 720). Is that due to the times we live in and the technology we have at our disposal? Or is it due to the socio-political structure we live in, where the rest of New Zealand came to the aid of Christchurch? Or is it due to a more resilient people? My guess would be a mixture of all three.

Kathy Davidson

References

185 Empty Chairs [online] Available at: https://www.185chairs.co.nz/about-185-empty-chairs/ [Accessed July 2018]

Christchurch City Libraries [online] Available at: https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/ [Accessed July 2018]

Dawdy, S.L. (2006) The Taphonomy of Disaster and the (Re)Formation of New Orleans. American Anthropologist. Vol. 108(No. 4): 719-730.

GeoNet [online] Available at: https://www.geonet.org.nz/ [Accessed July 2018]

Hayward, B.M. (2013) Rethinking resiliences: reflections on the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, 2010 and 2011. Ecology and Society. Vol. 18(No. 4): 36-42.

McGuire, W.J., Griffiths, P.L, Hancock, P.L. and Stewart, I.S. (2000) The Archaeology of Geological Catastrophes, The Geological Society: London.

McLauchlan, G. (2014) A Short History of New Zealand. David Bateman Ltd: Auckland.

Torrence, R. and Grattan, J. (2002) Natural Disasters and Cultural Change. Routledge: London.

And yet, she persisted

Many of you will already know that Christchurch has a fascinating political history, from labour movements to radical social reform to the campaign for women’s suffrage. It is to my eternal disappointment that this “great ferment of ideas”, as Jim McAloon calls it, is almost invisible in the archaeological record – even more so when, as it was in many cases, this history of socio-political reform linked with the lives and actions of Christchurch’s women. We’ve talked before on the blog about how difficult it can be to see gender in the archaeological record and, more specifically, how difficult it can be to see women, who are often defined by the occupation, class, economic status and social profiles of the men in their lives. Yet, every now and then, we find ourselves in an exception to that rule. For example…

May I introduce the inimitable Mrs Fanny Cole, prohibitionist, staunch agitator for women’s rights and all round formidable woman.

Fanny Cole sits at the front right of this photograph – she’s the commanding woman with the no-nonsense expression on her face and the gavel in her lap. Image: Otago Witness, “Delegates attending the NZWCTU’s national convention in Dunedin, 1912,” Voices Against War, accessed August 11, 2017.

Mrs Cole (or shall we call her Fanny?) lived at a house on River Road, in Avonside, with her husband, Herbert, during the late 19th century. She was the daughter of Charles and Fanny Holder, Methodist preachers and activists, and first arrived in New Zealand in 1880. She married Herbert Cole in 1884 and, by 1893, they had purchased a section on River Road, on which they built their house.

(Herbert was a commercial agent and staunch prohibitionist himself, but as this is a blog about Fanny, not Herbert, we shall leave it at that.)

The Cole’s house on River Road, as it was in 2014. Image: K. Webb.

We first ran across Fanny Cole when we recorded her house on River Road. The house was a fairly standard late 19th century villa, nothing unusual or fancy about it. A few ceiling roses, a few extensions, weatherboards and sash windows, a modest house for a woman, her husband and her children.

An archaeological drawing of the south elevation (or front) of the house. Image: K. Webb.

From the back, you can see the extensions and modifications that occurred over the years. Image: K. Webb.

Ceiling roses and hidden wallpaper gems. Image: K. Webb.

Case windows and the reflection of an archaeologist in her natural habitat. Image: K. Webb.

However, while recording the house and monitoring the demolition, we found a few things – bits of ceramic, a knife handle, a poster for Goofy’s dance review. Among these, found in the rafters of the attic space, was a small, yet intriguing piece of card. On one side were the partial printed details of a lecture and, on the other, a handwritten appointment reminder for something in New Brighton or Burwood on Friday at 7.15 pm and the stamp of the W. C. T. U., Christchurch, 129 Manchester Street.

The rafters of the attic space, where the ticket was found. Image: K. Webb.

The card, with the stamp of the W. C. T. U and handwritten appointment on one side, and the details of an event on the other. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

The W. C. T. U. stands for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organisation that was established in Christchurch in 1885 to combat the evils of drink in Victorian New Zealand, but which became a vehicle for the promotion of social reform and, not least, for the voices of women. Most notably, one of the earliest members – and national presidents – of the organisation was Kate Sheppard, and it was through the machinery of the W. C. T. U. that much of the campaigning for women’s suffrage in the late 1880s and early 1890s was carried out. This was an organisation of strong women, who believed that alcohol was destroying society, that something needed to be done about it and, that if no-one else would do it, they would break down the gender barriers to do it themselves. From there, really, there was no stopping them. Or, perhaps I should say, us.

We’re not entirely sure what the appointment in New Brighton at 7.15 pm on Friday happened to be, but the rest of that tiny piece of card – well, that’s another story. After a bit of sleuthing we discovered that the lecture referred to on the back of the card is likely to have been one in a series of lectures given by the Reverend Leonard M. Isitt at the Theatre Royal in 1894, along with a talk by William Lloyd Garrison “hero and slave liberator.” The Reverend Isitt was an active politician and labour leaning member of parliament in the early 1900s, a strong proponent of the temperance movement and a close friend of the Coles.

Advertisement for a lecture by the Reverend L. M. Isitt on the 4 December, 1894. Image: Poverty Bay Herald, 1/12/1894: 3. 

However, it was the W. C. T. U. that really intrigued us. As it turns out not only was Fanny Cole a prohibitionist and active member of the W. C. T. U. (inherited in some part from her activist Methodist parents, do you think?), she was, by 1897, the national W. C. T. U. secretary (Kate Sheppard was president) and, by 1904, the president of the Christchurch branch. By 1906, she was the national president for the union. And it is in this role, and through this association, that history – and archaeology – can hear her voice. And not just her voice – her political voice. Because, let me tell you, she did not hold back.

Fanny Cole’s signature on the 1893 women’s suffrage petition presented to parliament by John Hall. Image: Archives New Zealand.

She was vocal, as one would expect from the president of a temperance union, on the subject of alcohol, from publicly taking the ‘liquor party’ to task for stealing a W. C. T. U. globe tableau to employing graphic and dramatic rhetoric against the liquor sellers and their ‘no license’ agenda. In 1899, for example, she said (and I could not make this up):

“The term innocent can scarcely be applied to designate those men and women whose hands are red with the blood of hundreds and thousands slain ruthlessly by the liquor traffic. You say that those who vote for no license would do evil that good many come. That is not true. But the publicans and brewers are working evil all the time so that they may live.”

Press, 28/11/1899: 2.

Extracts from Fanny Cole’s letter to the editor on the ‘no license’ question in 1899. Image: Press, 28/11/1899, p. 2.

She, and the rest of the W. C. T. U., railed against what they considered the cause of harm to women, children and society. They took on everyone, from liquor sellers to the Sports Protection League (which I did not know was a thing – did anyone else know that was a thing?). As history tells us, theirs was a campaign that never quite succeeded in New Zealand – it was defeated by a vote margin of just over 4% in 1911, a measly 1% in 1919 and an incredible 0.3 of a % later that same year (New Zealand History). Individual districts of the country voted to ‘go dry’, meaning alcohol licenses were not issued for those areas, but New Zealand as a whole never did adopt prohibition.

Extract from Fanny Cole’s letter to the editor on the evils of the alcohol trade in 1899. Image: Press 28/11/1899 p. 2.

The temperance movement was not the only poker that the W. C. T. U. – and Fanny Cole – had in the fire, however. They dedicated themselves to matters of social reform outside the sphere of prohibition. For example, in the early 1900s, they sallied forth on the subject of prison reform – specifically, as it affected female prisoners. Fanny and her fellow members advocated for women to be ‘endowed the with powers of justices of the peace’ in order to act as official visitors to prisons, arguing that female prisoners should be better treated, that they should have women doctors and that, rather than men, women attendants should have charge of “violent or incorrigible female prisoners”.

On the subject of women in prisons. Image: Star 29/11/1897: 2.

In 1910, she and Miss M. B. Lovell Smith signed a public letter to the Honourable Dr Findlay (Minister of Justice at the time), criticising his proposed solutions to the problem of venereal disease, or, as the newspapers called it, “the black plague, peril to the country.” Their letter argued that instead of the reforms Dr Findlay was proposing (which included compulsory examinations and reporting for prostitutes, but not their male customers; McAloon 2000), that emphasis should be placed on providing treatment that didn’t also carry with it the fear of being reported to other authorities. They also argued strongly for the education of young people in schools on the subject of sex, venereal disease and their own bodies – a suggestion that is still controversial in some sectors of New Zealand and in some parts of the world (America comes to mind here…). I remember discovering for the first time that the radical and feminist women of Christchurch were actively campaigning for their economic and sexual independence as early as the turn of the 20th century – largely because, some days, it seems like we are still fighting for this.

“This department suggests that the Education Department of New Zealand should procure the services of specialists to educate the young people in our schools and universities by means of scientific teaching concerning the function of their bodies, the dangers consequent on the misuse of them and the value of healthful self-control.”

Evening Post, 5/09/1910: 8.

Throughout, no matter which areas of social reform she was pushing (and no matter what we think of those reforms now), Fanny was advocating for the necessity of women’s involvement, at all levels of the process. Whether it was women acting as officials in prisons, women making themselves heard in matters of health and education, or women sitting on the boards of aid foundations, she was actively and vocally doing what she could. I think possibly my favourite example was her prediction that, not too far off in the future, there would be women legislators, many of whom “will be far more capable than some of the men now in the House.”

You’ll be pleased to know, Fanny, that we’ve had two women Prime Ministers and currently have a woman Leader of the Opposition….Image: Taranaki Daily News, 12/03/1908, p.2.

Perhaps, nowhere is this unrelenting and forthright emphasis on the rights and position of women in society more obvious than in 1910, when she co-signed a furious letter to the Premier of England regarding the treatment of British suffragettes, and in 1912, when her remarks on the subject were printed in the paper. In both, she cites the shame the Empire endured from conduct of the British government and the total illogicality of keeping women out of the electoral process. Her remarks on the subject were blunt and to the point, questioning the condemnation of women who employed methods less violent than those used by men in their fight for enfranchisement, questioning the progressive credentials of men who cannot see the potential for social reform in politically active women, and condemning “indelible stain on the British Government” left by their actions against the British suffragettes. In her words (and I encourage you to read the full thing):

“We learn, in fact, that the consideration theoretically promised to all his Majesty’s subjects is not extended to women, who are thus shown to be on the footing of serfs in the eyes of his Majesty’s Government… Can anyone fail to draw the obvious inference. Nowhere on earth can the interests of women be safeguarded where Parliament is not as fully responsible to women as to men.”

Grey River Argus, 7/05/1910: 7. 

Remarks on the position of those fighting for women’s suffrage in Britain. Image: Otago Witness 20/03/1912, p. 63. 

Fanny Cole died on the 25th of May, 1913 at the age of 52, while national president of the W. C. T. U. Her funeral was attended by the Mayor of Christchurch, local and national politicians and members of the W. C. T. U. from all over the country. Her eulogy was delivered by the Reverend Leonard M. Isitt, M. P., the ticket to whose 1894 lecture we found in the rafters of her house more than a century later.

Jessie Garland

References

McAloon, J., 2000. Radical Christchurch. In Cookson, J. and Dunstall, G. (Eds.), Southern Capital, Christchurch: Towards A City Biography, 1850-2000. 

The sad story of the secret staircase

The thing about being a buildings archaeologist is that even though some houses might look the same, the story of their occupants and occupation is always different. These stories of occupation are not always revealed in the archaeology of the buildings themselves, and are usually unearthed by our team of historians. When recording a house in the central city, we were confronted with a building that was most intriguing from a buildings archaeology perspective and had a sad story to match.

A house with a sad secret. Image: P. Mitchell.

What made the house different was a ‘secret staircase’ located in the kitchen wall. From a buildings archaeology point of view this staircase didn’t appear to be an original feature, as its installation meant that one of the rooms in the house was unusable. Nor did it appear to have been used for some time, as the floorboards had been replaced where the stairs had once exited on the second floor, and the wall in the second-floor room where a doorway associated with the stairs had been located had been relined in the late 19th century. So why was it there?

A cupboard in the wall? Image: P. Mitchell.

Perhaps. Image: P. Mitchell.

Or perhaps not. Image: P. Mitchell.

There be stairs. Image: P. Mitchell.

The floor of the nursery looks a bit suspicious. Image: P. Mitchell.

Archaeological investigation. Image: P. Mitchell.

More questions than answers. Image: P. Mitchell.

The difference in wall lining is a clue. Image: P. Mitchell.

The other side of the wall. The upright timber is a clue. Image: P. Mitchell.

This notch in the upright timber indicates that it was part of a door frame. Image: P. Mitchell.

With various holes cut in the wall the picture becomes clearer. The red dotted line outlines the doorway. Image: P. Mitchell.

Historian Chelsea Dickson was tasked with uncovering the story of the construction and occupation of the house. What she discovered, and how it meshed with the buildings archaeology, is related below in the ‘Sad Story of the Secret Staircase.’

When Henry Wilkinson, a cobbler and shoe merchant, purchased the relevant land parcel from Cyrus Davie in 1872 he was looking to build a home for himself and his family. His wife Anna Maria, two daughters Laura (the eldest) and Louisa, and his son James Walter were no doubt looking forward to the prospect of living in a brand new home close (but not too close) to town, with the river nearby and Linwood East School just a short walk up Barbadoes Street.

Building started soon after the section was purchased, and the house was complete and the family had moved in by December 1872. Unfortunately, the reason we know that Henry and his family were in occupation of the house at the time is because of the funeral notice for the middle child, Louisa, who passed away in the house aged 7½ (Press 2/12/1872). This tragedy was followed 18 days later when the youngest child, James Walter, passed away aged 4 years (Press 20/12/1872).

By September 1873 Anna Maria had also passed away, aged 37, leaving only Henry and Laura at the house.

In 1874 Henry advertised the four front rooms of the dwelling to let as “the front apartments, four rooms, for a respectable family, of three to four adults, next to Mrs Cyrus Davie’s” (Lyttelton Times 9/4/1874: 4). In order for the tenants to access the kitchen, which was located in the rear of the building, Henry had a staircase built into the wall between the kitchen and the parlour, which provided access from the front upstairs bedroom to the kitchen.

This is the ‘secret staircase’.

Presumably the secret staircase went out of use when Henry ceased letting out the front four rooms of his house, probably in 1875 when he married Annie Martha Griffiths, and hopefully lived happily ever after.

Peter Mitchell

References

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register.

LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A/S 1 – Subdivisions of town reserves register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].