The bitter waters of archaeology

This week on the blog, we delve – or dive, even (sorry, I can already tell you that this post will be filled with water puns) – into the bitter waters of the 19th century, by which I mean mineral and healing waters, not some kind of allegorical reference to a difficult period of the past. This watery submersion (sorry, can’t help myself) came about following the discovery of an unusual bottle in a recent assemblage that turned out to have originally contained German mineral water, exported from a small town called Friedrichshall to New Zealand from the 1870s onwards. It’s not the first example of German mineral water we’ve come across here in Christchurch and well, it got me thinking. And researching. Basically, I fell down the well (see what I did there?) into the world of healing waters and haven’t quite surfaced since.

Bottle base embossed with C. OPPEL / FRIEDRICHSHALL. The source of this descent into watery madness. Image: J. Garland.

Bottle base embossed with C. OPPEL / FRIEDRICHSHALL. The source of this descent into watery madness. Image: J. Garland.

The concept of water, specifically mineral water, as an elixir of health has been around for centuries – millennia, even. We’ve all heard stories of springs and pools that could miraculously cure the sick and restore the health of the ailing, in both the historical and fictional worlds. The notion of water – or rather, the ‘waters’ of certain places – as more than just a necessity of survival, as a life-giving (or life preserving) force is so prevalent in our collective psyche that it trickles through our pop culture, past (Jane Austen springs to mind) and present (Pirates of the Caribbean’s fountain of youth, for example).

During our period of study – the 19th and early 20th centuries – there are numerous references to springs, wells, pools, aquifers and other bodies of water with healing properties, sometimes bordering on the magical. The healing waters of Bath were, thanks to the Romans and Miss Austen, among many others, well-known for their alleged ability to cure anything from leprosy to rheumatism. There were several locations on the continent, including Royat in France, Pistyan in ‘Czecho-Slovakia’, Marienbad in Bohemia, Vichy in France, and Salsomaggiore in Lombardy. In California, the town of Carlsbad (not quite Carlsberg, as I thought for a while) was named after a famous Bohemian spa following the discovery of mineral water there in the 1880s. In Scotland, the well of St Maelrubha in Loch Maree, Ross-shire, “was credited with the wonderful powers of curing the insane” and, in possibly my favourite example, there was a pub in London that offered eye lotion made from the healing water in the cellar along with the normal beers and spirits. Apparently, the water contained high levels of zinc, which may have been “soothing to the eye.”

In which a publican has a strange clause in his lease regarding some mineral water in the cellar. Image:

In which a publican has a strange clause in his lease regarding some mineral water in the cellar. Image: Auckland Star 9/12/1932: 13.

New Zealand has its own tradition of healing waters, of course, the most famous of which is the thermal springs and waters at Rotorua. Other places in the country home to the miraculous springs of good health included Te Aroha, Puriri, and Waiwera. Dunedin soda water manufacturers the Thomson brothers also took advantage of the country’s natural resources and sold Wai-Rongoa (healing water), “the celebrated mineral water from the famed North Taeri Springs” during the early 20th century. Christchurch apparently tried to have healing waters, but the so-called mineral waters of Heathcote turned out just to be water. Nice try, Heathcote.

Advertisement for Wai-Rongoa, the healing water of the North Taeri Springs and Waiwera.

Advertisement for Wai-Rongoa, the healing water of the North Taeri Springs and the Waiwera Hot Springs. Image: Grey River Argus 21/09/1909: 4 and New Zealand Herald 15/05/1875: 4.

Archaeologically, here in Christchurch, the use of and belief in healing waters is represented through the bottled ‘bitter waters’ and ‘seltzer waters’ imported from Europe – like the Friedrichshall bottle – that survive in the archaeological record. To date, interestingly, all of the examples we’ve found have been German or Hungarian. We’ve mentioned the Nassau selter water bottles before on the blog, stoneware bottles that contained the waters of the Ober and Nieder Selters of Nassau, a Duchy (prior to 1866) and town in Imperial Prussia (after annexation in 1866). As well as these, and the aforementioned Friedrichshall bottle, we’ve also found examples of Hunyadi Janos, a Hungarian export which contained the waters of a spring in Ofen and was advertised as a medicinal remedy. Interestingly, both the Friedrichshall and Hunyadi products are referred to as ‘bitter waters’, marketed primarily as relief for constipation, obstruction of the bowels and congestions. Even more interestingly, Friedrichshall bitter waters also claimed that by “banishing lassitude and melancholy, [it] renders occupation a pleasure instead of labour”, while Hunyadi Janos was apparently “especially efficacious” in the treatment of obesity. So, you know, good to know.

Nassau selter waters (top left) and Hunyadi Janos bitter waters (top right), along with an advertisement for Hunyadi Janos extolling its healing properties. Images:

Nassau selter waters (top left) and Hunyadi Janos bitter waters (top right), along with an advertisement for Hunyadi Janos extolling its healing properties. Neither of these were supposed to taste very good, although I did find one advertisement that described the taste of bitter waters as “peculiarly pleasant”, which sounds like advertising speak if I ever heard it. Images: J. Garland (top left) Underground Overground (top right) and New Zealand Herald 2/11/1906: 2.

As a side note, searching for ‘bitter waters’ in old newspapers certainly brought home the melodrama of the 19th century. In addition to the actual products I was searching for, the phrase seems to have been something of a favourite among Victorian writers. Just a few of the examples I found included the bitter waters of sectarian intolerance, adversity, defeat, controversy, science (the bitter waters of science! Oh, science), national humiliation, penury, existence (existentialism was alive and well in the 1800s, apparently), class prejudices, tyranny and “the bitter waters of the cup of sorrow”, which seems excessively depressing.

Anyway, moving on. Back to the bitter waters of health. There’s two main things I find interesting about these Victorian healing waters. One is that, unlike so many of the other ‘medicinal’ remedies we’ve talked about here on the blog, the alleged health benefits of these mineral waters were not – and are not – wholly unfounded. They’re unlikely to have immediately cured rheumatism or leprosy through bathing (although there may have been other benefits, like the invigoration of muscles in warm water, relaxation etc.), but the ingestion of mineral waters may in fact have had some merit. I can’t speak for the specifics – presumably, mineral water didn’t really cure obesity or ‘render occupation a pleasure’ all by itself – but it’s fairly well established that certain minerals are an important part of human health and nutrition. Certainly, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn’t just quacks advocating for their use (I’m not a health professional and am leery of saying anything wrong here, can you tell?).

The second thing is the apparent scepticism with which these claims of healing waters were treated which, again, runs contrary to so many of the weird and wonderful products we’ve talked about here before. There’s numerous instances of waters being tested to determine the levels of minerals present and compared to various sources around the world. If they didn’t contain the acceptable levels of minerals, they were publicly outed as ‘just water’ (Heathcote, definitely looking at you). It’s telling that the truly reputable mineral waters of the 19th century are all derived from springs and wells in areas where the geological characteristics of the surrounding land have made possible the absorption of minerals and salts into the very waters of the earth, so to speak. Like little old geothermal New Zealand or Hungary and Germany, apparently, if we’re looking just at Christchurch’s archaeological record.

It's not completely related, but it made me laugh and it certainly illustrates that scepticism (and sarcasm) was alive and well in the 19th century. Image:

It’s not completely related, but it made me laugh and it certainly illustrates that scepticism (and sarcasm) was alive and well in the 19th century. Image: Patea Mail 21/04/1881: 4.

There’s so many things about this whole notion of healing waters that is fascinating to me and I can’t quite articulate all of them (I guess I still haven’t really surfaced from that well I mentioned at the beginning). Not just the physical properties of the waters themselves, but the things they tell us about our view of ‘health’ – I’m thinking here about emphasis placed on characteristics like ‘purity’ and descriptors like ‘natural’, ‘fresh’ ‘cool’ and ‘clean’ – and the ways that view of health has changed and endured over the centuries. Even here and now, we might scoff at the notion of ‘healing waters’, and I imagine very few of you would go and buy a bottle of mineral water to stave off constipation, but water is still intrinsically associated with health and some waters are still considered better – healthier – than others. New Zealand spring water, for example, is marketed in part through its connection to the idea of this country as clean, green, pure and natural: in other words, healthy. In that regard, at least, we’re just following in the footsteps of our ancestors.

Jessie Garland

Just what the doctor ordered!

When it comes to the weird and wonderful in 19th century life, it’s hard to go past the field of medicine: specifically, pharmaceutical and ‘self-care’ remedies. Health-related products can be some of the wackiest and most interesting things we find in the archaeological record, especially when they’re put into the context of contemporary advertising and marketing strategies. They also offer us the opportunity to understand the health concerns of people in the past: not just what they actually suffered from and how they treated it, but what they thought they suffered from and what they considered to be healthy.

Mostly, though, they’re fascinating. And often hilarious.

With that in mind, the following are some of our favourites. Enjoy!

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Lamplough’s Effervescing Pyretic Saline. A ‘cure-all’ patent medicine, Lamplough’s Saline was made by Henry Lamplough, based in Holborn, London, in the latter half of the 19th century. It was advertised as a remedy for SO many ailments, from cholera and smallpox to ‘eruptive skin’, sea sickness and headaches. Several of the advertisements emphasise its efficacy in preventing tropical and colonial diseases, which suggests that it was aimed more at the export market than the local one. Image (clockwise, from top left): G. Jackson, Wikimedia, Otago Witness 19/10//1888: 40, Wanganui Herald 19/09/1887:2.

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St Jacobs Oil, the “Great German Remedy”, was advertised primarily as a pain reliever. One article describes it as a “standard pain remedy for bruises, sprains or sores in man or beast” (Otago Witness 26/04/1893: 3) and the “conquers pain” tagline was common in advertisements for the oil. According to the British Medical Journal in 1894, St Jacobs Oil was 84% turpentine with traces of camphor 10% ether, 5% alcohol, 2% carbolic acid, 0.4% capsicum and 0.01% aconite. While aconite (and capsicum, to a degree) is known to have pain-relieving properties, particularly for rheumatism and as an anti-inflammatory, turpentine and carbolic acid are more commonly used as antiseptics or disinfectants. Carbolic acid, in particular, is now considered to be fairly toxic. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 28/04/1883: 3.

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Eucalyptus oil was a popular remedy during the 19th century as, to a degree, it still is now. Although this particular bottle is embossed with the name of R. G. Bosisto, no information could be found about this person. It’s possible that the bottle was associated with Joseph Bosisto, a well-known eucalyptus oil manufacturer who began harvesting and selling the oil in 1853, either as a derivative of his product or an imitation. Advertisements for the oil provide an interesting example of how medical advertising can reflect the health concerns of the past as much as the properties of the actual medicine.. In the 1880s, many of the advertisements emphasise the usefulness of eucalyptus oil as a remedy for cholera, while in the early 20th century, at the height of the influenza epidemic, the advertisements were all about its use in alleviating colds and influenza. Image: J. Garland, Southland Times 8/08/1883:2Dominion 18/09/1919:2.

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Bishop’s Granular Citrate of Lithia and Citrate of Magnesia, the creations of Alfred Bishop, a London chemist established in 1857. The magnesia was advertised for stomach ailments, as a product “surpassing the ordinary seidletz powder”, while the lithia seems to have primarily been advertised as a remedy for gout. One recipe for the citrate of magnesia suggests that it contained a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid (which is awfully close to baking powder, when you think about it…). Image: J. Garland, Otago Daily Times 12/01/1900: 8, Otago Witness 01/02/1868: 10.

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Holloway’s Ointment and Pills, advertised as ‘cure anything’ products, listed everything from asthma and cancer to ‘female complaints’ within the scope of their curative abilities. They were the brainchild of Thomas Holloway, who began selling his ointment and pills in the 1830s in England. He was something of an advertising pioneer, an approach that paid off for him: by the mid-19th century Holloway’s products had become hugely popular and he had amassed a significant fortune. Although it seems to be unclear exactly what was in the ointment, the pills were later discovered to contain non-medicinal, but harmless ingredients like ginger, soap and castor oil. Image: J. Garland, Poverty Bay Herald 21/04/1884: 4Tuapeka Times 22/12/1870: 10Clutha Leader 25/06/1880: 7.

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Charles Hockin, chemist, was based in London in the early to mid-19th century. He retired in 1859, although the company continued under the name of Hockin, Wilson/Welson & Co. The firm produced a variety of products, including digestive drops, ginger beer powder, essence of Rennett, “inexhaustible salts” and liver pills. Chief among them though, was a product called Seidlitz Powder, a “gentle medicine” that was somehow also a “purgative salt”, marketed as long lasting and a remedy for day to day ailments (including the ever present bilious attacks!). Image: J. Garland, Thames Adviser 13/04/1878: 4Lyttelton Times 14/01/1857: 12.

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This bottle, embossed with “PRESTON SALTS” appears to have contained Mounsey’s Preston Smelling Salts, the type of salts used to revive fainting ladies (or men, one supposes). Recipes published in 1854 and 1892 indicate that the salts were largely ammonia based, containing a solution of ammonia, powdered chloride of ammonia and powdered carbonate of ammonia in addition to powdered carbonate of potassium, oil of bergamot, oil of clove and sometimes oil of lavender. Several types of smelling salts existed during the 19th century, but Preston Salts seems to have been among the higher quality ones available. It was advertised in New Zealand from the 1850s onwards. Image: J. Garland, Lyttelton Times 12/02/1853: 3.

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Ford’s Pectoral Balsam of Horehound was first patented by Robert Ford in 1816. The original mixture contained horehound (a plant with medicinal qualities), liquorice root, water, spirit of wine, gum camphore, Turkish opium, “benjamin” (actually benzoin), squill (another medicinal plant), oil of aniseed and clarified honey. The recipe was later modified by his successor, Thomas Ford, in 1830, although the modifications seem to have been minimal. It was advertised as a remedy for respiratory ailments, including influenza, asthma and coughs. Image: C. Dickson, Wellington Independent 17/10/1865: 8.

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The “unequalled and invincible” Woods Great Peppermint Cure claimed to cure coughs and colds and was the creation of chemist W. E. Woods, a New Zealand chemist. Woods first set up shop in Hastings, Hawkes Bay, in 1881 before moving to Wellington and eventually to Sydney, where he died in 1927. W. E. Woods & Co., New Zealand, however, remained active his death. Image: C. Dickson, Hawkes Bay Herald 13/06/1895: 2, 13/06/1895: 4.

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The one and only Califig, “nature’s own laxative”. Advertised primarily for bowel complaints, the California Syrup of Figs also claimed to alleviate the problems of heartburn, bad breath and loss of appetite. It was particularly targeted at mothers, as a remedy for unhappy children, with one advertisement bearing the tagline “once ‘touchy’ and tearful, now full of fun, his system cleansed with Califig.” Image: J. Garland, Bottlepickers,  New Zealand Herald 8/02/1942: 3.

Jessie Garland

Of all the gin joints.

Picture this. A summer’s day: clear blue skies and the heat of the afternoon sunshine, just the hint of a breeze. You might be in a garden, sheltering from the sun in the shade of the tree or under a verandah, relaxing, maybe to music, maybe to the sound of the cicadas in the trees. And in your hand, there’s a cool, tall, oh-so-refreshing glass of gin and tonic.

It’s summer time, and the living is easy…

In the modern day, gin seems to me evocative of exactly this: the sights, sounds and heat of the summer. It’s a drink, now almost invariably paired with tonic, that exudes refreshment, breeziness and just a hint of class. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

It’s funny then, that in the 19th century, it brought to mind a whole host of other things – good and bad. While the reputation of gin had improved slightly from the days when it was referred to as ‘mother’s ruin’, a nickname derived from William Hogarth’s depiction of ‘Gin Alley’ and the gin craze of 18th century Britain, it still inspired many tirades among contemporaries regarding the evils of drink. This is especially true of the flourishing temperance movement of the late 19th century, who took great pains to relate numerous accounts of the spirit causing death and disruption in society (Wellington Independent 17/03/1847: 4). It does seem, though, from some of the accounts of gin drinking in the newspapers that they may have had a point. Drinking gin and petrol every day, for example, can’t have been good for a person.

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh to the Scottish. Images:

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh. Images: Bay of Plenty Times 15/06/1888: 4Wellington Independent 17/04/1847: 4.

Interestingly enough, though, gin was also marketed as a medicinal remedy and ‘health drink’ during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We’ve mentioned aromatic schnapps here on the blog before, a type of gin primarily advertised as a medicine, but there were many varieties of gin marketed as beneficial beverages (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 24Press 2/10/1924: 6Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). Copious amounts of alcohol were often offered to patients in hospitals during this time, as well (Colonist 12/02/1910: 4).

Gin seems to have been advertised as a remedy for everything from kidney problems to the more vague “toning up the nerves” (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15). There were even ‘gin pills’, containing “in a concentrated form all the curative properties of a pint of the finest gin” and recommended for ailments of the “kidneys and allied organs” (Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). It was also associated with the prevention of malaria, due to the common combination of gin and tonic water – the latter was invented in the mid-19th century for the express purpose of administering quinine, an anti-malarial.

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image:

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image: Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15.

From an archaeological perspective, unfortunately (as is the case with many of the beverages consumed in the 19th century), it can be difficult to identify gin bottles among the material culture we recover, especially if the labels haven’t survived. Certain bottles, such as the ‘case gin’ shape, are known to have contained gin and are easily identifiable. However, especially towards the end of the 19th century, gin was bottled in several types of bottle, often indistinguishable from those used to hold other spirits or alcoholic beverages. In these cases, we have to rely on paper labels and metal capsule bottle seals, neither of which are prone to survival in the archaeological record.

Nevertheless, the following are some of the brands and types of gin we’ve come across so far during our work here in Christchurch.

Van Dulken Weiland & Co., gin manufacturers from Rotterdam, Holland. Dutch gin – or ‘genever’/jenever – is famous as the drink from which all other ‘gins’ are essentially derived. The Dutch were producing gin from at least the 16th century onwards (maybe earlier): the drink was embraced by Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries (due in no small part to the influence of William of Orange), before being adapted over the centuries to form the spirit as we know it now (i.e. ‘London’ dry gin, etc; Van Acker – Beittel 2013). Despite the popularity of British gins in the 19th century, genever continued to be advertised and sold as a separate beverage in contemporary newspapers (Lyttelton Times 27/09/1851: 2New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 30/01/1841: 1Otago Witness 15/09/1860: 2). We don’t know much about this particular Dutch manufacturer, but it seems likely that the bottle would have contained the genever style of gin, which often has a strong malt flavour, rather than the anglicised version.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder, bearing the mark of Van Dulken Weiland & Co., Rotterdam. Image: J. Garland.

Plymouth Gin, on the other hand, is – as the name suggests – quintessentially English. It’s actually geographically locked, in that it could only be manufactured in the town of Plymouth: unlike other gin styles – like Old Tom gin, for example (I’ll come to this one in a second) – other manufacturers were forbidden from using the name for their own products. It was first produced by Coates & Co. at the famous Black Friars distillery, in the late 18th century, after one Thomas Coates joined the already established Plymouth distillery of Fox & Williamson in 1793 (Plymouth Gin Company 2015). It quickly became one of the most popular gin brands in the 19th century and, to this day, remains a distinctive and hugely popular brand. It’s also one that had strong medical associations – several advertisements found in contemporary newspapers claim it to be “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle” (Press 2/10/1924: 6).

Plymouth gin

Advertisement for Plymouth Gin, “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle.” Image: Press 2/10/1924: 6.

We’ve only found one artefact associated with Plymouth Gin here in Christchurch, in the form of a metal capsule, originally used to seal the bottle at the top. Sadly, intact and/or legible capsules like these are rare finds, due to their fragility.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Probably the most common type of gin found in on archaeological sites here in the city is Old Tom gin, a sweeter variety that was extremely popular during the late 19th century. It declined in popularity during the early decades of the 20th century but has since enjoyed something of a revival, apparently. As the story goes, it takes its name from cat (‘old toms’) shaped signs used during gin prohibition/restrictions to provide gin to the masses. Supposedly, there would be a tube under a slot in the wall: you put money in the slot and received a shot of gin through the tube. Which would be ingenious, if it’s true.

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image:

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image: Waikato Times 13/01/1855: 2.

Here in Christchurch we usually find Old Tom labels and seals in association with Sir Robert Burnett, a manufacturer and/or distributor of various alcohols and foodstuffs, operating out of London during the second half of the 19th century (Campbell et al. 2009). Old Tom was, however, made by a variety of manufacturers during this period and distributed throughout the world. One of the more entertaining and slightly horrifying articles I came across during my research features Old Tom – or at least, a drink pretending to be Old Tom. In an 1855 edition of the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, there’s an account of how a quantity of gin, “disposed of to the public as the very best Old Tom”, was in fact an un-named variety of gin that had been used to preserve the body of a Dutch captain in a barrel during a sea voyage (Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle 8/12/1855: 3). I’m betting it probably didn’t taste like Old Tom in the end.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett's Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett’s Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Finally, in the interests of improving everybody’s weekends, here are some of the 19th and early 20th century recipes I found for gin cocktails in the course of researching this post. I recommend avoiding the petrol one (above).

Perfect Lady
½ gin
½ peach brandy
¼ fresh lemon juice
Dash of egg white

Gin Puff
Old Tom gin
Sugar
Cream
Plain Soda

Gin Fizz
Gin
Crushed ice
Half a lemon
Tsp sugar
Egg white / egg yolk

“A wineglass of gin is put into a long thin glass, known all over America as a fizz glass. A tumbler is then filled up to the brim with crushed ice, half a lemon squeezed upon it, and about a teaspoonful of pulverized sugar. Pulverised sugar is what is always used for American drinks. This is all whisked up until thoroughly cold, and the tumbler is then filled up with soda water…By straining it of the ice, adding the white of an egg and whisking it all up together, we make a ‘silver fizz’. By substituting the yolk for the white and going through the same process the ‘golden fizz’ is made.”

And, for those of you with problems cleaning silk, here’s an alternative use for gin…

Mix well together ¼ lb of honey, the white of one egg, 3oz. of soft soap, one wineglass of gin and one pint of hot water. Lay the pieces of silk separately on a deal board or table and using a small brush, which must be neither too hard not too soft, scrub them on both sides with the above mixture. Have ready two pails of cold water and as soon as each breadth of silk has been well scrubbed, dip in into both pails successively and shake it about so that as much as possible the mixture shall be rinsed out. Then hang it out to dry.”

Jessie Garland

References

Campbell, M., Gumbley, W. and Hudson, B., 2009. Archaeological Investigations at the Bamber House and Wanganui Hotel sites (Town Sections 79 and 77), UCOL Whanganui Converge Redevelopment, Wanganui. Unpublished report to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Universal College of Learning.

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

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

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

Nelson Examiner and Wellington Chronicle. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Plymouth Gin Company, 2015. [online] Available at www.plymouthgin.com.

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

Van Acker – Beittel, V., 2013. Genever: 500 Years of History in a Bottle. Flemish Lion, LLC.

Wairarapa Age. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

The Victorian Christchurch Child

Childhood. We all had one. Whether we remember it vaguely or with clarity, we all passed through this phase of life. As infants we shook that baby rattle with all our might or nursed that pacifier until our eyes closed and we dreamed of a faraway land. As we got older the toys became larger and more creative: teddy bears with a squeak in the stomach or crayons that ended up strewn across the house or even on the walls. We all remember the Barbie dolls and the G.I. Joes, or the Barbie dolls with crew cuts to make them look like G.I. Joes. Or even that first day of school where you were accompanied by your very own yellow Bananas in Pyjamas lunch box. This period of one’s life, although so fundamental in how we mature as adults, is often forgotten. This is also true of the Victorian Christchurch child.

As a result of the February 2011 earthquake and the subsequent rebuild, a number of artefacts related to the years of childhood have been excavated. This collection of artefacts provide us not only a rare glimpse into the lives of the Victorian Christchurch child but is now allowing us to establish how different artefacts relate to different stages of a child’s life.

A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.

A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.

Archaeological investigations regarding children in their first few years of life have often been restricted to analysis of infant mortality or mortuary practices and rarely touch on their lived experiences (and even historical documents are not much more helpful: simply looking up ‘Christchurch Child’ on Papers Past was a challenge, for almost all searches came up with child mortality stories). The sites that have been excavated across Christchurch provide an opportunity to catalogue this brief but important time in one’s life.

Infant-related artefacts are largely related to a baby’s health. These include health-benefiting bone marrow, baby powders and medicinal disinfectants designed to prevent against illness. The largest number of artefacts relating to the infant years, however, are glass feeder bottles and ceramic feeder lids.

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S. Maw, Son and Thompson baby feeder. Image: L. Davies.

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S. Maw, Son and Thompson baby feeder. Image: L. Davies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One such item was even named the ‘murder‘ feeder, due to the difficulty of cleaning the lid. Such hygiene-related difficulties meant that baby easily fell ill, but this problem may have been counteracted by disinfectants, medicines or simple homemade remedies (some of which have a recommended child’s dosage).

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Left: Mather’s ceramic baby feeder (Image: L. Davies). Right: Advertisement emphasising the need to clean the baby’s bottle (Otago Witness 15/02/1879).

 

The development and emergence of the Victorian Christchurch citizen, as with any society, was shaped by what was taught to children. A common theme that has emerged from the material culture of Christchurch are the children’s cups and plates bearing educational-themed images, which can increase imagination and creativity but also conveyed moral messages.

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Jack and Jill nursery rhyme on a cup. Image: L. Davies.

Nursery rhymes, playful one-liners and intense moral teachings have all been found on china in our Christchurch assemblages. Nursery rhymes or a simple play on words to create a small story are used as a subtle tool to stimulate the imagination and intellectual growth. Children learn language through the repetition of syllables and words, often repeating what a parent said (Bishop and Curtis 2001: 5). And with moral messages buried in the phrases, children also learnt socially acceptable behaviour. In a fun way, that is.

 

One plate found is an ‘ABC’ plate, named for the alphabet written around the outer edge of the plate. These ABC plates were a product of the teachings of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that Benjamin Franklin. During the 19th century, a series of plates were sold bearing philosophical teachings from his Poor Richard’s Almanack. Our particular plate bears the phrase  “Fly pleasures, and they’ll follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift, now I have a sheep and cow, everybody bids me good morrow”. It means those who work hard are rewarded in comfort, plenty and respect i.e. that leisure comes to those who work hard.

franklin


Fragment of a Dr. Benjamin Franklin ABC plate. Image: L. Davies.

This phase of nursery rhymes and moral themes was a precursor to schooling days. Prior to the Education Act of 1877 education or schooling for children was not compulsory. In 1877 the Education Act made it compulsory and free for children aged between 5 and 13 to attend school (Walrond 2012).

This did not extend to secondary education and it was not until 1901 that the secondary education was addressed. A law passed at this time stated that only children who passed a competency exam would be allowed entry into secondary school. It is suggested that even those children who may have passed the competency exams would have still left school at this age to work, and why would they go to school when they were another pair of hands to help put food on the table (Walrond 2012)? The artefacts associated with this period of a child’s life are slate pencils and boards. Some boards have ruled lines on one side for writing and grid lines on the reverse side for mathematics.

Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies

Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies

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A grid (left) and lined (right) slate board. Image: L. Davies

A large quantity of toys have been found throughout sites across Christchurch and are indicative of the subtle ways in which social mores were constructed.

'Frozen Charlotte' doll. Image J. Garland

‘Frozen Charlotte’ doll. Image J. Garland.

Girls were presented with dolls and tea sets, confirming their domestic role in the Victorian world, whereas boys played with tin soldiers and marbles, items associated with competition and manliness. It is during this period, when toys are introduced, that we begin to see gender differentiation in the archaeology of childhood. Girls are the most visible at this time with few artefacts that can be unequivocally associated with boys. This is in contrast to adulthood, when men are generally more visible in the archaeological record than women,as so many of our blog posts indicate.

Toy horse. Image K. Bone

Toy horse. Image K. Bone.

Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson

Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson.

 

Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called 'commies' as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common..


Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called ‘commies’ as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common. Image: K. Bone.

The number of artefacts relating to children found during demolitions and the rebuild of Christchurch has allowed a chronological understanding of the emergence of the Victorian Christchurch child. The infant stage is predominantly represented by feeding bottles, health-benefiting foods and disinfectants. This suggests that in the first few years of life there is no differentiation of gender but an emphasis on raising a healthy child. The following stage, prior to schooling, is also not gendered and includes developing the imagination with rhymes and moral themes. This non-gendered childhood changes with the school years, with girls in particular taking a visible role. The presence of tea sets and dolls emphasise their role in society and society’s expectations of their later life, with themes of domesticity and civility. The recent excavations have significantly developed our understanding of the Victorian Christchurch child and the ongoing investigations will continue to contribute to our understanding of this period, these children and their lived experiences, so watch this space…

Kim Bone

References

Bishop, J. C. and Curtis, M., 2001. Introduction. In:  J. C. Bishop and M. Curtis, eds. 2001. Play Today in the Primary School Playground: Life, Learn and Creativity. Open University Press, Buckingham, pp. 1-19.

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

Walrond, C., 2012. Teenagers and youth – defining teenagers as a group.[online] Available at: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/teenagers-and-youth/page-1 [Accessed 10 October 2013].

‘It isn’t all beer and skittles’

– Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days, 1857

It’s hard to picture what many of Christchurch’s buildings looked like before the earthquake. For many locals the torn down remains of a building or an empty lot remind them of a favourite hangout, a birthday or even the best burgers in town. The archaeology that has been excavated and collected from these sites and buildings provides evidence of earlier and equally personal stories and events, proving these buildings were full of life for over a century. One example of this is the Oxford Hotel, also known as the Oxford Family Hotel, the Oxford Victualling Co. and latterly as the Oxford on Avon.

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The Oxford on Avon Hotel post-earthquake, 8 November 2011. Photo: M. Hennessey.

The Oxford Hotel was located on the corner of Oxford Terrace and Colombo Street and was one of the city’s older hotels. Originally established as a boarding house by Antill and Sarah Adley in 1860 or 1861, the hotel gained a licence to sell alcohol in 1862 and began operating as a pub as well as a boarding house. It was at this time that the establishment was renamed the Oxford Family Hotel (Greenaway 2007: 14). Adley had proprietorship of the hotel until his retirement in 1873 (The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903) and continued to own the land and lease it out until 1903 (Christchurch Deeds Index C1 c.1853: 616). The hotel lease was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Dann in 1875, who transferred the lease to Mr. Bately, who rebuilt the building in 1883 (this was the building that stood until the earthquake; Star 5/6/1883: 3). What we found from the archaeological data and historical records is that this building not only acted as a hotel but as a central hub for the wider community, which was not uncommon for 19th century hotels in New Zealand.

market place


View from the Colombo Street bridge looking south to the Cathedral: at left is the Oxford Hotel and at right is Market (Victoria) Square, c. 1885. Image: Christchurch City Library, File Reference CCL Photo CD 02 IMG0020.

 


Image: Star 22/4/1878: 4.

The hotel was nice and close to Victoria Square, first known as Market Square and a centre of activity in early Christchurch. This must have been good for business and it allowed the hotel to cater to the wider community, hosting meetings and events, acting as a morgue or emergency room in some cases (Press 15/4/1879: 2; Star 4/2/1890: 3), and all the while supplying cheap alcohol from the pub. During Dann’s operation of the hotel he offered membership to a skittle alley and often hosted skittle and quoit tournaments. Mail and messages could be left at the Oxford by or for patrons (Star 28/4/1869: 3), so it functioned as a post office too. Most importantly, though, the Oxford Hotel was a pub: Dann’s advertisements in the local newspapers constantly mentioned the array of spirits available, with an emphasis on the cheap prices.

Of the 925 glass artefacts recovered from the site, 395 were black beer bottles, 196 were wine bottles and another 99 were other liquor or spirit bottles. There were also 52 porter or stout bottles. Sounds like a lot of alcohol, right? Think again. To put it into context, even if only one bottle of alcohol were drunk a day, this would represent little more than two year’s drinking. So where did all the other bottles go, then? Well, the Avon River was conveniently close…


Adley advertisement. Image: Lyttelton Times 23/8/1862: 3.

 

black


Sample of black beer and wine bottle bases from the site. The black beer bottles that make up the bulk of this assemblage become less common after 1880. As such, it is likely that these bottles were associated with either Adley or Dann’s period at the hotel. Image: K. Webb.

A number of smoking pipes were also found, confirming that the combination of alcohol and tobacco was just as common in the 19th century as it is today. Many of the pipes were made by Charles Crop, a manufacturer from London whose pipes have been found on hotel and residential sites in both New Zealand and Australia (Brassey 1991: 30; Macready et al. 1990: 57). Tantalisingly, the embossing on some of the pipe stems hints at the origins of some of the smokers: “QUEENSLANDER” and “LACHLANDER”. Perhaps the smoker purchased these as a reminder of home.