Canterbury Corner

Down on the corner of a Lyttelton street, there was a butcher, a courier and a large family to meet… Or at least, one could have met them about 150 odd years ago when three early settler families in Lyttelton combined their lives and livelihoods for three generations through marriage links.

Last year, Angel Trendafilov (one of our archaeologists), was called out to a house site in Lyttelton, where a large deposit of 19th century domestic refuse was found during the excavation for new foundation piles. This rubbish pit was found beneath a layer of introduced soil that contained many artefacts. Several matching artefact fragments were found in the introduced layer and the rubbish pit, telling us that that the soil from the upper layer had probably once been a part of the rubbish pit. At some point, the top of the pit must have been disturbed and some of its contents redeposited during ground levelling works at the site.

A photo of the house site showing the pile holes. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Angel noticed that this introduced upper soil layer was found above a drainpipe that had been manufactured by the Christchurch Brick Company (CBC). This company started as a merger between Wigram Brothers and T. N. Horsley and Co. in 1903 and the lack of disturbance observed in the relevelling layer suggest that the pipes had been laid before the site was relevelled. This suggests that the relevelling is likely to have occurred sometime after 1903, while the large rubbish pit beneath this layer must have been deposited sometime prior to this.

Drainpipe pipe with maker’s mark. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The artefacts found in this rubbish pit and ground relevelling fill layer were typical 19th century domestic types. That is to say, they were ceramic tea wares, table wares and beverage and food containers, household artefacts like chamber pots, jugs, candle holders, pharmaceutical items, and personal items like clay pipes and leather shoes. Food remains were also present in the forms of shells and bones, and from these remains it’s apparent that the people who threw them out were fans of oysters, cockles, and mutton. Only a small amount of the mutton bones had evidence of butchery, so it’s possible that they represented several sheep that were not butchered for meat. Alternatively, it’s probably more likely that the bones were used to make soups, stocks or stews.

Some of the cool clay pipes found at the site. Row A: clay pipe with “T D” and “28” mark B: Davidson, T., and Co. clay pipe (manufactured 1861 and 1910). C: clay pipe with rope decoration, and clay pipe with wheat decoration. Image: C. Dickson.

The manufacturing techniques used on these artefacts and the maker’s marks that were present suggested that this rubbish pit could not have been deposited before the 1870s. We know from researching the history of the site that people had lived on this residential section from at least 1864, but the story of the families who lived in the area proved to be a knotty tale. So allow me to unravel it for you…

If we trace back the history of land subdivisions and ownership, we can see that a large section of this town block was first purchased by David Patton Dimond in 1855. Dimond had also owned the adjoining town section (fronting Winchester Street), since 1851 and would eventually raise a family and run a business from here (LINZ, 1850: 71-72). This family consisted of David and his wife Elwina Scott, whom he married in 1853, and the four children that they had during the 1850s (Rootsweb 2006). David worked as carter/carrier, and during the 1860s he ran a courier business in partnership with his brother, Sydney Dimond, from the Winchester Street property – which they imaginatively called “Dimond Brothers” (Lyttelton Times 22/7/1854: 8). The Dimond Brothers partnership dissolved in 1866, but David continued the business himself, with it later becoming known as “Dimond and Son” when his son David George Dimond, joined the business (some more creative names here; Lyttelton Times 6/1/1866: 4; H. Wise & Co., 1883-1884: 147).

The notice of dissolution (Lyttelton Times 6/1/1866: 4).

In 1858, Dimond subdivided and sold a part of his section to George Scott (senior), and Moses Cryer (LINZ 1850: 71). This section comprised most of the northern half of the town section (where our property is now located), leaving a narrow area to the west that may have been used as an access road.

Detail from the Lyttelton Deeds Index Register showing the 1858 subdivision (in green), of the town section. Image: LINZ 1850: 543.

Moses Cryer was the earliest butcher in Lyttelton, and he was involved with the planning of the first road over the Port Hills (Press 12/9/1893: 5; New Zealand Herald 7/1/1935: 10). He didn’t keep his share of the property for long but sold his interest to George Scott (or perhaps another member or the Scott clan), in 1859 (LINZ 1850: 554). To make matters a little more interesting, George Scott’s daughter was the aforementioned Elwina Scott, making him David Dimond’s father-in-law. George’s sons, Samuel Francis Scott and George Francis Scott, also had a fraternal business in Lyttelton (this one was named Messrs G. F. and S. F. Scott), and together they ran the Mitre Hotel and the Robin Hood Inn (finally a great name), located on Norwich Quay, until 1857 (Lyttelton Times 11/3/1857: 12).

Another one bites the dust (Lyttelton Times 16/7/1857: 6).

This tangled web of small-town marriage wove further in 1855, when Samuel Francis Scott married Anne Cryer (Moses Cryer’s daughter; Lyttelton Times 28/3/1855: 3). We could tell by a newspaper birth announcement and the electoral rolls that Samuel and Anne lived at the Canterbury Street address from at least 1864, and they were likely to have stayed there until they moved their family to Southbridge in 1867 (Lyttelton Times 6/9/1864: 4; H. Wise & Co. 1878-1879: 155). This suggests that the two fathers, Moses Cryer and George Scott, may have purchased the section to build a home for their children to start a family in, right next door to Samuel’s sister Elwina. Isn’t that nice! What’s also nice is that this suggests the strong possibility that the archaeological material found on this site is associated with the Samuel Scott/Anne Cryer family’s occupation of the section between c. 1864 and 1876.

But this isn’t our only option – confidently attributing archaeological finds on densely populated town sections is rarely so simple. Following Samuel Scott’s departure to Southbridge in 1876, Scott sold the property back to (his now relative) David Dimond. David then mortgaged his large property several times to the Lyttelton Permanent Building Society, and with the funding this raised, he probably built several structures on it (LINZ 1850: 543). David also advertised a six-roomed property to let on Canterbury Street, but it is not known if any tenants moved in.

A lonely home (Star 12/10/1876: 2).

In 1900, David subdivided his property again, and by this time, there were at least three large dwellings present in the area (LINZ, 1900). However, no structures were present in the section where our artefacts were found, suggesting that the dwelling occupied by the Scott/Cryer family in the 1860s and 1870s had been demolished by 1900. Thomas Martin Lewington (ship joiner and inventor of an automatic sheep carcass counter), had leased the neighbouring back section from at least 1896 and in 1901, he purchased it (as well as the section containing our archaeological site; Evening Star 17/2/1891: 3; LINZ, 1901; H. Wise & Co., n.d. :19; Press 15/3/1940: 10).

Plan showing buildings present in the area during 1900. The vacant section fronting Canterbury Street on the plan was the location of the archaeological site. The building visible in the northwest of the plan is probably the Lewington family home. Image: LINZ, 1900.

As the adjacent Canterbury Street section was probably vacant during the later decades of the 19th century, it may have acted as a convenient place where the neighbouring Lewingtons or the Dimond families could have disposed of their household trash before a new house was built on the section. On-site domestic rubbish deposition like this was common in Canterbury during the 19th century, and archaeological evidence from other local domestic sites suggest that citizens often buried or burnt their own rubbish on-site (Wilson 2005). We’ve seen examples of refuse dumping at neighbouring vacant sections like this before on Canterbury archaeological sites, so without the presence of any artefacts that could be specifically attributed to any of the families, it’s difficult to tell who this rubbish belonged to.

Map showing all the buildings present in the area by 1910. The building that was present at the location our archaeological site (outlined in red), is likely that to be the same building that was standing until its post-earthquake demolition. The presence of the extant house in 1910 indicates that the rubbish pit, pipe laying and the relevelling of the site all occurred before this date. Image: Williams 1910.

Despite the uncertainties, this site offered us a fascinating history of some of the earliest settlers of Lyttelton, and it proved to be a great example of close family ties, family enterprise, not to mention, confusingly repeated family names.

Chelsea Dickson

References

Wise & Co., n.d. Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories.

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds Index – Lyttelton B, Canterbury. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

LINZ, 1900. DP 1623, Canterbury. Landonline.

Williams, J.R., 1910. Plan of Lyttelton Sewerage.

Wilson, J. et. al. 2005. Contextual Historical Overview for Christchurch City. Christchurch City Council. Available  at: https://www.ccc.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Culture-Community/Heritage/ChristchurchCityContextualHistoryOverviewTheme11-docs.pdf  [Accessed May 2016).

 

A local Lyttelton landmark lives on

This week on the blog, we look at what we found beneath a local landmark in the community of Lyttelton: the newly refurbished Albion Square.

Refurbished Albion Square, Lyttelton. Image: Christchurch City Council.

Refurbished Albion Square, Lyttelton. Image: Christchurch City Council.

The Albion Square, on the corner of London and Canterbury streets, is home of the Lyttelton War Memorial Cenotaph. It also acts as a community focal point, and is a testament to the recovery of the port town. However, the longer-standing residents of Lyttelton may recall that this was also once the site of the square’s namesake: the historic Albion Hotel.

We can trace the establishment of the first hotel at this site to 1858, when local merchant John Collier was granted a liquor licence, transforming his grocery store into the Albion Hotel. A year later he added a saddle horses for hire business to the rear of the hotel. An 1862 advertisement in the Lyttelton Times, for the lease of the hotel provides the first known description of Collier’s hotel:

The premises consist of a commodious bar, bar parlour, dining and sitting rooms, with 15 bedrooms, making up 24 beds; also skittle ground and outhouses. This establishment has for the last three years, been favoured with the support of the settlers of the Peninsula particularly.

Lyttelton Times 1/11/1862: 6.

A map of Lyttelton drawn in the 1860s shows the Albion Hotel fronting London Street. Two smaller buildings are shown to the rear of the hotel. These probably represent the outhouses and stables mentioned in newspaper sources (Lyttelton Times 8/1/1859: 5, 1/11/1862: 2).

Detail of an 1860s map of Lyttelton showing structures extant along London Street at the time. Albion  Hotel section outlined in red. Image: Rice 2004: 28.

Detail of an 1860s map of Lyttelton showing structures extant along London Street at the time. Albion Hotel section outlined in red. Image: Rice 2004: 28.

Collier was fortunate that his hotel survived the Lyttelton fire of 1870, which destroyed much of the Lyttelton central business district. In 1881, the original building was sold and removed from the site (Press 14/1/1881: 4). The sale advertisement described the old building as:

Covered with slates, and contains a large quantity of timber and bricks while the intended replacement was a stylish brick edifice to be substituted in its place, whenever the ancient hostelry is removed.

Press 21/1/1881: 2.

Later in 1881 the stables behind the hotel caught fire (Press 22/8/1881: 2). Little damage was done, but the resulting newspaper item indicates the stables were constructed from galvanised iron. The new Albion Hotel continued operating into the 20th century and can be seen in a photograph taken in 1911.  In 1943 a new façade was added to the building (Burgess 2009).

A 1911 photograph showing the Albion Hotel on the corner of London Street and Canterbury Street. Image: Burgess 2009.

A 1911 photograph showing the Albion Hotel on the corner of London Street and Canterbury Street. Image: Burgess 2009.

Over the course of the 19th century, the Albion Hotel and horse for hire business had at least 17 proprietors between them, and more still after the turn of the century. This high turnover complicated the task of attributing the artefacts recovered from the site to a specific individual. The dateable artefacts that were recovered from the site all post-date 1857, confirming that the assemblage was associated with the Albion Hotel. However, serval discreet archaeological features may have been deposited at different times.  The deposition dates of these features range from 1861 to the late 19th century. It is possible that the piece of salvaged roofing slate may have been part of the original Albion Hotel which was removed from the site in 1881 (Press 21/1/1881: 2).

An aerated water bottle manufactured by T. Raine between 1861 and 1871. Image: C. Dickson.

An aerated water bottle manufactured by T. Raine between 1861 and 1871. Image: C. Dickson.

The archaeological material that was recovered was found in a series of rubbish pits, located mainly toward the rear of the hotel site. From this evidence it is apparent that the back of the section was seen as a convenient location to dispose of the breakages and detritus associated with the day-to-day operation of the Albion Hotel. It is possible that the proprietors of the hotel may have deposited waste into these rubbish pits to avoid rubbish collection costs.

The rubbish pits contained combinations of artefacts that are signatures of 19th century hotel sites, such as alcohol bottles, matching serving ware sets and food remains. The alcohol bottles consisted mainly of black beers, though wine bottles, case gin bottles, spirit-shaped bottles and matching glass tumblers were also present. The contents of these bottles cannot be confirmed, as specific alcohol bottle shapes were commonly re-used for alternative purposes. However, it is probable that beer, wine, gin and other spirits were being served at the Albion Hotel. These vessels are also likely to only represent a fraction of the alcohol that was served. The presence of disposable clay pipes with use-wear indicates that the hotel patrons were also smoking at this site.

Rubbish pit feature consisting largely of broken 19th century alcohol bottles. Scale is in 200 mm increments. Image: M. Carter.

Rubbish pit feature consisting largely of broken 19th century alcohol bottles. Scale is in 200 mm increments. Image: M. Carter.

Stem of a clay smoking pipe manufactured by Charles Crop, London between 1856 to c.1891. Image: C. Dickson.

Stem of a clay smoking pipe manufactured by Charles Crop, London between 1856 to c.1891. Image: C. Dickson.

The matching decorative patterns that were found on ceramic tableware and servingware sets are representative of a standardised material culture, and this fashion can be associated with the Victorian idea of social respectability (Samford 1997). It is possible that this servingware is an indication that food was served at the hotel. However, there was a notable absence of condiment bottles from this site. This is unusual, as condiment bottles are typically abundant in 19th century hotel sites.

Fragments of platter and dinner plate set decorated with under-graze transfer print technique. Image C. Dickson.

Fragments of platter and dinner plate set decorated with under-graze transfer print technique. Image C. Dickson.

A number of animal bones with butchery marks were also recovered, the most common of which were cuts of lamb and mutton leg. It is probable that these cuts were being served to the patrons of the Albion Hotel. Shellfish, including oyster, rock oyster, cockle and cat’s eye were also recovered. These are all species that were locally available. There is a notable absence of fish and bird remains from the faunal assemblage. This is unusual, as 19th century hotels have been found to be more likely to serve fish and bird than private houses (Watson 2000).

A newspaper advertisement indicates that the Albion Hotel had rooms at the back that were for the owner’s family (Press 9/5/1882: 3). While both commercial and domestic items were recovered from this site, there appears to be a lack of domestic items that are typically associated with family homes. With the exception of chamber pots, this may be because hotel guests would bring these personal items with them during their visits, and would be unlikely to leave them at the hotel to be discarded.

The Albion Hotel artefact assemblage is comparable to other 19th hotel assemblages in Christchurch, such as the Oxford-on-Avon Hotel and the Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel. All three sites yielded large quantities of alcohol bottles, with black beer bottles being the most prominent. Glass servingware and matching decorative ceramic servingware sets were also present at all sites: the Asiatic Pheasants pattern was dominant at the Oxford-on-Avon, and Willow pattern was well represented at the Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel, while the Albion Hotel appears to have had sets of Willow and unidentified sponged and leaf tableware sets. Unlike Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel, no evidence that could be associated with the neighbouring stables (such as horseshoes) was recovered from this site, despite the fact that the saddled horse for hire business appears to have been long-running at this address.

Matching sponged teacup and saucer set. Image: C. Dickson.

Matching sponged teacup and saucer set. Image: C. Dickson.

By combining the historical and archaeological information from the Albion Hotel site, the activities of those who lived there was revealed to show the use and modification of the section over time. This assemblage has shed light on the operation of a 19th century hotel in Lyttelton, and the provision of food and drink in this context. This site is also comparable to other 19th century hotels within Christchurch, and has the potential to add to our general understanding of similar establishments in the area. This analysis has salvaged a snapshot of one of Lyttelton’s historic watering holes, adding to the charisma of the vibrant entertainment hub of modern Lyttelton.

 Chelsea Dickson

References

Burgess, R., 2009. Registration Report for Historic a Area: Lyttelton Township Historic Area (Vol. 2). Unpublished report for New Zealand Historic Places trust Pouhere Toanga.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed July 2014].

Press. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed July 2014].

Rice, G., 2004. Lyttelton: Port and town. An illustrated history. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Samford, Patricia M., 1997. Response to a market: Dating English underglaze transfer‐printed wares. Historical Archaeology 31 (2): 1‐30.

Watson, K., 2000. A land of plenty? Unpublished Masters thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Otago.

Gender matters

Gender matters. And it’s complicated, which is why writing this blog post has been particularly difficult. Why is it so complicated, from an archaeological standpoint? Well, let me try and explain.

Historical archaeology developed as a discipline in the mid-20th century and, at that time, its practitioners made all sorts of sweeping generalisations about the position of women – and other minorities – in the past (as many archaeologists at the time did, regardless of their period of expertise, and as I’m doing now). For the so-called historic period, these assumptions revolved around women as mother and domestic helpmeet, with no roles outside this, little value placed on this role, little recognition that maybe women wanted more than this and little room for any agency on the part of women.

Times have changed, and society now sees gender – and gender roles – quite differently. Historical archaeologists are no exception to this change. We now see considerable value in the role of women in the 19th century and are able to make far more nuanced interpretations about their lives and experiences.

For all this, women are still frustratingly elusive in the archaeological record. There are some artefacts that definitely indicate the presence of a woman at a site, such as a woman’s shoes, clothing or jewellery. It might be possible to use a perfume bottle to definitely link a woman to a site, or perhaps some specific medicines. The presence of girls might be able to be identified through dolls, but boys could just as easily have played with dolls. And anyway, these artefacts do little more than reinforce those gender stereotypes we’ve moved away from. They tell us that there was a woman at the site, and maybe she wore perfume. Or maybe someone gave her some perfume that she didn’t like. Who knows?

But if you’ve got a site that you know was almost exclusively occupied by women for over 40 years, that’s a whole different matter. Especially when that site was occupied by the same family for that period, which is pretty unusual in central Christchurch, regardless of the genders involved.

The site in question was that of Violet Cottage. Even the name sounds feminine, right? Well, that’s how it was known when Dr Thomas Moore – and his family – were living there. The Moore family had bought land in Canterbury in 1850, and emigrated the following year (Greenaway 2007, Lundy 2014). They settled at Charteris Bay initially, before moving to Violet Cottage. Unfortunately for Dr Moore, he only lived at the cottage for two or three years before his untimely death in 1860 (Lyttelton Times 15/2/1860: 4). Following his death, members of his family remained at  the cottage until the 20th century (H Wise and Co 1911). This included Mrs Elizabeth Moore, and the children: Elizabeth, Alice, Thomas, Jane, Ellen, Annie and Emma (H Wise & Co 1878-1979, Lundy 2014). Elizabeth lived at Violet Cottage until her death in 1887 and two of her daughters – Annie and Emma – continued to live at the cottage until the 20th century. We’ve not been able to identify how the women supported themselves after Thomas senior’s death, but there is some evidence to suggest that they had income from property near Violet Cottage (Hughes et al. 2014: 4).

 Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.


Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.

What we found at the site was perhaps surprising: there was nothing about the assemblage we recovered that suggested the artefacts were deposited by a predominantly female household. Or even that there were women living at the site: no women’s clothing, perfume bottles or shoes. Nothing specifically female at all. This is perhaps not surprising, given that we probably only recovered a fraction of the material culture discarded by the site’s occupants over the more than 40 years they lived there.

We found a fairly generic Victorian Christchurch domestic assemblage, with one exception. We only found three rubbish pits at the site, and one of these features contained almost nothing but alcohol bottles: 134 of the 146 artefacts we recovered from the feature probably contained alcohol (long-time followers of the blog will know that bottles were frequently re-used in 19th century New Zealand and may not have contained the contents suggested by their form). There was nothing about the rubbish pit that suggested the bottles had been deposited over a number of years, and the pit was probably filled over a relatively short period of time. So someone at the site may have been doing a lot of drinking – or it’s possible that the good doctor was using the alcohol for medical purposes.

 Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

Most of the remainder of the artefacts recovered from the site were either ceramics or animal bones (i.e. food waste from the Moores’ meals). The ceramics included a range of serving wares that suggested a well-to-do middle class establishment. There was a tureen, a platter, a milk jug and dinner plates, as well as more utilitarian items, such as chamber pots, a colander and a rather fabulous wash basin. There was only one tea cup, one saucer and no teapots – while that may not seem that interesting, archaeologists have often identified the presence and role of women on 19th century archaeological sites through the ritual of afternoon tea, and the material remains of that ritual. There was some evidence, however, to suggest a matching set of sprigged ware – and this may have been a tea set, as the items from this set were a milk jug, a saucer and a side plate.

 Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.


Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.

 Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The animal bones tell us that the Moores were eating mutton and beef, with a preference for mutton, and a range of both cheap and expensive cuts present – beef cheek anyone? The cuts of mutton were from both the forequarter (or shoulder) and the leg, with the latter suggesting the consumption of roast mutton. In amongst all this evidence for food and its consumption, it is perhaps surprising that no condiment containers were recovered from the site – no vinegars, salad oils or pickles.

 A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The artefact from the site that I found most evocative was a porcelain platter, made by Spode, and decorated with a blue floral pattern. The interesting thing about this platter was that the maker’s mark indicated that it was made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). That means that it was made before the Moores arrived in New Zealand, and that the Moores are very likely to have brought it with them from England, and kept it carefully and safely throughout their travels. For the family, this piece of china may have provided a direct and tangible link between the life they left behind in England and their new life here on the other side of the globe.

 A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.


A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.

We can’t relate this artefact to gender (at least, not without making a whole lot of assumptions that don’t sit comfortably), but it does tell us about the sort of items that new colonists – of a certain class – brought with them for their new lives, and their expectations of those lives: I don’t imagine that the holds of migrant ships were packed with Spode platters or ashets… This platter suggests that the Moore family expected to dine well, and possibly even to entertain, and to maintain certain standards in their new home.

Our experience at this site confirms that gender – and gender roles – can be difficult to explore archaeologically. But the question is an important one and needs to be considered carefully at any archaeological site, rather than simply making assumptions about the role of women in 19th century Christchurch.

Katharine Watson, Chelsea Dickson & Julia Hughes

References

Andersen, J. C., 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson and Williams Ltd, Christchurch.

Greenaway, R. L. N., 2007. Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour. [online] Available at: http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/heritage/cemeteries/barbadoes/barbadoesstreetcemetery.pdf [Accessed June 2014].

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

Hughes, J., Dickson, C. and Geary Nichol, R., 2014. 89 Chester Street East, Christchurch: report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Hawkins Ltd.

Jacobson, H. C., 1914. Tales of Banks Peninsula. Akaroa: Akaroa Mail Office.

Lundy, D., 2014. Dr. Thomas Richard Moore. [online] Available at: <http://www.thepeerage.com/p44788.htm> [Accessed June 2014].

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: <www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>. Accessed April 2014.

The Potteries, 2008. A-Z of Stoke-on-Trent Potters. [online] Available at: www.thepotteries.org.

In which the emanation of effluvia is offensive to one’s senses

Continuing on from last week’s blog, today’s post takes a look (or a sniff, if you will) at the aromas of everyday life inside a Victorian house. Smell is such an intrinsic part of human life, yet so fleeting that it can only be experienced directly in the present moment. The smells of the past, as Hamish mentioned last week, are only available to us indirectly, through written descriptions and the power of our imagination (itself based upon our own past olfactory experiences).

As far as the 19th century is concerned, many of the everyday scents and aromas experienced by people in Christchurch would still be familiar to us, even now. Others, however, have faded from daily life during the intervening decades as household products and technologies have gradually been replaced by modern, odourless, alternatives.

A lovely brass candlestick (used by Colonel mustard in the library, perhaps...). We think that the pieces of fabric stuck to the metal are just the remnants of the wrapping it was thrown out in, rather than a functional or decorative part of the candlestick itself. There's even a candle stub still visible inside the holder, near the base. Image: J. Garland

A brass candlestick found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland

The smell of lighting, for example, is something that wouldn’t even register as a household smell now. Yet, in the 19th century, everything that produced light (with the exception of the sun, of course) – candles, kerosene lamps, gas lamps, wood or coal fires – would also have produced a smell.  Some of these have featured on the blog before, in the form of candle sticks and fireplaces found on Christchurch sites, but we’ve not really considered them in the context of their smell before.

Many of the fireplaces we’ve come across would not have ‘drawn’ well, meaning there would often have been coal or wood smoke in the room while they were lit. Kerosene lamps were notorious for their smell, to the point that advertisers made an effort to emphasise the less ‘distasteful’ smell of their own products (Wairarapa Daily Times 7/2/1913: 7). Candles were made from a variety of materials, from cheap tallow to spermaceti (a wax found in sperm whales) and paraffin wax, some of which gave off distinctive smells and some of which did not. Even ‘odourless’ candles, though, such as ‘sperm candles’, would still have contributed to the scents of the household through the smell of the wick as it was extinguished, or matches as it was lit.

Advertisements for household lighting and heat

Advertisements for household lighting and heat. Left to right: advertisement for gas lighting, which avoids the “soot, smell and sadness” of other lighting methods (Northern Advocate 6/8/1920: 4); advertisement for Apollo Sperm Candles (Evening Post 8/8/1903: 15); advertisement for clean Shell kerosene heaters (Wairarapa Daily Times 7/2/1913:7)

Article on the creation of an allegedly odourless 'super-cabbage'. Image:

Article on the creation of an allegedly odourless ‘super-cabbage’. Image: New Zealand Herald 21/5/1935: 4.

On the other hand, the smell of cooking – and food, in general – is one that we’re used to today, although perhaps not to the same extremes as in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  As well as the smell of coal ranges or cooking fires, people during the period seem to have been particularly concerned with the aromas of cooked vegetables and meat permeating through the house (Ashburton Guardian 31/3/1900: 4). Newspapers from the time are full of advice on how to prevent the smell of cooking from spreading, with noticeable emphasis on the smell of cooking cabbage, onion and other boiled green vegetables (North Otago Times 20/12/1906: 1New Zealand Herald 5/07/1930:7). Of course, some of the cooking smells of the time must have been more palatable than others: the aroma of fresh bread or baking, for example, is unlikely to have provoked such negativity.

Advice on how to prevent cooking smells from permeating through the house. Images:

Advice on how to prevent cooking smells from permeating through the house. Images: Evening Post 21/4/1939: 6Ashburton Guardian 31/3/1900: 4New Zealand Herald 7/9/1929: 7

However, food smells wouldn’t have been limited to cooking. Without the refrigeration that we have today, even the storage of food in a house would have generated a variety of smells – some good (spices, perhaps) and some bad. We talked about a few of the foodstuffs that we’ve found on sites in Christchurch a little while ago. Some of these – the anchovy paste, for example – probably smelled quite pungent to start with, let alone after they’d been sitting in unrefrigerated storage for any length of time. In fact, many of the food-related artefacts we find, from vinegar bottles to Bovril to jars of ground cheese, would have had fairly distinctive aromas that we tend to forget about when we’re looking at them.

An Anchovy Paste jar found in Christchurch and accompanying recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.

An anchovy paste jar found in Christchurch, and recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the household smells of then and now is, as it was with the smells of the outside world, related to the management of human waste, sanitation and personal hygiene. Last week, Hamish mentioned one site with a crudely made drain, which might have contributed to the smell of the sewer travelling up the pipe and into a house. We don’t know how common an occurrence this might have been in 19th century Christchurch, but we do know that the smell of human waste would have been a strong presence in houses anyway, thanks to the use of chamber pots – a multitude of which have been found on sites in the city.

Part of a chamberpot decorated with the May Morn pattern. Image: J. Garland.

Part of a chamberpot decorated with the May Morn pattern. Image: J. Garland.

For many 19th century households, the toilet (or privy) would have been located outside, separate from the main house or attached to the rear of the dwelling (Butcher & Smith 2010). While this set-up would have been fine for use during the day, chamber pots were common household items for use during the night, when it was too cold or too dark to stumble outside to the privy. Even when emptied frequently, the smell must have been fairly pervasive and less than pleasant.

An 1870s article describing the use of coffee as a disinfectant and de-odouriser. Image:

An 1870s article describing the use of coffee as a disinfectant. Image: Southland Times 3/6/1870: 3

However, there were a number of methods and products available in the 19th century to combat the more unpleasant household smells, products that would have themselves contributed to the overall aromatic signature of the Victorian Christchurch home. Examples of 19th and early 20th century cleaning products from Christchurch sites have featured here on the blog before. All of these would have provided a fairly strong assault on the nostrils, particularly the disinfectants like Kerol, Lysol and Jeyes Fluid (New Zealand Herald 22/1/1912: 8). Other methods of preventing ‘noxious odours’ in the home included the cooking tips mentioned above, the careful placement of flowers or floral scented sachets (lavender or rose, usually; New Zealand Herald 26/10/1912: 6), or the use of coffee as a “powerful means…of rendering animal and vegetable effluvia innocuous” (Southland Times 3/6/1870: 3).

 

 

Kerol bottle found in Christchurch, along with 1920s poem singing the praises of the disinfectant. Images:  Colonist 24/02/1920; J. Garland.

Kerol bottle found in Christchurch, along with 1920s poem singing the praises of the disinfectant. Images: Colonist 24/02/1920; J. Garland.

Sadly, due to the constraints of space, in this post I’ve really only touched on the plethora of smells that would have defined a household in the 19th century. I’ve not mentioned the smell of the building itself (wallpapers, particular types of timber, the damp; Bruce Herald 23/10/1872: 9) or the smell of household animals or pets or many of the other scented household products (for better or for worse) that would have been in use (Evening Post 20/2/1930: 7). Not to mention the personal smells created by people themselves, from the smell of their clothing (washed and unwashed), the smell of leather shoes, individual perfumes or lack thereof, the smell of a person’s hair (which may have been washed with beetle juices!) or the soap that they used.

There are so many individual scents that make up the olfactory experience of our daily lives that it can be difficult to imagine that experience as a whole in the past, to combine all of the smells we’ve mentioned, this week and last, into an idea of what it was like to breathe in deeply in 19th century Christchurch. It can also be difficult to separate out the various smells that contribute to our own experience, especially the ones we’re so used to that we barely notice them anymore. You have to wonder if perhaps it was a bit like that for people in the 19th century as well: perhaps, so many of these smells were so common that they hardly registered in day to day life. For us, though, even imagining such smells has the power to make that daily life – those past scenes and experiences – more real, in a way that few other senses do.

Jessie Garland

References

Ashburton Guardian. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

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

Butcher, M. & Smith, I., 2010. Talking trash: classifying rubbish-bearing deposits from colonial New Zealand sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1(1): 43-61.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A few filthy features”

As archaeologists we almost exclusively describe and interpret the physical evidence of past human activity in visual terms, through maps, photos, and descriptions of what the archaeological features or artefacts look like. Although this makes perfect sense, lately I’ve come to ask myself:

“Okay, so if this is what life in 19th century Christchurch looked like, what on earth does this tell me about what life in 19th century Christchurch smelled like?”

Unfortunately, we can only learn about the smells of the past indirectly through archaeology. Smells are not physical things that can be dug up and most don’t stick around for very long anyways. The smells of times past have long since been replaced by the smells of the present.

Historical records such as 19th century newspaper accounts, however, point to a number of different urban smells that were nothing short of offensive in the extreme for both local authorities and the general public.  And, despite the best efforts of those authorities, many such smells simply refused to go away.

In this week’s blog, for your eye-watering olfactory pleasure, I present you with a ‘few filthy features’, bringing the 19th century alive in all its ‘stink and glory’. Enjoy!

Drains and sewers

Before the Christchurch Drainage Board was established in 1876, the Christchurch City Council and other local authorities dug a number of drains and ditches, and built culverts, sewers, and roadside channels to remove stagnant and polluted surface waters. Draining mostly into the Avon and Heathcote rivers, these conduits were never intended to carry sewage and other offensive matter, although they inevitably did.

Image:

A newspaper clipping from the …., outlining local legislation on the disposal or rubbish and waste in city drains. Image: Press 01/04/1871: 3

The gently flowing Avon soon became an open sewer by proxy. As one observer noted, it “oozed a mass of putrid and decaying animal and vegetable matter” (Star 21/11/1872: 3).

Box culvert Image: H. Williams

Part of an 1870s timber culvert found underneath Ferry Road. Image: H. Williams.

We have found some evidence of these early drainage conduits, such as a boxed timber culvert that carried the Ferry Road drainage ditch beneath Ferry Road (above), and early pipe drains, which were crudely constructed by modern standards. One such pipe drain, found on Oxford Terrace, was laid on a flat gradient, meaning that the filth and water it once carried can’t ever have been able to drain away freely (a factor that no doubt contributed to its eventual silting up). Worse still was a crudely made and un-trapped connecting house drain, which may well have resulted in the sewer stink travelling up this drain and entering the house. Yuck!

Image: H. Williams

An earthenware pipe drain sewer with an un-trapped house connection, and sediment build-up found inside. Image: H. Williams.

By 1882 the Drainage Board had helped to remove some of the sewage stink from Christchurch through the construction of a sewerage system that carried waste eastwards out of town towards the estuary, and stormwater via a separate network of sewers into the rivers. Many of these sewers, of brick and concrete construction, have been relined and are still in use today. We also know that for some disgruntled 19th century ratepayers, the sewers, and the Drainage Board itself, carried with it the reek of corruption. Although he never publically admitted it, the Drainage Board’s Engineer Mr Charles Napier Bell was accused of profiteering from a 5% commission on all the earthenware sewer pipes the Board was importing from Britain (Wilson 1989: 18).

One of the old sewer outfalls into the Avon River, still in use today. Image: E. Clifford.

One of the old sewer outfalls into the Avon River, still in use today. Image: E. Clifford.

Cesspits

Despite the expansion of the sewer network, many households did not connect to the sewers and instead continued the medieval practice of using backyard latrines/privies with subsurface cesspits for disposing of their bodily wastes. Typically unlined, these cesspits were directly implicated in the transmission of fatal water borne diseases such as typhoid and dysentery, with seepage contaminating the groundwater of nearby wells. Emptied by hand (before they were later abandoned and filled in with rubbish, much to the excitement of us archaeologists), ‘night soil’ was carted away and dumped on the fringes of town. From 1886 in Christchurch,  a specially converted tram was employed between the hours of midnight and 5am to take tanks of ‘night soil’ waste out to the Council’s newly established ‘rubbish reserve’ in Linwood  (Alexander 1985:11).

We have excavated a surprisingly small number of cesspits in Christchurch, the deepest of which was 1.8 m deep. The bottom of this deep cesspit was stained a light tan colour and was of a puggy, sticky consistency, which we have interpreted as the residues of decomposed poo. Layers of ash, and a white powdery substance (probably lime) found within one of these pits may represent deodorising agents.

Julia sitting in the cesspit feature she just excavated. Image: H. Williams.

Julia digging out a cesspit feature in the Christchurch CBD. Image: H. Williams.

Rubbish and rats

As we have mentioned before on the blog, rubbish disposal was a continual problem in early Christchurch. Although in some areas the council did operate a household rubbish collection system in the 19th century, and employed ‘scavengers’ to clean the streets of rubbish and horse poo on a semi-regular basis, many households continued to dig pits in their backyards for disposing of their rubbish, or simply dumped it out of sight under the house or on a vacant section, thereby avoiding the collection fee.

With particularly large rubbish pits, I have always wondered to what extent they may have smelled bad, as they were filled up over time with the household’s food and kitchen scraps and other offensive organic wastes, left to putrefy in the summer sun. To date, we have not found any clear evidence of layers of dirt or sand dumped in pits in Christchurch that would have helped to minimise any bad smells. Pits may have been covered in some way, however, perhaps with lengths of timber or sheet metal, which would have helped to suppress any nasty smell, and we hope, have kept the rats out.

With all the filth and rubbish in, around, and underneath Christchurch buildings, it is not difficult to imagine how easily a population of rats could get out of control. Many a subfloor space in built-up Christchurch may have sheltered a rat family or two, safe out of the cold and with a ready supply of food scraps about to sustain them.

By 1900 the rodent menace reached a crisis point, as civic authorities prepared for the coming of the plague, which had appeared in New South Wales and threatened to spread to New Zealand on infected stowaway rats (Star 27/2/1900: 2). Although the plague never arrived in Christchurch, the threat contributed to a greater awareness about the dangers of filth, and the eradication of urban rat populations.

Advertisement for O'Kearney's rat poison. Image:

Advertisement for O’Kearney’s rat poison. Image: Star 06/11/1888: 2

A wide variety of strychnine, phosphorus, and arsenic-based rodent poisons were available from chemists to deal with rat infestations. Because they were implicated in a number of suicides and murders across the country, after 1895 purchase of these products required a signed declaration from a Justice of the Peace as to their intended purpose, as well as the payment of a government fee (Press 23/10/1895: 4).

At a site on Victoria Street we found two pit features like nothing we have ever seen before, features we have interpreted as archaeological evidence of 19th century rodent eradication activity. This took the form of two hand dug pits, each of which contained only rat bones – the remains of 34 rats in one pit and 21 in the other.

Rubbish pit filled with the remains of numerous rats, and some of the skull and jaw fragments found within. Image: H. Williams.

Rubbish pit filled with the remains of numerous rats, and some of the skull and jaw fragments found within. Image: H. Williams.

Whether both these pits were dug, filled, and covered over in the same day we will never know, nor what stinky state of decomposition these rat corpses may have been in when buried, nor whether these rats succumbed to poison, traps, or the resident tabby cat. What both these rat bone features do tell us, however, is that at the end of the day, it was the people of Christchurch who not only through their individual actions or inaction contributed to the filth and the stink, but were ultimately also the individual agents of change who helped play their part in cleaning it up. Such is the sweet retrospective smell of history.

Hamish Williams

References

Alexander, M., 1985. Rails in the roads – the steam and horse tram era in Christchurch. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Transport Board / Tramway Historical Society.

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

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

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A Short History of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Drainage Board.