Today, through the wonders of archaeology and Papers Past, we bring you the story of Charles Henry Cox, a man whose crime has been buried – literally – for over 100 years. But let’s not get too carried away. As crimes go, it wasn’t such a serious one. And probably largely victimless, as it doesn’t seem to have been terribly successful.
Before we found Cox’s little rubbish pit, we didn’t have a sense of who he was or what he was like. He wasn’t like some of the other men we’ve featured here, who were frequently written about in the paper and were probably quite well known about town. But he was someone who – like so many of us – wanted to get ahead, financially and/or socially. This was in the mid-1880s, so he may have lost his job in the depression that was affecting so much of the country at the time, and it may have been this that forced him to turn to crime. Or maybe he just thought he’d hit upon a cunning get-rich-quick scheme.
Cox wasn’t that badly off in the first place, though. He had sufficient money to buy himself and his family a block of land (where we found the incriminating evidence) in Richmond in 1885 and he took out a mortgage against it that same year, possibly to build a house on the land (LINZ 1885).
Now, here’s where it gets a bit confusing, so pay close attention.
The section Charles bought in 1885 was on a street known by a variety of names until the 1940s, when it became Harvey Terrace. It was known as Salisbury Street and Windsor Terrace and possibly – just possibly – as Draper Street (CCL 2013: 39; LINZ 1885). The possibility that it was known as Draper Street is important, because newspaper advertisements tell us that Cox lived on Draper Street (e.g. Star 29/1/1886: 2, Star 23/1/1896: 3). Even if Cox didn’t live on the section he bought in 1885, Draper Street was literally just around the corner and the archaeology tells us that he was definitely using the section on what is now Harvey Terrace. He owned this section until at least 1911 and newspapers place him and his wife – who was constantly advertising for servants (e.g. Star 29/1/1886: 2, Star 23/1/1896: 3) – on Draper Street from 1885 until at least 1900.
So what did we find? Well, at first glance it was an odd but seemingly innocuous rubbish pit that contained a large number of shoe polish bottles. A minimum number of 110 artefacts were found in the pit, over half of which were shoe polish bottles. There were two types of these bottles: the standard stoneware blacking bottles and glass bottles embossed with “HAUTHAWAY’S PEERLESS GLOSS”. This was a shoe polish made by Charles Hauthaway in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, from 1852 (Hauthaway Corporation n.d.). It was advertised for sale in New Zealand from at least 1879 until at least 1894 and claimed to be “a necessity in every family” (New Zealand Herald 19/6/1879: 4, Ellesmere Guardian 22/8/1896: 1).
At first we thought that maybe there’d been a shoe shop on the site – but there were no shoes in the rubbish pit. So then we thought, maybe it was just a general store of some sort? But the other artefacts from the feature didn’t suggest that. Then we found an advertisement for “Cox’s Pioneer Gloss”, which was being sold wholesale by the manufacturer from Draper Street from October 1886 to January 1887 (Press 30/10/1886: 1, Star 10/1/1887: 1). We didn’t find any evidence that Cox was selling anything else from Draper Street, such as other brands of shoe polish.
The stash of blacking and shoe polish bottles found at the site suggests that Cox’s Pioneer Gloss was not a product that Cox had developed, but that Cox was on-selling Hauthaway’s product in a different container (such as the stoneware blacking bottles, which were not associated with any particular brand). It is also possible that Cox was blending the no-brand blacking and Hauthaway’s shoe polish to make something slightly different. Maybe Cox’s product contained other ingredients as well, but no evidence was found to suggest this. Searches to find the recipe for Cox’s patent were unsuccessful – it is quite likely that Cox never patented his product, but that this was simply an advertising ploy.
Cox’s illicit venture was not a long-lived one, which suggests that he lost money on the scheme, and certainly didn’t make the profits he’d no doubt hoped for. There’s no evidence in the historical record to suggest that he was found out. No doubt the bottles – and other artefacts – were buried early in 1887, in the hope that no would ever know. He didn’t count on archaeology though.
Christchurch City Libraries, 2013. Christchurch street names: H. [online] Available at: < http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/PlaceNames/ChristchurchStreetNames-H.pdf>.
Ellesmere Guardian. [online]. Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed April 2013].
Hauthaway Corporation, n.d. History. [online] Available at: < http://www.hauthaway.com/history.php> [Accessed 21/8/2013].
LINZ, 1885. CB79/259, Canterbury. Landonline.
New Zealand Herald. [online]. Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Otago Witness. [online]. Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Press. [online]. Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Star. [online]. Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.