Privies, Water Closets and Pan Closets: Sanitation in 19th century Christchurch

Toilet, loo, lavatory, water closet, restroom, bathroom –  no matter what you call it, they all refer to the same thing: the porcelain throne on which we spend an average of three hours and nine minutes a week. The flushing toilet is a quintessential part of modern life. The press of a button and our waste is whisked away, never to be seen again (unless you have to face the horror of working on wastewater pipe renewal projects). Yet it wasn’t always that way.

I won’t be so vulgar as to include a close-up photo of this drain, but let’s just say that there were some things in there that you didn’t want to get up close and personal with. Image: C. Watson.

Archaeologists studying ancient and more recent civilisations have shown that the principals of sanitation are basically the same no matter when or where you lived, those being: when people are living too densely for the ‘just find a bush’ method to work, collect the waste in something and find a way to dispose it. In Ancient Greece, Rome and Babylonia latrines with pipes that connected to cesspits or drains were installed in cities. Ancient Egypt also had latrines, but these drained directly into sandy soil, with waste sometimes then collected and used as fertiliser. People from the Harrapan civilisation in India also collected waste and used it as fertiliser, while in Mesopotamia, privies had a portable pot that was removed and emptied once full (Genc 2009).

Of course, while the broad principals of sanitation may be transcultural, some cultures did it better than others. As with anything engineering related, the Romans did it best. Nearly every Roman city dweller had access to a toilet (unlike some of the other ancient civilisations where it was only the wealthy and elite), and Roman latrines were connected to an elaborate drainage and sewer system, with the Cloaca Maxima draining into the River Tiber.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the engineered drainage systems they had constructed fell into disrepair. Those living in cities in the Middle Ages likely collected waste in a bucket or chamber pot that was emptied into the street or river –  if they weren’t just finding a private spot outside to go. Latrines did exist (with public latrines that emptied directly into the River Thames located on the London Bridge), but they weren’t as common nor as engineered as those from the earlier Roman period. This approach to sanitation led to stinky, disease ridden cities, that worsened as population density increased. The Great Stink of 1858 refers to a particularly hot summer when the Thames River water level dropped, exposing centuries of waste and a stench so offensive that it apparently caused people miles away to throw up when the wind changed.

You might be, by this point, wondering what has inspired today’s blog post on the humble toilet. Well, it’s because we recently found one. Our toilet was made by Twyfords in 1889 and likely dates back to when flushing toilets were first introduced to Christchurch. But more on that soon. For now, let’s look at what came before the porcelain potty.

I won’t be so vulgar as to include a close-up photo of this drain, but let’s just say that there were some things in there that you didn’t want to get up close and personal with. Image: C. Watson.

Privies, cesspits, closet pans, earth closets and water closets were all different options available to our 19th century counterparts when nature called. Early settlers to Christchurch built privies (or long drops) that discharged into cesspits. These privies proved problematic as they were smelly and prone to leaking, which contaminated soil and sources of water. As early as the 1860s, councils were requiring people to seek council permission before constructing a cesspit to ensure that the cesspit would not leach into drinking water (Press 30/08/1862: 4; Press 31/03/1863: 2). Councils weren’t big fans of cesspits, for obvious reasons. Instead they encouraged people to use closet pans (Press 31/03/1863: 2). These were essentially a bucket (or similar receptacle) that collected the waste, rather than being stored in a cesspit. This waste was collected by nightsoil men and scavengers, who would empty the pans onto a cart and remove it from the city.

An 1877 advertisement by the City Council calling for closet pan designs. Press 14/05/1877: 1.

The chamber pot was used within the house for those not wanting to venture outside at night. We find chamber pots regularly on our archaeological sites, indicating that they were commonplace in most households. These would have been emptied into the privy or closet. Image: C. Watson.

In 1870 Bylaw No. 10 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1867 gave council governance over all privies, cesspits and house drains (Press 06/05/1870: 4), and later pieces of legislation required that all houses needed their own privy (Press 22/02/1873: 2). Council employed an Inspector of Nuisances (an amazing job title) who was responsible for inspecting privies and cesspits. The inspector’s reports to the Board of Health in the late 1870s often complained that cesspits were unsanitary and recommended that they be replaced with closet pans or earth closets (Press 08/08/1871: 3; Press 30/11/1878: 2; Press 01/02/1879: 5).

An 1871 Inspect of Nuisance’s report complaining about the condition of cesspools belonging to properties located between Tuam and Lichfield Streets. Image: Press 08/08/1871: 3.

The cleanliness of the privy was dependent on nightsoil men and scavengers doing their jobs. In 1879, W. J. White was summoned for causing a nuisance on his premises in Tuam Street by allowing a closet pan to overflow and for burying night soil in his backyard; something that was illegal under the Local Board of Health Act. At the proceedings, White said that the nuisance was not his fault but instead that of the nightsoil man who had failed to collect the nightsoil, despite White having paid him to do so. White was forced to bury the nightsoil on his premises as the nightsoil man had not collected it in seven months (Press 15/02/1879: 5). While the services of the nightsoil men were contracted by the council, individual households still had to pay for the service. Today’s landlords will be horrified to hear that in 1880, the Christchurch City Council had the gall to try and seek payment from property owners for this service after some tenants defaulted on their payments (it turns out that landlord’s complaining about providing liveable properties is not unique to the 21st century).

The work charged for was done for the benefit of the tenant, and it was absurd to charge it to the landlord. If the landlord could be charged for one closet pan, there was no reason to prevent him being made to bear the cost of any number of pans his tenant chose to scatter over the house.

-Press 09/09/1880: 3

Relatively often we find pit features that only have a few small, fragmented artefacts in them. I often wonder what happened to the rest of the objects and if people were throwing their rubbish into what was collected by the nightsoil or dustmen, and what we find are the small pieces that didn’t make the rubbish/waste collection. Image: C. Watson.

As early as the 1860s, calls were being made to introduce water closets to Christchurch (Press 30/08/1864: 2). The problem with privies, closet pans and earth closets was that they relied on nightsoil men to remove the waste. The advantage of water closets was that the refuse was flushed into a sewer and carried out to sea (good for public sanitation, bad for river quality and marine life). The problem with water closets is that cities needed to have a good drainage and sewage system in place to give the waste somewhere to go.

The water closet dates back to the late 18th century (although credit for the first flushing toilet goes to Sir John Harrington, godson of Elizabeth I, who in 1592 installed a water closet of his own design in his house), when Alexander Cummings took out a patent for a flushing water closet (Eveleigh 2008). Like most inventions of the Georgian and Victorian era, once the first water closet was patented different inventors and engineers patented their own versions, with improvements made over time. Cumming’s toilet had an outlet that was controlled with a mechanically operated sliding valve. The bowl was filled with water and once one had finished their business, they opened the slider (causing the water and waste to discharge), and then closed it, which triggered an inlet valve to open and refill the valve. The fundamental flaw in this design was that the waste valve was never cleaned by fresh water, meaning that over time it built up a coating of encrusted dirt (Eveleigh 2008: 30). Excrement sticking to the toilet bowl was a problem in many early toilet designs. Improvements such as Edmund Sharpe’s 1855 flushing rim patent, and later wash down closet designs helped this problem (Eveleigh 2008: 37-45). New patents in toilet design were introduced in the 1850s, but it was really between the 1870s and early 1900s that the modern pedestal toilet rose to popularity (Eveleigh 2008).

By the 1880s and 1890s, sanitary manufacturers were regularly patenting new designs. Unlike our toilets, which are boring white, late 19th century toilets could be purchased with elaborate transfer printed decoration that I definitely think should come back into fashion. Image: Twyfords 1894: 15.

Our toilet dates to this period. It is a pedestalled water closet, made by Twyfords. The Twyford family has a long history in the Staffordshire region, and since the 17th century there have been Twyfords producing commercial pottery. In 1849, Thomas Twyford began to make sanitary ware at his factory in Hanley, but it was not until the 1870s under the direction of Thomas Twyford’s son, Thomas William Twyford, that Twyfords became established as one of Britain’s leading sanitary ware manufacturers (Eveleigh, 2008: 46). In 1887, Twyford opened his Cliff Vale factory, which exclusively produced sanitary wares (Birks, 2021). Twyfords is still in operation today. The toilet is made from what Twyfords referred to as their “C V Porcelain Enamelled Fire Clay” (Twyfords, 1894), with ‘C V’ standing for Cliffe Vale. This was a stoneware body covered with a thick white enamel glaze, also known as vitreous china (Birks, 2021). The ware type ‘sanitary porcelain’ is used to catalogue this specific ware type, reflecting the 19th century terminology that often referred to the ware as “sanitary porcelain” or just as “porcelain” (Twyfords, 1894). It should be noted though that the body is not a true porcelain but is a glazed stoneware imitating porcelain.

Our toilet. The base of the toilet would have been fastened to the ground, with holes for screws included in the base. A wooden toilet seat would have sat on the rim. The top outlet would have connected the toilet to the cistern via a pipe running up the wall. The trap closet is exposed, rather than being enclosed inside the pedestal base as became common in the 1890s. The trap sits higher than the bowl, indicating that the toilet flushes using the wash-down method rather than the wash-out. In the wash out method the trap sits lower than the bowl, meaning that water does not sit in the bowl between uses and leading to the build-up of dried excrement. In the wash down method, introduced in the late 1870s but becoming common in the 1880s, the trap sits higher than the bowl meaning that the water level fills both the bowl and the trap, creating a more hygienic experience (Eveleigh, 2008: 53). Image: C. Watson.

Maker’s marks seen on our toilet. The printed mark on the inside of the bowl, “THE VALE” likely refers to the specific design on the toilet. This design is not shown in Twyford’s 1894 catalogue, suggesting that the firm had discontinued the model by this time (Twyfords, 1894).. The numbers ‘8’ and ‘9’ are located either side of the impressed Twyfords Staffordshire knot mark. This indicates that the toilet was made in 1889, with the various Twyfords marks proving they were the maker.

In 1882 the Christchurch District Board introduced an amendment to The Christchurch District Drainage Act of 1875, which would enable the construction of water closet drains to be connected to sewers and the construction of a pump station to run the system (Star 14/06/1882: 3). Every house within 200ft of a sewer was required to have its privy or closet connected with a drain (Press 29/04/1880: 2). Interestingly, this decision was met with some pushback from residents. People thought that the connections between houses and sewers would lead to filth and disease being brought into the household (Press 7/05/1880: 3; Press 27/05/1882: 3; Press 04/08/1882: 2). Throughout the 1880s, the Drainage Board regularly reported on the progress of constructing drains. In 1884 Christchurch had 293 water closets. By 1901, there were 1915 spread across the city (Wilson 1989: 29). If you’re interested in these developments, we’ve already written several blogs about Christchurch’s drains and sewers. You can read them here, here, and here.

Perhaps what I find most interesting about our toilet, is that is appears to have been thrown out not too long after it was made. The toilet was found in a rubbish pit that contained black beer bottles, ring seal bottles and transfer printed ceramics, all things that are typical of 19th century Christchurch assemblages. There were no artefacts in the pit of later manufacture dates, and, at the absolute latest, I would date the pit to the early 1900s, but really it fits better with an 1890s disposal date. We don’t normally find toilets on our archaeological sites simply because most weren’t introduced until around the 1880s, and they have a long lifespan meaning most weren’t disposed of until well after the 1900 cut-off date that we operate under. The site the toilet was found on was occupied by a working-class family who probably weren’t the sort of people that were replacing their water closet so soon after purchasing it. Which begs the question, why was it thrown out so soon? My current theory is that the toilet was damaged, perhaps during shipping, or installation, or shortly after having been installed, and that meant it had to be replaced. The faulty toilet was then disposed of in a backyard rubbish pit. And we dug it up over 100 years later.

Clara Watson


Birks, S., 2021. The local history of Stoke-On-Trent, England. [online] Available at: <>

Eveleigh, D., 2008. Privies and Water Closets. Oxford: Shire Publications.

Press [online]. Available at <>

Star [online]. Available at <>

Twyfords, 1894. Twyford’s 1894 Catalogue of Sanitary Specialities in porcelain earthenware & porcelain enamelled fireclay sanitary appliances & fittings. Cliffe Vale Potteries Hanley Staffordshire. Hanley: Twyfords.

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A short history of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch: Christchurch Drainage Board.

“The New Zealand Dream”

When Edward Gibbon Wakefield developed his theory of colonisation in c.1827 (while imprisoned for abducting a young woman) he envisioned for New Zealand the formation of an idealised English rural society, in which all hard-working labourers could aspire to rural land ownership on a modest scale. Within this society the ideal form of ‘landownership’ was to be owning a small self-sufficient farm, while urban properties were to be viewed as simply embarkation points for the countryside. This aspiration for land ownership would eventually become known as “The New Zealand Dream” (Ferguson, 1994: 8, 14; McAloon, 2008). With property values in Christchurch having recently achieved their strongest  monthly growth rate in 17 years, making the possibility of achieving this dream difficult for many first home buyers, we thought it might be opportune to take a look at the theory of Christchurch property value and ownership at the time of the founding of the Canterbury settlement in 1850, and how changing views of landownership during the 19th century altered the “Dream”, from rural aspirations to today’s suburban utopia.

Wakefield theorised that one of the key factors to achieving the ideal colonial settlement was the price at which land was to be sold to settlers. He believed that where land was given for free or sold too cheaply (such as was the case in the Australian colonies) there resulted in too many self-sufficient landowners and not enough labourers to work for wages. But if the price was too high, then only the wealthy would be able to afford land and labourers could never aspire to become landowners. To achieve his goal of a society of small independent rural landowners, Wakefield proposed that the price of land should be fixed at a value that was high enough to provide sufficient revenue to fund the emigration of labourers to a colony, but low enough that industrious labourers could aspire to become landowners after four or fives years work (Webb, 1965: 143).

It was upon the principals of Wakefield’s theory of colonisation that the Canterbury Association founded the Canterbury settlement in 1850. When the Canterbury Association announced their terms of purchase for land in the new settlement in April 1850, their proposal reflected Wakefield’s vision for modest land prices. Land prices were set at £3 per acre for rural allotments (which began at 50 acres) and £12 per quarter-acre for town allotments in Christchurch or Lyttelton. However, the Association’s selected immigrants were entitled to select a 50-acre allotment of rural land and an urban allotment in either of the townships for the combined price of £150. On the eve of the departure of the first Canterbury settlers to New Zealand in September 1850, 143 people had purchased land orders in the new settlement. Together these 143 land purchasers had bought 13,150 acres of rural land, 132 acres of town land, and had obtained the right to lease an additional 65,750 acres of pasturage. Although this was less land than the Association had projected selling, they actively congratulated themselves on the belief that the majority of the land that had been sold was purchased by those intending to settle in the colony, and not by land speculators who were intending to only make a profit off it (Webb, 1965: 168-169).

The Canterbury Association’s advertisement for working-class emigration to Canterbury in 1849

The first four Association ships arrived at Lyttelton between the 16th and 27th December 1850, bringing with them about 800 settlers to the new colony. The process of selecting the rural and town land that they had already paid for was not scheduled to take place until the colonists had been in the new settlement for three months. This provision was intended to allow the colonists time to survey the topography and farming possibilities of the Canterbury plains before making their selection. The downside of this provision was that the colonists could not begin the process of building their new permanent homes until they had made their selection of land. In the meantime, a few of the settlers chose to stay in their cabins on board the Association’s ships (which remained in port for three weeks while unloading their cargo), while others were forced to build temporary accommodation, such as tents, V huts, or other makeshift shelters in the townships. In preparation for the arrival of the colonists however, the Association did construct immigration barracks in Lyttelton, which could temporarily house between 300-400 immigrants (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 4; Schrader, 2012).

For many of the Canterbury pilgrims, the inability to take possession of their land and build permanent dwellings proved difficult, as they did not want to waste their limited resources and capital on temporary arrangements. At the first meeting of the Canterbury Land Purchasers (held on 20th December 1850 before the fourth Association ship, The Cressy, had even arrived in port) the settlers informed the Association’s representative, John Godley, of their desire to immediately begin the land selection process. Godley consented to a compromised outcome, in which the settlers could immediately begin selecting their town allotments, but still had to wait until the allocated time to select their rural allotments. The settlers agreed, and the selection of town allotments began quickly to allow the settlers to leave their temporary accommodations and begin developing their own properties (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 6).

Lithograph of J. Durey’s 1851 painting of the bricks landing site on the Avon River showing the first settlement within Christchurch city.

Unlike Wakefield’s vision of a rural society, it was therefore the town sections and not the rural properties that were first eagerly developed for occupation by the Canterbury pilgrims. Although the selection of town sections in Lyttelton appears to have been initially favored, by mid-January there was a shift in preference to the selection of town sections located in the settlement’s capital, Christchurch. The Lyttelton Times noted that “there can be no doubt but that the capital of the district will be rapidly peopled, and the town land acquire a considerable value” (Lyttelton Times, 18/1/1851: 5). Right from the beginning of the settlement, Canterbury town land was seen as a valuable and desired commodity.

The agricultural labourers that had immigrated to Canterbury in the hope of working their way into land ownership, were in a particularly difficult position during the first months of the settlement, as there were no agricultural labouring positions available for them until the selection of rural land took place. While those settlers with land purchase orders made their selection of town lands and moved onto their new properties, those settlers who did not initially have the capital to invest in land remained in the immigration barracks or their temporary makeshift shelters. However, for those non-landed settlers who did not want to stay in the makeshift accommodations for a prolonged period of time, there soon emerged an attractive alternative in the form of leasehold properties. In the second issue of the Lyttelton Times (issued on the 18th January 1851 just one month after the arrival of the first Association ship) there were already advertisements announcing town sections in Christchurch available for lease (Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 1). These leasehold sections offered the non-landed settler an opportunity to construct for themselves more permanent dwellings/commercial buildings (like their landed counterparts) without having to outlay the cost of purchasing a town section. The Lyttelton Times indicates that leasehold sections in Lyttelton were particularly popular, noting that “tenants at good rents still continue to come forward for the town lands of Lyttelton”, with sections along the commercial hub of Norwich Quay letting for 15 shillings per foot frontage (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 4; 18/1/1851: 5). Alternative rented accommodation was also soon to be found in the form of hotels, which began to be constructed in Lyttelton in early January and in Christchurch in early March (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 4; 8/3/1851: 5).

Advertisement in the Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 1 announcing town sections in Christchurch available for lease.

Until farmhand positions were available, some of the agricultural labourers joined their urban wage-earning counterparts in looking to the towns to obtain a source of income (particularly those who needed to pay for their newly rented accommodations). For many, this meant working on the Canterbury Association’s public works or helping their fellow settlers to construct their new homes. The towns therefore became the main center for both employment and residential activities.

Advertisement in the Lyttelton Times 25/1/1851: 1 from a labourer seeking contracts to help build settler houses in Christchurch and Lyttelton.

The selection of rural land had finally begun by early February 1851 (Lyttleton Times, 1/2/1851: 3). This gave the opportunity for the landowning setters to depart Christchurch and Lyttelton for their new country estates and begin turning their fields into production. As the land selection process progressed, Godley noted that “Each purchaser seems convinced that he himself had secured the best allotment of all; but the most satisfactory feature is that nearly the whole body have selected their land within a circle of four or five miles in diameter” (Webb, 1965: 177-178). This suggests that while some of the settlers may have looked forward to removing from the two townships to the country, the location of their selections being in such close proximity to the towns indicates that they were still intimately connection with the development of the towns. It is also not true that all of the rural sections selected by the first body of colonists were intended for rural development, as the very first rural section selected, Rural Section No. 1 (located on the northern boundary of the town of Lyttelton),  was taken up by the trustees of Christ’s College and  almost immediately opened up for residential development.  The Lyttelton Times noted in early February 1851 that “almost the whole of which has been applied for at high rents for building purpose” (Lyttelton Times, 1/2/1851: 3).

Although Wakefield had envisioned for New Zealand the formation of an idealised English rural society, his theory faltered on economic reality (McAloon, 2008). Life in the country was hard and the cost of bringing land into production was high. Although the large pastoral farms managed to make good profits, the profits of the smaller agricultural farms proved less lucrative. For agricultural labourers, work was generally seasonal with long periods of unemployment. This proved most difficult during the periods of economic downturn in the 1870s and 1880s, when periods of unemployment brought widespread distress. During this time, the landless gravitated to the towns where there was a greater variety of housing options and at least some hope of relief in the form of charitable aid. The population of the towns grew rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s, with the population of Christchurch growing from 7,931 in 1871, to 13,425 in 1878 (Ferguson, 1994: 15, 19). This population growth is evident in the comparison of maps of the city of Christchurch drawn in 1862 and 1877, which shows a significant increase in the number and density of buildings constructed in the township over this fifteen-year period.

Detail from Fooks’ 1862 map of Christchurch showing just two buildings present on the town block bound by Armagh, Gloucester, Barbadoes, and Madras Streets.

Detail from Strouts’ 1877 map of Christchurch showing a significant increase in the number of buildings present on the town block bound by Armagh, Gloucester, Barbadoes, and Madras Streets.

For the poorer classes of society, the towns offered a greater variation in the security of rental tenures than what was generally available in the country, with house leases being offered by yearly, monthly, fortnightly, or weekly agreements, or public lodging houses or rooms for board being offered on daily agreements. These short-term rental or lodging agreements offered a great deal more flexibility than living with a mortgage, as those on a daily, weekly or fortnightly tenancy could shift quickly to another location when employment opportunities arose, and could tailor the quality of the housing to fit uncertain incomes. There were, however, very few renting and lodging regulations during this period, and those laws that were in place tended to favour the landlord over the tenant. This meant that tenants were not always completely secure in their tenements, though some protections did come into effect later in the century such as The Lodgers’ Goods Protection Act 1880, which limited the power of landlords to take their tenant’s property in lieu of arrears of rent (Ferguson, 1994: 36, 47). Unfortunately, this system of short-term and informal rental agreements makes it very difficult for historical researchers to ascertain who was occupying certain properties during the 19th century, as the names of tenants were not always formally recorded in the Canterbury Deeds Books – this is particularly frustrating when trying to work out who might be associated with archaeological assemblages.

This burgeoning rental market in the 19th century allowed those landowners with a little capital to invest in housing. Town settlers would buy all or part of a town section and build a house for themselves, and then they could rent out rooms in their homes to lodgers, or if they had enough capital, they could build a second or third house which they could sell or rent to others (Ferguson, 1994: 47). While in Wakefield’s vision of rural utopia the rural property symbolised a reward for labour with the land as a source of income; for town-dwellers it was the house itself that came to be a major source of income (Ferguson, 1994: 35). Unfortunately, there was very little regulation regarding the construction of buildings in Christchurch and Lyttelton. City builders claimed that regulations inhibited growth, and Municipal governments (often the same people) tended to agree and so placed few restrictions on urban land use. Builders placed houses awkwardly on sites, with no guarantee of street access, water supply, or effective sewerage systems. As cities grew and land became scarcer, lanes and alleys were driven through the backs of properties and lined with poorly constructed cottages for workers. These soon became over-crowded and squalid, with rubbish and effluent festering in city streets and a rising death toll from diseases such as typhoid (Schrader, 2007). Some small attempts were made to address these issues, such as the Public Health Act 1872, which set up Local Boards of Health to monitor and improve health in their areas. Although they attempted to control overcrowding and to have filthy houses cleansed and whitewashed, the Act did not set housing standards and did not provide powers of enforcement.

The six terrace houses outlined on the map were constructed by John Ponsford in ca. 1876 as investment properties that were leased out.

While the living conditions of some of the town dwellers devolved into squalid and unsanitary conditions, for others the towns became a source of wealth and advancement and a profitable alternative from the hardships of rural settlement. A wealthy industrial and mercantile class therefore began to develop in the towns. Although traditionally, manufacturers and tradesmen would live next to their businesses in the central city (with their workers living in poorer housing nearby), during the 1880s more and more of the affluent town-dwellers began to move their homes away from the older centres of the town to the periphery. As the city slums continued to grow, many politicians and reformers began to fear that the increasing number of slum-dwellers would have a bad effect on the respectable town workers who ought to be pursuing that rural vision. As a solution, they looked to the example set by the wealthy mercantile class, and they began to rework the rural vision into a new suburban dream, one not just for the affluent but for respectable skilled workers as well. If labourers could not become rural landowners, the next best life they could aspire to was to own a home in a respectable suburb. Speculators began to buy up the rural lands adjoining the townships and promote the subdivision of land into suburban settlements (Ferguson, 1994: 24-25, 29-31; Press, 24/2/1882: 2). In this way the “New Zealand Dream”, which Wakefield originally imagined to be owning one’s own self-sufficient farm, was transformed into the desire for a suburban settlement near-to but not within the city’s main commercial centers. City planners continued to promote the classification of separate commercial and residential areas throughout the 20th century – and for many this idea of the “New Zealand Dream” as owning a slice of suburban utopia persists today.

Lydia Mearns


Ferguson, G., 1994. Building the New Zealand Dream. Palmerston North: The Dunmore Press Limited.

McAloon, J., 2008. ‘Land ownership’. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Available at: <> Accessed February 2021.

Schrader, B., 2007. ‘State housing’, New Zealand Geographic. Issue 086 (July-August). [online] Available at: <> Accessed February 2021.

Schrader, Ben, 2012. Housing. In: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Available at: <> Accessed February 2021.

Webb, L.C., 1965. Section III – The Canterbury Association and its Settlement. In: J. Hight and C.R. Straubel, eds., A History of Canterbury, Volume 1. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs.


A Curry Paste Jar, a Keepsake, a Symbol of British Colonialism

Hello loyal blog readers, welcome back to another year of posts on the history and archaeology of 19th century Christchurch. I thought we’d start the year off by looking back at one of our more interesting finds from the very end of 2020 and talking a bit about how we catalogue and research the artefacts we find, and how we then interpret them .

The artefact in question is this ceramic jar. The jar is made from earthenware and is glazed inside and out. Ware-type is one of the main attributes that I record when cataloguing ceramic artefacts. It describes the fabric of the vessel, what it is made out of, with there being three main ware-types: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. These main ware-types relate to the temperature at which the vessel was fired at, which in turn affects the fabric of the vessel. As well as recording the ware type, I also record the glaze and form of the vessel. In the case of our jar here, it has a clear (or clear with a slight tint) glaze inside and on the rim, and a teal-coloured slip-glaze on the outer body. The form is a jar, which I would describe as having a rolled rim, a concave neck, a convex shoulder and body, and a flat base.

The jar in question: Shaik Fyzool Kurreem’s True Bengal Curry Paste. Image: C. Watson.

Once I’ve recorded the fabric and form of the vessel, I then record any decoration and marks. In the case of our jar here, it’s not decorated as such, but the body is textured, like a golf ball, and so I recorded that as decoration because it’s unusual. Written on the body of the jar is: SHAIK FYZOOL KURREEM’S/TRUE BENGAL/ CURRY PASTE. There were no other marks on the base of the jar.

A close-up of the writing on the jar. Image: C. Watson.

To say I was surprised at the jar would be an understatement. When it landed on my desk, I had no idea who Shaik Fyzool Kurreem was, and I wouldn’t have had a clue that it was a curry paste jar if it hadn’t been labelled as such. Everything about the jar, from the ware type and glaze to the decoration, was unusual. Almost all the ceramic jars we find on our archaeological sites are stoneware or whiteware and if they’re decorated, it’s only with a simple moulded band.

A selection of more typical 19th century stoneware and whiteware jars. Image: C. Watson.

As part of our artefact analysis process, we research any marks on the artefact to help us date it. Normally with ceramic vessels, this means looking in Geoffrey Godden’s Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. The book is essentially a bible when it comes to ceramic marks and it makes my job very easy most of the time (if you have ceramic marks that you want to date but don’t have a copy of Godden, then Steve Birks’ The Potteries Website is a close second). In the case of our jar though, the mark isn’t describing the manufacturer of the jar, but rather the contents, which makes things a bit more complicated.

Whenever I come across something I haven’t seen before, I always begin my research by looking through UOA’s internal artefact databases to see if we’ve found the artefact/mark/pattern before. These were of no help for researching my jar, and just confirmed my initial view on the artefact that it was ‘cool but strange’. If it isn’t something we’ve found before, then I turn to our trusty friend Google. This returned a whopping three results.

Hot tip for searching on google, if you include something in quotation marks it searches that phrase. When Google searches without quotation marks, it searches for the words but not in relation to each other- meaning the bottom two results were not relevant.

The top Google search result gave me my first lead! This was a jar, similar to mine, that was posted in an antique bottle forum. The jar was the same form as my one, but was a different shade of blue and had written on it: SHAIK FYZOOL KURREEM’S TRUE BENGAL MULLIGATAWNY PASTE. The poster on the bottle forum was asking for information on it. Sadly, nobody on the forum had any information, only the advice to give it a rub to see if a genie came out. Image: BeachComber, AntiqueBottles.Net.

This told me that whoever Shaik Fyzool Kurreem was, he was making multiple types of curry pastes. Unfortunately, Google wasn’t very helpful with figuring out who he was.

PapersPast is invaluable when researching 19th century artefacts. A lot of the time if I can’t find something on Google, I can find it in old newspapers. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.

When something cool lands on my desk, generally other people in the office will stop by and have a look. I can’t remember who suggested that “shaik” might be a different spelling of “sheikh”, but whoever it was, was bang on the money. Sheikh is an honorific title in Arabic that literally translates as “elder”, but was commonly used for chiefs, royalty, and religious scholars (thanks Wikipedia). I re-tried my Google search, and this time had a bit more luck.

A 166.67% increase in results by just searching “fyzool kurreem”. The top hit was the Mulligatawny paste jar that I’d already seen. The second and fourth results were from a British newspaper search engine that I needed to pay to access, so I ignored them. It was the third and fifth results that proved most interesting.

The third (and fifth) result was from Peter J. Atkins article “Vinegar and Sugar: The early history of Factory-Made Jams, Pickles and Saucers in Britain” in the book, The Food Industries of Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. The relevant page of the book was talking about Crosse and Blackwell, a British foodstuffs company that is still around today. “The products named in Crosse and Blackwell’s own advertisements came and went in a rapid cycle of innovation. In the 1830s it was Soho Sauce and Dinmore’s Essence of Shrimps… By 1845 Abdool Fygo’s Chutney and Fyzool Kurreem’s Currie and Mulligatawny Pastes had been added to the list.” (Atkins 2013: 46).

Now, up until this point, I had been picturing an old Bengali man in India stirring large earthenware pots of paste over a fire and bottling them into jars that he carefully painted his name on (ugh how colonial of me). I should have known that it was British. Crosse and Blackwell’s products are pretty common on our sites. They were a foodstuffs company based in Soho, London, who made products for both the domestic and export markets. The company was founded in 1829 when Edmund Crosse and Thomas Blackwell bought West and Wyatt, located at No. 11 King Street, having been apprentices there since 1819 (Jeffries et al. 2016).

We are lucky enough to have a book specifically on Crosse and Blackwell that covers the excavation of their factory. This is Crosse and Blackwell 1830-1921: A British Food Manufacturer in London’s West End by Nigel Jeffries, Lyn Blackmore and David Sorapure. The book discusses Crosse and Blackwell’s Indian products: “…by taking an unusual step in sending a representative with the first troops that were shipped out to India by the East India Company. This unnamed individual sent back new spices and other ingredients for the firm to experiment with. This resulted in Crosse and Blackwell’s Captain White’s Oriental Pickle and Curry Powder. Col Skinner’s Mango Relish also appears to have been developed at this time, together with Abdool Fygo’s Chutney and Mulligatawny Pastes” (Jeffries et al. 2016: 44).

I decided to google Abdool Fygo, since both books made reference to the product. What do you know, another jar with an ‘oriental’ appearance. This one says: “BENGAL CHUTNEY PREPARED BY SHAIK ABDOOL FYGO CALCUTTA IMPORTED ONLY BY GROSSE & BLACKWELL 21SOHO SQARE LONDON”. The style of text on it is almost identical to that of our jar and the mulligatawny paste, and the rolled rim and glazed body is also very similar in style. Image: WorthPoint.

At this point in my search, I’d successfully identified that Crosse and Blackwell were the manufacturer of the jar’s contents (which pottery made the jar for them remains a mystery). From the Atkins article I knew that the curry paste was introduced in or around 1845, but I didn’t know how long it was made for. Searches on Papers Past for “fyzool kurreem” and “abdool fygo” resulted in no results, while those for “curry paste” and “mulligatawny paste” returned hundreds. I tried similar searches on Trove, the Australian version of Papers Past, but these were also a dead end. I returned back to my google search results for “fyzool kureem” and clicked into the newspaper results.

From what I can gather, British newspaper archives are hidden behind a paywall and you have to pay to access the original- a big disappointment when you’re used to the free access from Papers Past. Even though I couldn’t see the original articles, the search engine gave the newspaper name and date along with a short snippet of where the phrase occurred in the newspaper. Scrolling through these previews showed that Abdool Fygo’s chutney was advertised alongside Fyzool Kurreem’s curry and Mulligatawny pastes. What was most interesting though, was that the advertisements began in 1845, and ended in 1850. Atkins said that Crosse and Blackwell cycled through product names quite quickly, and it seems as though Fyzool Kurreem’s curry paste was only produced for approximately five years, between 1845 and 1850. The newspaper advertisements also show that Crosse and Blackwell were advertising the product in British newspapers, but clearly not Australian and New Zealand newspapers, suggesting the product might have only been made for the domestic market.

It was at this point I ended my search. I had learnt that the jar was made for Crosse and Blackwell and likely dated some time between 1845 and 1850. I think that the jar epitomises some of the reasons why I find historical archaeology so interesting. There’s the research process itself. Being able to use tools like Google and newspaper archives to research products and people is something that’s unique to historical archaeology. Then there’s what the artefact says about the occupants of the site. This jar came from a small cottage on Barbadoes Street. The cottage was built in 1865/1866 and rented out for most of the 19th century. Assuming that the jar was deposited by one of the tenants, it was likely at least 20 years old by this time, if not older. It’s safe to say that any curry paste the jar held had long been eaten, and that the jar probably had a secondary function. Maybe as a small vase, given its decorative appearance, or possibly a keepsake. Regardless, the jar seems to have been brought over from Britain, suggesting it must have had some sentimental value for whoever owned it. Unfortunately, the tenants that rented out the cottage changed regularly, meaning we weren’t able to match the jar with a specific person.

There’s also what the artefact says about culture and society in the 19th century. While we’re excavating the archaeology of Christchurch, in many ways we’re also excavating the archaeology of the British empire. Crosse and Blackwell, a British company, were selling Indian style pastes and condiments, and were doing so in a way that commodified Indian culture to make their product seem authentic. The jars were deliberately designed to look foreign, especially with the blue glaze and textured surface. The brand names are Indian names, which were probably foreign “funny sounding names” (to quote NZ politicians from a few years ago) to British citizens, likely adding to the “authenticity” of the product. Which leads me to the final reason why I find historical archaeology so interesting, the impact of 19th century (and earlier) colonialism on our own culture and society. If Crosse and Blackwell were to release ‘Shaik Fyzool Kurreem’s Cury Paste’ today, people would probably call it out for what it is, cultural appropriation.

Back in 2018 some British breweries started selling New Zealand inspired beers and used Māori culture as part of their branding. They were called out for cultural appropriation, and commercialising Māori culture at the time. The comparisons with our jar are easy to make- especially with the Indian names and oriental inspired jar forms. Image source: TheSpinoff.

A curry paste jar, a keepsake, a symbol of British colonialism. One artefact, but multiple different stories and perspectives on what it represents.

Clara Watson



2020: what a dumpster fire of a year

This is the third end of year blog post that I (Clara) have written, and just as I started writing it one of our interns dropped her lunch all over the floor as she was putting it in the microwave: if that’s not a metaphor for 2020, then I don’t know what is… This year I’ve decided to divide our final blog post for the year into four parts.

A distant golden past

January and February feel like a lifetime ago. We farewelled our 2019/2020 interns Bex and Christy and welcomed our new archaeologist, Jon, from the UK. We excavated sites, analysed artefacts and I wrote about bottle use on the blog.

Jon from the UK. The first photo I took of him was holding a chamber pot- there’s definitely a joke about 2020 in there somewhere…

Jamie taught Rebecca how to record buildings.

We excavated a site that contained several rubbish pits chock full of medicinal bottles. We later worked out that a pharmacist was living on the site in the early 20th century, and that the pits were likely commercial dumps from his business.

I think Angel is cracking Michael’s back in this photo (but really who knows what’s going on here).

Michael had a chicken show up on his site. Kirsa questioned whether or not a chicken showing up on site was a highlight of 2020, but we decided that it definitely was.

As was the mummified rat that Jamie found, which now lives on top of the bookshelf.

Overall, this year has been a pretty good one for artefacts, but everything I analysed during the first couple of months of the year was pretty standard.

It’s the Coronaaaavirus

We started the week of the 23rd of March trialling working from home and by the Wednesday we were in Level 4. Some of us loved working from home (mostly those with pets), others missed the malaise of the office. We all learnt to use zoom and to organise our workday around the 1pm Ashley Bloomfield Show. Luckily for us, for every hour we spend in the field there’s several spent in the office drawing up plans, writing up reports and analysing finds, so most of us were able to work right through.

Did you really work from home if you didn’t attend at least one zoom meeting?

NZ Archaeology Week was held during lockdown. As part of our online events, we posted daily colouring in photos of artefacts. Kurt Bennett came up with this great masterpiece.

I got creative in how to maximise productivity when working in a confined space (while trying not to ruin the landlord’s carpets).

And Angel discovered evidence of aliens* while working on an essential project during Level 4.
*not actually evidence of aliens- we think these rings are from potato clamps.*

There were some cool artefacts analysed during this period. Most interesting was a site occupied from the 1850s that contained ceramics made between the 1840s and 1860s. It’s not often that we get features dating to the start of Christchurch’s (European) settlement. Within that site, the Fox and The Lion pattern based on Aesop’s Fable of the same name was a highlight (top left). Other cool artefacts included a slate tablet with writing still legible (bottom left), a pipe section with finger impressions of the person who made it (bottom right), a Vanes Patent bottle (interesting because I hadn’t come across that patent before; top centre right) and a 1902 coronation medal (top centre left).

Post-lockdown world

Between the 27th of April, when we moved down to Level 3, and the 8th of June, when we went down to Level 1, we packed up our home offices and moved back to the office in drips and drabs. Fieldwork resumed and we headed back out to site armed with facemasks and the contact tracing app. Over the following few months life went back to being relatively normal. During this time we farewelled Jon from the UK, who moved back home after 2020 turned out not to be the year to shift to the other side of the world.

Tristan showing off his post-lockdown baking body.

Wendy wasn’t thrilled about Michael’s new hobby being brought into the office.

Megan got to break the bubble and do some scenic fieldwork.

We learnt about asbestos.

Earthworks finally got underway at the Cathedral site. Kirsa monitored the work from the safety of a purpose-built cage.

Angel found this gorgeous Sicilian patterned ewer (and was definitely thrilled about it).

It was during this time that I analysed my favourite site of 2020. The site had many complete or nearly complete artefacts and lots of children’s artefacts. Highlights within the assemblage included a kyusu, a plate made for the American export market and this classical shaped glass vase.

And while we’re talking about artefacts, this clay pipe stem would have to be my top artefact of 2020. It might not look like much, but there’s an amazing story behind it and if you haven’t read our blog on it, then I highly recommend that you do (link here).

Holy Smokes It’s Busy

Much as the New Zealand housing market has spiralled out of control these past few months, we’ve also seen our workloads increasing. Projects that were delayed due to lockdown resumed, as well as new ones starting. From around September on it’s been a bit like ships in the night with people passing by the office on their way to and from sites. Even I abandoned artefact analysis and spent much of October and November in the field. This has meant that our social media outreach has dropped off a lot these past few months. Our new years’ resolution for 2021 is to actually stick to our posting schedule… Christchurch Heritage Festival fell during these busy months, and we partnered with The Arts Centre to host an exhibition showcasing artefacts found during the restoration works. The exhibition was a success, with hundreds of people viewing the artefacts on display.

Jamie and Rebecca ended the year the way they started it, recording buildings together.

I kid you not, Angel found a Turkish Bath from the 19th century a few weeks ago. This is probably the coolest feature that we found in 2020 and I promise you that we will definitely do a blog post on it next year.

In other cool finds, Megan found a boiler. Unfortunately, it was a bit too big to fit in an artefact bag…

I found a gully (among other things- if you know, you know). The gully matched the location of one shown in an 1850s map and looked to have been infilled around the 1860s-70s. The site it’s from had an interesting history and we found some cool stuff, so this is another site that I promise we’ll do a full blog post on next year.

Jamie found a time capsule in the form of a pickle jar embedded in the foundation stone of one of her buildings. We enlisted the help of the contractors to get it out.

Our exhibition at The Arts Centre.

We still found time for some office malaise. Here Angel is teaching us how to metal detect.

We welcomed back Bex, who interned with us last summer, and we welcomed Neda, our new intern. Neda was thrilled to be given the job of setting up our unique Christmas tree.

Kirsa decided she was done with 2020 and took a nap in the meeting room.

While we put Annthalina in a box.

The Colleen Bawn pipe was my favourite artefact of 2020, but this chicken waterer is definitely my second favourite!

There’s been some cool finds just the past two weeks- lots of lamps, a military button, a spinning top, tiles with mutant dolphin ship sails and a curry paste jar. Other interesting finds from the latter months of the year have included a creepy dolls head (because creepy doll’s heads are always cool) and wooden skipping rope handles. Again, probably more on these next year!

From everyone here at UnderOver, wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Clara Watson

Two paths on the way home

Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.    

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Port Hills may not be mountains as such, but they formed a formidable barrier for the first European Settlers. Of course, Māori had a number of well-established trails across the landscape prior to European settlement. Many of these paths were used by European settlers and take the form of many of the landmarks and main roads of our modern city. While there are many paths taken by European settlers in the mid-19th century, two of the most important are the Bridle Path and the Sumner Road.

The history of these two paths is intertwined. When Captain Joseph Thomas selected the sites of Lyttelton and Christchurch on behalf of the Canterbury Association in 1849, he was faced with the difficult task of establishing a navigable path between the new port and township. After much deliberation, the route selected ran from the eastern end of the Lyttelton township along the Tapuaeharuru cliffs into Sumner. Due to the lack of local labour, Captain Thomas initially brought 120 Māori workmen from the North Island to cut the wide track from Lyttleton to Sumner using pick and shovel. The workmen cut an initial bridle path out towards Officers Point, filling up gullies as they went along. The toughest part of the construction was the section of road above what is today the Cashin Quay breakwater, where the workmen had to blast through solid rock to form a pathway. This was a monumental task which took a significant amount of time to accomplish, and the area came to be known as the “Sticking Point”. A review of accounts of the work carried out on the Sumner Road between 1849 and 1851 suggests that £4,730 was spent on the heavy excavation work and £360 was spend on forming the line, while a further £405 was spent on constructing retaining walls and £83 spent on drainage (Lyttelton Times, 16/5/1855: 9). This suggests that not only were the workmen blasting through the stone and forming up the line of the road, but they were also constructing drains and retaining walls.

By March 1850 Thomas had spent all of the £20,000 that the Canterbury Association had allocated for public works. When John Robert Godley arrived in April 1850, the depleted state of the funds forced him to suspend all but maintenance work on the Sumner Road (Ogilvie, 2009: 33-34). Although work had been halted on the Sumner Road, the anticipated arrival of the Canterbury Pilgrims at the end of 1850, meant there was still an urgent need to provide access to Christchurch and the plains.

As a temporary measure, Captain Thomas decided to improve the small track on the western end of the Lyttelton township, beginning at Ticehurst Road and leading up over the hills into the Heathcote Valley. With a budget of just £300, a work gang of 70 European and Māori workmen, a hastily constructed the path up the long spur and down into the valley. This track quickly became known as “The Bridle Path” (Amodeo, 2001: 152-153; Ogilvie, 2009: 34, 105; Height and Straubel, 1965: 122-123; Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 6)

The Bridle Path became a flurry of activity as the majority of the newly arrived immigrants disembarked and travelled over the Port Hills into Christchurch. Most accounts of the path at this time express dissatisfaction with the rough, hastily cut track. Edward Ward, who had arrived in Lyttelton on board the Charlotte Jane, indicated that “The little tract, which formed a sort of bay between the spurs of the hills, was of most irregular quality” (Ogilvie, 2009: 123). The steep gradient of the path meant that the majority of the trip had to be taken on foot with horses being dismounted and led over the steep summit. For most of the immigrants this meant carrying their possessions on their backs, though regular communication between port and plain by means of pack horses was established in January 1851 (Height and Straubel, 1965: 184; Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 5). The Canterbury Association appear to have continued to undertake some improvements to the Bridle Path during the first few years of the fledging settlement. Although the full extent of these works is not clear, in August 1852 a Mr Thompson was able to successfully drive the first empty two-horse dray over the Bridle Path (Lyttelton Times 1/2/1851: 3, 29/1/1851: 5, 12/4/1851: 2, 21/8/1852: 7, 10). Despite the success of Thompson’s inaugural cart trip, the path was still considered too dangerous for more than foot traffic and the occasional horse (Lyttelton Times 7/1/1854: 8, 16/5/1855: 6; Press 23/5/1914: 8).

By the end of 1864 the road board had spent £332 14s in maintaining and upgrading the Bridle Path (Press 5/1/1865: 3). The Heathcote Road Board continued to maintain and upgrade the Bridle Path for the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century (Lyttelton Times 6/1/1876: 1, 2/2/1882: 1, 13/3/1883: 1, 23/3/1886: 1, 30/9/1902: 6; Press 5/9/1872: 3, 9/5/1891: 3, 8/6/1896: 6, 14/2/1903: 9; Star 20/3/1874: 2, 28/4/1877: 2). The path remains a highly popular walking track today, although largely for more recreational uses. If you’re a pretty fit individual it could be a way to avoid that morning commute.

Going back to the Sumner Road, following the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act in 1852, the newly formed Canterbury Provincial Council took over the authority for the formation and maintenance of the roads throughout Canterbury. The Council’s Ordinance of 1854 established a Lyttelton and Christchurch Road Commission to determine the best means of communication between the sea port and the interior. The commissioners confirmed that, despite the cost, the route via Evans Pass and Sumner which had initially been selected by Captain Thomas in 1849 was indeed the best option. However, they also determined that the portion of the line extending between Polhil’s Bay and Evans Pass should be constructed on a lower elevation (Lyttelton Times, 22/4/1854: 14). This new line of road was surveyed to the east of the original line in 1855 (Lyttelton Times, 12/11/1866: 3). This line of road is today known as the Old Sumner Road.

It took a further three years for the Provincial Council to form the Sumner Road from Lyttelton to Christchurch into a navigable path. During this time, the residents of Lyttelton appear to have become exasperated with the council’s efforts, for under their own volition they utilised prison labour to improve the drainage of part of the Sumner Road by installing necessary culverts and gratings (Lyttelton Times, 16/8/1856: 6, 12/11/1856: 7). The road was officially opened on Monday 24 August 1857 (Lyttelton Times, 26/8/1857: 4). Despite the success of the inaugural trip, it proved a perilous endeavour which indicated that the provincial council would have to undertake further works and invest more money before the road could be considered complete to a standard to allow carts to safety navigate (Lyttelton Times, 5/9/1857: 1, 9/1/1858: 4). By the end of the decade cart traffic along the road was steadily increasing (Lyttelton Times, 29/10/1859: 3).

As motorcar traffic increased after the turn of the century it became necessary to remove the dangerous zig-zag corners at Evan’s Pass by blasting a new straighter route. In 1913, it was decided that this new route was to extend from Captain Thomas’s original line of the Sumner Road (Press, 19/9/1913: 4). It was at this time that the line of road that had been laid out on the lower elevation on the advice of the Lyttelton and Christchurch Road Commission in 1854 (now known as the old Sumner Road) was abandoned. The new Sumner Road route to the summit was completed in 1916 (Ogilvie, 2009: 36).

Aerial imagery from 1925-1929 showing the diversion of Sumner Road. Old Sumner Road is visible as the lower road in the image. Image: Canterbury Maps, 2020.

After the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, the Sumner Road was badly damaged, with tonnes of rock falling on the road. A massive repair project took place from 2015/2016 to 2019, and the original 19th century portion of the road, from Lyttelton to the start of the 1916 route, was monitored by an archaeologist. Excavations for the repairs of the road and retaining walls exposed larger sections of infilling using crushed and whole red scoria rock. Given the historic references to the infilling of gullies, it seems likely that locally sourced rock, much of it likely from the blasting of the rock for the roadway, was used for this purpose.

Rocks on the road as seen during a site visit before the repair works in 2016. Image: K. Webb.

The excavation behind one of the 20th century retaining walls. The red scoria fill recorded in this area is visible on the left and across the excavation area. Image: M. Hickey.

Interestingly, at least two drains constructed within the 19th century portion of Sumner Road had been constructed with locally cut and shaped red scoria blocks. Supporting this are newspapers references, including one mentioning the services of a mason to repair a drain after it was damaged by a cart (Press, 10/4/1872: 3). The use of this material is not unusual within the context of Lyttelton, as we have also found that an early drain (built in 1857) located within the Gaol complex was also constructed of red scoria. The drains found on Sumner Road were square with large red scoria blocks cut on the inner, top, base and side surfaces, but left uncut and rough on the outer sides. The use of these drains was evident as the base stones had well worn grooves cut by the water trickling through over time.

Looking down on the top of one of the drains. Image: M. Hickey.

Looking through the remainder of the red scoria drain while still in situ. Image: M. Hickey.

Rockfall remains a risk in some surrounding areas of the Bridle Path, but the path was used by a number of people in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake as both Sumner Road and the tunnel were closed. Recent works on the path for service renewal exposed a number of different stone and clay based track and fill layers. However, given the popularity and age of the track, the track was subject to many upgrades and repairs over time so these layers could be attributed to any phase of activity occurring in the 19th or 20th century. While we might not have too many subsurface finds that tell us about the settlers who used the track, the track itself is a recorded archaeological site and is a visible reminder of the challenge posed by the Port Hills.

The Bridle Path in 2020. Image: J. Whitmore.

A 20th century culvert with stone and clay fill around, and natural clay beneath. Image: M. Hickey.

By Megan Hickey and Lydia Mearns.


Amodeo, C., 2001. Forgotten Forty-niners: Being an account of the Men & Women who paved the way in 1849 for the Canterbury Pilgrims in 1850. Christchurch: The Caxton Press.

Height, J. and Straubel, C.R. eds., 1965. A History of Canterbury. Volume 1: T ed. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs.

Lyttelton Times, 1851-1914. [online] Available at:

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Ogilvie, G., 2009. The Port Hills of Christchurch. Christchurch, N.Z.: Philips & King.

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