70 years of quarantine: the archaeology of Ōtamahua/Quail Island

Today Aotearoa continues to take tentative steps back into level 2 of the Covid-19 response, so you might think it strange that I would be voluntarily stepping back into quarantine. But we’re the stepping back into the history – all  figurative-like – of Ōtamahua/Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour, which acted as a quarantine station throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. For an archaeology nerd, Ōtamahua has such an interesting range of history and archaeology. It’s been a mahinga kai and/or nohoanga, quarry site, a quarantine station for immigrants and animals, a leper’s colony, farmland, ship’s graveyard, and is now managed by the Department of Conservation. There’s a lot of history to Ōtamahua, so strap in, this is going to be a big(ish) one.

Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour with Ōtamahua/Quail Island in the centre. Image: Jessie Garland.

Ōtamahua has a long history, its name meaning “the place where children collected seabird eggs”. Another name, Te Kawakawa, refers to the pepper tree which grew there (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 2020). There are several recorded archaeological sites on the island that attest to Ngāi Tahu, and earlier Māori groups’ long history in the area. A beautiful pou named Te Hamo o Tū Te Rakiwhānoa, made by the Whakaraupō Carving Centre was recently erected on the island by Ngāti Wheke.

Te Hamo o Tū Te Rakiwhānoa. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Ōtamahua, and the smaller Aua/King Billy Island off to the southwest have both been quarried for basalt by Māori and Pākehā, the latter for stone building blocks, and the former for the manufacture of adzes and other tools. The island also boasts one of my favourite kinds of Māori archaeological features: a fish trap! Though it may look like a boring old circle of stones in the tide, these sites are pretty rare. The engineering principles are simple and effective: fish come in at high tide and get stuck inside the circle when it recedes. In the words of our endemic poets: “tide rolls in, tide rolls out, let the [numbers of fish] inside begin to grow”.

I love a good fish trap. Image from Trotter and McCulloch, 2000.

The use of Quail Island for quarantine of either animals or people starts as early as 1855, when it was set apart as a quarantine ground for diseased sheep (Lyttelton Times, 19/9/2855: 6). The idea of quarantine is pretty familiar to New Zealanders (especially in this day and ), not just for folks coming from overseas who might be sick, but also for animals. During the late 19th century, European colonisers were doing a whole-scale transformation of Aotearoa to European-style agriculture, and then as now, New Zealanders took steps to protect lives, industry and livelihoods from harm from viruses and infectious disease. The use of Quail Island as a place for quarantine would sit alongside its farming history for the next century, including its use as a place to quarantine animals for several Antarctic expeditions between 1901 and 1929 (Mclean, 2013).

If you asked me to come up with a satirical 19th century bureaucratic job, I would come up with “Inspector of Sheep”. Source: Lyttelton Times, 19/9/2855: 6

A reconstructed kennel (the foundations are original) in which dogs were quarantined as part of Antarctic expeditions. Source: Mclean, 2013.

Group including Robert Falcon Scott, with Mongolian ponies, on Quail Island. Ref: 1/2-031141-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23184103

Same here, Antarctic pony, same here.

Initially, shipboard isolation was the only method of preventing transmission of disease on the long journey to New Zealand, but due to increasing numbers of immigrants, and insufficient facilities, this came to be considered ineffective, and the need for large quarantine stations was recognised (Kelly, 2018). Although there were also several mainland quarantine stations, islands were considered perfect spots for quarantine; water on all sides helps maintain the level of isolation one requires to prevent transmission of illnesses, and only truly unhinged individuals would dare swim or even paddle board across the harbour, in defiance of a perfectly natural and not at all phobic distrust of large bodies of water.

Ed. Removed for space, the story of the leprosy patient who escaped Quail Island across the water, reappearing in Charteris Bay in disguise as an Invercargill clergyman. Source: New Zealand Herald, 12/1/1925: 6.

In 1874, the Canterbury Provincial Council bought the land on Quail Island, and a quarantine station was set up, to replace the existing station at Ripapa Island and Camp Bay, which was considered overcrowded (Star, 8/8/1874: 2; Lyttelton Times, 9/10/1874: 2; Globe, 9/10/1874: 3). All the major cities had a wee island they could put freshly-minted residents on for a bit to counteract the transmission-friendly tight and unhygienic quarters of a long ship journey. Wellington had Matiu/Somes Island, Auckland had Motuihe Island, Dunedin had the creatively named “Quarantine Island” (Kamaautaurua), and Christchurch had Quail Island, all of which were in use by the 1870s (Kelly, 2018). Lots of remains from the quarantine station remain on the island: piles and other foundations from many of the former quarantine buildings, stone retaining walls (built by prisoners from Lyttelton jail) and terrace relating to the initial reshaping of the hillsides for construction, and the Skiers Beach barracks building, built in 1875, and one of only two 19th century quarantine buildings remaining in New Zealand.

The quarantine station men’s barracks, built in 1874. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

A stone retaining wall, likely built by prisoners of the Lyttelton Gaol (Trotter and McCulloch, 2000). See here for more on these prisoners who built Lyttelton. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

Detail from 1907 survey plan (SO 4813) on Quail Island showing the buildings within the South Bay area. The layout of the quarantine station reflects partially the requirements of the station, but also the social mores of the time, with separate quarters for men and women. Image: LINZ 1907.

Skiers Beach, looking northeast, showing some of the quarantine station buildings in 1906, including, from left to right, the caretakers cottage, barracks, cookhouse, barracks and the single men’s cookhouse at the extreme right at Whakamaru Beach. Image: Weekly Press from Jackson, 2006, p. 30.

In November 2019, three of our team (Angel, Jo, and I) visited Quail Island to undertake some excavation on the terrace bearing the quarantine station’s cookhouse. It was a real privilege to be part of the project, and we stayed in the newly done up DOC hut, which is a nice, early-20th century cottage that housed the caretaker for the Department of Agriculture’s animal quarantine station.

Angel gives Jo a makeshift tarot reading during our stay.

During the works, Angel found a penny dating to 1873, a year before the station was built. It’s very unlikely the coin was lost and deposited the same year it was minted, but it’s a nice coincidence. Artefact photo: Clara Watson.

On the cookhouse terrace, we found archaeological remains of the cookhouse terrace building itself, including stone piles, fragments of metal sheeting, the remains of some metal containers that might have been associated with the kitchen. There was also evidence for a shell paving layer that went right around the building.

Artefacts from the quarantine station, including a lead fishing weight (top right), keg tap (centre), and domestic pigeon bones (bottom right). Image: Clara Watson, Jessie Garland.

Among the finds were the bones of the introduced domestic pigeon, which are very rare finds in New Zealand archaeology. We couldn’t find any specific historical evidence for pigeons being kept or quarantined on the island, so it’s not quite clear what this particular bird’s story was, or if it was just a rogue pigeon that ended up in the pot.

In 1906, the quarantine station was repurposed for a different form of isolation. Will Vallance was diagnosed with leprosy at Christchurch Hospital, and was put in quarantine on the island. The station had seen less use for quarantining immigrants over the recent years, as most infectious cases were being treated in mainland hospitals, and now saw its second life of quarantine as a leper colony. Author and historian Benjamin Kingsbury says that although leprosy was only mildly contagious, it was probably more stigmatised than any other disease. If you are interested in the lives of the inhabitants, and their treatment, I strongly recommend these two stories on the Spinoff by Benjamin Kingsbury, who has written a book on the subject. After a year on the island, a small hut was built to house Vallance, who had previously been living alone in the much larger barracks. Having spent a few university summers nigh-alone in a large, typically-thriving hall of residence, I could see how that could be a lonely (and spooky) experience. A few more huts would be built between 1907 and 1924 to house further leprosy patients, totalling nine (Kingsbury, 2019, 2020). In 1924, the Mt Herbert County Council proposed the removal of the leper station, the given reason primarily the ongoing shared use of the island to quarantine stock, and that “importers of valuable stock do so with “a feeling that should not exist” (Press, 15/4/1924: 9). The eight remaining leprosy patients were transferred the next year to Fiji, far from the homes and contacts they knew (Trotter and McCulloch, 2004). It seems callous that a feeling of discomfort (largely unwarranted and self-inflicted) held by those looking over their economic investments should be put above the lives of human beings, those suffering from a chronic disease, but that was the world of the 1920s.

In 2002, archaeologist Michael Trotter, together with DOC and the Catholic Cathedral College of Christchurch undertook an excavation of one of the hut sites associated with the leper station, in order to construct the replica present on the hillside today. The excavation revealed the bricks of a fallen chimney (classic Christchurch), but little evidence of burning, suggesting that at least this hut was largely taken off site rather than burnt, as mentioned in the local newspapers at the time. The underfloor deposit hinted at the creature comforts enjoyed by the isolated patients: glass marbles from aerated drink bottles, thin glass likely originating from pictures, and a tin for holding  and mixing watercolour paints (Trotter and McCulloch, 2004). It’s not a bad view out over the harbour from the huts that housed the leprosy patients, after all.

Plan of the leprosy station hut excavated in 2002. Source: Trotter and McCulloch, 2004.

The east side of the island is also home to a nationally significant ship graveyard, where the hulks of 13 ships were intentionally scuttled between 1902 and 1951. If you’ve not been, it’s definitely worth a visit. Low tide reveals the skeletons of steamships, barques, and so on, as they seem to slowly rise from the still waters of Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour. In the words of our endemic poets “tide rolls in, tide rolls out, let the [shipwrecks] inside begin to [emerge from the harbour]”.

The ‘dissenters’ ship’s graveyard had to be placed somewhere else. Can’t have ships intermingling after death. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

One of the great things about Ōtamahua/Quail Island is that so much of its heritage is visible from just the short walk around the island. I’m looking forward to getting back, next chance I get. Stay safe out there peeps, and take care of each other.

Chur.

Tristan

 

Further reading

The ghosts of Quail Island

He is unclean; he shall dwell alone: A sad and startling story of leprosy in NZ

The cruelty – and small kindnesses – of quarantine 100 years ago

Bittersweet existence for the dogs of Antarctica

 

References

Globe [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Jackson, P.J., 2006. Ōtamahua/Quail Island – A Link With The Past. 2nd ed. (r ed. Christchurch: Ōtamahua Quail Island Restoration Trust.

Kelly, A., 2018. Third Time’s the Charm: An Investigation into the Quarantine Landscape of Lyttelton Harbour. Archaeology in New Zealand, 61(2), pp.41–50.

Kingsbury, B., 2019. He is unclean; he shall dwell alone: A sad and startling story of leprosy in NZ. [online] The Spinoff. Available at: <https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/07-10-2019/he-is-unclean-he-shall-dwell-alone-a-sad-and-startling-story-of-leprosy-in-nz/> [Accessed 15 May 2020].

Kingsbury, B., 2020. The cruelty – and small kindnesses – of quarantine 100 years ago. [online] The Spinoff. Available at: <https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/05-05-2020/the-cruelty-and-small-kindnesses-of-quarantine-100-years-ago/> [Accessed 12 May 2020].

LINZ, 1907. SO 4813, Canterbury. Landonline.

Lyttelton Times [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Mclean, G., 2013. Quail Island, Lyttelton Harbour (1875). [online] NZHistory.govt.nz. Available at: <https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/quail-island> [Accessed 12 May 2020].

National Libraries [online]. Group including Robert Falcon Scott, with Mongolian ponies, on Quail Island. Ref: 1/2-031141-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23184103 [Accessed 12 May 2020].

New Zealand Herald [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Press [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Star [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 2020. Ngāi Tahu Atlas. Kā Huru Manu. Available online: <http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/atlas/> [Accessed 12 May 2020]

Trotter, M. and McCulloch, B., 2000. Archaeological and historical sites of Quail Island and King Billy Island, Lyttelton Harbour, Canterbury. Report for the Canterbury Conservancy, Department of Conservation.

Trotter, M. and McCulloch, B., 2004. Archaeological Excavation of a Quarantine Station Hut Site on Quail Island, Lyttelton Harbour. Unpublished report for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

Gardens on a Plate

For some of us, that title may have conjured up childhood memories of making ‘sand-saucer’ gardens for the local flower show or ‘pet and garden’ day at school. But I’ve actually something different in mind.

We have found quite a few 19th  century ceramic vessels from around Christchurch featuring botanical motifs, either of specific flowers and plants, or of plant-heavy scenery. So today I’m going to tiptoe through the tulips of floral abandon, and track down some of the botanical wonders that 19th century Christchurch had on their sideboards.

This splendid platter is an example of idealised ‘Romantic’ scenery, featuring an assortment of pretty plants. I suspect horticultural accuracy was not top of the list of requirements for creating this type of pattern, so some educated guesswork is needed (especially without the help of flower colours) to identify some of these plants. Around the border, I see roses (both single and double flowered blooms with thorned stems), maybe zinnias (in 1858 the first double flowered types were bought to the UK from India), some small and rather stylized blooms that are possibly forget-me-nots (symbolic of remembrance and sometimes of freemasonry) or daisies. The central scene has a couple of elegant trees, a fern or two, some more roses, perhaps a chrysanthemum or marigold, and an assortment of flowering shrubbery. The tree on the left appears to have flowers and the one on the right fruit, with neither in proportion to the size of the tree or identifiable as a particular species so perhaps these are just ‘wish-list’ expressions of what ought to be in the ideal garden. Image: C. Watson.

We are going to see a few roses today. While roses have been grown as decorative plants for centuries, it was not until the late 1700s and early 1800s that the China Rose and the Tea Rose were introduced to Europe, which led to the development of the modern, repeat-flowering type of rose. There was an explosion of cultivars onto the market and roses became one of the most popular garden plants.

For something completely different, this plate features a fruit-laden grape vine. The grape is another plant not native to the UK (Wikipedia tells me that the Romans were the culprits here. The English climate was not ideal for this temperate to subtropical-origin vine, so the wider use of the heated glasshouse in the 19th century was a boon for those trying to produce grapes for eating or wine. The grape has a rich symbolic history, being associated with both the Greek god Dionysus (and the Roman Bacchus), and as a Christian symbol for Jesus Christ, from the scriptural quote “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). Was this design symbolic of something, or purely decorative in intent? Image: C. Watson.

This elegant design appears to feature lilies at first glance. The flower by itself looks very much like a Tigerlily or Daylily, but the leaves are clearly not those of a lily (lilies have narrow pointed strap-like leaves). They aren’t Hibiscus flowers either. There is some resemblance to Rhododendron occidentale (western azalea) from North America, (first described in the 19th century, with seed being sent to the UK in 1850) as pictured below ). What do you think? Do you recognise it as something else? Or is it an artistic concoction of the flowers of one species with the leaves of another? The other more instantly recognisable plant shown on this plate is the acanthus, common in classical decorative motifs, from Greek Corinthian capitals on pillars, to wrought iron work, to 1875 William Morris wallpaper patterns. Also known as Bears Breeches, the plant has many uses in herbal and traditional medicine, including treating asthma, arthritis, leprosy and snake bites! Image: C. Watson.

Rhododendron occidentale or western azalea flowers. Image: W. Gibbs.

This plate features the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Frequently mentioned on the blog in previous posts, the history of the Asiatic Pheasant pattern is best summarised as following: “It is likely that the design originated with Ralph Hall of Swan Bank Pottery, Tunstall, Staffordshire, who was active from 1822 to 1849. Hall’s Pheasant appears to have been printed mainly and perhaps exclusively in black. Soon other potters began to produce Asiatic Pheasants, printed almost invariably in pale blue. Podmore Walker and Co. of Well Street, Tunstall, Staffordshire commenced business in 1834 and were early producers of Asiatic Pheasants and subsequently claimed to be the originators of Asiatic Pheasants. In 1853 they took over the Ralph Hall factory. By 1880 Asiatic Pheasants was the most popular pattern of all, toppling Willow pattern from the top spot” (Lovers of Blue and White).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               So, what about the plants?  Roses are clearly featured here, both single and double-flowered forms with thorny stems.  Around the rim, at the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions is a flower with a prominent carpel in the centre, maybe a passionfruit flower or possibly hibiscus. The passionfruit was rather exotic in the 19th century and became popular during the Victorian era, with many hybrids created from the winged-stem passion flower (P. alata) and the blue passion flower (P. caerulea). The flower has been given a strong Christian symbolism, which may have made it a popular design feature. Image: C. Watson.

The base of this cup is decorated with an elegant flowering plant, likely some sort of bulbous plant (based on the leaf shape and growth), possibly a snowflake, snowdrop, lily of the valley, scilla or Spanish bluebell. Without the clues of colour or more detail, it’s difficult to say for sure, but it is still rather pretty. Image: C. Watson.

This pair of handsome transfer printed and clobbered plates looks to me like a celebration of autumn. The gold-painted and gold-veined leaves are falling loose around a couple of types of flowers. Both the flower and leaf shape of the smaller flowers look very much like chrysanthemum, though the larger flowers with prominent veining are less easily identifiable. They could be another form of chrysanthemum or daisy, but I’m going to say they are flowers of the Tree Dahlia, a quite spectacular autumn-flowering plant introduced to Europe in the 16th century. Image: C. Watson.

This scene is of a couple of men hard at work in a garden. It could represent gardeners at ‘home’, planting out the exotic plants bought back from some far-flung locale by explorers or plant hunters. It could equally be viewed as settlers in a new land, freshly off one of the ships in the background, busily clearing land in order to plant out the cherished plants (seen in the pots to the right) they bought with them from ‘home’. There is a spade and watering can visible in the foreground and the figure on the left is carrying a bare-rooted tree or shrub (more clearly seen in the original print). The pattern refers to one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims, specifically his maxim “industry needs not wish, and he that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains, then help hands for I have no lands” (Riley 1991:275). The illustration was taken from 24 scenes of town and country life illustrating Franklin’s Lessons for the young and the old, on industry, temperance, frugality &c by Robert Drighton, published by Bowles and Carver, London in 1795 (Riley 1991: 270). Image: C. Watson. 

The 19th century in the UK was a golden era of gardening, and in particular of hothouse and exotic flower cultivation. Plant hunters were romping around the globe, many sponsored by wealthy patrons, finding, recording and returning with specimens of plants previously unknown to the western world.  Add to that the development from 1847 of methods to create larger pieces of plate glass, and better glazing and construction methods, and the Victorian-era glasshouse and conservatory was born. Here wealthy families grew the rare and exotic, or at least their gardening staff did, and showed them off to their friends (in a sort of botanical keeping up with the Jones’s). At the same time the middle classes had increasing leisure time and some spare cash, and those aspiring to a bit of societal climbing looked to grow some of the exotic offerings now available. Anything that survived in lower light levels, smoky rooms and cooler temperatures but still looked exotic became especially popular .Aspidistra, Hoya and the Parlour Palm were all introduced to the UK in early/mid 1800s. At the same time, deliberate selective breeding of ‘decorative’ plants became more widespread.

The citizens of Christchurch were equally keen on their gardens. The Christchurch Horticultural Society was established in 1861, and by 1863 were holding flower shows open to the public. (Press 01/12/1863: 2).In 1866 the Society took formal possession of the ground that would become the Botanic Gardens (Press 11/09/1866: 2).  By 1866 H. G. Burnell, Seed Merchant of Cashel St, was advertising 1000 varieties of flower seeds for sale (Press 31/08/1866:1) .  In the same year, there was an auction of “60 large specimen plants in full bloom, being fuchsias, petunias etc”, on the day after the flower show. (Press 01/03/1866).

There were at least three commercial plant nurseries advertising in the Press during the 1860s.  Grove Nursery, which sold, amongst other plants, a “choice collection of green-house plants, always on sale from England” (Press 17/05/1862: 7).  Woodburn Nursey (W. Hislop) who at various times advertised “upwards of one million hedge plants” (Press 01/06/1861: 7), carrot, turnip and parsnip seeds (Press 12/10/1861: 7) and an auction of “about 300 very choice Greenhouse Plants (including fuchsias, camellias, amaryllis, mimosa, cuphea, farfugium &…. other plants adapted for Greenhouse and window culture)” (Press 25/02/1863: 3).   And lastly, Christchurch Nursery, (W. Wilson) which sold a large variety of plants and seeds including “Cerrus (sic) Deodara seed recently collected to order in the Himalaya Mountains” (Press 04/01/1862:8), over a dozen different types of fruit trees (including mulberries and figs), rhubarb, asparagus, and many species of ornamental trees, shrubs and hedging plants (including including privet, gorse and broom!) (Press 14/06/1862: 8). It’s clear that gardening was a popular activity in Christchurch. There were even gardens open to the public for picnicking and other activities, such as Taylor’s (later Kohler’s) pleasure gardens and maze (in the area of the current Hagley High School). Formally opened to the public on 2 February 1862, it was described at the time as being “well laid out in grass plats (sic), flower borders, shrubberies, and an extensive maze, the first of its kind in the colony” (Lyttelton Times 28/12/1861: 5).

At the same time greenhouses were being constructed locally. Frederick Jenkins of City Steam Saw Mills, Planing, Joinery and Moulding Works  advertised that he was “prepared to supply the trade with first-class goods……greenhouses, hothouses and conservatories, on the most improved principles” (Press 26/03/1863: 6). When larger houses and estates were advertised for sale, greenhouses were regularly listed as part of the equipment. In 1864 Albourne Lodge a “large and beautifully situated house” had a greenhouse listed as one of the out-buildings (Press 13/12/1864:3).  When the Ilam homestead was advertised for let in 1862 a “greenhouse, well heated and stocked with vines” was listed as one of the assets (Press 05/07/1862:5).

But what if you couldn’t manage to keep any of these fancy or exotic plants, or to visit the locales from whence they came?  Well, why not have them on your crockery instead!

Wendy Gibbs

References

Lyttelton Times [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Press [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Riley, N. 1991. Gifts For Good Children: The History of Children’s China, Part 1, 1790-1890. Somerset: Richard Dennis.

 

 

 

 

Creating a New Normal

This week New Zealand entered its third week of the Covid-19 lockdown, and one of the phrases being thrown around a lot is creating a ‘new normal’. The idea of a ‘new normal’ gives a sense that life, whether for better or worse, is going to change permanently. The feelings of nervousness and slight dread of the unknown created by the phrase are possibly similar to what 19th century colonists felt on their journey to New Zealand when they thought about the new life awaiting them.

We tend to use the word ‘new’ a lot when describing change. How often have you read a paragraph talking about New Zealand (or literally any other colony) and it included the phrase ‘new life’. “In the 1870s, the government helped thousands of British people start a new life in New Zealand”. “Many British families packed their bags and boarded ships to start a new life in a land they had never seen on the other side of the world”. “They tackled the new life, however, with a kind of proud glee”. I used it as well in the first paragraph of this blog, it’s hard not to.

When we describe something as new, we’re making a comparison, even if that’s not specifically stated. By referring to settlers starting a ‘new life’ in New Zealand, we’re acknowledging that their life in New Zealand was different to their life in Britain (or wherever they came from). This seems obvious. England in the 19th century was a country that had been occupied for thousands of years. That length of occupation leads to a lot of stuff. I’m using the excellent word ‘stuff’ because I want to make something that’s complicated (and could turn into a long tangent) simple. By stuff I’m essentially referring to the buildings, people, animals, houses, cemeteries, roads, paddocks, etc, that make a place instantly familiar; the landscape (to use a better word), or culture (to use an even better, and probably correct term). But we’re going to run with stuff because it really embodies talking about complicated theoretical concepts in a very vague way.

Even if you’ve never been to England, you could probably guess that this photo is from England. That’s because the brick terraced housing is so instantly recognisable to us as being part of the ‘English landscape’. It’s part of the stuff that makes England, England. Image: : Wikimedia Commons.

By the 19th century, New Zealand had been occupied for just under a thousand years and had all the same stuff that England had. There were whare, nuinga, ika, urupā, huarahi, mahinga kai etc (translation done using Māori Dictionary). It’s just that the stuff in New Zealand was different to the stuff in England, and wasn’t instantly recognisable to the English settlers as being stuff, and is what leads to the idea that settlers were colonising an “empty landscape”, which wasn’t actually the case.

Settlers arriving into New Zealand in the 1840s and 1850s were faced with, what appeared to them to be, a blank slate. And in response to that, British settlers created a ‘new normal’. That is, they took their stuff from England and recreated it in New Zealand.

Remember that first image where I said that brick terraced housing was quintessentially English, this block of houses in on Durham Street South. Image: Google Street View.

We can see that very clearly from a landscape perspective. Christchurch was a planned city, with a grid system revolving around a central square. Early public buildings emulated styles that were popular in England, that would have been familiar to settlers, and efforts were made to reference Britain in the design of public spaces. Just look at the street names in Christchurch. Most of the streets in the centre city were named after places in England- a clear example of settlers bringing their stuff with them.

Who needs to leave the house when there’s Google Maps. Sometimes on my daily walks I stroll alongside the Avon, which always reminds me of quaint English villages. Image: Google Street View.

The River Avon in Stratford Upon Avon. When we walk around our parks and rivers it’s easy to forget that they’re not ‘natural’. The trees and grass that line their banks, even the fish that swim in them, were all introduced deliberately by British settlers to modify the natural landscape of Aotearoa into the familiar natural landscape of Britain. Image:Google Street View.

The Avon River in 1860. Not the quaint stream with grass lined banks and mature Willow trees that we’re used to. Photographs like this really reinforce the landscape modification that took place with British settlement. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Gothic Revival style is cool. Its use in New Zealand in the 19th century is a reflection of what was fashionable at the time, but I think on a deeper level speaks to the actions of English settlers bringing their stuff with them. Building medieval style buildings in a country that never experienced the medieval period creates a sense of history and connection to the landscape that British settlers probably missed. Image: Google Street View. 

We can see stuff in the physical landscape around us. But we can also see it through the things that the settlers brought with them. New Zealand had strong trade links with Australia, Britain and the rest of the world from the 1850s and whilst settlers from this period may have been entering a foreign country, they weren’t doing it with the same level of complete isolation that earlier visitors faced. If you were living in New Zealand in the first half of the 19th century, then you were probably relying on local Māori for survival. By the latter half of the 19th century, particularly in urban centres like Christchurch, that wasn’t the case.

If I was to pick a quintessentially British product from the artefacts we recover, then Lea and Perrins would be it. We find Worcestershire Sauce bottles in most of our domestic assemblages, and more often than not they’re Lea and Perrins. The connection of the product to England is clear just from the name- Worcestershire Sauce after Worcester, the place it was invented. But also, in what the product was used for- cooking. Food is one of the most overt symbols of culture and Lea and Perrins bottles are able to represent the cuisine that British settlers brought with them. Image: C. Watson.

It seems strange that a plate inspired by 18th century Chinese porcelain is a symbol of British culture in the 19th century, yet if you were to ask me what ceramic pattern is the most British then I probably would say Willow. Perhaps it’s not so much the pattern, but the idea of English transfer ware that seems quintessentially British. The majority of ceramic vessels coming into New Zealand were made in the Staffordshire region of England, meaning that people living in New Zealand were able to keep using things that were familiar to them. Image: C. Watson.

And, of course, what could be more British than a pot of tea. Image: C. Watson.

I could keep posting photos of artefacts, because really the vast majority of things we find are British stuff. Even when we have artefacts that speak to local colonial activities, they’re often referencing British things. An easy example of this is aerated water bottles. We find aerated water bottles all the time that have local Christchurch manufacturers’ names on them. Yet the bottles were imported from England and the aerated water produced and bottled using machinery invented in England, so really, they suggest that settlers continued to produce British stuff that was familiar to them, it’s just not taking place in Britain.

This idea, that cultures have stuff and that they take that stuff with them when they move around, is nothing new. It’s basically the bread and butter of archaeology. Archaeologists around the globe, studying hundreds of different cultures and societies, attribute stuff to respective cultures and use the spread of it, and how it changes over time, to explore how respective cultures and societies lived and behaved. When we see British stuff appear in New Zealand, we see that a new culture has arrived. And when we see British stuff continue to arrive throughout the 19th century, we see that this new culture retains ties to their homeland.

To circle back to the idea of a ‘new normal’, this blog was inspired partially by a tweet that I can, of course, no longer find, but that talked about the idea of the archaeology of Covid-19. The tweet explained that archaeologists of the future will be able to see our response to the pandemic through things like an increase in PPE in rubbish dumps, indicating actions to fight the pandemic, toilet paper, showing the panic buying that occurred, and mass-graves, indicating the success or failure of our actions. This is all true and it’s something that archaeologists today study when looking back at pandemics like the Black Death.

But it got me thinking, that if somebody was to study my stuff at the moment, there wouldn’t be any difference between now and before Covid-19 arrived in New Zealand. My life is exactly the same as before, it’s just that I don’t leave the house anymore. This is, of course, a temporary ‘new normal’. We don’t know what the economic and social impacts of this lockdown are going to be, just that life isn’t going to be the same as before. And so, when I sit here, surrounded by my stuff, and knowing that that stuff is still going to be there in the future, it just might be a little bit different, I’m reminded most of 1890s settlers to New Zealand. Colonists arriving to Christchurch in this period were entering a world that would have been familiar to them. They didn’t have to climb over the Bridle Path, they could catch the train. The roads were metalled, the houses were built, there were willow trees along the banks of the Avon, and they could buy Worcestershire Sauce at the general store. And yet, I imagine, despite being in a country surrounded by familiar stuff, they still felt a nervousness and slight dread at the new life that awaited them. Similar to how I feel now.

Clara Watson

 

The Secret Lives of Archaeologists

I’m writing this blog on the 3rd of April, 2020. It’s currently day nine of a four week (or longer) shutdown initiated by the New Zealand government to try and stop the spread of Covid-19. Over the past two weeks I’ve seen several excellent blog posts/articles by New Zealand archaeologists and historians (among others) comparing our current circumstances to historical events, and providing a nuanced view on using the lens of the past to interpret the present. These included blogs on isolation by the Southern Settler Archaeology Blog and The City Remains, past pandemics (see here, here, here, and here ) and toilet paper (here and here). One of my favourite blogs/articles from the past few weeks was by Kennedy Warne, who talks about solistalgia and soliphilia (you’ll have to click on the link to find out what that means), and provided a really interesting and nuanced view on dealing with change, which whilst not specific to Covid-19 was still relevant.

For our blog I’ve decided to take a slightly different, more light-hearted, approach to the situation. We’ve all been working from home, which has resulted in excellent cat content on our work slack channel, but has also come with various struggles. Today we’re giving you a sneak peek into our new offices and hope you enjoy the distraction from what has otherwise been a pretty heavy past couple of weeks.

The day before lockdown I went to the warehouse to panic buy easter eggs (#priorities) and came home with this oversized fleece hoodie for my new office attire. It’s helping to make up for the fact that I’ve gone from a work area that consisted of three desks and lots of space to a work area that is the size of a queen bed (literally, I have a sheet on the floor to protect the carpet).

It’s not all negatives though. I’m enjoying using the deck as my sorting area and getting in some sunshine at the same time.

Tristan is also having fun with space. He’s arranged his boxes of artefacts so that everything is in chair swivel reach.

Wendy’s office comes with a lovely green view.

Jamie’s enjoying trading her steel caps for unicorn slippers.

Rebecca’s desk comes with hidden friends to keep her on task. Stitch is always watching.

Angel (not pictured) is still on site, as the project he’s currently working on is an essential one. He’s making sure he’s keeping a safe distance between the contractors on site and the friendly next door neighbour.

Megan is having issues with her co-workers trying to offer IT advice.

They also haven’t read the code of conduct about appropriate behaviour in the workplace.

Jon’s co-worker is not happy with his report and is offering suggestions.

His other co-worker is focusing on providing a supportive work environment as a foot warmer.

Annthalina’s co-workers make sure she’s kept up-to-date with all the neighbourhood happenings, such as anytime next door’s cat wanders past.

Whilst Wendy’s co-worker is in charge of keeping the office warm.

Kirsa’s new office comes with a gaggle of geese patrolling the neighbourhood, making sure that no non-essential travel is happening.

Stay safe everyone.

Clara Watson

 

 

Putting The Pieces Together

Today on the blog we are discussing my favourite site of 2019. We already talked about part of the site’s history last fortnight on the blog- that it contained the store and offices for Walton, Warner and Co. and their later businesses. Today we’ll go a bit more in depth on both the history and the archaeology of the site (so if you haven’t read last fortnight’s blog then I recommend you do before reading this, otherwise this won’t make as much sense). But first, let me explain why it was my favourite site. This site was a perfect combination of a very complicated site history, super complicated archaeological features and excavations, and a very large artefact assemblage that contained a lot of unusual artefacts. Which meant it was very confusing to try and work out what was going on, but it was very satisfying when I did. This site is really complicated, so this isn’t going to be a short blog post (double the length of our normal blogs), but it’s a great way of sharing how, as archaeologists, we draw together multiple lines of evidence to work out what was happening in the past.

The History of the Site

The section of the site we’re going to be focusing on consisted of two town sections, TS 853 and TS 855. They’re highlighted in red on this 1850 map of Christchurch (ignore 857 and 858 as we’re not going to talk about them). Also shown on this map, in blue, is a creek bed. Large natural streams transversed swampy Christchurch and acted as tributaries and overflow channels for the Avon. Remember that there was a creek running through the site- it’s going to be important later on. Image: Jollie 1850 Plot of Christchurch.

Here’s the site in 1877. Those black shapes on the map represent buildings. No buildings were present on the site in the Fooks 1862 map, indicating all these buildings were constructed between 1862 and 1877. If you’ve read last fortnight’s blog, then you’ll remember that the front building on the TS 855/853 border was Walton, Warner and Co.’s store and the centre building on TS 855 was their office and that these buildings were built in 1864. The other building at the front of TS 855 also likely belonged to them, whilst the back building was a house. The buildings on TS 853 were offices that were occupied by a variety of businesses, including architects, accountants, solicitors and insurance brokers. Image: Strouts 1877.

This map, based on the recorded leases in the Deeds indexes from 1860-1872, gives some indication of how complex the history for this site was and how many different businesses were run out of the buildings on the site. We’re going to be focusing on Walton, Warner and Co., but it’s important to know that there were other businesses operating on the site. Image: A. Gibson.

And if you thought the above map was complicated, then check this one out. This is a 1909 plan, with this buildings on the site outlined in red (the blue lines are the property boundaries and the yellow shading is just our excavation are). Comparing it to the 1877 map, we can see that many of the building shown on the 1877 map were still standing in 1909, and that they are described as old and made of wood. What’s most important in this map is that is shows an old wooden building at the back of TS 853, that wasn’t there in the 1877 map, but is described as old suggesting it was probably constructed just after the 1877 map was made. Image: LINZ 1909.

So, to summarise, we’re interested in two town sections: TS 853 and TS 855. These town sections originally had a creek running through them and had buildings constructed on them after 1862, with more buildings added over the course of the 19th century. One of the occupants was Walton, Warner and Co. (later known as Wood, Shand and Co.,  who were general merchants and importers if you didn’t go back and read last fortnight’s blog). The other occupants were architects, insurance brokers, accountants and other businesses that had offices on the site.

The Archaeology

We found 19 different archaeological features during the excavation of the site. This site plan shows that most of the features were clustered at the back of the site. We’re not going to talk about every single feature from the site, but I’ve included t just to give an overview of where most of the archaeology was encountered. Image: M. Healey.

But before we go into more depth with the archaeology, there’s one more thing we need to mention. Before the archaeologist got to site, a large trench was excavated through the site (shown on the left). This trench disturbed archaeological features from the site and is easily comparable to the giant trench Heinrich Schliemann dug through the archaeological site Troy (shown on the right). Image, left: A. Trendafilov, right: C. Watson.

We’re going to break down the features we’re going to talk about into three groups. The first group consists of four features that were brick gully traps. These gully traps were located at the boundary of TS 855 and TS 853 and roughly corresponded to form a rectangle. They were also all found at a depth of approximately 200 mm below the modern surface Image: C. Watson.

One of the gully traps, exposed during excavation. This one also had earthenware pipes connecting into it. These gully traps included bricks manufactured by John Brightling between ca. 1880 and 1898, William Neighbours between 1868 and 1886 and Henry Kirk between 1885 and 1898. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The second group of features are a little more complicated. They consist of a series of deposits found running north to south along TS 853. These were deposits of artefacts in what we think was a tributary stream to the large creek shown on the 1850 map. Image: C. Watson.

This is Feature 3. It was found at a depth of 200 mm and extended down to a depth of 1400 mm and as we can see from this photo, was truncated by the unmonitored trench that was dug through the site. This photo is looking north and shows that the feature had a sloping base and consisted of several deposits. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Looking at the above photo and map, you’ve hopefully worked out that if Feature 3 was truncated by the trench then Feature 2 was located within the trench. We’ve got no idea how much of Feature 2 had been disturbed before we got to site, but we found it at a depth of 1200 mm and it extended down to a depth of 1900 mm. Also disturbed by the trench was Feature 4, which similar to Feature 3, had been truncated by the trench. What this means, is that Feature 2, 3 and 4 may all have been individual deposits within one larger deposit, but because the trench went through the middle of it, we’ll never know for sure. Image: A. Trendafilov.

And now we have Feature 5. Feature 5 was divided into six separate sub-features (told you this site was complicated). One of those, Feature 5d, was the brick gulley trap shown above. Another was a deposit of bricks that were possibly from a destroyed gully trap, as they also contained William Neighbours bricks. Two of the deposits contained 20th century material, and were found at the top of the feature, whilst the others found at a deeper depth contained 19th century material. And finally, there was Feature 15, which was a deposit of artefacts within a large metal bucket, that was found underneath Feature 5d, the brick gully trap. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Getting confused? Here’s a diagram to summarise. Essentially, we found different deposits of artefacts ranging from Feature 3 in the north to Features 5A and B in the south. These deposits extended to a depth of 1.2 m to 1.9 m (in the case of Feature 2). Feature 5D was the brick gully trap and Features 5E and 5F both contained 20th century material. Image: A. Trendafilov.

And finally, we have these features, which were located just west of the Feature 2-5 complex. These features were all rubbish pits or other types of deposits that contained artefacts dating to the 19th century. I’m not going to go into too much detail about them, as they’re a lot simpler to understand than the other features on the site, but just remember where they’re located. Image: C. Watson.

An example of what the other features looked like. This is Feature 13, a large rubbish pit that was dug into the ground. The pit is clearly able to be distinguished from the natural sandy clay that it was dug into. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The Artefacts

I’m not going to go into that much detail about the artefacts here, as that would be a whole blog post in itself (immediately starts drafting a post on them for next fortnight). Instead I’ll just make a few points.

  • A large artefact assemblage was recovered during the excavation, over 2000 artefacts in total.
  • Some of the artefact deposits clearly related to commercial activity. These included artefacts like the large deposit of identical clay pipes (pictured in last fortnight’s blog) that were found in Feature 16.
  • Some of the artefacts seemed to be related to domestic activity. These included things like food waste and worn shoes.
  • Ceramic artefacts found in the Feature 2-5 complex were highly fragmented, and sherds from one vessel were found spread across multiple features within the complex.
  • With the exception of the brick gullies and the 20th century sub-features from Feature 5, the artefact manufacture dates ranged from the 1850s through to the 1870s, with most of the artefacts likely manufactured before 1880.

A few of the many artefacts found at the site. To give you an idea of how many of the ceramic artefacts from different features conjoined, the fragments from the ceramic plate in the bottom right corner of this image were found spread across four different features in the Feature 2-5 complex. Image: C. Watson.

Bringing everything together

Now comes the fun part of archaeology (or at least I think that it’s the fun part). We consider the archaeological features we uncovered, the artefacts they contained, and the history of the site, to try and determine which site occupant likely deposited the artefacts, and from there, when and why they threw things away.

Let’s start with the ‘who’. In the case of this site, if we look at the occupants then we can see that Walton, Warner and Co. (or later iterations of the business) are most likely responsible for depositing most of the material. This is because the other occupants of the site, the insurance, accountant, architect etc offices that we haven’t really talked much about, were unlikely to be generating large volumes of rubbish, and certainly not rubbish that was obviously related to commercial practices such as the large deposit of identical clay pipes. When we compared the artefacts to those found during the excavation of Walton, Warner and Co.’s warehouses on Oxford Terrace, we found identical objects, such as the seltzer water bottles and blue dyed-body ware chambersticks (shown in last fortnight’s blog), confirming to us that the artefacts we had found were likely related to the commercial business of Walton, Warner and Co. But, (there’s always a ‘but’ in archaeology), we also found some artefacts that didn’t quite fit. These included large deposits of leather off-cuts in Feature 3 (you can see a pile of them in the artefacts photo) and lots of faunal remains. The leather off-cuts clearly looked to be from a cobbler, but there was no evidence for a cobbler occupying the site. This suggests then that some of the artefacts may have been disposed on the site from non-occupants. The leather off-cuts were clearly clustered together, meaning this may have been a one-off event, but it means we can’t say for sure that every single artefact found on the site related to Walton, Warner and Co. The faunal material is more typical of a domestic assemblage, relating to the disposal of daily food waste. There was a house located at the rear of TS 855 (you can see it in the 1877 map), so it may be that they were throwing their food away into pits shared with Walton, Warner and Co. Unfortunately, the house appears to have been leased and given how complicated the history of the site was, we’re not too sure exactly who was living in it.

Now let’s go to the ‘when’. From the artefacts, we know that most of the features contained material dating between 1850 and the late 1870s, with the exception of the brick gully traps that dated to the 1880s, and some of the deposits in the top of Feature 5 that dated to the 20th century. Those 20th century deposits contained plastic, indicating that they dated to the mid-late 20th century and despite being in the stream complex, weren’t connected to it. But we don’t have to just go off the artefacts to work out when features were deposited. We can also use information from the historical record, like maps.

This ‘map’ is showing the 1909 plan of the buildings on the site overlaid on the Strouts 1877 map, with the location of the 1850 gully also drawn onto it. Overlaid on top of that are the features we’ve been looking at, with red showing the gully trap, purple the stream features and yellow the general rubbish pit features. Image: C. Watson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly, let’s have a look at the creek bed. The creek bed that was present in 1850 appears to have been filled in by 1877, as it has buildings over it. We didn’t find any archaeological evidence of this infilling, but that’s not surprising because the building that was on the site prior to the earthquakes had a deep basement, and the construction of it likely removed any archaeology. We can see our stream bed features, shown in purple, running north to south. The depth of these features, combined with the curving shape of them, which looks to follow natural contours in the grounds surface, suggests that there was a tributary stream or ditch that flowed into the main creek bed, and that it was used to dispose of rubbish in. The layering of artefacts that we saw in features from this complex confirmed this to us.

All of the features we have been looking at are within the footprint of the building shown on the 1909 map, indicating they were definitely deposited before then (with the exception of the 20th century deposits, which were probably created after that building had been demolished). The 1909 map describes the building as old- the same descriptor it used for other buildings on TS 855 that align with buildings shown on the 1877 map. This would suggest then that this building was probably built at a comparable time. If we look at the gully trap locations, three of the four line up approximately with the edges of the building, suggesting they probably relate to that building and were located at the base of down pipes. Looking at the manufacture dates for the different bricks used in the gully traps, it is pretty likely that the building was built by 1885.

For the building to be constructed, first the stream bed would have had to have been filled in. When we looked at the date of artefacts found at the base of the stream bed features, compared to those found at the top, we found 1874 material at the base and 1876 material at the top, as well as artefacts that could be refitted, but came from different depths. This suggests that the deposition of material into the stream bed appears to have taken place over a relatively short time period, probably both to infill the stream bed so that the land could be developed, but also taking advantage of the natural depression.

The other rubbish features also contained material dating to the 1870s that was consistent with a pre-1885 deposition date. Looking then at the history of Walton, Warner and Co. we can see that the material found at the site likely relates to the Wood, Shand and Co. phase of the business.

So, to summarise, Wood, Shand and Co. built their office buildings and warehouse on the site in 1864 and probably used the empty space at the rear of TS 853 and TS 855 to dispose of commercial rubbish. In the late 1870s they decided to develop that portion of the site and infilled the tributary steam with broken and damaged stock, as well as waste imported from other businesses not operating on the site. In the early 1880s they constructed a building, and added gully traps to the building in the mid-1880s. Some time in the 20th century the buildings were demolished and a new building constructed, which was later damaged by the earthquakes and removed, leading to us excavating at the site and working this all out.  And there you go folks, that’s how we do archaeology (in an extremely condensed version)

Clara Watson

References

LINZ. 1909. DP 2713, Canterbury. Landonline.