Medicating the masses: a wholesale druggist in Edwardian Christchurch.

In our last post, Jeremy talked about the site of H. F. Stevens, wholesale druggist, on Worcester Street near Cathedral Square. We excavated the site in 2011 and found a number of artefacts, including the Udolpho Wolfe’s bottles featured last week. We also found a range of other pharmaceutical remedies, local and international in origin, and a few household artefacts. These artefacts let us catch a glimpse of what went on inside a successful wholesale pharmaceutical company in Edwardian Christchurch.

One of the artefact deposits exposed during our excavation of the H. F. Stevens site on Worcester Street. Image:

One of the artefact deposits exposed during our excavation of the H. F. Stevens site on Worcester Street. Image: Matt Carter

H. F. Stevens. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

H. F. Stevens. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

Henry Francis Stevens established himself as a wholesale druggist in 1887. It’s not clear whether he had any official medical or pharmaceutical training before he began his business , but his father, George, had been a dispensing apothecary in England. It’s quite likely that Henry gained some experience with the distribution and retail of pharmaceutical products as a result of his father’s occupation and applied it to his fledgling business in Christchurch.

Initially, Stevens operated out of a building at 112 Manchester Street, but shifted to premises at 138 Cashel Street in the early 1890s.  Finally, in 1906, he moved again, this time to a large custom-built building in Worcester Street, a prime location in the heart of the Christchurch’s central business district. The new building was designed by local architect Alfred Henry Hart, who died fairly soon after its construction, in 1908. Described as having an “elaborate Edwardian façade” (Christchurch City Libraries), the building was laid out with a warehouse and yard to the rear and offices and a service counter at the front of the building. Stevens employed a number of clerks and assistants in the business, who would have filled these offices and manned the counter every day.

Loasby's Mighty Cough Cure

Advertisement for Loasby’s Cough Remedy, stocked and distributed by H. F. Stevens.
Image: Ashburton Guardian, 1909.

Stevens was a successful businessman, something we can see in the numerous advertisements for his products in the newspapers of the time. These ads tell us that he sold and distributed all kinds of things, from culinary essences, scented oils and shampoo to cures for dyspepsia, coughs, headaches and various other ailments. Products like Golden Valley Ointment, Wilson’s Pepsin and Cascara, Hendy’s Celebrated Juleptia for the Hair and Loasby’s Mighty Cough Cure were all available ‘wholesale from H. F. Stevens’.

Golden Valley Ointment

Advertisement for Golden Valley Ointment, a skin remedy stocked by H. F. Stevens. Image: Press, 1916.












During our archaeological investigation of the site, a range of domestic and commercial artefacts were found, including a toothpaste pot, food-related objects, animal bones and soda water and alcohol bottles, as well as a large number of pharmaceutical and cosmetic containers. This is typical of the range of artefacts found during the archaeological excavation of late 19th and early 20th century businesses in Christchurch.

Artefacts from the H. F. Stevens site

Some of the artefacts found at the H. F. Stevens site. From left to right are three Symington’s Coffee and Chicory bottles, an Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle and a small ceramic bottle of Stephen’s Ink. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

The pharmaceutical bottles and cosmetic products found would have been stocked in the H. F. Stevens warehouse and sold, along with items like the toothpaste pot. A number of different ink brands were excavated, including Stephens Ink, Fields Ink and Antoine’s ‘Encre Japonaise’. These were almost certainly used by the clerks employed by Stevens, as they recorded incoming and outgoing goods and kept the accounts of his thriving business. It’s possible that the soda water bottles (sometimes known as aerated water) were also being sold on the premises, but it’s equally possible that they were being drunk by Stevens or his employees during their working day.

Anchovy paste jar found at the H. F. Stevens site. The label reads “ANCHOVY PASTE / For SANDWICHES. / BY APPOINTMENT / PURVEYORS to / Her MAJESTY. / PREPARED BY/ CROSSE & BLACKWELL / ESTABLISHED / IN 1706 / 21.SOHO SQUARE. / LONDON”. Image: Jeremy Moyle.

And what about the food-related artefacts found at the site? These included a platter, a tureen and an egg cup, as well as the bones from several meals, a jar of anchovy paste and salad oil and Worcestershire sauce bottles. While the last three products may have been sold by H. F. Stevens, the presence of the other meal debris suggests that meals may have been served at the building. Not enough is known about the company to know whether they may have served their employees meals, or whether they may have had functions for the directors on the premises.

Although we found numerous pharmaceutical bottles at the site, only a few were labelled with a product name. These included cosmetic and so-called medicinal products such as Bonnington’s Irish Moss, Eno’s Fruit Salts, Barry’s Pearl Cream and Resinol. Both Bonnington’s Irish Moss and Eno’s Fruit Salts may be a familiar names to many, as they’re still made today.

Advertisement for Eno's Fruit Salts from 1935. Image: Auckland Star, 1935.

Advertisement for Eno’s Fruit Salts from 1935. Image: Auckland Star, 1935.



Bonnington’s was created by George Bonnington in Christchurch in the 1870s and sold throughout the following decades for the relief of coughs, colds and other respiratory illnesses, while Eno’s Fruit Salts were marketed as an antacid or remedy for gastrointestinal complaints. Resinol and Barry’s Pearl Cream, on the other hand, were both cosmetic products. Resinol (“for a fresh and velvety complexion!”) was created in Baltimore, Maryland, by Dr Merville Hamilton Carter, while Barry’s Pearl Cream (“for an alabaster complexion!”) was first made by an American named Alexander Barry, in New York.


Advertisement for Bonnington’s Irish Moss published in 1915. Image: Hawera and Normanby Star, 1915.

Barry's Pearl Cream

Advertisement for Barry’s Pearl Cream from 1876. Image: New Zealand Herald, 1876.

One of the most interesting things about the pharmaceutical bottles from the site is that no advertisements were found in newspapers of the time connecting H. F. Stevens with these products. This is despite the many, many, advertisements found in contemporary newspapers for products sold by Stevens. This contrast between the archaeological and historical record highlights the power of archaeology to provide us with information about a site or a business that might be missing from the historical record.

Although we didn’t find many artefacts from this site, they did tell us some things about H. F. Stevens’s business that we weren’t aware of. From products we didn’t know he stocked to information about the daily activities of the people he employed, the archaeology revealed some of the little pieces of history that had been lost from our records and, in doing so, enriched our understanding of this site and its place in Edwardian Christchurch.

Jessie Garland


Ashburton Guardian. [online] Available at

Auckland Star. [online] Available at:

Carter, M. and Moyle, J., 2011. 148 Gloucester Street, 32 Cathedral Square, 103 & 105 Worcester Street, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. [online] Available at:

Christchurch City Libraries, Digital Collections. [online] Available at:

Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District], 1903. [online] Available at:

Hawera and Normanby Star. [online] Available at:

Lost Christchurch: Remembering our Lost Heritage. [online] Available at

Moyle, J., 2012. An Exploration of the EAMC Database: The Assessment of a Potential Tool for Developing the Practice of Historical Archaeology within New Zealand. Unpublished BA Hons dissertation, University of Otago.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at

Press. [online] Available at:

Star. [online] Available at:

Christchurch: a global city

Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps. It sounds pretty exotic, right? As it happens, bottles that contained this schnapps are frequently found on 19th century archaeological sites all over the western world. The particular example of the bottle we’re featuring today was found during the excavation of the site of H. F. Stevens Ltd’s premises. Stevens was a wholesale chemist who was based in Worcester Street, near Cathedral Square, from the early 20th century And no, the chemist wasn’t drinking on the side – the schnapps was marketed as a medicine, and its presence at the site is representative of Christchurch’s position within a global trade network.

A Udolpho Wolfe's Aromatic Schnapps bottle found at the former site of H. F. Stevens's wholesale chemist. Image: J. Moyle.

A Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle found at the former site of H. F. Stevens’s wholesale chemist. Image: J. Moyle.

Our modern economic system is based on mass international exchange: the exchange of ideas, of labour and of goods. It’s all too easy to think that this system is a product of the late 20th century. In fact, international trade goes back to the Stone Age, but it was developments in the 19th century that really saw a global economy develop. Mass production, the forceful opening of new markets through colonial expansion and the rise of modern capitalist structures such as joint stock companies in the 19th century enabled the building of big business and the export of products all over the world.

Christchurch’s 19th century archaeology offers tangible evidence of this system. Many of the artefacts we find on 19th century sites in the city come not just from England – the country that most European settlers in Christchurch called home – but from all over the world. Amongst these, Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps provides a particularly good example of the development of trade and industry in the 19th century.

Evening Post 21:6:1877 page 2

An 1877 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe’s Schiedam Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Evening Post 21/6/1877:2.

The eccentrically named Udolpho Wolfe was a Jewish-American of German extraction. His family was notable in the United States even without their schnapps legacy. Udolpho’s father was a major in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, as well as being a friend of the fifth American president, James Monroe. Young Udolpho started his career in the 1820s, working for his elder brother Joel, a wine and sprit merchant. At the age of 21 Udolpho became a partner in the business. In 1839 the business went international when the brothers opened a distillery in Schiedam, Holland. And in 1848 Udolpho (now the senior partner) introduced Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps to the world.

Unlike the sweet fruity schnapps many will be familiar with in New Zealand today, Udolpho’s schnapps was a grain-based alcohol, flavoured with juniper berry essence. The spirit savvy amongst you will realise that this means that it was just plain old gin. What made the schnapps special was the way it was marketed. Sold not as a ‘frivolous beverage’, Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps was instead marketed as a wonderful medicine. In the (somewhat elaborate) words of the manufacturer:

As a tonic and corrective it is a positive specific, and will be found to prevent and remove the troubles occasioned by malarious influences or impure water, and is therefore an indispensable vade mecum for travellers and those who are unacclimated. At the same time its palatable flavour, and generally salutary qualities render it eminently desirable as a healthful substitute for the fiery potations which, in this country especially, are productive of such deleterious consequences.

            New Zealand Herald 29/9/1874: 3

Once described as a “vigorous advertiser” (Putnam’s Magazine 14 (23): 638), it seems that Udolpho Wolfe did everything he could to make sure that this was the perspective held by all potential consumers.

An 1874 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe's Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Auckland Star 14/3/1874: 1.

An 1874 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Auckland Star 14/3/1874: 1.

His approach must have worked, as the business of schnapps went from strength to strength. Supposedly over 90,000 cases of a dozen quart bottles (or two dozen pint bottles) were being moved per year by the 1870s; that’s at least 1 million schnapps bottles sold around the world.

Aside from this prodigious quantity, the international aspect of the trade is quite remarkable. After being produced in Schiedam, the schnapps destined for consumption in the United States, Central America and the Caribbean was shipped to New York City for bottling and distribution. Meanwhile, schnapps to be sold in Europe, South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand was sent from Schiedam to Hamburg, where it was bottled and then shipped away. This, then, was an American company, producing liquor in Holland, bottling it in America and Germany, and exporting it to the four corners of the globe. Because of this massive trade one can now find bottles bearing the label ‘Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps’ in archaeological sites around the globe.

Having finished its long journey from Europe to Christchurch, the schnapps – and other medicines – would have been distributed by H. F. Stevens to chemists in the city, thus enabling the citizens of Christchurch to indulge in the ‘healthy benefits’ of Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps, along with the rest of the world. Even in the 19th century, Christchurch was part of the global economic system.

Jeremy Moyle


Auckland Star. [online] Available at:

Carter, M. and Moyle, J., 2012. 103-105 Worcester Street, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Nikau Contractors Ltd.

Evening Post. [online] Available at:

Marcus, J. R., 1989. United States Jewry 1776-1985. Wayne State University Press, Detroit.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at:

Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art. [online] Available at:

Syracuse Daily Courier & Union. [onilne] Available at:

Making a mark on Christchurch – tea sets, houses and cathedrals

In 1863, the Captain Cook departed Glasgow for the small port of Lyttleton, New Zealand. On board was a man by the name of Samuel Jamieson, who was travelling to Christchurch with his wife Maria and four children.

Like so many early settlers in Christchurch, Samuel established a business in the city. A joiner by trade, he started a building firm that his sons, James and William, subsequently took over and ran well into the 20th century. By the turn of the century, J & W Jamieson, as it became known, was one of the leading construction companies in Christchurch. They were responsible for the erection of the Roman Catholic cathedral on Barbadoes Street in the early 1900s, as well as the Government buildings in Cathedral Square (1911), the Christchurch Press building (also in the Square), and the Auckland Post Office.

James Jamieson. Image: Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903.

James Jamieson. Image: Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903.

James Jamieson, who we’re interested in today, married and he and his wife had three daughters, Mary, Maria and Jeannie. Tragically, his wife, Jeannie Hay Jamieson, died in 1887 at the age of 24, possibly during childbirth. We don’t know if James remarried, but in 1906, he and his now adult daughters moved to a large house on Hereford Street, and in 1909 built what became known as Williams House on the same site.

We excavated part of the Williams House site on Hereford Street last year and found an interesting collection of artefacts. We believe these were discarded by the Jamieson family during the first few years of their life in Hereford Street, before they moved into Williams House. The assemblage is filled with bits and pieces of household rubbish, much of it ordinary, like pharmaceutical and perfume bottles, plates and chamber pots, metal containers and old sheep bones.

Excavation of the basement found at the Wiliams House site. You can see some of the artefacts emerging from the ground in the center of the photo. Image: Kirsa Webb.

Excavation of the basement found at the Wiliams House site. You can see some of the artefacts emerging from the ground in the center of the photo. Image: Kirsa Webb.

There are, however, a few things which are especially evocative of the daily life of James Jamieson and his daughters. A few bottles of artistic and photographic materials suggest an interest in painting or photography (or both). This is perhaps not surprising, given that James collected art, had a gallery in Williams House and was involved in the Canterbury Society of Arts. We didn’t know, however, that James – or his daughters – were actively involved in artistic pursuits themselves.

Winsor and Newton glass bottle found at the Williams House site. Winsor and Newton were famous suppliers of artist's materials from 1837 onwards, including inks and paints. Image: Kirsa Webb.

Winsor and Newton glass bottle found at the Williams House site. Winsor and Newton were famous suppliers of artist’s materials from 1837 onwards, including inks and paints. Image: Kirsa Webb.


Maclaren’s Imperial Cheese jar found at the Williams House site. Image: Kirsa Webb.

Another glass jar contained something called Maclaren’s Imperial Cheese, an early spreadable cheese imported from Canada. It must have been disgusting, but its presence makes us wonder which of the family bought it and whether or not they liked it.

Perhaps the most interesting of the artefacts found was an almost complete blue and white tea set, which we can easily imagine one or more of the Jamiesons using to entertain guests in the home or provide daily afternoon teas for the family.


A tea set found at the Williams House site on Hereford Street, Christchurch. The set was made by a Staffordshire pottery, John Aynsley and Sons, between 1891 and 1909 and is decorated with a transfer printed floral pattern and gilt banding around the edges. Image: Jessie Garland.

Ladies tea gown, 1895.

A ladies tea gown, as advertised in the Auckland Star in 1895. Image: Auckland Star.

Tea drinking was an important aspect of Victorian and Edwardian life in New Zealand, in a way that it isn’t really anymore. As well as being a social and cultural link to Britain, an afternoon tea party could be a social event in itself. Afternoon tea originated in the 1840s with the Duchess of Bedford, a friend of Queen Victoria, and had its own etiquette and rituals, involving everything from elaborate tea gowns to beautiful, fine, matching tea sets to food (Maclaren’s Imperial Cheese, perhaps?).

This particular tea set is made of bone china, a type of fine china often used for tea-wares, especially those bought by people of higher social status and/or wealth than average. It’s not surprising to find a bone china set in this context – we already know that, as the co-owner of a very successful company, James Jamieson was prosperous, and this part of Christchurch was fairly popular with the city’s elite at the time. The large house that they moved into had previously belonged to George and Julia Hart, who built it in the 1870s and were prominent members of society in Christchurch.

It is, however, quite rare to find a complete or almost complete tea set in one archaeological site. People are much more likely to throw away a single cup or saucer than they are to discard an entire set. We have to wonder then, what happened to lead to James or his daughters throwing this one away. Personally, I like to think that someone tripped over a cat and flung the tea tray across the room. Alternatively, the tea set may simply have been replaced by a newer and more fashionable set.

However it was thrown away, this tea set, along with the art and photography bottles and the spreadable cheese, allows us a glimpse into the lives of the Jamiesons and the opportunity to follow them through time. We started with a man, his wife and their children, who travelled half way across the world to a new life. They and their descendants built a successful business, helped to build a city and, in so doing, established a prominent position for themselves in Christchurch.

Jessie Garland


Auckland Star. [online] Available at:——-10–1—-0–.

Acland, L. G. D., 1975. The Early Canterbury Runs (4th ed.). Whitcoulls, Christchurch.

Christchurch City Council, 1986. The Architectural Heritage of Christchurch. 5. Government Buildings. [online] Available at:

Christchurch City Libraries, 2012. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. [online] Available at:

Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District], 1903. [online] Available at:

Press. [online] Available at:——-10–1—-0–.

Star. [online] Available at:——-10–1—-0–.

Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Held by the Christchurch City Library.

Our thanks also go to Erin Kimber (Macmillan Brown Library), Gareth Wright (Christchurch City Council) and Sarah Murray (Canterbury Museum) for their assistance in tracking down information for this post.

A gentleman’s home

Imagine you’re John Cracroft Wilson. It’s 1854 and you’ve just arrived in the fledgling settlement of Christchurch. You’re 46, English and educated at Oxford, although you were born in India and spent most of your life there, making a name for yourself in the civil service. You’ve arrived at Lyttelton with your second wife, a daughter from your first marriage, a retinue of Indian servants and some livestock.

John Cracroft Wilson, c.1878. Source: Rolleston album 2. Ref: PA1-q-197-22-4, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

John Cracroft Wilson, c.1878. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library.

You’re here for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you’re suffering from stress and a sabbatical has been recommended. Secondly, you’re looking for somewhere for ex-East India Company employees to retire to. And apparently you have some plans of your own – and money. You tried Australia on the way here, but didn’t much like that, but you think Canterbury sounds pretty good, because there’s land, lots of it, and apparently it’s there for the taking.

And take it you do: Cracroft station (one of Canterbury’s biggest runs), High Peak station and Broadlands station were all taken up by Wilson during his first sojourn in New Zealand, along with land in the suburb we now know as Cashmere. This is where Wilson made his home (he had managers on each of his stations) and it’s this home that interests us.

Back to imaging that you’re Wilson and it’s 1854. Christchurch is pretty new at this point, and building materials are in short supply. The nearest timber is at Riccarton, Papanui or on Banks Peninsula. But anyway, you’re from a class of English society that believes in building in permanent materials. Unfortunately, however, the brick industry’s not really established in Canterbury yet and, well, it’d be a whole lot cheaper to make your own, especially as you have all those servants and some useful materials nearby.

And so that’s what Wilson did. He used sun-dried mud (adobe) bricks for the exterior walls of his house and for the internal walls on the ground floor, while the walls on the first floor were mud-and-stud. The mud bricks were made by Wilson’s Indian servants from a mixture of earth, clay, sand and vegetable matter, much of which would have been sourced nearby.

Top: An external wall, Cracroft House. Bottom: An internal mud & stud wall on the first floor.

Top: An external wall, Cracroft House. Bottom: An internal mud & stud wall on the first floor. Photos: I. Hill.

Analysing these bricks tells us that the mixture was set into wooden frames (with four sides) that sat on a bed of straw, the excess material raked off the top and the bricks left to dry in the sun. The resulting bricks were 1 foot long, 6 inches wide and weighed 7.5 kg each. Wilson also used some lightly fired red bricks in the external walls and used these bricks and mud bricks in the chimney. The mortar used in the walls was also a cob mixture (but contained no vegetable matter), and the walls were coated with a thick clay plaster, with a thin lime plaster on top of this.

Top: Sun-dried red bricks. Bottom: Sun-dried mud bricks. Note the ridges on the top of both bricks, and the variation in shape and size. Photo: I. Hill.

Top: Sun-dried red bricks. Bottom: Sun-dried mud bricks. Note the ridges on the top of both bricks, and the variation in shape and size. Photo: I. Hill.

Sticking with the theme of using locally available materials, Wilson used basalt blocks for the house’s foundations (these would have come from a quarry on the Port Hills). On top of this layer of basalt sat a layer of gravel and earth, and then a layer of mud mortar. The base course of the external wall was a layer of relatively small high quality red bricks (also clearly made in a wooden frame set on the ground).

The use of timber in the house was kept to a minimum. Some timber framework was used in the internal walls and the roof was timber, including the shingles. Timber was also used for the veranda, doors, windows, architraves, skirting boards and floors.

The original shingles of Cracroft House being revealed during demolition. Photo: I. Hill.

The original shingles of Cracroft House being revealed during demolition. Photo: I. Hill.

Wilson built himself and his family a pretty basic house, for the most part using locally available – and probably relatively cheap – materials. But Wilson was no ordinary man. He was a descendant of the Cracrofts of Hackthorn Hall in Lincolnshire, a prominent figure in British India and would become a prominent figure in colonial Canterbury. This sort of man does not build himself an ordinary house. He builds himself a house with 11 rooms. That’s right, 11 rooms. In 1871 (the first year for which statistics are available), the average New Zealand house had just under four rooms. None of these rooms was a toilet or bathroom, facilities that were no doubted located a suitable distance from the house.

Wilson, then, had lots of space for entertaining, as befitted a gentleman of his status. History tells us that Wilson – who was later knighted for his role in the Indian Mutiny – was known for both his generosity and paying low wages, as well as his egotism, arrogance and kindness, and his honesty. To me, his house reflects the contradictions in Wilson’s personality – it was a large house, built with rooms and space to share, and it was a plain house, built honestly and cheaply using local materials. It was also a farm house, not a city house. And unlike many farmers who built relatively simple homes in the early years of settlement, Wilson never replaced his house, dying there in 1881. In this way, too, Cracroft House epitomises Wilson’s frugality.

North elevation, Cracroft House. Image: K. Webb.

North elevation, Cracroft House. Image: K. Webb.

Katharine Watson


Acland, L. G. D., 1975. Early Canterbury Runs. 4th ed. Whitcoulls, Christchurch.

Kristiansen, T., 2012. John Cracroft Wilson. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. [online] Available at:

Ogilvie, G., 2009. The Port Hills of Christchurch. Phillips&King Publishers, Christchurch.

Toomath, W., 1986. Built in New Zealand: The houses we live in. HarperCollins Publishers, Auckland.

“He’s jist sharpening his teeth”

One of the exciting things about being an archaeologist in Christchurch at the moment is that we’re digging up lots and lots of artefacts. And the more artefacts you dig up, the more chances there are of finding something rare or unusual. Sometimes the rarity relates to the monetary or sentimental value of the artefact, such as the fobwatch we talked about a couple of weeks ago. And sometimes the unusual artefact is something pretty ordinary.

Like a toothbrush.


Bone toothbrush handle found on an archaeological site in Christchurch. This was made by S. Maw, Son & Thompson. Their trademark is impressed on the handle, along with the words “ALPASS LIVERPOOL” (Photo: K. Webb).

This teardrop-shaped bone toothbrush handle was found during archaeological work on an historic hotel site in Christchurch, along with a ceramic toothpaste pot (below) and other personal artefacts. We were pretty excited to find it, since toothbrushes (or even parts of them) aren’t often found on 19th century archaeological sites in New Zealand. Our research suggests that this may be a result of vastly different attitudes towards oral hygiene at this time, not only in New Zealand but throughout the world.


John Gosnell and Co. cherry toothpaste pot and lid found along with the toothbrush. The lid is decorated with a polychrome transfer print that features the image of a young Queen Victoria. More information about Gosnell’s products is available here.

The humble bristle toothbrush originated in China, although ‘toothsticks’ and the like are known to have been used for thousands of years. These earliest bristle toothbrushes weren’t so humble, being made of expensive materials like ivory, gold (imagine!), silver or precious wood. So only the very wealthy could afford them, although there were some cheaper toothbrushes around. In Europe, however, people cleaned their teeth using sticks or rags… Toothbrushes were available in England from at least the 17th century but weren’t common until a certain William Addis was thrown in jail in 1780 for starting a riot. At least, that’s how the story goes. Whatever the truth of the matter, Addis is credited with introducing cheap bone-handled toothbrushes to England, and no doubt kick-starting a revolution in dental hygiene. Addis’s toothbrushes were typically made from animal bones and the bristles also came from animals. Badger bristles were apparently the most expensive but pig bristles were more common.

Pages from Maw and Sons Book of Illustrations to S. Maw & Son’s Quarterly Price-Current.

We know that from c.1850 on many toothbrushes were imprinted with trademarks, slogans or details of the manufacturer and our toothbrush is no exception. It’s stamped with the mark of S. Maw, Son & Thompson (see photo above). From this, we know that the toothbrush was made between 1870 and 1901, when this firm was in operation.

The Maw firm was the largest pharmaceutical wholesaler in Britain and was actually a distributor of toothbrushes, not a manufacturer (i.e. a middleman). From 1870-1901, they sold toothbrushes made by William Addis & Son Brushworks, the company founded by William Addis almost a century earlier and continued by his son. The words “ALPASS LIVERPOOL” were also stamped on the handle and probably indicate the place of manufacture: Alpass Road in Liverpool, England. The number ’29’ stamped below the head indicates the manufacturer’s model number.

So why are toothbrushes – and toothpaste pots – so rare on 19th century archaeological sites in New Zealand, given that they’re such everyday items today (not to mention items that are thrown out pretty regularly)? Lots of chemists and druggists in New Zealand were advertising toothbrushes for sale, so they were definitely available.

We think that the rarity reflects a lack of awareness of the importance of dental hygiene, and possibly also that a rag – which would always be readily available and would cost nothing – would do the job just fine, thanks. And dentists in the 19th century had a pretty fearsome reputation, so anything to do with dental hygiene may have been a little suspect. But there might have been some other factors too, including the cost of toothbrushes.

So who used our toothbrush? It could have been the proprietor of the hotel, or a guest. If it was the proprietor, however, we might have found more toothbrushes, given that probably even 19th century toothbrushes needed to be replaced regularly. Our guess, then, is that it was used by a guest. We don’t know for certain that the same guest left the toothpaste pot behind, but it seems reasonably likely, given the rarity of both artefacts in 19th century archaeological sites in New Zealand. And who knows, maybe a hotel servant who chanced to see this guest brushing their teeth thought the guest was in fact sharpening his teeth.

Kirsa Webb

  • Mattick, B., 2010. A Guide to Bone Toothbrushes of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Barbara E. Mattick, USA, available from Xlibris Corporation.
  • Maw, S & Son, 1869. Book of Illustrations to S. Maw & Son’s Quarterly Price-Current. Butler & Tanner, London. Available at:
  • Press, 18 February 1874, page 3.
  • Taranaki Herald, 1 November 1880, page 4.