Cleanliness and Quality Combined

It came as a bit of a surprise when over 1000 fragments of broken stoneware jars were unearthed at an otherwise ordinary Christchurch archaeological site.

Sample of the artefacts found at the site. Image: Julia Hughes

Sample of the artefacts found at the site. Image: J. Hughes.

But there, sitting under some old petrol tanks, was Christchurch history waiting to be found.What made this very large assemblage more interesting was the clear warning emblazoned along the base of some of the examples: “PERSONS DETAINING, MISAPPROPRIATING OR TRADING WITH THIS JAR ARE LIABLE TO BE PROSECUTED”.

Warning label printed along the base of a jar. Image: Laura Davies

Warning label printed along the base of a jar. Image: L. Davies.

Initial research for this address, located along Worcester Street, had not returned much information. An 1877  map showed the section was empty but there were buildings on the surrounding land. We know that in the early 20th century the lot was owned by Henry Thomas Joynt Thacker, a “colourful”

mayor of Christchurch (LINZ 1911; Rice 2012). A resident for the street number used today, however, could not be found, with only the adjacent street numbers mentioned. Enter archaeology. After the ceramics had been thoroughly cleaned, the name ‘Sharpe Bros’ appeared, printed or impressed in different fonts and of varying quality. This narrowed research down from any time in Christchurch’s historical record to the time between 1908 and 1914, when the Sharpe brothers, cordial manufacturers, had a factory one number down from the site in question.

The Sharpe brothers hailed from England, with the eldest brother John Sharpe moving to warmer climes to improve his health in 1900. After joining his brother Percy, who had immigrated to New Zealand earlier, the two opened the first Sharpe Brothers cordial factory in Dunedin in 1903. Apparently not ones to waste time, by the end of 1905 Sharpe Brothers manufacturers could be found in Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Sydney (Sharpe 1992). The two brothers were prohibitionists and prided themselves on their non-intoxicating drink. The Sharpe Brothers operated in New Zealand until the final branch in New Plymouth closed its doors in 1981 (Wellington Antique Bottle & Collectables Club 2003).

Sharpe brothers newspaper notice about returning jars. (Thames Star 7/3/1911)

Sharpe Brothers newspaper notice about returning jars (Thames Star 7/3/1911).

The rather intimidating warning found on some of the fragments made sense now, too. The Sharpe Brothers, like most manufacturers of one-gallon stoneware jars, saw the large vessels as loans and these were not purchased when you bought the drink that the jar contained. A look at old newspapers from around New Zealand showed that the Sharpe Brothers just as frequently advertised their goods as they printed warnings that asked for their one-gallon bottles to be returned. The jars were a key component of the early Sharpe Brothers company. These jars were not only what they sold their product in (until the 1930s) but the names impressed on the front showed ownership and were a form of advertising (Sharpe 1992). But were jars returned? And if they were, were they re-used? How long were the jars used for? And what did they do with all the old jars?

Sharpe Brothers stoneware jar body fragments. Image: Laura Davies

Sharpe Brothers stoneware jar body fragments. Image: L. Davies.

Well, there are at least five different types of Sharpe Brothers one-gallon jars recovered from the site. Some were made by Doulton and Co. from London and another was made by P. Hutson and Co. from Wellington. Some had handles pre-dating John Sharpe’s patented wire handle in 1904 (Sharpe 1992), and some were decorated with taps and displayed the medals Sharpe Brothers were awarded at the 1906-1907 New Zealand International Exhibition.

Sharpe Brothers tap jar with images of medals won at the International New Zealand Exhibition in Christchurch. Image: Laura Davies

Sharpe Brothers tap jar with images of medals won at the International New Zealand Exhibition in Christchurch. Image: L. Davies.

Even though the company had been operating in Christchurch since 1905 the section wasn’t used by the brothers until 1908, therefore the presence of the handled jar forms from before the 1904 wire handle patent indicate that jars could be in rotation for a number of years. This is further evidenced by the presence of the jars made by Doulton & Co., which could have been the jars ordered from England in 1905 (Press 20/4/1905). The two manufacturers and different styles present means that rather than discarding an old design when a new one was introduced, Sharpe Brothers probably used the old jars until they broke. The mass grave of these old ceramic vessels suggests that when the jars broke, they were tossed into a hole out the back of the property. Though the density of the deposit could indicate that the old jars were used as foundations. In the Sydney branch the old unwanted Sharpe Brothers jars were broken and used in foundations when the focus shifted to crown seal bottles (Sharpe 1992). It could also be that in Christchurch the old bottles were kept to the side to be repurposed later and in 1914, when the factory moved to Armagh Street, they decided to dispose of all old stock instead of moving it to the new premises.

Notice posted by Sharpe Brothers about the order of Jars from England. Press (20/4/1905)

Notice posted by Sharpe Brothers about the order of jars from England (Press 20/4/1905).

Doulton & Co. manufacturing mark. Image: Laura Davies

Doulton & Co. manufacturing mark. Image: L. Davies.

Amongst all the Sharpe Brothers jars was a single example of a Ballin Brothers ginger beer bottle. Was it accidentally returned to the wrong place? Or was it a rebellious act of drinking the competition at work?

We never know what artefacts, if any, lie beneath the ground. But that’s the point. Archaeology can not only point us in the right direction to research a site’s history but can add depth, insights and evidence about the day-to-day workings of an influential New Zealand business. It may not always seem like it but it’s important to remember that fragments of broken, dirty, petrol-covered jars from a company whose motto read “Cleanliness and Quality combined” are as much a part of Christchurch’s history as carefully preserved papers.

Laura Davies


Cyclopedia Company Limited, 1905. Otago and Southland Provincial Districts: Cordial Manufacturers. [online] Available at:

LINZ, 1911. CB211/72, Canterbury. Landonline.

Press. [online] Available at

Rice, G. W., 2012. Thacker, Henry Thomas Joynt – Thacker, Henry Thomas Joynt. [online] Available at:

Sharpe, D., 1992. Remember That Heavenly Ginger Beer? A History of Sharpe Bros. Impact Printing: Melbourne.

Thames Star. [online] Available at

Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories. [microfiche] Held at Christchurch City Libraries.

Wellington Antique Bottle & Collectables Club., 2003. Sharpe Bros. [online] Available at 

A humble home

Today’s post presents the story of William Bowen, a prominent Christchurch builder, as told by his residence at 441 Madras Street. Archaeologists recorded this building using building archaeology techniques before and during its post-earthquake demolition. 441 Madras Street was initially numbered 9 and then 13 Madras Street before the Christchurch’s street addresses were reorganised in 1911.

William and Ellen Bowen emigrated from Birmingham in 1873 and settled in Christchurch (Macdonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biography B604). William plied his trade as a carpenter in the city over the next decade. In 1891 William and Ellen purchased an empty section on the St Albans extension of Madras Street (LINZ 1891). Here William constructed the house that became the Bowen family home.

The house that William Bowen built at 441 Madras Street.

The house that William Bowen built at 441 Madras Street.

Over the next 18 years William developed a very successful construction business in Christchurch, becoming one of the city’s foremost builders. As well as his St Albans residence, William owned large premises on Kilmore Street in the central city from which he operated his construction business (Press 2/3/1910). William worked on many major building projects in Christchurch. Some of these became well-known buildings of 19th century Christchurch, such as the Theatre Royal on Gloucester Street (Press 2/1/1907) and Warners Hotel in Cathedral Square (Press 12/7/1900). William was also very active in the building industry’s political scene, being the director of the Industrial Building Society (Press 21/5/1897) and president of the Builders and Contractors Association of Canterbury (Press 29/7/1906). He also seems to have enjoyed participating in Christchurch’s social and recreational clubs. William was vice-president of the Christchurch Amateur Rowing Club (Press 3/9/1904) and a member of the Canterbury Automobile club, for which he drove a ‘French car’ in their Easter rally (Press 8/4/1904).

William Bowen's professional advertisement (Star 1/5/1908).

William Bowen’s professional advertisement (Star 1/5/1908).

William also dabbled in property development. The year after they purchased 441 Madras Street William and Ellen Bowen bought the neighbouring property at 443 Madras Street and built a house there before selling it in 1896, presumably for a profit (LINZ 1890). This building was also recorded by archaeologists before it was demolished.

William Bowen died in 1909 (Star 8/10/1909). At the time of his death he owned another house and section at 483 Madras Street and two more undeveloped sections on Madras Street near Canon Street (Press  8/12/1910). The auction of his estate in 1912 provides an insight into his lifestyle through the list of chattels.

Advertisement for the sale of 441 Madras Street (Press 21/9/1912).

Advertisement for the sale of 441 Madras Street (Press 21/9/1912).

In contrast to his thriving professional and social life, the archaeological investigation of his house at 441 Madras Street revealed a surprisingly modest residence. The Bowens purchased 441 Madras Street at a time when the outskirts of Christchurch were rapidly developing their suburban character. William Bowen, with his residential life in St Albans and large business premises in the inner city, was typical of the movement towards separation of work and living space that was becoming increasingly common as the city of Christchurch grew and developed.

The section at 441 Madras Street was originally larger than it is today, with room for stables, a carriage shed and a motor shed (perhaps used to house the French car’ that William drove in the 1904 Automobile Club rally). However, the house itself, with eight rooms, was surprisingly modest for a man of means with a large family. In contrast, John Cracroft Wilson built himself an 11-roomed house in Cashmere for his family of three (in the 1850s). Bowen’s house was a single-storey weatherboard villa typical of those constructed in late 19th century New Zealand and, like most villas, was formulaic in design. The house was situated on the street front, with a verandah on its front elevation. A central hall ran the length of the house, with rooms opening off to either side.

Floorplan of the house at 441 Madras Street. Image: K. Webb.

Floor plan of the house at 441 Madras Street. Image: K. Webb.

No overt indications of conspicuous display were identified in the house. One might have expected a man such as William Bowen to have had a two-storey house, with ornate decorations, such as stained glass and cast iron work, on its exterior. The only stained glass around the front entrance of 441 Madras Street was installed in the 1980s. However, several decorative features were recorded inside. These included a mosaic of tessellated tiles at the foot of the front door, a moulded plaster hallway arch, and several ornate ceiling roses and picture rails. These features are not unusual in late 19th century Christchurch houses, and are particularly common in houses occupied by the respectable middle-class.

Decorative features in the house at 441 Madrass Street. Clockwise from left: the mosaic of tessellated tiles at the foot of the front door; detail of the moulded hall arch; detail of a picture rail; one of the moulded ceiling roses. Images: K. Watson.

Decorative features in the house at 441 Madrass Street. Clockwise from left: the mosaic of tessellated tiles at the foot of the front door; detail of the moulded hall arch; detail of a picture rail; one of the moulded ceiling roses. Images: K. Watson.

The house had five fireplaces, four of which remained in their original condition. These fireplaces had moulded timber surrounds and were decorated with embossed patterns or colourful painted tiles. One fireplace was of particular interest. Along with decorative tiles, the fireplace had embossed panels emblazoned with the words ‘The Congo’ and the head of a mustachioed man flanked by two lions. This man was identified as Sir Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh-American journalist and explorer famous for uttering “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” upon discovering the missionary in Tanzania in 1871. Stanley had a long and complicated association with the Congo region, one that has subsequently been approached with criticism (Driver 1991). It is not clear why Stanley’s head was considered appropriate decoration for a suburban fireplace in Christchurch. Perhaps it was created in celebration of his feats of exploration. Or perhaps it was produced by a fireplace manufacturer named for the Congo. At the height of his popularity, Stanley’s image was used to sell “everything from soap to Bovril” (Driver 1991: 134).

Fireplace panel embossed with the head of Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Image: K. Watson.

Fireplace panel embossed with the head of Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Image: K. Watson.

The historical sources depict William Bowen as an extremely industrious and successful tradesman, active in both professional and social organisations. He was not only employed on major construction projects, but dabbled in property development and was presumably wealthy. The archaeological examination of his residence adds a new dimension to this image. While a comfortable residence, 441 Madras Street was more modest than what could have been expected of a prominent tradesman with a large family. It is possible that the house was built before the height of William’s success, and the family did not feel the need to change it. Alternatively, the residence could be attributed to William’s personal taste, and presumably that of his family, and may have been related to his religious faith.

William Bowen was a member of the Methodist (Wesleyan) church, and prominent in Methodist affairs in Christchurch. Several contemporary newspaper items indicate that both William and Ellen were active members of the St Albans Crescent Road Wesleyan Church (Press 1/5/1897) and that William was president of the Wesleyan Sunday School Union (Press 8/12/1900). The Methodist church emphasised discipline and social responsibility (Shoebridge 2012), and their religious affiliation no doubt influenced the Bowens’ lifestyle, including the house William built for his family on Madras Street.

Rosie Geary Nichol


Driver, F., 1991. Henry Morton Stanley and his Critics: Geography, Exploration and Empire. Past and Present 133: 134-166.

LINZ, 1890. Certificate of title, CB144/91. Landonline.

LINZ, 1891. Certificate of title, CB147/38. Landonline.

Press. [online] Available at:

Shoebridge, T., 2012. Methodist Church. [online] Available at:

Star. [online] Available at:

Let me tell you a story…

Historical archaeology has many facets, it includes recording buildings and features, artefact analysis, names and dates, but if you take a moment, collaborate all that data, you have a powerful tool for telling someone’s story. Some call this type of analysis ‘interpretative archaeology’ or ‘storytelling’ and both of these are right in a way. In its most simplest form, it is an attempt tell the story of those ordinary moments lost in time. When an assemblage containing a large number of children’s toys came through our doors we believed we had a topic to blog about. If we could, through the analysis of both the archaeological remains and the historical documents, identify the children who had played with these toys, how interesting would that be, what stories could be told. I’ll be the first to admit it, this proved more difficult than I initially anticipated.

Selection of children's items from Moorhouse Ave. Image Gwen Jackson.

Selection of children’s items from Moorhouse Ave. Image: Gwen Jackson.

These artefacts were part of an assemblage from Moorhouse Avenue, where over 600 artefacts were recovered, many of them domestic in form. Preliminary historical research showed that there was a house on the section in 1877; however, the vague nature of land transaction records and land occupation records mean that we can’t definitively pin down who lived in this house. This was complicated further by a range of other factors: the owner of a section was not always its occupant in 19th and early 20th century Christchurch; the next map or plan that shows the area in question wasn’t published until 1915 (LINZ 1915); and, worst of all, the street numbers in central Christchurch changed completely in 1911 – the streets were numbered from a different end, and the odd and even numbers switched sides. One can only describe this as a researcher’s nightmare.

Street Adress Numbers 2

Wise’s Directory (left to right) 1910, 1911 and 1912 – note 1911 changes from odds to evens and from higher to lower numbers.

In spite of these complications, we know that the section was the site of domestic occupation until the mid 1910s (when ownership was taken over by the Tai Tapu Dairy Company), and we have at least two potential candidates: Jason and Maggie Isbester, who may have lived on the site from 1905-1908; and Frederick Hammond, who may have lived on the section from 1908 to at least 1913. But both proved elusive in the historical records, so we had no way to confirm our hypotheses.

 Aynsley tea cup. Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

Aynsley tea cup. Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

So in absence of definitive historical records we turn to artefacts: what do the artefacts tell us, what story do they unravel to both the trained and untrained eye? A number of artefacts can be identified as ‘early’ due to their functional nature. The presence of candlesticks, gas lanterns and chamber pots suggest occupation of this house predated the advent of utilities such as sewerage and electricity. Moorhouse Avenue was connected to Christchurch’s sewerage system by 1882 (Wilson 1989) and electricity was available in the early 1900s. These artefacts represent Christchurch prior to the installation of modern services.

Tea pot, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

Tea pot, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

Whoever was living at the site in the late 19th and early 20th century appear to be reasonably affluent and may have been from the middle class. This assumption is based on the composition of the artefact assemblage, with a number of food serving dishes and the large number of children’s toys and other personal items. A number of serving platters or deep square dishes, champagne bottles, vinegar bottles and food vessels suggest the occupants liked to entertain at dinner parties, as was common for the middle and upper classes in the 19th and early 20th century. To find such a concentration of children’s toys in a single archaeological deposit is rare, as children are often surprisingly invisible in the archaeological record. Items of personal hygiene included everything from a toothbrush and accompanying toothpaste jar but also numerous perfume and cosmetic jars.


Dinner plate, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Gwen Jackson.

Entertaining ad for Kruschen. The Evening Post 16/01/1928: 19

Ad for Kruschen Salts (Evening Post 16/01/1928: 19).

A variety of pharmaceuticals were found in the deposit, which suggests a reliance on selfmedication for ailments – this is a common feature in historic New Zealand sites and as common as finding a Panadol box in your rubbish. Some of those bottles found included Jeyes Fluid, which acted as a disinfectant and antiseptic, Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure for coughs and colds and one called Kruschen salts which, well, let’s say it dealt with the more unpleasant side of the digestive tract.


Bottle with the label of J. Berry, a Christchurch chemist. Image: Jaden Harris.

A number of paint supplies were also collected from the site, with one paint dish identified to Reeves and Son Ltd, a firm which started operation in 1891 (Grace’s Guide 2007). It is assumed that the paint brushes found in the site were used at the same time as the paint dish, due to their functional association.

Ad for Reeves and Son Ltd. Grace's Guide: 1924

1924 ad for Reeves and Son Ltd (Grace’s Guide 2007).

So what does it all mean really? I did say we tend to use numbers, dates and names.  But we also tell stories. Perhaps what we have is a story of a girl in the late 1890s who grew up in a somewhat affluent Christchurch home. As a daily chore she would exit the rear of her house and empty the chamber pots and as payment for her daily chores her father, the painter, rewarded her with toys (given New Zealand’s “servant problem”, there was probably no servant). As she sits with her figurine dolls and her tea set, her parents entertain with food served in large Willow patterned and Wild Rose vessels with candles glimmering in the night light. The cold air means the Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure will be on hand tomorrow. Actually, her mother’s bad cooking probably means Kruschen will be used as well. As the wine pours, the little 19th century girls heads to bed, she brushes her teeth and says her prayers, for tomorrow is another day of more chamber pots and the promise of new toys.

This is only one interpretation, and yes, it is a story but it’s that one moment lost in time given life for a brief moment. Perhaps I could encourage you to offer us your interpretation?

 Kimberley Bone


Evening Post. [online] Available at

Grace’s Guide, 2007. Reeves and Sons. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 14th June 2013].

 LINZ, 1915. DP 4334, Canterbury. Landonline.

National Portrait Gallery, 2013. British Artists’ Suppliers, 1650-1950 -R. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 14th June 2013].

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch Swamp to City: A short history of the Christchurch drainage board 1875-1989. Te Waihora Press: Lincoln, New Zealand.

Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories. [microfiche] Held at Christchurch City Libraries.