A changing world

Last week, Jessie’s post mentioned MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese, an early 20th century foodstuff we found in Christchurch. This cheese pot, which looked so insignificant and sounded so odd, represents one of the steps en route to our modern culinary world. Even finding it on a site in Christchurch is representative of much that was changing in the 19th century. Today we think nothing of eating food from all over the world, some of which arrives on boats and some on planes. In fact, for many of us, much of what we eat probably isn’t produced in New Zealand, in spite of the importance of farming and horticulture in our current economy – and historically.

Maclaren's Imperial Cheese: then and now. Images: J. Garland & Clockwork Lemon blog.

MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese: then and now. Images: J. Garland & Clockwork Lemon.

What was this MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese? Modern descriptions – yep, you can still buy it – describe it as grated cheddar, but it looks like anything but. Sure, the cheddar might have been grated, but then a few other things are no doubt mixed in. Today, a range of preservatives have probably been added. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who knows what it was. But even then, it’s unlikely just to have been grated cheese, as that probably wouldn’t have survived the journey from Canada to New Zealand in good condition.

There are a range of things that are interesting about MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese turning up in  early 20th century Christchurch. Firstly, it’s an ‘added value’ product, and those weren’t nearly so common in the 19th century as they are now. It represents a divergence from the sale of plain old ordinary cheese (or not so ordinary in some cases ) to something that has led to the plastic cheese slices that many of us probably had in our school lunches – or, if you’re American, to Kraft cheese, which was possibly quite closely related to MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese.

Secondly, even in the late 19th and early 20th century, New Zealand was producing a lot of dairy products. Not quite on the scale we do now, and we couldn’t export it then. So why on earth would we need to import Canadian cheese? (No offence to Canadians.) And how could it compete on the New Zealand market when it had been shipped that distance? And what on earth had been added to it to make it last that long? These aren’t questions we necessarily think about much these days – the speed of travel often means that nothing needs to be added to a food product to make it last the journey half way around the globe. And then there are other products with a shelf life of five years. Five years. Unimaginable in 19th century Christchurch.

A 1902 article discussing the sale of MacLaren's Imperial Cheese (albeit with a spelling mistake). Image: Evening Post 10/7/1902: 4.

A 1902 article discussing the sale of MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese (albeit with a spelling mistake). Image: Evening Post 10/7/1902: 4.

An early 20th century grocer's advertisement. Image: Poverty Bay Herald 13/6/1902: 2.

An early 20th century grocer’s advertisement. Image: Poverty Bay Herald 13/6/1902: 2.

Which brings me to the third point that makes MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese in turn of the  century Christchurch so interesting. People mostly bought fresh produce in the 19th century. There was no such thing as a supermarket, although grocers did sell a range of products. You might have kept a dairy cow, pigs and/or chooks to supply some products (yes, even in the city); meat would have come from the butcher (or maybe from one of those pigs); and you might have grown your own vegetables, or bought them from the greengrocer, who probably only sold locally grown vegetables. Now, let’s not get too rose-tinted spectacles about this: it would’ve meant no – or very few or very expensive – bananas, oranges, blueberries, aubergines or any of those other things we love so much.

As mentioned last week, Kraft now own and produce MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese. And MacLaren’s may not have been that dissimilar to the original Kraft cheese, which was first manufactured in 1915, by one James Kraft. James was a cheese seller, peddling his cheddar from his cart around the city of Chicago. His business wasn’t doing too badly but the problem was that his cheese went off pretty quickly in the Chicago heat. But then he discovered that if he melted his cheese, while stirring it constantly, the fats didn’t ‘bleed out’ and he could pour the resulting mixture into a can and sell it. And it didn’t spoil in the heat (Moss 2013: 162-163). Voila! A revolution that changed the world. Think I’m overstating the case? Maybe. But look at Kraft’s position in the world today. And think about our current obesity epidemic, and all the causes that have been cited for that.

That seemingly innocuous jar of MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese, then, represents change. Change from a relatively local diet – and yes, to use modern parlance, a relatively low impact diet – to one where, in theory at least, anything in the world can be eaten anywhere at anytime, processed food can have a shelf life of five years, and all the change that has wrought.

Katharine Watson


Clockwork Lemon, 2012. Savory cheddar chive shortbread. [online] Available at: http://www.clockworklemon.com/2012/12/cheddar-chive-shortbread.html.

Evening Post. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Moss, M., 2013. Salt Sugar Fat: How the food giants hooked us. W. H. Allen, London.

Poverty Bay Herald. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Food, glorious food!

Food, in all its myriad forms, can be one of the most intrinsic and expressive aspects of culture and society – throughout time and across the world. From the customs surrounding the preparation and consumption of food to the ingredients themselves, we are, as they say, what (and how) we eat. Looking at the nature of food in past societies and cultures can be a rewarding exercise in finding both the strange and the familiar in the lives of those who’ve gone before us. After all, what is more universal yet more varied than food?

From a purely archaeological perspective, our impressions of past meals and culinary traditions are limited by what survives in the archaeological record. In the case of 19th European century sites, this usually consists of animal remains and glass, metal or ceramic food containers: the only physical remnants of a much broader, much more varied array of food and drink. Ceramic or glass serving dishes and table wares can also provide information, usually on the how, rather than the what, of food consumption, but often prove difficult to interpret. Animal remains – the butchered bones of cattle, sheep, pig and poultry – are the most common evidence of food itself that we find, but I’m going to leave them for another post and focus here on what we can learn from the food containers we’ve found in Christchurch.

Unfortunately, because we’re limited to food containers, as the durable remnants of 19th century culinary habits, our understanding of food types is skewed towards long-life items (i.e. preserves), condiments, and packaged foods rather than fresh ingredients. As a result, we see a lot of foods that are additives to meals (like condiments) rather than meals or major ingredients themselves. Even more than that, we’re restricted by what we can identify: distinctive containers used for specific food types or those labelled with the identity of their contents.

Examples of commonly found food containers from 19th century Christchurch sites. Left) A salad oil bottle. Middle) Embossed base from jar of W & W's table salt. Right) Still labelled bottle of Mellor & Co's Worcestershire sauce, a competing product to Lea & Perrins. Images: J. Garland.

Examples of commonly found food containers from 19th century Christchurch sites. Left: A salad oil bottle. Middle: Embossed base from jar of W & W’s table salt. Right: Still labelled bottle of Mellor & Co’s Worcestershire sauce, a competing product to Lea & Perrins. Images: J. Garland.


19th century Lea & Perrins bottle found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Many of these are products that wouldn’t be unusual to find in the modern pantry and, in fact, some of them are still made today. Commonly found items like salad oil, table salt, pickles, sauces or flavoured essences are all familiar additions to modern cuisine, albeit in slightly different packaging than their Victorian counterparts. Other products, like Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce have persisted in popularity under the same brand for over a century: in the case of Lea and Perrins, it’s been over 170 years since its introduction. Similarly, foodstuffs like anchovy paste continue to appeal to the same subset of people who like really salty fish puree as they did in the 1800s. As a side note, my favourite 19th century use for anchovy paste involves spreading it on fried bread and topping with a generous helping of whipped cream (Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67). Takers, anyone?


An Anchovy Paste jar found in Christchurch and accompanying recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.

An anchovy paste jar found in Christchurch and accompanying recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.

As well as the more ordinary foods, however, we do come across a few weird and wonderful items during our investigations. Some of these only seem unusual at first glance, but wow, is it a strange first glance. Crosse & Blackwell’s calves’ foot jelly, for example, sounds less than appetising until you remember that gelatine (even modern gelatine) is derived from the bones, tendons and skin of various animals. Unlike modern gelatine products, though, calves’ foot jelly has no compunctions about promoting its ingredients: recipes for the jelly involved boiling calves feet in a stewing pan, removing the fat and straining before flavouring the mixture, usually with citrus (Auckland Star 26/10/1929: 4). In this sense, the jelly is an interesting reminder of how our attitudes towards the consumption of animal products have changed since the 19th century. We now produce and consume animal products on a colossal scale, yet are, thanks to the packaged nature of the food industry, more removed from the origins and preparation of those products than we’ve ever been. As the calves foot jelly reminds us, this was far less true of the 19th century.

Calves foot jelly

Left: Labelled bottle of Crosse & Blackwell’s calves foot jelly found in Christchurch. Right Advertisement from 1898. Calves’ foot jelly was frequently listed as a flavour of jelly in its own right by retailers in 19th century newspaper advertisements, right alongside raspberry, blackcurrant and orange. Images: J. Garland and Feilding Star 9/04/1898: 2.

In contrast to the honest marketing of the calves’ foot jelly, products like Virol bone marrow paste elicit our revulsion (well, for me they do) thanks to the use of ingredients that have long since been replaced with more palatable alternatives. Virol contained a mixture of bone marrow, malt extract, eggs, lemon syrup, lime salts and iron salts. Bone marrow is still eaten today (it’s something of a delicacy in some places), but it’s the combination of the fatty, spongy marrow with the lemon syrup and malt extract that makes my taste buds shrivel in horror. It was advertised as a health food for infants and invalids, in order to “build sturdy limbs, good teeth and a strong constitution”, so maybe it wasn’t really about the taste (Auckland Star 25/06/1925: 9).  Nowadays, of course, such results would more often be obtained from calcium rich, often dairy-based, foods rather than bone marrow.

Stoneware bottle of Virol bone marrow paste found in Christchurch and a modern bone marrow dish. Yum? Images: J. Garland and Flavour Boulevard

Stoneware bottle of Virol bone marrow paste found in Christchurch (left) and a modern dish of roasted bone marrow (right). Erm, yum? Images: J. Garland and Flavour Boulevard.

Other unusual foodstuffs stand out as much for their innovation and unexpectedly early existence as for their probable bad taste. We tend to think of processed foods as being something of a recent invention, yet the 19th century had its fair-share of such products (Wood 1974: 20). One such example found in Christchurch was Maclaren’s Imperial Cheese, a Canadian-manufactured ‘spreadable cheese’ from the early 1900s (next week’s post is going to look at this product in more detail; Badgely 1998). Maclaren’s, which is still produced by the Kraft Foods Group, was initially made from ground cheddar, and enjoyed immense popularity. It’s described in turn of the century advertisements as the “cheese of the hour” (Hawera & Normanby Star 16/12/1904: 3) and “one of the most appetising luxuries [that] the world produces” (Press 5/01/1907: 10). That last one may have been a slight exaggeration…

Maclaren's Imperial Cheese: then and now. Images: J. Garland & Clockwork Lemon blog.

Maclaren’s Imperial Cheese: then and now. Images: J. Garland & Clockwork Lemon blog.

Although they provide an incomplete picture of Victorian tastes, the types of food-related artefacts I’ve mentioned here can still offer us fascinating insights into the lives of 19th century people and the relevance of those lives – and eating habits – to the modern world. Despite their ability to make us (well, me) recoil in disgust, these products can still challenge our preconceptions of food in society and culture, our own included. Most of all, though, these artefacts offer us an almost tangible taste connection between our own experiences and those of our forebears in this city, and the rest of the world. It may be a foul tasting connection, but it’s a connection nonetheless.

Jessie Garland


Auckand Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Badgely, K. 1998. Maclaren, Alexander Ferguson. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. [online] Available at www.biographi.ca

Feilding Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Hawera and Normanby Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Otago Witness. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Wood, J. A. 1974. Victorian New Zealanders. A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd, Wellington.

Tales of a house

So, that message in a bottle? Well, it turns out it wasn’t the only interesting thing about the site it came from. A fellmongery, German Danes, shoes… read on!

First up, the bottle came from under a house built in 1887 (the land transaction records had suggested 1885, when the first mortgage was taken against the land; LINZ 1885). From the outside, this looked like a fairly standard 1880s villa (albeit modified), but inside – and its history – were not quite so standard. The differences inside weren’t that huge, but you have to understand that, in the 1880s and 1890s, there was little deviation from the standard plan for single-storey villas, so even the smallest difference is telling. On the outside, your standard villa might be flat-fronted or have a bay or two, and there might be some variation in the number of windows on the street-facing façade (depending on how much money you wanted to spend). Inside, villas of this type tended to have four rooms in the main body of the house, two on each side of a central hall. And there might have been some additional service rooms to the rear of this.

 The house. The conservatory on the left was originally a veranda. Photo: K. Webb.

The house. The conservatory on the left was originally a veranda. Photo: K. Webb.

As I said, this one wasn’t so very different. Instead of a central hall, it had a sort of T-shaped hall, with six rooms opening off it. Not only was the hall a different shape, but there were more rooms than usual in the main body of the house, although the house was roughly the same footprint as the standard villa (and the house’s layout had barely been modified since it was built). And only one of the front rooms opened off the front hall – normally both did. While this detail seems particularly small, it’s actually more significant than the hall shape/position.

In the standard villa design, the front hall and the two front rooms, both of which opened off it, were the ‘public’ part of the house, where visitors were likely to be entertained. Usually, this part of the house was separated from the ‘private’ part by an arch in the hall, and guests were unlikely to pass from the public area to the private area. One of the front rooms was the parlour or drawing room and the other was the master bedroom, where guests might leave their coats (Stewart 2002). It’s always seemed slightly odd to me that the master bedroom was part of the public area of the house, and clearly it wasn’t in this house. Visitors would only have gone into the parlour, nowhere else.

The house’s history revealed that it was built for Neils Carl Heinrich Püschel (without recourse to a mortgage) and transferred shortly thereafter to Tryphona Püschel, his wife. The Püschels owned the house until 1896, when it appears to have been sold as a mortgagee sale (LINZ 1888).

Püschel. Not a very English name, that. The family was of German origin, although Neils – who was generally known as Carl – was born in Denmark. In fact, three Püschel brothers came to Canterbury, only one of whom was born in Germany. John, the eldest, and Carl established a fellmongery (where sheepskins were prepared) in Rangiora, before setting up a fellmongery in Avonside in the late 1870s. That’s right, Avonside – hard to imagine now! By 1887, however, Carl Püschel was no longer part of the business, which William Püschel continued to run on his own, albeit with funding from John Püschel (Macdonald n.d.: P610, 611;  Watson 2013).

So could the layout of the house be explained as a fusion of New Zealand and German/Danish architecture? We don’t know, but it’s an intriguing possibility.

During our work on the house, we were fortunate enough to meet Jenny, the most recent owner. Jenny’s parents had bought the house in the 1920s, and Jenny had grown up there and lived there until the earthquakes changed everything. Jenny told us some awesome stories about the house, including how, after they’d bought the house, her parents journeyed to Christchurch on the train, complete with Dolly the cow. As a teenager, Jenny and her friends had played tennis on the lawn in front of the house (where Dolly had once grazed), with the aim of catching the eye of the local lads!

Not only did Jenny share her stories with us, she also shared her collection of early 20th century shoes –  her father was a Pannell of the Pannell bootmaking business. And she showed us a catalogue produced by the Pannells in c.1903-1904, containing all sorts of information about the most wonderful  sounding shoes: Goloshed Balmorals, Watertight Bluchers or Lorne Shoes, anyone?

Lace-up lady's ankle boots, with a military stacked heel and machine stitching along the vamp, tip and back quarter of the upper, c.1900-1920. Photo: J. Garland.

Lace-up lady’s ankle boots, with a military stacked heel and machine stitching along the vamp, tip and back quarter of the upper, c.1900-1920. Photo: J. Garland.

And then there’s that message in a bottle. But first, the bottle itself, which a number of you commented on, with a couple of you identifying the label. Jessie’s research indicates that the label represents two different companies: Read Brothers and Bass Brewery. The Read Brothers Bottling Company was founded in 1877 by William Thomas Read and John Walter Read. They were based in London and were among the largest, if not the largest, of the London bottling companies, inventing their own bottling machines as well as buying up and reusing old alcohol bottles from across London. The Bull Dog trademark, along with the ‘Dog’s Head’ brand, was registered by them in 1877 and featured the image of a bull dog in a circle on the label (Hughes 2006).


Read Brothers were closely associated with the Bass Brewery and their products, originally bottling only Bass sparkling champagne, cider and Guinness. By the early 1900s they were the largest exporter of Bass Pale Ale in the world.  Bass Brewery, usually represented by the red triangle seen on the label, was founded in 1777 by William Bass in Burton upon Trent. Their characteristic red triangle has the distinction of being the first trademark registered in the UK, under the Trademark Registration Act of 1875 (Hughes 2006).

DSC_0091ed1_web Advertisements in New Zealand newspapers frequently link the two companies from 1878 until 1886, after which the two are mentioned in separate advertisements for quite a time. Then in 1911, they appear again in the same advertisements. We’re not sure exactly what this means!

 An 1878 advertisement for Bass's Pale Ale, bottled by the Read brothers. Image: New Zealand Herald 13/6/1878: 4.

An 1878 advertisement for Bass’s Pale Ale, bottled by the Read brothers. Image: New Zealand Herald 13/6/1878: 4.

As for the message itself, well, I reckon that one of my colleagues got it right when he suggested it was a prank. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly, although the names on the message are difficult to make out, we couldn’t find any of the possibilities we tried in Papers Past – or at least, we couldn’t make any that we found work, in terms of time, place and/or occupation. And you’d expect an ‘Hon.’ to turn up the newspapers, even if a humble labourer didn’t. Secondly, the spelling mistakes, including of some quite basic words, such as bottle. Thirdly, since the earthquakes, we’ve seen a number of time capsules reported on. There’s something about time capsules that’s undeniably appealing, perhaps through that sense of a very direct message from the past. So, perhaps some workers on the site thought they’d have a good laugh by aping those time capsules and leaving their own message for the future.

Kirsa Webb, Jessie Garland & Katharine Watson


Hughes, D., 2006. “A Bottle of Guinness Please”: The colourful history of Guinness. Phimboy, Berkshire.

LINZ, 1885. Certificate of Title CB105/33. Landonline.

LINZ, 1888. Certificate of Title CB133/286. Landonline.

Macdonald, G. R., n.d. Macdonald dictionary of Canterbury biography. Canterbury Museum.

New Zealand Herald. Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Stewart, D., 2002. The New Zealand Villa: Past and present. Penguin, Auckland.

Watson, K., 2013. Avonside wool scour: an archaeological assessment. Unpublished report for CERA.