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.

14 thoughts on “Tales of a house

  1. Just saw the ‘message in a bottle’ update, Katherine; I hadn’t seen it before now. I’m a friend of young Gwen Jackson. My thoughts:
    (1) the obvious – is it written in ink or in ballpoint? If ballpoint, will be a hoax.
    (2) is that an umlaut I see on the first name?
    (3) ‘bottel’ spelling suggests Dutch, German or Afrikaans as language of the writer – may be tied to the umlaut, and could tie in with the surname of ‘witness’ that is NOT the same letter ‘ n’ as used earlier so might be an altogether different name than bOnd might be BaSd (or t) ez ….
    (4) the 2nd ‘amen’ may not be amen at all
    (5) Jesous ?? may not be mis-spelling but language related- although I cant tell which..
    (6) if legit, may all have been written by the ‘Witness’ or by neither of those mentioned, ie by a person of another 1st language, thus explaining the spelling…

    • Hi Beth,
      You raise some good points, especially about the language vs. spelling, and given the connections the house already has with Germans/Danes – we’ll need to look into it some more, and search for some more variants of those names, which could have been anglicised in the newspapers.

  2. Its probable that “bottel” is not a miss-spelling. It may refer to a centuries old song called “The old Leather Bottel” which is chiefly about alcohol in a leather bottel.
    Bottel is actually a real word and refers to bottles made from leather which was a common and cheap alternative to glass. “Bottel” is one of the historically correct ways of spelling the name of this item. This spelling was used liberally before 1600, but appears to dwindle somewhat after that.
    The spelling of bottel on this “time capsule note” may be a direct nod to this fun song, given also, that the receptacle is also an alcohol container.

    The song had been popular right up until the 19th century. Various illustrated texts were published including a popular series of pictures which appeared in Harpers magazine from 1886 – 1889. It is very likely that this song was well known to the men and women of Christchurch during the late 1800’s.

    Also, Hon. can also be used in a casual way between “mates” as a jokey affectation.
    And just because you can’t find them in papers past, does not mean that they didn’t exist. It seems that’s the only source you guys ever use…

  3. and, sorry, I forgot to add that Jesous (if indeed it is spelt that way) is also not a spelling mistake. It is a known alternative of “Jesus” and was also used as a first name.

    The Huron Carol, for example, is an old christmas song written in 1643, and uses this spelling in its title. (Jesous Ahatonhia” (Jesus, he is born) ).

    This version of the name Jesus was likely well known in the god fearing 1800’s, but has been obviously well and truly forgotten by us ignorant heathens of the 21st century.

    As for other spelling mistakes, well I cant really see any more. Amen is definitely amen amen..its just a bit of an extra flurry at the end..saviour, savour, again just a style of writing. All pretty basic stuff really…

  4. Ahhh! But I see one more spelling mistake albeit not on a message, but in the post. Pannells were Bootmakers…not Bookmakers ;o)

    Fabulous post though. History of houses is often overlooked yet can tell us so much.


  5. Hi Katherine (and Jessie/Kirsa) –
    Your blog is absolutely awesome! I thought I’d just mention that we had some problems with a search index on Papers Past over the christmas/new year period, which resulted in lots of “0 results” search returns – this might explain why you got nothing when searching for your “hon.” when researching the message in the bottle.

    Kind regards from the Papers Past team 🙂

  6. It is so lovely to find this post! These Püschel’s were the brothers of my great great grandmother. Knowing that they worked in Avonside – streets I walked many days of my young life- gives me such a warm feeling. Thank you for sharing all of this.

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