Everything’s coming up roses (and lilies and jasmine and violets)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man or woman in possession of natural body odour is most definitely in want of something to cover it up. At least, in today’s society, it certainly seems to be considered unacceptable to smell like unadulterated human in polite company (except in sporting situations or extreme, unavoidable situations – running from Godzilla comes to mind). In day to day life, we are expected to smell nice, or at least neutral, necessitating the application of a lot of perfume and deodorant in a never-ending crusade against the social iniquity of body odour.

It should come as no surprise to realise that this is not a new phenomenon, even if the use and popularity of perfume and deodorant has grown significantly in the past century. In the 19th century, certainly, the fragrance industry was a flourishing one. One (English) set of statistics from 1881, for example, claimed that Europe and British India consumed approximately 150,000 gallons of handkerchief perfume yearly (for something usually measured in drops, that is a LOT). Furthermore, English revenue from Eau de Cologne cashed in at around £8000 annually and the total English revenue from other imported perfumes at £40,000 per year, a fairly significant amount by the standards of the time (New Zealand Herald 27/08/1881: 7).

Perfume illustration and rhyme. Image:

Perfume illustration and rhyme. Image: Auckland Star 21/12/1929: 10.

The wonderfully named ‘scent farms’ on which the floral foundations of these perfumes were grown offer similarly substantial statistics on the provision of hundreds of thousands of pounds of flowers and blossoms to perfume distilleries throughout the world. One single distillery in France used approximately 100,000 pounds of acacia flowers, 140,000 pounds of rare flower leaves, 32,000 pounds of jasmine blossoms and 20,000 of tuberose blossoms in one year (Wairarapa Daily Times 26/03/1884: 2). I know, rationally, that these quantities must have been delivered and used over the course of the whole year, but I really can’t help imagining what that many flowers would look like delivered on the doorstep all at once (utterly delightful and horribly, traumatically allergy inducing, I think).

All of this perfume was eagerly and, in some cases, insanely, devoured by the bromidrophobic Victorian public (apparently, bromidrophobia is the fear of body odour – the things you learn in archaeology!). Contemporary accounts range from the faintly disparaging description of “the ballroom where the frou-frou of smart femininity exhales a violet fragrance” to tales of insane fads like the injection of artificial fragrance beneath the skin. To take it even further, one report on the “perfumes which ruin lives” recounts the stories of several people who inhaled or consumed perfume to the point of addiction, ill-health and death (Otago Witness 4/02/1897: 49).

Article on the popular fad of injecting perfumes subcutaneously. Image:

Article on the popular fad of injecting perfumes subcutaneously. Image: Auckland Star 11/03/1899: 2.

People didn’t just use artificial fragrance on themselves, however. Perfume was used to improve the smell of all manner of things, from clothing and handkerchiefs to notepaper and, memorably, butter. There were even perfume pills, made to be carried around in handbags and pockets as a neat and tidy repository of pleasant aromas. We’ve talked about the smells of life in the Victorian era here before on the blog, both inside and outside the house: in the perfumed accoutrements of daily life, there’s another smell to be considered (perhaps a response to some of the more unsavoury aromas people suffered through in the past).

Description of perfumed butter from 1894.

Description of perfumed butter from 1894. Image: Bruce Herald 19/10/1894: 3.

It’s interesting, then, considering the obvious popularity of fragrances amongst the Victorian population, to learn that we find comparatively few perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. They’re not rare, but they’re not common either. Those that we do find tend to be predominantly the products of European or English manufacturers, such as J. M. Farina, Eugene Rimmel and Piesse & Lubin. The one exception seems to be Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water, made in America.

Piesse & Lubin perfume bottle found in Christchurch.

Piesse & Lubin perfume bottle found in Christchurch. Piesse & Lubin were established in London in 1855 and continued to manufacture perfumes and related products into the 20th century. Image: G. Jackson.

Eugene Rimmel and Jean Maria Farina were both titans of the perfume (and cosmetics, in Rimmel’s case) industry during the 19th century. Rimmel was the son of a French perfumer, who moved to London in 1820 to manage a perfumery on Bond Street, before opening his own establishment in 1834 with his son (aged 14 at the time). The company became hugely successful, expanding from perfumes to sell a range of cosmetics, hair products and personal hygiene items: they’re still one of the biggest cosmetic manufacturers in Britain today (Rimmel 2015). As far as perfumes went, Rimmel sold a range of fragrances and related products, from perfume vaporisers and fountains to lavender water and “toilet vinegar”, advertised as a “tonic and refreshing adjunct to the Toilet or Bath, a reviving perfume and a powerful disinfectant” (Nelson Evening Mail 28/02/1884: 1). He secured a royal warrant for his efforts, being named as the official perfumer to both Queen Victoria and the Princess of Wales (Wellington Independent 10/04/1866: 3).

Rimmel bottle base found in Christchurch. Image: G. Jackson.

Rimmel bottle base found in Christchurch. Image: G. Jackson.

J. M. Farina, on the other hand, was famous as the name behind the ubiquitous Eau de Cologne, the fragrance that took its name from Cologne, Germany, the town in which the Farina family had been based since the early 18th century (Farina 2015). As it happens, one of the Farina bottles found in Christchurch, despite being associated with the family name, was in fact produced and named after the establishment of another Cologne based perfumery run by the Mulhens family. The famous 4711 eau de cologne was first made by Wilhelm Mulhens at the end of the 18th century and named for the building in which it was produced. However, before the 4711 brand was adopted in the 1880s, Mulhens marketed his fragrance under the Farina name, leading to some confusion and a lengthy battle with the Farina family (Newton 2013).

Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Interestingly, both the 4711 and the Farina Eau de Cologne seem to have had slightly more masculine overtones, with advertisements making note that – in contrast to Rimmel’s products – “the Prince of Wales has appointed, under Royal Warrant, Johann Maria Farina… to be manufacturer of Eau de Cologne for the Prince of Wales and his Royal Highness’s household” (Wellington Independent 19/11/1873: 3). The notion of perfume and fragrances as ‘gendered’ is a particularly interesting one, and something that I’ll talk about in more detail in next week’s post.

Contemporary descriptions of Eau de Cologne suggest that it had a strong citrus and bergamot fragrance, with one account listing the ingredients as “twelve drops each of essential oils neroli, citron, bergamot, orange and rosemary, along with one drachm of Malabar cardamoms and a gallon of rectified spirit” (Press 23/12/1887: 5). It seems likely that the 4711 had a similar fragrance, although the only description I could find just emphasised the particularly alcoholic base with which the cologne was made (Auckland Star 14/06/1890: 1).

Unfortunately, as far as the other perfumes go, unless the name of the fragrance is embossed on the bottle, we don’t know which ‘flavours’ of perfume were contained within them. Contemporary sources indicate that floral scents were popular, as they are today, with many manufacturers advertising fragrances like jasmine, rose, heliotrope, lily, etc. Others seem to have been specific to the 19th century, with one French company advertising a fragrance with the scent of ‘freshly mown hay.’ There’s even an advertisement for a ‘Geisha’ perfume.

A recipe for the 'celebrated lily of the valley perfume', one of the popular scents of the 19th century. Image:

A recipe for the “celebrated lily of the valley perfume”, one of the popular scents of the 19th century. Image: Lake Wakatip Mail 26/05/1893: 3.

Certain scents were frowned upon: musk was not well liked, with one 1891 article going so far as to suggest that “the King of Holland got a divorce from his wife because she used musk as a perfume. There are many people who think this sufficient cause…” (Oamaru Mail 1/08/1891: 3). And, amusing as that anecdote is, it’s symptomatic of a broader trend in contemporary (and modern) writing on the subject of perfume and the people who wear it. Several of the commentators that I came across talked of individual perfumes as an indication of a person’s character, particularly when it came to women. Even more than a sign of good or bad taste, a person’s perfume seems to have been seen (or sniffed, I suppose) as a manifestation of that person’s personality and place in life.

There’s something really interesting to be untangled here, in terms of how we – now and in the past – use personal fragrance as a way to define, maintain and reinforce individual and collective identity. Just think about how much your perfume says about you (or others): is it feminine, masculine, modern, old fashioned, cheap, expensive, designer, celebrity, professional, flirty, playful, down to earth, clean or any one of the other identity markers we use to describe the way we smell? It’s a really fascinating aspect of social behaviour but, for the sake of space and our attention spans, one that we’ll save for next week’s post.

Jessie Garland


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

Farina, 2015. Farina: the birthplace of Eau de Cologne. [online] Available at www.farina1709.de.

Nelson Evening Mail. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Newton, D., 2013. Trademarked: A History of Well-Known Brands, from Airtex to Wrights Coal Tar. The History Press, Gloucestershire.

Oamaru Mail. [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.

Rimmel, 2015. About Rimmel. [online] Available at www.us.rimmellondon.com.

Wairarapa Daily Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Of all the gin joints.

Picture this. A summer’s day: clear blue skies and the heat of the afternoon sunshine, just the hint of a breeze. You might be in a garden, sheltering from the sun in the shade of the tree or under a verandah, relaxing, maybe to music, maybe to the sound of the cicadas in the trees. And in your hand, there’s a cool, tall, oh-so-refreshing glass of gin and tonic.

It’s summer time, and the living is easy…

In the modern day, gin seems to me evocative of exactly this: the sights, sounds and heat of the summer. It’s a drink, now almost invariably paired with tonic, that exudes refreshment, breeziness and just a hint of class. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

It’s funny then, that in the 19th century, it brought to mind a whole host of other things – good and bad. While the reputation of gin had improved slightly from the days when it was referred to as ‘mother’s ruin’, a nickname derived from William Hogarth’s depiction of ‘Gin Alley’ and the gin craze of 18th century Britain, it still inspired many tirades among contemporaries regarding the evils of drink. This is especially true of the flourishing temperance movement of the late 19th century, who took great pains to relate numerous accounts of the spirit causing death and disruption in society (Wellington Independent 17/03/1847: 4). It does seem, though, from some of the accounts of gin drinking in the newspapers that they may have had a point. Drinking gin and petrol every day, for example, can’t have been good for a person.

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh to the Scottish. Images:

Left: an account of a man drinking a petroleum & gin cocktail. Right: a description of gin palaces and drinkers, that seems particularly harsh. Images: Bay of Plenty Times 15/06/1888: 4Wellington Independent 17/04/1847: 4.

Interestingly enough, though, gin was also marketed as a medicinal remedy and ‘health drink’ during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We’ve mentioned aromatic schnapps here on the blog before, a type of gin primarily advertised as a medicine, but there were many varieties of gin marketed as beneficial beverages (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 24Press 2/10/1924: 6Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). Copious amounts of alcohol were often offered to patients in hospitals during this time, as well (Colonist 12/02/1910: 4).

Gin seems to have been advertised as a remedy for everything from kidney problems to the more vague “toning up the nerves” (Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15). There were even ‘gin pills’, containing “in a concentrated form all the curative properties of a pint of the finest gin” and recommended for ailments of the “kidneys and allied organs” (Wairarapa Age 4/10/1913: 5). It was also associated with the prevention of malaria, due to the common combination of gin and tonic water – the latter was invented in the mid-19th century for the express purpose of administering quinine, an anti-malarial.

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image:

Gin as medicine. Preventing us all from ruining our health with tea and cakes! Image: Evening Post 24/06/1926: 15.

From an archaeological perspective, unfortunately (as is the case with many of the beverages consumed in the 19th century), it can be difficult to identify gin bottles among the material culture we recover, especially if the labels haven’t survived. Certain bottles, such as the ‘case gin’ shape, are known to have contained gin and are easily identifiable. However, especially towards the end of the 19th century, gin was bottled in several types of bottle, often indistinguishable from those used to hold other spirits or alcoholic beverages. In these cases, we have to rely on paper labels and metal capsule bottle seals, neither of which are prone to survival in the archaeological record.

Nevertheless, the following are some of the brands and types of gin we’ve come across so far during our work here in Christchurch.

Van Dulken Weiland & Co., gin manufacturers from Rotterdam, Holland. Dutch gin – or ‘genever’/jenever – is famous as the drink from which all other ‘gins’ are essentially derived. The Dutch were producing gin from at least the 16th century onwards (maybe earlier): the drink was embraced by Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries (due in no small part to the influence of William of Orange), before being adapted over the centuries to form the spirit as we know it now (i.e. ‘London’ dry gin, etc; Van Acker – Beittel 2013). Despite the popularity of British gins in the 19th century, genever continued to be advertised and sold as a separate beverage in contemporary newspapers (Lyttelton Times 27/09/1851: 2New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 30/01/1841: 1Otago Witness 15/09/1860: 2). We don’t know much about this particular Dutch manufacturer, but it seems likely that the bottle would have contained the genever style of gin, which often has a strong malt flavour, rather than the anglicised version.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder.

A pig snout gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal on the shoulder, bearing the mark of Van Dulken Weiland & Co., Rotterdam. Image: J. Garland.

Plymouth Gin, on the other hand, is – as the name suggests – quintessentially English. It’s actually geographically locked, in that it could only be manufactured in the town of Plymouth: unlike other gin styles – like Old Tom gin, for example (I’ll come to this one in a second) – other manufacturers were forbidden from using the name for their own products. It was first produced by Coates & Co. at the famous Black Friars distillery, in the late 18th century, after one Thomas Coates joined the already established Plymouth distillery of Fox & Williamson in 1793 (Plymouth Gin Company 2015). It quickly became one of the most popular gin brands in the 19th century and, to this day, remains a distinctive and hugely popular brand. It’s also one that had strong medical associations – several advertisements found in contemporary newspapers claim it to be “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle” (Press 2/10/1924: 6).

Plymouth gin

Advertisement for Plymouth Gin, “the healthiest drink ever put into a bottle.” Image: Press 2/10/1924: 6.

We’ve only found one artefact associated with Plymouth Gin here in Christchurch, in the form of a metal capsule, originally used to seal the bottle at the top. Sadly, intact and/or legible capsules like these are rare finds, due to their fragility.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Plymouth Gin bottle capsule found in Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Probably the most common type of gin found in on archaeological sites here in the city is Old Tom gin, a sweeter variety that was extremely popular during the late 19th century. It declined in popularity during the early decades of the 20th century but has since enjoyed something of a revival, apparently. As the story goes, it takes its name from cat (‘old toms’) shaped signs used during gin prohibition/restrictions to provide gin to the masses. Supposedly, there would be a tube under a slot in the wall: you put money in the slot and received a shot of gin through the tube. Which would be ingenious, if it’s true.

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image:

Pun-tastic poem about Old Tom Gin (and other forms of alcohol). Image: Waikato Times 13/01/1855: 2.

Here in Christchurch we usually find Old Tom labels and seals in association with Sir Robert Burnett, a manufacturer and/or distributor of various alcohols and foodstuffs, operating out of London during the second half of the 19th century (Campbell et al. 2009). Old Tom was, however, made by a variety of manufacturers during this period and distributed throughout the world. One of the more entertaining and slightly horrifying articles I came across during my research features Old Tom – or at least, a drink pretending to be Old Tom. In an 1855 edition of the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, there’s an account of how a quantity of gin, “disposed of to the public as the very best Old Tom”, was in fact an un-named variety of gin that had been used to preserve the body of a Dutch captain in a barrel during a sea voyage (Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle 8/12/1855: 3). I’m betting it probably didn’t taste like Old Tom in the end.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett's Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Labelled bottle of Sir Robert Burnett’s Old Tom gin, found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Finally, in the interests of improving everybody’s weekends, here are some of the 19th and early 20th century recipes I found for gin cocktails in the course of researching this post. I recommend avoiding the petrol one (above).

Perfect Lady
½ gin
½ peach brandy
¼ fresh lemon juice
Dash of egg white

Gin Puff
Old Tom gin
Plain Soda

Gin Fizz
Crushed ice
Half a lemon
Tsp sugar
Egg white / egg yolk

“A wineglass of gin is put into a long thin glass, known all over America as a fizz glass. A tumbler is then filled up to the brim with crushed ice, half a lemon squeezed upon it, and about a teaspoonful of pulverized sugar. Pulverised sugar is what is always used for American drinks. This is all whisked up until thoroughly cold, and the tumbler is then filled up with soda water…By straining it of the ice, adding the white of an egg and whisking it all up together, we make a ‘silver fizz’. By substituting the yolk for the white and going through the same process the ‘golden fizz’ is made.”

And, for those of you with problems cleaning silk, here’s an alternative use for gin…

Mix well together ¼ lb of honey, the white of one egg, 3oz. of soft soap, one wineglass of gin and one pint of hot water. Lay the pieces of silk separately on a deal board or table and using a small brush, which must be neither too hard not too soft, scrub them on both sides with the above mixture. Have ready two pails of cold water and as soon as each breadth of silk has been well scrubbed, dip in into both pails successively and shake it about so that as much as possible the mixture shall be rinsed out. Then hang it out to dry.”

Jessie Garland


Campbell, M., Gumbley, W. and Hudson, B., 2009. Archaeological Investigations at the Bamber House and Wanganui Hotel sites (Town Sections 79 and 77), UCOL Whanganui Converge Redevelopment, Wanganui. Unpublished report to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Universal College of Learning.

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

Evening Post. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Nelson Examiner and Wellington Chronicle. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Plymouth Gin Company, 2015. [online] Available at www.plymouthgin.com.

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

Van Acker – Beittel, V., 2013. Genever: 500 Years of History in a Bottle. Flemish Lion, LLC.

Wairarapa Age. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.