Earlier this year, we excavated a site on Armagh Street that revealed not only a large quantity of artefacts, but also a historical and material narrative set in the swampy bowels of a fledgling city, a tale of politics, commerce, secret societies, nefarious happenings and …BETRAYAL (cue ominous music). Well, maybe not those last two. And maybe not quite as melodramatic as all that.
This story, told in turns by the objects and features we found on site and the records of those who owned them, included everyone from Oddfellows and Freemasons (even the United Ancient Order of Druids) to radicals (free radicals, even!) and liberals and some of the prominent voices of early Christchurch. Among the many figures whose history formed a part of the tale of this site, one who stood out was a Mr Edward Hiorns, tinsmith, hotelier, victualler, and protagonist of this particular post.
Mr Hiorns first arrived in Christchurch in 1862 on board the Victoria. A plumber, tinsmith and metal-worker, he operated a business from premises on Armagh Street East during 1860s and 1870s. By 1872, however, he had branched out into hotel-keeping, becoming the proprietor of the Central Hotel (later the Masonic), located on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester streets. He seems to have had something of a colourful time as a hotel proprietor, appearing in the courts several times as plaintiff and defendant in cases ranging from stolen watches to bail forfeit, forgery and the inappropriate sale of alcohol.
Like so many of Christchurch’s early residents Hiorns was a man of many hats, not just in terms of how he made a living, but also in regard to his involvement in the community. Among other things, he was a prominent member of the Licensed Victuallers Association (yes, this was a thing) from the 1870s onwards, as well as involving himself in local politics, both successfully and unsuccessfully. In 1875, he ran for the city council but only managed to finagle 21 votes, a meagre offering when compared to the winning candidate’s 634. Not one to be easily put off, though, he ran again successfully in the 80s and 90s. Hiorns was also a member of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association in the 1860s, a liberal organisation that aimed to assist working men with the purchase of land (an important part of socio-political independence and status at the time).
On top of all this, he was also active in the Oddfellows society, attaining the rank of Provincial Grand Master, an occurrence which seems to have been something of a prerequisite for the residents of Armagh Street in the 19th century (no, seriously, they’re ALL Oddfellows and I have the flowchart to prove it). If they weren’t Oddfellows, they were Freemasons, and if they weren’t Freemasons there’s every possibility that they were Druids. To modern ears, these societies (and their unbelievably amazing names, thank you “The Mistletoe Lodge of Druids”) sound incredibly anachronistic, but they were one of the major vehicles by which people (when I say people, I mean men, sadly) interacted with and supported each other. In the case of the Oddfellows, that support was largely aimed at the working classes. Ostensibly apolitical, they also likely fostered the growth of political ideas and movements enacted outside of the organisations, helped by the membership of men like W. S. Moorhouse, W. Rolleston, Rowland Davis, William Pember Reeves and many others.
The initial date of Hiorns’ arrival at our site on Armagh Street is a bit unclear, thanks to the existence of the similarly named Mr W. Hyorns, who leased the section in 1867 and may be the same person, a completely different person or a 19th century typo made flesh. Nevertheless, we know that he was active on Armagh Street in the 1870s and had leased the section on which our site was located by at least 1878 (for the period of 14 years, at the grand total of £20 a year; LINZ 1878: 337). Interestingly, one of the clauses of his lease was that he had to make £1000 pounds of improvements to the section at his own expense over the following two years, suggesting that he had a reasonable yearly income at the time (this is a LOT of money for the time). As it turns out, he later went on to buy and reside in Linwood House, the super fancy Georgian/Regency style house first built for Joseph Brittan. Pretty good for a tinsmith turned hotelier.
From historic photographs and maps, we know that between 1878 and 1884, significant modifications were made to the site. Two smaller buildings that are present on an 1877 map have, by 1884, been replaced with a large two storey brick townhouse (visible in the image below). It seems likely that this building tied into Hiorns’s £1000 pounds of modification to the section. Unfortunately, we found no structural evidence of either this building or the earlier one during our excavations. What we did find, however, were several other archaeological features, including a large depression to the rear to the building that was completely and utterly filled with artefacts (unfortunately for us, this was the asbestos site was we’ve talked about previously on the blog, in the case of which more definitely wasn’t merrier). A smaller, rectangular pit feature was also found at the front of the section, containing a large quantity of tin and iron and a handful of artefacts, in addition to another small rubbish pit filled with domestic artefacts.
While it is difficult to associate the features found on the site with any one resident during the 19th century, it is almost certain that some of them were deposited by Hiorns and his family, including some of the 1037 artefacts found in the large depression to the rear of the building. That particular feature looks to have been used for the disposal of rubbish over an unknown period of time, based on the presence of small concentrations of objects within the feature as a whole, the size of the assemblage, and the wide range of manufacturing dates found among the artefacts. Many of the artefact dates, however, fit in well with the period in which Hiorns was resident on the section. On top of this, the assemblage contained a large number of alcohol bottles and several artefacts which are considered to be “higher status” items, or objects more often associated with people of reasonable wealth. It would make sense for the man who a) ran a hotel and wine bar and was in court more than once on alcohol related charges and b) later purchased the prestigious Linwood House, to have owned items like these.
The assemblage also contained large quantities of ceramic tea and table wares, as well as household and hygienic items like chamber pots, wash basins and ointment pots, a quantity of shoes and fabric, food containers, pharmaceutical bottles and children’s artefacts. One of the most interesting finds, however, was a cluster of clay tobacco pipes that included pipes with political motifs as decoration. These pipes – bearing the name and bust of William Gladstone, liberal English politician, and the name of Garibaldi, famously nationalist and progressive Italian general – can easily be tied into Hiorns’ political engagement (which I sort of alluded to above, but haven’t had time to go into detail about) and the politically charged narrative of this entire Armagh Street site (which I definitely haven’t had time to go into). They’re an example of material culture that is actively entangled with the more intangible ideas and ideals of the people and society by which they are made and used (a topic for another day, I think).
I may have started this post with a melodramatic paragraph that reads more as pulp fiction than historical narrative, but in truth, the story of Edward Hiorns (and all of the residents of this block of Armagh Street) is not all that sensational. What it is, however, is a tale we come across all the time in Christchurch. There are many interesting themes to be found in the archaeological and historical records of his life, but two of the most interesting from my perspective are the way he “improved” his situation in life, so to speak, and the way he involved himself so readily in the governance and development of the city in which he had settled. It’s a combination that we see again and again in the lives of Christchurch residents from the 19th century.
People talk a lot about the fluidity of class and social affluence in the 19th century, especially in colonial settlements like New Zealand, and the significance of the capitalist ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ in the prospering of Victorian society. These are both more than evident in the case of Mr Edward Hiorns (and Mr Jamieson, and Mr Ruddenklau and Reverend Fisher). What is just as evident, however, is the active engagement made by people like Hiorns with the present and future of the community in which they lived – be it at the local, national or global level. I could, with the aid of Mr Hiorns and others, very easily take you all down the rabbit hole with me here into the fascinating world of political and social change in 19th century Christchurch (the labour movement! radicalism! women’s suffrage!) and the lives of the people who fought to change the world around them, but that is too much for any one blog post, let alone this one. Nevertheless, it bears remembering that theirs were the hands that shaped a city and, though the city, helped to shape a nation.
LINZ, c. 1850. Deeds Index – A – Christchurch town sections and town reserves. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Office.
McAloon, J., 2000. The Christchurch elite. In Cookson, J. and Dunstall, G., eds). Southern Capital Christchurch: Towards a City Biography, 1850-2000., pp. 193-221. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.
Wright, G. R. 1998. The Petty Bourgeoisie in Colonial Canterbury; A Study of the Canterbury Working Mans’ Political Protection and Mutual Improvement Association (1865-66) and the Canterbury Freehold Land Association. MA Thesis, University of Canterbury.
Papers Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.