In yet another segue (there’s clearly a theme to my blogs this year), today on the blog we’re going to go into more detail on something we touched on in last fortnight’s blog. Last time on the blog we broke down the different types of companies that were involved in exporting beer to New Zealand. One of those that we mentioned, but didn’t go into too much detail on, was the agent. To recap from our last blog:
“The agent was essentially the middleman between the export bottler in England, and the seller in New Zealand (or they were the seller themselves). Typically based in New Zealand, agents ordered stock from exporters and sold it to local hotels, storekeepers and grocers (depending on what the stock was). They could sell stock by auction or sell directly to other businesses and consumers.”
In this blog we are going to talk about a site we excavated on Hereford Street last year (everyone lets out a sigh of relief that we’ve moved on from Akaroa and bottles), that was occupied in the 19th century by Walton, Warner and Co. Richard Walton, George Warner and James Shand partnered together in 1863 to form the general merchant business, Walton, Warner and Co. By 1864 they had offices on Hereford Street and a bonded warehouse on the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace. In 1870 Richard Walton left the business, leaving George Warner and James Shand operating under the name George Warner. In 1872, George Warner passed away and James Shand partnered with William Wood and John Beaumont to become Wood, Shand and Co. In 1874, the business built a new bonded warehouse on Oxford Terrace, behind their 1864 warehouse. The partnership continued until 1896, when the company filed for bankruptcy. James Shand bought out his partners and continued under the name James Shand and Co. James Shand and Co., continued operating from Hereford Street until 1922, when they moved to a new premise further along Hereford Street. The business continued up until at least the 1940s (Garland et al. 2014; Trendafilov et al. 2019).
When researching businesses like Walton, Warner and Co., old newspaper advertisements are one of the best resources we have for determining what products the company was selling. The business imported alcohol, farm machinery, groceries and nearly anything else you could think of. They also purchased grain and wool from local farmers and exported those overseas. Walton, Warner and Co. (and later iterations of the company) organised the shipping of overseas goods to Lyttelton, with advertisements often mentioning the ship they arrived on in the title. Goods were stored in their bonded warehouse on Oxford Terrace. The designation of their warehouse as a ‘bonded warehouse’, meant Walton, Warner and Co. paid a customs bond to the Provincial Council, meaning the goods stored in the warehouse were exempt from duty. Duty was paid on them only when they were withdrawn from the warehouse and sold. Auctioning appears to have been a common selling method, with Walton, Warner and Co. often employing local auctioneering firms to sell their goods. Goods were also likely for sale at their store on Hereford Street, and probably through private agreements.
Advertisements are one way to see the range of products for sale by merchant businesses such as Walton, Warner and Co. Another is through archaeology. In 2013, Underground Overground monitored the excavation of the site of Walton, Warner and Co.’s warehouses on Oxford Terrace, and in 2019 we excavated the site of their store and offices. Both sets of excavations resulted in large assemblages of artefacts being recovered, and through those we can see some of the products available for purchase from the store.
The artefacts we found from both sites are able to provide a deeper understanding of what it was like to run a merchant business in Christchurch in the 19th century. Whilst newspaper advertisements probably give a better idea of specifically what products were available for sale (we’ve yet to find tinned lobster at a site) they don’t provide much more than that. Through the archaeological record we’re able to see the struggles that businesses like Walton, Warner and Co. faced, with spoiled or damaged goods having to be thrown away. I might be being a little bit sentimental here (having just written four blogs on the topic, and given the exact same thing happens today and we don’t think twice about it), but it’s sad to think of all the effort that went in to manufacturing and exporting products to New Zealand, only to have them thrown away on arrival. The archaeology of merchant businesses, like Walton, Warner and Co., also give us a greater understanding of the archaeology of wider Christchurch. These merchant companies were responsible for providing goods to the occupants of Christchurch and studying the objects that they were importing helps us to understand if the products we find on domestic sites were readily available, or if they might have been hard to come by.
Garland, J., M. Carter and R. Geary Nichol. 2014. The Terrace, M35/1050, Christchurch: Report on Archaeological Investigations. Volume 1. Unpublished report for Hereford Holdings.
Trendafilov, A., A. Gibson and C. Watson. 2019. 92 Hereford Street, Christchurch- Volume I. Final report on archaeological work under authority 2019/006eq. Unpublished report for The Terrace Carpark Ltd.