2023 Wrapped

And just like that, somehow we’re only three sleeps from Christmas and another year has flown by. It always seems like time speeds up once we hit September and that the final three months of the year disappear in the blink of an eye. It’s been another big year this year, with lots of exciting finds and great archaeology. It’s also been a slightly different year this year, with 2023 really feeling like our first proper year of ‘business as usual’ and that the constant, seemingly never ending, wave of earthquake demolition and rebuild work that we’ve had for the past decade has come to an end. That’s not to say though that we’ve been quiet, as you’ll see we’ve been up and down the country excavating features and recording finds. Read on to find out our highlights from 2023!

2023 has been a year of buildings archaeology for us. We’ve recorded 15 different buildings, with these located in Christchurch and Canterbury, but also in the lower North Island. That’s meant it’s also been a year of travel, with Kirsa, Jamie and honorary Christchurch team member Braden (he works in our Dunedin office but we’re trying to steal him) probably spending more time out of the office than they have in it! Between them, Jamie and Kirsa have caught a total of 41 flights as they’ve nipped backwards and forwards between islands. We’ve done the maths and our furthest site this year was a whopping 877 km from the office, all the way over on Rēkohu (Chatham Islands). Meanwhile, our closest site was a short 350 m stroll down the road. In our travels this year we’ve seen all sorts…

Jamie’s favourite building that she recorded this year- a lovely old villa in Whanganui.

Kirsa’s favourite building that she’s recorded this year. An Arts and Crafts villa featuring a Braden.

Some old farm buildings that we recorded recently north of Christchurch.

Archaeologists caught in said old farm buildings.

We came across furry and feathered friends. These were, for the most part, still living.

On Wednesdays we scream into the void.

A new series of ‘found art’ was started. This was entitled “loos with threatening auras“.

In his travels Hamish spotted this WWII pill box on the north side of the Rangitata River. Stop and check it out yourself if you’re driving south these holidays, the view is great.

This year we excavated over 110 features! Tristan started this year off with a chart to tally how many features we would uncover in 2023. That tally is currently sitting at 110, (which is most definitely an under estimate because some of us are useless…). Those features varied from the usual historic rubbish pits, to brick floors, ovens, cultural layers and lots and lots of drains (yay drains…).

Quite a bit of time was spent down at Lyttelton Port recording some of their pre-1900 jetties. This involved working in a small punt for the team, which was great on sunny days and not so great in the middle of winter.

Archaeologists in the wild, caught mid half-section!

Neda illustrating that there can never be too many scales in a photo.

What’s that? A brick barrel drain! Everyone jump up and down with excitement! We may be a little bit jaded from drainage this year… but it is really neat to see these pre-1900 drains that are still in use today and that still form a vital part of our city’s infrastructure.

Over the course of the year we submitted approximately 30 final reports and undertook at least 96 archaeological appraisals and assessments. Some of these reports were writing up quite large projects from last year, and it was really great to see the results from these. One such project was our aerated water factory site, which we wrote three blogs on earlier in the year (you can read those here, here and here). Another was the new Court Theatre site (with blogs on the Indian Mutiny clay pipe and the large shoe shop assemblage that we found also available). Speaking of blogs, we kept our new year’s resolution of ‘2023: Year of the Blog’. We’ve really enjoyed being back online this year and sharing what we find with the public. Can confirm, no giants, Celtic shipwrecks, Minoan temples, or Phoenician artefacts this year team, but lots of black beer bottles and Willow pattern.

In terms of artefacts it was also a big year. We analysed around 22,000 artefacts this year, with these represented by over 54,000 fragments, and that’s just the historic material! It’s a bit tough to pick a favourite artefact amongst all of that, but there’s definitely been some highlights!

This is a lorgnette, which was a pair of glasses that were held by a handle, rather than being worn. We very rarely find artefacts like this in an archaeological context, so were very excited when we pulled this one out of the bag!

This Holly patterned jug was both super cute and also extremely Christmasy. We like to think that someone purchased it specifically for Christmas time, and that it was brought out every December as festive decorations!

Tristan doing the mahi sorting midden up in Kaikōura.

This year we welcomed the Christchurch Archaeology Project, who are working out of our office. We’re super excited by the work that they’re doing, and highly recommend that you follow them on socials if you’re not already (Facebook and Instagram). We sadly said farewell to Charlotte, our summer intern from last year, who we managed to convince to stay with us for half the year but eventually she had to leave us. But otherwise we’ve ended the year with the same team that we started it with!

Christchurch Archaeology Project rudely interrupted from their hard work so that they could be included in this blog post.

It’s been another great year of archaeology and we can’t wait to do it all again next year. We hope that everyone has a wonderful break, hopefully checking out some of our excellent historic sites in your travels, and we’ll be back in February with another year of Christchurch archaeology blogs.

Underground Overground Archaeology



“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” -Alfred Charles Barker and his photography

When it comes to researching properties and places around Christchurch, we historians review and compare a wide range of resources in order to figure out exactly what was happening there during the 19th century. By far one of the most valuable resources we have are photographs – as the saying goes: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” When it comes to early photographs of Christchurch, there is one man to whom we are forever indebted: Dr Alfred Charles Barker (1819-1873). So, this week on the blog we thought we would give a wee overview of Dr Barker’s life in Christchurch and some of the amazing photographs that make up his legacy.

Photograph of Alfred Charles Barker with his camera in 1864. Image:Canterbury Museum, 1864.

The Barker family arrived in Canterbury on board the Charlotte Jane in December 1850, and Dr Barker was among the first colonists to come ashore. Barker selected Town Sections 717 and 718 (located on the northeast corner of Worcester Street and Oxford Terrace) as the site for his family home. In preparation for the family’s departure to New Zealand, Barker had purchased a consignment of timber with which to build a dwelling. But upon his arrival in the colony, he found that his timber had been sold. As an alternative, Barker purchased the studding sail from the Charlotte Jane and used it to construct a dwelling for his family on Town Sections 717 and 718. This early dwelling was affectionately known as Studdingsail Hall. Barker did a good deal of sketching during his first years of settlement in Canterbury, and some of his earliest sketches provide views of the exterior and interior of Studdingsail Hall. The outdoor stove being tended by the women on the righthand side of the sketch is also believed to a cooking stove taken from the Charlotte Jane (MacDonald, 1952-1964: B124).

Sketch by Dr Barker in January 1851, showing the Barker family’s first dwelling ‘Studdingsail Hall’. Image: Alfred Barker, 1851.

The Barker family’s residence was in close proximity to Christchurch’s earliest public building, the Land Office, which was located on the opposite side of Oxford Terrace, where the Municipal Chambers building currently stands. As such, the Barker’s home witnessed a number of important public events in the history of the fledgling township. For example, when rural land was first made available for selection by the Canterbury pilgrims in February 1851, large crowds gathered around the Land Office building and the Barker family provided hospitality to those who gathered. The Lyttelton Times records:

Dr Barker’s tent, which stands immediately opposite the land office, and is constructed of an immense studding-sail, formerly belonging to the “Charlotte Jane,” was remarkable for its seasonable hospitality (Lyttelton Times, 22/2/1851: 5).

Dr Barker was Christchurch’s first doctor, making Studdingsail Hall Christchurch’s earliest medical surgery. His practice is known to have been innovative, with Dr Barker being an early adopter of chloroform as an anaesthetic during surgery, as well as designing and building his own steam bath (Turner, 1990). Barker’s tent does not appear to have remained long on the property before he replaced or converted it into a more substantial timber dwelling. A sketch drawn by Barker in December 1852, shows the Barker family’s timber dwelling standing on the corner of Oxford Terrace and Worcester Street.

Detail from a photograph of Alfred Barker’s 1852 sketch of Christchurch, showing the Barker family’s timber dwelling (red arrow). Image: New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal, 1897.

Dr Barker’s early sketches of Christchurch show his artistic side, but it was not until 1856-1857 that he discovered what would be his lifelong artistic passion: photography. It is not clear exactly when Barker was first introduced to photography, but he is believed to have been taught the art by his friend Benjamin Mountfort, who was himself advertising as a portraiture photographer from April 1857 (Lyttelton Times, 7/3/1857: 9; MacDonald, 1952-1964: B124). Photography itself appears to have begun to take off in Christchurch in 1857, with the Lyttelton Times proclaiming in May 1857:

Photography has broken out like an epidemic among us. Quite unknown in the place a year ago, we have now a professional artist well known in the northern provinces, and another on the point of coming; two students practising the art, and, we believe, one amateur. Canterbury will now be able to look itself straight in the face (Lyttelton Times, 9/5/1857: 7).

It is possible that Dr Barker was the ‘amateur’ mentioned by the Lyttelton Times, but despite his amateur status, Barker appears to have been infatuated with the artform and began dedicating much of his time to his new hobby. It did not take long for Dr Barker to start losing interest in his medical practice, and by the end of 1858 he had given it up entirely (Turner, 1990). As photography had only just reached Christchurch in 1857, he had to get creative to obtain the equipment he needed. He is said to have built a camera from a tea chest lined with paper and with a lens barrel made from a large empty pill box whose lid was used as a combined lens hood and shutter (Early Canterbury Photography, 2008). When he couldn’t get his hands on the glass he required, he was known to cut panes of glass from his windows to make wet plates, and when he couldn’t get hold of the necessary gold and silver salts used in the photographic process, he use to melt down sovereigns, silverware, and cutlery to make his own (MacDonald, 1952-1964: B124). He even cut his own paper and treated it with egg white (Early Canterbury Photography, 2008). Many of Barker’s early photographs are domestic images – portraiture of his family and friends around his home and garden – and so he constructed a dark room in his home on Worcester Street in which to develop these domestic images (Turner, 1990).

Photograph of the Barker family playing croquet at their home in Worcester Street in the 1860s. Image: Alfred Barker, 1860s.

Photograph looking west along Worcester Street in 1872, showing Dr Alfred Barker’s house. Image: Alfred Barker, 1872.

It was not long before Dr Barker began to adventure out to take photographs around the Christchurch township and further afield. As the wet plate process required the images to be developed almost immediately after taking the photograph, he constructed a four wheeled buggy with a dark room on the back so that he could develop his plates wherever he might be. One story told is that when Barker was processing photographs in his mobile dark room in Sumner, the horse was startled and took off with him trapped inside. When the horse was finally recovered, he emerged looking like a Dalmatian dog covered with blotches of nitrate of silver (MacDonald, 1952-1964: B124).

Photograph of Dr Alfred Charles Barker and his homemade photographic trap in April 1869. Image: Alfred Barker, 1869.

Photograph of Dr Alfred Charles Baker at Cave Rock in Sumner with his photographic trap in 1867. Image: Alfred Baker, 1867.

Dr Barker’s extensive portfolio of photographs taken throughout his life has become a significant source of information for researching early Canterbury. Some of his most valuable images are the early photographs of Christchurch, which show how much the settlement has grown from a small timber township to a thriving city.

Photograph looking northeast towards the Victoria Street bridge in 1860. Image: Alfred Barker, 1860.

Photograph looking south over Cathedral Square on Market Day in 1871. Image: Alfred Barker, 1871.

Photograph looking along High Street in 1872, Image: Alfred Barker, 1872.

Dr Barker died at his Worcester Street residence in March 1873 (Lyttelton Times, 21/3/1873: 3). Shortly after his death, the Barker family moved away from the property, and the family’s household furniture and goods were sold off (Lyttleton Times, 16/4/1873: 4). Dr George Lilly Mellish temporarily took up occupation in Barker’s former premises, but in July 1878 the trustees of Barker’s estate decided to remove the house from the property (Press, 2/7/1878: 4). Dr Barker’s house was purchased for removal by Mr. Furhmann in July 1878, and was finally removed from the section in February 1879 (Lyttelton Times, 20/2/1879: 4; Press, 19/7/1878: 2). A photograph taken from the spire of the Cathedral in early 1881, shows Dr Barker’s former property after the removal of his house and garden.

Photograph looking west from the Cathedral’s spire in 1881 showing no buildings present on Dr Barker’s former property. Image: Wheeler and Son, 1881.

While Dr Barker’s photographs are an amazing resource for researchers today, they are not the only material left behind by photographers for us to view. The photographic process requires all manner of equipment, chemicals, and other sundries in order to produce an image, and these items also come to form part of the material culture of early Christchurch. Unfortunately to date, we have not encountered any of Dr Barker’s photographic equipment, but our archaeologists have encountered other examples of photograph material from time to time.

When excavating a site occupied by Mr Samuel Charles Louis Lawrence, photographer, in Oxford Terrace in 2013, out team encountered the usual material culture relating to Lawrence’s occupation of the property in the 1860s and 1870s: tea and table wares, food containers, alcohol bottles, personal hygiene items, pharmaceutical bottles, smoking pipes and shoes. But among these typical items, our team also found evidence of Lawrence’s photographic pursuits – a bottle made by R. W. Thomas who made all manner of chemicals and other sundries used in the practice of photography  – Check out the full blog on Lawrence’s site here.

R. W. Thomas bottle from the site on Oxford Terrace. R. W. Thomas operated as a photographic merchant from 1851 until 1894, becoming R. W. Thomas & Co. and then R. W. Thomas & Co. Ltd in the 1880s. Thomas sold all manner of photographic equipment, from dry plates, dark tents and cameras to the chemicals and products necessary for the development of the photographs. Image: J. Garland.

When excavating a well in Invercargill’s CBD a few years ago, our New Zealand Heritage Properties partners encountered a wide range of photographic equipment relating to a photographic studio which occupied the site during the early 20th century. The material includes parts of a wooden camera, bottles which held ink, glue, lubricating oil (possibly for the camera parts), and mascara (theorised to have been used for editing photographs as Victorian and Edwardian formulas generally consisted of coal and petroleum jelly, providing a thicker consistency than many inks), and glass plates (Check out the excavation here).

Timber camera components. (A) front and back of handmade camera component. (B) shutter mechanism closed (left) and open (right). (C) part of shutter mechanism. (D) front standard. (F) bone page turner/spatula. Image: N. Woods.

Selection of photography related glass vessels and blank plates in two sizes and materials (glass and porcelain). Bottles clockwise from top left: oval cross section bottle, ink, square cross section bottle, perfume/mascara bottle, cobalt blue chemical bottle top and small phial. Image: N. Woods.

Photography came early to Christchurch, with a number of studios being established from 1857. But one of the earliest and most dedicated amateur photographers was Dr Alfred Charles Barker, who took numerous shots around Canterbury between 1857 and 1873. His legacy of photographs is one of the most valuable resources we have to view early Christchurch, and we researchers are forever indebted to him. Thousands of his photographs are available to view on the Canterbury Museum website and we encourage you to check them out! But it is not just the photographs themselves which our early photographers have left behind, but also a unique material culture of photographic equipment that we are looking forward to uncovering more of in the future.

Lydia Mearns