And just like that, another year is over. This year’s been a big one for us. We’ve excavated some large sites, found some cool artefacts, and on top of all that we moved offices. This fortnight on the blog we’re looking back on the year that was 2019. The blog will be back at the start of February next year. Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone.
The temperatures are heating up, there’s Christmas decorations in shops around the city and we’re on the countdown to summer holidays. In our penultimate blog post for the year we’re going to look back on some of our best artefacts from the past year. Enjoy!
The Beca Heritage Festival 2019 is currently on in Christchurch. There’s lots of interesting events being held, highlighting both the work being done in the heritage sector in Christchurch and providing opportunities to visit and interact with Christchurch’s heritage (see here for a full list). Last week we held an open office event, giving Christchurch residents an opportunity to check out our lab and listen to us talk about what we actually do as archaeologists working in Christchurch. As part of the open office night, we put on an exhibition telling the stories of three people we have encountered doing archaeology in Christchurch: Ada Wells, Henry and Elizabeth Watkins, and William Cuddon.
This fortnight on the blog, we’re going to share one of those stories, that of Henry and Elizabeth Watkins. Henry Green Watkins (b. 1829) and his wife Elizabeth Maria Watkins (b. 1837) arrived in New Zealand in 1857. Following a brief stint at the Thames goldfields and some time spent in Lyttelton, the couple settled in Akaroa where Henry opened a general store. The couple were drawn to Akaroa as Henry’s father, Dr. Daniel Watkins, his mother, Julia Watkins, and his five siblings were already living in the town.
Henry and Elizabeth appear to have had a happy and successful life in Akaroa. In 1871 they moved into what was later known as Holly Cottage, a ten-roomed house with orchard gardens and a stream to the north. They had at least 11 children: Henry William Daniel (b. 1854), Frank (b. 1860), Walter (b. 1862), Amy Florence (b. 1864), Ernest John (b. 1866), Marina Maude (b. 1868), Arthur Evelyn (b. 1870), Albert Nigel (b. 1872), Lillian Rosina (b. 1874, d. 1875), Elizabeth Constance (b. 1876), and Beatrice Lilian (b. 1878).
Along with his shop, located on Beach Road, Henry owned several blocks of land around the peninsula that he either leased or farmed, with the Watkins family well known for their orchards. Henry appears to have been an important figure in the fledgling town of Akaroa. He was elected as Akaroa’s second mayor, in office between 1877 and 1878, and during his term Farr’s bridge was constructed.
In 1879 Henry passed away, aged 50, leaving Elizabeth to care for their ten surviving children. Elizabeth not only raised her ten children (aged between one and 25 at time of their father’s passing) but continued to run the store and manage the blocks of land owned by the Watkins. Elizabeth was described as being “Of quiet and unobtrusive habits and of excellent business capacity, she had the knack, although in delicate health, of making her way in the world, and leaves behind her an unsullied reputation” (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertisor 20.07.1894). In 1894, aged 57, Elizabeth passed away, having had a weak chest for several years prior. In her will she left her estate to her sons Henry William Daniel and Ernest John, on the provision that it be sold, and the profits divided amongst all of her children. The sale of the estate revealed she owned 788 acres of land in Akaroa and around Banks Peninsula and Little River, a sizeable sum of land which reflects the success her and her late husband had.
In October 2018, Underground Overground Archaeology monitored excavations at the site of Holly Cottage, where Elizabeth and Henry Watkins lived from 1871 until 1894. Unfortunately, Holly Cottage was demolished during the 20th century, and we’re yet to find a photograph of what the cottage looked like. During the excavations a large assemblage of artefacts was found, with over 2,000 artefacts recovered.
Most of these artefacts were found in what was interpreted to be an old creek bed, located just a few metres away from the modern stream. Unlike modern times where household refuse is collected by rubbish trucks, people living in the 19th century had to dispose of their rubbish by their own means. The most common way to do this was for people to dig a pit in their backyard and bury their rubbish. However, it would appear that the Watkins took advantage of the natural depression created by the old stream and threw their rubbish into the gully. Doing this saved the hassle of digging a pit, and the old creek bed was located far enough away from the cottage that the unpleasant smell of rubbish was unlikely to make its way inside the house.
The artefacts excavated from the old creek bed hinted at what the Watkins’ daily lives were like. They included food and beverage bottles, giving some insight into the meals Elizabeth was probably making for her family. The Watkins family appear to have made the most of Akaroa’s seaside location, with nearly 700 shells found, mostly oyster, cockle and pipi, along with kingfish bones. Worcestershire Sauce seems to have been a favourite, with 11 bottles of the sauce recovered. Several pharmaceutical bottles were discovered, many of which were patent medicines that promised to cure any kind of disease. These may have been purchased by Elizabeth in her later years to ease her chest pain. Also present were four bottles of Piesse and Lubin perfume, suggesting it was a favourite of Elizabeth’s.
What was most unusual about the artefact assemblage found in the creek bed, however, was the amount of complete or near-complete objects. These ranged from ceramic plates, platters and tureens to a glass decanter and basket, to two clothes irons and a cooking pot. Finding complete and near-complete items is relatively rare in the archaeological record, and it suggested that the items found in the old creek bed were not just day-to-day household rubbish. Following Elizabeth’s death in 1894, Holly Cottage was leased to Mr Joseph Barwick. It is possible that after her death her sons cleaned out the cottage, throwing away any of her possessions they did not want to keep. This would explain the presence of items such as the clothes irons, which were intended to last a lifetime, and gives us archaeologists a chance to see what the Watkins’ lives were like over 120 years later.
Most of the work I do as a buildings archaeologist focuses on the humble 19th century cottage. These types of buildings, their construction methods and materials have become well trod territory in post-earthquake Christchurch, meaning we now have a fair picture of many of their occupant’s wealth and social standings, and how this changed through time. This story typically features a humble cottage growing up to be an, at least semi-respectable, middle-class villa – perhaps a reasonable aspiration for any house. Less often does one have the opportunity to explore the houses of the wealthy and elites of Christchurch society in the colonial period.
Recently we were contracted to investigate one such building in Fendalton, a house known as Lismore Lodge, that was notable for its association with the prominent early Christchurch Stoddart family, and then one very interesting Christchurch personality: the broadcaster, philologist, academic, mountaineer and botanist, Professor Arnold Wall CBE.
Lismore Lodge, a formidable establishment as it might seem, was, architecturally speaking, a restrained affair. It seemed sure of itself, not suffering from an identity crisis like so many late Victorian houses with the ‘battle of the styles’ that raged throughout the 19th century between the gothic and the classical. The fenestration consisted of sash windows on both levels, with the first story having faux shutters attached. Relatively few decorative embellishments adorned the house, although those that were present included fretwork around the veranda, some classical mouldings around the bay window, and brackets attached to the cornice, under the roof’s eaves.
One of the main tasks as a building archaeologist is to understand the phases of a building’s construction, and this is sometimes difficult prior to demolition, especially when much of the framing is concealed. We knew a few things from historical research:
- The homestead was built within a year and was completed by September 1880.
- After Mark Stoddart’s death, his wife Anne was no longer living on the property from 1886 and it was leased in 1901 by Arnold Wall, who went on to formally purchase the premises from Stoddart in 1907.
- As was commonly the case with large dwellings from this period, Lismore Lodge was converted to flats in 1936.
From the outset, slight irregularities in the layout of the building suggested the house had undergone some expansion in the early 20th century. However, unlike less ambitious constructions, large wooden houses can conceal their growth so that later additions are less obvious to identify, as their elements are often materially and stylistically coherent and seamlessly integrated.
With the building’s phasing unclear from the outside, the next recourse a buildings archaeologist has is to look at the floorboards, interior walls and ceilings. Often differences in construction will indicate a house’s growth, but in this case it proved difficult because of the uniform use lath and plaster.
So far, so good, and all this before one has had a chance to look at the foundations to get a clear picture of the building’s development phases. It was at this stage that something rather interesting happened – the barrels!
There were nine barrel shaped piles in total, two of which still had their wooden casings intact. Each barrel was approximately 750 mm x 450 mm wide and was used as the foundations for Room 4. It is typical for most 19th century houses in Christchurch to employ stone footings as foundations, with these usually basalt or ‘bluestone’ sourced from Halswell Quarry. Larger 19th century houses will often have concrete foundations or composite concrete with stone piles in the centre, but it is quite unusual to see a concrete barrel employed as a pile in a large house. This is typically only seen in the early 20th century with concrete filled kerosene or paint tins used as piles.
There are two interesting questions about these barrels:
- Why were they employed in a high-status building, instead of the consistent use of formwork concrete foundation that is seen elsewhere?
- Where did they come from?
The first question is difficult to answer. We can take it for granted that the form work foundation and the concrete barrels were poured together during the first phase of the building’s development, as evidenced by the same rough aggregate and use of scoria rock as a filler. The barrel is of a fixed height that matches the formwork foundation. Could there have been problems in procuring enough barrels to complete the foundation? Or was this a stop-gap measure to speed up the construction of the foundation? This will warrant some further thought, though I feel the evidence is inconclusive either way.
The second question is more intriguing, though less relevant to the construction of the villa. It was first necessary to work out what kind of cask we have here. The ‘cask system’ was heavily codified by the late 19th century and resembles champagne bottles in their novel nomenclature. At the time of recording, I could remember very few cask types. One was a faint recollection of a Robert Frost poem from an English class called Directive, from which I figured it was just about large enough for a small child to put their head into:
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal.
Of being watched from forty cellar holes,
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
And of course, who could forget the famous feats of the beer barrel bombers and their beer runs to supply our boys much need respite during the days of the Normandy invasion in WWII.
We have a few interesting characters in our line-up. There were at least 14 standard types of cask, ranging from the diminutive Firkin to largest capacity Tun cask, and taking a cursory look over the list one cannot fail to note such appellations as the hefty sized ‘Hogshead’ and the salaciously named ‘Butt cask’.
Given the dimensions of the cask and the use of (Area=length x π r2) what we appear to have here is a 53.1 L, object close enough to the 50L Quarter cask.
The next task was to investigate the likely provenance of the Quarter casks imported into New Zealand. Besides alcohol, casks had a variety of possible contents. From meat and gunpowder to paint, nails and tallow. A brief overview of the Lyttleton Times’ shipping news between the periods of 1860-80 indicated that the “qr.-cask” was used exclusively for alcohol, including wine, whisky, gin, brandy, port, rum, and sherry. So ubiquitous was this association that by the 1880s shipping news simply referred to “qr.-cask” as a synonym for a barrel of booze.
So, how did these casks get under the house of the Fendalton nouvelle riche? Being the hardworking, and presumably dour, Scots that the Stoddart family was, I would be surprised if they they had reason to keep nine casks, and there seems to be little evidence of imports being their line of business. So perhaps this was simply a cost and time saving measure by the builders. Unfortunately, we don’t have the surviving contract of works to clear this issue up, so it will remain a mystery for now, but the most simple solution is that the barrels were surplus from a local hotel or commercial business that were sold to the contractors. Nonetheless, it remains a unique find in the context of building foundations in colonial era Christchurch.
Archaeologists are often faced with the question of what happens to artefacts after an excavation is complete? As is the case for a lot of excavations, artefacts can find themselves housed in museums. This centuries old institution found its beginning approximately 1500 years ago, with the earliest recorded museum dated to 530 CE – the birth of an institution that has grown to more than 55,000 museums found over 202 countries. Now that’s a lot of artefact management. Museums are where excavated material and artefacts often end up – either on public display or stored in extensive and very secure facilities. Modern accessions of artefacts into museums is a well-structured process that ensures the origin and information for each artefact is meticulously maintained. However, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the day there was less emphasis on knowing where things came from and more interest in having the biggest and the best. The procurement of artefacts, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries involved the very official process of people either dumping things they found at the front door of museums, or, more officially, ‘hobbyists’ would donate their private collections. It was, and remains, an absolute mystery as to where the artefacts came from. Sadly, the lovely museums of little old New Zealand are not exempt from this issue.
For my honours dissertation I wanted to see if it was possible to give history back to these artefacts. I chose the Otago Museum as my target location, due to its convenient location across the street from campus, to see if I could pick a portion of their collection and provide information as to where they may have come from. Before my research, the Otago Museum had a collection of 413 artefacts registered as Romano-British pottery. As a budding archaeologist, the thought of being able to handle such a large collection of 2000-year-old artefacts was very exciting. I was provided with the museum’s register of every item in their collection, with whatever information they were given at the time of accession, or details that have been added from later research. In the case of the Romano-British pottery collection, this included, but was not limited to, comments such as “Vase. Roman. Up to about 200. B.C.” or the ever descriptive “Roman Amphora. Found in London”, which doesn’t leave much to go off. This meant that each piece of information had to be teased out from every artefact in the collection. From the form, material, and decoration styles of each artefact, I was able to both eliminate any artefact that had been mislabelled as being Romano-British in origin and begin to quantify the collection. This narrowed the list down from 413 items to 121 complete vessels (note fragments that were not terra sigillata (a type of Roman pottery) were not included in this review). From the 121 artefacts, a random selection was made of 33 vessels that were then compared to assemblages from excavations in the Britain in the 1990s and 2000s. It is reasonably common for museum collections to have a higher quantity of fine ware vessels compared to what is found in archaeological excavations, perhaps indicating that even though this set of pottery was acquired largely through a random sequence of donations, there is a preference towards fine wares that are more ornate and ascetically pleasing. But this was appropriate for the case of Romano-British pottery, as it was common for there to be a higher portion of fine wares in a household assemblage, as coarse wares were mostly used just for cooking or other domestic needs. In the case of Romano-British pottery, fine wares generally referrers to terra sigillata vessels; pottery made from smooth, fine textured clay with a sleek red gloss. The result of this method of artefact attainment by the museum has left them with a fairly representative sample of Romano-British fine wares from the first century CE through to the third and fourth centuries CE, represented in the museum’s collection of various vessels; jars, bowls, dishes, plates, lids, cups, beakers, flagons, and mortars.
Romano-British pottery was the by-product of Roman invasion of Britain, a gradual process that began in 43 CE and saw the eventual introduction of two items essential to the everyday Roman life: the potter’s wheel for vessel throwing and kilns for firing pottery, leading to the birth of Britain’s pottery industry.. The Roman period in Britain saw an explosion in the use of ceramics, enabled by the wide adoption of wheel-throwing and kiln-firing, which made a much wider range of vessel shapes available to ordinary people. Jars used for cooking and storage were the most common vessel type prior to the arrival of the Romans in Britain, but from 43 CE onwards the range of vessels was supplemented by table wares, comprising of bowls, dishes and drinking vessels, serving vessels, such as flagons, and specialised vessels that were new to Britain, such as mortaria for preparing food, and amphorae, which were used to transport imported staples, such as; olive oil, wine, fish products and occasionally fruit (Cooper et al., 2018). Imported table wares were the only vessels that, occasionally, showed signs of repair, meaning even these must have been affordable to most. The British style of ‘Roman’ pottery is distinguishable by a few principle features; red glossy finish, the use of stamps and rouletting, barbotine and mould-formed applied ornament, manufacture within moulds or over forming devices (Hayes, 1997: 12).
Whilst I was able to link artefacts from the Otago Museum to the excavations they probably came from, it wasn’t easy, and it highlighted the problem of museum collections from archaeological excavations with no provenance information. Although I looked at Romano-British pottery, it’s a problem that can be applied to museum collections around the world, including those from excavations in New Zealand. Here in Christchurch, research has been undertaken on the Canterbury Museum’s collection of artefacts from the Redcliffs site complex to associate the artefacts with their archaeological provenance and show the value that museum collections can hold (Kerby 2017).
And of course, when we’re talking about museum collections it’s important to acknowledge the fact that many artefacts housed in museum collections were acquired by ill-means. There has increasingly been more conversation arising around the issue of repatriation. Repatriation is the process of returning an asset, an item of symbolic value or a person – voluntarily or forcibly – to its owner or their place of origin or citizenship. The placement of Kōiwi Tangata and Toi Moko in international museums is a major topic in the issue of repatriation. A programme was established in 2003 as the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme at Te Papa, mandated by the New Zealand government and supported by iwi. Repatriations have been conducted from 26 separate instutions, in Great Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, Argentina, Australia, and Germany. Since 2003 Te Papa has repatriated 420 Māori and Moriori ancestral remains from overseas institutions, with an estimated 600 ancestral remains still to be returned to New Zealand (Herewini, 2008).
During our excavations across Christchurch we’ve accumulated tens of thousands of artefacts. Whilst we currently store the artefacts, there is a possibility that one day they may end up in a museum for everyone to see. Understanding the problems that face museums when it comes to collections from old excavations means we can make sure we don’t repeat past archaeologist’s mistakes, and that our artefacts never end up in a museum collection with the only information being “found in Christchurch”.
Thanks to the Otago Museum for the use of their images.
Cooper, N. J., Johnson, E., Sterry, M. J. (2018) Eating in and Dining Out in Roman Leicester: Exploring Pottery Consumption Patterns Across the Town and its Suburbs. Internet Archaeology, 50.
De La Bédoyère, G. (2006) Roman Britain: a new history. New York: Thames & Hudson.
Hayes, J. W. (1997) Handbook of Mediterranean Roman Pottery. London, British Museum Press.
Herewini, T. H. (2008) “The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) and the Repatriation of Köiwi Tangata (Mäori and Moriori skeletal remains) and Toi Moko (Mummified Maori Tattooed Heads),” International Journal of Cultural Property. Cambridge University Press, 15(4), 405–406. doi: 10.1017/S0940739108080399.
Kerby, G. (2017) ‘Redcliffs Archaeological History and Material Culture’, MA thesis, Otago University.