70 years of quarantine: the archaeology of Ōtamahua/Quail Island

Today Aotearoa continues to take tentative steps back into level 2 of the Covid-19 response, so you might think it strange that I would be voluntarily stepping back into quarantine. But we’re the stepping back into the history – all  figurative-like – of Ōtamahua/Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour, which acted as a quarantine station throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. For an archaeology nerd, Ōtamahua has such an interesting range of history and archaeology. It’s been a mahinga kai and/or nohoanga, quarry site, a quarantine station for immigrants and animals, a leper’s colony, farmland, ship’s graveyard, and is now managed by the Department of Conservation. There’s a lot of history to Ōtamahua, so strap in, this is going to be a big(ish) one.

Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour with Ōtamahua/Quail Island in the centre. Image: Jessie Garland.

Ōtamahua has a long history, its name meaning “the place where children collected seabird eggs”. Another name, Te Kawakawa, refers to the pepper tree which grew there (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 2020). There are several recorded archaeological sites on the island that attest to Ngāi Tahu, and earlier Māori groups’ long history in the area. A beautiful pou named Te Hamo o Tū Te Rakiwhānoa, made by the Whakaraupō Carving Centre was recently erected on the island by Ngāti Wheke.

Te Hamo o Tū Te Rakiwhānoa. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Ōtamahua, and the smaller Aua/King Billy Island off to the southwest have both been quarried for basalt by Māori and Pākehā, the latter for stone building blocks, and the former for the manufacture of adzes and other tools. The island also boasts one of my favourite kinds of Māori archaeological features: a fish trap! Though it may look like a boring old circle of stones in the tide, these sites are pretty rare. The engineering principles are simple and effective: fish come in at high tide and get stuck inside the circle when it recedes. In the words of our endemic poets: “tide rolls in, tide rolls out, let the [numbers of fish] inside begin to grow”.

I love a good fish trap. Image from Trotter and McCulloch, 2000.

The use of Quail Island for quarantine of either animals or people starts as early as 1855, when it was set apart as a quarantine ground for diseased sheep (Lyttelton Times, 19/9/2855: 6). The idea of quarantine is pretty familiar to New Zealanders (especially in this day and ), not just for folks coming from overseas who might be sick, but also for animals. During the late 19th century, European colonisers were doing a whole-scale transformation of Aotearoa to European-style agriculture, and then as now, New Zealanders took steps to protect lives, industry and livelihoods from harm from viruses and infectious disease. The use of Quail Island as a place for quarantine would sit alongside its farming history for the next century, including its use as a place to quarantine animals for several Antarctic expeditions between 1901 and 1929 (Mclean, 2013).

If you asked me to come up with a satirical 19th century bureaucratic job, I would come up with “Inspector of Sheep”. Source: Lyttelton Times, 19/9/2855: 6

A reconstructed kennel (the foundations are original) in which dogs were quarantined as part of Antarctic expeditions. Source: Mclean, 2013.

Group including Robert Falcon Scott, with Mongolian ponies, on Quail Island. Ref: 1/2-031141-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23184103

Same here, Antarctic pony, same here.

Initially, shipboard isolation was the only method of preventing transmission of disease on the long journey to New Zealand, but due to increasing numbers of immigrants, and insufficient facilities, this came to be considered ineffective, and the need for large quarantine stations was recognised (Kelly, 2018). Although there were also several mainland quarantine stations, islands were considered perfect spots for quarantine; water on all sides helps maintain the level of isolation one requires to prevent transmission of illnesses, and only truly unhinged individuals would dare swim or even paddle board across the harbour, in defiance of a perfectly natural and not at all phobic distrust of large bodies of water.

Ed. Removed for space, the story of the leprosy patient who escaped Quail Island across the water, reappearing in Charteris Bay in disguise as an Invercargill clergyman. Source: New Zealand Herald, 12/1/1925: 6.

In 1874, the Canterbury Provincial Council bought the land on Quail Island, and a quarantine station was set up, to replace the existing station at Ripapa Island and Camp Bay, which was considered overcrowded (Star, 8/8/1874: 2; Lyttelton Times, 9/10/1874: 2; Globe, 9/10/1874: 3). All the major cities had a wee island they could put freshly-minted residents on for a bit to counteract the transmission-friendly tight and unhygienic quarters of a long ship journey. Wellington had Matiu/Somes Island, Auckland had Motuihe Island, Dunedin had the creatively named “Quarantine Island” (Kamaautaurua), and Christchurch had Quail Island, all of which were in use by the 1870s (Kelly, 2018). Lots of remains from the quarantine station remain on the island: piles and other foundations from many of the former quarantine buildings, stone retaining walls (built by prisoners from Lyttelton jail) and terrace relating to the initial reshaping of the hillsides for construction, and the Skiers Beach barracks building, built in 1875, and one of only two 19th century quarantine buildings remaining in New Zealand.

The quarantine station men’s barracks, built in 1874. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

A stone retaining wall, likely built by prisoners of the Lyttelton Gaol (Trotter and McCulloch, 2000). See here for more on these prisoners who built Lyttelton. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

Detail from 1907 survey plan (SO 4813) on Quail Island showing the buildings within the South Bay area. The layout of the quarantine station reflects partially the requirements of the station, but also the social mores of the time, with separate quarters for men and women. Image: LINZ 1907.

Skiers Beach, looking northeast, showing some of the quarantine station buildings in 1906, including, from left to right, the caretakers cottage, barracks, cookhouse, barracks and the single men’s cookhouse at the extreme right at Whakamaru Beach. Image: Weekly Press from Jackson, 2006, p. 30.

In November 2019, three of our team (Angel, Jo, and I) visited Quail Island to undertake some excavation on the terrace bearing the quarantine station’s cookhouse. It was a real privilege to be part of the project, and we stayed in the newly done up DOC hut, which is a nice, early-20th century cottage that housed the caretaker for the Department of Agriculture’s animal quarantine station.

Angel gives Jo a makeshift tarot reading during our stay.

During the works, Angel found a penny dating to 1873, a year before the station was built. It’s very unlikely the coin was lost and deposited the same year it was minted, but it’s a nice coincidence. Artefact photo: Clara Watson.

On the cookhouse terrace, we found archaeological remains of the cookhouse terrace building itself, including stone piles, fragments of metal sheeting, the remains of some metal containers that might have been associated with the kitchen. There was also evidence for a shell paving layer that went right around the building.

Artefacts from the quarantine station, including a lead fishing weight (top right), keg tap (centre), and domestic pigeon bones (bottom right). Image: Clara Watson, Jessie Garland.

Among the finds were the bones of the introduced domestic pigeon, which are very rare finds in New Zealand archaeology. We couldn’t find any specific historical evidence for pigeons being kept or quarantined on the island, so it’s not quite clear what this particular bird’s story was, or if it was just a rogue pigeon that ended up in the pot.

In 1906, the quarantine station was repurposed for a different form of isolation. Will Vallance was diagnosed with leprosy at Christchurch Hospital, and was put in quarantine on the island. The station had seen less use for quarantining immigrants over the recent years, as most infectious cases were being treated in mainland hospitals, and now saw its second life of quarantine as a leper colony. Author and historian Benjamin Kingsbury says that although leprosy was only mildly contagious, it was probably more stigmatised than any other disease. If you are interested in the lives of the inhabitants, and their treatment, I strongly recommend these two stories on the Spinoff by Benjamin Kingsbury, who has written a book on the subject. After a year on the island, a small hut was built to house Vallance, who had previously been living alone in the much larger barracks. Having spent a few university summers nigh-alone in a large, typically-thriving hall of residence, I could see how that could be a lonely (and spooky) experience. A few more huts would be built between 1907 and 1924 to house further leprosy patients, totalling nine (Kingsbury, 2019, 2020). In 1924, the Mt Herbert County Council proposed the removal of the leper station, the given reason primarily the ongoing shared use of the island to quarantine stock, and that “importers of valuable stock do so with “a feeling that should not exist” (Press, 15/4/1924: 9). The eight remaining leprosy patients were transferred the next year to Fiji, far from the homes and contacts they knew (Trotter and McCulloch, 2004). It seems callous that a feeling of discomfort (largely unwarranted and self-inflicted) held by those looking over their economic investments should be put above the lives of human beings, those suffering from a chronic disease, but that was the world of the 1920s.

In 2002, archaeologist Michael Trotter, together with DOC and the Catholic Cathedral College of Christchurch undertook an excavation of one of the hut sites associated with the leper station, in order to construct the replica present on the hillside today. The excavation revealed the bricks of a fallen chimney (classic Christchurch), but little evidence of burning, suggesting that at least this hut was largely taken off site rather than burnt, as mentioned in the local newspapers at the time. The underfloor deposit hinted at the creature comforts enjoyed by the isolated patients: glass marbles from aerated drink bottles, thin glass likely originating from pictures, and a tin for holding  and mixing watercolour paints (Trotter and McCulloch, 2004). It’s not a bad view out over the harbour from the huts that housed the leprosy patients, after all.

Plan of the leprosy station hut excavated in 2002. Source: Trotter and McCulloch, 2004.

The east side of the island is also home to a nationally significant ship graveyard, where the hulks of 13 ships were intentionally scuttled between 1902 and 1951. If you’ve not been, it’s definitely worth a visit. Low tide reveals the skeletons of steamships, barques, and so on, as they seem to slowly rise from the still waters of Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour. In the words of our endemic poets “tide rolls in, tide rolls out, let the [shipwrecks] inside begin to [emerge from the harbour]”.

The ‘dissenters’ ship’s graveyard had to be placed somewhere else. Can’t have ships intermingling after death. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

One of the great things about Ōtamahua/Quail Island is that so much of its heritage is visible from just the short walk around the island. I’m looking forward to getting back, next chance I get. Stay safe out there peeps, and take care of each other.

Chur.

Tristan

 

Further reading

The ghosts of Quail Island

He is unclean; he shall dwell alone: A sad and startling story of leprosy in NZ

The cruelty – and small kindnesses – of quarantine 100 years ago

Bittersweet existence for the dogs of Antarctica

 

References

Globe [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Jackson, P.J., 2006. Ōtamahua/Quail Island – A Link With The Past. 2nd ed. (r ed. Christchurch: Ōtamahua Quail Island Restoration Trust.

Kelly, A., 2018. Third Time’s the Charm: An Investigation into the Quarantine Landscape of Lyttelton Harbour. Archaeology in New Zealand, 61(2), pp.41–50.

Kingsbury, B., 2019. He is unclean; he shall dwell alone: A sad and startling story of leprosy in NZ. [online] The Spinoff. Available at: <https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/07-10-2019/he-is-unclean-he-shall-dwell-alone-a-sad-and-startling-story-of-leprosy-in-nz/> [Accessed 15 May 2020].

Kingsbury, B., 2020. The cruelty – and small kindnesses – of quarantine 100 years ago. [online] The Spinoff. Available at: <https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/05-05-2020/the-cruelty-and-small-kindnesses-of-quarantine-100-years-ago/> [Accessed 12 May 2020].

LINZ, 1907. SO 4813, Canterbury. Landonline.

Lyttelton Times [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Mclean, G., 2013. Quail Island, Lyttelton Harbour (1875). [online] NZHistory.govt.nz. Available at: <https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/quail-island> [Accessed 12 May 2020].

National Libraries [online]. Group including Robert Falcon Scott, with Mongolian ponies, on Quail Island. Ref: 1/2-031141-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23184103 [Accessed 12 May 2020].

New Zealand Herald [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Press [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Star [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 2020. Ngāi Tahu Atlas. Kā Huru Manu. Available online: <http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/atlas/> [Accessed 12 May 2020]

Trotter, M. and McCulloch, B., 2000. Archaeological and historical sites of Quail Island and King Billy Island, Lyttelton Harbour, Canterbury. Report for the Canterbury Conservancy, Department of Conservation.

Trotter, M. and McCulloch, B., 2004. Archaeological Excavation of a Quarantine Station Hut Site on Quail Island, Lyttelton Harbour. Unpublished report for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

Putting The Pieces Together

Today on the blog we are discussing my favourite site of 2019. We already talked about part of the site’s history last fortnight on the blog- that it contained the store and offices for Walton, Warner and Co. and their later businesses. Today we’ll go a bit more in depth on both the history and the archaeology of the site (so if you haven’t read last fortnight’s blog then I recommend you do before reading this, otherwise this won’t make as much sense). But first, let me explain why it was my favourite site. This site was a perfect combination of a very complicated site history, super complicated archaeological features and excavations, and a very large artefact assemblage that contained a lot of unusual artefacts. Which meant it was very confusing to try and work out what was going on, but it was very satisfying when I did. This site is really complicated, so this isn’t going to be a short blog post (double the length of our normal blogs), but it’s a great way of sharing how, as archaeologists, we draw together multiple lines of evidence to work out what was happening in the past.

The History of the Site

The section of the site we’re going to be focusing on consisted of two town sections, TS 853 and TS 855. They’re highlighted in red on this 1850 map of Christchurch (ignore 857 and 858 as we’re not going to talk about them). Also shown on this map, in blue, is a creek bed. Large natural streams transversed swampy Christchurch and acted as tributaries and overflow channels for the Avon. Remember that there was a creek running through the site- it’s going to be important later on. Image: Jollie 1850 Plot of Christchurch.

Here’s the site in 1877. Those black shapes on the map represent buildings. No buildings were present on the site in the Fooks 1862 map, indicating all these buildings were constructed between 1862 and 1877. If you’ve read last fortnight’s blog, then you’ll remember that the front building on the TS 855/853 border was Walton, Warner and Co.’s store and the centre building on TS 855 was their office and that these buildings were built in 1864. The other building at the front of TS 855 also likely belonged to them, whilst the back building was a house. The buildings on TS 853 were offices that were occupied by a variety of businesses, including architects, accountants, solicitors and insurance brokers. Image: Strouts 1877.

This map, based on the recorded leases in the Deeds indexes from 1860-1872, gives some indication of how complex the history for this site was and how many different businesses were run out of the buildings on the site. We’re going to be focusing on Walton, Warner and Co., but it’s important to know that there were other businesses operating on the site. Image: A. Gibson.

And if you thought the above map was complicated, then check this one out. This is a 1909 plan, with this buildings on the site outlined in red (the blue lines are the property boundaries and the yellow shading is just our excavation are). Comparing it to the 1877 map, we can see that many of the building shown on the 1877 map were still standing in 1909, and that they are described as old and made of wood. What’s most important in this map is that is shows an old wooden building at the back of TS 853, that wasn’t there in the 1877 map, but is described as old suggesting it was probably constructed just after the 1877 map was made. Image: LINZ 1909.

So, to summarise, we’re interested in two town sections: TS 853 and TS 855. These town sections originally had a creek running through them and had buildings constructed on them after 1862, with more buildings added over the course of the 19th century. One of the occupants was Walton, Warner and Co. (later known as Wood, Shand and Co.,  who were general merchants and importers if you didn’t go back and read last fortnight’s blog). The other occupants were architects, insurance brokers, accountants and other businesses that had offices on the site.

The Archaeology

We found 19 different archaeological features during the excavation of the site. This site plan shows that most of the features were clustered at the back of the site. We’re not going to talk about every single feature from the site, but I’ve included t just to give an overview of where most of the archaeology was encountered. Image: M. Healey.

But before we go into more depth with the archaeology, there’s one more thing we need to mention. Before the archaeologist got to site, a large trench was excavated through the site (shown on the left). This trench disturbed archaeological features from the site and is easily comparable to the giant trench Heinrich Schliemann dug through the archaeological site Troy (shown on the right). Image, left: A. Trendafilov, right: C. Watson.

We’re going to break down the features we’re going to talk about into three groups. The first group consists of four features that were brick gully traps. These gully traps were located at the boundary of TS 855 and TS 853 and roughly corresponded to form a rectangle. They were also all found at a depth of approximately 200 mm below the modern surface Image: C. Watson.

One of the gully traps, exposed during excavation. This one also had earthenware pipes connecting into it. These gully traps included bricks manufactured by John Brightling between ca. 1880 and 1898, William Neighbours between 1868 and 1886 and Henry Kirk between 1885 and 1898. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The second group of features are a little more complicated. They consist of a series of deposits found running north to south along TS 853. These were deposits of artefacts in what we think was a tributary stream to the large creek shown on the 1850 map. Image: C. Watson.

This is Feature 3. It was found at a depth of 200 mm and extended down to a depth of 1400 mm and as we can see from this photo, was truncated by the unmonitored trench that was dug through the site. This photo is looking north and shows that the feature had a sloping base and consisted of several deposits. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Looking at the above photo and map, you’ve hopefully worked out that if Feature 3 was truncated by the trench then Feature 2 was located within the trench. We’ve got no idea how much of Feature 2 had been disturbed before we got to site, but we found it at a depth of 1200 mm and it extended down to a depth of 1900 mm. Also disturbed by the trench was Feature 4, which similar to Feature 3, had been truncated by the trench. What this means, is that Feature 2, 3 and 4 may all have been individual deposits within one larger deposit, but because the trench went through the middle of it, we’ll never know for sure. Image: A. Trendafilov.

And now we have Feature 5. Feature 5 was divided into six separate sub-features (told you this site was complicated). One of those, Feature 5d, was the brick gulley trap shown above. Another was a deposit of bricks that were possibly from a destroyed gully trap, as they also contained William Neighbours bricks. Two of the deposits contained 20th century material, and were found at the top of the feature, whilst the others found at a deeper depth contained 19th century material. And finally, there was Feature 15, which was a deposit of artefacts within a large metal bucket, that was found underneath Feature 5d, the brick gully trap. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Getting confused? Here’s a diagram to summarise. Essentially, we found different deposits of artefacts ranging from Feature 3 in the north to Features 5A and B in the south. These deposits extended to a depth of 1.2 m to 1.9 m (in the case of Feature 2). Feature 5D was the brick gully trap and Features 5E and 5F both contained 20th century material. Image: A. Trendafilov.

And finally, we have these features, which were located just west of the Feature 2-5 complex. These features were all rubbish pits or other types of deposits that contained artefacts dating to the 19th century. I’m not going to go into too much detail about them, as they’re a lot simpler to understand than the other features on the site, but just remember where they’re located. Image: C. Watson.

An example of what the other features looked like. This is Feature 13, a large rubbish pit that was dug into the ground. The pit is clearly able to be distinguished from the natural sandy clay that it was dug into. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The Artefacts

I’m not going to go into that much detail about the artefacts here, as that would be a whole blog post in itself (immediately starts drafting a post on them for next fortnight). Instead I’ll just make a few points.

  • A large artefact assemblage was recovered during the excavation, over 2000 artefacts in total.
  • Some of the artefact deposits clearly related to commercial activity. These included artefacts like the large deposit of identical clay pipes (pictured in last fortnight’s blog) that were found in Feature 16.
  • Some of the artefacts seemed to be related to domestic activity. These included things like food waste and worn shoes.
  • Ceramic artefacts found in the Feature 2-5 complex were highly fragmented, and sherds from one vessel were found spread across multiple features within the complex.
  • With the exception of the brick gullies and the 20th century sub-features from Feature 5, the artefact manufacture dates ranged from the 1850s through to the 1870s, with most of the artefacts likely manufactured before 1880.

A few of the many artefacts found at the site. To give you an idea of how many of the ceramic artefacts from different features conjoined, the fragments from the ceramic plate in the bottom right corner of this image were found spread across four different features in the Feature 2-5 complex. Image: C. Watson.

Bringing everything together

Now comes the fun part of archaeology (or at least I think that it’s the fun part). We consider the archaeological features we uncovered, the artefacts they contained, and the history of the site, to try and determine which site occupant likely deposited the artefacts, and from there, when and why they threw things away.

Let’s start with the ‘who’. In the case of this site, if we look at the occupants then we can see that Walton, Warner and Co. (or later iterations of the business) are most likely responsible for depositing most of the material. This is because the other occupants of the site, the insurance, accountant, architect etc offices that we haven’t really talked much about, were unlikely to be generating large volumes of rubbish, and certainly not rubbish that was obviously related to commercial practices such as the large deposit of identical clay pipes. When we compared the artefacts to those found during the excavation of Walton, Warner and Co.’s warehouses on Oxford Terrace, we found identical objects, such as the seltzer water bottles and blue dyed-body ware chambersticks (shown in last fortnight’s blog), confirming to us that the artefacts we had found were likely related to the commercial business of Walton, Warner and Co. But, (there’s always a ‘but’ in archaeology), we also found some artefacts that didn’t quite fit. These included large deposits of leather off-cuts in Feature 3 (you can see a pile of them in the artefacts photo) and lots of faunal remains. The leather off-cuts clearly looked to be from a cobbler, but there was no evidence for a cobbler occupying the site. This suggests then that some of the artefacts may have been disposed on the site from non-occupants. The leather off-cuts were clearly clustered together, meaning this may have been a one-off event, but it means we can’t say for sure that every single artefact found on the site related to Walton, Warner and Co. The faunal material is more typical of a domestic assemblage, relating to the disposal of daily food waste. There was a house located at the rear of TS 855 (you can see it in the 1877 map), so it may be that they were throwing their food away into pits shared with Walton, Warner and Co. Unfortunately, the house appears to have been leased and given how complicated the history of the site was, we’re not too sure exactly who was living in it.

Now let’s go to the ‘when’. From the artefacts, we know that most of the features contained material dating between 1850 and the late 1870s, with the exception of the brick gully traps that dated to the 1880s, and some of the deposits in the top of Feature 5 that dated to the 20th century. Those 20th century deposits contained plastic, indicating that they dated to the mid-late 20th century and despite being in the stream complex, weren’t connected to it. But we don’t have to just go off the artefacts to work out when features were deposited. We can also use information from the historical record, like maps.

This ‘map’ is showing the 1909 plan of the buildings on the site overlaid on the Strouts 1877 map, with the location of the 1850 gully also drawn onto it. Overlaid on top of that are the features we’ve been looking at, with red showing the gully trap, purple the stream features and yellow the general rubbish pit features. Image: C. Watson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly, let’s have a look at the creek bed. The creek bed that was present in 1850 appears to have been filled in by 1877, as it has buildings over it. We didn’t find any archaeological evidence of this infilling, but that’s not surprising because the building that was on the site prior to the earthquakes had a deep basement, and the construction of it likely removed any archaeology. We can see our stream bed features, shown in purple, running north to south. The depth of these features, combined with the curving shape of them, which looks to follow natural contours in the grounds surface, suggests that there was a tributary stream or ditch that flowed into the main creek bed, and that it was used to dispose of rubbish in. The layering of artefacts that we saw in features from this complex confirmed this to us.

All of the features we have been looking at are within the footprint of the building shown on the 1909 map, indicating they were definitely deposited before then (with the exception of the 20th century deposits, which were probably created after that building had been demolished). The 1909 map describes the building as old- the same descriptor it used for other buildings on TS 855 that align with buildings shown on the 1877 map. This would suggest then that this building was probably built at a comparable time. If we look at the gully trap locations, three of the four line up approximately with the edges of the building, suggesting they probably relate to that building and were located at the base of down pipes. Looking at the manufacture dates for the different bricks used in the gully traps, it is pretty likely that the building was built by 1885.

For the building to be constructed, first the stream bed would have had to have been filled in. When we looked at the date of artefacts found at the base of the stream bed features, compared to those found at the top, we found 1874 material at the base and 1876 material at the top, as well as artefacts that could be refitted, but came from different depths. This suggests that the deposition of material into the stream bed appears to have taken place over a relatively short time period, probably both to infill the stream bed so that the land could be developed, but also taking advantage of the natural depression.

The other rubbish features also contained material dating to the 1870s that was consistent with a pre-1885 deposition date. Looking then at the history of Walton, Warner and Co. we can see that the material found at the site likely relates to the Wood, Shand and Co. phase of the business.

So, to summarise, Wood, Shand and Co. built their office buildings and warehouse on the site in 1864 and probably used the empty space at the rear of TS 853 and TS 855 to dispose of commercial rubbish. In the late 1870s they decided to develop that portion of the site and infilled the tributary steam with broken and damaged stock, as well as waste imported from other businesses not operating on the site. In the early 1880s they constructed a building, and added gully traps to the building in the mid-1880s. Some time in the 20th century the buildings were demolished and a new building constructed, which was later damaged by the earthquakes and removed, leading to us excavating at the site and working this all out.  And there you go folks, that’s how we do archaeology (in an extremely condensed version)

Clara Watson

References

LINZ. 1909. DP 2713, Canterbury. Landonline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow the Red Brick Path

Recently we’ve been working in Lyttelton at the intersection of Canterbury and Winchester Streets for the installation of a replacement stormwater. While Lyttelton isn’t exactly over the rainbow, for archaeologists it is a pretty fantastic place to discover heritage and archaeology that has survived to the modern day. We have written about a number of sites in Lyttelton on the blog before, and there is always a good chance of encountering something beneath the ground in any project we’re involved in. The subject of the blog today is this particular find on the corner of Canterbury and Winchester Streets, which was a little different to our usual finds within the roadway. No lions, tigers or bears (oh my!), but instead, along with two rubbish pits and the corner of what was likely the original stone kerbing, we uncovered an earlier brick footpath just below the modern asphalt one. Tap your ruby slippers together and let’s go to 19th century Lyttelton to get a bit of context first.

Figure 1. Looking along Canterbury Street at the brick path (and the contractors at work!). Image: M. Hickey.

Both Canterbury and Winchester Street are part of the original town plan by Edward Jollie in 1849. Construction of the roads within the Lyttelton township began soon after their survey, but it was not until 1875 that the council finally agreed to fix the level of the street so that “the proper steps [could] be taken for forming the portion of Canterbury street between London and Winchester streets” (Amodeo, 2001: 148; Globe, 5/5/1875: 4, 16/6/1875: 3, 7/7/1875: 3; Press, 13/5/1875: 3, 14/5/1875: 4, 30/6/1875: 3; Star, 23/6/1875: 2). This work was likely necessary as sanitation issues were arising from residents throwing soap suds, vegetable matter, and refuse into the roadway of Canterbury Street (Press, 3/6/1875: 3). This would likely explain our two rubbish pits, although we are yet to do the analysis of these to see if the dates align. Although the Lyttelton Borough Council also commenced the construction of a footpath at this time, the threat of legal proceeding from H. Wynn Williams (the proprietor of the Albion Hotel, formerly located at modern site of Albion Square), whose section boundaries would be affected by the alteration of the roadway, stopped the footpath being completed at this time (Press, 22/9/1875: 3). Finally, in May 1891, the Lyttelton Borough Council adopted the suggestion made by the Foreman of Works that “the footpath in Canterbury Street should be laid down in brick” (Star, 5/5/1891: 4). Although no further information regarding the exact location of the brick footpath is recorded in the minutes of the Council meeting (which were printed in the local newspapers), it is likely that the section of the footpath in our project area was included in these works.

Figure 2. Detail from a photograph looking west along Winchester Street in 1901. William Hatherley’s store is visible on the corner of Canterbury Street along with the adjoining small cottage. More information on Hatherley below. Image: Rice, 2004: 46.

With regards to the property at the corner of Canterbury and Winchester Streets, evidence suggests that by at least May 1880 the premises were leased by Mr William Hatherly, who advertised his grocery store from premises on the “Corner of Canterbury and Winchester Street”, which he called “The People’s Store” (Star, 19/5/1880: 2). In 1890, the premise was advertised for sale, at which time it was described as comprising a “a large store and dwelling of seven rooms with cellarage” and also a “comfortable cottage of three rooms adjoining” (Star, 13/3/1890: 2). Hatherly later purchased the section he had been leasing since 1880 and shortly after advertised for tenders for the “erection of four rooms and alteration to present building, corner of Canterbury and Winchester Streets” (Lyttelton Times, 23/10/1891: 8). These alterations coincided with the Lyttelton Borough Council’s decision to have the footpath in Canterbury Street paved with brick, which suggests Hatherly may have altered the building to best align with the new street frontage.

The decision to pave the footpath with brick at the corner of Canterbury and Winchester Streets shows the important of the foot traffic in the area. While gravel footpaths were more commonly constructed in 19th century Canterbury, the use of brick-paved footpaths were more favourable in areas of heavy foot traffic as they were more pleasant to walk on and provided a better foothold in winter than smooth flagged or asphalted pavement (a very important consideration for Lytteltonians). Bricks were also favourable as they were easily laid, and also easily removed when it was necessary to lay or repair water-pipes or make connections with house drains. In England, brick footpaths were quite ornamental, often being laid in diamond or rosetta patterns (Hasluck, 1904: 76). While none of the bricks we found were quite that ornamental, it has been noted that only the best work would have the bricks at the corners of streets radiate around the street corner in a fan, rather than have two courses of bricks meet at right angles as was more common (Hasluck, 1904: 83).

The brick path exposed during works was a very short one to follow, comprising two sections at a maximum length of 3.5 and 3.8 m each. The path had been disrupted by services laid in the 20th century but the laying of the modern asphalt footpath directly on top of the bricks had done a great job at preserving the remaining sections. All of the bricks were marked with a ‘W’, the manufacturers mark for the Wigram Brothers brickmakers. Wigram Brothers began manufacturing and selling bricks in 1886 when they purchased the brickyard formally owned by Royse, Stead and Co. and the New Zealand Grain Agency Company and Mercantile Ltd in Heathcote (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 9/7/1886: 3, Cyclopedia Company Limited, 1903: 292). “W” marked bricks stopped being produced in 1903 when Wigram Brothers merged with T. N. Horsley to form the Christchurch Brick and Tile Company (Press 14/7/1903: 1). The bricks at the corner were laid differently in more of an angled pattern to fit the corner. Although we could only see part of this section, they appeared to radiate out from the corner – more like the fan pattern described above.

Figure 3. Part of the south portion of the bricks, in straight courses. Most of this section was able to be left in place after the completion of the recent works. Image: M. Hickey.

Figure 4. Part of the northern section of the bricks, with a lot of fill material marking the service which cut through the pathway. Image: M. Hickey.

Figure 5. The brick path was just below the modern asphalt surface, as seen here. Image: M. Hickey.

Figure 6. The northern section of the path at the corner. The bricks here are angled to go around the corner rather than have two straight courses meeting at right angles – probably a mark of good brick laying. Image: M. Hickey.

Figure 7. Out of the ground and all cleaned up: one of the Wigram Brother bricks from the path. Image: J. Jones.

This all the information we have for now, as these finds are pretty recent and we’re yet to complete the report on the project. As the project was concentrated on the intersection of the two streets, we don’t know how much of the path remains along the rest of Canterbury Street, although we didn’t encounter it again on the northern side of the intersection. It was great to see that previous asphalting of the footpath kept the bricks in situ and in good condition for us to find later. We’re big fans of heritage fabric being left in place when there is no need to remove it to carry out a project, so it was fantastic that someone had come to the same conclusion in the past.

Megan Hickey and Lydia Mearns.

References
Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, 1877-1939. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Amodeo, C., 2001. Forgotten Forty-niners: Being an account of the Men & Women who paved the way in 1849 for the Canterbury Pilgrims in 1850. Christchurch: The Caxton Press.

Cyclopedia Company Ltd, 1903. [online] The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]. Available at: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-corpus-cyclopedia.html
d4.html.

Globe, 1874-1882. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Hasluck, P.N., 1904. Road and Footpath Construction. Cassell & Company.

Lyttelton Times, 1851-1914. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Press, 1861-1945. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Star, 1868-1920. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Rice, G.W., 2004. Lyttelton: Port and Town – An Illustrated History. Canterbury University Press.

Seize the means of production! The archaeology of tools and labour.

For a lot of us, Labour Day is celebrated in the same way as a lot of public holidays: not thinking about work, catching up the gardening and odd jobs around the house, going away for a long weekend, having a barbie, that sort of thing. But unlike say, New Year’s Day, or Boxing Day, or The Day After New Year’s Day, or Queen’s Birthday (Down with the Monarchy!), Labour Day is a public holiday with actual historical and national significance beyond an excuse for a day off. Labour Day is among our oldest holidays and was first celebrated on 28 October 1890, a year after the establishment of the Maritime Council, a collection of transport and mining unions (Atkinson, 2018).

Union members march in the first Labour Day, Dunedin, 1890. Generally, I try and avoid a large group of people wearing white, but these guys seem alright. Derby, 2016.

The day was not yet a public holiday enshrined in law, but instead a day of collective action.  In Christchurch, newspapers report that “the crowds of merry-making children were scarcely happier than parents and elder relations” (Star, 29/10/1890: 2). The Star described it as “the greatest popular demonstration seen in Christchurch since the day when the people of Canterbury assembled in thousands to demand the West Coast Railway” (Star, 29/10/1890: 4). There was a procession of unions, too many to list, but including carpenters, joiners, plasterers, tailors, butchers, labourers, bookbinders, shipwrights, shop assistants, bricklayers, carriers, bakers, boilermakers, engineers, plumbers, gasfitters, and bootmakers. The annual parades and recognition of Labour Day were political in nature, with workers and unionists lobbying for the enforcement of a universal eight-hour working day (among other advances), a right that workers in some industries already enjoyed, while others did not. Though the eight-hour working day never made it into the legislation, Labour Day was made a public holiday by act of parliament in 1899 (Atkinson, 2018).

Eventually ‘Mondayised’ to make everyone’s lives easier.  (Evening Post, 2/11/1899:2).

As Christchurch archaeologists, most of the material culture we find is domestic, and related to consumption- both the commercial consumption kind, and the ‘nom nom nom’ kind. When excavating a domestic Pākehā site in Christchurch, we’re most often faced with a bevy of teacups, plates, platters, bottles and other refuse in a rubbish pit; all products, all artefacts of consumption. In contrast, the reverse is true of Māori archaeological sites, where the majority of artefacts we find are by-products from the manufacture of tools. In the case of Pākehā sites, it can seem a stretch to reconnect these products to their production, and to the hands, machine, and labour that created them. Today’s blog attempts, in honour of good old Labour Day, to reconnect artefacts to labour and production (the first step in the life-history of an artefact), by looking at some of the common tools we find in Pākehā archaeological sites in Christchurch. I won’t be talking about the processes of artefact manufacture per se (but if you’re interested in that, check our earlier blogs here and here).

I’m of the opinion that no shed is complete without a spade, a shovel, a family of spiders that refuse to give you their name or say a polite hello in the mornings, a rake, and a jar of snake specimens in formaldehyde that you stole from your last job (don’t worry, they won’t read this). Digging tools are crucial for construction, agriculture, and household chores, and would’ve been the tool of choice for digging the rubbish pits that are our bread and butter here at Underground Overground Archaeology. Canterbury’s first industry was agriculture, and many of the suburbs surrounding the central city have been converted from market gardens, orchards, and farms (Wilson, 2005). Even as the residential area spread, many people kept animals and gardens, and it’s no surprise that some of the most common tools or implements we find are representative of the agricultural labour that formed early Christchurch’s backbone, the construction associated with the city’s gradual expansion, and the conversion of the surrounding farms. Just as the last eight years have seen a construction boom in Christchurch, construction was a burgeoning industry in the early decades of settlement thanks to steady growth, as the Pākehā population grew from stuff-all to over 50,000 over the course of six decades (Thorns and Schrader, 2010).

Truly ground-breaking tools. Spade and shovel blades from the Justice Precinct, F38. Ca. 1860s-1870s. Williams, et al., 2017.

A very toothless rake from a site in Johns Road, Harewood. Bradley et al. 2016.

Stop.

Hammer time. Also, a sweet pair of pliers. Both from a site on Oxford Terrace,, F45. Ca. late 1860s-early 1870s. Garland et al. 2014.

Of course, not all labour is hammers and shovels. In the first decades of Christchurch settlement, ‘industry’ largely involved small-scale manufacture of products like beer, soap, shoes, and dairy-products (Burnard, 2000; Pickles, 2000). Many of the commercial and/or industrial sites we encounter in Christchurch reflect this small scale, often being small businesses and the homes of their operators. To contrast with picks and spades, we also find the archaeological remains of planning, drafting, and other sketchy workplace behaviours (you’ll see what I did there when you get to the photos). We also often find artefacts commonly  associated with the manufacture of clothing, like scissors, bobbins, pins, sewing machine fragments, and off-cuts of cloth and leather. Sometimes these are from sites of professional tailors and dressmakers, but often they are from households of other occupations, and represent the often-unrecorded, unpaid, and underappreciated labour of the domestic sphere, largely done by women. These are a helpful reminder that even though the majority of artefacts we find are associated with consumption of the ‘nom nom nom’ type, they also represent the uncredited labour of those who prepared food and drink throughout the past.

Left:  A hinge from a folding ruler, Tuam Street. Right: a set of “Studley” (I’ll say) callipers from the Justice Precinct.  Ca. 1860s-1870s. Williams, et al., 2017.

A drawing compass, and a protractor, complete with measurements incised on the surface, St Asaph St, c. 1860s-1870s. Dooley et al. 2016.

A feature of leather off-cuts from shoe manufacture. Ca. 1860s-1870s.  Williams et al. 2017.

Half of a pair of scissors (a scissor?), from a site on Kilmore Street. Williams and Watson, 2019.

Tailoresses at work, clothing factory, Christchurch. Ref: 1/1-008930-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22763367.

Of course, Christchurch was founded during the western industrial revolution, with artisanal and  small-scale manufacture gradually giving way to larger factories, like that shown above, and increasing mechanisation of what had previously been handmade (Pickles, 2005). We’ve excavated sites of smithies, workshop and foundries in central Christchurch, places where tools and machinery were forged, perhaps including some of those shown above.  Initially, most of the city’s tools were imported from the UK, but the development of local foundries soon filled the gap, and between the late 1800s and early 1900s, Christchurch was New Zealand’s major manufacturing centre (Williams, 2005: 131). Foundry workers forged the agricultural implements and machinery that farmers used to produce the food that fed the labour force and drove a major portion of the economy. The foundries and workshops also produced and assembled the carriages and locomotives that formed the backbone of New Zealand’s early transport network, making vital connections to distant towns. On foundry sites, we not only find rubbish pits chocka with scrap metal, off-cuts and extras from the manufacturing process, but we’ve also been lucky enough to find the remains of furnaces, factory floors, and other structural features that help to bring these workplaces to life, and to illustrate the lives of the workers that produced the tools and machinery that ran the colony.

Foundry workers at the firm of P. & D. Duncan, Christchurch, possibly their Tuam Street premises. Webb, Stefano, 1880-1967: Collection of negatives. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref. 1/1-019285-G. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23193943.

Two of a row of five brick features surrounded by ash and charcoal-stained soil,  likely representing furnaces, at the site of the P. and D. Duncan foundry. These may be the same furnaces shown in the photo above. Dooley et al. 2018.

A rubbish pit filled with scrap metal, from a central city foundry site.

Remains of farming machinery from a central Christchurch foundry site.

One of the challenges in archaeology is trying to connect the artefact to the person that made or used it. It’s a little easier in historical archaeology, where we can use documents to roughly equate the dates of features to the occupants of a property at that time, but it’s an imprecise process. Rarely do we get an artefact that we can directly infer, rather than suggest, a connection with a particular individual. Well, if you didn’t think the previous sentences were a lead-up to a picture of an artefact with a specific person’s name on it, YOU ARE SORELY MISTAKEN AND BAD AT READING FORESHADOWING.

Boom. Check this out. A broken file with an embossed handle reading “J. GILL” and a second illegible word reading “B(or R)OW..S..”. Williams and Watson, 2019.

A carpenter’s tool associated with a particular named carpenter! There is a 1909 reference to J. Gill from Christchurch who was a carpenter and joiner, but there is no known association between Gill and the site where this was found (Star, 05/08/1909: 3). The file was part of an underfloor deposit at St Luke’s Vicarage on Kilmore Street, and it is possible that Gill lost or discarded the file between the floorboards while at work at the vicarage. We may not know much about Gill, but this file is a tangible remnant of the man and his work. When we talk about putting all our ability and effort to a task, we talk about putting all our “blood, sweat, and tears” into it. Though these things leave no (or little) trace behind to tell of the labour and effort we expend over our lifetimes, many of the physical remains of this labour remain, as do the tools we use to produce them. The archaeological record preserves these remains, and can give us an insight in to the labour that went into the formation of Christchurch, and the lives of its inhabitants.

Here are a couple of my favourite tools: a sickle that I liberated from my Grandad’s when we cleared it out, and my trusty trowel.

Possibly been in the family for generations. I primarily use this now to take the heads off of thistles.

An archaeologist’s best friend.

Finally, I wish you good weather, good company, good food, and good times for the Labour Day weekend. I leave you with a photo of some folks celebrating Labour Day the way many New Zealander’s have for decades, and a poem from the first Labour Day.

“Farmers and friend, having a beer at the end of the day (note the beer being poured from a glass half gallon jar) Labour Day, Southbridge, 1949, at an agricultural fair.” Source: Kete Christchurch.

Tristan Wadsworth

References

Atkinson, N., 2018. ‘Labour Day’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/labour-day, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-Jun-2018. Accessed 23 October 2019.

Bradley, F., Webb, K. and Garland, J., 2016. 448 Johns Road, Christchurch: report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Burnard, T. 2000. ‘An Artisanal Town – The Economic Sinews of Christchurch’ in Cookson, J. and Dunstall. G. 2000. Southern Capital – Christchurch: Towards a city biography 1850-2000. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Derby, M. 2016. ‘Strikes and labour disputes – Early labour disputes’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/artwork/20469/first-labour-day-procession-dunedin (accessed 24 October 2019).

Dooley, S. Haley, J., and Dickson, C. 2018. Laneway area, 93, 103, and 105 Manchester Street, 196, 204, and 206 Tuam Street, 221 and 227 St Asaph Street, Christchurch (M35/1132): report on archaeological monitoring. HNZPT authority 2016/701eq. Unpublished report for Ōtākaro Ltd.

Dooley, S., Whybrew, C., Garland, J. and Mearns, L. 2016. 150 St Asaph Street, Christchurch (M35/1164, M35/1165, M35/1166): report on archaeological monitoring. HNZPT authority 2016/435eq. Unpublished report for Southbase.

Evening Post, 2/11/1899:2. Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Garland, J., Carter, M. and Geary Nichol, R., 2014. The Terrace, M35/1050, Christchurch: Report on Archaeological Investigations, Volumes 1-2. Unpublished report for Hereford Holdings.

Pickles, K. 2000. ‘Workers and workplaces – industry and modernity’ in Cookson, J. and Dunstall. G. 2000. Southern Capital – Christchurch: Towards a city biography 1850-2000. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Star, 29/10/1890: 2. Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Star, 29/10/1890: 4. Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Star, 05/08/1909: 3. Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Thorns, D. and Schrader B., 2010., ‘City history and people – The appeal of city life’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/graph/23512/population-of-the-four-main-cities-1858-2006. Accessed 23 October 2019.

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2017. Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct, Volumes 1-3. Archaeological Report.  Unpublished Report for the Ministry of Justice by Underground Overground Archaeology Ltd.

Williams, H., and Watson, C. 2019. St Luke’s Vicarage (former), 185 Kilmore Street, Christchurch: report on archaeological work under HNZPT authority 2017/757eq. Unpublished report for Maiden Built Ltd.

Wilson, J. 2005. Contextual historical overview for Christchurch City final draft report for comment. Christchurch; Christchurch City Council.

 

The Second Mayor of Akaroa and his Wife

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.

We had around 60 people come to our open office night; here they are admiring the artefacts we had out on display. Image: K. Webb.

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).

Henry can be seen sporting an absolutely magnificent beard in the upper left corner. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

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.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 21/09/1926.

It was a close race for the 1877 mayoralty, with Henry taking it out by only nine votes. Of course to vote in the 1877 election, you would have had to be male, a British subject, at least 21 years in age, own land worth at least £50 or pay at least £5 to £10 (depending on where you lived) a year in rent, and not be serving a criminal sentence. Image: Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 30/11/1887.

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.

Despite Henry being the mayor of Akaroa, Elizabeth sounds like she was the real hero. Raising ten children, running a shop and managing multiple blocks of land would be hard enough today, let-alone with all the difficulties of 19th century life. Image: Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 20/07/1894.

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 old creek bed, identified through the darker soil and the presence of artefacts, can be seen in this photo. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The creek bed extended across most of the rear of the site. Image: A. Trendafilov.

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.

Some of the Watkins’ artefacts out on display. Note the many complete vessels, and the Piesse and Lubin perfume bottles on the left of the top shelf. Image: C. Watson.

More artefacts out on display, these are only a few of the many artefacts we found on site. Note the two clothes irons on the middle right shelf, not the kind of thing people threw out often, which suggests most of the artefacts were disposed of after the Watkins passed. Image: C. Watson.

For anyone wondering what my all-time favourite artefact is, here it is (you can also see it on the middle shelf of the top photo). This glass basket was decorated with a grape pattern and is very fancy. It was possibly used for serving fruit or treats on or may have simply sat on a shelf for decoration. Image: C. Watson.

Clara Watson