It’s All Child’s Play

When I think of childhood in the 19th century, my mind goes back to visits to museums and heritage parks with rooms and displays set up to replicate key spaces in Victorian society: the household, the blacksmiths, the doctor’s office and the school. Visits to these places always instilled me with the opinion that the 19th century was not a good time to be a child.

This opinion had a multitude of influences. Tales of high child and infant mortality rates, with the impression of an accompanying belief that it was a waste of time to invest love and attention into children when they would most likely just die, coloured my perception of children’s home lives. If the child did survive, then they were most likely put to work as a chimney sweep or in a factory, where they would probably die because the industrial revolution was not known for its health and safety practices (at least not in the first part of the century). If they were lucky enough to go to school, then they probably got put in a corner with a dunce cap or were beaten with a cane. Various sayings like “spare the rod and spoil the child” and “children should be seen and not heard” enforced this opinion.

There is truth in this view. A quick search through the death notices in old newspapers, or a wander through an old cemetery, will very quickly show that many infants and children died at a young age. This is confirmed in infant mortality rate statistics, with the infant mortality rate fluctuating between 7.1% and 12.6% in the 19th century (in comparison the modern infant mortality rate is 0.4%). Tales of children working in factories will come up in almost any summary of the industrial revolution, as will stories of strict teachers in summaries on Victorian schools. But to say that life was completely awful for a Victorian child would be a mistake, and it is certainly not the impression given by the archaeological record here in Christchurch.

If I had to think of an artefact that encapsulated the worst aspects of Victorian childhood, then it would be this. This unassuming artefact is the stopper from an infant feeder bottle, later given the nickname “Murder Bottle”. This name comes from the design of the bottle, which was difficult to clean, resulting in a build-up of bacteria that was only made worse by household guru Mrs Beeton recommending they were only cleaned every two to three weeks. Funnily enough, the bottles stopped being popular near the end of the 19th century when the medical community condemned them. Image: C. Watson. 

Infant bottle feeders aside, most of the artefacts relating to children that we find in Christchurch can be divided into three categories: play, education, and foodways, with some overlapping between categories. But before we have a look at these, I first want to delve into what we specifically mean by childhood. On one hand, childhood is simply that fun period of your life with no responsibilities before you have to work, pay bills and worry about the inevitable collapse of society as a result of climate change – i.e. a developmental stage on the way to being an adult. On the other hand, childhood is a social construct, and different societies differentiate the differences between childhood and adulthood in different ways, and at different ages (this video here gives a quick summary of childhood as a social construct, but if you really love theory then check out this thesis here, which takes a very detailed look at the theory of childhood). Childhood itself is influenced by many factors, (the child’s biology, the environment they grow up in, the education they receive), with the overall view that these factors influence the type of adult they will become. In this way, the child can be seen as either a passive receptor (being influenced by the factors that contribute to their childhood), or an active agent, engaging in and influencing their childhood (Vlahos 2014).

One of the key aspects of childhood is play. Play is a culturally universal phenomenon, observed across all societies as a significant and distinctive activity (Vlahos 2014: 260). It’s also what we see most frequently in the archaeological record in Christchurch, when we’re looking at the archaeological evidence for the presence of children.

Dolls are probably the most common artefact relating to children that we find on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. This is probably related to the fact that most of the dolls we find in Christchurch are made from ceramic, which tends to preserve well. We generally find two types of dolls. The first are jointed dolls. These had a cloth body to which a porcelain head, arms and legs were attached, with the limbs and heads surviving. The second are Frozen Charlotte Dolls. These were small naked figurines, inspired by ballad Fair Charlotte which described the story of a young girl who froze to death in a sleigh on her way to a ball. Most of the dolls shown here are Frozen Charlottes or jointed doll parts, although there are two more decorative figurines. Also pictured down the bottom is my personal favourite, a jointed doll’s head with inlaid teeth. Image: C. Watson.

Also relatively common are marbles. We find a great variety of marbles, ranging from cheap clay “commies” to glazed bennington marbles to glass marbles with various swirls and patterns. Image: C. Watson.

The artefacts that inspired this blog post: miniatures. Most of these artefacts come from one assemblage, which was quite unique for both the quantity and variety of miniature vessels it contained. Prior to this I had never found a miniature ladle before! Image: C. Watson.

These artefacts tell us much more than just that there were children present at the sites – they tell us about childhood in the 19th century. All of these toys were likely made by adults, and probably chosen by adults for the respective children. As such, childhood is often heavily influenced by the adults surrounding a child.  Many of the toys were likely intended to be played with in a manner that would prepare the children for adulthood. Dolls and miniature tea and dinner sets would prepare girls for their future role as mothers and homemakers, and let them mimic activities that they saw their own mothers doing. Whilst there were a variety of different games to be played with marbles, most of them had the main objective of obtaining all the marbles. The intricacies of marble trading, with some worth more than others, prepared children for the capitalist society they were entering (Vlahos 2014).

The education factor of childhood is more explicit in other artefacts, often those also associated with food, such as plates and cans intended for use by children. And of course we also find artefacts specifically associated with education itself, such as writing slate and slate pencils.

Cans and plates intended for use by children were often printed with educational designs (along with other fun patterns). These could be an alphabet printed as part of the pattern, encouraging the child to learn to read. Or they could have a morality theme. The can on the bottom right depicts two men gardening, with a sailboat shown in the background. The pattern refers back to one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims, specifically his maxim “industry needs not wish, and he that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains, then help hands for I have no lands”. The illustration was taken from 24 scenes of town and country life illustrating Franklin’s “lessons for the young and the old, on industry, temperance, frugality &c” by Robert Drighton, published by Bowles and Carver, London in 1795 (Riley 1991: 270). These illustrations and maxims were probably familiar to children in the 19th century, and vessels decorated with them were intended to help with children’s moral education. Image: C. Watson.

And, of course, we find artefacts associated with education itself. The Victorian child’s schooling was slightly different to that of modern children- slate tablets rather than iPads! Also different was the inclusion of things beyond the three Rs, skills like needlework and woodwork were also taught to prepare children for adulthood. Image: C. Watson

How well the perception of childhood based on the archaeological record matches reality is something we can’t really tell from the archaeological record alone. If we view children simply as passive actors, then we can assume that if a girl was given a doll, then she played with it as if it was her own child, as was intended by the adult who gave it to her, and then she grew up to be a good mother. But if we view children as complex individuals and active agents, then the girl may have played with it as if it was her own child one day, but on another day sacrificed it in a witch’s spell make believe game, or given it to her brother to play with, or used it in any other type of play other than what was intended. Intended function versus actual function is a bugbear of archaeology – is the ceramic cup we found actually part of a tea set, or is it from the flour bin where it was used as a scoop? And, of course, while we’re talking about bugbears of archaeology, I can’t really assume that the toys we’ve found mean that there were children at the site (Mills 2010). They could represent mementos collected by adults to remind them of their own childhood. In the case of children, I think it’s safe to assume that whilst children may have played with toys as intended, they also likely used them imaginatively and played all sorts of games with them.

Unfortunately, I can’t go back and ask any of the children from my sites how they played with their toys. But what I can say is that play was likely an important part of childhood in 19th century Christchurch. A quick survey of the assemblages I’ve analysed over the past couple of years revealed that just over half of them contained artefacts relating to children, and that those which didn’t were generally small assemblages (2-20 artefacts) from sites that only had minimal excavation, indicating that artefacts relating to children are relatively common finds. Reading 19th century newspapers and manuals on the management of children (which didn’t make it into this blog after it somehow took a very theoretical turn) also frequently refer to play, and clearly indicate that it was an important part of childhood (Barrett 1883; Royal College of Physicians London 1889). And so my view that the 19th century was not a good time to be a child has changed. I have revised it to that the 19th century was an okay time to be a child, provided that you survived and weren’t employed as a chimney sweep.

I went into researching for this blog with the preconceived notion that I was going to be astounded by Victorian parenting advice. Instead, I found that most of what I read was relatively relatable. I thought this piece of advice on how to keep children occupied was a nice way to end the blog- I certainly remember whining to my mum as a child that I was bored and that there was nothing to do, but being all too happy to go off and play if I was made to bring the firewood in. Image: Daily Telegraph 04/04/1891: 2.   

Clara Watson


Barrett, H. 1883. The management of infancy and childhood, in health and disease. G. Routledge, London. Available:

Riley, N. 1991. Gifts for Good Children: the history of children’s china, 1790-1890. Richard Dennis, Somerset.

Royal College of Physicians of London. 1889. Suggestions to mothers on the management of their children. Churchill, London. Available:

Mills, R. 2010. Miniatures in historical archaeology: Toys, trifles and trinkets re-examined. Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Leicester, School of Archaeology and Ancient History. Available:

Vlahos, M. 2014. Developing an Archaeology of Childhood Experiences in Australia 1788-1901. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, School of Social Science. Available:

All Sherds are Equal

Modern archaeology, in New Zealand at least, is a democratic science. By this, I mean that as archaeologists we investigate and record ALL deposits, features, and artefacts we come across on sites. We don’t cherry pick our sites to only excavate those that represent the wealthy and elite of society (looking at you classical archaeologists *cough* Heinrich Schliemann *cough*). Instead, in Christchurch, we excavate sites where the working classes lived, along with those from the middle and upper classes.

This means we don’t privilege any people of the past, or at least not when we’re looking at artefacts (buildings are sometimes a different story). The archaeological deposits we find that relate to a butcher and his family who lived in a small four room cottage are equally as important as those we find that relate to an ex-mayor who lived in a large house. I personally think that this is important, as whilst we typically view our sites in an archaeological and academic context representing the history of New Zealand and Christchurch (and discuss them as such), they can also hold a personal connection for any descendants wanting to learn more about their ancestor’s lives (hot tip for anyone doing family research, archaeological reports are now available online from Heritage New Zealand if you know where an ancestor was living and want to see if any archaeology has been done at the site).

It also means we are able to do comparative research. How can we say (using the archaeological record) that a person was wealthy and that this is demonstrated in what they have thrown away, if we don’t have deposits from working-class sites to compare with? How can we know what items were typical for a period if we don’t have a representative sample from across society? From this viewpoint, everything is important. The rubbish pit containing unusual complete and near-complete vessels from a household clean-out event has as much information potential as the small pit with a few broken fragments of common items. Both can provide specific information on the occupants of the site and how they lived their lives, as well as being used to look more broadly at life in Christchurch through comparative studies.

This has been a very long introduction to basically say that today’s blog is show-casing some of the artefacts we’ve found over recent months. But unlike previous blogs, where we normally focus on complete or unusual objects, today I’m going to be sharing the small, broken fragments that we don’t normally talk that much about, because they’re just as important as the unusual artefacts.

Ooooh yeah, Asiatic Pheasants. We couldn’t do a blog talking about ceramic sherds and not include the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. We find this pattern on almost every archaeological site in Christchurch. It doesn’t matter who you were, what you did for a living, how much money you had, if you lived in Christchurch from the 1860s onwards then you probably owned Asiatic Pheasants patterned vessels. One of the best things about the pattern being so common is that it also doesn’t matter how small the fragment is, we can almost always identify the pattern. Image: C. Watson.


Fragments can also be frustrating though, in that you get a tiny glimpse into the pattern but it’s too small to work out what’s going on. Take this flow blue pattern for example. The figure in the centre of the sherd is clear. But is she facing another figure who’s much larger than her? Does that mean the central figure is a child and the larger figure is her mother? And why does the central figure not have legs? Is she a ghost? Has she come back to haunt the figure on the right? Have I been watching too many horror moves? So many questions, but unfortunately with such a small sherd we’ll probably never know what the pattern was. Image: C. Watson


Sometimes a fragment will have distinguishing elements (like a lot of the patterns pictured below), meaning that there’s something to start with when trying to identify the pattern. Others, like this one, I generally won’t even bother searching for. There were literally thousands of different patterns made by the Staffordshire potteries that had floral elements, meaning that unless you’re super familiar with a pattern (like Asiatic Pheasants), it’s near-impossible to identify a sherd that just has the edges of a flower on it. Image: C. Watson.


I think this sherd is made 100% better by the fact that the horse and rider are missing their heads *insert headless horseman pun here*. Image: C. Watson.


When it comes to random patterns on sherds then this is definitely the best. My favourite part is the smoking pipe the figure on the right is holding- that’s one long pipe stem. We weren’t able to identify the pattern, but I imagine that it’s probably based on an 18th or early 19th print that was adapted into a ceramic pattern by a Staffordshire pottery. Image: C. Watson.


Houses, but miniature, so they’re better. This is likely from the background of a romantic pattern. Image: C. Watson.


It’s very satisfying when you’re able to identify a pattern from only a small sherd. This plate is decorated with the Royal Exchange pattern and the central scene (which was missing) shows the third Royal Exchange building, opened in 1844 (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 311). Image: C. Watson.


And what is perhaps even more satisfying than identifying the pattern from a small fragment, is identifying the manufacturer. All my time spent lurking in pottery groups on Facebook is paying off because when I saw these sherds my gut instinct was that this was Mason’s Ironstone with Imari pattern. A google search revealed a near-identical dinner set, with details like the small spines on the gilt spirals and slightly uneven painting of the flowers exactly the same as the fragments we found. The best part though was that the dinner set had the Mason’s Patent Ironstone China mark, making me pretty confident that my gut instinct was correct. Image: C. Watson.


And to end the blog, a scene from where we would all rather be: at home, lounging on the couch, patting a dog. Image: C. Watson.

























































































































Clara Watson


Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 17801880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

















The Colleen Bawn

The girl I love is beautiful, she’s fairer than the Dawn; She lives in Garryowen, and she’s called the Colleen Bawn

The above quote is taken from Dion Boucicault’s 1860 play, The Colleen Bawn. The play is based on an 1829 novel, The Collegians, written by Gerald Griffin, which itself is based on the 1819 murder of Ellen Hanley. You might be wondering what stories of a murder that took place over 200 years ago have to do with Christchurch archaeology. Well, dear reader, I was wondering the same.

We recently excavated a clay pipe with the name “COLLEEN BAWN” stamped on the stem. The mark was one I had never seen before, and the pipe was incomplete meaning I did not know if there were any other markings on the bowl. I began my research on the pipe by sharing it in the Society for Clay Pipe Research group, which was my first introduction to the story of Colleen Bawn. As an avid true crime podcast listener, I was rather excited (if that is not too morbid to admit) that the pipe we found could have a connection to a 200-year-old true crime case.

The pipe stem in question. The COLLEEN BAWN marks, located on either side of the stem, are shown below the pipe. Image: C. Watson.

Let us travel back to Autumn 1819, to Kilrush, Ireland, where the remains of Ellen Hanley had just washed ashore. Only 15 years old, Ellen Hanley was well known for being both beautiful and kind, and was given the moniker Colleen Bawn. The name comes from the Irish cailín bán, meaning white girl or pure/innocent girl. Ellen was raised by her uncle, a farmer in County Limerick, after her mother died when she was young.

In the months prior to her murder, Ellen became acquainted with John Scanlan. John, in his early 20s, was a member of the local minor aristocracy, a former Royal Marine, and a heavy gambler. John began to visit Ellen in secret, eventually persuading her to marry him. The two eloped in early July 1819, marrying in secret as John feared his family would not approve of the marriage. The marriage was short and unhappy. A young protestant clergyman met Ellen on a passenger boat, and she confided in him that she regretted leaving her uncle’s farm and that her new husband had spent her dowry on alcohol and gambling. John Scanlan also regretted the marriage, quickly tiring of his new bride and the secrecy of the marriage. He enlisted the help of his servant, Stephen Sullivan, and together they planned her murder.

On July 14th Scanlan and Sullivan took Ellen for a trip in Scanlan’s boat. In the middle of the river Sullivan shot Ellen with a musket. He then stripped her of her clothes, weighed down her body by tying it to rocks, and threw her into the river. Ellen’s disappearance was noticed several weeks later when Maura Sullivan, Stephen Sullivan’s sister, was seen wearing Ellen’s clothes. Six weeks after the murder Ellen’s body washed up at Moneypoint. While the body was too decomposed to identify, the rope tying the body to the rocks was identified as having been lent to John Scanlan. Scanlan and Sullivan quickly disappeared, and police soon determined that the body was the missing Ellen, and that Scanlan and Sullivan were the murderers. Scanlan was found hiding at his parent’s property and was put to trial in March 1820. Despite being defended by the famous lawyer, Daniel O’Connell, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Scanlan hung on March 16th 1820, with Sullivan caught, tried and hung shortly after.

A memorial to Ellen Hanley is located at the graveyard in Killimer. Image: Irish Waterways History.

Despite being a true story, the fate of Ellen Hanley has all the makings of an excellent narrative: a secret romance, an innocent girl who had a tragic fate, and an evil villain who was punished for his crime. That may be what made the play, The Colleen Bawn, which was based on the murder, so popular in New Zealand and around the world. Newspaper advertisements show that the play was performed regularly in Christchurch from 1864 into the early 20th century.

An 1864 advertisement for the Colleen Bawn play being performed in Christchurch. Image: Press 27/04/1864: 1.

So, what is a name referencing a murdered Irish girl doing on a clay pipe in 1890s Lyttelton? To understand this, it is first important to understand that clay pipes had uses other than just as a vessel for smoking. The clay pipe has its origins in the 16th century, following the introduction of tobacco from the Americas. As tobacco decreased in price, its popularity increased and along with it the number of pipe manufacturers. Pipes were mass manufactured using moulds, meaning the bowls could be easily decorated in elaborate styles and the stems could be stamped with marks (I highly recommend watching this video to see a demonstration of how pipes were made). As a result, decoration and marks on pipes could be used as advertisements, symbols of political events/movements, groups, or current events, as well as just decoration for its own sake.

One of the most common examples of a clay pipe with multiple uses that we find in Christchurch are Heywood pipes. Joseph Heywood ran a business as a commission agent, among other things, from 1851 in Lyttelton. Heywood commissioned clay pipes bearing his name from English pipe manufacturer Charles Crop and we’ve found them on multiple sites in Christchurch dating from the 1860s to the 1880s. Heywood appears to have used the pipes to advertise his business (the 19th century equivalent of businesses buying pens that have their name on them) and was not the only company in Christchurch to do so. We’ve also found pipes from the businesses Trent Brothers and Twentyman and Cousin (see this blog specifically on advertising pipes for more detail). Image: C. Watson.

Keeping with the Irish theme, this pipe is an Inniskilling pipe. It depicts Derry castle with a border of clover leaves and a crown above it. Below the castle is a banner with THE INNISKILLING stamped on it and beneath this a sphynx with a second banner reading EGYPT. The Inniskilling refers to an Irish regiment of the British army that began as a local militia raised in 1689 to fight against James II. The regiment became part of the British army and was sent to several battles both in Britain and overseas. Inniskilling pipes were made by several pipe manufacturers between approximately 1880 and 1920. In the case of this one, the pipe is commemorating the Inniskilling’s time in Egypt, and can be seen as an example of contemporary political events being used as pipe decoration. Image: C. Watson.

Our Colleen Bawn pipe may function as both an advertisement and a kind of pop culture reference for the time. When I began researching the pipe, I wanted to know what the phrase ‘Colleen Bawn’ would mean to a person living in 19th century New Zealand. Would they instantly recognise it as a reference to the murdered Ellen? Or could it be a reference to something else. The easiest way to find this out was by using Papers Past, an online database containing thousands of New Zealand newspapers. Searching the name ‘Colleen Bawn’ resulted in 9,912 hits, indicating that even if I had never heard the phrase Colleen Bawn, people in the 19th century were familiar with it. The earliest reference was to a ‘Colleen Bawn’ clothing item, which was a type of cloak worn by Irish farm girls. From the limited information I’ve been able to find so far, I think the cloak was probably red, similar to a Little Red Riding Hood cloak, and that the name is a reference to the Colleen Bawn play, although I haven’t been able to find anything that specifically proved that. Colleen Bawn cloaks only appeared in 1860s-1870s advertisements, indicating either they dropped out of fashion or the style was no longer referred to as a Colleen Bawn.

The earliest newspaper reference I could find to ‘Colleen Bawn’. Image: Press 9/11/1861: 7.

Other newspaper advertisements referred to a ship called the Colleen Bawn that was operating in New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s. But aside from that, the vast majority of newspaper references were to the Colleen Bawn play.

Dion Boucicault, author of the play, even visited New Zealand in the 1880s doing a tour of the play in which he played one of the main characters. Image: Lyttelton Times 10/11/1885: 1.

Given our pipe was found in an 1890s context (by which time almost all newspaper references were in relation to the play), and that clay pipes generally only had a short use-life, it seems very likely that our pipe is referencing the Colleen Bawn play. It’s not clear if the pipes were ordered to advertise the play (similar to the Heywood pipes), or if they were a current event reference (like the Inniskilling pipe, but with more of a pop culture angle). It could be that they were the 19th century equivalent of going to a Taylor Swift concert and coming home with a Taylor Swift t-shirt – an object to advertise that you went to the play and remember the experience. Regardless of why the pipe was made, it tells an amazing story and it is interesting to view the clay pipe as both an artefact of late-19th century pop culture in New Zealand, and a reference to a young girl’s tragic fate.

Clara Watson

Further Reading and Information

There are many stories online about the murder of Ellen Hanley. These accounts are all broadly similar, with a few variations to the story. I’ve based mine on accounts from Irish Waterways HistoryIrishCentral, The Irish Times and Clare County Library.

-If you’re interested in reading Gerald Griffin’s book, The Collegians, that was based on the murder, then it is available online on Google Books.

-If you’re interested in reading the play, then the script is available on Project Gutenberg.

-There was also a 1911 silent film based on the play. This is available online on YouTube.

At the time of writing this blog, I haven’t been able to find another example of a Colleen Bawn clay pipe. If there is anyone out there who has one or has seen one then please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.


Gardens on a Plate

For some of us, that title may have conjured up childhood memories of making ‘sand-saucer’ gardens for the local flower show or ‘pet and garden’ day at school. But I’ve actually something different in mind.

We have found quite a few 19th  century ceramic vessels from around Christchurch featuring botanical motifs, either of specific flowers and plants, or of plant-heavy scenery. So today I’m going to tiptoe through the tulips of floral abandon, and track down some of the botanical wonders that 19th century Christchurch had on their sideboards.

This splendid platter is an example of idealised ‘Romantic’ scenery, featuring an assortment of pretty plants. I suspect horticultural accuracy was not top of the list of requirements for creating this type of pattern, so some educated guesswork is needed (especially without the help of flower colours) to identify some of these plants. Around the border, I see roses (both single and double flowered blooms with thorned stems), maybe zinnias (in 1858 the first double flowered types were bought to the UK from India), some small and rather stylized blooms that are possibly forget-me-nots (symbolic of remembrance and sometimes of freemasonry) or daisies. The central scene has a couple of elegant trees, a fern or two, some more roses, perhaps a chrysanthemum or marigold, and an assortment of flowering shrubbery. The tree on the left appears to have flowers and the one on the right fruit, with neither in proportion to the size of the tree or identifiable as a particular species so perhaps these are just ‘wish-list’ expressions of what ought to be in the ideal garden. Image: C. Watson.

We are going to see a few roses today. While roses have been grown as decorative plants for centuries, it was not until the late 1700s and early 1800s that the China Rose and the Tea Rose were introduced to Europe, which led to the development of the modern, repeat-flowering type of rose. There was an explosion of cultivars onto the market and roses became one of the most popular garden plants.

For something completely different, this plate features a fruit-laden grape vine. The grape is another plant not native to the UK (Wikipedia tells me that the Romans were the culprits here. The English climate was not ideal for this temperate to subtropical-origin vine, so the wider use of the heated glasshouse in the 19th century was a boon for those trying to produce grapes for eating or wine. The grape has a rich symbolic history, being associated with both the Greek god Dionysus (and the Roman Bacchus), and as a Christian symbol for Jesus Christ, from the scriptural quote “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). Was this design symbolic of something, or purely decorative in intent? Image: C. Watson.

This elegant design appears to feature lilies at first glance. The flower by itself looks very much like a Tigerlily or Daylily, but the leaves are clearly not those of a lily (lilies have narrow pointed strap-like leaves). They aren’t Hibiscus flowers either. There is some resemblance to Rhododendron occidentale (western azalea) from North America, (first described in the 19th century, with seed being sent to the UK in 1850) as pictured below ). What do you think? Do you recognise it as something else? Or is it an artistic concoction of the flowers of one species with the leaves of another? The other more instantly recognisable plant shown on this plate is the acanthus, common in classical decorative motifs, from Greek Corinthian capitals on pillars, to wrought iron work, to 1875 William Morris wallpaper patterns. Also known as Bears Breeches, the plant has many uses in herbal and traditional medicine, including treating asthma, arthritis, leprosy and snake bites! Image: C. Watson.

Rhododendron occidentale or western azalea flowers. Image: W. Gibbs.

This plate features the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Frequently mentioned on the blog in previous posts, the history of the Asiatic Pheasant pattern is best summarised as following: “It is likely that the design originated with Ralph Hall of Swan Bank Pottery, Tunstall, Staffordshire, who was active from 1822 to 1849. Hall’s Pheasant appears to have been printed mainly and perhaps exclusively in black. Soon other potters began to produce Asiatic Pheasants, printed almost invariably in pale blue. Podmore Walker and Co. of Well Street, Tunstall, Staffordshire commenced business in 1834 and were early producers of Asiatic Pheasants and subsequently claimed to be the originators of Asiatic Pheasants. In 1853 they took over the Ralph Hall factory. By 1880 Asiatic Pheasants was the most popular pattern of all, toppling Willow pattern from the top spot” (Lovers of Blue and White).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               So, what about the plants?  Roses are clearly featured here, both single and double-flowered forms with thorny stems.  Around the rim, at the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions is a flower with a prominent carpel in the centre, maybe a passionfruit flower or possibly hibiscus. The passionfruit was rather exotic in the 19th century and became popular during the Victorian era, with many hybrids created from the winged-stem passion flower (P. alata) and the blue passion flower (P. caerulea). The flower has been given a strong Christian symbolism, which may have made it a popular design feature. Image: C. Watson.

The base of this cup is decorated with an elegant flowering plant, likely some sort of bulbous plant (based on the leaf shape and growth), possibly a snowflake, snowdrop, lily of the valley, scilla or Spanish bluebell. Without the clues of colour or more detail, it’s difficult to say for sure, but it is still rather pretty. Image: C. Watson.

This pair of handsome transfer printed and clobbered plates looks to me like a celebration of autumn. The gold-painted and gold-veined leaves are falling loose around a couple of types of flowers. Both the flower and leaf shape of the smaller flowers look very much like chrysanthemum, though the larger flowers with prominent veining are less easily identifiable. They could be another form of chrysanthemum or daisy, but I’m going to say they are flowers of the Tree Dahlia, a quite spectacular autumn-flowering plant introduced to Europe in the 16th century. Image: C. Watson.

This scene is of a couple of men hard at work in a garden. It could represent gardeners at ‘home’, planting out the exotic plants bought back from some far-flung locale by explorers or plant hunters. It could equally be viewed as settlers in a new land, freshly off one of the ships in the background, busily clearing land in order to plant out the cherished plants (seen in the pots to the right) they bought with them from ‘home’. There is a spade and watering can visible in the foreground and the figure on the left is carrying a bare-rooted tree or shrub (more clearly seen in the original print). The pattern refers to one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims, specifically his maxim “industry needs not wish, and he that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains, then help hands for I have no lands” (Riley 1991:275). The illustration was taken from 24 scenes of town and country life illustrating Franklin’s Lessons for the young and the old, on industry, temperance, frugality &c by Robert Drighton, published by Bowles and Carver, London in 1795 (Riley 1991: 270). Image: C. Watson. 

The 19th century in the UK was a golden era of gardening, and in particular of hothouse and exotic flower cultivation. Plant hunters were romping around the globe, many sponsored by wealthy patrons, finding, recording and returning with specimens of plants previously unknown to the western world.  Add to that the development from 1847 of methods to create larger pieces of plate glass, and better glazing and construction methods, and the Victorian-era glasshouse and conservatory was born. Here wealthy families grew the rare and exotic, or at least their gardening staff did, and showed them off to their friends (in a sort of botanical keeping up with the Jones’s). At the same time the middle classes had increasing leisure time and some spare cash, and those aspiring to a bit of societal climbing looked to grow some of the exotic offerings now available. Anything that survived in lower light levels, smoky rooms and cooler temperatures but still looked exotic became especially popular .Aspidistra, Hoya and the Parlour Palm were all introduced to the UK in early/mid 1800s. At the same time, deliberate selective breeding of ‘decorative’ plants became more widespread.

The citizens of Christchurch were equally keen on their gardens. The Christchurch Horticultural Society was established in 1861, and by 1863 were holding flower shows open to the public. (Press 01/12/1863: 2).In 1866 the Society took formal possession of the ground that would become the Botanic Gardens (Press 11/09/1866: 2).  By 1866 H. G. Burnell, Seed Merchant of Cashel St, was advertising 1000 varieties of flower seeds for sale (Press 31/08/1866:1) .  In the same year, there was an auction of “60 large specimen plants in full bloom, being fuchsias, petunias etc”, on the day after the flower show. (Press 01/03/1866).

There were at least three commercial plant nurseries advertising in the Press during the 1860s.  Grove Nursery, which sold, amongst other plants, a “choice collection of green-house plants, always on sale from England” (Press 17/05/1862: 7).  Woodburn Nursey (W. Hislop) who at various times advertised “upwards of one million hedge plants” (Press 01/06/1861: 7), carrot, turnip and parsnip seeds (Press 12/10/1861: 7) and an auction of “about 300 very choice Greenhouse Plants (including fuchsias, camellias, amaryllis, mimosa, cuphea, farfugium &…. other plants adapted for Greenhouse and window culture)” (Press 25/02/1863: 3).   And lastly, Christchurch Nursery, (W. Wilson) which sold a large variety of plants and seeds including “Cerrus (sic) Deodara seed recently collected to order in the Himalaya Mountains” (Press 04/01/1862:8), over a dozen different types of fruit trees (including mulberries and figs), rhubarb, asparagus, and many species of ornamental trees, shrubs and hedging plants (including including privet, gorse and broom!) (Press 14/06/1862: 8). It’s clear that gardening was a popular activity in Christchurch. There were even gardens open to the public for picnicking and other activities, such as Taylor’s (later Kohler’s) pleasure gardens and maze (in the area of the current Hagley High School). Formally opened to the public on 2 February 1862, it was described at the time as being “well laid out in grass plats (sic), flower borders, shrubberies, and an extensive maze, the first of its kind in the colony” (Lyttelton Times 28/12/1861: 5).

At the same time greenhouses were being constructed locally. Frederick Jenkins of City Steam Saw Mills, Planing, Joinery and Moulding Works  advertised that he was “prepared to supply the trade with first-class goods……greenhouses, hothouses and conservatories, on the most improved principles” (Press 26/03/1863: 6). When larger houses and estates were advertised for sale, greenhouses were regularly listed as part of the equipment. In 1864 Albourne Lodge a “large and beautifully situated house” had a greenhouse listed as one of the out-buildings (Press 13/12/1864:3).  When the Ilam homestead was advertised for let in 1862 a “greenhouse, well heated and stocked with vines” was listed as one of the assets (Press 05/07/1862:5).

But what if you couldn’t manage to keep any of these fancy or exotic plants, or to visit the locales from whence they came?  Well, why not have them on your crockery instead!

Wendy Gibbs


Lyttelton Times [online]. Available:

Press [online]. Available:

Riley, N. 1991. Gifts For Good Children: The History of Children’s China, Part 1, 1790-1890. Somerset: Richard Dennis.





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


LINZ. 1909. DP 2713, Canterbury. Landonline.