A Curry Paste Jar, a Keepsake, a Symbol of British Colonialism

Hello loyal blog readers, welcome back to another year of posts on the history and archaeology of 19th century Christchurch. I thought we’d start the year off by looking back at one of our more interesting finds from the very end of 2020 and talking a bit about how we catalogue and research the artefacts we find, and how we then interpret them .

The artefact in question is this ceramic jar. The jar is made from earthenware and is glazed inside and out. Ware-type is one of the main attributes that I record when cataloguing ceramic artefacts. It describes the fabric of the vessel, what it is made out of, with there being three main ware-types: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. These main ware-types relate to the temperature at which the vessel was fired at, which in turn affects the fabric of the vessel. As well as recording the ware type, I also record the glaze and form of the vessel. In the case of our jar here, it has a clear (or clear with a slight tint) glaze inside and on the rim, and a teal-coloured slip-glaze on the outer body. The form is a jar, which I would describe as having a rolled rim, a concave neck, a convex shoulder and body, and a flat base.

The jar in question: Shaik Fyzool Kurreem’s True Bengal Curry Paste. Image: C. Watson.

Once I’ve recorded the fabric and form of the vessel, I then record any decoration and marks. In the case of our jar here, it’s not decorated as such, but the body is textured, like a golf ball, and so I recorded that as decoration because it’s unusual. Written on the body of the jar is: SHAIK FYZOOL KURREEM’S/TRUE BENGAL/ CURRY PASTE. There were no other marks on the base of the jar.

A close-up of the writing on the jar. Image: C. Watson.

To say I was surprised at the jar would be an understatement. When it landed on my desk, I had no idea who Shaik Fyzool Kurreem was, and I wouldn’t have had a clue that it was a curry paste jar if it hadn’t been labelled as such. Everything about the jar, from the ware type and glaze to the decoration, was unusual. Almost all the ceramic jars we find on our archaeological sites are stoneware or whiteware and if they’re decorated, it’s only with a simple moulded band.

A selection of more typical 19th century stoneware and whiteware jars. Image: C. Watson.

As part of our artefact analysis process, we research any marks on the artefact to help us date it. Normally with ceramic vessels, this means looking in Geoffrey Godden’s Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. The book is essentially a bible when it comes to ceramic marks and it makes my job very easy most of the time (if you have ceramic marks that you want to date but don’t have a copy of Godden, then Steve Birks’ The Potteries Website is a close second). In the case of our jar though, the mark isn’t describing the manufacturer of the jar, but rather the contents, which makes things a bit more complicated.

Whenever I come across something I haven’t seen before, I always begin my research by looking through UOA’s internal artefact databases to see if we’ve found the artefact/mark/pattern before. These were of no help for researching my jar, and just confirmed my initial view on the artefact that it was ‘cool but strange’. If it isn’t something we’ve found before, then I turn to our trusty friend Google. This returned a whopping three results.

Hot tip for searching on google, if you include something in quotation marks it searches that phrase. When Google searches without quotation marks, it searches for the words but not in relation to each other- meaning the bottom two results were not relevant.

The top Google search result gave me my first lead! This was a jar, similar to mine, that was posted in an antique bottle forum. The jar was the same form as my one, but was a different shade of blue and had written on it: SHAIK FYZOOL KURREEM’S TRUE BENGAL MULLIGATAWNY PASTE. The poster on the bottle forum was asking for information on it. Sadly, nobody on the forum had any information, only the advice to give it a rub to see if a genie came out. Image: BeachComber, AntiqueBottles.Net.

This told me that whoever Shaik Fyzool Kurreem was, he was making multiple types of curry pastes. Unfortunately, Google wasn’t very helpful with figuring out who he was.

PapersPast is invaluable when researching 19th century artefacts. A lot of the time if I can’t find something on Google, I can find it in old newspapers. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.

When something cool lands on my desk, generally other people in the office will stop by and have a look. I can’t remember who suggested that “shaik” might be a different spelling of “sheikh”, but whoever it was, was bang on the money. Sheikh is an honorific title in Arabic that literally translates as “elder”, but was commonly used for chiefs, royalty, and religious scholars (thanks Wikipedia). I re-tried my Google search, and this time had a bit more luck.

A 166.67% increase in results by just searching “fyzool kurreem”. The top hit was the Mulligatawny paste jar that I’d already seen. The second and fourth results were from a British newspaper search engine that I needed to pay to access, so I ignored them. It was the third and fifth results that proved most interesting.

The third (and fifth) result was from Peter J. Atkins article “Vinegar and Sugar: The early history of Factory-Made Jams, Pickles and Saucers in Britain” in the book, The Food Industries of Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. The relevant page of the book was talking about Crosse and Blackwell, a British foodstuffs company that is still around today. “The products named in Crosse and Blackwell’s own advertisements came and went in a rapid cycle of innovation. In the 1830s it was Soho Sauce and Dinmore’s Essence of Shrimps… By 1845 Abdool Fygo’s Chutney and Fyzool Kurreem’s Currie and Mulligatawny Pastes had been added to the list.” (Atkins 2013: 46).

Now, up until this point, I had been picturing an old Bengali man in India stirring large earthenware pots of paste over a fire and bottling them into jars that he carefully painted his name on (ugh how colonial of me). I should have known that it was British. Crosse and Blackwell’s products are pretty common on our sites. They were a foodstuffs company based in Soho, London, who made products for both the domestic and export markets. The company was founded in 1829 when Edmund Crosse and Thomas Blackwell bought West and Wyatt, located at No. 11 King Street, having been apprentices there since 1819 (Jeffries et al. 2016).

We are lucky enough to have a book specifically on Crosse and Blackwell that covers the excavation of their factory. This is Crosse and Blackwell 1830-1921: A British Food Manufacturer in London’s West End by Nigel Jeffries, Lyn Blackmore and David Sorapure. The book discusses Crosse and Blackwell’s Indian products: “…by taking an unusual step in sending a representative with the first troops that were shipped out to India by the East India Company. This unnamed individual sent back new spices and other ingredients for the firm to experiment with. This resulted in Crosse and Blackwell’s Captain White’s Oriental Pickle and Curry Powder. Col Skinner’s Mango Relish also appears to have been developed at this time, together with Abdool Fygo’s Chutney and Mulligatawny Pastes” (Jeffries et al. 2016: 44).

I decided to google Abdool Fygo, since both books made reference to the product. What do you know, another jar with an ‘oriental’ appearance. This one says: “BENGAL CHUTNEY PREPARED BY SHAIK ABDOOL FYGO CALCUTTA IMPORTED ONLY BY GROSSE & BLACKWELL 21SOHO SQARE LONDON”. The style of text on it is almost identical to that of our jar and the mulligatawny paste, and the rolled rim and glazed body is also very similar in style. Image: WorthPoint.

At this point in my search, I’d successfully identified that Crosse and Blackwell were the manufacturer of the jar’s contents (which pottery made the jar for them remains a mystery). From the Atkins article I knew that the curry paste was introduced in or around 1845, but I didn’t know how long it was made for. Searches on Papers Past for “fyzool kurreem” and “abdool fygo” resulted in no results, while those for “curry paste” and “mulligatawny paste” returned hundreds. I tried similar searches on Trove, the Australian version of Papers Past, but these were also a dead end. I returned back to my google search results for “fyzool kureem” and clicked into the newspaper results.

From what I can gather, British newspaper archives are hidden behind a paywall and you have to pay to access the original- a big disappointment when you’re used to the free access from Papers Past. Even though I couldn’t see the original articles, the search engine gave the newspaper name and date along with a short snippet of where the phrase occurred in the newspaper. Scrolling through these previews showed that Abdool Fygo’s chutney was advertised alongside Fyzool Kurreem’s curry and Mulligatawny pastes. What was most interesting though, was that the advertisements began in 1845, and ended in 1850. Atkins said that Crosse and Blackwell cycled through product names quite quickly, and it seems as though Fyzool Kurreem’s curry paste was only produced for approximately five years, between 1845 and 1850. The newspaper advertisements also show that Crosse and Blackwell were advertising the product in British newspapers, but clearly not Australian and New Zealand newspapers, suggesting the product might have only been made for the domestic market.

It was at this point I ended my search. I had learnt that the jar was made for Crosse and Blackwell and likely dated some time between 1845 and 1850. I think that the jar epitomises some of the reasons why I find historical archaeology so interesting. There’s the research process itself. Being able to use tools like Google and newspaper archives to research products and people is something that’s unique to historical archaeology. Then there’s what the artefact says about the occupants of the site. This jar came from a small cottage on Barbadoes Street. The cottage was built in 1865/1866 and rented out for most of the 19th century. Assuming that the jar was deposited by one of the tenants, it was likely at least 20 years old by this time, if not older. It’s safe to say that any curry paste the jar held had long been eaten, and that the jar probably had a secondary function. Maybe as a small vase, given its decorative appearance, or possibly a keepsake. Regardless, the jar seems to have been brought over from Britain, suggesting it must have had some sentimental value for whoever owned it. Unfortunately, the tenants that rented out the cottage changed regularly, meaning we weren’t able to match the jar with a specific person.

There’s also what the artefact says about culture and society in the 19th century. While we’re excavating the archaeology of Christchurch, in many ways we’re also excavating the archaeology of the British empire. Crosse and Blackwell, a British company, were selling Indian style pastes and condiments, and were doing so in a way that commodified Indian culture to make their product seem authentic. The jars were deliberately designed to look foreign, especially with the blue glaze and textured surface. The brand names are Indian names, which were probably foreign “funny sounding names” (to quote NZ politicians from a few years ago) to British citizens, likely adding to the “authenticity” of the product. Which leads me to the final reason why I find historical archaeology so interesting, the impact of 19th century (and earlier) colonialism on our own culture and society. If Crosse and Blackwell were to release ‘Shaik Fyzool Kurreem’s Cury Paste’ today, people would probably call it out for what it is, cultural appropriation.

Back in 2018 some British breweries started selling New Zealand inspired beers and used Māori culture as part of their branding. They were called out for cultural appropriation, and commercialising Māori culture at the time. The comparisons with our jar are easy to make- especially with the Indian names and oriental inspired jar forms. Image source: TheSpinoff.

A curry paste jar, a keepsake, a symbol of British colonialism. One artefact, but multiple different stories and perspectives on what it represents.

Clara Watson



The archaeology of uncertainty

Evening, love, how’s your day?

Part 1: the archaeology of uncertainty

As a discipline, archaeology carries with it a lot of uncertainty. A number of times, I’ve been faced with an artefact, feature, or stratigraphic sequence that is difficult to figure out, and that could be one or a combination of several things. Sometimes further investigation clears it up, and sometimes you just have to come to terms with the fact that you may never know for sure. We don’t have a time machine, or ghosts that we can ask to recount their life stories. Radiocarbon dates sometimes have error margins of several decades, which mean we may never know the exact day Māori set foot on Aotearoa. When we excavate a rubbish pit in Christchurch, we try to associate it with a particular occupant, but are often in a situation where the uncertainty of the artefact dates means that an assemblage could have belonged to one or more family groups over a long period of time. A large part of the discipline is interpretation, and there’s a joke among archaeologists that goes something like: “if you put one archaeologist in a room with a question, they’ll come out with two different answers”. People commonly conceive of the past as something that is solid and unchanging in a way that the future is not, but we are constantly re-evaluating our understanding of the past based on new evidence. Looking into the past is like looking into the horizon on a hot day, the farther you look, the hazier it gets. As an archaeologist, uncertainty is just something you just have to get used to.

chicken feeder

Sometimes we figure out brief mysteries pretty quick, like Clara’s identification of this chicken feeder recently featured on out Facebook page.

Features 41 and 56, at the CJESP site, a pair of  likely privy pits formed in the 1880s. These privy pits, and the artefacts within them, may have been associated with Richard Brown,  a bootmaker, or a Mrs. Rose, a dressmaker, or perhaps both. Both were active at the corner of Durham and Tuam Streets around the time the artefacts were deposited (Williams, et al. 2017).

upside down bottle feature

Still a mystery. A circular feature of carefully placed upside-down bottles at the Christchurch Convention Centre (Trendafilov et al. in prep). We’re still not sure exactly what the purpose of this was. Image: Hamish Williams.

Part 2: The archaeology of uncertainty

At the start of the February, I went on a three-week holiday to the exotic ‘northern hemisphere’. At the start, the recently reported coronavirus seemed restricted to China. Three weeks later, heading home from the UK, that country was reporting 8 or so cases. Our flight through Hong Kong got re-routed through the US. On 28 February, New Zealand reported its first case of covid. Less than a month later, NZ case numbers surpassed 100, and NZ went into Alert Level 4 on the 25th of March. Time was running wild.

As I’m writing this, the global total of the coronavirus pandemic has surpassed 30 million cases, and just passed 1,000,000 deaths. Not a good one at all. The west coast of the USA is being ravaged by wildfires, just as the east coast of Australia was at the start of the year. Apparently approximately half the world’s population is in some sort of lockdown restrictions. The ‘travel bubble’ between NZ and Aus that was discussed optimistically in the middle of the year now seems unlikely to occur before 2021. I googled ‘trans-tasman bubble’ and got internet reckons ranging from ‘weeks away’ to ‘mid-2021’ so who the blimmin’ heck knows. Don’t speak too soon, the wheel’s still in spin.

When I talk to people about this period, I often remark how we lived in a world without plans (though the return to Level 1 across the country has reproduced some kind of normality). The spectre of uncertainty has devoured the ideas of all those kiwis who planned to make an overseas trip, or start an OE or a business, or buy a house. An untold number of people don’t know when they’ll see loved ones again. Uncertainty isn’t a peculiarity of our current phase, but it seems more present to us because so much of our modern mode of living, things we took for granted, have been affected by the pandemic and the human response to it. In truth, we are constantly exposed to change, both in our natural environment, and in the behaviour of our fellow humans. The outlook for Thursday? Your guess is good as mine.

So what does archaeology tell us about uncertainty and how people responded to it? Much of the archaeological approach to uncertainty is related to the variability, both seasonal and year to year, of the environment and the resources we use and consume. The change of the seasons may be regular, but there can be great variability, and therefore, uncertainty in these seasons: really rotten weather, temperatures, winds, pests, and so forth, all affecting seasonal produce, and causing pressure from the hinter to the heartland. This variability is not solely environmental (if such a thing exists), but is also exacerbated by human activity like overharvesting, overstocking, habitat destruction etc. etc. etc. For a local example of seasonal variability, my bloody cauliflower hasn’t seen fit to sprout heads this year, so I’m going to have to look elsewhere for ingredients for my aloo gobi. Every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet.

cauliflower traitors


The environment – natural and cultural – offers us good years and bad years, or even less specifically, good times and bad times. Archaeologists generally lump cultural responses to food variability and scarcity into four categories: mobility (go somewhere else), diversification (eat a bunch of different stuff), storage (eat some stuff that you have now, later), and exchange (get some stuff to eat from somebody else; Halstead and O’Shea, 1989). Some of these approaches are better suited for dealing with different kinds of variability, and some strategies mesh better in combination: mobility and diversification work well together because food resources tend to be environmentally scattered, whereas mobility and storage are often considered non-complimentary because large surpluses have to be left behind if you’re moving elsewhere. Our modern global food system tends to be a combination of diversification, storage, and exchange, the latter two combining to mean that lots of seasonal produce is now available year-round. If you’ve ever done seasonal harvest work or fly-in fly-out work, mobility will be a familiar part of the economic system to you.

As a buffering strategy against uncertainty, storage effectively turns a seasonally available surplus of food into future food for less productive seasons and can see you through a bad harvest in the future. A cucumber might go off in a week or so, but you can move into a new flat and find a pickle jar from the 1980s still lurking in the back of the cupboard. I like to think of a refrigerator as a one-way, slow-moving time machine. Every time you put something in there, you’re sending it a short length of time into the future, though it does continue to age slightly slower on its journey. Storage of food is not a uniquely human behaviour, but we’ve certainly nailed the greatest diversity of techniques  – including drying, freezing, fermenting, etc. – and food stored or preserved in some way forms a major part of the human diet worldwide. The development of animal husbandry could also be seen as a way to store meat ‘on-the-hoof’. My homemade lockdown kimchi (yes, I’m a hipster) is part of the grand tradition that includes 2000 year old beef jerky and 9,200 year old fermented fish. Storage is often related to the conversion of a resource that occurs in substantial amounts over a relatively short period of time, so is associated with aggregate communities (often dispersed) coming together to harvest and prepare. In Aotearoa, Māori used and continue to use a range of techniques to store and preserve food, including smoking the huge numbers of tuna/eels that migrate out to sea each year, and the preservation of the annual tītī/mutton bird harvest in pōhā/bull kelp containers (Anderson 1997, 1998). A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but a bird in vacuum-seal might be a bit more expensive this year seeing the season was cut short.

eel poha

Preparing pōhā in 1910. Image: Basil Keane, ‘Te Māori i te ohanga – Māori in the economy – The Māori economy’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/25761/poha-containers (accessed 2 October 2020). Story by Basil Keane, published 11 Mar 2010


Drying eels at Waihora/Lake Forsyth, Canterbury, 1948.
Image: John Wilson, ‘Society – Food, drink and dress’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/2542/drying-eels (accessed 2 October 2020). Story by John Wilson

bog butter

Bog butter, and its wooden container, from County Kildare, Ireland (National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology). This was butter was buried to preserve it almost 2,500 years ago, but evidently never retrieved. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Perhaps the most archaeologically visible form in storage in New Zealand archaeology is the kūmara storage pit. One of the most commonly recorded archaeological features from Horomaka/Banks Peninsula right up to the top of the country, these semi-subterranean pits are the remains of roofed storage facilities for kūmara and other crops. The cool, dry conditions allow the kūmara to keep for longer, both for food over winter, but also to ensure a supply of seed crops for the next year’s planting (Davidson et al. 2007).

Remains of kūmara  storage pits, Auckland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 19th century Christchurch, preserved foods perhaps are over-represented in the archaeological record, as they tend to be associated with storage containers that survive through to the modern day, whereas fresh ingredients do not. So we often find vinegar bottles, branded and unbranded preserving and canning jars, and the classic stoneware ‘oyster jars’ for pickled oysters or fish and other food pastes.

‘Oyster jars’. Often used for storing pickled oysters. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

A typical wide-mouth pickle jar. Good for preserves of all sorts. Image: Clara Watson.

An Anchovy Paste jar found in Christchurch and accompanying recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.

I also want to talk about one of the sites we’ve covered on the blog before: a bonded warehouse that is one of our largest and, to me, most interesting central city sites, and one of multiple bonded warehouses that existed in nineteenth century Christchurch. Jessie’s blog describes how the bonded warehouse was a building in which “goods could be stored and remain exempt from customs duties. They were usually used to store goods and bulk merchandise until they were distributed for retail, at which time those duties and taxes would have to be paid.” The rubbish pits from this site contained remarkably uniform deposits of numerous, identical, and still sealed alcohol bottles, interpreted as stock – full bottles – that had been destined for sale in Christchurch, but that never made it to market, and were instead discarded. Now I’m certainly no economist (Don’t want to be a richer man, and couldn’t tell you the difference between a $4b fiscal hole from an $11b one), but it seems to me that at least in part, the bonded warehouse represents an adaptation to the uncertainty of the international import market. Stock could remain in storage, exempt from customs tax, until such time as it was profitable to sell. However, the discarded stock we find at these sites shows us that trying to wait out the market uncertainty didn’t always result in a final positive outcome (Garland et al., 2014).

One of the rubbish pits found at a bonded warehous site, containing a large number of J & R Tennent sealed bottles. Image: J. Hughes.

A couple of the J & R Tennent sealed tops found in the rubbish pit shown above. The side of the seal reads: “Bottled by J & R Tennent” and (not pictured) “Betts & Co / Patent / Patent / Trade Mark / London.” Betts & Co were the original patentees and manufacturers of metal bottle capsules like these. They were founded in 1804, but weren’t established in London until 1840. The company continued to manufacture bottle capsules until the 1960s: these particular seals were probably made between 1860 and 1915 (Nayton 1991). Images:  J. Garland.

Straying a little further from physical archaeology, I wanted to touch briefly upon the notion of insurance as a modern approach to risk and uncertainty (though I’m not trying to sell you insurance). When we talk about exchange as a buffering strategy for resource variability, it’s not just the modern exchange of currency for goods, but more generally any way in which “present abundance is converted…via social transactions, into a future obligation in time of need.” (Halstead and O’Shea, 1989). This works a bit like storage, except the method of conversion is social rather than physical, and is based around the reciprocal nature of human relationships. Friends and families tend to take care of each other in turn during tough times, and there’s a sliding scale in terms of how formalised the nature of that reciprocity tends to be.

When conducting historical research for some of our sites, we regularly come across insurance claims, particularly reports of fire in local newspapers where the value the building and effects are explicitly listed (see The City Remains for the story of the destruction by fire of the Christchurch Librarian’s house in 1894 but also check out this blog post for a dodgy insurance claim and the mysterious Case of the Severed Hand in Taylor’s Mistake. Insurance companies can be seen as modern, communal but corporatised methods of ‘exchange’ – as buffering strategies against the uncertainty of events such as fires, unexpected death and injury, converting small surpluses in the present to future reciprocal aid. In 19th century Christchurch, those social supports were often associated with fraternal orders such as the Freemasons or Oddfellows, the latter of which’s support was largely aimed at the working class (but just men, because patriarchy).

I don’t know if all that helps with consideration of the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic world, but one of the takeaways for me is that buffering strategies are typically reliant on community action and existing relationships. Mass harvest and the preservation of resources requires community organisation, and exchange is based on the inherently reciprocal nature of human relationships, where we help out others in tough times, because we know they will do the same for us. In both cases, the products of communities are greater than the sum of their parts, and we’ll be together, yeah, together by design. Shoutout to my Ma and Pa for the venison, to my outlaws for the preserves, and to Kirsa and Lou and Hamish for the fruit and veg and homebrew that I consumed over lockdown. I’ll leave you with this. According to Dr. John Wikipedia the first company to offer life insurance was the ‘Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in 1706 in London. In the ‘current times’ I wish all of you out there all the Perpetual Assurance, and Amicable Society you need.



Also, don’t hoard toilet paper.


Anderson, A. ‘Historical and archaeological aspects of muttonbirding in New Zealand.’ New Zealand Journal of Archaeology 6 (1997): 35–55.

Anderson, A., 1998. The welcome of strangers : an ethnohistory of southern Maori A.D. 1650-1850. Dunedin: Otago University Press.

Davidson, J.M., Leach, F., Burtenshaw, M. and Harris, G., 2007. Subterranean Storage Pits for Kūmara (Sweet Potato, Ipomoea Batatas L. Lam.): Ethnographic, Archaeological and Experimental Research in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Archaeology, 28 (2006), pp.5–49.

Garland, J., Carter, M., and R. Geary Nichol. 2014. The Terrace, Christchurch: report on archaeological investigations. Unpublished report for Hereford Holdings. NZHPT Authorities 2013/757eq & 2014/134eq.

Halstead, P. and J. O’Shea. 1989. ‘Introduction: cultural responses to risk and uncertainty’ in Halstead, P. and J. O’Shea. 1989. Bad Year Economics: Cultural Responses to Risk and Uncertainty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Trendafilov, A., Garland, J., Whybrew, C., Mearns, L., Lillo Bernabeu, M., Hennessey, M., and K. Webb. In prep. Christchurch Convention Centre Precinct. Final report on archaeological monitoring under HNZPT authority 2017/280eq.

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2017. Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct Archaeological Report. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.

Chew with your mouth closed, my dear

The dinner party; a minefield of social etiquette and proper behaviour for both the host and the guests. For the host – the pressure of who to invite, where to sit them, what to serve them? Having the right invitation cards, the right food, the right dishes. For the guests – the importance of appearance, polite conversation, correct eating habits. All in all, a maze of social convention with the potential for disaster lying around every corner.

As archaeologists we don’t get to see the social etiquette and behaviour associated with dining directly. Whilst we might uncover the remnants of a first course meal, with the likes of a soup plate and a dessert spoon, we don’t know if the soup was drunk from the side of the spoon (not the tip!) without any audible noise or slurping, as was the polite way to do so. Instead, we have to make inferences based on the assemblage we have from the archaeological record and what we know from the social history to determine the social behaviour of the people we are studying.

Today on the blog we are going to explore Victorian dining customs and some of the etiquette surrounding them, along with how this relates to what we find in the archaeological record. Before we do that, it is worthwhile defining what meal we actually mean by ‘dinner’. Dinner is the main meal of the day. In medieval times, dinner took place at midday, with a basic breakfast served in the morning, and a light supper in the evening just before bed. The urbanisation and industrialisation which took place in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the wealthy and social elite having dinner at a later hour, as late as 9pm by the 1840s. The pushing back of dinner time led to the establishment of a ladies’ luncheon at midday, and afternoon tea between 4pm and 5pm. For working-class people dinner remained at midday, if they were able to leave work for it, or changed to the evening if they lived away from work. In nineteenth century New Zealand dinner was normally served at midday, with evening dinner developing in urban areas in the early twentieth century.

What was served for dinner and how it was served depended on a person’s wealth and status. At the elite end of the scale was the dinner party, where guests were invited for a dinner consisting of five or more courses. An 1879 article in the Southland times describes what should be served for each course. The first course was a soup course, with a vegetable and a white soup normally offered (although one should avoid the white soup with its high levels of cream unless they had ‘exceptionally powerful digestion’). This was followed by a fish course, with at least two fish served. Entrees came next along with mains, which should include roast meat and accompaniments. Dessert finished the meal before the women retired to the parlour for tea and the men discussed business.

An example meal from Alexander Filippini’s 1889 book, ‘The Table: how to buy food, how to cook it and how to serve it’. Filippini included a meal plan for every day of the year. The calf’s head was cooked in pieces and not whole, something I’m sure guests were thankful for.

From the mid-nineteenth century dinner began to be served à la Russe, where courses were served separately and in succession of each other. Prior to this, dishes from all the courses were served on the table at once in service à la Française. In service à la Russe, the only dishes on the table were plates and drinks glasses. Dishes were offered to the guests by servants on large platters, and the guests served themselves. The plates were then cleared away and replaced for the next course which was served in a similar fashion.

Dinner service had a strict etiquette in the way food was served and cleared. The maid of this dinner party, whilst bring practical in requesting the guests keep their forks, broke custom as is noted by the columnist (Free Lance 3/03/1906: pg 12).

The wealthier a household was, the more elaborate their meals were. For the middle class three courses was likely standard, with a maid to help serve the meal if possible. Meals with more courses would have been reserved for dinner parties, which would have been an opportunity for the hosts to show off. For the working classes three course meals were possible, but there would not have been a servant to help serve them.

The number of courses needing to be served, along with the manner of service, dictated the table ware set a household required. An important component of a successful dinner party was the service the dinner was served on. All of the dishes should be matching, and each item of food should be served on the appropriate dish. The rise of the middle-class led to a growth in demand for ceramic table sets, with the Staffordshire potteries responding with a variety of new vessel forms intended for wealthy customers including asparagus plates, herring dishes, chestnut baskets, and fish trowels (Barker 2010: 15).

Serving dishes decorated in the ever-popular Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Top row: platter and plate. Bottom row: pedestalled serving dish and tureen lid. Image: C. Watson.

You can never go wrong with Willow! Top row: plate, castor, ladle. Bottom row: square lid for a serving dish, large platter. Image: C. Watson.

As archaeologists we can use the ceramic assemblage recovered from a household to infer that household’s status and dining habits. When we get an assemblage with elaborate vessel forms in matching patterns and multiple vessels we can infer that the household was wealthy and likely hosting elaborate dinner parties. By the same vein, when we get an assemblage with plain ceramics and simple forms it is likely the household was poorer, and not spending their money on keeping up-to-date with the latest ceramic fashions to impress fancy dinner guests. Of course, it is never as simple as that. As the story of the Wellington dinner party shows, people made do with what they had, and whilst the hostess of the party might not have had enough forks for a multi-course dinner party, she hosted one anyway!

Inspired by this blog to host your own dinner party? Here are our favourite tips (more here) on dinner party etiquette to avoid complete and utter social embarrassment!

-never encourage a dog or cat to play with you at the table.
-never hesitate to take the last piece of bread or the last cake; there are probably more.
-never allow butter, soup or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use the napkin frequently.
-never wear gloves at the table, unless the hands for some special reason are unfit to be seen.
-never eat so much of one article so as to attract attention, as some people do who eat large quantities of butter, sweet cake, cheese or other articles.
-never allow the conversation at the table to drift into anything but chit-chat; the consideration of deep and abstruse principles will impair digestion.

Clara Watson



Barker, D. 2010. Producing for the Table: A View From the Staffordshire Potteries. In Symonds, J. (Ed). Table Settings: The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Free Lance [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Hotels, what versatile places!

It’s been a busy month for Underground Overground Archaeology as we’ve been actively involved in New Zealand Archaeology Week 2018 running displays, historical tours, and talks – all of them highly successful thanks to history and archaeology lovers across the country!

Since we love Christchurch historical archaeology, a tribute to hotels is in order. These are spaces which were witness to the everyday life of both visitors and residents in the 19th and early 20th century, places in which the public and private sphere merged. This blog ties in with two events which took place during Archaeology Week 2018. An exhibition at the South Library displaying artefacts from hotels in Christchurch and Lyttelton held over the last month (perhaps you checked it out!). Also, a fantastic new Heritage Trail App was released during Archaeology Week named ‘Public Houses, Private Lives’. It is available for download from app stores and gives you the chance to discover some of the central Christchurch hotels for yourself. So, there are no excuse to get into it! Easy peasy! In keeping with the theme of hotels, today we’ll track down some distinctive aspects and activities that happened in the Christchurch hotels throughout the Victorian era… Righty-ho!

Observer 30/04/1910: 16. I couldn’t start without an image as ‘suite-able’ as this one! No comment from the Gender and Feminist Archaeologist…except perhaps to say that this is an illustrative example of the male perspective.

Hotels in mid-late 19th century not only offered accommodation and entertainment to residents and visitors, they were a central hub for the community (for better or for worse). As establishments with bars or pubs, alcohol could be provided cheaply and in copious quantities to patrons.

A variety of alcohol bottles recovered from the Occidental Hotel, where the alcohol bottles made up half of the artefacts found! All different shapes and sizes to cover all sort of consumer tastes: black beer, wine, porter, stout and other spirit or liquor bottles. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Archaeologically, we can certainly attest to the fact that alcohol was widely consumed at hotels as it forms much of the tangible evidence derived from the finds. Either dumped at the rear of the sections, thrown away into an open ditch or even accumulated underneath the dwelling. The Wheatsheaf Hotel was no exception. It was built by John Shand and Herbert Coupe in 1865. The men were granted a general license for premises, but they neglected to take it up within the prescribed time. The license was cancelled, and they had to reapply (whoops!). They didn’t waste their time in obtaining alcohol though. Lots of artefacts were found under the floor, dominated by a huge quantity of bottle corks, indicating that the patrons of the hotel certainly enjoyed a drink (or two). It’s worth noting that some of the alcohol bottles uncovered had been discarded whole and unexpectedly still sealed.

Top: Heaps of corks! Bottom: Sealed bottle! Specifically, Boord’s Gin. Joseph Boord was a distiller, who became famous for the Old Tom style of gin (Stephenson 2016). He first registered his ‘cat and barrel’ trademark for Old Tom gin in 1849. The trademark featured a cat sitting on top of a wooden cask. Boord stated that this was a pun referencing the ‘Old Tom’ in the name of the gin, which was named after a man called Thomas Chamberlain. Joseph Boord was still in business in 1903, when the company defended the trademark against a rival distillery. Image: C. Dickson.

Historically, local newspapers recorded a variety of stories of drunken and disorderly behaviour that resulted from such easy access to alcohol, including sporadic burglaries, drowning, assaults and murders, to name a few.

Criminal activity at 19th century hotels. Clockwise from left: Observer (6/04/1907: 12), Grey River Argus (14/10/1885: 2) and Press (14/07/1876: 3).

Drinking went hand in hand with other activities, like smoking, or games such as billiards, skittles and dominoes. The presence of clay pipes on hotel sites may be evidence for the social side of pipe smoking, or an indication of providing ‘home comforts’ to hotel guests. In regard to gambling, the City Hotel became famous for (ostensibly) having the best billiard room in New Zealand. The Caversham Hotel, in addition to being an accommodation house and pub, also provided games such as billiards and skittles (an early form of bowling). During the 1880s the hotel had an outdoor skittle ground, which was the site of several competitive matches during the decade (Star 31/01/1885: 2).

Left: Clay smoking pipes stems from the Oxford Hotel site made by Charles Crop, a London pipe manufacturer operating during the 19th century. His pipes are commonly found on archaeological sites in New Zealand and Australia (Ayto 1999: 14, Brassey 1991: 30, Macready et al. 1990: 57). Image: J. Garland. Right: Cutty smoking pipe and a clay pipe decorated with a three-masted sailing ship (most likely a clipper) and an anchor looped with rope on opposite sides of the bowl. Image: C. Dickson.

There is no archaeological record of billiards or skittles but of dominoes instead! Playing pieces consisted of a bone face and a thicker wooden backing. The game of dominoes was a popular pastime among both children and adults, particularly in pub or hotel contexts (Bone et al. 2017). Very few dominoes have been found on Christchurch archaeological sites, but at least one was found on the site of a 19th century hotel. Image: C. Dickson.

Leaving aside the drinking culture and related habits for a while, hotels hosted several sporting and social meetings and events, and many proprietors became notable figures in the community thanks to the visibility and respectability of their establishments. John George Ruddenklau was one of those gentlemen. He opened the City Hotel on the corner of Colombo, Cashel and High Streets (what used to be known as the Triangle Centre) in 1864. Although no archaeology was found on the site of the City Hotel, tiny pieces of a saucer and a teacup were found in other central Christchurch sites with the initials J.G.R. and the name ‘City Hotel’ transfer printed into the design. An excellent example of personal and commercial branding in the Victorian era. These marked ceramics suggest that Rudenklau was prosperous enough to afford its own customised china. Exactly how that china ended up on other sites in the city is unknown. He may have sold or given it away after his retirement in 1869, or it may have been ‘taken’ by guests of the hotel at any point during its operation.

Left: Shamrock patterned saucer and teacup with the City Hotel and the initials J.G.R printed on it. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: John George Ruddenklau, c. 1892. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0097.

Hotels were also recreational places to enjoy a meal and some entertainment, as well as providing a home away from home for travellers. A wide variety of table and serving wares is considered a characteristic of non-domestic assemblages like hotels, boarding houses and other commercial establishments associated with the provision of food and drink (Lawrence et al. 2009: 75-77). The presence of matching sets may indicate that the hotel chose to serve meals on matching plates and dishes, likely representing what must have been a first-class dinner experience for the guests. In particular, the Occidental Hotel became one of the most well-known hotels in Christchurch, with a room maintained solely for the use of visiting members of the Parliament – a clear indicator of the hotel status.

This set of Belmont patterned vessels made by the Staffordshire potter Pinder, Bourne and Co. (1862-1882) were found on the Occidental Hotel site. The range of tableware recorded, showed that dining was a formal activity at this site, with specialised forms such as a ladle, a cover dish, tureens and a number of plates and other serving wares.

Personal items are scarcely identified on hotel assemblages. These goods hold great value for archaeologists as they tell us about private lives within public spaces (i.e. hotels) in the Victorian era and provide evidence of daily domestic life within this unique space. They may have belonged to the proprietors, visitors or haven been provided to guests by the hotel itself. Their rarity is also what makes them captivating for us.

Perfume bottles. Right: This one may have held a fragrance, based on its size and octagonal shape, similar to the J. M. Farina Cologne bottles found on other Christchurch archaeological sites. Left: Piesse and Lubin bottle. They were perfume manufacturers established in 1855 in London. Their fragrance was first advertised for sale in New Zealand newspapers as early as 1857 (Wellington Independent 20/05/1857: 3). In the 19th century, perfume became intimately entangled with gender. Despite the growing popularity of perfumes in the written record towards the end of the 19th century, especially for women, we don’t find that many perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Clockwise from top: John Gosnell’s Cherry Toothpaste first produced in the 1850s, hair comb made from vulcanite or vulcanised rubber (brushing and combing the hair was a frequent recommendation in the 19th century newspapers and magazines to encourage a healthy hair), bone toothbrush made in Liverpool by an unknown manufacturer. Image: J. Garland.

To conclude our particular approach to the daily life at Christchurch hotels though the artefacts and other sources, I’ll return to the beginning: hotels were an important part of the social development of both the public and private areas in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Who knew hotels were such versatile places!

Just witty! (Observer 7/09/1912: 17).

Maria Lillo Bernabeu


Ayto, E. G., 1994. Clay Tobacco Pipes. Shire Publications

Bone, K., Dickson, C. and Whybrew, C., 2017. 6 Winchester Street, Lyttelton: Report on Archaeological Monitoring. Unpublished report for Holloway Builders Ltd.

Brassey, R., 1991. Clay Tobacco Pipes from the Site of the Victoria Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 9: 27-30.

Godden, G., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Crown Publishers, New York.

Grey River Agust. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Lawrence, S., Brooks, A. and Lennon, J., 2009. Ceramics and Status in Regional Australia. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 27: 67-78.

Macready, S. and Goodwyn, J., 1990. Slums and Self-Improvement. The History and Archaeology of the Mechanics Institute, Auckland, and it’s Chancery Street Neighbourhood, Vol 2: The Artefacts and Faunal Material. Science and Research Report 92, Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Observer. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Stephenson, T., 2016. The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace. Ryland Peters and Small, London.

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

So far, yet so close…

As a Spanish archaeologist who used to work on prehistoric sites and then became an artefact specialist in New Zealand, my experience has shown me that although they are worlds apart, Spanish prehistory and the Victorian era are closer than you think. And I’ll explain why…

As you know, archaeology provides us with information about societies in the past. That means a long timeline and heaps of artefacts that let us know how people used to live. But, how much have these objects changed from thousands of years ago to the 19th century? Less than you might imagine…

Food, care practices and children’s education are aspects of life that are present in all times and all places around the world. It comes down to the simple fact that people are people. Daily activities are the most important ones for the survival and development of all societies. These tasks articulate the relationships and social links between people. However, although they are important, essential tasks, they have long been dismissed or gone unnoticed. How is it possible? Easy! Because history has been written in masculine, based on the idea of the technological and industrial progress carried out by man, and those domestic works associated with women and dwelling have been undervalued. This lack of attention in archaeological discourse doesn’t make sense because most of the artefacts recorded in all cultures and historical periods are associated with the household.

To be honest, I chose this topic because gendered archaeology is one of my passions. I have been analysing how women were represented in prehistoric rock art from the eastern area of Spain as researcher at the University of Alicante and I also used to work on the archaeological site of Cabezo Redondo (Villena, Spain), which dates to the Bronze Age. Currently, I have the chance to keep looking for women and children through the artefacts from 19th century sites in Christchurch. So, today, I want to merge my experiences here in the Antipodes with those from Spain. With that in mind, I’ll mainly look at the most common finds that archaeologists deal with: ceramic vessels, along with a couple of other unusual and cool artefacts.

So, first, a few basic ideas to start with!

The basic tasks of daily life may not have always been undertaken by women in prehistory, for sure! In fact, in the early periods of human history, the whole group (women, men and children) would have been involved. It was later that these activities became part of women’s heritage in traditional and historical societies. Especially, by the middle of the 19th century when homes and workplaces were no longer combined in the same place, a strict division of roles of family members became visible: the main responsibility for men was the economic support of the household, while the women undertook the role of homemaker and child carer and retreated from the public sphere. Women were encouraged to be the wives, mothers and domestic servants. Poor behaviour and inattention to housework was often linked to gossiping or even insanity. Can you believe it? Do you think domesticity causes illness? This husband didn’t agree because his wife was the most domestic woman ever.

Evening Star 12/06/1883.

Now that you’ve had a little bit of an introduction, we are ready! It is time to start democratising the past through archaeology, listening the silent voices from the past, and highlighting and researching the role of the people less represented. Let’s make women, children and their practices visible!

Recreation of a prehistoric settlement. Image: M. A. Salvatierra.

I’ll show you some objects related to food, caregiving and children’s socialization. Comparing both artefacts found in Spain at prehistoric sites and 19th century ones from Christchurch, we’ll reach an evident and clever conclusion: materials and manufacturing methods are different, but the use of the objects remains consistent.

Eating is probably the most essential activity for everybody. As well as being a biological necessity, food practices display social rituals and indicate different means, status and behaviours, based on factors like the variety of table settings. The first tableware and cutlery recovered from prehistoric sites in Spain dates to the 5th to the 4th millennium BC. Is that not amazing? At these sites, we find communal serving dishes from which household members were served, individual bowls for eating and handled vessels to contain and serve liquids. Simple for us, but an authentic revolution for the Neolithic groups. Their new economy, based on farming, involved significant changes in food preparation and consumption. These processes required knowledge about sources as well as tools and technical skills for cutting, grinding, boiling, smoking or roasting. A kind of soup and cream made from grains mixed with water was the main dish on the menu, and it was cooked and eaten with a spoon. It would look like a porridge. I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t as yummy as our current food! How lucky we are!

A range of food related material, comparing prehistoric (black background) and 19th century (white background) from Spain and Christchurch sites respectively: bone spoon/silver spoon, bowl with incised decoration/green transfer printed bowl, polished jug/Bristol glazed jug and serving dish with geometric decoration/moulded serving dish. Images: Museu de Prehistoria de Valencia, Museo Arqueologico Regional de Madrid, J. Garland and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

In the same way that eating is important in order to create and negotiate relations between people, childcare and education also have social significance. Through play and imitation, young children were taught roles that would be important in their daily life as adults. Based on the archaeological record, it looks like dolls were of the most popular toys from ancient times! By the 19th century, porcelain dolls were given to girls to encourage maternal instincts as well as toy tea sets to learn the rules of domestic etiquette and social interaction in the Victorian era. But again, this is not a modern invention! Miniature ceramics were also found in prehistoric sites, and they were not only used as toys but also as a way to learn about ceramic manufacture. These asymmetric and unburnished vessels showed the processes of skill acquisition needed to make pottery. To be honest, I don’t think that I would be able to make them any better using my hands…maybe because my mum didn’t teach me about that?

Children’s artefacts. On the right, an articulated doll made of ivory recovered from a children’s burial from Paleocristian site of Tarragona (Spain) dating to 3rd or 4th century AD. Remnants of fabric were also visible on it, indicating that these dolls wore clothes, as 19th century porcelain dolls recovered from Christchurch sites do. On the left, there are some miniature ceramic vessels from el Cerro de la Encina (Monachil, Granada, Spain) dating to the Bronze Age between 3rd and 1st millennium BC. They were recovered from a children’s burial as well. Below those, there is a toy tea set and a children’s cup found in Christchurch. Images: Museu Nacional Arqueologic de Tarragona, Underground Overground Archaeology, J. Garland, M.A. Blanco and G. Jackson.

So why have I used prehistoric and 19th century artefacts to look at maintenance activities? I’ve tried to make you think about the evidence of daily life because artefacts hide a history behind them. They talk about social processes and relationships between people, which is the core of all societies. Women carried out an active role as well as men, of course, and the archaeological record confirms this. However, traditional historians and archaeologists, influenced by our contemporary minds, have interpreted the past by focusing on men and their achievements. But in reality, the development of all cultures and societies is the result of the tasks undertaken by men and women, as well as the relationships and connections between them. So, it is time to make women and their practices visible!

What a curious scene that’s shown in these images! Do you notice the similarities and difference between them? Domestic activities are shown as awful tasks in both pictures. As a difference, the re-creation on top depicts a relaxed man, who is smoking and reading a race car magazine, while his stressed woman is cooking and holding the baby, with the other children surrounding her. It might be the traditional atmosphere in a 19th century household context. However, the female and masculine roles are reversed in the bottom picture. Here, the domestic activities are presented as the apocalypse for men, and they cannot manage the situation. Top image: The Observer 14/03/1891. Bottom image: New Zealand Mail 29/09/1893.

So how do we do it? The archaeological record provides the tools that we need – women and children are visible through objects from household contexts as I explained here. Also, human bones from burials and rock art are both especially useful in the case of prehistoric sites. In the case of the 19th century Christchurch sites, archaeologists are lucky as well. Lots of rubbish was dumped into pits or accidentally fell under the floors of houses, waiting to be uncovered and compared with the historical records for that period or site. Therefore, we only need to be asking the right questions to find the answers – and to find the women and children that we are looking for. Let’s go, get into it!

Images: Underground Overground Archaeology and El Periodico Villena.

By Maria Lillo Bernabeu


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Museu de Prehistoria de Valencia. [online] Available at: http://www.museuprehistoriavalencia.es [Accessed 8/05/2017].

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Sanchez Romero, M., 2008. ‘Childhood and the Construction of Gender Identities through Material Culture’. Childhood in the Past 1, 17-37.

Symonds, J., 2007. Table Settings. The Material Culture and Social Context of Dinning, AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, United Kingdom.

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2017. Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct Archaeological Report. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.