Enterprise in a New Street

**TRIGGER WARNING: This blog talks of infant death and sex work**

 

Time forgives and forgets, dulling the harsh effects of first-hand accounts of shocking life events to a point where one can laugh at unfortunate events, or even become engrossed in the salacious accounts of someone’s long gone, some would say best forgotten, life. This ‘best forgotten’ approach to unfortunate historical events means history tends to present the winners in life, the successes, and the ideals of what a ‘good life’ is, skewing many a family history and leaving many questions and surprises for those who decide to delve.

In many of the histories we research we do get the opportunity to write about Canterbury’s success stories, but we also research the residential lives of the average colonial settler brought out to a new world. Despite the Canterbury Associations’ self-assured hubris, campaigning for the ideal Anglican settlement, life did get in the way. The need for immigrants to help play out the grand scheme of things brought working class innovations: the good and, in the Victorian’s eyes, the morally questionable.

Enter the world of a smallish new street, a right of way in the beginning, in the residential northeast of the city. It was a patchwork of small worker’s cottages with dodgy drainage. Most of these cottages were leased, and some were sold to those who ventured to better themselves by owning a property. Little was happening on this street during the early 1860s, but by 1868 the section we are going to focus on in this blog was sold, and a small cottage was built. The property went through a few owners with little fanfare. In July of 1878 the property sold to Mr John Hannan, who already lived in the new street. Hannan, hoping to extend his property portfolio, took a mortgage out with a Mr Michael Murphy. Hannan’s property empire wasn’t to be and, as mortgagee, Mr Michael Murphy, took over the property in 1879. It was from this time that life started to get interesting in the new street – yes you can cue the ominous music now (LINZ, 1860).

While this is not our street it does give an idea of early cottages in Christchurch in the 1860s – albeit in a nicer area! Image: Barker, Alfred Charles (Dr), 1819-1873. Canterbury Museum, 2016.13.7.

Michael Murphy, according to George Ranald Macdonald in his Macdonald Biography of Canterbury Project, along with his brother John ‘were two of the greatest rouges in the history of Christchurch’ (MacDonald, 1952-1964: M753a). It’s quite an accusation but Macdonald did go on to say, so vast and numerous were their appearances before the courts it was too much to record in the biography project. So, with this opinion of Mr Murphy and his brother in mind, the following events could be deemed unsurprising.

The year of 1879 for Murphy was relatively quiet year regarding court appearances. In July 1879 Murphy was fined 10 shillings and costs for allowing a cow to graze on Cambridge Terrace (Lyttelton Times, 15/7/1879: 3). Later in the same month Murphy was sued by a C. Hensley for the recovery of £15 for a dishonoured cheque. A Mr McConnell represented the plaintiff (Hensley), and Mr Izard represented the defendant (Mr Murphy). Murphy obtained £15 from his brother John in exchange for a cheque of the same amount. When John went to use cheque, it was returned endorsed with ‘payment stopped’. John then paid away the cheque to Mr Howe in liquidation of an account, and then Mr Howe paid away the cheque to the plaintiff, Mr Hensley in settlement of wages (still with me here?). Hensley made his way to the bank to deposit his wages, not noticing the endorsement, and duly had the cheque returned to him unpaid. Murphy disclaimed liability stating the cheque was given for a gambling debt. This resulted in some ‘very hard swearing’ and Murphy, in a peremptory manner, stated he could provide independent witnesses to state the contrary. It is at this point, dear reader, we find out that Murphy, true to form, had called in at his so-called witnesses’ office that morning to cross question him about the cheque and said if he leaned towards Murphy that it would be ‘worth his while’. Once the witness had stated the account to the court Murphy’s defence lawyer, Mr Izard, picked up his hat and quit the court room leaving Murphy to defend himself. Murphy then wondered if the Magistrate could adjourn the case stating, ‘I am left to myself’, with the Magistrate replying, ‘I don’t wonder indeed’. This left Murphy asking irrelevant questions of the incorruptible witness before asking for a verdict deeming, he had proved his case that the cheque had been produced under the influence of alcohol to pay a gambling debt. The Magistrate failed to see the case with Murphy having to pay all costs (Lyttelton Times, 18/7/1879: 6). This was a case among many of the Murphy Bros, sealing their reputation in Macdonald’s dictionary.

A day in the Magistrates Court… you can only imagine! Image: Addle-headed Justice on the Auckland Bench. Hangum J.P. (to smashed-up plaintiff): it serves yet tight far goin’ inter theae sort et ‘oases; so, let this be a warning to yer. The prisoner is discharged without a stain on ‘is character. ‘ (Observer, 27 May 1899). Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/5813200

So back from that brief interlude to characterise Murphy, to our property in the new street. Murphy, as the ‘mortgagee’, decided to sell. Three freehold sections were advertised for sale in the new street; all had been in the ownership of Hannan and all had three-roomed cottages (Lyttelton Times, 7/3/1879: 8). The properties did not sell, and it was the property’s next appearance in the newspapers that sealed its fate. In April of 1881 in the magisterial column of a Saturday paper it noted ‘Larrikin Prostitutes’, Josephine Ellen, Nellie Ross, Alice Hulbert, and Jane Wilmot, all but one being of a young age, were brought up under the ‘Vagrancy Act’ and charged with having no lawful visible means of support. It was deposed that they lived at a house, in the new street, owned by Mrs Michael Murphy (it has to be said that Murphy himself was in Lyttelton gaol awaiting a perjury trial). The arresting sergeants disposed that the girls’ occupation of the property caused great disturbance to the neighbourhood. The accused were described as prostitutes, with one neighbour, Mr J. McDonald, who lived near the house, disposing that orgies had taken place at the property. The Bench responded in a severe manner about the degradation of the neighbourhood by the defendants, who were then sentenced to prison for three months with hard labour (Globe, 9/4/1881: 2; Lyttelton Times, 11/4/1881: 3). Another newspaper article said the prisoners had flippantly informed the Bench that indeed they did have support, so much so that they had considered purchasing the house they rented from Mrs Murphy (Star, 9/4/1881: 3). Josephine Ellen, the elder of the women and deemed the keeper of the brothel, exclaimed ‘Vel, vot am I do mit my little dorgs!’ (New Zealand Herald, 21/4/1881: 3). It was not known what happened to the dogs and no further records could be found regarding Josephine Ellen, her name likely to be an alias. Mrs Murphy continued to let cottages in the new street and in October of 1881 one of the cottages burnt down (Star, 31/10/1881: 3).

In 1882 Murphy sold one of the properties to an Eva M Boyd (LINZ, 1860: 600). You could surmise it may have been the now empty section, as Boyd already lived in the street and had purchased a property with a shared boundary in 1881 and another later on in 1897. Boyd styled herself as ‘Mrs Boyd’, ‘Ada Boyd’, and ‘Mabel Ada Boyd’. Nothing was found with current research regarding a Mabel Ada Boyd prior to this time or an Eva Mabel Boyd.

‘Mrs Boyd’, as she was referred to, is noted in newspapers linked with the street from March 1881 where she was associated with a court case of a Frederick Walter Berry on a charge of vagrancy. It was deposed during the court case that Berry had been cooking for Mrs Boyd (Star, 20/5/1881: 3). Mrs Boyd started to make regular appearances in Magisterial proceedings where her home was described as a ‘house of ill-fame’ and a ‘brothel’ (Globe, 14/6/1882: 3; Star, 14/6/1882: 3). It seems Mrs Boyd picked up where Josephine Ellen left off. The following is a little unsettling, so reader beware.

Things came to a head in the street in 1883 when three people, Alice Hulbert, Ada Willett, and Alice Willet, were arrested on a charge of disposal of a body of a child. A woman, Boyd, also had a charge of concealment but had yet to be arrested. The body of the child was found ‘secreted’ in the garden adjoining the house occupied by Mrs Boyd. Some boys playing in the garden found the body concealed in brown paper. The body had been buried. It was not known at the time if the child was still born (Star, 3/5/1883: 3). As the court case progressed, Mrs Boyd was eventually found in Dunedin and arrested. Boyd was later noted in court attacking a Constable Neale, the principal witnesses in the case. The constable was said to have ‘parried’ off the attack very skilfully, suffering no injury from his ‘formidable assailant’ (Star, 15/5/1883: 2). As the details of the case transpired, it was a girl named Amy Dyson, a lodger with Boyd, who had died and had been pregnant. On hearing that the boys had found the body, the Willets, and Hulbert removed the body and reburied it elsewhere. None of the witnesses testified to have seen or buried the child (Evening Star, 5/5/1883: 2).

It was in these reports of the case that Mrs Boyd was referred to as Mabel Ada Boyd (Star, 15/5/1883: 3). Later, in the police gazette, it is recorded that the four women were charged of the offence of concealment of birth, but in consequence of a legal difficulty, the Crown Prosecutor presented an indictment (New Zealand Police Gazette, 8/8/1883: 140).

From 1884 Mrs Boyd appeared to have a consistent account of keeping a disorderly house and being described as a ‘nuisance’ in the new street. In a Magisterial hearing, Mabel Ada Boyd was accused of acting as the mistress of a house of ill fame. Her lawyer, Mr Joyce, even suggested she lease the property and close her business. One neighbour across the road from her property described the goings on as a ‘regular terror to the neighbours’ and it was a ‘very bad house’. Another neighbour also offered his property for sale to Mrs Boyd, in order to escape the bad character of the neighbourhood. Mrs Boyd stated that she did not live in the house. Mrs Boyd was noted as living on the corner of the street in a rental property belonging to a Mr John Goston, which incidentally had recently burnt down (Press, 9/4/1884: 2; Lyttelton Times, 24/4/1884: 3). In 1885 another fire in the street burnt down a four-roomed cottage owned by Mrs Mabel Ada Boyd. The dwelling was considered old and had not been inhabited for 12 months. It was also stated that Mrs Boyd had gone to Wellington, and the property was to be leased to Mrs John Hannan. In a strange twist, this was the wife of the same Hannan that owned the properties originally (Lyttelton Times, 7/2/1885: 5; Star, 7/2/1885: 3).

The perceptions of prostitutes in 19th century New Zealand. Image: Blomfield, William, 1866-1938. Blomfield, William, 1866-1938: The Seven Ages of a Lost Sister. New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, 12 October 1889. Ref: H-713-095. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22306446

After this eventful phase in the street, things seem to have settled down. Mrs Boyd was gone, having moved to Wellington and styling herself as Ada Boyd.  Again, Mrs Boyd is accused of bringing down the tone of a neighbourhood, this time in Boulcott Street Wellington.  The newspapers titled Boyd as a ‘notorious woman of ill-fame’ in an article titled ‘A Den of Iniquity’ (New Zealand Times, 10/9/1885: 3). Boyd was charged with keeping a disorderly house, frequented by idle and disorderly persons, and having no lawful visible means of support. Apparently, the nuisance had been tolerated by residents of Boulcott Street for some time, and it was hoped that it would be abated. The house was located in a very respectable area of town and close to two schools. The house was owned by a leading citizen of Wellington, no other than Mr John Plimmer. Plimmer stated that the lease was held by another woman called Farris. A Detective Chrystal gave evidence that Boyd kept a brothel with three girls called Carrie Williams, Sarah Williams (with an alias of Brighting), and Clara Mitchell.  A woman called Woodroofe, from Christchurch also resided at the property. It was stated that Boyd had been convicted of similar charges in Christchurch (New Zealand Times, 10/9/1885: 3). Boyd was later charged on remand and by 22 September had left the house in Boulcott Street (Evening Post, 22/9/1885: 3).

As for the new street? By 1891 it was renamed and the mysterious Eva Mabel Boyd, now listed as an Auckland spinster, seems to have purchased another section of land in the street in 1897. By 1899 the property was acquired by a building firm, who quickly subdivided, and developed the property into respectable residential sections – deemed no doubt by the Victorians as a more palatable enterprise for a new street.

-The Historian, Underground Overground Archaeology

References

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, 1877-1839. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds Index – A/S – Subdivisions of Christchurch town sections. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times, 1851-1920. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Evening Star, 1865-1947. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

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

MacDonald, G.R., 1952-1964. Macdonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biography project. [online] Canterbury Museum. Available at: <https://collection.canterburymuseum.com/objects?query=maker_name%3A%22George+Ranald+Macdonald%22>.

New Zealand Police Gazettes, 1877-1945 [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

New Zealand Herald, 1863-1945. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

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

 

The Sum of a Life

Today on the blog we’re taking a look at a pair of neighbours, Joseph Rowley and David Scott. The pair lived next to each other on the south side of St Asaph Street- with Rowley owning Lot 7 DP 51 and Scott owning Lot 8 DP 51.

Following the Kemp purchase in 1848, the land that would become Christchurch’s central city was subdivided into town sections and reserves, and sold off to European settlers. Town Reserve 4 was a four and a half acre section fronting onto Montreal Street, St Asaph Street, and Durham Street. The Town Reserve was sold in 1860 and passed hands a few times until it was purchased by Edward Louis Clogstown and Lancelot Walker in 1875, along with the neighbouring Town Reserve 5. Clogstown and Walker subdivided the town reserve into 40 residential lots in January 1875 and in February 1875 they advertised the 40 building sites for sale.

Town Reserves 4 and 5 are outlined in blue on the 1862 Fook’s map. What would become Lots 7 and 8 is outlined in red. Image: Fooks, 1862. 

Details from DP 51, showing Clogstown and Walker’s subdivision of Town Reserve 4 and 5 into 40 residential lots. Lots 7 and 8 are outlined in red. Image: LINZ, 1875c. DP 51, Canterbury. Landonline.

The sections advertised for sale. Image: Star 01/02/1875: 4. 

Joseph Rowley, a tin slate worker, purchased Lot 7 of the subdivision from Clogstown and Walker in 1875. Rowley, who was originally from Warwickshire, arrived in Canterbury with his wife and eight children on board the Mystery in 1859. Prior to the purchase of the St Asaph Street section, Rowley and his family were living in Montreal Street. Rowley announced in the local newspapers that he had accepted the tender of Mr Verrall for the construction of his house in St Asaph Street in February 1875 and three months later advertised his house and land on Montreal Street as being for sale, suggesting that the St Asaph Street house was completed by May 1875. The Rowley family lived at the St Asaph Street house for the remainder of the 19th century. While Joseph passed away in 1888, and his wife, Mary, in 1895, their daughters continued to live at the property and the house remained in the ownership of the Rowley family until the 1920s.

Rowley’s advertisement in the newspaper that he had accepted Mr Verrall’s tender to build his how on St Asaph Street. Image: Press 13/02/1875: 1

David Scott purchased Lot 8 of the subdivision from Clogstown and Walker in 1875. Scott, originally from Selkinkshire in Scotland, arrived in Canterbury on board the David G. Fleming in 1863. Scott was a builder and it is likely that he constructed a residence on the section himself. When his eldest daughter, Lilly Bell, married Donald Munro in July 1888, Scott’s residence was referred to as ‘Abbotsford House’. Similar to the Rowley’s, the Scott family lived at the house for the remainder of the 19th century. When David passed in 1899, the section passed to his wife (also called Lilly Bell), and his son, Richard Linton Scott, and remained in the ownership of the Scott family into the 1960s.

The announcement of Scott’s daughter’s marriage, in which their St Asaph Street house is referred to as Abbotsford House. Image: Lyttelton Times 13/17/1888: 4. 

The two houses shown on the 1877 Strouts Map. Rowley’s house in on the left and Scott’s on the right. Image: Strouts, 1877. 

From aerial photography, we know that the two houses were still standing in the latter half of the 1950s, but had been demolished by the early 1960s and replaced with a commercial building. This building, in turn, was demolished following earthquake damage, and replaced with a new commercial building. We monitored the earthworks for the construction of this new building, leading to our investigation into Rowley and Scott’s former sections.

A photograph from our monitoring. The contractors excavate the areas of the site that they need to for the new building foundations. We watch them dig and if they hit any archaeology, we have them stop and wait while we investigate it by hand. Image: J. Hearfield.

We found 15 archaeological features during our archaeological monitoring. Most of these were rubbish pits located near the rear of the properties, which is typical for 19th century Christchurch domestic sites. While municipal rubbish collection did exist, people continued to bury at least some of their household rubbish in pits dug in the backyards. The contents of these pits are able to tell us more about the lives of the people who deposited them.

Some of the rubbish pits we found at the site. Once they have been exposed like this by the digger, the archaeologist investigates them by hand. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A mid-excavation photo of one of the rubbish pits from the site. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Because the Rowley and Scott families both built the first houses on their respective sections, and lived at them into the 20th century, we can safely assume that any 19th century features found at the site were created and deposited by them. As an artefact specialist, domestic sites like these are some of my favourite archaeological site types. Quite often we have domestic sites that were rentals in the 19th century with a high turnover of occupants, meaning that while we might know who was living at the site in the 19th century, we are unable to associate the artefacts we find at the site with specific tenants. That’s not a problem with sites like these where there was only one occupant over the course of the 19th century. When we’re able to associate artefact assemblages with specific occupants then we can take a look at some of those more interesting questions, like what the artefacts say about the social and economic status of the people who deposited them. Now is the point in the blog where you might be expecting me to show you all the amazing things that we found that belonged to Rowley and Scott, after all, we usually choose to only share the interesting stuff on the blog. However, if I’m honest, the stuff we found at the site was kind of boring, and says more about the period that Rowley and Scott lived in than their personal choices.

Firstly, we didn’t find a lot at the sites. At Rowley’s site we found 133 artefacts, represented by 444 fragments, and at Scott’s site we found 109 artefacts, represented by 548 fragments, so pretty similar small assemblage sizes. Here are most of the ceramic artefacts found at the two sites. Rowley’s is shown on the left and Scott’s on the right. In terms of similarities, the Asiatic Pheasants, Rhine, and Willow patterns were found at both sites, as were sprigged and gilt banded tea ware vessels. These are decoration styles that we find across the city, and are very typical of the 1875-1900 period. However, like most of our sites, we found a range of different patterns suggesting that the two families were likely purchasing individual items that they liked, rather than focusing on maintaining sets (the teacup with the blue floral pattern from the Scott family assemblage is particularly nice). There are some interesting things in the Scott family assemblage. We found six penny ink bottles and an ink well. A search through the newspaper records show that school lessons were being advertised from the Scott’s house on St Asaph Street. A C. M’Farland is recorded as being the one offering the lessons. I haven’t quite been able to work out how he relates to the Scott family, but it seems likely that the ink bottles found at the site related to M’Farland’s school lessons at the property. We also found a miniature cup and jug, and a child’s plate in the Scott family assemblage.

The Scott’s weren’t the only ones to be offering lessons from their house. Next door, Miss Rowley, Joseph Rowley’s daughter, was offering piano, singing, drawing and painting lessons. Image: Lyttelton Times 17/09/1890: 8. 

Similar to the ceramic assemblages, the glass assemblages from Rowley and Scott’s sites are very typical of the 1875-1900 period. At both sites, alcohol bottles were most common, followed by pharmaceutical bottles and then condiment bottles. These bottles were types we often see on our archaeological sites, such as black beer, case gin, ring seal, hock wine, salad oil, castor oil, and rectangular bevelled pharmaceutical bottles, as well as pickle jars. As you can see from the photos, more complete bottles were found at Rowley’s site rather than Scott’s site. It may be that the Scotts were returning complete bottles back to retailers so that the bottles could be refilled and reused, and were only choosing to throw away bottles that broke, but it also may be that taphonomic processes have resulted in bottle breakages.

In terms of what else was found at the site, the Rowley’s assemblage was quite interesting as we found the soles from seven shoes in one of the rubbish pits. Most of these shoes were made using slightly older shoe making techniques, with the soles of the shoes attached using wooden pegs rather than nails, and at least two had been re-soled. This suggested that the Rowley family wore their shoes until they were completely worn out. That several shoes were found in the one feature perhaps suggests that most of the family got new shoes at one time, with the old shoes finally thrown away. Other finds from the Rowley site included writing slate, a doll’s arm, a safety pin, and a glass cruet bottle. We also found shoe fragments at the Scott’s site, however these hadn’t survived well and were very fragmented. We also found two bone toothbrushes, two porcelain Prosser buttons, and fragments from a basket weave moulded clay pipe. I like artefacts like these as they are such personal items and provide a real connection to the past.

In one sense, I find the two assemblages quite sad. Both the Scott and Rowley families lived at the site from 1875 into the 20th century, and yet all there is to show from their lives are some broken glass bottles and bits of ceramic plates. On other sites that we’ve excavated that have had people living at the property for a long period of time, we’ve found large assemblages with elaborate ceramic sets and unusual items. But that wasn’t the case here.

The small and fragmented assemblages may be a result of taphonomic processes and archaeological excavation strategies. The site was developed in the 20th century, and this may have wiped out some archaeological features from the site and disturbed others. It was also fossicked overnight by bottle diggers during our time at the site, and most of the material from two of the pits was stolen. Knowing bottle diggers, they only go for the complete items which may explain the fragmented condition of what was left in the two pits they dug out. Our excavation strategies also mean that some material was left in situ or not collected. We only excavate features that date to the 19th century, as the legislation we operate under only protects pre-1900 archaeology. We did find rubbish pits that dated to the 20th century at the site, but we didn’t excavate them. We also only excavate within the boundaries of what our client needs to excavate. We had some features that extended beyond the new building’s foundations, meaning that we only excavated the halves of these features that were within the extent of the new foundation, and left the rest in situ.

However, even if we only view what we collected as a sample of what was there, we still have to assume that the sample is relatively representative of the overall assemblages. Both the Rowley and Scott families were working class families, and I’d say that is definitely reflected in the artefacts from the site. The artefacts are all things that we find all the time in Christchurch, suggesting that both families were purchasing things that were cheap and readily available.

Something that is quite interesting is that there was no evidence that any of the rubbish pits represented ‘clean out’ events. We sometimes find large rubbish pits containing lots of complete artefacts where the material has obvious been thrown out intentionally because the occupants don’t want it anymore, as opposed to something being thrown away because it has broken. Sometimes, we’re able to associate these ‘clean out’ events with members of a younger generation throwing out items belonging to the older generation after the older generation has passed away. Both Joseph and Mary Rowley, and David and Lilly Bell Scott passed away at their St Asaph Street properties. With the exception of Lilly Bell, these deaths all occurred in the 19th century. Yet there is no evidence that the children of the two couples that continued to live at the site threw away their parents belongings. This may have been an economic decision as they may not have had the means to buy all new dinner sets, but could also have been for sentimental reasons.

The artefacts we found from the two houses on St Asaph Street represent the sum of Rowley and Scott’s lives. On one hand, some broken black beer bottles and Asiatic Pheasants patterned plates might not say much about those lives. But on the other hand, they speak to what life was like as a working class family living in 19th century Christchurch.

Clara Watson, Lydia Mearns

 

 

 

Life Before Plastic: Kmart Culture

Last time on the blog we talked about packaging and how our Victorian ancestors made do without plastic trays to wrap their cans of coke in (and all the rest of it). This week we’re going to take a closer look at plastic in the household. Plastic in the household isn’t quite as bad as plastic in the supermarket, but there still is a lot of it. There’s the plastic laundry basket, the plastic on the fridge door handles, the polyester clothes in the wardrobe and the plastic bucket in the laundry, to name a few.

If we were to go back in time to a Victorian house, we wouldn’t see any of those things. The clothes would be made of wool, or cotton, or linen, the bucket of metal, there wouldn’t be a fridge and the laundry basket would be an actual wicker basket. Now I could go through object by object and compare what we have today to what the Victorians used, but that would get a bit repetitive and boring. Instead what I want to do is take a look at the bigger picture and the different social and economic systems between now and 150 years ago. (A quick note, I make some big generalisations about purchasing habits in the next few paragraphs. Obviously, people’s purchasing habits are completely dependent on their individual economic situation and personal beliefs, and not every single object out there is cheap plastic junk. I’m just generalising to make a point about a certain type of behaviour).

A 19th century bone toothbrush and its modern-day plastic equivalent. Image: C. Watson.

Something you hear all the time is that things aren’t made to last like they used to. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. As we discussed when talking about packaging, the main benefit of plastic is that it’s cheap to manufacture, meaning that plastic items are cheap to purchase. In the current economic climate, where manufacturers are focused on maximising profit and lowering the bottom line, plastic is often the most economical choice for goods to be made of. For some manufacturers that are using plastic the focus isn’t on making a high-quality product that will last a lifetime, but on making money. If we want to be really cynical, manufacturers benefit when products have a short lifespan as it means the customer has to keep purchasing the same product over and over again.

These cheaply manufactured plastic objects can be purchased from many stores, but I’m going to use one store that’s very popular at the moment to illustrate my point- Kmart- and what I’m going to refer to as “Kmart Culture”. If you’ve been paying attention on the internet for the past few years, you’ll have seen people going absolutely nuts for Kmart homewares. From the throws to the cushions, candles, and wall prints, there’s always a new trend.

Just a few of the many Kmart memes that exist on the internet. Image: Google.

Kmart Culture is completely focused on what’s new, because there’s always something new. There’s no consideration of the fact that there’s only so many places in the household that can be decorated with a throw blanket and a cushion. Instead new cushions are purchased, the old cushions are put in a cupboard, and they sit out of sight until there’s a Marie Kondo inspired cleaning spree and they go to the tip.  And the thing that facilitates being able to purchase new home décor, despite already owning various homewares, is the cheap price point, which is only possible because of plastic. You might be picking up on the fact that there’s a bit of a cycle going on here. Plastic makes goods cheap. People can afford to purchase non-essential items (eg. Home décor) because it’s cheap. People can afford to purchase even more non-essential items, even when they already have those items at home, because it’s cheap. People have no qualms about throwing out the old items, because they were cheap. Cheap plastic items end up in landfills.

With that pattern of behaviour in the forefront of our minds, let’s jump now to 19th century Christchurch where there was no plastic. By the mid-19th century the industrial revolution was in full swing. The introduction of mass-manufactured goods through the development of factories in Britain, combined with the discovery of new resources through world exploration and the creation of a global trade market through British and European colonisation meant products were cheaper than in previous centuries and there was a wider variety of things that could be bought (Rafferty 2019). This growth meant people had more money and there was a shift from people making things at home to purchasing them from shops.

All of this sounds relatively similar to modern times, and that’s because, in a way, it is. In the 19th century we see the beginning of the social and economic systems that led to modern day Kmart Culture. Whilst things weren’t as cheap as they are today, they were still cheaper than they had been in the past. In some ways it’s hard to compare the cost of goods in the 19th century with the cost of goods today. Whilst we can compare prices and index them (see here if you’re interested in more detail), in many ways it’s comparing oranges and apples. How do you compare the cost of a kettle in the 19th century, made of cast iron and designed to be heated on a range, with a modern electrical jug? And which electrical jug would you even choose to compare it with, the $10 one from Kmart or the $270 Breville one from Briscoes? Even if you chose to compare it with a cast iron jug they range from $30 to over a $100 in price.

Another way to compare is not looking at the cost of goods, but at what was thrown away. In Kmart Culture old items are being replaced by new items, despite the fact the old items are still useable. Think back over the past ten years, what household items have you thrown out? Nic nacs? Ornaments? Paintings? Cushions? Furniture? Clothing? Utensils? Pots and pans? Plates? If I think of my parents house 20 years ago and compare it to now, nearly everything in it has been replaced over the past two decades.

When we look at the archaeology of 19th century Christchurch, and in particular at rubbish pits and what people were throwing away, there’s two big patterns. Firstly, we don’t find homeware items that often, but we do come across them. We’ve found things like kettles, pots, cast iron ranges, irons, and bed knobs, but they’re rare and we definitely don’t find them in every site. There are other household items that aren’t rare, but we don’t find in every site. Things like cutlery, knives, vases and ornaments.

Some of the more unusual household items we come across. Image: C. Watson.

The relative scarcity of these objects in the archaeological record suggests there wasn’t a 19th century Kmart Culture around their purchase. People purchased these items and held onto them until they broke. In fact, a lot of the items shown in the above photograph came from a site where the occupants both passed away and we think the objects were thrown out by their children preparing the house for sale- proving that some things were intended to last a lifetime.

What we do find in nearly every single rubbish pit we excavate are ceramics. Plates, side plate, cups, teapots, platters, sugar bowls, tureens, jugs, chamber pots, bowls, basins, ewers- you name it and we’ve found it a thousand times over. And we find them in every form possible, from a single rim sherd to half a vessel that can be refitted to a fully complete item. It’s likely that a lot of the vessels we find are things that people have dropped or knocked and they’ve broken, and that’s why they’ve been thrown out, but given the quantities that we find either the 19th century residents of Christchurch were the clumsiest people in the world, or there was another reason why things were being thrown out.

Some of the many, many ceramic vessels we find in Christchurch archaeological sites. Image: C. Watson.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Kmart Culture of the 19th century: ceramic dinner sets and tea sets. The industrial revolution led to pottery factories in the Staffordshire region of England producing large quantities of ceramic vessels for the export market. The scale of production meant it was possible for a range of different designs to be produced, and different fashion trends are apparent throughout the century. As new styles of ceramics became popular, people threw out their old sets and replaced them with new pieces.

19th stores were constantly advertising the arrival of new tea and dinner sets in the latest fashions. This 1893 advertisement shows both the availability of new ceramic vessels and the price range. Image: Star

Just a few of the ceramic pattern styles popular through the 19th century. The top left is the Willow pattern, an example of the Chinese inspired designs popular at the beginning of the 19th century (with Willow pattern itself popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries). Top middle is the Asiatic Pheasants pattern, a floral pattern with Chinese influences. On the top right is the Rhine pattern, an example of the romantic landscape designs inspired by European scenery and buildings, popular around the middle of the century. The bottom left is the Cairo pattern. The style of the Cairo pattern, with a design that breaks the pattern of ‘central scene with border’ shown on the plates in the top row, was inspired by the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s. Bottom centre is the Albert Star pattern, with a simple design featuring a central motif and a border pattern. Bottom right is a simple banded design, seen on plates and cups from the end of the century. Image: C. Watson.

When we take this concept of “Kmart Culture” and compare modern purchasing habits to Victorian era ones, we see they’re not all that different. When people’s wages are high enough to allow for casual spending, and the goods they’re purchasing are cheap enough, then people will buy stuff. In the 19th century not every item met these criteria- cups and plates might have but not furniture, and that’s one of the reasons why we find tea wares and table wares in nearly every archaeological site but not table-tops and chair legs. In modern times almost everything can be bought cheaply, meaning that we can throw away nearly everything, and if our Victorian era ancestors had been able to buy a new kettle for $10 (or the equivalent of $10), then I’m sure we would be finding kettles in the archaeological record as well.

Clara Watson

Early Christchurch women, breaking the rules: the exhibition.

The ideal Victorian woman

In Victorian society, a woman was to be meek, mild, virtuous and peaceful (Whiteside 2007). She was expected to marry and have children. She would stay at home, looking after her children and her husband and keeping the house perfectly. Public affairs were men’s matters, although a woman might engage in charitable or other social works, but nothing that could in any way be construed as ‘masculine’. She was selfless – everyone else always came first. She certainly wasn’t involved in politics, and nor did she run a business. At least, that was the theory!

Left: M Heslop & Co (Christchurch) fl 1870s: Portrait of unidentified man, woman and child. Ref: PA2-2063. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23056667. Right: well, it would be an alternative middle class family! Image: Observer 14/11/1903.

In fact, this standard was mostly applied to middle class women, and it seems to have been much less unusual for working class women to, well, work. But there were middle class women who broke these ‘rules’ of Victorian society too, in a range of ways. Discovering the lives of a number of these women in 19th century Christchurch – and our fascination with their ‘hidden’ lives – has led us to curate an exhibition: Women breaking the rules. You can see the physical display at Rewind at Ferrymead Heritage Park on Sunday 14 October, and also follow these women’s stories online via our Instagram exhibition @womenbreakingtherules.

Designed by A. Gibson.

But regardless of class, women were always defined in relation to the men in their life, whether father, brother or husband. So, being a spinster could be difficult and challenging. Much as we might not like it in this day in age, men provided often critical financial security for the women in their lives, particularly in a world where there was no pension or unemployment benefit, let alone a domestic purposes benefit. In fact, there was no state support of any kind in New Zealand until the end of the 19th century, and the poor were reliant on charities for support.

Unlike spinsters, widows seem to have had far more freedom and to have been more ‘respectable’ than unmarried women. While their situation might have been financially difficult, the range of jobs society approved of them taking on was broader than the range available for single women. And widows – as in some of the stories here – often ended up running their husband’s businesses, meaning they took on a variety of professions (Bishop 2012).

Women and work

Yes, women did work in the Victorian era! And not just as domestic servants – although this was far and way the most common occupation for women. In fact, some women ran businesses of their own. The jobs that women took on, though, and even many of the businesses they ran, tended to involve caring, or to be domestic in character. Jobs like teaching or nursing were both acceptable for middle class women (Bishop 2012).

Working class women could take on quite a range of work: dressmaker, needlework, hotelkeeping, storekeeping, confectionary, haberdashery, drapery and so on. Women could also earn money by taking in boarders, doing laundry or by looking after other women’s children. And let’s not ignore that they could be prostitutes. These were all ways of earning money that might fly under the radar and not be recorded officially (Bishop 2012).

Just relaxing under a tree, along with other women, working in the seaside or the countryside, riding a horse… working women and classy ones, all sort of women depicted through the artefacts! Image: J. Garland, C. Watson and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Telling women’s stories

As regular readers of the blog will know, researching the lives of most people who lived in 19th century New Zealand is tricky – official records can be patchy or may not even exist (Minchinton 2017). People only turned up in the newspapers if they were famous, got in trouble or were advertising for servants, leasing or selling properties. Unless someone has a really unusual name, you often can’t be certain you’re researching the right person.

Mary Portelli, the antithesis of the Victorian ideal, a woman in endless trouble! Images. Right: Star 29/05/1895: 3. Left: Southland Times 20/09/1906: 2.

Studying women’s lives is even harder. For one thing, they changed their surname when they married. Then, they were often referred to only as Mrs…, without their first name, or including their husband’s name instead – for example, Mrs L. J. Smith. Women who ran businesses often traded under their husband’s name, or didn’t advertise at all (Bishop 2012). And, in general, women’s activities meant they didn’t end up in the newspaper.

The branded china L. J. Smith – and presumably Elizabeth, L. J. Smith’s wife – used at events he organised as caterer. Image: C. Dickson.

Despite these difficulties, archaeology and history reveal the lives of six Christchurch women who, in one way or another, broke the rules of late 19th and early 20th century society: Fanny Cole, prohibitionist; Elizabeth Robinson, chemist; Sarah Gault, dressmaker; Elizabeth Smith, caterer; Caroline Rantin, timber and coal merchant; and Mary Portelli, woman in trouble.

There are no Māori women in this exhibition, unfortunately, because we’ve not found any record of Māori women living in 19th century Christchurch. This isn’t to say that they weren’t, just that we’ve not found them yet. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend checking out the book He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century.

Why are these women important?

These six women were not the only exceptional ones who broke the rules. It turns out that there were many more women pushing the boundaries of Victorian society than we initially expected. The six women we’ve featured in this exhibition serve to highlight the lives and occupations of all these women, along with their concerns and daily battles and how they struggled against what was accepted and respectable (Whiteside 2007), whilst working within the confines of the ideals of that time. But slowly, slowly, pushing these boundaries would come to change society as a whole. So, let’s look at the archaeology and the historical record and bring women into the picture!

This exhibition is a joint production between Underground Overground Archaeology and the Christchurch Archaeology Project.

Katharine Watson and Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References 

Bishop, Catherine, 2012. “Commerce Was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington.” PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Minchinton, Barbara, 2017. “’Prostitutes’ and ‘lodgers’ in Little Lon: construction a list of occupiers in nineteenth-century Melbourne”. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 35, pp. 64-70.

Whiteside, Heidi, 2017. “’We Shall Be Respectable’: Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttelton 1851-1893”. MA thesis, University of Canterbury.

A tea cup as a symbol of political change

As a 90s baby millennial, Helen Clark was Prime Minister from the time I started primary school to the time I started high school. I grew up in a world where in the eyes of a child there was never any doubt that a woman could be Prime Minister, and that if I wanted to be Prime Minister when I grew up then I could be. For me, being a girl was never a limitation. I’m lucky that I was born in the 1990s. If I had been born in the 1890s, my opportunities, and likely my own beliefs about what I was capable of, would have been far more limited.

Nineteenth century sentiments surrounding the role of women in society seems simply outlandish today. Image: Wright 1902.

On this day, 125 years ago, the Electoral Act 1893 was passed giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote. The success of the suffragettes was only the start of gaining equal political rights for women. It took until 1933 for the first woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament, until 1941 for women to have the right to sit on the Legislative Council and until 1997 for there to be a female Prime Minister (Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2018). Today 38 percent of our Members of Parliament are women, the highest number ever elected.

The 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage is an important marker in the campaign for women’s rights. It gives us an opportunity to look back and reflect on how far we have come as a society, but also to remember the women who campaigned for suffrage. One such woman was Ada Wells. Ada Wells was a prominent Christchurch suffragette, the first secretary of the National Council of Women of New Zealand, the co-founder of the Canterbury Women’s Institute and the first woman to be elected to the Christchurch City Council (Fogarty 1993). To put it simply, she was a bit of a bad-ass. Ada came to our attention as we recently excavated the property she was living at during the 1890s suffrage campaign. In celebration of the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, we are dedicating this blog post to Ada Wells and will be discussing her life along with what we found of her in the archaeological record.

Ada was born as Ada Pike on the 29th of April 1863, in Shepherd’s Green, Oxfordshire, England (Fogarty 1993). When she was ten years old she travelled on Merope with her parents, three sisters and one brother, arriving in Lyttelton on the 31st October 1873. She attended Avonside School for two years before switching to Christchurch West School where she went on to work as a pupil-teacher between the ages of 14 and 18. Ada was naturally intelligent and had a great interest in languages and classics. In 1881 she was awarded a university junior scholarship and went on to complete the first stage of her BA at Canterbury College. From there she was employed briefly as an assistant teacher at Christchurch Girls High School (Fogarty 1993).

Photograph of Ada Wells taken circa 1910 by an unidentified photographer. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library .

When she was 20 years old Ada married organist Harry Wells. They went on to have three daughters and one son. Despite being a prominent Christchurch musician, Harry was a drunkard with a volatile temper and was unable to hold down a steady job (Fogarty 1993). Harry’s drinking meant Ada had to support the family, taking on teaching positions and accepting private patients for massage and healing. In the late 1880s Ada became involved with the suffragette movement. She had always held strong beliefs on women’s rights and the campaign allowed her to put those beliefs into action. Her organisational talents and passion for the cause meant she played a critical role in the success of the movement (Fogarty 1993).

Ada Wells’ signature on the 1893 Suffrage Petition.

For Ada, the 1893 suffrage campaign was only the start of a long life of campaigning. The year prior to women winning the vote she had founded the Canterbury Women’s Institute, of which she was president for many years. She became the first national secretary of the National Council of Women of New Zealand in 1896, and in 1899 was elected to the Ashburton and North Canterbury United Charitable Aid Board (Fogarty 1993). She argued in favour of free kindergartens, universal access to secondary education, the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, as well as the reform of local government, the charitable aid system and prisons. In 1917 she became the first woman to be elected to the Christchurch City Council (Fogarty 1993).

National Council of Woman, Christchurch, 1896. Ada is the woman seated on the floor on the left. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Ada passed away in 1933, ending a life time of fighting for women’s rights. Her role in the success of suffragette movement cannot be over-stated. Philippa Fogarty (1993) says it best when she writes, “She played a pivotal role in the advancement of women and was a tireless campaigner in the fight for women’s equality and economic independence…Wells’s contribution to Christchurch, especially in the interests of women and children, was invaluable and sadly is often overlooked.”

Between 1892 and 1898, Ada and Harry Wells were living at a property on Mays Road. During our excavations at the property we uncovered three features containing artefacts which were likely deposited by the family. These features were all rubbish deposits. The assemblage was notable in that it was dominated by ceramic artefacts, many of which could be refitted.

Broseley patterned tea ware vessels. Image: C. Watson.

Asiatic Pheasants patterned table wares and serving wares. Image: C. Watson.

Top Row: Pompadour patterned plate, Bo’ness Daisy Chain patterned side plate. Bottom row: Madras patterned plate, European porcelain can, Frightened Ducklings patterned pitcher (Frightened Ducklings is an excellent pattern choice as who wouldn’t want to look at baby ducklings being attacked by giant flying insects while eating dinner). Image: C. Watson.

These ceramic artefacts were vessels connected to taking tea or eating food, with many of the tea serving vessels decorating in the Broseley pattern, and many of the dining vessels decorated in the Asiatic Pheasants and Pompadour patterns. This suggests to us that the Wells family, presumably Ada specifically, were using sets of vessels rather than mismatched pieces when serving tea or food. Having ceramic sets in fashionable patterns was just one of the many components of keeping a good house in Victorian era New Zealand. Ada was no doubt often entertaining guests at her house as part of her campaigning efforts, and likely put in special effort to portray the image she kept a good house so as not to let her critics argue that her life in politics was at the detriment of her role as a mother and wife. Whilst we can’t know for sure, the completeness of many of the vessels suggests they were thrown away intact. The 1890s was a particularly successful period for Ada, and it may be that during this time she purchased new sets, throwing away the older ones.

Harry Wells’ drinking was likely a strong motivator for Ada in her political work. Women in the nineteenth century were tied to their husbands, even if their husbands were abusive. Domestic abuse was a strong motivator for women to join reform movements, with many involved in both the temperance movement and the suffragette movement. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union united the causes and many suffragettes were also supporters of temperance. We found alcohol bottles in the Wells’ assemblage, suggesting that despite Ada’s efforts politically, Harry probably still consumed alcohol at home. Interestingly though, these bottles were all smaller pint sizes. It is possible that Harry was purchasing alcohol in smaller bottles, which were easier to conceal, and was only consuming alcohol at home on the sly. Alternatively, the bottles may not have held alcohol at all, and could have been reused for a completely different substance as was sometimes done in nineteenth century bottle reuse.

Alcohol bottles found at Ada and Harry Wells’ property. Image: C. Watson.

Along with all her work politically, Ada was also a mother. Ada’s role as a mother was seen in the archaeology through the presence of children’s toys. The doll’s head we found at the property was unique in that it had an additional piece of ceramic inlaid inside the head to give the appearance of teeth. The detail of the teeth would indicate that it was probably a rather lovely doll with lots of unique features. However, in its current state, with the missing eyes and sharp pointed teeth, it looks rather terrifying.

What was once likely someone’s treasured toy now resembles something out of a horror movie. Image: C. Watson.

Ada Well was a strong activist for women’s rights, and her work, along with the work of her fellow suffragettes, helped to shape society to how it is today. I think it can be quite easy to be complacent about how much society has changed in the past 125 years. So much of the Victorian material culture we deal with is instantly recognisable to us. We see artefacts like plates, bottles, tea cups, and instantly know what they are because they are objects we use every day. There is a danger to that instant recognition, as we associate the objects with how we would use them and in doing so can forget there would have been different uses for objects, and different social customs surrounding that use. It also easy to forget that people had agency and were not passively constrained to their position in society. Ada Wells and her fellow suffragettes were active agents in changing the role of women in society, using and manipulating material culture in the process of doing so. Are Ada Wells’ teacups simply vessels used to serve tea in? Or, are they symbols of political change, sipped from during meetings discussing how to change the lives of New Zealand women for the better?

Suffrage 125 reminds us that nineteenth century New Zealand was a vastly different place to modern New Zealand. The work of suffragettes such as Ada Wells helped to change the role of women in society, a role which is still changing and being re-defined today.

Clara Watson

References

Fogarty, P. 1993. ‘Wells, Ada’ in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara- the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Available: https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2w11/wells-ada (accessed 19 September 2018).

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2018. Women’s Suffrage Milestones. Available: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/suffrage-milestones (accessed 19 September 2018).

New Zealand. General Assembly Library. National Council of Women, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22694035.

Photograph of Ada Wells from Woman Today magazine. Ref: 1/2-C-016534-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22728937.

Wright, Henry Charles Clarke. 1902. Notice to epicene women. Electioneering women are requested not to call here. 12706-Alex Ferguson, Printer, Wellington. Available: http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=24361&l=en.