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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remains of farming machinery from a central Christchurch foundry site.

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

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

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

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

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

An archaeologist’s best friend.

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

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

Tristan Wadsworth

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Under the ground, over the ground and under the floor

Underfloor deposits are as exasperating as they are exciting. Exasperating because the context is not particularly secure: objects usually accumulate under a house over time (thrown or swept from the outside, lost or dropped between the floorboards, dragged in by wind, animals or as result of construction activities). However, every cloud has a silver lining and underfloor deposits are also exciting. The dry conditions under the houses help preserve different types of artefacts to those found in the ground. As a result, underfloor deposits give us the chance to deal with well-preserved and unusual goods, which increases our knowledge about Victorian domestic culture. Always a good thing.

It can also be difficult to associate the objects from underfloor deposits with the people who used to live in the house (the artefacts usually represent a wide range of material culture, from the mid-19th century to the 20th century), unless we happen across a site where the archaeological and historical record are miraculously in alignment. In the case I’m going to talk about today, that alignment happened thanks to personal items that the occupants had lost beneath the floors of their house.

Site prior to the removal of foundations, looking east. Heaps of artefacts were found under the floor of a house in Sydenham during the works related to the demolition, foundation removal and site clearance. Image: J. Hughes.

A huge number of artefacts were scattered across the ground under the back four rooms of the house. We don’t know exactly when the house was built – all the available evidence suggests that it was during the late 19th century, but we do know that it was subsequently renovated. This means that this material may have accumulated over time under the original building and the subsequent renovations during this period. We also know that one particular family – the Rantin family – are known to have lived in this part of Southampton Street from 1883 until the mid-20th century (Press, 20/10/1896; Press 11/02/1933: 22).

James and Caroline Rantin celebrated their silver wedding in their house at Southampton Street in 1896. About 50 people were invited and derived from the description, it looks like a big social event! (Press 20/10/1896).

Overall, the assemblage was typical of a domestic context, including bottles, tea and table wares, animal bones and other stuff related to household activities, personal grooming and garments. As well as illustrating affairs of daily life, all genders and ages are present in this assemblage: men, women, children! Fantastic!

A common ‘twirly’ salad oil bottle, but unusual because of the label. WARDELL BROS & Co TEA, COFFEE AND SPICES MERCHANTS CHRISTCHURCH, DUNEDIN & WELLINGTON were three brothers: John, William, Thomas and Henry Wardell, grocers and provision merchants. Their business was established in 1887 in Christchurch, while the Wellington branch was opened in 1893. They also had a Dunedin branch, although the dates for this are unclear (The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1897). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

This castor oil bottle has a paper label that probably represented  C. and E. Morton (sons of the well-known J. T Morton company). This was originally a Scottish firm, founded in Aberdeen in 1849. By the 1860s Morton was a general provider and stocked a wide range of foodstuffs such as cheese, confectionery, corn, preserved provisions, sauces, vinegar and salt, but also apparel, books, soap and candles. Charles and Edward Morton took over their father’s company after his death in 1898 (Petchey and Innanchai 2012: 9; Graces Guide 2017). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Bay Rum was a refreshing and invigorating tonic for the hair – this particular example was manufactured and sold by Henry Arthur Papprill. His remedies were widely advertised on New Zealand newspaper during the second decade of the 20th century (Star 10/11/1913: 2; Press 6/8/1925: 6). Although primarily marketed as a hair product, Bay Rum was also used for other personal grooming issues, from skin beautification to the relief of tired feet (Bruce Herald 29/11/1898). A bit of concern about personal care and beauty, I’m guessing… Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

We’ve showed you this splendid example of recycling before on the blog. This ‘Greys’ cigarette box has been cut and reused as a shopping list, a better purpose than its original function by the way! A range of items can be read: butter, sugar, eggs, biscuits, soda, cornflour, cookies, jellies, fruit… Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Not just an affordable and simple pipe, but also one with a story to it. This smoking pipe commemorates 60 years of Victoria’s reign in 1897, while the mark refers to John McPhee, a Dunedin pipe maker from a family of Scottish pipe manufacturers. John McPhee started to make clay tobacco pipes in Dunedin around 1890 until 1908 (White 2016: 27). The McPhees appear to have been the first New Zealand clay pipe makers (White 2016: 27-28). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Anchor button. It was two-piece dome with an embossed fouled (as in, the rope twisted around it) anchor and a separate shank. It is likely to have been a cuff button, possibly associated with a navy uniform. Rather than being stitched onto the coat or jacket, these buttons were attached by a split pin, facilitating removal for cleaning, or a change of season (Lindbergh 1999: 52). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Yarn, a bobbin, an unidentified piece of fabric and one shell button were also found under the house. Spinning, sewing, mending and remaking garments, as well as marking sheets, towels, and other linens was a regular component of household work done or overseen by women (Beaudry 2006: 5). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

A perfect complement. This handbag made of leather with a metal closure and decorative stitching. Trendy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries or perhaps, just a choice according to the personal taste. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

MATHER’S INFANTS FEEDING BOTTLE LONDON MANCHESTER. This type of baby feeder was known as ‘murder’ feeder, due to the difficulty of cleaning the lid. Hygiene and related difficulties were counteracted by disinfectants, medicines or even homemade remedies (Otago Witness 15/02/1879). During the 19th century, artificial feeding became extremely popular, in part to address the lack of wet nurses. The discoveries of Pasteur and the subsequent techniques for sterilising feeding bottles improved the sanitary risks associated with artificial feeding. The use of feeding bottles became widespread: they were initially made from pewter, tin plate, earthenware and porcelain, with glass bottles gradually becoming popular from the latter decades of the 19th century onwards (Alimentarium 2016). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

So far, we have a selection of cool and interesting objects. However, we don’t yet have any direct association with the Rantin family. So, let’s demonstrate why this underfloor deposit is special.

First of all, the association of the assemblage with Rantin family is clearly evident from the appearance of the name of James Rantin on a few artefacts relating to his business and occupation as timber merchant like the bill and rebate book exposed below. His wife Caroline was the ‘executrix’ of the business until 1907, when her sons Thomas James and William Rantin took over the company as timber and coal merchants, under the name Rantin Bros (Press 3/12/1907: 1).

Top left: bill dating to July 1903 and addressed by post to James Rantin from the coal, firewood and general merchants, George McClatchie and Co. Bottom left: J. Rantin’s rebate book dating from 1897 to 1898. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Press 3/12/1907:1.

Even more intriguingly, what looks like a baseball set was also found under the house, consisting of a rubber ball and a wooden bat. This is not a common find in Christchurch archaeological sites per se, making them quite interesting artefacts just by themselves. However, a name was also written on the bat… To be honest, the name is illegible, we only figured out the surname. This was enough though, as the visible word read ‘Ratin’. The ‘n’ lacks, but we are pretty sure that it’s just an innocent bad spelling made by a child.

Baseball was played in Christchurch during the late 19th century (Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016). In fact, there were two baseball clubs in Christchurch by 1889, with the aim of providing a winter sport for cricketers who did not want to play rugby. In the early 20th century the interest in baseball was revived due to the Canadian visitors to the New Zealand International Exhibition in 1906, 1907, 1909 and 1910 (Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016). In addition, this baseball set is cool and valuable as indicates the presence of children on this site. Through play, young children were taught roles that would be important in later life. For example, emphasis on sport was particularly important for boys, who were expected to exercise their rougher instincts through play, so that they were able to behave respectably in the company of women. Girls were usually given dolls instead, in an effort to encourage maternal instincts (Prangnell and Quirck 2009: 42).

Top left: a detail of the surname Ra[n]tin written on the bat. Rubber ball with the world map engraved on it and the wooden baseball bat. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

What else do we need as archaeologists? Nothing at all! No mysteries this time. The Rantin family’s belongings accumulated under this house for decades, and it is these lost things that tell us about their lives. At this stage, we know that James and Caroline Rantin had children. And yes, their sons and daughters were Thomas James, William, Elizabeth, Emily and Caroline. A few other conclusions can be also drawn about Rantin Family. For instance, there is a possible association with the navy derived from the anchor button (or just a special affection for naval emblems). Perhaps Thomas James or William, both of whom were Canterbury soldiers during the First World War (Star 11/12/1918: 5; Otago Daily Times 12/01/1917: 3). A particular passion for the monarchy or a royalist attitude is suggested by the presence of a pipe celebrating Queen Victoria’s reign (not unusual for this period), which otherwise makes evident the habit of smoking. Products like Bay Rum show a concern for hair care and maintenance, or perhaps for the appearance in front of the judgmental eyes of society. From mundane affairs to personal traits, this is an excellent example of life in a Christchurch house back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Either way, the discovery of this assemblage was a fortunate day in the life of Underground Overground Archaeology. A piece of cake! Thanks to the fascinating underfloor archaeology indeed…

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Alimentarium, 2016 [online] Available at https://www.alimentarium.org [Accessed March 2018].

Beaudry, M.C., 2006. Findings the material culture of needlework and sewing. Yale University Press. New Haven, London.

Bruce Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Lindbergh, J., 1999. Buttoning Down Archaeology. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 17: 50-57.

Otago Witness [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2018].

Petchey, P. and Innanchai, J., 2012. Bottle Top Capsules in New Zealand Historic Archaeological Sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, Vol.3: 1-16.

Prangnell, J. and Quirk, K., 2009. Growing up on the Australian Goldfields. Historical Archaelogy, Vol. 43: 38-49.

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

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

Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2016 [online] Available at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en [Accessed March 2018].

White, S., 2016. The McPhees, New Zealand’s First Clay Pipemakers. Archaeology in New Zealand. New Zealand Archaeological Association, Vol.59, No 3: 10-28.

The spoils of oils

We all know that fish oil is great for our skin and hair but does the use of whale oil tickle your moral compass? It was utilised for many household purposes during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and today we will take a look at a couple of men who made a big splash in the whale oil industry.

Not too long ago, a miniature vial was found in one of our artefact assemblages from Christchurch’s Central City. This vessel had “Ezra Kelley” embossed on the base, which we traced to a 19th century watchmaker from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Ezra Kelley was a special fellow in the 19th century watchmaking and repairing scene, because he was the first maker to commercially use oil from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish (pilot whales) to lubricate watch mechanisms (Goodwin 2016). Prior to this, olive and vegetable oils were used instead. Oil extracted from the jaws of porpoises and blackfish had been used by carpenters to sharpen their tools without the risk of rust since 1816, but it wasn’t until 1829 that the sailor, Solomon Cook, sent the first batch of blackfish jaw oil to Kelley for testing (Goodwin 2016). Kelley found it superior to all other oils, as it didn’t congeal at low temperatures, nor did it rust brass, and its light and fine properties also gave it a low freezing point. This made it a suitable, year-round lubricant for delicate machinery such as clocks, watches, and sewing machines (at a lower grade, sperm whale oil was advertised as best for sewing machines, firearms, and telegraphs; Goodwin 2016). In 1884, Kelley began selling this new oil (supplied by the Cook family), for a whopping US $5-$15 per gallon, which converts to around US $111 – $333 in today’s money (Goodwin 2016). As a comparison, a barrel of modern crude oil, contains 42 gallons and sells for $90-$110 (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale oil was so expensive at this time due to supply and demand, but also for one other key reason – it’s lubrication properties were worth it (Cherrybalmz 2017).

Ezra Kelley watch oil bottle found in the Central City. Image: C. Dickson.

Sperm Sewing Oil! Also found in Christchurch Central City, this bottle probably contained a lower grade of whale oil than what Kelley made. Image: C. Dickson.

Just like a fine wine, Kelley’s oil improved with age. The processing of his blackfish oil included a two-year aging stage after the oil had been gently heated to remove excess water. Processors then spread the oil out into thin layers and slowly froze it, causing any solids to precipitate within it, which could be later strained through a cloth. The more competently this process was carried out, and the fresher the oil was, the better the grade of lubricant could be produced – the premium Blackfish grades could operate reliably below -50°F (-45.6 degrees Celsius; Cherrybalmz 2017). So, you could be cold, but you’d always know what time it is.

Ezra Kelley oil advertisement c. 1890. Image.

It seems that Kelley’s major failing was that his oil sold too profitably. All his success didn’t go unnoticed by the rival oil seller, William Foster Nye, who originally dealt in other oil types, like burning oils, castor oil and salad oil. After witnessing Kelley’s success, Nye subsequently developed a method for processing “fish jaw oil” – capitalising on Kelley’s discoveries and managing to secure a British distributor six months after his first advertisement. Having captured the British market, Nye was able to undercut his predecessor’s prices by offering large discounts to his customers and he was so successful at this that he managed to absorb Kelley’s business by 1896 (Zabawski 2017). Within the year, the new company was responsible for nine-tenths of the global supply of fish jaw oil raw materials and it ran a monopoly of the industry that would last until the decline of whaling during the next century (Nye 2017, Zabawski 2017). However, the end of whaling didn’t spell the end for Nye -the fish jaw oil continued to be sold into the 1970s, but the threat of whale extinction and the technological advances of synthetic oils ended the company’s reliance on blackfish/porpoises and the era of synthetic fluids began (Zabawski 2017). Due to their ability to adapt, the Nye oil company remains in operation today (Nye 2017).

Nye advertisement. Date unknown. Image.

‘Watching’ an 1886 whale massacre… Image: Attic Paper.

Massachusetts, where Kelley and Nye were both based, was once a hub for whale oil production. Specifically, New Bedford Massachusetts was such a busy whaling port that it was known as “The City That Lit the World” and, “The Whaling City”, because during the 19th century, it was one of the most important whaling ports in the world, along with Nantucket, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut (Huntington 2009). This American whaling industry had a strong focus on spermaceti (the waxy oil found in the head of sperm whales), named after an initial misconception that the substance was the coagulated semen of sperm whales… Unfortunate naming aside, this oil type was commonly used in candle manufacture and in oil lamps when distilled – its natural properties produced bright, clear flames when burnt, without excess smoke (McNamara 2017).

As most Kiwis know, New Zealand was not exempt from what we now consider to be a barbaric industry. Eighteenth and 19th century whaling ships visited the waters around the country, and this natural resource began to be exploited off our coasts before New Zealand was even settled by Europeans. The industry began to decline here by the early 1840s, as over exploited whales became scarce and New Zealand’s new government imposed duties and port charges on whaling ships (Phillips 2006). Occasionally, American whaling ships still visited in the mid-1800s, the last of which was probably the Charles W. Morgan, in 1894 (Phillips 2006). However, pilot whales to this day are notorious for stranding on our beaches, and beached whales continued to be used as a resource in the 20th century.

Cutting up the blubber of beached pilot whales. New Zealand, 1911? Arthur James Northwood (1881-1949) Image.

Men boiling down blackfish blubber, Tokerau Beach. Taaffe, James Thomas Benjamin, d 1971: Photographs of the Far North district, Northland region. Ref: 1/2-026801-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23070974. Image. Date unknown.

Clearly, 18th and 19th century society didn’t share the modern distaste for the whaling industry. As you’ve seen, Kelley and Nye’s advertisements for their whale oil often pictured the graphic scenes depicting whales being caught and processed, and given how successful these companies were, this violence can’t have been a deterrent for sales. Herman Melville also provides us with insight into how revered whale products were – calling whale oil “as rare as the milk of queens” in his classic, Moby Dick, which was written in this era (Melville 1851). Essentially, the entire industry is a parallel to crude oil in today’s market, given the similarities in costs, peoples dependence on it and its range of applications.

These applications included not only lubrication and illumination, but also the manufacture of soaps, paint, varnish, margarine, and as a treatment for textiles and rope. “Whalebone” which was commonly found in corsets, was not actually what it describes – it was not bone, but baleen from whales (a form of keratin – the same material as human fingernails), and its purpose is to filter plankton into whales mouths. Baleen is strong but flexible (which are similar properties to that of plastic), and it was not only used in other attire like shirt collars and eyeglass frames, but also for buggy whips, hair and chimney brushes and umbrellas (Cherrybalmz 2017). It was also featured as a key component of early springs, including carriage, mattress, and piano springs (Cherrybalmz 2017). To continue with the industry comparison, in 1891 a pound of ‘whalebone’ was worth up to US $7 – that’s nearly $200 per pound today! (Cherrybalmz 2017). In 1882, a single whale produced 6000 gallons of oil and 2550 pounds of baleen, for a combined worth of $11,200 – or roughly a quarter million dollars in today’s money – and this was just from one animal! (Cherrybalmz 2017). Whale teeth (or ivory) were also marketable to whalers, but these yielded smaller profits than whale oil. Teeth were regularly carved by whalers in a practice known as scrimshaw, and they often featured intricate designs and nautical themes. Such artefacts are now collectors’ items and museum pieces, providing historians with a glimpse into the whaling industry through the depictions rendered by those who drove it.

A New Zealand example of scrimshaw depicting the whaling ship ‘Pacific’ and compass points, which were formed by intersecting harpoons. The tooth is inscribed with “28th January 1860, Captain Sherburd”. The reverse is inscribed with a poem reading: “Sudden death to our best friends. Success to their killers long life to our Sailors’ wives and greasy luck to the whalers.” This ship was reported in the Otago Daily Times as sinking on the 13th of February 1864 at Patterson’s inlet on Stewart Island in a heavy westerly gale. Image.

Thankfully, since the decline of the whaling industry in the late 19th century and the development of new technologies, most of the applications of whale oil have been replaced with superior products – margarine is now made with vegetable oil and lamps began to be filled with cleaner, less smelly, and cheaper kerosene. It was a relief to many in the 1920s when fashion moved away from women wearing corsets, but those who still want to add a little ‘boning’ support to a frock, now use plastic instead of baleen. The vocal anti-whaling sentiment is strong among New Zealanders today, and since 1978, whales within New Zealand’s 200-nautical-mile (370 km) zone have been protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. A short time later, in 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling, which has all but eliminated the use of whale oil today. Cheers Greenpeace!

Chelsea Dickson

 

References

Cherrybalmz 2017. Gun lubricant history: Sperm whale oil. [online] available at: http://www.cherrybalmz.com/history-sperm-whale-oil

Goodwin, P. 2016. Ezra Kelley Watch Oil [online] Available at: http://educators.mysticseaport.org/artifacts/ezra_kelley_watch_oil/

Huntington, T. 2009. “Treasure Trove of Documents Discovered in Whaling Town,” American Heritage.

McNamara, R. 2017. Whaling industry produced oil, candles, and household tools: whales were the raw materials for many useful objects In the 1800s. [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/products-produced-from-whales-1774070

Nye 2017. A History of Nye: The Beginning of Cilliam F. Nye Inc. [online] Available at: https://www.nyelubricants.com/stuff/contentmgr/files/0/582d6e5844567263cbd951ebdb44f573/en/nye_history_overview.pdf

Phillips, J. 2006. ‘Whaling – Ship-based whaling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/whaling/page-1 (Accessed 14 September 2017)

Zabawski. E. 2017. Purposeful porpoise oil. [online] available at: http://www.stle.org/files/TLTArchives/2017/01_January/From_the_Editor.aspx

 

 

The strange adventures of Etienne Brocher (aka Stephen Bosher, aka Stephen Brocher, aka the Petone murderer)

Bricks are the best thing that I find. That’s my answer to the most common question an archaeologist is asked. Bricks? Why bricks? Because they always have the best stories to tell! Brickmaking was a booming industry in the 19th century. Fortunes could be made and lost, and opportunities to climb the ranks of society were ready for the taking. Through brickmaking, workhouse orphans would become influential businessmen and labourers would grab political power. And then there were the criminals and schemers trying their best to hang on for the ride…

Recently I was sent out to Akaroa to investigate an old brick kiln on Rue Grehan. The kiln itself is in a very good state of preservation, and many of its original features remain intact. It’s a small, simple, rectangular kiln, set some distance from the road at the foot of L’Aube hill. The elevation facing the road has been replaced in the 20th century. No one driving past would have given it a second thought, but, as most kilns that survive today are of the large robust Hoffman type, this small kiln is a very rare and valuable artefact of Victorian industry.

The 19th century south elevation of the brick kiln on Rue Grehan. A bricked up door is visible towards the middle of the image. Unfortunately a better photograph wasn’t possible due to the foliage. Image: M. Hennessey.

A bricked up opening in the south elevation. The original function was probably to add fuel to the kiln (scale = 1m). Image: M. Hennessey.

The bricks that had been used to build the Kiln were marked ‘EB’ – and with the help of the Akaroa museum, and a healthy amount of background research, it was discovered that this mark belonged to Etienne Jean Brocher.

‘EB’ marked brick used to build the kiln on Rue Grehan, Akaroa. Image: M. Hennessey.

Brocher, a French immigrant, had arrived in Lyttelton in 1876 when he was about 19 years old (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3). Upon arriving in New Zealand he took up work as ships cook aboard the ketch Alice Jane.

He supplemented his legitimate employment with a second job: petty criminal and scammer.

His early criminal career started off slowly. In 1875 he was arrested for forging cheques to buy boots in Timaru. At his arrest he gave an alias, Stephen Brocher, and when he appeared in front of the magistrate he gave the ultimate of novice defence strategies – I don’t speak English (an unfortunate condition that appears to have only affected him when dealing with law enforcement). Unfortunately for Brocher the magistrate saw straight through this well-crafted subterfuge and assigned an interpreter, and Brocher spent a stint in Lyttelton gaol (Timaru Herald 3/2/1875: 3, Timaru Herald 29/9/1875).

On his release Brocher moved to Akaroa, where he got work as a carter, before finding work with brickmaker, Joseph Libeau (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 27/6/1879: 2). While in Akaroa, Brocher entered into a feud with local man, Chas Lemmonnier. In 1877 Lemmonnier accused Brocher of kicking him. The reason for the assault? Lemmonnier had made the gravest of offences, and had called Brocher a COWARD and a PRUSSIAN!

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880:2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

While Brocher had denied kicking Lemmonenier, a medical certificate was produced to the contrary. And where had Brocher kicked Lemmonnier? Right in the, ahem, family jewels.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

In 1878 he married the daughter of Joseph Libeau, Josephine (Alaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 1878: 2). Josephine owned a small plot of land in Grehan Valley that had been subdivided from the larger rural section owned by her father and, while we’ll never know for sure, it seems likely that Brocher married her to get access to this property (LINZ c.1860: 1016). Josephine, being fairly astute, never transferred ownership of the property to her husband.

Brocher constructed the brick kiln on Josephine’s property, and begins appearing in the local newspaper as a brickmaker starting in 1881 (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3).

The only problem? Brocher wasn’t very good at it…

In 1881 Brocher entered into litigation against John Dixon, who had received a load of bricks six months prior.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Brocher gave up brickmaking shortly after, and began a new career as a photographer (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3). He also continued his new-found interest in litigation, suing Josephine’s brother for £9 4s 6d in 1881, and continuing his feud with Chas Lemmonnier, suing him for £1 15s that same year (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 13/5/1881: 2).

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 22/11/1881: 3.

Always trying to get his hands on more money, Brocher was “connected with some trouble about a sum of money collected for a Catholic Church”, and stole the deeds of his father in law, Joseph Libeau, to take out a fraudulent mortgage on his property. His inability to produce his father in law’s signature stopped his attempt (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4).

Finally, in 1882, Brocher decided that the marriage to Josephine wasn’t working as he had envisioned. The brickmaking business had failed, and photography wasn’t letting him pay his growing debts, let alone making him wealthy.

On 26 December he stole a horse and bridle from his brother in law, Henry, and abandoned Josephine and their son and daughter (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4). He rode the horse to Lyttelton, where he sold the horse, and then boarded a ship for Sydney, before going back to France. A warrant was put out for his arrest. Of interest, a distinguishing feature is a bullet wound on his right leg, perhaps a souvenir from earlier dealings…

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 6, 1882: 9.

The editor of the Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser made it clear how the Akaroa population felt of Brocher’s departure without paying down his debts.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 10/1/1882: 2.

And so, was that the end for Etienne Brocher’s story? Not by a long shot. In fact, things were just getting started.

Following his arrival in France, Brocher was immediately arrested for being naturalised in New Zealand without the consent of his parents, and for not serving in the military (New Zealand Times 1896: 3). After refusing to join the 37th Regiment of infantry at Troyes Champagne he was sentenced to 5 years military detention in Africa. Then, after serving his time, he was sent to the first battalion of Light Infantry at Mascara, Algeria (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3).

Following his military service, he returned to New Zealand in 1890, eventually settling in Petone, Wellington, under the pseudonym Stephen Bosher (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3, Ashburton Guardian 1896: 2, Star 25/3/1897: 2). He re-appears in the New Zealand historic record in 1896 when, as Stephen Bosher, he is implicated in the brutal murder of elderly shop keepers, Joseph and Emma Jones.

The murder had occurred on the evening of 27 August 1896. The Jones’ had been interrupted by an unknown assailant while eating dinner. A struggle had ensued, in which the assailant had thrown pepper into Mr Jones face, blinding him. Mr Jones was then stabbed three times in the back. The body of Mrs Jones was found in a hallway leading from the kitchen to the front door (Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6). She had received a single stab wound to the chest (Evening Post 29/8/1896: 5).  The motivation for the murder was unclear as the cash box belonging to the Jones’ had been left behind, and it appeared nothing had been stolen (Evening Post 29/8/1896:5; 31/8/1896: 6). The murder made national headlines.

Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6.

Brocher had gone to the Jones’ shop to collect a package the morning after the murder. After he failed to get a response from the Jones’ he asked a neighbour to check on them. The bodies of Mr and Mrs Jones were discovered by the neighbour. Brocher then entered the house, saw the bodies himself, and alerted the police to the crime (Evening Post 14/1/1897: 2).

Initially a man named James Shore was accused of the murder, and Brocher was brought in as a witness (Evening Post 16/11/1896: 6). Shore was a known drunk, and an easy target for law enforcement, although luckily for Shore he had spent the night of the murder annoying the local Petone residents in a drunken haze. His whereabouts on that night were well-known, and he could not be placed at the crime scene (Evening Post 17/11/1896: 5). Attention turned to Brocher as a suspect.

The case against Brocher was incredibly flimsy, and came down to some very circumstantial evidence:

  • Mr Jones ledger book showed that he had been the last person to purchase something from the store that night,
  • It was discovered that Brocher had an almost £3 debt to Jones,
  • The knife wounds described by the coroner supposedly matched a knife owned by Brosher – although the knife was never found, and the description of the blade was based entirely on witness testimony,
  • A muddy footprint found in the Jones’ scullery matched a pair of boots owned by Brocher – although Brocher had entered the house the morning the bodies were discovered prior to alerting the police.

Perhaps, in any regular case, this evidence could have been argued away by a competent lawyer. Unfortunately, since arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had been up to his old tricks.

After arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had attempted to contact Josephine to ask if he should come home. She sent back a single word reply: “No”.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

During the murder case against Shore, Brocher was arrested for selling a cart to two separate people, while also taking out a loan on the same cart.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Brocher re-appeared in court later that day on a separate charge. As it turned out, the cart he attempted to sell to Smart and Zachariah may have been stolen from W. H. Cook.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Then, while in prison, Brocher attempted to again contact his wife, Josephine, in Akaroa. This was a huge mistake. Brocher had since re-married. The only problem? He and Josephine had never been formally divorced, and they were still married. That, and he had told his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, that he had never been previously married (Evening Post 23/10/1896: 6). The letter had been intercepted by a jailer, and the revelation made national scandal!

Evening Post 14/11/1896: 5.

Josephine attended the hearing for his bigamy case, not once looking at her husband.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

Brocher was sentenced to two years imprisonment both for the case of the cart and for the charge of bigamy, to be served concurrently (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5).

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 20, 1896: 216.

While in prison, Brocher was charged with the murder of Mr and Mrs Jones. With the gossip about the bigamy still warm the case became something of a soap opera.

At the beginning, Brocher clearly felt that he was going to be let go.

Evening Post 13/1/1897: 6.

A suggestion was made that Mr Jones’ eyes should be photographed, as the image of the murderer would be captured in his retina, although the editor of the North Otago Times noted that the last thing Mr Jones saw was pepper…

North Otago Times 1/10/1896: 3.

And a witness gave his testimony in a fake French accent…

Evening Post 15/1/1897: 6.

While another gave testimony in fake broken English.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

Brocher had been concerned that he would be accused of the murder because throwing pepper is a “foreign trick”.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

And of course, Josephine made a statement as to the character of her previous husband.

Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4.

Ultimately it was the bigamy case that would be Brocher’s downfall. Previously, his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, had not been expected to testify against her husband (Hastings Standard 14/11/1896: 2). But after it was clear that she was not his wife she was open to questioning by law enforcement. Mary Anne Reece gave testimony that her husband had been acting strangely that night, was shaken, had a cut on his hand, and that she had seen the supposed murder weapon and it had gone missing following the murders (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5). The fact that her entire life had just been destroyed by the bigamy case doesn’t appear to have had much sway over the court.

His criminal past (including outstanding warrant for his arrest for the horse and bridle), the bigamy case, the fact that he had a history as a scammer, and now the testimony from Mary Anne Reece meant that opinion was quickly turning against Brocher. In many ways, it no longer mattered if he was guilty of the murders…. In the eyes of the public he was absolutely guilty of something.

Brocher’s story ends in 1897 when he was sentenced to death for the Petone murders. In his final statement he reaffirms his innocence, and accuses some of the witnesses of lying to the court (Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2). He would later forgive these witnesses with his last words at the gallows (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2.

Etienne Brocher was hanged at the Terrace Gaol on 21 April 1897 (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Matt Hennessey

 

References

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Ashburton Guardian. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Evening Post. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Hastings Standard. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Mataura Ensign. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Police Gazettes. [online]. Available at https://www.archway.archives.govt.nz/.

New Zealand Times. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Timaru Herald. [online]. Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Land Information New Zealand, c,1860. Deeds index – C/S 8 – Subdivisions of rural sections register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

 

Safety at the sawmill and that stack of bricks

Lately I have been doing quite a bit of Job Safety Analysis paperwork (because safety in the workplace is number one priority, folks), and that got me thinking about how the people of early Christchurch might have managed their own health and safety at work. And then that got me thinking about how health and safety practices might be represented in the archaeological record, which made me reminisce about that time when we excavated Booth’s Sawmill on Lichfield Street, and found that tidy stack of bricks… thought I’d share it with you.

James Booth established his Victoria Steam Sawmills and Timber Yard on half an acre of land between Lichfield and Tuam streets around 1866. An 1875 description of his business tells us that about 10 men were employed there, and that pride of place in the mill were two circular saw benches that were powered by a 15-horsepower horizontal steam engine. In addition, the sawmill had a vertical deal frame sawing machine, and machines for planing, tongueing, grooving, beading and bevelling, as well as a moulding machine for making fancy skirting boards and architraves. Oh yeah, there were also lathes and a jigging machine – (because what’s the point in having a whole lot of wood if you can’t indulge a quick jig- right?; Star 15/2/1875:2).

Booth tried to sell his business in 1877, but was unsuccessful. Two years later he mortgaged it to William Hargreaves, though he stayed on as manager for a bit. By 1880 Booth had left the business altogether, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts by Hargreaves to sell the business after this time, the mill closed for good in 1895. It is suspected that soon afterwards Andersons Foundry occupied the mill building, though (on paper at least) they didn’t obtain the lease for the property until 1903.

We know from historic records that 19th century sawmills were notoriously dangerous places to make a living. Like other factories and workshops of the time that operated machines driven by belts connected to big noisy steam engines, there were often little or no measures in place to ensure the safety of workers. No safety guards, protective barriers, or emergency stop buttons, not to mention the mandatory wearing of personal protective equipment such as ear muffs and safety glasses. I was surprised to find out how often 19th century sawmill workplace accidents were reported in the daily papers, but also that sometimes quite gory details of these incidents were provided to readers.

I can’t help but share a few of these sawmill accidents with you, some serious, others fatal. A note of warning folks – skip this paragraph is you are a bit squeamish…

Mr Mortimer suffered a broken arm and leg when he was struck by a crane (West Coast Times 2/6/1882:2), and young lad Henry Brown had a middle finger cut off while working the circular saw (Thames Star 29/4/1891:2). Mr Henderson cut two fingers off his left hand while working the breast bench (Woodville Examiner 3/7/1891:3). Mr Powell was smacked in the face when a piece of timber came back on the circular saw. His wounds were sewed up and he was sent home (New Zealand Herald 18/2/1899:5). Mr O’Brien had a splinter pierce his cheek and tongue “transfixing them” and afterwards had to be fed through a tube (Marlborough Express 25/8/1880:2), while Mr Thompson lost his left arm at the elbow to the saw bench when he slipped shoveling sawdust (Hawera and Normanby Star 17/10/1884:3). Henry Ash was killed when his head was crushed between some logs (Grey River Argus 14/11/1884:2), Mr Faulknor got run over by a timber truck that crushed his stomach (Hastings Standard 12/2/1897:2).   Mr Anderson had his “brains knocked out” by a piece of wood that got caught in a circular saw (Wanganui Chronicle 16/3/1886:2), Mr Smith was killed instantly when he fell from a log onto the circular saw and got cut in half (Marlborough Express 19/4/1883:2) . And if you were to think that all 19th century sawmill accidents were related to being cut, squashed, or pierced, let us not forget poor 21 year old Norman McKay, who was scalded to death when the boiler at Campbell’s sawmill blew out. He died from his severe burn injuries two hours later (Oamaru Mail 4/3/1897:2).

Why weren’t you wearing a safety helmet? Image: Wanganui Chronicle 16/3/1886:2

We have found no historical records to suggest that any serious accidents, fatal or otherwise, occurred at Booth’s Sawmill, which we excavated over two weeks in late June 2014 while working on the site of the new Christchurch Justice & Emergency Services Precinct. What began as a small area of paved brick exposed below fill layers of granular ash and rubble-filled silt turned into a much larger complex of paved brick that was revealed to be the main working floor of the sawmill building. In addition, we found other paved brick surfaces outside the building, stone and brick footings onto which we suspect the sawmill’s machinery was once fixed, as well as the foundations of the sawmill’s chimney and the likely location of the timber storage yard.

The first bit of brick floor exposed. This…

….eventually turned into this! Both images: Hamish Williams.

The floor was made of three layers of brick, some laid flat and others on edge – the thickness of the brick floor is testament to the fact that this floor was built to be hard wearing and durable. Some stretches of brick were well worn, suggesting that these parts had seen heavy foot traffic over the years, and the wear to the bricks in these areas we suspect represented the main routes between different activity areas in the mill. We got some idea of where the different machines were probably once located, based on where areas of brick had suffered disturbance when these heavy machines were eventually removed. Complicating our interpretations about these different activity areas, however, was the fact that in its last 8 years of life, the mill was repurposed as a place of metalworking activity, and at least some of the existing features and parts of the mill building were modified to reflect this change in use.

Booth’s Sawmill as fully exposed. Image: Hamish Williams.

Two of the brick and stone foundations for the fixed sawmill machinery. Image: Hamish Williams.

Whether associated with the last days of the building’s use as a sawmill, or that short period afterwards in which the mill became a foundry, for me one the most memorable archaeological features uncovered at Booth’s was a row of broken bricks stacked up out of the way against the degraded remnants of one of the mill’s timber-framed walls. It was clear that these bricks had once been part of the adjacent section of floor (because the top layer of brick was missing here), but on becoming dislodged and broken, had become little more than a tripping hazard. Because no one likes a tripping hazard or falling flat on their face (especially in front of co-workers), someone had taken the initiative to remove the hazard and stack these broken bricks up out the way against the nearby wall. What do you think about our interpretation?

The degraded timbers from the collapsed wall, with the stack of bricks adjacent. Image: Hamish Williams.

The neat stack of broken bricks after removal of the degraded remnants of the timber wall, (though in this photo the bottom plate has not yet been removed). Image: Hamish Williams.

This neat stack of bricks reminded  me that archaeology is not just about the stuff and things from the past, and that all this stuff and things can inform us about was happening on a site back in the day, but that first and foremost archaeology is about people. Specifically, what they left behind can inform us about past human behaviour – what might have been going on in people’s heads – their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Remember folks, situational awareness at all times – watch your step, and mind how you go.

 Hamish Williams

References

Grey River Argus [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hastings Standard [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hawera and Normanby Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Marlborough Express [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

New Zealand Herald [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Oamaru Mail [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Thames Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Wanganui Chronicle [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

West Coast Times [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Woodville Examiner [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].