Hall’s Oriental Turkish Bath

It’s very easy to think of 19th century New Zealand as being a place isolated from the rest of the world. Yet as we research and investigate colonial Christchurch, we are constantly being reminded of the connections that existed between New Zealand and the rest of the British Empire. Most often we see those connections archaeologically through artefacts, but every so often we see them in a different way. Today’s blog is on a Turkish Bathhouse we excavated at the end of last year. When I think of 19th century Christchurch, a Turkish Bathhouse is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet Turkish Bathhouses became fashionable in Britain in the 1860s and from there spread to the rest of the empire, with Turkish Bathhouses opened in New Zealand in the 1870s (Press 31/12/1874: 2).

The Turkish Bath, or Hammam, is a public bathhouse that is associated with Muslim culture and found across the Islamic world. Hammam have been in existence for over a thousand years and evolved from similar public bathhouses used by the Ancient Romans. The Hammam was both a place to get clean, and a place to socialise and conduct business. The introduction of the Hammam to the British Empire was down to one man: David Urquhart. David Urquhart was a Scottish diplomat and politician who worked in Constantinople (Istanbul) in the 1830s and travelled throughout Europe and the east over his lifetime. In 1850, Urquhart wrote a book, The Pillars of Hercules, based on his travels through Spain and Morocco in 1848. Urquhart dedicates two chapters of his book to bathhouses, describing both the history of the bathhouse and the bathhouse process.

“The operation consists of various parts: first, the seasoning of the body; second, the manipulation of the muscles; third, the peeling of the epidermis; fourth; the soaping, and the patient is then conducted to the bed of repose. These are the five acts of drama. There are three essential apartments in the building: a great hall, or mustaby, open to the outer air; a middle chamber, where the heat is moderate; the inner hall, which is properly the thermae. The first scene is acted in the middle chamber; the next three in the inner chamber, and the last in the outer hall. The time occupied is from two to four hours, and the operation is repeated once a week.”       

-Urquhart 1850: 31

To call Urquhart passionate about bathhouses would be an understatement. His chapter on the bathhouse process begins with a very Victorian description of the morality of cleanliness, followed by an extensive description of the bathhouse process. Urquhart bases his description of bathhouses on the Hammam he had visited in Turkey and is quite critical of the Moorish bath he visited on his travels, providing a comparison between the Moorish bathhouse, the Turkish bathhouse, and Roman bathhouses. Urquhart ends his chapter with a very lengthy description of the benefits of introducing bathhouses to Britain. Richard Barter, an Irish physician who established St Ann’s Hydropathic Establishment, read Urquhart’s book and collaborated with him to open Britain’s first Turkish Bath in Ireland in 1856. In 1857 a Turkish Bathhouse opened in Manchester and in 1860 another opened in London. Over the next 150 years, over 600 Turkish Baths were opened in Britain.

I visited a Turkish Bath when I was in Turkey. I didn’t take any photos, but thanks to the magic of the internet I was able to find a picture of the one I went to. It was a few years ago now, but I remember both enjoying the experience and finding it a wee bit strange being washed by a stranger. My experience started with a sauna. Following that we went to this room where we were scrubbed and washed. We then had a massage and ended with face masks. All in all, it was relatively similar to what Urquhart describes – particularly the “peeling of the epidermis” and the “soaping”. Image: Tripadvisor

In August 1884, John Charles Fisher and Duncan Beamont Wallis leased a section of land on Cashel Street and constructed a Turkish Bathhouse. Construction was completed in October 1884 and the baths were open for business by the 21st of October. While Fisher and Wallis constructed the baths, they did not operate it for long and management was taken over by W. Dation in January of 1885. Dation himself did not operate the baths for long, and by June of 1885 was advertising the sale of a large amount of the bath’s furniture and fittings (suggesting he may have had financial difficulties).

Robert Hall announced he was taking over the proprietorship of the Oriental Turkish Baths on the 1st July 1885. He described the premises at this time as being “Now in First Class Order”, having been “Fitted and Furnished in the very Best Style”, which suggests that Hall replaced much of the furniture and fittings that had been sold by Dation (Star 29/6/1885: 2). He undertook various alterations and repairs to the premises during his proprietorship, adding a third hot room that could reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Hall was the proprietor of the bathhouse until 1905, when the business was taken over by Messrs. Young and Co., who operated the bathhouse until the property was sold in the 1920s (Trendafilov et al. 2021).

Photograph printed in 1902, showing the street frontage of Hall’s Oriental Turkish Baths in Cashel Street. Image: Davie, 1902: 304.

An advertisement from 1886, advertising the baths. Image: Star, 27/12/1886: 2.

The construction of the bathhouse was clearly of interest to the residents of Christchurch, and a thorough description of the building was relayed in the newspapers of the time:

The building will be of brick, and will cover a ground area of 60ft by 33ft. In the front are the hair-dressing rooms. A passage runs right through the building from front to back; to the right of this from the entrance are six chambers for hot, cold, and shower baths. On the left are the rooms for the special feature of the establishment – the Turkish baths. The person wishing to enjoy the Oriental luxury will first enter one of the dressing-rooms, of which there are eight, very neatly fitted up; he then passes to the first hot room, at which the temperature is maintained at about 125 deg Fah., and having become accustomed to this, he is prepared to pass to the hotter chamber, of 150 deg on an average. Both these hot rooms are of the same size — 12ft by 9ft 6in, floored with red and white tiles, and plastered; they are heated by hot-air flues passing round them, and connected with a furnace at the back. Special attention will be paid to ventilation, not only in these rooms, but in all connected with the baths. Disc ventilators in the walls and ceiling, that can be opened or closed at will, are the description made use of for the purpose. After he has had enough of the hot-air process, the visitor will pass to the shampooing room, in which is the “needle bath.” The operation of this is to throw from a number of small jets sprays of water gradually decreasing from warm to cold, thus preventing the danger to the bather of suffering a chill after he has finished his Turkish bath. Sulphur and vapour baths are also provided in the shampooing room, on leaving which the visitor pushes aside a crimson curtain and finds himself in the “cooling room,” a large, handsomely furnished apartment, in which files of the illustrated and other papers are kept, and where one can enjoy the dolce far niente till he feels disposed to return to the dressing-room. All the rooms, except those in front, are lighted by skylights (Lyttelton Times 15/8/1884: 6).

Sadly, the original bathhouse was long gone when we excavated the site last year. However, we found a couple of features that we were able to associate with the bathhouse, which was most exciting. One was a large brick structure, found at a depth of 750 mm. The feature was a trapezoid shaped lined brick pit, 3.4 m long and 1.4 m, which was located within the footprint of the bathhouse and was interpreted as being one of the baths.

The bath feature, first exposed by the digger. The feature didn’t look like much when it was first uncovered, but careful excavation revealed something interesting. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The bath emerges. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Angel does some phenomenology and puts himself in the place of a visitor to the baths. Image: site contractor.

We suspect that the bath was constructed as part of the purpose built building and was probably sunk into the ground which has led to it surviving. Interestingly, as Angel was excavating the feature he found several bits of radiator, along with a lead pipe with evenly distributed holes along the side. The 1884 description of the new bath house mentions that there were two hot chambers available, with temperatures of 125° Fahrenheit (51° Celsius) and 150° Fahrenheit (65° Celsius), connected to a furnace at the back of the building. It is probable that the radiators were used to transfer the heat to these chambers, either through the use of steam or hot water. The small lead pipe found in the feature may have been part of the ‘needle bath’ described in the same account: “the operation of this is to throw from a number of small jets sprays of water gradually decreasing from hot to cold” (Lyttelton Times 15/8/1884: 6). It is highly likely that the evenly distributed holes, which measured six mm in diameter and were spaced at intervals of approximately 50 mm, in the pipe are those small jet sprays described in the article.

The radiators were clustered down on end of the bath. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The radiator pipes. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The lead pipe with evenly spaced holes. Image: J. Garland.

We also found several coffee and chicory bottles in the feature, and overall coffee and chicory bottles made up 13% of the total glass assemblage (normally they might make up around 1% of a total glass assemblage). The ‘Oriental Turkish Bath House’ served tea and coffee to customers, with an article from September 1884 stating that “the room in which, what is, perhaps, the most pleasant part of the process takes place is a large, handsomely furnished apartment, with Brussels carpet on the floor and luxurious couches and chairs around the walls…and small tables disposed in various parts of the room can be used either as card tables or to bear the cup of tea or coffee presented to the visitor” (Star 21/10/1884: 3). It is however surprising that they may have been serving coffee and chicory or coffee extract, both of which can be considered substitutes for ground coffee or the equivalent of ‘instant’ coffee. Their use in the 19th century is often associated with economic hardship and coffee shortages, particularly in Napoleonic France and Civil War era North America (Smith 1996; Smith 2014). It may be that the Turkish Bath House was using coffee substitutes as a matter of taste preference, but it may also have been that they were economical in what they were serving to visitors.

One of the coffee and chicory bottles found in the feature. The bottle was embossed with the mark of Thomas Symington and Co., an Edinburgh based beverage manufacturer. Symington’s Coffee and Chicory, a blended coffee beverage, is relatively common on archaeological sites in New Zealand dating from the 1880s onwards. Image J. Garland.

We also found this Cyprus patterned ewer, which was likely used in the bathhouse. The ewer was made by Thomas G. Booth, a Staffordshire potter who operated the Church Bank Pottery in Tunstall between 1876 and 1883 (Godden 1991: 86). The date of manufacture for this vessel pre-dates the construction of the Turkish Baths, but ceramic vessels during the 19th century often had uselives of up to 15-20 years (Adams 2003), which would overlap with the construction and use of the Turkish Baths. It may be that the name of the pattern decorating this vessel, the Cyprus Pattern, was a deliberate choice on the part of the owners of the baths, as a nod to the geographical location of Cyprus, south of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea, but it may also have been a coincidence in which the visual appearance of the pattern determined the choice of its use in the Turkish Baths. Image: J. Garland.

Hall’s Oriental Turkish Bath provides a fascinating insight into the cultural melting pot of the British Empire. It’s interesting to see the introduction of Turkish Baths into Britain in the 1850s, and from there, as they became fashionable, spreading through the Empire to reach New Zealand in the 1870s. A Turkish Bath was opened in Dunedin in 1874 (Press 31/12/1874: 2), one in Auckland by 1877 (New Zealand Herald 14/07/1877: 4) while an earlier bath opened on High Street in Christchurch in 1878 (Press 22/02/1878: 1). The collision of different cultures that resulted in the spread of ideas and practices across the empire is perhaps best illustrated in the below article.

A collision of culture. Image: Evening Post 12/07/1879: 3. 

Clara Watson, Jessie Garland, Lydia Mearns

References

Davie, Mort., 1902. Tourists’ Guide to Canterbury. P. A. Herman. Christchurch Press Company Limited.

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

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

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

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

Smith, S. D., 1996. “Accounting for Taste: British Coffee Consumption in Historical Perspective”, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 27: 2, pp. 183-214.

Smith, A. K., 2014. “The History of the Coffee Chicory Mix That New Orleans Made It’s Own”, Smithsonian Magazine. [online] Available at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/chicory-coffee-mix-new-orleans-made-own-comes-180949950/ [Accessed March 2021].

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

Trendafilov, A., Mearns, L., Garland, J. 212 Cashel Street, Christchurch (Superlot 6c): Final report for archaeological investigations under HNZPT authority 2020/811eq. Unpublished report for Fletcher Residential Living.

Urquhart, D. 1850. The Pillars of Hercules. Harper and Brothers, New York.  

Privies, Water Closets and Pan Closets: Sanitation in 19th century Christchurch

Toilet, loo, lavatory, water closet, restroom, bathroom –  no matter what you call it, they all refer to the same thing: the porcelain throne on which we spend an average of three hours and nine minutes a week. The flushing toilet is a quintessential part of modern life. The press of a button and our waste is whisked away, never to be seen again (unless you have to face the horror of working on wastewater pipe renewal projects). Yet it wasn’t always that way.

I won’t be so vulgar as to include a close-up photo of this drain, but let’s just say that there were some things in there that you didn’t want to get up close and personal with. Image: C. Watson.

Archaeologists studying ancient and more recent civilisations have shown that the principals of sanitation are basically the same no matter when or where you lived, those being: when people are living too densely for the ‘just find a bush’ method to work, collect the waste in something and find a way to dispose it. In Ancient Greece, Rome and Babylonia latrines with pipes that connected to cesspits or drains were installed in cities. Ancient Egypt also had latrines, but these drained directly into sandy soil, with waste sometimes then collected and used as fertiliser. People from the Harrapan civilisation in India also collected waste and used it as fertiliser, while in Mesopotamia, privies had a portable pot that was removed and emptied once full (Genc 2009).

Of course, while the broad principals of sanitation may be transcultural, some cultures did it better than others. As with anything engineering related, the Romans did it best. Nearly every Roman city dweller had access to a toilet (unlike some of the other ancient civilisations where it was only the wealthy and elite), and Roman latrines were connected to an elaborate drainage and sewer system, with the Cloaca Maxima draining into the River Tiber.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the engineered drainage systems they had constructed fell into disrepair. Those living in cities in the Middle Ages likely collected waste in a bucket or chamber pot that was emptied into the street or river –  if they weren’t just finding a private spot outside to go. Latrines did exist (with public latrines that emptied directly into the River Thames located on the London Bridge), but they weren’t as common nor as engineered as those from the earlier Roman period. This approach to sanitation led to stinky, disease ridden cities, that worsened as population density increased. The Great Stink of 1858 refers to a particularly hot summer when the Thames River water level dropped, exposing centuries of waste and a stench so offensive that it apparently caused people miles away to throw up when the wind changed.

You might be, by this point, wondering what has inspired today’s blog post on the humble toilet. Well, it’s because we recently found one. Our toilet was made by Twyfords in 1889 and likely dates back to when flushing toilets were first introduced to Christchurch. But more on that soon. For now, let’s look at what came before the porcelain potty.

I won’t be so vulgar as to include a close-up photo of this drain, but let’s just say that there were some things in there that you didn’t want to get up close and personal with. Image: C. Watson.

Privies, cesspits, closet pans, earth closets and water closets were all different options available to our 19th century counterparts when nature called. Early settlers to Christchurch built privies (or long drops) that discharged into cesspits. These privies proved problematic as they were smelly and prone to leaking, which contaminated soil and sources of water. As early as the 1860s, councils were requiring people to seek council permission before constructing a cesspit to ensure that the cesspit would not leach into drinking water (Press 30/08/1862: 4; Press 31/03/1863: 2). Councils weren’t big fans of cesspits, for obvious reasons. Instead they encouraged people to use closet pans (Press 31/03/1863: 2). These were essentially a bucket (or similar receptacle) that collected the waste, rather than being stored in a cesspit. This waste was collected by nightsoil men and scavengers, who would empty the pans onto a cart and remove it from the city.

An 1877 advertisement by the City Council calling for closet pan designs. Press 14/05/1877: 1.

The chamber pot was used within the house for those not wanting to venture outside at night. We find chamber pots regularly on our archaeological sites, indicating that they were commonplace in most households. These would have been emptied into the privy or closet. Image: C. Watson.

In 1870 Bylaw No. 10 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1867 gave council governance over all privies, cesspits and house drains (Press 06/05/1870: 4), and later pieces of legislation required that all houses needed their own privy (Press 22/02/1873: 2). Council employed an Inspector of Nuisances (an amazing job title) who was responsible for inspecting privies and cesspits. The inspector’s reports to the Board of Health in the late 1870s often complained that cesspits were unsanitary and recommended that they be replaced with closet pans or earth closets (Press 08/08/1871: 3; Press 30/11/1878: 2; Press 01/02/1879: 5).

An 1871 Inspect of Nuisance’s report complaining about the condition of cesspools belonging to properties located between Tuam and Lichfield Streets. Image: Press 08/08/1871: 3.

The cleanliness of the privy was dependent on nightsoil men and scavengers doing their jobs. In 1879, W. J. White was summoned for causing a nuisance on his premises in Tuam Street by allowing a closet pan to overflow and for burying night soil in his backyard; something that was illegal under the Local Board of Health Act. At the proceedings, White said that the nuisance was not his fault but instead that of the nightsoil man who had failed to collect the nightsoil, despite White having paid him to do so. White was forced to bury the nightsoil on his premises as the nightsoil man had not collected it in seven months (Press 15/02/1879: 5). While the services of the nightsoil men were contracted by the council, individual households still had to pay for the service. Today’s landlords will be horrified to hear that in 1880, the Christchurch City Council had the gall to try and seek payment from property owners for this service after some tenants defaulted on their payments (it turns out that landlord’s complaining about providing liveable properties is not unique to the 21st century).

The work charged for was done for the benefit of the tenant, and it was absurd to charge it to the landlord. If the landlord could be charged for one closet pan, there was no reason to prevent him being made to bear the cost of any number of pans his tenant chose to scatter over the house.

-Press 09/09/1880: 3

Relatively often we find pit features that only have a few small, fragmented artefacts in them. I often wonder what happened to the rest of the objects and if people were throwing their rubbish into what was collected by the nightsoil or dustmen, and what we find are the small pieces that didn’t make the rubbish/waste collection. Image: C. Watson.

As early as the 1860s, calls were being made to introduce water closets to Christchurch (Press 30/08/1864: 2). The problem with privies, closet pans and earth closets was that they relied on nightsoil men to remove the waste. The advantage of water closets was that the refuse was flushed into a sewer and carried out to sea (good for public sanitation, bad for river quality and marine life). The problem with water closets is that cities needed to have a good drainage and sewage system in place to give the waste somewhere to go.

The water closet dates back to the late 18th century (although credit for the first flushing toilet goes to Sir John Harrington, godson of Elizabeth I, who in 1592 installed a water closet of his own design in his house), when Alexander Cummings took out a patent for a flushing water closet (Eveleigh 2008). Like most inventions of the Georgian and Victorian era, once the first water closet was patented different inventors and engineers patented their own versions, with improvements made over time. Cumming’s toilet had an outlet that was controlled with a mechanically operated sliding valve. The bowl was filled with water and once one had finished their business, they opened the slider (causing the water and waste to discharge), and then closed it, which triggered an inlet valve to open and refill the valve. The fundamental flaw in this design was that the waste valve was never cleaned by fresh water, meaning that over time it built up a coating of encrusted dirt (Eveleigh 2008: 30). Excrement sticking to the toilet bowl was a problem in many early toilet designs. Improvements such as Edmund Sharpe’s 1855 flushing rim patent, and later wash down closet designs helped this problem (Eveleigh 2008: 37-45). New patents in toilet design were introduced in the 1850s, but it was really between the 1870s and early 1900s that the modern pedestal toilet rose to popularity (Eveleigh 2008).

By the 1880s and 1890s, sanitary manufacturers were regularly patenting new designs. Unlike our toilets, which are boring white, late 19th century toilets could be purchased with elaborate transfer printed decoration that I definitely think should come back into fashion. Image: Twyfords 1894: 15.

Our toilet dates to this period. It is a pedestalled water closet, made by Twyfords. The Twyford family has a long history in the Staffordshire region, and since the 17th century there have been Twyfords producing commercial pottery. In 1849, Thomas Twyford began to make sanitary ware at his factory in Hanley, but it was not until the 1870s under the direction of Thomas Twyford’s son, Thomas William Twyford, that Twyfords became established as one of Britain’s leading sanitary ware manufacturers (Eveleigh, 2008: 46). In 1887, Twyford opened his Cliff Vale factory, which exclusively produced sanitary wares (Birks, 2021). Twyfords is still in operation today. The toilet is made from what Twyfords referred to as their “C V Porcelain Enamelled Fire Clay” (Twyfords, 1894), with ‘C V’ standing for Cliffe Vale. This was a stoneware body covered with a thick white enamel glaze, also known as vitreous china (Birks, 2021). The ware type ‘sanitary porcelain’ is used to catalogue this specific ware type, reflecting the 19th century terminology that often referred to the ware as “sanitary porcelain” or just as “porcelain” (Twyfords, 1894). It should be noted though that the body is not a true porcelain but is a glazed stoneware imitating porcelain.

Our toilet. The base of the toilet would have been fastened to the ground, with holes for screws included in the base. A wooden toilet seat would have sat on the rim. The top outlet would have connected the toilet to the cistern via a pipe running up the wall. The trap closet is exposed, rather than being enclosed inside the pedestal base as became common in the 1890s. The trap sits higher than the bowl, indicating that the toilet flushes using the wash-down method rather than the wash-out. In the wash out method the trap sits lower than the bowl, meaning that water does not sit in the bowl between uses and leading to the build-up of dried excrement. In the wash down method, introduced in the late 1870s but becoming common in the 1880s, the trap sits higher than the bowl meaning that the water level fills both the bowl and the trap, creating a more hygienic experience (Eveleigh, 2008: 53). Image: C. Watson.

Maker’s marks seen on our toilet. The printed mark on the inside of the bowl, “THE VALE” likely refers to the specific design on the toilet. This design is not shown in Twyford’s 1894 catalogue, suggesting that the firm had discontinued the model by this time (Twyfords, 1894).. The numbers ‘8’ and ‘9’ are located either side of the impressed Twyfords Staffordshire knot mark. This indicates that the toilet was made in 1889, with the various Twyfords marks proving they were the maker.

In 1882 the Christchurch District Board introduced an amendment to The Christchurch District Drainage Act of 1875, which would enable the construction of water closet drains to be connected to sewers and the construction of a pump station to run the system (Star 14/06/1882: 3). Every house within 200ft of a sewer was required to have its privy or closet connected with a drain (Press 29/04/1880: 2). Interestingly, this decision was met with some pushback from residents. People thought that the connections between houses and sewers would lead to filth and disease being brought into the household (Press 7/05/1880: 3; Press 27/05/1882: 3; Press 04/08/1882: 2). Throughout the 1880s, the Drainage Board regularly reported on the progress of constructing drains. In 1884 Christchurch had 293 water closets. By 1901, there were 1915 spread across the city (Wilson 1989: 29). If you’re interested in these developments, we’ve already written several blogs about Christchurch’s drains and sewers. You can read them here, here, and here.

Perhaps what I find most interesting about our toilet, is that is appears to have been thrown out not too long after it was made. The toilet was found in a rubbish pit that contained black beer bottles, ring seal bottles and transfer printed ceramics, all things that are typical of 19th century Christchurch assemblages. There were no artefacts in the pit of later manufacture dates, and, at the absolute latest, I would date the pit to the early 1900s, but really it fits better with an 1890s disposal date. We don’t normally find toilets on our archaeological sites simply because most weren’t introduced until around the 1880s, and they have a long lifespan meaning most weren’t disposed of until well after the 1900 cut-off date that we operate under. The site the toilet was found on was occupied by a working-class family who probably weren’t the sort of people that were replacing their water closet so soon after purchasing it. Which begs the question, why was it thrown out so soon? My current theory is that the toilet was damaged, perhaps during shipping, or installation, or shortly after having been installed, and that meant it had to be replaced. The faulty toilet was then disposed of in a backyard rubbish pit. And we dug it up over 100 years later.

Clara Watson

References

Birks, S., 2021. The local history of Stoke-On-Trent, England. [online] Available at: <thepotteries.org>

Eveleigh, D., 2008. Privies and Water Closets. Oxford: Shire Publications.

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

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

Twyfords, 1894. Twyford’s 1894 Catalogue of Sanitary Specialities in porcelain earthenware & porcelain enamelled fireclay sanitary appliances & fittings. Cliffe Vale Potteries Hanley Staffordshire. Hanley: Twyfords.

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A short history of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch: Christchurch Drainage Board.

“The New Zealand Dream”

When Edward Gibbon Wakefield developed his theory of colonisation in c.1827 (while imprisoned for abducting a young woman) he envisioned for New Zealand the formation of an idealised English rural society, in which all hard-working labourers could aspire to rural land ownership on a modest scale. Within this society the ideal form of ‘landownership’ was to be owning a small self-sufficient farm, while urban properties were to be viewed as simply embarkation points for the countryside. This aspiration for land ownership would eventually become known as “The New Zealand Dream” (Ferguson, 1994: 8, 14; McAloon, 2008). With property values in Christchurch having recently achieved their strongest  monthly growth rate in 17 years, making the possibility of achieving this dream difficult for many first home buyers, we thought it might be opportune to take a look at the theory of Christchurch property value and ownership at the time of the founding of the Canterbury settlement in 1850, and how changing views of landownership during the 19th century altered the “Dream”, from rural aspirations to today’s suburban utopia.

Wakefield theorised that one of the key factors to achieving the ideal colonial settlement was the price at which land was to be sold to settlers. He believed that where land was given for free or sold too cheaply (such as was the case in the Australian colonies) there resulted in too many self-sufficient landowners and not enough labourers to work for wages. But if the price was too high, then only the wealthy would be able to afford land and labourers could never aspire to become landowners. To achieve his goal of a society of small independent rural landowners, Wakefield proposed that the price of land should be fixed at a value that was high enough to provide sufficient revenue to fund the emigration of labourers to a colony, but low enough that industrious labourers could aspire to become landowners after four or fives years work (Webb, 1965: 143).

It was upon the principals of Wakefield’s theory of colonisation that the Canterbury Association founded the Canterbury settlement in 1850. When the Canterbury Association announced their terms of purchase for land in the new settlement in April 1850, their proposal reflected Wakefield’s vision for modest land prices. Land prices were set at £3 per acre for rural allotments (which began at 50 acres) and £12 per quarter-acre for town allotments in Christchurch or Lyttelton. However, the Association’s selected immigrants were entitled to select a 50-acre allotment of rural land and an urban allotment in either of the townships for the combined price of £150. On the eve of the departure of the first Canterbury settlers to New Zealand in September 1850, 143 people had purchased land orders in the new settlement. Together these 143 land purchasers had bought 13,150 acres of rural land, 132 acres of town land, and had obtained the right to lease an additional 65,750 acres of pasturage. Although this was less land than the Association had projected selling, they actively congratulated themselves on the belief that the majority of the land that had been sold was purchased by those intending to settle in the colony, and not by land speculators who were intending to only make a profit off it (Webb, 1965: 168-169).

The Canterbury Association’s advertisement for working-class emigration to Canterbury in 1849

The first four Association ships arrived at Lyttelton between the 16th and 27th December 1850, bringing with them about 800 settlers to the new colony. The process of selecting the rural and town land that they had already paid for was not scheduled to take place until the colonists had been in the new settlement for three months. This provision was intended to allow the colonists time to survey the topography and farming possibilities of the Canterbury plains before making their selection. The downside of this provision was that the colonists could not begin the process of building their new permanent homes until they had made their selection of land. In the meantime, a few of the settlers chose to stay in their cabins on board the Association’s ships (which remained in port for three weeks while unloading their cargo), while others were forced to build temporary accommodation, such as tents, V huts, or other makeshift shelters in the townships. In preparation for the arrival of the colonists however, the Association did construct immigration barracks in Lyttelton, which could temporarily house between 300-400 immigrants (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 4; Schrader, 2012).

For many of the Canterbury pilgrims, the inability to take possession of their land and build permanent dwellings proved difficult, as they did not want to waste their limited resources and capital on temporary arrangements. At the first meeting of the Canterbury Land Purchasers (held on 20th December 1850 before the fourth Association ship, The Cressy, had even arrived in port) the settlers informed the Association’s representative, John Godley, of their desire to immediately begin the land selection process. Godley consented to a compromised outcome, in which the settlers could immediately begin selecting their town allotments, but still had to wait until the allocated time to select their rural allotments. The settlers agreed, and the selection of town allotments began quickly to allow the settlers to leave their temporary accommodations and begin developing their own properties (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 6).

Lithograph of J. Durey’s 1851 painting of the bricks landing site on the Avon River showing the first settlement within Christchurch city.

Unlike Wakefield’s vision of a rural society, it was therefore the town sections and not the rural properties that were first eagerly developed for occupation by the Canterbury pilgrims. Although the selection of town sections in Lyttelton appears to have been initially favored, by mid-January there was a shift in preference to the selection of town sections located in the settlement’s capital, Christchurch. The Lyttelton Times noted that “there can be no doubt but that the capital of the district will be rapidly peopled, and the town land acquire a considerable value” (Lyttelton Times, 18/1/1851: 5). Right from the beginning of the settlement, Canterbury town land was seen as a valuable and desired commodity.

The agricultural labourers that had immigrated to Canterbury in the hope of working their way into land ownership, were in a particularly difficult position during the first months of the settlement, as there were no agricultural labouring positions available for them until the selection of rural land took place. While those settlers with land purchase orders made their selection of town lands and moved onto their new properties, those settlers who did not initially have the capital to invest in land remained in the immigration barracks or their temporary makeshift shelters. However, for those non-landed settlers who did not want to stay in the makeshift accommodations for a prolonged period of time, there soon emerged an attractive alternative in the form of leasehold properties. In the second issue of the Lyttelton Times (issued on the 18th January 1851 just one month after the arrival of the first Association ship) there were already advertisements announcing town sections in Christchurch available for lease (Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 1). These leasehold sections offered the non-landed settler an opportunity to construct for themselves more permanent dwellings/commercial buildings (like their landed counterparts) without having to outlay the cost of purchasing a town section. The Lyttelton Times indicates that leasehold sections in Lyttelton were particularly popular, noting that “tenants at good rents still continue to come forward for the town lands of Lyttelton”, with sections along the commercial hub of Norwich Quay letting for 15 shillings per foot frontage (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 4; 18/1/1851: 5). Alternative rented accommodation was also soon to be found in the form of hotels, which began to be constructed in Lyttelton in early January and in Christchurch in early March (Lyttelton Times, 11/1/1851: 4; 8/3/1851: 5).

Advertisement in the Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 1 announcing town sections in Christchurch available for lease.

Until farmhand positions were available, some of the agricultural labourers joined their urban wage-earning counterparts in looking to the towns to obtain a source of income (particularly those who needed to pay for their newly rented accommodations). For many, this meant working on the Canterbury Association’s public works or helping their fellow settlers to construct their new homes. The towns therefore became the main center for both employment and residential activities.

Advertisement in the Lyttelton Times 25/1/1851: 1 from a labourer seeking contracts to help build settler houses in Christchurch and Lyttelton.

The selection of rural land had finally begun by early February 1851 (Lyttleton Times, 1/2/1851: 3). This gave the opportunity for the landowning setters to depart Christchurch and Lyttelton for their new country estates and begin turning their fields into production. As the land selection process progressed, Godley noted that “Each purchaser seems convinced that he himself had secured the best allotment of all; but the most satisfactory feature is that nearly the whole body have selected their land within a circle of four or five miles in diameter” (Webb, 1965: 177-178). This suggests that while some of the settlers may have looked forward to removing from the two townships to the country, the location of their selections being in such close proximity to the towns indicates that they were still intimately connection with the development of the towns. It is also not true that all of the rural sections selected by the first body of colonists were intended for rural development, as the very first rural section selected, Rural Section No. 1 (located on the northern boundary of the town of Lyttelton),  was taken up by the trustees of Christ’s College and  almost immediately opened up for residential development.  The Lyttelton Times noted in early February 1851 that “almost the whole of which has been applied for at high rents for building purpose” (Lyttelton Times, 1/2/1851: 3).

Although Wakefield had envisioned for New Zealand the formation of an idealised English rural society, his theory faltered on economic reality (McAloon, 2008). Life in the country was hard and the cost of bringing land into production was high. Although the large pastoral farms managed to make good profits, the profits of the smaller agricultural farms proved less lucrative. For agricultural labourers, work was generally seasonal with long periods of unemployment. This proved most difficult during the periods of economic downturn in the 1870s and 1880s, when periods of unemployment brought widespread distress. During this time, the landless gravitated to the towns where there was a greater variety of housing options and at least some hope of relief in the form of charitable aid. The population of the towns grew rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s, with the population of Christchurch growing from 7,931 in 1871, to 13,425 in 1878 (Ferguson, 1994: 15, 19). This population growth is evident in the comparison of maps of the city of Christchurch drawn in 1862 and 1877, which shows a significant increase in the number and density of buildings constructed in the township over this fifteen-year period.

Detail from Fooks’ 1862 map of Christchurch showing just two buildings present on the town block bound by Armagh, Gloucester, Barbadoes, and Madras Streets.

Detail from Strouts’ 1877 map of Christchurch showing a significant increase in the number of buildings present on the town block bound by Armagh, Gloucester, Barbadoes, and Madras Streets.

For the poorer classes of society, the towns offered a greater variation in the security of rental tenures than what was generally available in the country, with house leases being offered by yearly, monthly, fortnightly, or weekly agreements, or public lodging houses or rooms for board being offered on daily agreements. These short-term rental or lodging agreements offered a great deal more flexibility than living with a mortgage, as those on a daily, weekly or fortnightly tenancy could shift quickly to another location when employment opportunities arose, and could tailor the quality of the housing to fit uncertain incomes. There were, however, very few renting and lodging regulations during this period, and those laws that were in place tended to favour the landlord over the tenant. This meant that tenants were not always completely secure in their tenements, though some protections did come into effect later in the century such as The Lodgers’ Goods Protection Act 1880, which limited the power of landlords to take their tenant’s property in lieu of arrears of rent (Ferguson, 1994: 36, 47). Unfortunately, this system of short-term and informal rental agreements makes it very difficult for historical researchers to ascertain who was occupying certain properties during the 19th century, as the names of tenants were not always formally recorded in the Canterbury Deeds Books – this is particularly frustrating when trying to work out who might be associated with archaeological assemblages.

This burgeoning rental market in the 19th century allowed those landowners with a little capital to invest in housing. Town settlers would buy all or part of a town section and build a house for themselves, and then they could rent out rooms in their homes to lodgers, or if they had enough capital, they could build a second or third house which they could sell or rent to others (Ferguson, 1994: 47). While in Wakefield’s vision of rural utopia the rural property symbolised a reward for labour with the land as a source of income; for town-dwellers it was the house itself that came to be a major source of income (Ferguson, 1994: 35). Unfortunately, there was very little regulation regarding the construction of buildings in Christchurch and Lyttelton. City builders claimed that regulations inhibited growth, and Municipal governments (often the same people) tended to agree and so placed few restrictions on urban land use. Builders placed houses awkwardly on sites, with no guarantee of street access, water supply, or effective sewerage systems. As cities grew and land became scarcer, lanes and alleys were driven through the backs of properties and lined with poorly constructed cottages for workers. These soon became over-crowded and squalid, with rubbish and effluent festering in city streets and a rising death toll from diseases such as typhoid (Schrader, 2007). Some small attempts were made to address these issues, such as the Public Health Act 1872, which set up Local Boards of Health to monitor and improve health in their areas. Although they attempted to control overcrowding and to have filthy houses cleansed and whitewashed, the Act did not set housing standards and did not provide powers of enforcement.

The six terrace houses outlined on the map were constructed by John Ponsford in ca. 1876 as investment properties that were leased out.

While the living conditions of some of the town dwellers devolved into squalid and unsanitary conditions, for others the towns became a source of wealth and advancement and a profitable alternative from the hardships of rural settlement. A wealthy industrial and mercantile class therefore began to develop in the towns. Although traditionally, manufacturers and tradesmen would live next to their businesses in the central city (with their workers living in poorer housing nearby), during the 1880s more and more of the affluent town-dwellers began to move their homes away from the older centres of the town to the periphery. As the city slums continued to grow, many politicians and reformers began to fear that the increasing number of slum-dwellers would have a bad effect on the respectable town workers who ought to be pursuing that rural vision. As a solution, they looked to the example set by the wealthy mercantile class, and they began to rework the rural vision into a new suburban dream, one not just for the affluent but for respectable skilled workers as well. If labourers could not become rural landowners, the next best life they could aspire to was to own a home in a respectable suburb. Speculators began to buy up the rural lands adjoining the townships and promote the subdivision of land into suburban settlements (Ferguson, 1994: 24-25, 29-31; Press, 24/2/1882: 2). In this way the “New Zealand Dream”, which Wakefield originally imagined to be owning one’s own self-sufficient farm, was transformed into the desire for a suburban settlement near-to but not within the city’s main commercial centers. City planners continued to promote the classification of separate commercial and residential areas throughout the 20th century – and for many this idea of the “New Zealand Dream” as owning a slice of suburban utopia persists today.

Lydia Mearns

References

Ferguson, G., 1994. Building the New Zealand Dream. Palmerston North: The Dunmore Press Limited.

McAloon, J., 2008. ‘Land ownership’. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Available at: <http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/land-ownership/print> Accessed February 2021.

Schrader, B., 2007. ‘State housing’, New Zealand Geographic. Issue 086 (July-August). [online] Available at: <https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/state-housing> Accessed February 2021.

Schrader, Ben, 2012. Housing. In: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Available at: <http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/housing/print> Accessed February 2021.

Webb, L.C., 1965. Section III – The Canterbury Association and its Settlement. In: J. Hight and C.R. Straubel, eds., A History of Canterbury, Volume 1. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs.

 

Follow the Red Brick Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Hickey and Lydia Mearns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.