As explained at length in the past, archaeologists don’t much like the use of the word ‘treasure‘. But this really is an archaeological treasure trove – lots and lots of artefacts, from which we shall learn lots and lots of fantastic information. Angel is responsible for this beautifully excavated feature, which we think was probably associated with the London and Paris House, a fancy goods store on Colombo Street in the 1860s and early 1870s. Enjoy!
Following on from last week’s blog post, when we discovered a tea set used by a local 19th century caterer – this time we will take a closer look at what catering may have been like for the Victorians.
Prior to this find, catering was one of those 19th century occupations that I’d taken for granted, or never given any thought to. It certainly surprised me to find such specific evidence of this industry, especially to glimpse a particular individual’s business. But hey, these are the things that keep our jobs interesting! Our bread and butter if you will…
When I first began to think about what this industry may have been like for L. J. Smith and his counterparts, I had visions of a primary school cook-off – in which everyone brings a pot-luck plate (made by their mum) to the local school gala day. But upon further research, I found that the industry was more established than this. Caterers were commonly used at many events, including children’s birthday parties, afternoon teas, garden parties, balls and dances, banquets, the races and A & P shows, to name a few.
Despite the number of events these guys must have attended, I only found one really sensational tale regarding the life of a New Zealand caterer, in which a well-known Wanganui professional slipped in the kitchen and slashed his wrist on broken glass, requiring emergency surgery (Marlborough Express 01/09/1900: 3). This is in sharp comparison to the bigger and more dramatic experiences of caterers back in Europe. London’s Evening Post regales us with tales about dodgy caterers being fined for serving cheap meats they claimed were delicacies, a mass poisoning at a medical congress banquet, in which 250 doctors became ill, and the caterer claimed he was framed by someone in a conspiracy to ruin his reputation (Evening Post 10/11/1894: 1, 03/08/1935: 28). Caterers were even being honoured at Windsor Castle for their edible menus (made of sugar tissue paper and cake frosting; Evening Post, 21/11/1906: 15).
All of this was entertaining to read, but what was it like to be a caterer in New Zealand during the 19th century? Like other occupations we have looked at on the blog, early caterers on our shores often had multi-faceted careers – chefs and restaurateurs, confectioners and bakers often moonlighted as caterers when opportunities arose, and successful proprietors were known to open up their own tearooms as a side enterprise. Some of the professionals who appeared many times in newspapers had seemingly successful careers: one is described as “famous” in his obituary, and L. J. Smith himself is described as well respected (Auckland Star 23/06/1917: 5). A caterer’s name was also often announced in newspapers prior to an event, seemingly as a draw card to advertise the occasion, and they were subsequently thanked, sometimes with a description of the fare provided. So people were certainly interested in their work – I’m thinking the 19th century equivalent of posting a picture of your meal on Facebook?
But what kind of crust did these guys earn? I didn’t find any catering costings during my research, although I did find several bankruptcy notices, and occasions when community groups helped to sell off goods purchased for cancelled events, so the caterer wouldn’t make a loss (Taranaki Herald 11/02/1897: 2). We also know that they formed a union to raise the price of tariffs, which may have helped their profits (Grey River Argus 09/11/1907: 3). There was also always the occupational hazard of theft to consider – the poor guy in this story seems to have lost some equipment…
The equipment that some caterers served their fare on was alluded to last week in reference to the blue and white patterned tea set complete with the company logo. The quality and range of serving ware and equipment offered by a caterer, was no doubt related to the formality of the affair and the money spent by the patrons. One New York caterer made place markers for each of his guests in the form of recognisable caricature statuettes of them (Grey River Argus 13/07/1886: 4) – seems a bit over-the-top? More commonly, advertisements mentioned that marquees were available for hire, as well as boilers, tables, crockery, glassware, cutlery, etc. (Press 15/06/1907: 8). One proprietor even stated that her hands would never have touched the flour that made her bread, as she owned the most “up-to-date machinery” (Waikato Independent 18/05/1902: 1).
The formality and size of a catered affair would also determine if extra serving staff were required for an event. The photograph below shows the catering crew of the South Island section of the 9th contingent in which 480 people were said to have been served in four minutes!
If you thought that was impressive, this fun nod to old-timely sexism draws our attention to the preference of male wait staff over female waitresses for formal affairs. The author explains that women are less professional than men, and any guest conversation that a waitress might overhear will be subsequently turned into community gossip. Go figure.
Probably the most entertaining part of researching catering was determining what they may have served. Check out the ‘Bill of Fare’ for the Telegraph Dinner of 1862. Seven courses? And most of it French! Bon appétit!
I suspect not all menus were so elaborate. More humble fare may not have been as far away from what we might find at our modern equivalent of community events – like mini savouries, saveloys and fairy bread. In fact, many advertisements offered scotch pies and ‘fancy bread’, and strawberries and cream were always a special treat (Woodville Examiner 28/04/1911: 4). As many caterers also marketed themselves as confectioners, lollies (typically boiled, sometimes mixed with nuts) were on hand – and depending on the affair, a lolly scramble may have been warranted.
One of the most commonly catered community events during the 19th century were picnics. Organisations such as firms, churches, unions, clubs and Sunday schools held annual or even more frequent picnics. The picnic would have been a more exotic affair, and required a different menu than a sit down full course meal. Such foodstuffs would need to be served cold and stored in picnic baskets, napkins and tin containers. Common items were sandwiches, cold cuts, cakes, biscuits, cheeses, jellies and pickled fruit. Beverages commonly included ginger beer or ale, lemonade and, of course, tea! (Mitchell 1995: 16). These events (for which the caterers were often paid for by fundraising) frequently required large amounts of food. A combined Thames Sunday schools’ picnic with over 1000 children in attendance required 120 lbs of cake, 1000 dozen buns, 100 lbs of bread, 25 lbs of lollies, 50 lbs of ham, 6 lbs of tea, 25 lbs of sugar, 10 lbs of butter, 6 gallons of milk and peaches (Mitchell 1995: 27).
Essentially, whatever was on the event menu would have included a great deal of MEAT. The European settlers attempted to recreate many of their traditional foods in New Zealand, such as the standard “meat and three vege” combination, which still has its place in many New Zealand homes today (Burton 2016). The main cuisine difference between the homeland and the new frontier was that the quantity of meat consumed by the pioneers significantly increased. The availability and comparative inexpensiveness of meat in New Zealand meant that meat could be eaten for three meals a day, and fish was much less common, due to its British associations with the working class (Burton 2016). Mr Cooper, editor of The Scotsman newspaper visited New Zealand in 1897, and stated that “the fault with [New Zealand hotels] is that they offer you too much meat” and “It was my firm belief that New Zealanders eat more meat and drink more tea than any other people in the world” (Nelson Evening Mail 10/06/1897: 4). There was a small 19th century vegetarian population of New Zealand, some of which were likely to have been part of the Canterbury Dietetic Reform Association (founded in 1882), which promoted the health benefits of a vegetarian diet (Burton 2016). However, these people probably wouldn’t have been too popular at a party, nor would a caterer have been if he left meat off the menu. As Homer Simpson once said: “You don’t make friends with salad!”
Auckland Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Burton, D. ‘Food – Meat’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/food/page-1 (Accessed 16 September 2016).
Grey River Argus [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Evening Post [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Fielding Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Marlborough Express[online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Mitchell, I. 1995 ‘Picnics in New Zealand During the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: An Interpretive Study’, MA thesis, Massey University.
Nelson Evening Mail [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Otago Witness [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Press [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Swarbrick, N. ‘Birthdays and wedding anniversaries – Celebrating birthdays’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/38840/lolly-scramble (accessed 16 September 2016).
Taranaki Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Waikato Independent [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Woodville Examiner [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
He is bed maker to the dead. The pillows which he lays never rumple. The day of interment is the theatre in which he displays the mysteries of this art.
Thomas Lamb 1811.
Nothing in this would can be certain except for death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin’s proverb was never more true than in the case of John C. Felton, a cabinet maker/undertaker from Rangiora who went bankrupt just before the turn of the 20th century. In fact, a site that I was working on recently was occupied by a string of undertakers who moonlighted as carpenters of some description during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The men in question – George Dale, John C. Felton, and J. M’Auliffe – left little evidence of their macabre craft behind, save a chisel and a few nails and bolts. But this was not unexpected – it isn’t often that we find artefacts which form an obvious link to a more ephemeral business like undertaking (we do find the odd ‘mummified’ cat underneath demolished houses, but that’s a bit different). In cases like these, we rely heavily on historic records of land ownership and newspaper reports to connect archaeological assemblages to their 19th century owners.
Despite the fact that humans have been dying for as long as they have been alive, ‘the undertaker’ is a relatively new profession. Before the mid-19th century the term ‘undertaker’ referred to anyone who undertook a task or enterprise, and the ‘laying out’ of a corpse in preparation for burial was a task generally carried out by female family members of the deceased, or by individuals with other nurturing roles, such as mid-wives. This role eventually transitioned into a male dominated one, in conjunction with the rise of the ideas of feminine sensibility and Victorian female respectability (Burrell 1998).
The profession developed as a part-time industry, associated largely with cabinet makers and carpenters, who used their skills to build coffins on the side – Dale and Felton were also both cabinet makers/carpenters – and because of the early undertaker’s associations with furniture dealing, these individuals were probably more familiar to their clients and neighbours as handymen rather than being associated exclusively with death. This early picture of the undertaker developed as populations and commercial specialisation grew – as a result, undertakers were able to dedicate all of their time and effort to the one profession (Burrell 1998). As mourners required evermore elaborate funerary displays, as characterised by the mourning obsessed Victorian era, livery men joined the funerary procession. This group of merchants acted as the suppliers of the horses and carriages to transport the deceased. This in turn gave rise to the hearse bearing undertaker (Polites 2011).
All of this sounds relatively profitable, right? Multifaceted business ventures in an industry which theoretically had a steady and very reliable stream of potential clientele – particularly as the world was still coming to grips with the concept of germ theory (Tremlett 2016)… But alas, John Courtney Felton went bankrupt nonetheless (Star 20/11/1899: 2). One can only speculate as to why his business was unsuccessful.
The same fate was not met by another notable 19th century Christchurch undertaker – a prosperous business man: Herman Franz Fuhrmann, who was German. We have met Herman Franz Fuhrmann on the blog before, and it’s possible that his business success could be related to the catchiness of his name – it sounds like it was just made for a jingle! – but regardless, he managed to expand his own undertaking and cabinet making business to include a saddler, branched out into insurance, and made a killing in the sale of the Molesworth station in Marlborough.
This more capitalist version of undertaking brings us a little closer to some of the more recent attitudes toward modern funerary directors. Exposés starting in the 1960s tackled the controversy of the idea of the modern undertaking and funeral industry as a profit-driven empire – making a commodity out of death, and manipulating mourning people at their most vulnerable (Mitford, 1983). This is a large and complex debate that won’t be covered here. No price lists were found for any of the undertaking services of Felton, Dale or M’Auliffe, and their advertisements and others like them from this era seemed to focus more on being sanitary, speedy and available on short notice.
M’Auliffe is the only one of the three undertakers in question who also advertises an embalming service (Press 3/07/1903: 8). The idea of embalming corpses (the science of preserving human remains intact, for the sanitation, presentation and preservation), can be traced to at least 5000-6000 BC and the Chinchorro culture in present day Chile and Peru (Brenner 2014). Modern embalming began in the 17th century but really didn’t take off until the American Civil War, which saw soldiers dying far from home and their families wishing their bodies to be returned home for burial. The long journeys presented the need to slow down decomposition, and led to injecting various solutions into arteries of a corpse to prevent this natural process (Chiappelli, 2008). During the 19th century, arsenic was the most favoured embalming fluid, although it was eventually replaced with less toxic chemicals in the 1900s. This occurred in order to alleviate growing concerns about ground contamination from buried embalmed bodies seeping into local water supplies – not to mention the possibility of homicide cover-ups in which any evidence of arsenic poisoning could be disguised by embalming fluid (Mettler 1890). Formaldehyde eventually replaced arsenic as the favourite solution and is still used today.
M’Auliffe’s multifaceted service also appeared to have run more successfully than his predecessor Felton’s, although he also had his share of hiccups. M’Auliffe may have been a funerary director who harboured a death wish, as he was charged with riding bicycle in the street in the dead of night without a light, and a mysterious fire broke out at his premises in 1912 (also in the middle of the night), destroying his house and workshop. Luckily, the property was insured (Star 21/10/1902: 3, North Otago Times 16/10/1912: 3). Dazzling reports described a scantily-clad Mrs M’Auliffe having to make her way to the ground by a rope fire escape, “with a three-year-old child clinging to her neck. Fortunately, before making her descent she had the presence of mind to throw down a mattress, otherwise the child, who let go its hold when eight or ten feet from the ground, might have met with injury” (Star 15/10/1912: 3). I can only imagine how creepy it would have been to witness the local funeral home or mortuary burning down at the start of the 20th century!
But even without the burning building, why do we generally find the concept of an undertaker creepy, particularly one from ‘olden times’? When I hear the word ‘undertaker’ or ‘mortician’, the picture of a solitary guy in black and white, with a bit of a mad scientist vibe comes to mind. Pop culture, through the horror novel and film industry, is probably largely to blame for the demonisation of the profession, but the concept of ostracising those who handle the dead is not a new one. It can also be explained by human desire and the need to survive by disassociating one’s self with dead bodies and death. The idea has been explored by acclaimed social anthropologists such as Bronislaw Malinowski, making reference to the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of 1793, where the townsmen charged free blacks with the responsibility for picking up the dead and then “shunned them as infected, vilified them as predatory” (Burrell 1998).
Well that brings me to the end of this undertaking… Until next time…
Burrell, D. 1998. Origins of Undertaking: How antebellum merchants made death their business. Seminar in Early American History.
Brenner, E. 2014. “Human body preservation – old and new techniques.” Journal of Anatomy. Vol. 224: 316-344.
Chiappelli, J. 2008. “The Problem of Embalming”. Journal of Environmental Health 71 (5): 24.
Lamb. T. 1811. “On Burial Societies, and the Character of an Undertaker.” The Reflector: A Collection of Essays on Miscellaneous Subjects of Literature and Politics. Vol. 2. London: 1812. 143.
Free Lance. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].
Mettler, L. Harrison. “The Importance, from tire Medico-Legal Standpoint, of Distinguishing Between Somatic and Molecular Death.” Medico-Legal Journal 8 (1890): 172-79.
Mitford, J. 1983. American Way of Death. Fawcett.
New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].
New Zealand Tablet. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].
North Otago Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].
Polites, T., M. 2011. The Undertaker Undertakes [online] Available at: http://taylorpolites.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/undertaker-undertakes.html. [Accessed June 2016].
Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed June 2016].
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Tremlett, L. (2016). Medical Buildings and Medical Theory: An Archaeological Investigation of Ashburton Hospital, New Zealand. MA Thesis, University of Otago.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like oysters – they’re slimy, they look weird and they taste like the sea. So perhaps I was affected more than your average person when I recently had the task of analysing an assemblage of artefacts that provided an abundance of similarly decorated stoneware jars. These jars were all the same form, one which I had never come across before. A quick internet search determined that some collectors refer to these as ‘oyster jars’ – this was an unfamiliar term for me, and it piqued my curiosity. Further research revealed that the canning and pickling of oysters was a common enterprise in 19th century Canterbury and around the world!
Now, not being a fan of them, the idea of other people not only eating oysters, but eating old oysters, wasn’t appetising. But I looked at a few recipes online and, actually, the concept didn’t seem so bad – vinegar and cayenne pepper form a part of my regular diet…
Normally, it is difficult to determine the original contents of a vessel without manufacturer labels. In fact, jars and bottles with wide mouths like the ones from my assemblage may have been used to store or pickle any number of food or condiment varieties, or even viscous household items like glue or shoe polish. This being said, the large number of oyster shells that were found in the rubbish pit alongside the jars did suggest that these two items were related in this instance – and it is possible that the 19th century family that lived in the associated Rangiora house pickled their own oysters.
The canning and preserving of oysters has taken place since 1850 (Hunt 2010), and oysters have been a commonly consumed fresh food resource here and around the world since ancient times – their consumption can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Chinese, and they are commonly found in early Māori rubbish deposits (referred to by Māori as tio). European industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries made these slippery morsels readily available to everyone and saw them become the great unifier – enjoyed by the wealthy and the poor. It was during this period that New York became the oyster capital of the world and it is said that in any day during this late 19th century, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along the New York harbour waterfront (Happillion 2016). The catch was sold to New Yorkers everywhere from street corners to high class restaurants and in every way imaginable – in the half shell, roasted and in stews.
So ingrained were oysters in 19th century popular culture they can be seen everywhere – we witness the lure of an oyster meal for both the working class and the upper class alike in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 The Walrus and the Carpenter poem, from Through the Looking Glass. In this classic children’s story, we see the overweight and well-dressed walrus swindle the hardworking carpenter out of his oyster meal, while tricking the unlucky and naïve oysters into taking part in a buffet where they’re on the menu. Perhaps not all of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland were based on nonsense?
From the 1860s oysters were increasingly popular among European settlers in the colonies, and by the 1880s New Zealand joined the oyster craze with the emergence of the oyster saloon – otherwise known as the ‘oyster bar’, the ‘oyster house’ or the ‘raw bar’. Such establishments sought to offer the freshest and tastiest oysters available – generally claiming to provide fresh stock daily (New Zealand Tablet 7/8/1896: 14). Now this may not always have been the case – oysters were available locally in Christchurch and Lyttelton, but the ever popular Stewart Island beds were also supplying to Canterbury during this period (Star 17/4/1875: 1). It was during this time that Christchurch saw the emergence of several fine dining oyster options – Cashel Street’s Café De Paris provided not only the finest oysters night or day, but also quality beverages, operatic entertainment and a separate section for ladies. The establishment claimed to be ‘the best in the colony’ and its success lasted well into the 20th century.
At the opposite end of the etiquette scale, the more typical oyster saloon quickly became synonymous with drinking – being one of the only places to purchase cheap food late at night, as an accompaniment to beer. The phrase ‘red light’ district’ was derived from New York oyster bars, which put up red balloons to indicate that the oysters had arrived, and in London, the lighthouse building at King’s Cross flashed a beam from its turret (Smith 2015). Unsurprisingly, these establishments also developed a reputation as houses of vice – news reports from this era are frequently linked to crime –anything from publicans supplying liquor without licences (Press 2/11/1901: 7) and the use of obscene language (Star 27/7/1885: 3) to violent encounters between patrons – male and female (Press 15/7/1881: 2). There are even reports of violence between patrons and establishment owners – take this report for example: three individuals named Maloney, Larsen and Creasey (these names reminded us of some sort of gangster pantomime), got into an altercation with an oyster bar proprietor, who stabbed Maloney in the side and wounded his side-kick (Grey River Argus 26/5/1898: 4). Such reports are accompanied by letters from concerned Cantabrians, who write into the paper questioning the appropriateness of such establishments being located “under the shadow of the cathedral spire” (Star 14/3/1882: 2).
Further connections were made between the oyster’s aphrodisiac qualities and Victorian vice in the popular 19th century erotic magazine The Oyster, which was printed and distributed privately in London from 1883. This publication and its predecessor, The Pearl, were banned, and its author was prosecuted for the risqué content – which you can see for yourself did not consist of mere pictures of ladies’ ankles (reproductions of the issues are still available on Amazon. This is interesting stuff from before the times when science made the link between oysters being a food source high in zinc (which raises testosterone levels), as well as a source of rare amino acids that increase levels of sex hormones in men and women. Such nutritional values were also possibly known to 18th century Casanova – who reputedly consumed 50 oysters for breakfast daily, and claimed to have seduced 122 women. Or perhaps he was part of the tradition that saw oysters as an aphrodisiac due to their visual similarities with their form and that of the female anatomy…? (Schulman 2008).
Looking back further – Aphrodite (goddess of love and sex) was born from a mollusc shell and the ancient Roman physician, Galen of Pergamon, described oysters as aphrodisiacs because they were a food that was moist and warm… This being said, Galen said the same for all ‘windy’ foods (those which produce gas – if that’s what you’re into), and going even further back, Babylonians looking to increase sexual appetites bit the heads off partridges, ate their hearts and drank their blood, while the ancient Greeks dined on sparrow brains to produce a similar effect (Thring 2011; Camphausen 1999; Hoppe 2015). But I digress…
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the reign of the humble yet hazardous oyster saloon was not to last. One can still frequent bars that specialise exclusively in oyster delicacies in cities larger than Christchurch, but over-consumption and the subsequent depletion of our local marine resources saw the end of the oyster as an abundant, ‘cheap and cheerful’ food source. Our government began to intervene as early as 1866, with the Oyster Fisheries Act, which introduced licencing, a fishing season and the creation of artificial beds (New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18/8/1865).
As a result, oysters eventually claimed their modern status as a luxury item, to be afforded and consumed by the wealthy, or saved for special occasions. The basic idea of the oyster saloon itself evolved into what we now think of as the fish and chip shop, where we are provided with a bevy of convenient and inexpensive (and fried) seafood options. So the tradition isn’t completely dead… But maybe don’t start a bar fight on your next visit your local fish n’ chippy.
Anonymous 2016. The Oyster Vol. 1: The Victorian Underground Magazine of Erotica (online) Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Oyster-Vol-Victorian-Underground-Magazine-ebook/dp/B000MAH5H4.
Camphausen, R. C. 1999. The Encyclopaedia of Sacred Sexuality. Inner Traditions International, Rochester.
Grey River Argus. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016].
Happillion, C. 2016. The History of Oysters. [online] available at: http://theoystergourmet.com/the-story-of-oysters.
Hoppe, D. Aphrodisiacs in History. Diana Hope, M.D., INCS. [online] Available at: http://www.drdianahoppe.com/aphrodisiacs-in-history-part-1/
Hunt A., L. 2010. Fruits and Vegetables, Fish, and Oysters, Canning and Preserving. Nabu Press, Charleston.
Lincoln, M., J., B. 1884. Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book. Roberts Brothers. [online] Available at: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/books/mrslincoln/linc.pdf
New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 18 August 1865 P326
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New Zealand Tablet. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]
Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]
Shulman M., 2008. The Science of Aphrodisiacs In U.S News & World Report 19/05/2008. [online] available at: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/sexual-and-reproductive-health/articles/2008/08/19/the-science-of-aphrodisiacs [Accessed May 2016]
Smith, D. 2015. Oyster: A Gastronomic History (with Recipes). Abrams, New York.
Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed May 2016]
Thring, O., 2011. Aphrodisiacs: the food of love? In The Guardian. [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/feb/11/aphrodisiacs-food-of-love. [Accessed May 2016]
Earlier this year, we excavated a site on Armagh Street that revealed not only a large quantity of artefacts, but also a historical and material narrative set in the swampy bowels of a fledgling city, a tale of politics, commerce, secret societies, nefarious happenings and …BETRAYAL (cue ominous music). Well, maybe not those last two. And maybe not quite as melodramatic as all that.
This story, told in turns by the objects and features we found on site and the records of those who owned them, included everyone from Oddfellows and Freemasons (even the United Ancient Order of Druids) to radicals (free radicals, even!) and liberals and some of the prominent voices of early Christchurch. Among the many figures whose history formed a part of the tale of this site, one who stood out was a Mr Edward Hiorns, tinsmith, hotelier, victualler, and protagonist of this particular post.
Mr Hiorns first arrived in Christchurch in 1862 on board the Victoria. A plumber, tinsmith and metal-worker, he operated a business from premises on Armagh Street East during 1860s and 1870s. By 1872, however, he had branched out into hotel-keeping, becoming the proprietor of the Central Hotel (later the Masonic), located on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester streets. He seems to have had something of a colourful time as a hotel proprietor, appearing in the courts several times as plaintiff and defendant in cases ranging from stolen watches to bail forfeit, forgery and the inappropriate sale of alcohol.
Like so many of Christchurch’s early residents Hiorns was a man of many hats, not just in terms of how he made a living, but also in regard to his involvement in the community. Among other things, he was a prominent member of the Licensed Victuallers Association (yes, this was a thing) from the 1870s onwards, as well as involving himself in local politics, both successfully and unsuccessfully. In 1875, he ran for the city council but only managed to finagle 21 votes, a meagre offering when compared to the winning candidate’s 634. Not one to be easily put off, though, he ran again successfully in the 80s and 90s. Hiorns was also a member of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association in the 1860s, a liberal organisation that aimed to assist working men with the purchase of land (an important part of socio-political independence and status at the time).
On top of all this, he was also active in the Oddfellows society, attaining the rank of Provincial Grand Master, an occurrence which seems to have been something of a prerequisite for the residents of Armagh Street in the 19th century (no, seriously, they’re ALL Oddfellows and I have the flowchart to prove it). If they weren’t Oddfellows, they were Freemasons, and if they weren’t Freemasons there’s every possibility that they were Druids. To modern ears, these societies (and their unbelievably amazing names, thank you “The Mistletoe Lodge of Druids”) sound incredibly anachronistic, but they were one of the major vehicles by which people (when I say people, I mean men, sadly) interacted with and supported each other. In the case of the Oddfellows, that support was largely aimed at the working classes. Ostensibly apolitical, they also likely fostered the growth of political ideas and movements enacted outside of the organisations, helped by the membership of men like W. S. Moorhouse, W. Rolleston, Rowland Davis, William Pember Reeves and many others.
The initial date of Hiorns’ arrival at our site on Armagh Street is a bit unclear, thanks to the existence of the similarly named Mr W. Hyorns, who leased the section in 1867 and may be the same person, a completely different person or a 19th century typo made flesh. Nevertheless, we know that he was active on Armagh Street in the 1870s and had leased the section on which our site was located by at least 1878 (for the period of 14 years, at the grand total of £20 a year; LINZ 1878: 337). Interestingly, one of the clauses of his lease was that he had to make £1000 pounds of improvements to the section at his own expense over the following two years, suggesting that he had a reasonable yearly income at the time (this is a LOT of money for the time). As it turns out, he later went on to buy and reside in Linwood House, the super fancy Georgian/Regency style house first built for Joseph Brittan. Pretty good for a tinsmith turned hotelier.
From historic photographs and maps, we know that between 1878 and 1884, significant modifications were made to the site. Two smaller buildings that are present on an 1877 map have, by 1884, been replaced with a large two storey brick townhouse (visible in the image below). It seems likely that this building tied into Hiorns’s £1000 pounds of modification to the section. Unfortunately, we found no structural evidence of either this building or the earlier one during our excavations. What we did find, however, were several other archaeological features, including a large depression to the rear to the building that was completely and utterly filled with artefacts (unfortunately for us, this was the asbestos site was we’ve talked about previously on the blog, in the case of which more definitely wasn’t merrier). A smaller, rectangular pit feature was also found at the front of the section, containing a large quantity of tin and iron and a handful of artefacts, in addition to another small rubbish pit filled with domestic artefacts.
While it is difficult to associate the features found on the site with any one resident during the 19th century, it is almost certain that some of them were deposited by Hiorns and his family, including some of the 1037 artefacts found in the large depression to the rear of the building. That particular feature looks to have been used for the disposal of rubbish over an unknown period of time, based on the presence of small concentrations of objects within the feature as a whole, the size of the assemblage, and the wide range of manufacturing dates found among the artefacts. Many of the artefact dates, however, fit in well with the period in which Hiorns was resident on the section. On top of this, the assemblage contained a large number of alcohol bottles and several artefacts which are considered to be “higher status” items, or objects more often associated with people of reasonable wealth. It would make sense for the man who a) ran a hotel and wine bar and was in court more than once on alcohol related charges and b) later purchased the prestigious Linwood House, to have owned items like these.
The assemblage also contained large quantities of ceramic tea and table wares, as well as household and hygienic items like chamber pots, wash basins and ointment pots, a quantity of shoes and fabric, food containers, pharmaceutical bottles and children’s artefacts. One of the most interesting finds, however, was a cluster of clay tobacco pipes that included pipes with political motifs as decoration. These pipes – bearing the name and bust of William Gladstone, liberal English politician, and the name of Garibaldi, famously nationalist and progressive Italian general – can easily be tied into Hiorns’ political engagement (which I sort of alluded to above, but haven’t had time to go into detail about) and the politically charged narrative of this entire Armagh Street site (which I definitely haven’t had time to go into). They’re an example of material culture that is actively entangled with the more intangible ideas and ideals of the people and society by which they are made and used (a topic for another day, I think).
I may have started this post with a melodramatic paragraph that reads more as pulp fiction than historical narrative, but in truth, the story of Edward Hiorns (and all of the residents of this block of Armagh Street) is not all that sensational. What it is, however, is a tale we come across all the time in Christchurch. There are many interesting themes to be found in the archaeological and historical records of his life, but two of the most interesting from my perspective are the way he “improved” his situation in life, so to speak, and the way he involved himself so readily in the governance and development of the city in which he had settled. It’s a combination that we see again and again in the lives of Christchurch residents from the 19th century.
People talk a lot about the fluidity of class and social affluence in the 19th century, especially in colonial settlements like New Zealand, and the significance of the capitalist ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ in the prospering of Victorian society. These are both more than evident in the case of Mr Edward Hiorns (and Mr Jamieson, and Mr Ruddenklau and Reverend Fisher). What is just as evident, however, is the active engagement made by people like Hiorns with the present and future of the community in which they lived – be it at the local, national or global level. I could, with the aid of Mr Hiorns and others, very easily take you all down the rabbit hole with me here into the fascinating world of political and social change in 19th century Christchurch (the labour movement! radicalism! women’s suffrage!) and the lives of the people who fought to change the world around them, but that is too much for any one blog post, let alone this one. Nevertheless, it bears remembering that theirs were the hands that shaped a city and, though the city, helped to shape a nation.
LINZ, c. 1850. Deeds Index – A – Christchurch town sections and town reserves. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Office.
McAloon, J., 2000. The Christchurch elite. In Cookson, J. and Dunstall, G., eds). Southern Capital Christchurch: Towards a City Biography, 1850-2000., pp. 193-221. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.
Wright, G. R. 1998. The Petty Bourgeoisie in Colonial Canterbury; A Study of the Canterbury Working Mans’ Political Protection and Mutual Improvement Association (1865-66) and the Canterbury Freehold Land Association. MA Thesis, University of Canterbury.
Papers Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.