2020: what a dumpster fire of a year

This is the third end of year blog post that I (Clara) have written, and just as I started writing it one of our interns dropped her lunch all over the floor as she was putting it in the microwave: if that’s not a metaphor for 2020, then I don’t know what is… This year I’ve decided to divide our final blog post for the year into four parts.

A distant golden past

January and February feel like a lifetime ago. We farewelled our 2019/2020 interns Bex and Christy and welcomed our new archaeologist, Jon, from the UK. We excavated sites, analysed artefacts and I wrote about bottle use on the blog.

Jon from the UK. The first photo I took of him was holding a chamber pot- there’s definitely a joke about 2020 in there somewhere…

Jamie taught Rebecca how to record buildings.

We excavated a site that contained several rubbish pits chock full of medicinal bottles. We later worked out that a pharmacist was living on the site in the early 20th century, and that the pits were likely commercial dumps from his business.

I think Angel is cracking Michael’s back in this photo (but really who knows what’s going on here).

Michael had a chicken show up on his site. Kirsa questioned whether or not a chicken showing up on site was a highlight of 2020, but we decided that it definitely was.

As was the mummified rat that Jamie found, which now lives on top of the bookshelf.

Overall, this year has been a pretty good one for artefacts, but everything I analysed during the first couple of months of the year was pretty standard.

It’s the Coronaaaavirus

We started the week of the 23rd of March trialling working from home and by the Wednesday we were in Level 4. Some of us loved working from home (mostly those with pets), others missed the malaise of the office. We all learnt to use zoom and to organise our workday around the 1pm Ashley Bloomfield Show. Luckily for us, for every hour we spend in the field there’s several spent in the office drawing up plans, writing up reports and analysing finds, so most of us were able to work right through.

Did you really work from home if you didn’t attend at least one zoom meeting?

NZ Archaeology Week was held during lockdown. As part of our online events, we posted daily colouring in photos of artefacts. Kurt Bennett came up with this great masterpiece.

I got creative in how to maximise productivity when working in a confined space (while trying not to ruin the landlord’s carpets).

And Angel discovered evidence of aliens* while working on an essential project during Level 4.
*not actually evidence of aliens- we think these rings are from potato clamps.*

There were some cool artefacts analysed during this period. Most interesting was a site occupied from the 1850s that contained ceramics made between the 1840s and 1860s. It’s not often that we get features dating to the start of Christchurch’s (European) settlement. Within that site, the Fox and The Lion pattern based on Aesop’s Fable of the same name was a highlight (top left). Other cool artefacts included a slate tablet with writing still legible (bottom left), a pipe section with finger impressions of the person who made it (bottom right), a Vanes Patent bottle (interesting because I hadn’t come across that patent before; top centre right) and a 1902 coronation medal (top centre left).

Post-lockdown world

Between the 27th of April, when we moved down to Level 3, and the 8th of June, when we went down to Level 1, we packed up our home offices and moved back to the office in drips and drabs. Fieldwork resumed and we headed back out to site armed with facemasks and the contact tracing app. Over the following few months life went back to being relatively normal. During this time we farewelled Jon from the UK, who moved back home after 2020 turned out not to be the year to shift to the other side of the world.

Tristan showing off his post-lockdown baking body.

Wendy wasn’t thrilled about Michael’s new hobby being brought into the office.

Megan got to break the bubble and do some scenic fieldwork.

We learnt about asbestos.

Earthworks finally got underway at the Cathedral site. Kirsa monitored the work from the safety of a purpose-built cage.

Angel found this gorgeous Sicilian patterned ewer (and was definitely thrilled about it).

It was during this time that I analysed my favourite site of 2020. The site had many complete or nearly complete artefacts and lots of children’s artefacts. Highlights within the assemblage included a kyusu, a plate made for the American export market and this classical shaped glass vase.

And while we’re talking about artefacts, this clay pipe stem would have to be my top artefact of 2020. It might not look like much, but there’s an amazing story behind it and if you haven’t read our blog on it, then I highly recommend that you do (link here).

Holy Smokes It’s Busy

Much as the New Zealand housing market has spiralled out of control these past few months, we’ve also seen our workloads increasing. Projects that were delayed due to lockdown resumed, as well as new ones starting. From around September on it’s been a bit like ships in the night with people passing by the office on their way to and from sites. Even I abandoned artefact analysis and spent much of October and November in the field. This has meant that our social media outreach has dropped off a lot these past few months. Our new years’ resolution for 2021 is to actually stick to our posting schedule… Christchurch Heritage Festival fell during these busy months, and we partnered with The Arts Centre to host an exhibition showcasing artefacts found during the restoration works. The exhibition was a success, with hundreds of people viewing the artefacts on display.

Jamie and Rebecca ended the year the way they started it, recording buildings together.

I kid you not, Angel found a Turkish Bath from the 19th century a few weeks ago. This is probably the coolest feature that we found in 2020 and I promise you that we will definitely do a blog post on it next year.

In other cool finds, Megan found a boiler. Unfortunately, it was a bit too big to fit in an artefact bag…

I found a gully (among other things- if you know, you know). The gully matched the location of one shown in an 1850s map and looked to have been infilled around the 1860s-70s. The site it’s from had an interesting history and we found some cool stuff, so this is another site that I promise we’ll do a full blog post on next year.

Jamie found a time capsule in the form of a pickle jar embedded in the foundation stone of one of her buildings. We enlisted the help of the contractors to get it out.

Our exhibition at The Arts Centre.

We still found time for some office malaise. Here Angel is teaching us how to metal detect.

We welcomed back Bex, who interned with us last summer, and we welcomed Neda, our new intern. Neda was thrilled to be given the job of setting up our unique Christmas tree.

Kirsa decided she was done with 2020 and took a nap in the meeting room.

While we put Annthalina in a box.

The Colleen Bawn pipe was my favourite artefact of 2020, but this chicken waterer is definitely my second favourite!

There’s been some cool finds just the past two weeks- lots of lamps, a military button, a spinning top, tiles with mutant dolphin ship sails and a curry paste jar. Other interesting finds from the latter months of the year have included a creepy dolls head (because creepy doll’s heads are always cool) and wooden skipping rope handles. Again, probably more on these next year!

From everyone here at UnderOver, wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Clara Watson

Two paths on the way home

Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.    

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Port Hills may not be mountains as such, but they formed a formidable barrier for the first European Settlers. Of course, Māori had a number of well-established trails across the landscape prior to European settlement. Many of these paths were used by European settlers and take the form of many of the landmarks and main roads of our modern city. While there are many paths taken by European settlers in the mid-19th century, two of the most important are the Bridle Path and the Sumner Road.

The history of these two paths is intertwined. When Captain Joseph Thomas selected the sites of Lyttelton and Christchurch on behalf of the Canterbury Association in 1849, he was faced with the difficult task of establishing a navigable path between the new port and township. After much deliberation, the route selected ran from the eastern end of the Lyttelton township along the Tapuaeharuru cliffs into Sumner. Due to the lack of local labour, Captain Thomas initially brought 120 Māori workmen from the North Island to cut the wide track from Lyttleton to Sumner using pick and shovel. The workmen cut an initial bridle path out towards Officers Point, filling up gullies as they went along. The toughest part of the construction was the section of road above what is today the Cashin Quay breakwater, where the workmen had to blast through solid rock to form a pathway. This was a monumental task which took a significant amount of time to accomplish, and the area came to be known as the “Sticking Point”. A review of accounts of the work carried out on the Sumner Road between 1849 and 1851 suggests that £4,730 was spent on the heavy excavation work and £360 was spend on forming the line, while a further £405 was spent on constructing retaining walls and £83 spent on drainage (Lyttelton Times, 16/5/1855: 9). This suggests that not only were the workmen blasting through the stone and forming up the line of the road, but they were also constructing drains and retaining walls.

By March 1850 Thomas had spent all of the £20,000 that the Canterbury Association had allocated for public works. When John Robert Godley arrived in April 1850, the depleted state of the funds forced him to suspend all but maintenance work on the Sumner Road (Ogilvie, 2009: 33-34). Although work had been halted on the Sumner Road, the anticipated arrival of the Canterbury Pilgrims at the end of 1850, meant there was still an urgent need to provide access to Christchurch and the plains.

As a temporary measure, Captain Thomas decided to improve the small track on the western end of the Lyttelton township, beginning at Ticehurst Road and leading up over the hills into the Heathcote Valley. With a budget of just £300, a work gang of 70 European and Māori workmen, a hastily constructed the path up the long spur and down into the valley. This track quickly became known as “The Bridle Path” (Amodeo, 2001: 152-153; Ogilvie, 2009: 34, 105; Height and Straubel, 1965: 122-123; Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 6)

The Bridle Path became a flurry of activity as the majority of the newly arrived immigrants disembarked and travelled over the Port Hills into Christchurch. Most accounts of the path at this time express dissatisfaction with the rough, hastily cut track. Edward Ward, who had arrived in Lyttelton on board the Charlotte Jane, indicated that “The little tract, which formed a sort of bay between the spurs of the hills, was of most irregular quality” (Ogilvie, 2009: 123). The steep gradient of the path meant that the majority of the trip had to be taken on foot with horses being dismounted and led over the steep summit. For most of the immigrants this meant carrying their possessions on their backs, though regular communication between port and plain by means of pack horses was established in January 1851 (Height and Straubel, 1965: 184; Lyttelton Times 18/1/1851: 5). The Canterbury Association appear to have continued to undertake some improvements to the Bridle Path during the first few years of the fledging settlement. Although the full extent of these works is not clear, in August 1852 a Mr Thompson was able to successfully drive the first empty two-horse dray over the Bridle Path (Lyttelton Times 1/2/1851: 3, 29/1/1851: 5, 12/4/1851: 2, 21/8/1852: 7, 10). Despite the success of Thompson’s inaugural cart trip, the path was still considered too dangerous for more than foot traffic and the occasional horse (Lyttelton Times 7/1/1854: 8, 16/5/1855: 6; Press 23/5/1914: 8).

By the end of 1864 the road board had spent £332 14s in maintaining and upgrading the Bridle Path (Press 5/1/1865: 3). The Heathcote Road Board continued to maintain and upgrade the Bridle Path for the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century (Lyttelton Times 6/1/1876: 1, 2/2/1882: 1, 13/3/1883: 1, 23/3/1886: 1, 30/9/1902: 6; Press 5/9/1872: 3, 9/5/1891: 3, 8/6/1896: 6, 14/2/1903: 9; Star 20/3/1874: 2, 28/4/1877: 2). The path remains a highly popular walking track today, although largely for more recreational uses. If you’re a pretty fit individual it could be a way to avoid that morning commute.

Going back to the Sumner Road, following the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act in 1852, the newly formed Canterbury Provincial Council took over the authority for the formation and maintenance of the roads throughout Canterbury. The Council’s Ordinance of 1854 established a Lyttelton and Christchurch Road Commission to determine the best means of communication between the sea port and the interior. The commissioners confirmed that, despite the cost, the route via Evans Pass and Sumner which had initially been selected by Captain Thomas in 1849 was indeed the best option. However, they also determined that the portion of the line extending between Polhil’s Bay and Evans Pass should be constructed on a lower elevation (Lyttelton Times, 22/4/1854: 14). This new line of road was surveyed to the east of the original line in 1855 (Lyttelton Times, 12/11/1866: 3). This line of road is today known as the Old Sumner Road.

It took a further three years for the Provincial Council to form the Sumner Road from Lyttelton to Christchurch into a navigable path. During this time, the residents of Lyttelton appear to have become exasperated with the council’s efforts, for under their own volition they utilised prison labour to improve the drainage of part of the Sumner Road by installing necessary culverts and gratings (Lyttelton Times, 16/8/1856: 6, 12/11/1856: 7). The road was officially opened on Monday 24 August 1857 (Lyttelton Times, 26/8/1857: 4). Despite the success of the inaugural trip, it proved a perilous endeavour which indicated that the provincial council would have to undertake further works and invest more money before the road could be considered complete to a standard to allow carts to safety navigate (Lyttelton Times, 5/9/1857: 1, 9/1/1858: 4). By the end of the decade cart traffic along the road was steadily increasing (Lyttelton Times, 29/10/1859: 3).

As motorcar traffic increased after the turn of the century it became necessary to remove the dangerous zig-zag corners at Evan’s Pass by blasting a new straighter route. In 1913, it was decided that this new route was to extend from Captain Thomas’s original line of the Sumner Road (Press, 19/9/1913: 4). It was at this time that the line of road that had been laid out on the lower elevation on the advice of the Lyttelton and Christchurch Road Commission in 1854 (now known as the old Sumner Road) was abandoned. The new Sumner Road route to the summit was completed in 1916 (Ogilvie, 2009: 36).

Aerial imagery from 1925-1929 showing the diversion of Sumner Road. Old Sumner Road is visible as the lower road in the image. Image: Canterbury Maps, 2020.

After the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, the Sumner Road was badly damaged, with tonnes of rock falling on the road. A massive repair project took place from 2015/2016 to 2019, and the original 19th century portion of the road, from Lyttelton to the start of the 1916 route, was monitored by an archaeologist. Excavations for the repairs of the road and retaining walls exposed larger sections of infilling using crushed and whole red scoria rock. Given the historic references to the infilling of gullies, it seems likely that locally sourced rock, much of it likely from the blasting of the rock for the roadway, was used for this purpose.

Rocks on the road as seen during a site visit before the repair works in 2016. Image: K. Webb.

The excavation behind one of the 20th century retaining walls. The red scoria fill recorded in this area is visible on the left and across the excavation area. Image: M. Hickey.

Interestingly, at least two drains constructed within the 19th century portion of Sumner Road had been constructed with locally cut and shaped red scoria blocks. Supporting this are newspapers references, including one mentioning the services of a mason to repair a drain after it was damaged by a cart (Press, 10/4/1872: 3). The use of this material is not unusual within the context of Lyttelton, as we have also found that an early drain (built in 1857) located within the Gaol complex was also constructed of red scoria. The drains found on Sumner Road were square with large red scoria blocks cut on the inner, top, base and side surfaces, but left uncut and rough on the outer sides. The use of these drains was evident as the base stones had well worn grooves cut by the water trickling through over time.

Looking down on the top of one of the drains. Image: M. Hickey.

Looking through the remainder of the red scoria drain while still in situ. Image: M. Hickey.

Rockfall remains a risk in some surrounding areas of the Bridle Path, but the path was used by a number of people in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake as both Sumner Road and the tunnel were closed. Recent works on the path for service renewal exposed a number of different stone and clay based track and fill layers. However, given the popularity and age of the track, the track was subject to many upgrades and repairs over time so these layers could be attributed to any phase of activity occurring in the 19th or 20th century. While we might not have too many subsurface finds that tell us about the settlers who used the track, the track itself is a recorded archaeological site and is a visible reminder of the challenge posed by the Port Hills.

The Bridle Path in 2020. Image: J. Whitmore.

A 20th century culvert with stone and clay fill around, and natural clay beneath. Image: M. Hickey.

By Megan Hickey and Lydia Mearns.


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.

Height, J. and Straubel, C.R. eds., 1965. A History of Canterbury. Volume 1: T ed. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs.

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

New Zealander, 1845-1866. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

Ogilvie, G., 2009. The Port Hills of Christchurch. Christchurch, N.Z.: Philips & King.

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

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

The Archaeology of The Arts Centre

Last week on the blog we gave a brief history of the Arts Centre. Following on from that, today we’re going to be having a look at the archaeology of the site. This blog is related to our exhibition Art of Archaeology on now at the Arts Centre as part of the Christchurch Heritage Festival. If you haven’t already been, then head down to the Boys High building and see some of the artefacts found during the archaeological monitoring of earthquake repair works at the Arts Centre! The exhibition is on until the 8th of November.

As a historic area that was occupied in the nineteenth century (see last week’s blog for more info on that), The Arts Centre meets Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s definition of an archaeological site- a place associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand. The 2014 Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act protects all New Zealand archaeological sites and states that an archaeological authority is needed if a site is to be modified or destroyed. Because of this, archaeologists from Underground Overground Archaeology have worked alongside contractors to monitor the repair works, recording any archaeology and recovering any artefacts found during the works.

Most of the earthworks we’ve monitored have been minor. They include things like digging new footings for repairing building foundations or trenching for installing new services. The nature of these types of earthworks means that if you love photographs of deep excavation units with beautifully excavated features and nice clean stratigraphic profiles then you’re going to be out of luck!

Having said that, there’s something pretty cool about a digger inside a building- it just looks so out of place! Image: Megan Hickey.

Repairing foundations in the engineering building. This was too tight a spot to get the digger in, so the contractors are excavating by hand. Image: Julia Hughes.

Love a trench! This one is outside the biology and physics buildings. Image: Julia Hughes.

We found a variety of things from the different earthworks that we monitored. In the dry cavities between the walls and floors of the buildings we found many well-preserved paper artefacts including some relating to the university and a rather extensive collection of cigarette boxes!

Paper artefacts found within the buildings from the Arts Centre. Top left is The Elements. The Elements is attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid and is thought to have been originally published in ca. 300 BC. The textbook is arguably the most famous mathematics book ever to be written and was considered a fundamental text for students in the nineteenth century. This copy was well-loved, with calculations written in pencil on the back page of the book. Top right is an invitation to the 1955 Arts Ball. Middle and bottom rows are just some of the many cigarette and match boxes that we found- Capstan seems to have been a favourite though: Images: Emma Warwick, Clara Watson.

Throughout the site we found lots of nineteenth century artefact scatter. These were small fragments of artefacts located within the layers of the site’s stratigraphy, with no association to specific deposits or features. It is highly likely that this scatter represents the everyday objects that were used by the residents of the site before the Canterbury College was built on the site (see last week’s blog for more info). These artefacts were probably originally deposited in rubbish pits, like we normally find on domestic sites, but the construction of the university likely disturbed and re-deposited the material, creating the layer of artefact scatter that we then found during our archaeological monitoring.

A small glimpse of the nineteenth century artefact scatter that we found in the various trenches we monitored across the site. As you can see, most of the artefacts are heavily fragmented with only a small portion of the original vessel remaining intact. Image: Emma Warwick

The most exciting thing that we found, at least in my opinion, is Feature 1. It might just look like a humble rubbish pit, but this feature was filled with scientific glass ware and was located near the location of the Old Tin Shed.

Feature 1 after it was first exposed by the digger. Image: Peter Mitchell.

Feature 1 during excavation. Some of the test tubes found in the feature can be seen in the centre of the pit. Image: Peter Mitchell.

While the gothic stone buildings may be the legacy of Canterbury College, the first university building was constructed from corrugated iron and known colloquially as the Old Tin Shed. Professors had arrived in Christchurch in the mid-1870s, prior to the construction of the first buildings, and were teaching out of temporary accommodations. The arrival of the new professor of chemistry, Alexander William Bickerton, created a need for a laboratory, and the Old Tin Shed provided the solution. Built in 1876/77, the Old Tin Shed was reminiscent of a rustic farm building.

The Old Tin Shed, a very different style of building to the gothic ones surrounding it. The foundations we found matched up with the footprint of the building. Image: University of Canterbury.

Despite being intended as a temporary solution, the Old Tin Shed remained standing for 40 years until 1916, when it was demolished, and the present-day North Quad was created. It was thought that the building was completely demolished, but during our excavations in the North Quad we found regularly spaced brick features that we think might have been piles from the building’s foundations.

Brick piles from the Old Tin Shed building, uncovered during excavations in the North Quad. Image: J. Hughes.

Ernest Rutherford, famous for splitting the atom and winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908, would have undertaken experiments in the Old Tin Shed during his years of study at Canterbury College. And it’s possible that the scientific glass ware that we found may have been used by Rutherford in his experiments!

A small selection of the many fragments of science glass found in the feature. All up we recovered 167 fragments of scientific glass ware from the feature, representing over 100 test tubes, beakers and ampoules. We’ve chosen not to clean the scientific glass ware so that residue analysis remains a possibility for future research on the assemblage. Image: Clara Watson.

.Thanks to The Arts Centre for collaborating with us to produce this exhibition, and to Christchurch City Council for providing funding. As archaeologists we spend most of our time uncovering stories from the past, so it’s great to have opportunities like Heritage Festival to share them with the general public.

Clara Watson

The Arts Centre

The annual Christchurch Heritage Festival is currently taking place and this year we’ve partnered with The Arts Centre to produce an exhibition showcasing some of the artefacts found during archaeological monitoring of the earthquake repair works at The Arts Centre. The exhibition is located upstairs in the Boys High building and is on until the 8th of November. As well as cool and unusual artefacts, we also have a children’s table set up with fun activities for the kids! If you’re based in and around Christchurch, then we’d love to see you come down and explore!

Keeping with the theme of our Heritage Festival exhibition, this week and next week we’re going to be looking at The Arts Centre on the blog. This week we’ll go over the history of the site and next week we’ll take a closer look at the archaeology and what we’ve found.

Our exhibition at The Arts Centre! Image: C. Watson.

While The Arts Centre is best known for the Gothic Revival buildings that were built as part of the Canterbury College, the site was occupied long before that. Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and later Ngāi Tahu used the network of swamps and waterways of the Christchurch area as mahinga kai/food gathering places, and as temporary resting spots along kā ara tawhito/traditional travel routes. Several kāinga or pā were also located in the central Christchurch area, including the nearby Ōtautahi, which remains a Māori name for the city.

Ōtautahi, before the modern city of Christchurch was built. Image: Maclure, Macdonald & Macgregor, Lith, London. Lyttelton, Published by Martin G. Heywood, [ca 1855]. Ref: D-001-032. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23051035

In 1848, Henry Kemp organised the sale of land from Ngāi Tahu to the British crown, in what was known as Kemp’s Deed. Following this, the land was subdivided by Edward Jolie in 1850 into town sections. The land the Arts Centre now occupies consisted of 22 town sections bordered by Worcester Boulevard, Rolleston Ave, Hereford Street and Montreal Street. This land was not initially intended to be the site of a university but was instead offered for sale to private landowners.

British settlers arriving in Christchurch via Lyttelton purchased the town sections and built houses on them from the 1850s into the 1880s. These settlers included a farmer, chaplain, builder, lawyer, surveyor, saddler, accountant, carpenter and a “gentleman”, along with their families. By 1877, 23 houses and out-buildings had been constructed on the site.

The site of what would become the Arts Centre in 1877. The town sections are numbered in red whilst the black shows the buildings that were located on the site when the map was created. Image: Strouts 1877.

One of the more interesting settlers living at the site was the Reverend Henry Torlesse. Rev. Torlesse purchased four of the town sections bordering Worcester Boulevard in January 1864. Torlesse arrived in Lyttelton on board the Minerva in 1853 to join his brother on his farm in Rangiora. He was ordained in Christchurch in 1859. Rev. Torlesse worked briefly in Okains Bay, where he set up a successful school, before he took up the position of chaplain in Christchurch for the local gaol, hospital, and lunatic asylum in 1864, which likely spurred his purchase of the central town sections on which he built his house. As well as his work as a chaplain, Rev. Torlesse taught lessons in Latin and English to pupils that boarded in his residence on Worcester Boulevard. Torlesse’s private schooling was the first use of the site as a place of education. Rev. Torlesse, along with others, also established a woman’s refuge on corner of Hereford Street and Rolleston Ave. During Torlesse’s work as chaplain he came across many destitute women, who were often driven into prostitution, and he saw the need for the establishment of a women’s refuge in the city. A building for the women’s refuge was constructed on the site by December 1864, and the refuge operated from that building until 1876 when it moved to a different premise elsewhere in the city.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any images of the block from this period, but no doubt the street would have looked something like this. This photo shows Armagh Street looking west to Hagley Park, with Deans Bush visible in the background. Image: Barker, Alfred Charles (Dr), 1819-1873. Armagh Street, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-022719-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22343733.

Following Rev. Torlesse’s death in 1870, the trustees of his estate sold the land to William Rolleston, Superintendent of Canterbury, in October 1873 for the site of a college and for other educational purposes. The idea of establishing a college dated back to the beginning of the Canterbury settlement in 1848, with 47 of the original 53 members of the Canterbury Association being alumni from either Cambridge or Oxford University and wishing to set up a similar institute in Christchurch. It was not until 1871 that the Canterbury Collegiate Union, formed by trustees of the Canterbury Museum and Christ’s College, became formally affiliated with the University of New Zealand and begun offering classes, temporarily held in Christ’s College’s classrooms.

In January 1874, Benjamin Mountfort was awarded the contract to design the first buildings for the new college, with the first stone building (The Clock Tower), opened in 1877. The buildings were designed in the High Victorian Collegiate Gothic style using basalt from the Port Hills and limestone from Oamaru. Between 1876 and 1926 the Canterbury College purchased and built on the rest of the town sections on the block. Christchurch Girls and Boys High Schools, opened in 1878 and 1881, were constructed to prepare students for higher levels of study, whilst later buildings connected to specific fields of study were built over the next four decades.

Canterbury College in 1880. The Canterbury Museum can be seen as well (along with an excellent penny farthing) Image: Canterbury University College and Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. Foxley Norris album. Ref: PA1-q-094-103. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22897824

In 1957 the University of Canterbury, as it was now officially called, begun the move to Ilam, which provided a bigger site for the expanding university. By the 1970s, the university had left the site and the Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust officially became the owner. The Arts Centre provided a space for Christchurch creatives for around 35 years, until the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes severely damaged the historic buildings.

Next week on the blog we’ll be taking a look at the archaeology of the Arts Centre, in the meant time head down and check out the exhibition for yourself!

Clara Watson


This brief history of the Arts Centre was written using information from Strange, G. 1994. The Arts Centre of Christchurch: Then and Now. Clerestory Press, Christchurch.

It is all art to me

*advisory note. This blog includes mention of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and suicide*


The parallels between art and archaeology are closely interwoven. If you were to study art history in school or university, or even for personal enjoyment read Grombrich’s The Story of Art (now in its 16th printing with over 8 million copies – it’s worth a read), you will find that archaeology is at the beginning of the history of art (Grombrich, 2006). Through rock art and decorated objects, the story of art starts as part of its contemporary life and later, much later, whether as a fragment or in its full form, the work lives on as art and archaeology providing part of that all-important interpretation of our social narrative. So, when does art become archaeology? Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History form a trinity covering the analysis and retrieval of material culture, the patterns of use through cultural meaning, norms and values, and an interpretation of aesthetic value through visual means. So, does something stop being art and become archaeology? No, not really.  It is how it is researched, curated, or presented to us, either in a gallery or museum, that creates a norm or a value on how we interpret it.

The art in archaeology, as presented in art history, continues to be an influence and inspiration to many artists. However, it can be a complex of cultural appropriation, and then there is the discussion of taking something out of its context and placing it in a museum or gallery (really this is a whole other blog post) and then also the concept of ‘found art’… (see below- another blog post, but don’t hold me to it as they may be a bit of an unravel).  But this is a blog about archaeology, and the purpose of this post today is a far simpler story of a historian (and part-time artist) finding artists in archaeology.

‘I’m going to pick it up’ T. Wadsworth, 2020. Instagram image of found art by A. E. Gibson, 2020.

It should not have been a surprise to me (but it was) when through the course of my work supporting archaeologists with their research and report writing, that a distinctive cursive form was appearing in archaeological site record forms. It was type of handwriting that when reading it you could almost hear a halting, but knowledgeable, voice, aware of differences, a script suited to the canvas. All the forms were signed with an artistic flourish of ‘T. Fomison’, Tony Fomison. My colleagues were like ‘yeah he was an archaeologist’ and I was ‘nah he was an artist’! It could be said that whilst my colleagues and myself were vaguely aware of Fomison’s other professional pursuits, we were all conditioned by our respective education, meaning that our perception of Fomison’s skill set was that art, or archaeology, was the dominant force in his career. In my case Fomison’s work had been part of my art and design education focusing on New Zealand art. I had known of his connection to Māori rock art but always as an artist.

An ArchSite record written by Tony Fomison in 1859. Image: ArchSite: M36/6, 1959.

Born Anthony Leslie Fomison in Christchurch 1939, Fomison was the eldest of five children. His father, who served with the second Echelon to Maadi Camp and Italy during the war, was a tram driver who later worked at the Dunlop factory in Christchurch. Fomison’s mother worked at the Christchurch public hospital. Fomison grew up in Linwood and was not a well child. It was his mother that encouraged the young Fomison to draw (Fomison, 1994). It was during his time at Linwood High School that the ‘bookish’ Fomison started to cultivate his interest in archaeology and photography, compiling photographic essays. Fomison went on to study sculpture at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts from 1957-1960, avoiding a boilermaker apprenticeship, and, from there, went on to work for the Canterbury Museum as an archaeological assistant (Fomison, 1994). Here, between 1959 and 1962, Fomison cultivated his essayist style of photography, which resulted in work such as documenting the eeling season at Wairewa/Lake Forsyth (Fomison, 1994).

Hocken Snapshop (15th Apr 2020). Forsyth, Lake – Outlet 1958 Eeling Season “At the end of the day’s work”. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 15th Oct 2020 14:04, from https://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/11439.

In 1959 Fomison had been endorsed by Canterbury Museum archaeologist Roger Duff. Along with Owen Wilkes (later a prominent peace activist) and others, on behalf of the museum and Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga), they surveyed the Māori rock art in South Canterbury (Fomison, 1994). It has to be noted that a Theo Schoon had traversed the area in 1947, and made his presence known by scrawling his signature on the limestone rocks at Craigmore (Byrt, 2019). Theodorus Johannes “Theo” Schoon was an Aotearoa New Zealand artist, photographer, and carver interested in Māori art, carving, geothermal activity. He also performed Javanese dance (Skinner, 2000). You could say Schoon held a forthright approach to everything and everyone in his life. Schoon was described by Anthony Byrt in 2019, on the release of his biography by Damain Skinner, as being ‘hinged on whether he’s master or mulch’, in as many words, lacking self-awareness and an artistic agenda that divided many of his acquaintances on his work and insistence (wanted or not) on providing advice (Byrt, 2019). I have tried to be measured in my appraisal of Schoon but Byrt’s colourful take on the artist can be read here.

Fomison recorded the archaeological work in field books, took tracings, and completed a card index of over 450 entries, creating a body of work that must be viewed as a ‘vital component’ that would stand alone archaeologically and provide a wealth of process to his art (Fomison, 1994). The relationship with Duff and the museum was terminated in 1962. Fomsion continued to work from time to time in an archaeological capacity with fieldwork in Taranaki in 1980 and in Rotorua in 1981 (Fomison, 1994). The amount of work that Fomison covered in three years in Canterbury and Banks Peninsula was vast, and archaeology was an aspect of his career that was never far away and was revisited, including the controversial artist Theo Shoon, throughout his life. In 1987 Fomison published an article in the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) newsletter on the topic of Shoon and the retouching of rock art (Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2015). Shoon was accused of having retouched rock drawings during his work recording them. Fomison reviewed the evidence and found it was clear that Shoon had modified some of the work as a ‘restoration dot for dot’ in Shoon’s words (who I imagine did not have an awareness of his white saviour mentality) (Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2019).

It was from 1961 that Fomison started to focus more on his art, using painting as his main medium. In 1963 Fomison was awarded a travel grant by the Arts Advisory Board and travelled to England in 1964. Not a lot of work was produced and Fomison’s travels included a trip to Spain, then joining an ‘Apache’ street gang in Paris. Here Fomison drew pavement art for tourists. Fomison was later imprisoned and subsequently sent back to England. In England a drug habit found Fomison hospitalised at London’s Banstead Hospital. While hospitalised, Fomison began to paint again  (Fomison, 1994). In 1967 Fomison was aided in his return to New Zealand, moving back to Christchurch and living on Riccarton Road with fellow artist Philip Clairmont. Clairmont, Fomison, and Napier based artist Allen Maddox formed a defiant grouping called the ‘Militant Artists Union’ (McAloon, 2009). As you can imagine, the trio exalted the bohemian lifestyle, expressionist and outsider art (see below), all fuelled by drugs and alcohol. They were all enablers of their vices and their talent. Photographer Marti Friedlander captured one of these moments between the friends as part of a documentative series of New Zealand artists. The image is now in the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū collection. This way of life did find Fomison spending six weeks in Rolleston and Paparua prison for drug offences (Fomison, 1994).  After a brief stint in Beverage Street, Fomison moved with Clairmont into 300 Hereford Street, and it was it was here that Clairmont produced Fireplace. They lived and worked at the property between 1971 and 1972. the property is now a listed building with the Christchurch City Council (Christchurch City Council, n.d.: 269; Figure 4). In 1973 Fomison moved to Auckland (Fomison, 1994).

300 Hereford Street: the studio and home to Fomison during 1971-1972. Image: Kete Christchurch, 2009.

In Auckland Fomison immersed himself into Polynesian culture, all the while producing what you could call a distinctive, dark, tormented painting style. Fomison’s work can be uncomfortable, with skull and moon like faces, jesters, and caves, but is without influence from his peers. The term ‘Outsider Art’ has been associated with Fomison, as Howard Davis notes in his article ‘The Outsider Art of Tony Fomison’. Howard goes on to say ‘Fomison clearly relished depicting such unsettling creatures because he felt they literally embodied his deep disdain for ‘civilised’ bourgeois society’ (Davis, 2018).

In Auckland Fomison lived in several places including 17 Gunson Street in Freemans Bay, which was photographed by photographer Mark Adams in 1977. It was in Auckland that Fomison was introduced to Colin McCahon, becoming involved in reviving Tā moko (Fomison, 1994). Think of Friedlander’s images in Michael King’s Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century. In 1979 the Dowse Gallery in Lower Hutt held the first major survey of Fomison’s work, and it was at this time that Fomison met Paulo Sulu’ape II, a tufuga ta tatau (master tattooist) and started to receive the pe’a. Photographer Mark Adams captures the process of Fomison receiving the pe’a, which is a Samoan male rite of passage. The tattoo was completed in 1980. Fomison continued to live in Auckland, with a brief interlude in 1985 in Wellington as the first Rita Angus Fellow, living at Rita Angus Cottage in Sydney Street West, Thorndon (Fomison, 1994). By 1988-89 Fomison was nearing 50 and in failing health spending time in hospital. His frail health in childhood, combined with his later drug and alcohol use, likely to be contributing factors. Fomison’s final exhibition was in 1989 at the Gow/Lansgord Gallery. In 1990 during his visit to the Waitangi Day 150th celebrations in the Bay of Islands with an old friend, Merry Isaac, Fomison’s health rapidly declined. Fomison died 7th February 1990 aged 51 (Fomison, 1994).

You could say it was a poignant place to die for Fomison, whose immersion in Māori and Polynesian culture wove as a central core throughout his life and his art. His cohorts in the ‘Miliant Artists Union’ faired no less in their time. Clairmont had died aged 34 in 1984 by suicide and Maddox died in 2000 at age 51, having sustained himself and his art on a diet of whisky and cannabis. Maddox’s obituary by Gilbert Wong was quite the piece, but did quote Maddox, of Fomison and Clairmont: “One of the things about those two guys – and I can say this being schizophrenic and having caused them difficulties – is that they were non-judgmental.” (Wong, 2000).

If you want to see Fomison’s work, I can recommend the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū exhibition Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania that features Fomison’s Hill top watcher, 1976. This work is amongst my favourites of Fomison. The exhibition notes that the Te Waipounamu/South Island mountains still heavily featured in Fomison’s work despite his later move to Te Ika-a-Māui/North Island and that Hill top watcher could be ‘a reimagining of Aotearoa New Zealand’s pre-history’ (Te Wheke, 2020). There is much more to tell of Fomison’s work, but as a rambler I fear I will do it no justice. But I do still find that seeing Fomison’s writing in the course of my research gives me a little bit of a thrill that his work continues to influence not just in the art world. As for Theo Schoon? Well his mark was well and truly made, the good and the bad (and yes this is a whole other blog post too!).

So, on that note, time to wind up this blog post with a ‘good strength to your paint brushes’ – as Fomison once wrote (Gilber Marriot Gallery, 2019). Or maybe, in this case, your trowels, for there is art in archaeology and an art to it all.

Annthalina Gibson


ArchSite, 2020. New Zealand Archaeological Association, Dunedin.

Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2015. Fomison Tony. [online] Available at: <http://archaeopedia.com/wiki/index.php?title=Fomison_Tony> [Accessed 15 Oct. 2020].

Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2019. Schoon Theo. [online] Available at: <http://archaeopedia.com/wiki/index.php?title=Schoon_Theo> [Accessed 15 Oct. 2020].

Byrt, A., 2019. Book of the Week: That total asshole Theo Schoon. [online] The Spinoff. Available at: <https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/28-02-2019/book-of-the-week-that-total-asshole-theo-schoon/> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

Christchurch City Council, n.d. Heritage Statements of Significance – Christchurch.

Davis, H., 2018. The Outsider Art of Tony Fomison. [online] Scoop Independent News. Available at: <https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU1809/S00176/the-outsider-art-of-tony-fomison.htm> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

Fomison, T., 1994. Fomison: What shall we tell them. City Gallery Wellington.

“good strength to your paint brushes” part of Tony Fomison’s correspondence to artist Richard Lomas (http://gilberdmarriottgallery.weebly.com/gmg-blog/richard-lomas-coque-tails-exhibition-10-august-7-september-2019)

Grombrich, E.H., 2006. The Story of Art, Pocket Edition. Phaidon.

Hocken Snapshop (15th Apr 2020). Forsyth, Lake – Outlet 1958 Eeling Season “At the end of the day’s work”. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 15th Oct 2020 14:04, from https://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/11439

Kete Christchurch, 2009. 300 Hereford Street. [online] Kete Christchurch: Places and Streets. Available at: <http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/en/places_and_streets/images/show/919-300-hereford-street?view_size=large> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

McAloon, W., 2009. New Zealand Art at Te Papa. [online] Te Papa Press. Aslo see at: <https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/967769>.

Skinner, D., 2000. Schoon, Theodorus Johannes. [online] Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Available at: <https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5s4/schoon-theodorus-johannes> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

Te Wheke, 2020. Tony Fomison, Hill top watcher. [online] Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Available at: <https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/2010-003/tony-fomison/hill-top-watcher> [Accessed 15 Oct. 2020].

Wong, G., 2000. Obituary: Allen Maddox. New Zealand Herald. [online] 25 Aug. Available at: <https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/iobituaryi-allen-maddox/XXRWLVA7SGVRCAILBLHIBZL3JA/>.

New Zealand Artists featured

Tony Fomison

Theo Schoon

Phillip Clairmont

Allen Maddox

Rita Angus

Paulo Sulu’ape II

Marti Friedlander

Mark Adams

Merry Isaac


Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Hocken Collections

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa