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.

 

All Sherds are Equal

Modern archaeology, in New Zealand at least, is a democratic science. By this, I mean that as archaeologists we investigate and record ALL deposits, features, and artefacts we come across on sites. We don’t cherry pick our sites to only excavate those that represent the wealthy and elite of society (looking at you classical archaeologists *cough* Heinrich Schliemann *cough*). Instead, in Christchurch, we excavate sites where the working classes lived, along with those from the middle and upper classes.

This means we don’t privilege any people of the past, or at least not when we’re looking at artefacts (buildings are sometimes a different story). The archaeological deposits we find that relate to a butcher and his family who lived in a small four room cottage are equally as important as those we find that relate to an ex-mayor who lived in a large house. I personally think that this is important, as whilst we typically view our sites in an archaeological and academic context representing the history of New Zealand and Christchurch (and discuss them as such), they can also hold a personal connection for any descendants wanting to learn more about their ancestor’s lives (hot tip for anyone doing family research, archaeological reports are now available online from Heritage New Zealand if you know where an ancestor was living and want to see if any archaeology has been done at the site).

It also means we are able to do comparative research. How can we say (using the archaeological record) that a person was wealthy and that this is demonstrated in what they have thrown away, if we don’t have deposits from working-class sites to compare with? How can we know what items were typical for a period if we don’t have a representative sample from across society? From this viewpoint, everything is important. The rubbish pit containing unusual complete and near-complete vessels from a household clean-out event has as much information potential as the small pit with a few broken fragments of common items. Both can provide specific information on the occupants of the site and how they lived their lives, as well as being used to look more broadly at life in Christchurch through comparative studies.

This has been a very long introduction to basically say that today’s blog is show-casing some of the artefacts we’ve found over recent months. But unlike previous blogs, where we normally focus on complete or unusual objects, today I’m going to be sharing the small, broken fragments that we don’t normally talk that much about, because they’re just as important as the unusual artefacts.

Ooooh yeah, Asiatic Pheasants. We couldn’t do a blog talking about ceramic sherds and not include the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. We find this pattern on almost every archaeological site in Christchurch. It doesn’t matter who you were, what you did for a living, how much money you had, if you lived in Christchurch from the 1860s onwards then you probably owned Asiatic Pheasants patterned vessels. One of the best things about the pattern being so common is that it also doesn’t matter how small the fragment is, we can almost always identify the pattern. Image: C. Watson.

 

Fragments can also be frustrating though, in that you get a tiny glimpse into the pattern but it’s too small to work out what’s going on. Take this flow blue pattern for example. The figure in the centre of the sherd is clear. But is she facing another figure who’s much larger than her? Does that mean the central figure is a child and the larger figure is her mother? And why does the central figure not have legs? Is she a ghost? Has she come back to haunt the figure on the right? Have I been watching too many horror moves? So many questions, but unfortunately with such a small sherd we’ll probably never know what the pattern was. Image: C. Watson

 

Sometimes a fragment will have distinguishing elements (like a lot of the patterns pictured below), meaning that there’s something to start with when trying to identify the pattern. Others, like this one, I generally won’t even bother searching for. There were literally thousands of different patterns made by the Staffordshire potteries that had floral elements, meaning that unless you’re super familiar with a pattern (like Asiatic Pheasants), it’s near-impossible to identify a sherd that just has the edges of a flower on it. Image: C. Watson.

 

I think this sherd is made 100% better by the fact that the horse and rider are missing their heads *insert headless horseman pun here*. Image: C. Watson.

 

When it comes to random patterns on sherds then this is definitely the best. My favourite part is the smoking pipe the figure on the right is holding- that’s one long pipe stem. We weren’t able to identify the pattern, but I imagine that it’s probably based on an 18th or early 19th print that was adapted into a ceramic pattern by a Staffordshire pottery. Image: C. Watson.

 

Houses, but miniature, so they’re better. This is likely from the background of a romantic pattern. Image: C. Watson.

 

It’s very satisfying when you’re able to identify a pattern from only a small sherd. This plate is decorated with the Royal Exchange pattern and the central scene (which was missing) shows the third Royal Exchange building, opened in 1844 (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 311). Image: C. Watson.

 

And what is perhaps even more satisfying than identifying the pattern from a small fragment, is identifying the manufacturer. All my time spent lurking in pottery groups on Facebook is paying off because when I saw these sherds my gut instinct was that this was Mason’s Ironstone with Imari pattern. A google search revealed a near-identical dinner set, with details like the small spines on the gilt spirals and slightly uneven painting of the flowers exactly the same as the fragments we found. The best part though was that the dinner set had the Mason’s Patent Ironstone China mark, making me pretty confident that my gut instinct was correct. Image: C. Watson.

 

And to end the blog, a scene from where we would all rather be: at home, lounging on the couch, patting a dog. Image: C. Watson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clara Watson

References

Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 17801880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year, New Me

Every January I find myself saying the phrase “new year, new me” any time I do anything remotely healthy or out of the ordinary. Ate a salad: new year, new me. Went to the gym: new year, new me. Read a book rather than binge watching seven hours of Netflix in a row: new year, new me. I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Every year I resolve to get fit, do more with my free time, actually put money into my savings account, make more of an effort to catch up with people, stop buying a coffee every day. But as February dawns and 2019 really kicks into action, all of those January New Year’s resolutions are already falling by the way-side. So, as I sit here sipping my iced mocha that I guiltily spent seven dollars on, I can’t help but wonder if the nineteenth century residents of Christchurch were also in the habit of making (and breaking) New Year’s resolutions.

It turns out the practice of making New Year’s resolutions long pre-dates the Victorian era, by around 4,000 years. The ancient Babylonians are said to be the first people to celebrate the beginning of the New Year and to make New Year’s resolutions. During Akitu, a 12-day religious festival taking place in mid-March (their new year), the Babylonians either crowned a new king or reaffirmed their allegiance to the current king. As part of this festival they also made promises to their gods to pay their debts and return borrowed objects (not dissimilar to my recurring New Year’s resolution to actually save money). In return for keeping their word the gods would bestow favour on them for the coming year. So not quite my resolution to stop buying daily coffees, but a resolution nonetheless.

Whilst we can’t really associate any of the artefacts we find with the concept of New Year’s resolutions, we do find ceramic vessels that are connected to the ideal of being a better person. For instance, this coffee can is decorated with a pattern inspired by one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims. This particular pattern is illustrating the idea that you need to work hard in order to achieve success. Image: C. Watson.

Many other cultures also made New Year’s resolutions (or promises similar to a New Year’s resolution). The Romans made promises of good behaviour and offered sacrifices to Janus, the two-faced god that symbolically looked backwards to the previous year and forwards to the up-coming year. In 1740 John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, started the tradition of the Watch Night service. During the Watch Night service, Wesleyans would show penitence over shortcomings and failures from the previous year, whilst making resolutions of greater faithfulness for the year ahead. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the practice of making resolutions at the start of the year was common; but it was not until 1813 that the phrase “New Year’s Resolution” was first used.

The first reference to New Year’s resolutions that I found in New Zealand newspapers was written by the Lyttelton Times in 1860. Following their recap of the 1859 year in which they accused residents of talking too much, praised the progress of the settlement, and discussed the plans for a tunnel and railway between Christchurch and Lyttelton, the newspaper announced their New Year’s resolution was to fully support the building of the railway. Unfortunately for the Lyttelton Times, this resolution did not come to be, with work beginning in 1860 but stopping shortly after the contractors struck rock. It was not until 1867 that the Lyttelton rail tunnel was officially opened.

Similar to us now, many New Year’s resolutions were made to give up smoking and alcohol. Although it would seem that like us, people weren’t very good at keeping those resolutions.

Given that this joke was printed in the December 1907 issue of the Lake Country Press , it would appear that “Bronson” made it a whole 11 months before he went back to smoking.

The cycle of a typical January: making various excuses for cheating on New Year’s resolutions until ultimately deciding life is better with without New Year’s resolutions .

Given the quantity of satirical stories and jokes written about New Year’s resolutions, it would appear the making (and breaking) of resolutions was a common practice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These satirical resolutions included promising to get on better with the boss, not being so stressed about things, and women resolving not to speak to their husbands (I highly recommend clicking on the links and reading the articles for yourself, they are quite hilarious).

When your New Year’s resolution is to accept the fact you’re single and embrace it.

As well as being used for humour, New Year’s resolutions appear to have become a big marketing ploy for businesses by the early twentieth century. Many advertisements listed in December and January encouraged potential customers to make it their New Year’s resolution to purchase new items from their stores, with everything from umbrellas to hats, and shoes advertised. My favourite marketing campaign that played on the idea of a New Year’s resolution is the one pictured below for Valaze, a type of skin cream. The New Year’s resolution the advertisement appeals to is the resolution to be beautiful, which I love because it makes it sound like women woke up on January 1st and said “Right, this year’s my year, I’m going to be beautiful now”.

Valaze, the ultimate solution for if you New Year’s resolution is to be beautiful .

From reading through these old newspaper stories and advertisements, it seems like our Victorian and Edwardian era ancestors had a similar approach to New Year’s resolutions as we do today. People made resolutions to be a “better” person, be that by giving up smoking, drinking, or becoming beautiful. But it was commonly accepted that many people did not stick to their resolutions, leading to the many satirical stories about people breaking their resolution. This practice of wanting to start the New Year afresh, to make it better than the last, is one we continue on today, and is one of the few ways we aren’t so different from our forebearers.

Clara Watson

‘Archaia’ and ‘Logos’, what even is archaeology?

The word archaeology comes from the Greek archaia (“ancient things”) and logos (“theory” or “science”). So, archaeologists study past societies through the material culture. In other words, we write the history analysing what people threw away or left behind. That’s what it is, although the origin of archaeology was quite different!

Back in the day, great discoveries of ancient civilizations enchanted the curiosity of those intrepid explorers who travelled the world looking for antiquities. The ruins of Troy and the image of Henrich Schliemann’s wife wearing the Priam’s Treasure (referred to as “Jewels of Helen”) as well as the Tutankhamun tomb are probably two of the most iconic finds of the last centuries. On 22 November 1922 when Lord Carnavon enquired anxiously “Can you see anything?” and Howard Carter replied “Yes, wonderful things”, expressing the grandeur of the ancient world. Those expeditions became the excuse to plunder historical sites to boost either personal or museum collections, with no further interest other than hunting treasures, contradicting the rightful purpose of archaeology.

Left: Sophia Schliemann wearing some of the gold jewellery from the Priam’s Treasure. Right: Howard Carter and the Tutankhamun tomb. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

The archaeological discoveries at ancient cities also inspired the decoration on contemporary ceramics. Tea, table and serving wares also became a mechanism to emulate the magnificent past. Idyllic depictions of exotic and remote places, scenes with ruins of Greece, Rome and oriental inspired scenes are all relatively common finds on Christchurch archaeological sites.

Left: Medina patterned plate. It is likely that this pattern draws inspiration from Medina, the city in Saudi Arabia to the north of Mecca. Image: J. Garland. Right: drainer decorated with the Corinthian pattern, the name of which refers to one of the three Greek architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, with ruins and columns depicted on the scene. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

From left to right. We don’t know what the title of the pattern was, but the fragment clearly features a hand painted Grecian figure. The name of the following patterns: Egyp[t] or Egyp[tian] and Persian also evoking past cultures. However, in these examples, the scene depicted is unknown as we only found a tiny piece of ceramic! Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

At that time of treasure hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the object itself pulled out of its place was the centre of attention. And that’s not our job. Rather than treasures by themselves, artefacts are precious because they help us to interpret and understand how people used to live. That’s their actual value. And that’s possible to achieve when studying the objects in relation to the context in which they were found. During the latter half of the 20th century, archaeology grew up as science, with the development of methods of fieldwork, recording and cataloguing and the use of specific tools and technologies, shared with other disciplines like anthropology or geology. Archaeology is a social science, so archaeologists are scientists. Unlike fossickers or curio hunters, archaeologists always take notes and make drawings and plans. This is key, because archaeology is essentially preservation by record.

Archaeologist in action! Left: Hamish taking notes on site. Image: T. Anderson. Right: Hamish and I drawing and old curb in the city. Image: H. Williams.

By the sounds of it, the real profile of an archaeologist is unlike the idealised portrait of it. We are far away from one of the most popular archaeologists ever. Who pops up in our minds when thinking of archaeology? Of course, Indiana Jones… except for Hamish! Both share part of the outfit, it’s not the whip but the cool felt hat! Well, archaeologists wear usually safety helmets on site, but in their spare time, wherever archaeologists go, the hat would be a perfect accessory, aye?

Left: Indiana Jones. Image: Rex/Shutterstock. Right: Hamish wearing his felt hat at the Edwin Fox Maritime museum in Picton. Archaeologists do love to soak up the local history! Image: H. Williams.

The fictional image of a female archaeologist is probably even less accurate. Can’t find anything in common between Lara Croft and us. Well, she is presented as a highly intelligent, athletic and beautiful archaeologist… Maybe it is a little bit like us.

Beyond the stereotypes and the history of archaeology, constructed by and starring male archaeologists like Carter or Schliemann, there were women archaeologists as well, although it was ‘not a common thing, for obvious reasons’ (Star 15/04/1914: 7). Perhaps because those were so obvious (irony on going!), none of those reasons were nuanced… Anyway, the point is that Jeanette Le Fleming was an archaeologist. She married in 1885 Sir William Le Fleming, born in Christchurch in 1861, eight Baronet of Rydal and prominent settler in Taranaki district (Evening Post 3/11/1945: 11).

New Zealand’s newspapers in 1932 reported Jeanette’s return to New Zealand after a long trip. ‘In her capacity of archaeologist’ (crikey!), she had visited Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Denmark and investigated ruins in Zimbabwe. Among her experiences overseas, she considered her study of the ruins at Zimbabwe the most interesting of her professional experiences. There Jeanette analysed the acropolis and temple erected under the influence of Babylonian civilization. She wrote many articles on travel subjects, ancient history and archaeology. She published under a nom de plume, ‘which she keeps in complete secret’ and not even her sister was aware of her identification with a certain writer and archaeologist (Evening Post 25/01/1932: 10). Apart from Europe and Russia, Jeanette also travelled to Central and South America, India, China and Japan, among many other places. She preferred travelling alone (yes, a pioneer of women solo travellers!) as she was never afraid, and always keen to nature, climates, archaeology, medieval and other modern curiosities, as well as the present economic conditions of each country (Evening Star 14/12/1936).

Honestly, I’m so jealous! What an inspirational woman! Loving what I also love (and archaeologist in general!), travelling, exploring new places and cultures, being curious all the time, asking questions and looking for answers! Eventually, Jeanette Le Fleming died at her home in 1944, after a long and undoubtedly interesting life! (Evening Post 3/05/1944: 8).

Jeanette Le Fleming. Image: Evening Star 24/09/1938.

As archaeologists working in post-earthquake Christchurch, we also have stories and the archaeology of the early city to tell you through Christchurch Uncovered blog, Facebook, Instagram and public archaeology events. Unquestionably, scientifically recording the past is the best way to preserve it in partnership with all of you, committed people, aware of the significance of our heritage as the witness of the history, the vestiges of the past from which we can learn so much.

To conclude, a summary that describes best what an archaeologist is, how our current day-to-day goes… Love it.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/ (Accessed October 2018).

Paper Past, 2018. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ (Accessed October 2018).