In which monkeys have mirrors, battles are fought and hair is oiled.

In writing an introduction to this post, I found myself straying unexpectedly into alliteration. This happens sometimes. I decided to run with it.

So, as an aside from our accustomed analysis of antiquity, we’ve assembled an array of artefacts for the the amusement and appreciation of archaeologist and amateur alike. Enjoy!


A lovely little milk jug recovered from one of our larger sites on Lichfield Street. We don’t often find jugs like these in such complete condition: we’re far more likely to find just the spout or part of the handle. Image: J. Garland.


A Christchurch trade token, issued by Hobday and Jobberns, a drapery firm based at Waterloo House on Cashel Street. Tokens like these were used in place of government issued money for much of the late 19th century due to the shortage of actual currency in New Zealand during this period (Thomas & Dale 1950: 42-46). Image: J. Garland.


A blue and white transfer printed saucer featuring three figures meeting under an arch. Unfortunately, no maker’s mark was evident on this piece, meaning we were unable to trace it to its original manufacturer. Image: J. Garland.


A musket ball! This was a pretty unexpected find: musket balls are not common finds, particularly in the context of 19th century Christchurch. It probably wasn’t used for an actual musket, but may have been intended for a smaller calibre gun. Image: J. Garland.


This ‘Pratt ware’ jar  is decorated with a scene from the Crimean war, featuring Sir Harry Jones, a well known British military figure. Sir Harry, who rose to the status of general, commanded the British forces and then the Royal Engineers during the Crimean war, having previously fought in several other campaigns, including one with the Duke of Wellington. Image: J. Garland.


A beautiful gilt decorated and transfer printed candle holder, or ‘chamber stick’, as they were known during the 19th century. The cone feature to the top left of the vessel was there to hold the candle-snuffer, keeping it within easy reach. Image: G. Jackson.


This wee bottle originally contained Rowland’s Macassar Oil, a hair restorative and beautifier. It was first introduced during the late 18th century by Alexander Rowland, a barber (a very expensive barber, apparently) based in St James, London. It was then marketed by his son, Alexander Rowland Junior, who did so to great success (Rowland 2013). Macassar oil was in use throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century and is the origin of the term ‘antimacassar’, referring to the piece of fabric thrown over the top or back of arm chairs. Apparently, antimacassars were developed in response to the oily residue people wearing the oil would leave on furniture. Who knew! Image: J. Garland.


A teacup fragment, on which the image of a monkey examining itself in the mirror is displayed. Because, why not? Image: K. Bone.


A wooden ruler found under the floorboards of a 19th century house in Christchurch, with “McCallums The Timber People” printed on the front. McCallum & Co were an Invercargill based timber company, who were established prior to 1864. By the early 20th century, the company was run by a partnership between William Asher and Archibald McCallum, with branch offices in Dunedin, Gore, Oamaru, Kelso and Winton (Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1905). They appear to have been purchased by Fletcher’s at some point during the 20th century. Image: J. Garland.


A beautiful Alma patterned plate, found on a site on Armagh Street. There isn’t really much to say about this particular plate. I just think it’s pretty. Image: J. Garland.


It can be pretty easy to forget that there was another British monarch between the end of George IV’s reign and the beginning of Queen Victoria’s time on the throne. There’s the Georgian period, then there’s the Victorian period and those seven years between them when William IV was the King of England get sort of forgotten about. This coin, a half-crown, was minted in 1835, during William’s reign, and it is his slightly smiling profile that adorns one side, jaunty hair and all. Image: J. Garland.


The royal bust on this artefact isn’t quite as affable seeming as William IV’s. In fact, if I may say so, the smudges of dirt don’t do anything for the shape of her nose (a bit beak like, isn’t it?). This pipe celebrates Queen Victoria’s Royal Jubilee, which she had two of – one in 1887 (50 years) and one in 1897 (60 years). It’s unclear exactly which one this pipe is referring to. Image: J. Garland.


And lastly, here is a teacup shaped like a barrel. Image: J. Garland.

Jessie Garland


Cyclopedia Company Limited, 1905. Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago and Southland Provincial Districts]. Cyclopedia Company Ltd., Christchurch. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2015]

Rowland, R., 2013. Fifteen Generations of the Rowland Family. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2015]

Thomas, E. R. & Dale, L. J., 1950. They Made Their Own Money: the Story of Early Canterbury Traders & Their Tokens. Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand, Canterbury.

A penny for your thoughts…

Money, as Liza Minnelli has told us, makes the world go around. It is such an intricate and constant part of the societies we live in, a factor upon which so many of our actions – collectively and individually – are based. It is also, as so many television shows and books have taught me, an excellent source of information about people and their motivations.

We don’t often find money in archaeological sites, for the simple and entirely obvious reason that people tend not to throw their coins away (except in the figurative sense of the phrase, clearly). Those examples of currency that we do find, however, are curious reminders of past values and costs of living, as well as the physical differences of living with a currency that is so different from the way our financial exchanges work now.

A Victorian penny minted in 1863. The top image shows the penny found in Christchurch, while the bottom image shows a cleaner example of an identical coin. Image: J. Garland.

A Victorian penny minted in 1863. The top image shows the penny found in Christchurch, while the bottom image shows a cleaner example of an identical coin. Image: J. Garland.

Most of the currency used in New Zealand in the 19th century was British, naturally, by virtue of this country being a British colony. We’ve found several British pennies and at least one halfpenny in sites in Christchurch and Lyttelton. Pennies, such as the one shown to the right were embossed with the likeness of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria on the obverse and variations of the image of the figure Britannia, seated in her chariot, on the reverse. The particular likeness used on the penny in the image to the right is known as the ‘bun head’ likeness, in reference to her hairstyle. The bun head design was preceded by what is known as the ‘young head ’, used from 1838-1859/60, and followed by the ‘old head’ (also known as the ‘veiled head’, used from 1895 until Victoria’s death in 1901). Not the most flattering of names for Her Majesty’s head that I’ve heard…

During the 19th century (and for much of the 20th), it took 12 pence to equal a shilling, and 20 shillings to equal a pound, meaning that a single penny was 1/240th of a pound. To put that in perspective, in 1863 (when our bun head penny was made), a person could buy, at wholesale prices, a dozen quart bottles of pickles for one pound,  a pound tin of ground coffee for one and half shillings, or a pound of sultanas for eight pence (Lyttelton Times 13/6/1863: 3). It can be problematic to relate the value of money in the past to the value we give it now, thanks to inflation and the constantly shifting values of different currencies and market values, but it’s interesting to consider the relative cost of these items today. For example, a 400g bag of Sultanas costs c. $3 at Countdown now, while the equivalent amount of ground coffee is around the $10 mark.

An advertisement from 1863, showing wholesale prices for goods in Lyttelton. Image: Lyttelton Times

An advertisement from 1863, showing wholesale prices for goods in Lyttelton. Image: Lyttelton Times 13/6/1863: 3.

Pennies, and other 19th century coins such as these, provide an interesting link, not only to the monetary system and values of the 19th century, but to the physical production of royal currency.  In 1860, for example, the Royal Mint ceased  to manufacture pennies from copper (which they had done since the first minting of the cartwheel penny in 1797) and began to make them of bronze instead. The size of the coin also changed, from 34 mm in diameter to 31 mm. The process of minting coins, particularly the penny, is one that ties into other technological developments of the time (including the switch to a steam-powered mint in the late 18th century) and the achievements of famous figures (such as Matthew Boulton; Selgin 2003). It’s also a process that is integral to the economic growth of the British empire and her colonies, like New Zealand (Royal Mint Museum 2014).

The bronze penny (left) and half-penny (right) recovered from Grubb cottage.

A bronze penny (left) and half-penny (right) recovered from Grubb cottage. These coins were particularly interesting due to their association with Masonic ritual. Image: R. Geary-Nichol.

However, as well as British coins, we’ve also found alternative forms of currency in Christchurch’s archaeological sites.  A Belgian ’10 centimes’ coin was found in Lyttelton following the earthquakes, manufactured in 1863 (again!). Of course, the presence of coins in archaeological sites is not always related to their primary use as currency, as we’ve mentioned before on the blog in reference to Masonic rituals . A Belgian coin found in Christchurch doesn’t necessarily hold any meaning as money in this context, but may instead provide other avenues of information – such as a connection between Belgium and Christchurch, be it familial, commercial or otherwise.

The 1863 Belgian '10 centimes' coin found in Lyttelton. Image: L. Davies.

The 1863 Belgian ’10 centimes’ coin found in Lyttelton. Image: L. Davies.

One alternative to British currency that does relate directly to the monetary system of Christchurch, though, is the humble Christchurch token. We’ve found a couple of these on sites in the city now: flat circular pieces of metal that bear every resemblance to coins, except for the insignia of local merchants embossed into the surface.

For much of the early decades of Christchurch’s settlement, it seems, small currency was difficult to come by. Local businesses and settlers combated this shortage of actual money by creating their own, known as ‘trade tokens’. Tokens became recognised as legal tender in Christchurch and were used as currency in the city from 1857 until 1897, when they were demonetised by the government. Interestingly, many (if not most) of these tokens only had value in Christchurch and were considered worthless in other cities in the country (Thomas & Dale 1950: 11).

An example of a Henry J. Hall halfpenny token, identical to the one found in Christchurch. Image: Victoria Museum.

An example of a Henry J. Hall halfpenny token, identical to the one found in Christchurch. Image: Museum Victoria.

Although they were struck in Australia, and then shipped to Christchurch, tokens were stamped with the names and insignia of local traders and businesses. One such example found on an archaeological site in the city bears the mark of Henry Joseph Hall, reading “HALF PENNY / HENRY J. HALL / CHRISTCHURCH COFFEE MILLS” on one side and “H.J.HALL / FAMILY GROCER / WINE & SPIRIT MERCHANT” on the other.

Henry Joseph Hall was an agriculturalist and pastoralist turned grocer who arrived in Christchurch in 1857. He opened a grocery business in Cashel Street west in 1864, subsequently converting the Wesleyan Chapel on High Street into a large store in 1865. During his time as a grocer, he issued a total of 19 varieties of penny tokens and three varieties of halfpenny tokens in Christchurch, struck by the Melbourne medallists W. J. Taylor and Thomas Stokes, as well as W. J. Taylor of London. These tokens were circulated throughout the city as money in relatively large numbers and could be used, not only with  the issuing firm, but with all other traders in the city (Thomas & Dale 1950 56-61; Museum Victoria).

We’ve talked about the entrepreneurial spirit of 19th century Christchurch a few times here on the blog, in reference to so many of the individuals and businesses that contributed to the economic and social growth of Christchurch as a city. It strikes me now, that in people like Henry Hall and other manufacturers of trade tokens – people who made their own money – that entrepreneurial spirit is even more pronounced.

Money is a curious thing, so vital to our everyday existence in this world and yet so completely a construction that we, as a society, have created to be necessary in our lives. It can be very easy, I think, especially in this age of electronic transactions, to forget where our money came from in the first place. Artefacts like these – be they royally issued coins or locally struck tokens – are a somewhat disconcerting reminder that we made it ourselves.

Jessie Garland


Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at

Museum Victoria. [online] Available at

Royal Mint Museum. [online] Available at

Selgin, G., 2003. Steam, hot air, and small change: Matthew Boulton and the reform of Britain’s coinage. The Economic History Review, 56, 478-509.

Thomas, E. R. & Dale, L. J. (eds.), 1950. They made their own money: the story of early Canterbury traders & their tokens. Canterbury Branch of the Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand.

“the marvellous antiquity…of our beloved ritual” – Past Master G. W. Speth, 1893.

Context is an important concept in archaeology. Everyday artefacts, often mundane and fragmented, can take on a powerful meaning due to an unusual placement or an association with other material of a different type or function. These circumstances will often nudge the archaeologists towards stories about the past that are easily overlooked in favour of the stronger, overarching narrative of a site’s archaeology. The excavation of Grubb cottage in Lyttelton in 2010 provided an opportunity to contemplate the broader meaning of two common artefacts recovered from unusual contexts. This incongruity, combined with a consideration of the broader context of the cottage’s history, informs an interpretation of the cottage’s occupants that extends beyond the daily domestic activities so often reflected in the archaeology of historical residences in New Zealand.

Grubb cottage is one of the oldest standing residential buildings in Christchurch. John Grubb, a ship’s carpenter from Scotland, was stranded in Wellington in 1847 when the ship on which he was employed was condemned due to leaks on a voyage between London and Melbourne (Cyclopedia 1903a). He made his way down to the newly established port of Lyttelton in search of work, and he liked it so much he decided to settle there and bring out his family from Scotland. His wife, Mary, and their three daughters arrived in 1850 on the Charlotte Jane, one of the “first four ships”.

John and Mary Grubb. Image: Cyclopedia 1903a.

John and Mary Grubb. Image: Cyclopedia 1903a.

With them they brought the building tools with which John established a thriving shipwright’s business at the port (Amodeo and Chapman 2003: 88). In 1851 John was the first to purchase a town section in Lyttelton after the balloted sections were allotted. On this section in London Street he built a simple timber cottage. The Grubb family grew as John’s business prospered and John himself became a figure of importance in the local community. He served on the borough council, as did his son James who became the Mayor of Lyttelton in 1902. When John died in 1898 (LINZ c.1860: 5W237), James inherited the cottage, which had been enlarged by a significant addition to the south elevation (Cyclopedia 1903b). The cottage remained in the Grubb family for over a century until it was sold in 1961 (HMS 2008: 8).

James Grubb. Image: Cyclopedia 1903b.

James Grubb. Image: Cyclopedia 1903b.

The archaeological excavation of Grubb cottage highlighted two themes: the deposition of the material debris of a century’s worth of occupation by the Grubb family, and changes made to the cottage and surrounding landscape as the Grubb family grew in number and community prominence. However, within these overarching narratives two small artefacts stood out due to their unusual context. During the excavation of new pile holes two timbers were uncovered, one under the other, running north-south along the line of the east elevation of the original cottage. Two coins were found lying on these timbers, later identified as a British bronze halfpence and a bronze penny (Clayton 2013). Unfortunately much of the detail on these coins was corroded but the material, dimensions and remaining detail were enough to date their issue to 1860-1890 and 1874 respectively.

The bronze penny (left) and half-penny (right) recovered from Grubb cottage.

The bronze penny (left) and half-penny (right) recovered from Grubb cottage.

Archaeologists often find coins during excavations and these can be useful for dating the context in which they were found. However, these coins were under the original cottage, which was built in the early 1850s and therefore predated the coins’ issue.  It is here that the physical context in which the coins were found provided a possible explanation for the dating discrepancy. The coins appeared to have been deliberately placed – what if their placement had a ritual purpose, rather than being the result of careless discard? It is likely that the east elevation of the original cottage was the location of the formal entrance until the addition, which included a new front door, was made to the south elevation at an unknown date. The date of the coins precludes any association with the opening of the original cottage entrance, but was it possible that they were used to ceremonially close that entrance before the opening of another? In which case, the coins would date the construction of the southern addition to sometime after 1874.

This possibility is evocative of common ceremonies such as the laying of time capsules, a custom that has been identified at several Christchurch buildings including an early 20th century Masonic lodge. Freemasons held elaborate ceremonies to lay the foundation stones of Masonic buildings, and these almost always included the laying of a time capsule containing a newspaper and coins (Speth 1893). Mention of Freemasonry often conjures notions of conspiracy theories and Dan Brown books, but ‘the brotherhood’ was a real and powerful influence in New Zealand’s male-dominated colonial society. The first lodge in New Zealand opened in Wellington in 1842 and by 1890 New Zealand boasted 151 lodges (Phillips 2012).Members included important society and political leaders, such as Richard Seddon, New Zealand premier and the Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge of New Zealand.

Now this is where the broader context of the archaeology of Grubb cottage affects the meaning of those two little coins found in the ground – both John Grubb and his son James were Freemasons. Not only were they Freemasons, but they were leaders of the Masonic community in Lyttelton for almost 40 years. Together with several others they succeeded in founding the Canterbury Kilwinning lodge in 1875 (Press 3/12/1875; 21/2/1898). This was the second Masonic lodge in Lyttelton, the first being the Lodge of Unanimity, which was established in 1851 (Cyclopedia 1903c). Three years later John Grubb was elected lodge treasurer while James was elected a senior warden (Press 6/12/1878). The Kilwinning Lodge commissioned the construction of a hall on Canterbury Street, for which James Grubb as Worshipful Master laid the foundation stone in a ceremony in 1881 (Press 30/5/1881). John Grubb remained treasurer of the Kilwinning lodge for 18 years, resigning shortly before his death in 1898 (Press 3/12/1896).

So, if the placement of the coins was related to change in the cottage structure, it is possible that the Grubb cottage coins had a ritual significance that echoed the traditions of Freemasonry. But why were coins and newspapers used in such ceremonies? The reason seems obvious – to provide temporal information concerning the construction of the building for posterity in case of the building’s destruction. However, one would expect that the future destruction of the building was not a desirable result. Could there be an underlying explanation for these ritual actions?

George Speth, a prominent English Mason, related components of Masonic tradition to the folklore of construction. After all, a mason is a builder, and the Freemasons traced their origins to the cathedral builders of medieval Europe, and building tools were treasured symbols of the society (Newton 1921: 97-124). Speth associated common builders’ rites with the ancient belief that in order to ensure the permanence and stability of a structure it must be imbued with a soul (Speth 1893: 3). He suggested that originally this was undertaken by human sacrifice. Legends from around the world connect death to construction and Speth cited instances where human bones have been uncovered in the foundations of ancient buildings (Speth 1893: 4-22). He maintained that over time such sacrifice became symbolic in nature, with the use of animals and animal products, images and effigies. It is this symbolic form of sacrifice that Speth related to the custom of including coins in foundation ceremonies – ”…coins bearing the effigy, impressed upon the noblest of metals, the pure red gold of the one person to whom we are all most loyal, and whom we all most love, our Gracious Queen…” (Speth 1893: 22) – even if the conscious intention of imbuing the structure with a protective spirit had been shed over time.

A stained glass window depicting Saint Columba in Iona Abbey, Scotland.

A stained glass window depicting Saint Columba in Iona Abbey, Scotland. Legend has it that Columba buried alive his companion, Odran, to ensure the lasting stability of his chapel there. Image: Wikipedia 2008.

John Grubb was a builder by trade and a Freemason of high standing in Lyttelton. It is entirely likely that he was aware of the traditions and rites associated with construction. It is even possible that, on the closing of the old entrance to his cottage, he buried two coins to ceremonially mark the occasion. He didn’t necessarily do this while fully conscious of all the connotations of this little ritual. Perhaps it was done out of deference to Masonic practice, or perhaps it was done out of habit – an old superstition he picked up during his time in the building trade in Scotland. Whatever his motivation, this interpretation of past events was only made possible through consideration of two mundane objects within their immediate and broader context.

Rosie Geary Nichol


Amodeo, C. and Chapman, R., 2003. The Forgotten Forty-Niners: being an account of the men and women who paved the way in 1849 for the Canterbury pilgrims in 1850. Christchurch: Caxton Press.

Clayton, T., 2013. Coins of England and Great Britain. [online] Available at:

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903a. Professional, Commercial and Industrial: Mr. John Grubb. [online] Available at:

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903b. Lyttelton: His Worship the Mayor, Mr. James Grubb, J.P. [online] Available at:

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903c. Orders and Friendly Societies: Masonic: New Zealand Constitution: Unanimity Lodge. [online] Available at:

Heritage Management Services (HMS), 2008. Grubb Cottage Conservation Report. Unpublished report.

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), c.1860. Probate Index – 5W237. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Office.

Newton, J. F., 1921. A Story and Study of Masonry. [online] Available at:

Philips, J., 2012. ‘Men’s clubs – Masons’. [online] Available at:

Press. [online] Available at:

Speth, G. W., 1893. ‘Builders’ Rites and Ceremonies: Two Lectures on the Folk-Lore of Masonry. Delivered by G. W. Speth to the Members of the Church Institute, Margate, On the 30th October and 13th November, 1893. [online]. Available at: