Around the world in seven plates

Have you always wanted to travel the world? See the famous cathedrals of Europe? Smell the streets of China? Taste the spices of India? But travelling is expensive and everything’s just so damn far away, right? Well have we got the blog post for you. Sit back, relax (maybe even make a cup of tea), and prepare to go all the way around the world without even stepping out the front door.

We start our wild adventure around the globe in a country that may be familiar to some: England. Depicted on the plate below we can see the charming views of Nuneham Courtenay Park, located five miles south east of Oxford. Nuneham Courtenay was one of the most famous 18th century gardens, described by Horace Walpole as “the most beautiful in the world” (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 399). The central scene of the plate is one which will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with England: a canal with a bridge and a lock-keeper’s thatched cottage. A riverside walk ran along the canal, allowing visitors to get the full experience of the quaint landscape. In the background on the left side is the Nuneham Park house, the seat of Earl Harcourt, whilst in the centre is a building that was never actually built. A gothic tower was designed to be built on the hill but the building never eventuated, meaning the plate shows what could have been, but never was. The gardens are still there if you fancy seeing them yourself!

Wild Rose patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

From England we travel to the continent and the charming Swiss city of Lucerne, located on the banks of the River Reuss where it flows out of Lake Lucerne. In the background of the image is a building with two pointed spires. This is most likely the Church of St. Leodegar, named for the city’s patron saint. The church sits on the banks of Lake Lucerne, with a charming Swiss chalet standing on the opposite bank. The view on the plate depicts Lucerne as the ideal getaway spot, a nice quiet holiday location with stunning scenery.

Lucerne patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Is it really a European holiday if you didn’t go to Greece? The cradle of civilisation, founder of democracy, home of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Homer. In the chamber pot below you can explore the wonders of the ancient city of Corinth, with ruins of Greek temples located in the foreground. Classical ruins not really your thing? Then hop across to the gothic city, located just over the body of water. Does modern day Corinth have classical ruins lying next to Gothic buildings? Not according to a google image search I did, but hey, what more do you expect from travelling somewhere via a chamber pot. I’m sure if we were looking at Corinth from a plate there would be more classical temples and less medieval cities.

Corinth patterned chamber pot (it’s not a plate, but around the world in six plates and a chamber pot doesn’t sound as catchy). Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Whilst Europe might be ideal for viewing gothic style churches and classical architecture, it’s a road well-travelled for us Kiwis. This trip around the world is meant to be an adventure, full of far-flung spots around the globe. Enter Saudi Arabia. We’ve now travelled to Medina, located about two hundred miles north of Mecca. Medina is a holy city, containing the tomb of Muhammad in its main mosque, and attracts many pilgrims who visit the city on their way to Mecca. As you can see from the scene depicted on the plate, it features everything you would expect to see in the Middle East: mosques in the background, palms trees in the foreground, and most importantly camels!

Medina patterned plate. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Now, let us go east. East to India! On the plate below, we can see four exotic birds flying around and landing on a willow tree. Rather than showing us a place, this plate evokes a feeling of exoticness, displaying flora and fauna we wouldn’t see at home. From the name of the pattern we can deduce it refers to the Indian city of Madras (modern day Chennai). Madras was the location of an East India Company outpost, Fort of St. George, which became the main administrative centre for the British in India. No doubt tales of the city by soldiers and traders inspired the potters back in England to recreate the essence of India in dinner ware form.

Madras patterned plate. Image: C. Watson.

India not far enough east for you? Then let’s go further along to China. The delightful scene depicted below is inspired by the city of Amoy (modern day Xiamen). Amoy is located in the Fujian Province, beside the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese port city was captured by the British in 1841 during the First Opium War. The Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 made Amoy one of the first five ports opened to British trade. The scene shown on the tea wares below was made in 1844, only a few years after the arrival of the British (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 21). The scene shows two Chinese figures resting beneath a parasol, with exotic flora surrounding them.

Amoy patterned tea wares. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Sometimes the best part of an overseas adventure is coming home. Therefore, we end our journey where we started it –  in New Zealand. This plate shows the Defiance Pattern (see a complete version here).This plate was part of a set of patterns made by Grimwades in the 1930s, referred to as “Maori ware”. The patterns show idealised scenes of Māori life, with Māori in traditional dress standing in front of whare and performing actions such as hongi or whakairo (carving). Whilst Māori ware appears very kitsch to modern tastes and raises questions about the appropriation of indigenous culture for souvenir items, it is part of a wider theme of depicting exotic views on table wares, one which began in the century before.

Defiance Pattern, an example of “Maori ware” by Grimwades. Image: C. Watson.

The vessels shown on the blog today were manufactured in England and probably designed by people who had never visited any of these countries. Instead designs were often based off the drawings or accounts of people who had. The eastern-most cities, Madras and Amoy, were British outposts, showing how the expansion of the British Empire inspired the imagination of the people back home. I think it’s quite interesting we get transfer ware depicting exotic scenes in New Zealand, arguably a location which in itself was very exotic for 19th century settlers. Whilst there are patterns such as Wild Rose which depict scenes of England, those are far outweighed by the patterns depicting classical, medieval, and exotic places.

What does this all mean? Why do we find so many dinner wares decorated with images of exotic places? I think you can look at it in two ways. Firstly, perhaps the people coming to New Zealand had an internal adventuring spirit, a hunger for the exotic. Even though they already found themselves in a country unfamiliar to the one they grew up in, they were excited by the thought of distance lands and intentionally purchased table wares depicting far-off countries. Alternatively, it could all be a case of availability and popularity. In our adventure around the globe we did not visit America, despite the fact there were many different American inspired patterns manufactured by the Staffordshire potters. The lack of any American views in our finds from Christchurch would suggest American themed dinner wares were not shipped to New Zealand, and instead were manufactured specifically for the American market. We don’t know yet if there were patterns made specifically for the New Zealand market, but its likely there was a limited range of patterns available at least when compared with what was being manufactured in England. In regards to popularity, British expansionism in the 19th century led to great interest around foreign cities and cultures, with that interest inspiring new trends in ceramic design. It may be that the owner of the Medina patterned plate purchased it simply because it was trendy, and not because they liked to picture themselves riding on a camel towards the sunset.

So many things to ponder, clearly the sign of an excellent trip. Travelling broadens the horizons, exposes us to new and different cultures, and forces us to reflect on our own culture –  often leading to questions of why we do things the way we do. Whilst we may have only travelled through plates (and a chamber pot) today, we are still left with the same questions regarding our own culture and history, and how we fit in a global world.

Clara Watson


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




Brewery to bonded store (or a tale involving beer, misfortune and the casualties of long distance trade)

From Staffordshire pottery to American made glass-ware, we’ve come across artefacts from all over the world on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. This prevalence of internationally made artefacts, and what it means for the city’s history, is something that’s come up frequently in previous posts on this blog. Today’s post continues to discuss that theme, albeit from a slightly different perspective – that of the importer.

Over the last little while, we’ve been looking at the artefact assemblage from a site in the central city that was associated with a bonded store from the 1860s onwards. Bonded stores (also known as bonded warehouses) were buildings in which goods could be stored and remain exempt from customs duties. They were usually used to store goods and bulk merchandise until they were distributed for retail, at which time those duties and taxes would have to be paid.

We found numerous archaeological features (mostly rubbish pits) on the site, almost all of which contained artefacts. Many of these rubbish pits contained a large number of alcohol bottles. This is not particularly unusual. What is unusual is that within each feature most of the alcohol bottles were identical and almost all of the bottle tops found were still sealed – with cork, wire seal and metal capsule.

One of the rubbish pits found at the site, containing a large number of J & R Tennent sealed bottles.

One of the rubbish pits found at the site, containing a large number of J & R Tennent sealed bottles. Image: J. Hughes.

One rubbish pit contained a total of 130 artefacts (in 454 fragments), 126 of which were black beer bottles. Although the bottles were broken, the tops and bases were almost equal in number. More significantly, all of those black beer bottles were still sealed, or found in association with their corks and capsule seals, and every single seal bore the distinctive trademarks of J & R Tennent’s Pale Ale, brewed at the Wellpark Brewery, Scotland. Most of the capsules were also stamped with the mark of Betts & Co, the company who patented and manufactured this type of metal capsule seal for bottles. Similarly trademarked bottle capsules have been found at other 1860s-1880s sites throughout New Zealand, although not in such large quantities (Petchey and Innanchai 2012).

A couple of the J & R Tennent sealed tops found in the rubbish pit. The side of the seal reads: "Bottled by J & R Tennent" and (not pictured) "Betts & Co/Patent/Patent/ Trade Mark/ London."

A couple of the J & R Tennent sealed tops found in the rubbish pit. The side of the seal reads: “Bottled by J & R Tennent” and (not pictured) “Betts & Co / Patent / Patent / Trade Mark / London.” Betts & Co were the original patentees and manufacturers of metal bottle capsules like these. They were founded in 1804, but weren’t established in London until 1840. The company continued to manufacture bottle capsules until the 1960s: these particular seals were probably made between 1860 and 1915 (Nayton 1991). Images:  J. Garland.

J & R Tennent capsule drawing

A drawing of one of the J & R Tennent bottle capsules found at this site. Note that the beer is a pale ale, and the reference to Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow. Image: J. Garland.

John and Robert Tennent were Glaswegian brewers and bottlers who began operating in the 1770s. Their business continued to be run by their descendants throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, right up until the present day (Petchey and Innanchai 2012). By the end of the 19th century they were increasingly known for the quality of their beer and were a relatively large presence in the export market for bottled beer throughout the English speaking world (Hughes 2006). In Christchurch, Tennent’s Pale Ale was sold in large quantities from the 1850s onwards by a number of Christchurch merchants such as Robert Symington, Charles Wesley Turner (my great great grandfather!), Longden & Le Cren, Robert Wilkin & Co, and Tonks, Norton & Co, among others (Lyttelton Times 6/11/1852: 312/8/1865: 1Star 22/10/1869: 4; Press 18/9/1879: 3,14/1/1891: 8).

A second rubbish pit at the site contained a similar assemblage: 125 artefacts, 88 of which were identical dark green beer bottles. Like the Tennent bottles, almost all of these were still sealed or found in association with metal capsules, wire seals and corks. Unfortunately, the seals from this feature weren’t in the best condition: only eight of them could be definitively identified to the bottler, T. B. Hall & Co, Liverpool. It seems likely, however, given the similarity of the bottles (a handful of which still had the remnants of T. B. & Hall labels on the glass), that all 88 were originally T. B. Hall & Co products.

Some of the T. B. Hall & Co bottle capsules found in the second rubbish pit. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the T. B. Hall & Co bottle capsules found in the second rubbish pit. Image: J. Garland.

This drawing of one of the T. B. Hall & Co metal capsules shows the distinctive boar trademark used by the company. Image: J. Garland.

This drawing of a T. B. Hall & Co bottle seal shows the distinctive boar trademark used by the company. Image: J. Garland.

T. B. Hall refers to Thomas Bird Hall, who operated an export bottling company in Liverpool in the latter half of the 19th century. The company became well known for their ‘Boar’s Head’ brand, which we see on the bottles found in Christchurch.  They started bottling beer under this brand in 1874, much of which was exported to British colonies, including Australia and New Zealand. They bottled a range of beers, spirits and liqueurs, including the well-known Bass and Guinness ales and stouts (Hughes 2006: 131). We have evidence for the brand being sold in Christchurch from at least 1878 until the late 1890s (Press 22/4/1878: 2; Press 23/10/1899: 4).

Interestingly, during the excavation of this rubbish pit, it was noted that most of the bottles were complete, but cracked, while they were still in the ground. Many of them fell apart as they were lifted out, suggesting that they had broken or cracked from the impact of being thrown – complete and still sealed – into the pit.

The partially excavated rubbish pit containing numerous T. B. Hall & Co sealed bottles. A couple of complete bottles are visible, sticking out of the top of the feature: one of these fell apart as it was lifted, due to the cracks already present in the glass. Image: J. Garland.

The partially excavated rubbish pit containing numerous T. B. Hall & Co sealed bottles. A couple of complete bottles are visible, sticking out of the top of the feature: one of these fell apart as it was lifted, due to the cracks already present in the glass. Image: J. Garland.

As archaeologists, we’re used to finding old or broken artefacts in archaeological assemblages  – objects that have clearly been used and discarded, due to damage, age, changes in fashion or simply because they’ve reached the end of their uselife. The fact that two rubbish pits at this site contain artefacts that have clearly not been used and, in one case, were complete when they were discarded, indicates that there must be another reason for their disposal.

Given the association of the site with a bonded store, it seems likely that these bottles were originally imported and stored at the warehouse with the intention of being distributed to local retailers and consumers. The question then remains: why were they thrown out? There are numerous potential answers to this, from damages incurred during transport to a bad quality batch of beer, a lack of demand or old, unsaleable stock. Bottled beer was a hell of a lot more unpredictable – both in quality and preservation – during the 19th century than it is now, and it wasn’t uncommon for batches to go bad, or simply be bad.

This extract from a legal case involving the supply and sale of bad beer lists just a few of the ways beer could go bad in the 19th century. Image: Colonist 26/07/1911

This extract from a legal case involving the supply and sale of bad beer lists just a few of the ways beer could go bad in the 19th century. Image: Colonist 26/7/1911: 4.

It’s easy to forget, in this age of air freight and controlled temperatures, that these goods had to come a very long way in relatively difficult conditions in order to reach our shores (and our stomachs) in the 19th century. British export beers travelled to colonies like Australia and New Zealand by ship, a journey that could take anything upwards of 100 days (by clipper, the fastest non-steam powered ship at the time). These voyages often encountered rough seas and extreme temperatures, both of which could damage cargoes of bottled beer (Hughes 2006). High temperatures (when sailing through the tropics, for example) could cause the beer itself to go off: sometimes, if it caused rapid fermentation, the bottles would explode (my personal favourite). On top of the sea voyage, of course, the bottles had to survive loading and unloading as well as transport over rough roads to their final destination. It’s hardly surprising that breakages occurred!

There were also issues with supply and demand: agents in New Zealand would have been ordering the stock well in advance (remember, 100 days or more to get here), based on predicted demand. If their predictions were wrong, products might not sell and be left, instead, to age to the point where they were both undrinkable and unsaleable, and had to be discarded. All of which leads to rubbish pits such as these, containing the physical casualties and failures of the 19th century import/export trade.

Analysis of this site is continuing but, as you can see from the small part of it that I’ve discussed here, it has the potential to provide us with a window into the realities of the goods trade in Christchurch – internationally and locally. It’s also an excellent example of the importance of archaeological context in the interpretation of artefacts and archaeological features.  Just one of these bottles, out of context, wouldn’t have nearly such an interesting story to tell.

Jessie Garland


Colonist. [online] Available at

Hughes, David. 2006. “A Bottle of Guiness Please”: the Colourful History of Guiness. Phimboy: Berkshire, England.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at

Nayton, G., 1992. Applying frontier theory to a Western Australian site: the problem of chronological control. Australasian Historical Archaeology 10: 75-91.

Petchey, P. and Innanchai, J., 2012. Bottle top capsules in New Zealand historic archaeological sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 3 (2): 1-16.

Press. [online] Available at

Star. [online] Available at