From bottle to basement: uncovering a repository of information

Late in 2014 we were contacted by contractors working on a rebuild project in Christchurch’s city centre. It was reported that a number of bottles had been uncovered during routine earthworks and the area cordoned off until our arrival. The bottles themselves were in pristine condition but what was of particular interest was the area in which they were found. Behind us was a mound of dark dirt, strewn with displaced wooden planks and broken bottles. I’ll be the first to admit, it wasn’t one of the prettiest features I’ve ever seen and, oh yeah, it was 2 metres below the surface of the city. So, today I’m going to take you on a little ride, a pictorial one as such, down through that ugly mound of dirt, the archaeology involved and the story it told.

And so our tale begins…

It began with a phone call one Friday afternoon (when I was already thinking about a cold brew at the closest drinking hole), but it was answered and soon I was joined by fellow archaeologists, decked out in hi-vis vests and mud-caked boots, with WHS trowels in the back pocket ready to work.


The feature on the arrival of the archaeologist. Image: K Bone.


Due to the unknown extent of the feature we established a simple quadrant system to allow us to record any material collected as we removed the debris from the area. This involved removing all the planks of wood that were no longer in situ, along with any large amounts of soil.


Initial excavations following the removal of debris. Image: K Bone.


2014-11-21 Beam Placement & Cellar Dig 011

Excavation begins… Image: K Bone.

Once the area was cleared of all debris, we set out to define the full extent of the feature, which was beginning to look a lot like a floor. Three trenches were dug, along the western, southern and eastern sides of the feature (the northern side had already been dug out during the earthworks). Following the completion of these three trenches, we established a grid system for the collection of artefacts.


The feature once fully exposed, and the three trenches excavated . Image: K Webb.


Artefacts from below the floorboards, many complete bottles were recorded but were mostly damaged or broken. Image: K Webb.

Once the top layer of dirt and debris was removed and all structural wood was exposed the feature was mapped using a Trimble M3 total station.

SC161 Site plan 2

Site plan. Image: K. Webb.

At the same time, the stratigraphy of the northern baulk was drawn (this was the only stratigraphic profile that could be recorded, due to the sheet piling around the section).


                       Was recorded as this…

161 strat (2)

                which became this….CS161 strat Kim amended

Then the wooden floorboards were removed and excavation of the subfloor space began, revealling a treasure trove of artefacts and structural information.


The remains of some upright boards nailed to the bottom plate at the south end of the feature. Image: K. Webb.


The stone piles supported the wooden floorboards. Three rows of piles were found, one down each of the east and west sides and one down the centre of the building. The piles were unevenly spaced. Image: K Bone.


During the excavation samples of each of the different timber elements were taken so we could identify the species at a later date. Image: K. Webb.

Once the field work was completed preparation of the report began, with the historical research. Maps and newspapers revealed that this section of land was the site of Barnard’s repository and later Tattersall’s horse bazaar.

Next up: the artefact analysis, which was conducted by one of our in-house artefact specialists. The artefacts are analysed according to their material classes and recorded by a number of attributes, with research including place of manufacture, product type, company name and date of production. This research contributes to our final interpretation of the site.

Pipes 3

Clay smoking pipes were found below the floorboards: a John Reynolds pipe (top) and a J. M. Heywood pipe (see next week’s post for more on this interesting fellow from Lyttelton). Image: K. Bone.


Plymouth gin tin capsule, still attached to the cork. Image: K. Bone.


Two bottle capsules still attached to the cork, and the bottle. This suggests that these bottles had not been opened at the time of their deposition. The manufacturer of the capsule at right was the Victoria Stores distributor; that at left could not be identified. Image: K. Bone.


One of two coins found on the site. This particular one has a profile of the young Queen Victoria, with the date 1853. The other coin was a George IV coin, with the date 1826. Image: K. Bone.

Following the artefact analysis a series of spatial distribution maps were produced to determine whether or not there were any patterns in the distribution of the artefacts.

20150521_114912 (1)

Example of one of the spatial distribution maps. This looked at the relationship between the different forms of glass recovered from the feature. Image: K. Bone.

So what does it all mean? The location of the floor 2 metres below the ground surface indicated that it was a cellar floor. The artefacts found indicated that the cellar was primarily used to store alcohol bottles and leather goods. Conveniently, the historical research indicated that there had been both a hotel and a saddlery on site.


And that’s how the discovery of a few bottles led to us uncovering a unqiue piece of Christchurch’s history. From the field work to the research, the artefact analysis to the final write up, the process is important in allowing us to tell the story of Christchurch.

Kim Bone

Put this in your pipe and smoke it!

A few weeks ago, there was an interesting interview on Radio New Zealand with historian Jock Phillips, on the history of tobacco use in New Zealand. In the interview, Jock talked about the ways in which people consumed tobacco in the past, the types of people smoking tobacco at different points in New Zealand’s history and the rituals that surrounded the habit. One of the things he touched on was the use of the clay tobacco pipe as the method of choice for most smokers during the 19th century, whether in social situations or in the privacy of the home.

Clay smoking pipes are relatively common finds on 19th century archaeological sites here in Christchurch, although, given the prevalence of smoking in 19th century society and the ease with which the pipes were discarded after use, it’s surprising that we don’t find more of them. Clay pipes were, on the whole, cheap and easily obtained, although some of the more elaborately decorated pipes would have been more expensive and, consequently, less disposable. Many of the cheaper, plainer pipes may have been used only once before being discarded, particularly in certain contexts: hotels and taverns, for example, used to provide disposable clay pipes for their customers to use and throw away while on the premises (Phillips 2014).

Broken pipes

The pipes found on archaeological sites are usually broken, often at the stem of the pipe, and their bowls blackened from use. Some of these have ‘bites’ at the ends of the stems, in the form of raised ridges or glazed sections where the smoker put the pipe in their mouth. Sometimes, there are teeth marks at the end of broken stems, suggesting that the stems were cut and the pipes reused until they were no longer useable. Occasionally, however, we do find unused pipes, indicating that they may have been broken before they could have been smoked. Image: J. Garland.

Clay pipes are one of my favourite kinds of artefacts and a big part of that, I think, is due to the elaborate styles of decoration we sometimes find. They’re just so cool. Most of the pipes we find are plain, made from white clay, with no decoration on the bowl, but others are moulded and sculpted in fantastic ways. We’ve found fish head pipes; bowls as eggs cradled in the talons of an eagle; effigy pipes sculpted to look like skulls and caricatures; basket pipes; pipes with steam-ships and trains on them; military pipes; naval pipes and, notably, a pipe with the figure of a woman riding side-saddle along the stem.

A selection of clay pipes found in Christchurch. Clockwise from the top left: fish head pipe bowl; talon pipe; pipe decorated with the insignia of the Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers; basket pipe; effigy pipe from three sides; pipe decorated with a ship and anchor. Image: J. Garland.

A selection of clay pipes found in Christchurch. Clockwise from top left: fish head pipe bowl; talon pipe; pipe decorated with the insignia of the Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers; basket pipe; effigy pipe from three sides; pipe decorated with a ship and anchor. Image: J. Garland.

Like most decorated objects, there’s information in the decorative styles of these pipes – fashions that can be dated to period of popularity, references to events or figures or organisations that can tell us something about Victorian society and the culture of pipe smoking. Many of the pipes are also marked with the initials or names of their manufacturers, identifying pipe makers in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Manchester or Sydney (among other places), who shipped their goods to New Zealand.

Scotland and England had particularly strong export markets, supplying clay smoking pipes to the colonies in Australia and New Zealand during the Victorian era (Gojak and Stuart 1999, Sudbury 2006). Certain manufacturers – Thomas White, Charles Crop and Duncan McDougall, for example – are frequently represented amongst pipe fragments found here and in Australia. Other pipes may have been made on the continent, particularly in France, where there was also a strong clay pipe manufacturing industry, but, as yet, we’ve not found any recognisably French pipes in Christchurch (Ayto 2002).

Possibly the coolest pipe we've found in Christchurch.

Possibly the coolest pipe we’ve found in Christchurch. A person would look completely badass smoking this. Skull pipes similar to this one have been identified as French in origin (the French industry specialised in ‘figurals’ and portrait pipes), although there is no way of telling if this particular example was made in France. Image: J. Garland.

We’ve also found pipes with local connections, marked with the names of Christchurch retailers and merchants. Pipes with the names of Cathedral Square retailers Twentyman & Cousin and coffee, flax and chicory merchants the Trent Brothers were both found on central city sites earlier in the year. It seems likely that these companies ordered pipes from overseas, branded with their own names, to be sold in their stores or as part of their merchandise. Similarly, in Australia, we know of at least one Sydney tobacconist – Hugh Dixon – who also sold clay pipes bearing his name.

Two clay pipes marked with the names of local Christchurch retailers. Image: J. Garland.

Two clay pipes marked with the names of local Christchurch retailers. Image: J. Garland.

These pipes are found in a range of contexts, some of which can add to or confirm our knowledge about the rituals of pipe smoking in 19th century Christchurch, as well as the methods by which they were imported and sold in the city. We find pipes in domestic assemblages, pipes that would have been smoked by the residents of those households (probably the men – as far as we know, pipe smoking was an almost exclusively male thing amongst European settlers). Smoking was a common habit in Victorian society, particularly in the home. There are numerous articles and advertisements surrounding both the rituals or practice of smoking and the pipes used in the process (Daily Southern Cross 23/04/1852: 1, Evening Post 6/08/1872: 2 Star 10/03/1892:10, Taranaki Herald 2/10/1909: 6, Thames Star 5/02/1892:1).

One thing I found interesting, actually, while researching this, was the number of articles discussing tobacco smoking that referred to the health issues associated with it – good and bad. The most astonishing, I think, was an article from 1867 which decried tobacco as a poison that “benumbs the brain, extinguishes the memory, brings on giddiness, and finally engenders those horrible diseases, cancer in the mouth, and softening of the spinal marrow” (New Zealand Herald 17/12/1867: 5). We tend to think of health concerns with tobacco as a modern phenomenon: clearly, they were not.

 “Tobacco, says Michelet, has killed kissing; it has done more, it has closed the drawing room…The increasing consumption of tobacco is frightful, children ten years of age already smoke. It is time to think of a remedy, tobacco is a poison – a slow one if you will – but certainly a poison, for it benumbs the brain, extinguishes the memory, brings on giddiness, and finally engenders those horrible diseases, cancer in the mouth and softening of the spinal marrow. In concert with its comrade alcohol, it ravages the organisation and dwarfs the species. Tobacco injures the human race, not only physically but morally. It strikes thought with atrophy, and paralyses action; with every whiff of tobacco a man exhales a virtue, or an energy. Germany smokes and dreams; Spain smokes and sleeps; Turkey, who has been smoking these last three hundred years, has no longer strength to stand on her legs.” – New Zealand Herald 17/12/1867: 5

The ritual of smoking in the home has some interesting accompaniments: for example, Victorian literature often speaks of the ‘smoking room’, as a room in a house (presumably a middle – upper class house), specifically set aside for the males of the household to use for smoking (Phillips 2014). We’ve only identified one house with a smoking room in Canterbury (near Ashburton) and then, only because we had the plans for the house that labelled the room accordingly. Without those plans, it’s difficult to know which room in a house may have been used as a smoking room, if one existed at all.

We also find pipes on hotel sites, as I mentioned above, where they may be evidence for the social side of pipe smoking (much like ‘social’ smokers today, perhaps, who smoke only when they drink), or simply an indication of the provision of ‘home comforts’ to hotel guests. Interestingly, one of the pipes found on the site of the Zetland Arms hotel here in Christchurch was not a cheap, disposable example, but one of the most elaborately decorated clay pipes we’ve come across. It was unused, so perhaps it was ornamental, displayed above the bar or used as a display to advertise other pipes or tobacco sold on the premises. It seems a waste, if this was the case: one would look completely awesome (or possibly a little pretentious?) smoking that pipe.

Elaborately decorated pipe with a female figure riding sidesaddle along the stem. Sadly, her head went missing somewhere along the way. Image: J. Garland.

Elaborately decorated pipe with a female figure riding sidesaddle along the stem and an alternative use for a clay pipe in social situations. Sadly, the lady’s head went missing somewhere along the way. Image: J. Garland and Auckland Star 19/11/1936: 26.

On one notable site, we even found a large collection of broken and unused clay pipes, all decorated with either a steam ship or a traction engine design. It turned out that the site had originally been occupied by a grocer, and the pipes were probably damaged or unwanted stock that had been disposed of on-site (Watson et al. 2012). As we can see from these pipes, and the Twentyman and Cousin and Trent Brothers examples, smoking paraphernalia was sold by a range of different merchants and retailers, not just tobacconists (although tobacconist’s shops did exist in Christchurch: Lyttelton Times 18/04/1867: 1).

A concentration of unused clay pipes found on the site of a grocer's business. Image: M. Hennessey.

A concentration of unused clay pipes found on the site of a grocer’s business. Image: M. Hennessey.

It’s interesting, I think, that such a small artefact can provide evidence for or be a part of so many different aspects of society and life in the 19th century. Clay pipes can represent everything from international connections between New Zealand and the rest of the world to local businesses and business owners. They can shed light on contemporary styles and symbolism, on social rituals, on gendered activities, on class, on the beginnings of disposable consumerism. They were intrinsically linked with individual health, good and bad, even a hundred and fifty years ago. In America, pipes even played a part in the workings of the justice system, and, in one of my absolute favourite articles on the subject, pipe smoking is condemned as the murderer of romance, the cause of moral injury and the instigator of national apathy.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: sometimes it’s the smallest things that tell us the tallest tales.

Jessie Garland


Auckland Star. [online] Available at 

Ayto, E. G., 2002. Clay Tobacco Pipes. Shire Publications, Buckinghamshire.

Daily Southern Cross. [online] Available at 

Gojak, D. and Stuart, I., 1999. The Potential for the Study of Clay Tobacco Pipes from Australian Sites. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 17: 38-49.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at 

Phillips, J., 2014. Pundit: Life and Times of the Long White Cloud. Radio New Zealand, aired 15/09/2014. [online] Available at

Star. [online] Available at 

Sudbury, J., 2006. Historic Clay Tobacco Pipe Studies, Volume 1. Phytolith Press, Oklahoma.

Taranaki Herald. [online] Available at 

Thames Star. [online] Available at 

Watson, K., Carter, M., and Hennessey, M., 2012. 134 Hereford Street, Christchurch: report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for CERA.

The Standard Hotel: beer, burlesque and a “sketchy kind of farce”

This week we’re delving into the seedier side of the life in early Christchurch with the story of the Standard Hotel, an establishment that found itself on the fringes of Victorian respectability during its short existence in the 1860s. At the heart of this tale are two brothers, James and William Willis, who appear to have trod very different paths to success (or not, as the case may be) after their arrival in the city.

Portrait of Joseph Brittan, founder of the Canterbury Standard. Image: Wikimedia Commons & Rolleston 1971.

Portrait of Joseph Brittan. Image: Wikimedia Commons & Rolleston 1971.

The story begins with James Willis, a printer by trade, who arrived in Christchurch in the early 1850s (Lyttelton Times 7/5/1853: 6). By 1855, he was the official printer to the Canterbury Provincial Council (Lyttelton Times 20/01/1855: 4). It’s here that he probably made contact with Joseph Brittan, one of Christchurch’s prominent early citizens and the founder of the Canterbury Standard, the third newspaper to be established in the city (Lyttelton Times 13/8/1853: 12). James went on to work with Brittan on the paper, becoming the printer, part owner and eventual proprietor of the publication in the late 1850s and early 1860s (Burke Manuscript n.d.: 114).

An article in the Lyttelton Times in 1853, announcing the establishment of the Canterbury Standard, to be

An announcement of the Canterbury Standard‘s founding in the Lyttelton Times in 1853 claimed that “the public good will be it’s guiding principle [and] the advancement of the interests of the Province its constant aim.” Image: Lyttelton Times 13/8/1853: 12.

The Canterbury Standard was produced and printed in a building located on the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace in central Christchurch, just across the road from Brittan’s home on the other side of Hereford Street. Early images of the building show a two storey façade at the front, facing onto Oxford Terrace, with the printing sheds (to house the printing press) extending along Hereford Street.

Burke's Manuscript cropped

Sketch of the Canterbury Standard building and proprietor, James Willis. Image: Burke Manuscript: 114, accessed through the Christchurch City Libraries.

James continued to operate a printing press in this location until his death in 1866, under the eventual auspices of the Telegraph Printing Press (Press 8/12/1866: 2). During the last few years of his life, however, he shared the premises with his brother, William Willis, who took the old Standard offices at the front of the building and transformed them into a hotel.

The old Canterbury Standard building, transformed into the Standard Hotel in 1864. Image: Dr. A. C. Barker Collection, Canterbury Museum. Permission of the Canterbury Museum must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The old Canterbury Standard building, transformed into the Standard Hotel in 1864. Image: Dr. A. C. Barker Collection, Canterbury Museum. Permission of the Canterbury Museum must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Well, I say hotel…

Advertisement for the opening of the Standard Hotel in July 1864, emphasising the selection of alcohol available. Image: Lyttelton Times

Advertisement for the opening of the Standard Hotel in July 1864, emphasising the selection of alcohol available. Image: Lyttelton Times 9/7/1864: 5.

The Standard Hotel, which opened in July 1864 (Lyttelton Times 9/7/1864: 5), appears to have had very little to do with offering accommodation and a great deal more to do with drinking beer and providing ribald entertainment. Only one reference to accommodation at the hotel was found in the newspapers of the period and this from an unemployed man staying at the hotel, suggesting that the accommodation available was fairly cheap (LytteltonTimes 6/8/1866: 1). In contrast, advertisements for the opening of the hotel in 1864 place particular emphasis on the selection of ales and wines available for consumption (Lyttelton Times 9/7/1864: 5). We excavated the section next to the hotel earlier this year, where we found a lot of beer bottles. While many of these are associated with the warehouse on that section in the 1870s, some of them may also have been debris from drinking sessions at the Standard in the 1860s.

Some of the black beer bottles excavated from the Standard Hotel site in May 2013. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the black beer bottles that may have been related to the Standard Hotel, excavated from the adjacent site in May 2013. Image: J. Garland.

Advertisement for a performance of Poses Plastique at Willis's Assembly Rooms in 1866.

Advertisement for a performance of Poses Plastique at Willis’s Assembly Rooms in 1866. Image: Press 10/4/1866: 1.

The tone of this particular establishment becomes clear when we look at historical records for William Willis’s Assembly Rooms, opened in 1865 and located next to the Standard Hotel on Oxford Terrace (Press 8/11/1865: 1; 15/02/1866: 1). Although these rooms hosted public auctions and were used by the Canterbury Jockey Club for meetings (Lyttelton Times 1/01/1866: 3; Press 8/11/1865: 1), they were also the setting for a variety of musical entertainments, from vaudeville-style theatre and burlesque to the more risqué Poses Plastique (Lyttelton Times 10/3/1866: 2; 12/3/1866: 2; Press 10/4/1866: 1).

Entertainment at Willis's Assembly Rooms

Advertisements for entertainments held at Willis’s Assembly Rooms in 1866, including burlesque, a “sketchy kind of farce” and “nigger eccentricities”. Images: Lyttelton Times 12/3/1866: 2; 10/03/1866: 2.

While vaudeville theatre may be a form of entertainment familiar to many, the term ‘burlesque’ didn’t mean quite the same thing in a 19th century context as it does now. Rather than involving Dita von Teese-like figures and the sultry dance routines it’s now known for, burlesque in the mid-1800s was simply a form of musical entertainment, often involving elaborate or farcical costumes, parodies and caricatures of well-known historical and literary figures (Oxford English Dictionary).

Clockwise: Advertising poster from 1899 for a vaudeville and ‘hurly-burly’ extravaganza; 1870 advertisement for performance of an Aladdin burlesque at the Theatre Royal in Christchurch; 1897 excerpt from a burlesque titled ‘Doing a Moose.’ Images: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection, accessed through Wikimedia commons; Star 16/5/1870: 3; Observer 15/5/1897: 10.

Poses Plastique, on the other hand, was definitely a form of entertainment that only flirted with the notion of respectability. It was a form of Tableau Vivant, or ‘living scene’, a 19th century performance in which the performers, both women and men, acted as living statues on stage. These performances often involved various states of undress, justified and made ‘classy’ by references to Classical mythology and the imitation of Greek and Roman statues (Anae 2008). Sometimes the performers would wear nude body stockings, so as to give the appearance of undress yet not be completely indecent.

Woodcut of a performance of poses plastique at the Coal Hole in the Strand, c. 1854. Image: Wikimedia commons.

Woodcut of a performance of poses plastique at the Coal Hole in the Strand, c. 1854. Image: Wikimedia commons.

tableau vivant

Advertisement for performances of tableau vivant based on well-known fairy tales. Image: Poverty Bay Herald 25/5/1881: 3.

I should mention that while Poses Plastique was a form of Tableau Vivant, not all examples of the 19th century living statue involved the same degree of undress or risqué material. Tableau Vivant was often used to present famous literary, artistic or historical scenes, such as battles, famous paintings or moments from well-known works like Cinderella (Poverty Bay Herald 25/5/1881: 3).

The performance at Willis’s Rooms in 1866 is one of only two examples of Poses Plastique advertised in New Zealand newspapers before 1900 (Nelson Evening Mail 25/2/1884: 2), although there are numerous references to burlesque and vaudeville shows being held throughout the country (see Papers Past). Clearly, the semi-nude living statue never really took off here, despite enjoying great popularity in London and Australia during the same period.

In Christchurch, at least, one reason for this may have been the disapproval with which such entertainment was viewed by the general authorities and community. While it was not illegal (that we’ve been able to find), we did note that William Willis had his liquor license refused in 1866 due to reports of “objectionable entertainment, low women and noisy people” in the vicinity of his Assembly Rooms late at night (Lyttelton Times 2/5/1866: 2). Interestingly, this notice came soon after the advertised performances of Poses Plastique. Coincidence? I think not.

License refusal

Details of the refusal to renew William Willis’s general license in 1866, citing objectionable entertainment, low women and noisy people. Image: Lyttelton Times 6/5/1866: 2.

The Standard Hotel, along with Willis’s Assembly Rooms, closed its doors in 1867 after only three years of operation (Lyttelton Times 4/7/1867: 1). Later that same year, a fire in the offices of the Telegraph Printing Press next door so badly damaged the building that it was abandoned and moved to Bealey Avenue in early 1869 (Lyttelton Times  4/1/1869: 3). For reasons unknown to us, the section on the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace remained empty and unused during the following decades, until a suite of offices was constructed there in the early 20th century (Press 16/9/1905: 9).

During its life the Standard Hotel building was home to two very different sides of the social and commercial spectrum, personified in the figures of James and William Willis. From its origins in Joseph Brittan’s, and later James Willis’s, Canterbury Standard, with its guiding principles of “public good [and] the advancement of the province”, to its eventual demise in William’s den of alcohol and “low women”, it showcases a diversity of character and commerce in Christchurch’s early history that we don’t always get to see. Hopefully, as we work our way through the rest of the archaeological material from this site, even more of that variety will be revealed.

Jessie Garland


Anae, N. 2008., Poses, plastiques: the art and style of ‘statuary’ in Victorian visual theatre. Australasian Drama Studies. Available at

Andersen, J. 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson & Williams Ltd: Christchurch.

Burke Manuscript, 1860s. [online] Available through the Christchurch City Libraries Digital Collection at

Canterbury Museum Digital Collections

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at

Nelson Evening Mail. [online] Available at

Observer. [online] Available at

Oxford English Dictionary. Available online via the Christchurch City Libraries subscription service.

Poverty Bay Herald. [online] Available at

Press. [online] Available at

Star. [online] Available at

Wikimedia Commons. [online] Available at

Baker, hotel-keeper, confectioner, merchant…..mayor.

Once upon a time, there was a baker (a pie-maker, even) who left his home in Germany and travelled the length of the world to a small country in the South Pacific. There, in a young city built on a marsh, he made his name offering food, drink and lodging to weary travellers and local settlers alike. From near and far, they came to his hotel, his pie shop and his vault of wine until, eventually, he became so greatly esteemed that the citizens of the city on the marsh put forth his name and elected him to be their mayor. After he had retired, he still could not rest and continued to work tirelessly for the city, never once asking for recognition…

Photograph of John George Ruddenklau, taken c. 1892. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, file reference CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0097.

John George Ruddenklau, taken c. 1892. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, file reference CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0097.

It may seem a little silly, but the life of John George Ruddenklau, one time Mayor of Christchurch and a man involved in so much of Christchurch’s early history, reads a bit like a fairy tale. Or, at least, like the archetypal tale of the man who sets forth to find adventure and make his fortune in the big wide world.

He was born in the town of Hesse Cassel in Germany in 1829, and “brought up in the bakery business” (Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903: 107) before leaving for London in the early 1850s. There, he continued to work as a baker until he took a berth aboard a ship to New Zealand in 1857, landing in Lyttelton later that same year (Press 16/12/1891: 5).

In Christchurch, he opened a bakery (also referred to as a pie shop and confectioner’s) and a beer shop at either end of a row of four buildings on the corner of High and Colombo streets, in the heart of the business district (Andersen 1949: 270-71; Lyttelton Times 3/4/1861: 1). Initially, he shared the location with two other businesses (a grocery and an eating house), before gradually taking over the whole corner. As well as operating as a “fancy bread and biscuit maker” (Andersen 1949: 270-71; Press 14/09/1861: 7), he had established the City Wine Vaults there by 1861, offering rooms for refreshment as well as supplying alcohol (Lyttelton Times 17/8/1861: 5).

An advertisement for the City Wine Vaults (left) and a drawing of what became the City Hotel block, with Ruddenklau's pie shop and beer store visible at either end (right). Image: Lyttelton Times 17/8/1861: 5; Andersen, 1949: 270.

Left: An advertisement for the City Wine Vaults (Lyttelton Times 17/8/1861: 5). Right: The corner of Colombo & High streets before the establishment of the City Hotel, with Ruddenklau’s pie shop and beer store visible at either end (Andersen 1949: 270).

An 1864 advertisement for the opening of J. G. Ruddenklau's City Hotel. Image: Lyttelton Times 12/4/1864: 5

An 1864 advertisement for the opening of J. G. Ruddenklau’s City Hotel. Image: Lyttelton Times 12/4/1864: 5

Eventually this part of town came to be known as the City Hotel block, after the hotel that Ruddenklau opened there in 1864. In opening this hotel, Ruddenklau combined his various skills to provide “every comfort and convenience appertaining to a first-class hotel” (Lyttelton Times 12/4/1864: 5). By all accounts the City Hotel was a large, well-furnished establishment, claiming such luxuries as the “best billiard room in New Zealand” (Star 15/6/1868: 1). Its central location must have been great for business, especially after a cab stand, which later grew to include Hansom cabs, set up right outside his front door.

Unfortunately, when we excavated the site of the City Hotel (which later became the Triangle Centre) we found almost nothing in the way of archaeological material, a result of the long history of construction in that location (Hennessey 2012). The wooden City Hotel building that Ruddenklau built in the early 1860s was demolished before 1910 to make way for a stone and brick building known as Mitchell’s City Hotel (Rice 1999: 46).

A photograph of the City Hotel building on the corner of High Street and Colombo Street. This was taken in 1880s, after Ruddenklau's retirement, by E. Wheeler & Son. Image:  Rice 1999: 46

The City Hotel building on the corner of High Street and Colombo Street. This was taken in 1880s, after Ruddenklau’s retirement, by E. Wheeler & Son. Image: Rice 1999: 46

What we did find, however, through archaeological excavations at other sites in Christchurch’s central business district, were fragments of ceramics printed with a pattern specific to the City Hotel and to Ruddenklau himself. The pattern is a rather garish pink and brown design, but the use of both the City Hotel name and Ruddenklau’s initials provides an interesting example of Victorian personal and commercial branding. It also suggests that Mr Ruddenklau was prosperous enough to warrant his own custom china set (which would have been made elsewhere in the world (probably Staffordshire) and imported into New Zealand).

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug, decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R.

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug, decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R. Image: J. Garland.


The spout from a mask jug decorated with the City Hotel pattern and found in a site at the corner of Cathedral Square. Image: J. Garland

A closeup of the spout of the City Hotel mask jug found in a site at the corner of Cathedral Square. Image: J. Garland

One of the fragments, found at a site on the corner of Cathedral Square, formed the spout of a ‘mask jug’, a jug decorated with the moulded relief of a face on the spout. Jugs like this are relatively rare archaeologically (although there are a couple of complete ones in the Canterbury Museum), and can feature a variety of different ‘faces’,including the male bearded face depicted here.

The other City Hotel china fragments include pieces of a tea cup and a saucer, also found at the Cathedral Square site, as well as another sherd from a (different) hotel site on Lichfield Street. It’s interesting to consider how, exactly, such distinctively branded tea-wares (which were presumably, part of a much larger set) ended up in the ground at sites with no known connection to either the City Hotel or to J. G. Ruddenklau.

The most likely explanation probably revolves around the fact that Ruddenklau retired from the hotel business in 1869 and was succeeded by J. Oram, who ran the ‘J. Oram Sheppard City Hotel’ until the late 19th century (Hennessey 2012: 3-4). Ruddenklau’s personalised china would have had no place in the new establishment and may have been sold off, probably cheaply, to those who didn’t mind drinking their tea out of cups and saucers decorated with someone else’s name. The appearance of such china, however, is particularly surprising at another – presumably competing – hotel.

Ruddenklau appears to have retired to his home in Addington after he left the City Hotel in 1869, at the relatively young age of 40 (Press 16/12/1891: 5). However, he apparently found retirement “irksome” (Press 16/12/1891: 5), and set himself up into business as a grain merchant, as well as getting involved in local politics.

Details of a testimonial presented to J. G. Ruddenklau for his efforts as Mayor during the International Exhibition hosted in Christchurch in 1882. Image: The Evening Post 22/11/1882: 3

Details of a testimonial presented to J. G. Ruddenklau for his efforts as Mayor during the International Exhibition hosted in Christchurch in 1882. Image: Evening Post 22/11/1882: 3

He was first elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1863, then again in 1873 and 1877 (Press 16/12/1891: 5). He followed this up by running for and being elected as Mayor of Christchurch in 1881 (Press 16/12/1891: 5) and again (unopposed) in 1882 (Star 22/11/1892: 3). During his time in office Christchurch hosted the International Exhibition, a showcase of exhibits from all over the world held in Hagley Park from April to July of 1882 (Christchurch City Libraries 2013). Numerous accounts of his mayoral career mention the success of this event (Evening Post 22/11/1882: 3; Press 16/12/1891: 5). Later, in 1884, he was exhorted to stand as one of the Canterbury members of parliament by the electors of Stanmore, which he then did as part of Sir Julius Vogel’s party (Press 15/07/1884: 4; Star 17/07/1884: 3).

A photograph of the temporary buildings constructed to house the New Zealand International Exhibition,  hosted in Hagley Park in 1882.

The temporary buildings constructed to house the New Zealand International Exhibition, hosted in Hagley Park in 1882, during Ruddenklau’s tenure as mayor. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, file reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0008.

As well as his involvement in local politics, it seems that John Ruddenklau was also a particularly active member of the local Christchurch community, like so many of the early Christchurch figures we’ve featured here on the blog. He served as the treasurer of the Albion Cricket Club (Lyttelton Times 3/10/1868: 1), Chairman of Christchurch Young Men’s Club Committee (Press 20/12/1883: 2), on the Board of Directors for the Canterbury Brewing Malt and Distillery Company (Press 2/07/1867: 3), and as President of the Christchurch German Association (Press 26/5/1863: 3), along with various other roles.

It was in that last role, as President of the German Association, that he was instrumental in procuring the ‘German Bells’  for Christchurch in 1873. These were church bells made for the German Church (Deutsche Kirche) from gun metal taken from the French by Germany during the Franco-Prussian war and gifted to the Association by Kaiser Wilhelm I (Press 26/5/1873: 3). The site of the German Church, on Montreal Street, was excavated as part of the construction of the Christchurch Art Gallery, which now stands in the same location. Interestingly, the church bells were taken down and melted following the end of World War I, seemingly as a result of anti-German and pro-French sentiments (Dominion 9/06/1919: 4).

John George Ruddenklau died in 1891 at the age of 72, following a long illness (Press 16/12/1891: 5). His name is not one that has endured in the public eye since his death, nor is he one of Christchurch’s more well-remembered figures. Yet his contribution to the early prosperity of this city is undeniable, and his tireless work, as a businessman, as a politician, and as an involved member of the 19th century Christchurch community, makes him a man worth remembering. Thankfully, and it’s one of the greatest things about this job, the archaeological work we’re doing here at the moment gives us the chance to do just that.

Jessie Garland


Andersen, J. C., 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson & Williams Ltd, Christchurch.

Christchurch City Libraries, Digital Collections. [online] Available at: <>.

Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]. 1903. [online] Available at <>.

Dominion. [online] Available at <>.

Evening Post. [online] Available at <>.

Hennessey, M., 2012. High, Colombo and Cashel streets triangle, Christchurch: A report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Mackey Leighs Demolition.

Rice, G. W., 1999. Christchurch Changing An Illustrated History. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Press. [online] Available at <>.

Star. [online] Available at <>.

‘It isn’t all beer and skittles’

– Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days, 1857

It’s hard to picture what many of Christchurch’s buildings looked like before the earthquake. For many locals the torn down remains of a building or an empty lot remind them of a favourite hangout, a birthday or even the best burgers in town. The archaeology that has been excavated and collected from these sites and buildings provides evidence of earlier and equally personal stories and events, proving these buildings were full of life for over a century. One example of this is the Oxford Hotel, also known as the Oxford Family Hotel, the Oxford Victualling Co. and latterly as the Oxford on Avon.


The Oxford on Avon Hotel post-earthquake, 8 November 2011. Photo: M. Hennessey.

The Oxford Hotel was located on the corner of Oxford Terrace and Colombo Street and was one of the city’s older hotels. Originally established as a boarding house by Antill and Sarah Adley in 1860 or 1861, the hotel gained a licence to sell alcohol in 1862 and began operating as a pub as well as a boarding house. It was at this time that the establishment was renamed the Oxford Family Hotel (Greenaway 2007: 14). Adley had proprietorship of the hotel until his retirement in 1873 (The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903) and continued to own the land and lease it out until 1903 (Christchurch Deeds Index C1 c.1853: 616). The hotel lease was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Dann in 1875, who transferred the lease to Mr. Bately, who rebuilt the building in 1883 (this was the building that stood until the earthquake; Star 5/6/1883: 3). What we found from the archaeological data and historical records is that this building not only acted as a hotel but as a central hub for the wider community, which was not uncommon for 19th century hotels in New Zealand.

market place

View from the Colombo Street bridge looking south to the Cathedral: at left is the Oxford Hotel and at right is Market (Victoria) Square, c. 1885. Image: Christchurch City Library, File Reference CCL Photo CD 02 IMG0020.


Image: Star 22/4/1878: 4.

The hotel was nice and close to Victoria Square, first known as Market Square and a centre of activity in early Christchurch. This must have been good for business and it allowed the hotel to cater to the wider community, hosting meetings and events, acting as a morgue or emergency room in some cases (Press 15/4/1879: 2; Star 4/2/1890: 3), and all the while supplying cheap alcohol from the pub. During Dann’s operation of the hotel he offered membership to a skittle alley and often hosted skittle and quoit tournaments. Mail and messages could be left at the Oxford by or for patrons (Star 28/4/1869: 3), so it functioned as a post office too. Most importantly, though, the Oxford Hotel was a pub: Dann’s advertisements in the local newspapers constantly mentioned the array of spirits available, with an emphasis on the cheap prices.

Of the 925 glass artefacts recovered from the site, 395 were black beer bottles, 196 were wine bottles and another 99 were other liquor or spirit bottles. There were also 52 porter or stout bottles. Sounds like a lot of alcohol, right? Think again. To put it into context, even if only one bottle of alcohol were drunk a day, this would represent little more than two year’s drinking. So where did all the other bottles go, then? Well, the Avon River was conveniently close…

Adley advertisement. Image: Lyttelton Times 23/8/1862: 3.



Sample of black beer and wine bottle bases from the site. The black beer bottles that make up the bulk of this assemblage become less common after 1880. As such, it is likely that these bottles were associated with either Adley or Dann’s period at the hotel. Image: K. Webb.

A number of smoking pipes were also found, confirming that the combination of alcohol and tobacco was just as common in the 19th century as it is today. Many of the pipes were made by Charles Crop, a manufacturer from London whose pipes have been found on hotel and residential sites in both New Zealand and Australia (Brassey 1991: 30; Macready et al. 1990: 57). Tantalisingly, the embossing on some of the pipe stems hints at the origins of some of the smokers: “QUEENSLANDER” and “LACHLANDER”. Perhaps the smoker purchased these as a reminder of home.