Today on the blog we’re taking a look at a pair of neighbours, Joseph Rowley and David Scott. The pair lived next to each other on the south side of St Asaph Street- with Rowley owning Lot 7 DP 51 and Scott owning Lot 8 DP 51.
Following the Kemp purchase in 1848, the land that would become Christchurch’s central city was subdivided into town sections and reserves, and sold off to European settlers. Town Reserve 4 was a four and a half acre section fronting onto Montreal Street, St Asaph Street, and Durham Street. The Town Reserve was sold in 1860 and passed hands a few times until it was purchased by Edward Louis Clogstown and Lancelot Walker in 1875, along with the neighbouring Town Reserve 5. Clogstown and Walker subdivided the town reserve into 40 residential lots in January 1875 and in February 1875 they advertised the 40 building sites for sale.
Joseph Rowley, a tin slate worker, purchased Lot 7 of the subdivision from Clogstown and Walker in 1875. Rowley, who was originally from Warwickshire, arrived in Canterbury with his wife and eight children on board the Mystery in 1859. Prior to the purchase of the St Asaph Street section, Rowley and his family were living in Montreal Street. Rowley announced in the local newspapers that he had accepted the tender of Mr Verrall for the construction of his house in St Asaph Street in February 1875 and three months later advertised his house and land on Montreal Street as being for sale, suggesting that the St Asaph Street house was completed by May 1875. The Rowley family lived at the St Asaph Street house for the remainder of the 19th century. While Joseph passed away in 1888, and his wife, Mary, in 1895, their daughters continued to live at the property and the house remained in the ownership of the Rowley family until the 1920s.
David Scott purchased Lot 8 of the subdivision from Clogstown and Walker in 1875. Scott, originally from Selkinkshire in Scotland, arrived in Canterbury on board the David G. Fleming in 1863. Scott was a builder and it is likely that he constructed a residence on the section himself. When his eldest daughter, Lilly Bell, married Donald Munro in July 1888, Scott’s residence was referred to as ‘Abbotsford House’. Similar to the Rowley’s, the Scott family lived at the house for the remainder of the 19th century. When David passed in 1899, the section passed to his wife (also called Lilly Bell), and his son, Richard Linton Scott, and remained in the ownership of the Scott family into the 1960s.
From aerial photography, we know that the two houses were still standing in the latter half of the 1950s, but had been demolished by the early 1960s and replaced with a commercial building. This building, in turn, was demolished following earthquake damage, and replaced with a new commercial building. We monitored the earthworks for the construction of this new building, leading to our investigation into Rowley and Scott’s former sections.
We found 15 archaeological features during our archaeological monitoring. Most of these were rubbish pits located near the rear of the properties, which is typical for 19th century Christchurch domestic sites. While municipal rubbish collection did exist, people continued to bury at least some of their household rubbish in pits dug in the backyards. The contents of these pits are able to tell us more about the lives of the people who deposited them.
Because the Rowley and Scott families both built the first houses on their respective sections, and lived at them into the 20th century, we can safely assume that any 19th century features found at the site were created and deposited by them. As an artefact specialist, domestic sites like these are some of my favourite archaeological site types. Quite often we have domestic sites that were rentals in the 19th century with a high turnover of occupants, meaning that while we might know who was living at the site in the 19th century, we are unable to associate the artefacts we find at the site with specific tenants. That’s not a problem with sites like these where there was only one occupant over the course of the 19th century. When we’re able to associate artefact assemblages with specific occupants then we can take a look at some of those more interesting questions, like what the artefacts say about the social and economic status of the people who deposited them. Now is the point in the blog where you might be expecting me to show you all the amazing things that we found that belonged to Rowley and Scott, after all, we usually choose to only share the interesting stuff on the blog. However, if I’m honest, the stuff we found at the site was kind of boring, and says more about the period that Rowley and Scott lived in than their personal choices.
In one sense, I find the two assemblages quite sad. Both the Scott and Rowley families lived at the site from 1875 into the 20th century, and yet all there is to show from their lives are some broken glass bottles and bits of ceramic plates. On other sites that we’ve excavated that have had people living at the property for a long period of time, we’ve found large assemblages with elaborate ceramic sets and unusual items. But that wasn’t the case here.
The small and fragmented assemblages may be a result of taphonomic processes and archaeological excavation strategies. The site was developed in the 20th century, and this may have wiped out some archaeological features from the site and disturbed others. It was also fossicked overnight by bottle diggers during our time at the site, and most of the material from two of the pits was stolen. Knowing bottle diggers, they only go for the complete items which may explain the fragmented condition of what was left in the two pits they dug out. Our excavation strategies also mean that some material was left in situ or not collected. We only excavate features that date to the 19th century, as the legislation we operate under only protects pre-1900 archaeology. We did find rubbish pits that dated to the 20th century at the site, but we didn’t excavate them. We also only excavate within the boundaries of what our client needs to excavate. We had some features that extended beyond the new building’s foundations, meaning that we only excavated the halves of these features that were within the extent of the new foundation, and left the rest in situ.
However, even if we only view what we collected as a sample of what was there, we still have to assume that the sample is relatively representative of the overall assemblages. Both the Rowley and Scott families were working class families, and I’d say that is definitely reflected in the artefacts from the site. The artefacts are all things that we find all the time in Christchurch, suggesting that both families were purchasing things that were cheap and readily available.
Something that is quite interesting is that there was no evidence that any of the rubbish pits represented ‘clean out’ events. We sometimes find large rubbish pits containing lots of complete artefacts where the material has obvious been thrown out intentionally because the occupants don’t want it anymore, as opposed to something being thrown away because it has broken. Sometimes, we’re able to associate these ‘clean out’ events with members of a younger generation throwing out items belonging to the older generation after the older generation has passed away. Both Joseph and Mary Rowley, and David and Lilly Bell Scott passed away at their St Asaph Street properties. With the exception of Lilly Bell, these deaths all occurred in the 19th century. Yet there is no evidence that the children of the two couples that continued to live at the site threw away their parents belongings. This may have been an economic decision as they may not have had the means to buy all new dinner sets, but could also have been for sentimental reasons.
The artefacts we found from the two houses on St Asaph Street represent the sum of Rowley and Scott’s lives. On one hand, some broken black beer bottles and Asiatic Pheasants patterned plates might not say much about those lives. But on the other hand, they speak to what life was like as a working class family living in 19th century Christchurch.
Clara Watson, Lydia Mearns