In which breakfast is discussed and many pictures of food are shown

Breakfast. In this day and age it can consist of anything from a cup of coffee or a piece of toast to a full fry up. We eat it on the run (guilty!), over the newspaper (or smartphone, increasingly), at the table, in a café, in front of the television or at work. Often, we don’t eat it at all. We are told that it’s the most important meal of the day, yet for those of us who do eat breakfast, it can sometimes feel more like a chore, a meal without much variety (how many of you eat the same thing every morning?) and undeserving of much time or effort (except in the weekends!). Modern living often means that we don’t have the time, money or energy to devote to elaborate meals in the morning. In this, as with so much of what and how we eat, our breakfasts are a product of our social, cultural and economic environment as much as they are an indication of our personal tastes.

The breakfast of archaeologists. A snapshot of the different breakfasts eaten by the office today, some at home, some in the car and some at work.

The breakfast of archaeologists. A snapshot of the different breakfasts eaten by the office today, some at home, some in the car and some at work.

It was no different in the past. The history of breakfast in the Victorian era is a study in contrasts between the recommended or encouraged bill of fare and the realities of individual or household wealth and time, much like today, really (White 1994: 4-16). Cookbooks like Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) and The Breakfast Book (1865) suggest a massive range of appropriate breakfast foods, ranging from elaborate dishes like game pies, curries and devilled bones (ew!) to more recognisable fare such as porridge, eggs, bacon, bread and marmalade. One 1884 book, Breakfast Dishes for Every Morning of Three Months, suggests a Sunday breakfast menu of: fried skate and shrimp sauce, curried pigs feet, breakfast cakes, potted anchovy (so much ew!), devilled hot meat, hot buttered toast and jam.

Pie for breakfast anyone? Image:

Pie for breakfast anyone? Image: Wikimedia Commons

Other records, however, indicate that most households stuck to simpler meals for their breakfast, often including a combination of bacon, sausages or mutton chops, eggs, bread, porridge, cocoa, coffee and tea. Some families ate rehashed leftovers from the day before, hot or cold (White 1994: 20). One historian writes that Victorian cookery authors objected to this simplicity and were constantly encouraging their readers to “choose more than bacon and eggs” (White 1994: 9). Which, frankly, makes me empathise more with the readers than the authors. Bacon and eggs is a perfectly acceptable choice.

Bacon! And eggs! Good choice Victorians. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Bacon! And eggs! Good choice Victorians. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Whatever the contrast between the suggested ingredients for a Victorian breakfast and the realities of the meal, there definitely seems to be a greater emphasis on savoury breakfast foods during the 19th century, and a greater quantity of food consumed in the morning than is eaten today. Contemporary accounts emphasise the importance of a good breakfast (although then, as now, people skipped it altogether; Timaru Herald 25/11/1876:3, Star 12/07/1871: 3, 23/11/1898: 1).  Many of the accounts of 19th century breakfasts include meat of some kind, from bacon to fish. Cakes are mentioned, as are spreads like marmalade, and fruits, but sweeter foods seem to be far less common than their savoury counterparts (Oxford Observer 19/04/1892:4, White 1994: 9-20).

Perhaps the most glaring difference between then and now is the absence of cereal which, in the form that we know it today, wasn’t invented until the late 19th and early 20th century. As a strange, yet interesting aside, Cornflakes, created by the Kellogg brothers in the 1890s, were used as an anti-libido food by John Harvey Kellogg, who believed firmly in sexual abstinence and spent a substantial part of his life trying to get people to stop wanting sex (Kellogg 1888). Something to think about next time you eat cornflakes, huh?

Cornflakes and John Harvey Kellogg, a man with, ahem, interesting ideas about breakfast food. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Cornflakes and John Harvey Kellogg, a man with, ahem, interesting ideas about breakfast food. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologically, evidence for the nature of breakfast foods and rituals is scarce. Many of the objects involved in the meal, such as teacups, saucers, plates and serving dishes, are not specifically breakfast related, but representative of food service and consumption in general. As we’ve discussed before, our evidence for food types in the past is limited by what survives in the archaeological record, specifically items like bones, shells and embossed or labelled food containers. Even then, if the historical accounts are anything to go by, much of what we do recover may not be attributable to a certain meal: mutton chops are a prime example. It’s interesting to think about this from a modern perspective, as well: how much of what we eat for breakfast is exclusively breakfast food? Would a future archaeologist be able to determine your breakfast ritual from the foods and objects you use?

That’s not to say that breakfast is invisible in the archaeological record. Occasionally, we do come across items that, if not exclusively breakfast related, do have a much, much higher probability of being used or eaten during the morning meal. Eggs, for example, seem to have been one of the absolute staples of the Victorian breakfast menu, whether poached, fried, boiled or scrambled (Star 12/07/1871:3). We’ve found several egg cups during excavations in Christchurch, some of them better made than others, which would have been used at the breakfast table to eat boiled eggs (sadly, evidence of fried, poached and scrambled eggs is slightly harder to come by…). According to contemporary sources, how a person took their boiled eggs ‘betrayed’ their nationality (Star 17/04/1897: 3): a quick survey of the office tells me that we’ve got people of French habits, English habits and the not mentioned method of “peeling the egg and just eating it.”

Eggcups found on an archaeological site in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Egg cups found on an archaeological site in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Another breakfast food that we’ve found evidence for is marmalade, which seems to have been both a slightly higher class of breakfast food in some places as well as a particularly Scottish one (Star 13/05/1899: 7, White 1994: 20). In a survey of breakfast fare amongst different classes of Victorian families in Britain, it was the servant-owning families (household incomes over 26 shillings a week) who included marmalade as part of their morning meal, although it’s unclear how this applied to New Zealand. Marmalade was also a Scottish product, (likely) originating in Dundee in the late 18th century, and eventually becoming a characteristic of the Scottish breakfast (Star 13/05/1899: 7). It was also, apparently, the cause of religious fights and a title of nobility in 1850s Haiti, along with other “dignities of the jam-pot.” Who knew.

Keiller & Sons marmalade jar. Image: J. Garland.

Keiller & Sons marmalade jar. The first commercially produced brand of marmalade was made by Keiller & Sons in the late 18th century. The story goes that James Keiller’s wife, Janet, experimented with an over-ripe cargo of Seville oranges that had arrived in Dundee Harbour, eventually turning them into marmalade. Image: J. Garland.

It’s a curious thing, food. So basic and yet, so complicated. One of the most interesting things to think about, I find, in regard to breakfast and how it has changed over the last century and a half is how those changes reflect transformations in our cultures and societies. Why do we eat what we do and how we do? What does it say about our lives, about the world around us? Food is never just sustenance, not really. The ritual (or non-ritual, as the case may be) of eating, the foods we eat, even the packaging of that food, is all tied into a much wider representation of who we are and how we behave, collectively and individually.

Jessie Garland


Kellogg, J. H., 1888. “Treatment for Self-Abuse and Its Effects.” In Plain Facts for Old and Young. Ayer Publishing. [online] Available at Project Gutenberg

Oxford Observer. [online] Available at

Star. [online] Available at

Timaru Herald. [online] Available at

White, E., 1994. First things first: the great British breakfast. In C. A. Wilson, ed. Luncheon, Nuncheon and Other Meals: Eating with the Victorians. Sutton Publishing Ltd.

Gender matters

Gender matters. And it’s complicated, which is why writing this blog post has been particularly difficult. Why is it so complicated, from an archaeological standpoint? Well, let me try and explain.

Historical archaeology developed as a discipline in the mid-20th century and, at that time, its practitioners made all sorts of sweeping generalisations about the position of women – and other minorities – in the past (as many archaeologists at the time did, regardless of their period of expertise, and as I’m doing now). For the so-called historic period, these assumptions revolved around women as mother and domestic helpmeet, with no roles outside this, little value placed on this role, little recognition that maybe women wanted more than this and little room for any agency on the part of women.

Times have changed, and society now sees gender – and gender roles – quite differently. Historical archaeologists are no exception to this change. We now see considerable value in the role of women in the 19th century and are able to make far more nuanced interpretations about their lives and experiences.

For all this, women are still frustratingly elusive in the archaeological record. There are some artefacts that definitely indicate the presence of a woman at a site, such as a woman’s shoes, clothing or jewellery. It might be possible to use a perfume bottle to definitely link a woman to a site, or perhaps some specific medicines. The presence of girls might be able to be identified through dolls, but boys could just as easily have played with dolls. And anyway, these artefacts do little more than reinforce those gender stereotypes we’ve moved away from. They tell us that there was a woman at the site, and maybe she wore perfume. Or maybe someone gave her some perfume that she didn’t like. Who knows?

But if you’ve got a site that you know was almost exclusively occupied by women for over 40 years, that’s a whole different matter. Especially when that site was occupied by the same family for that period, which is pretty unusual in central Christchurch, regardless of the genders involved.

The site in question was that of Violet Cottage. Even the name sounds feminine, right? Well, that’s how it was known when Dr Thomas Moore – and his family – were living there. The Moore family had bought land in Canterbury in 1850, and emigrated the following year (Greenaway 2007, Lundy 2014). They settled at Charteris Bay initially, before moving to Violet Cottage. Unfortunately for Dr Moore, he only lived at the cottage for two or three years before his untimely death in 1860 (Lyttelton Times 15/2/1860: 4). Following his death, members of his family remained at  the cottage until the 20th century (H Wise and Co 1911). This included Mrs Elizabeth Moore, and the children: Elizabeth, Alice, Thomas, Jane, Ellen, Annie and Emma (H Wise & Co 1878-1979, Lundy 2014). Elizabeth lived at Violet Cottage until her death in 1887 and two of her daughters – Annie and Emma – continued to live at the cottage until the 20th century. We’ve not been able to identify how the women supported themselves after Thomas senior’s death, but there is some evidence to suggest that they had income from property near Violet Cottage (Hughes et al. 2014: 4).

 Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.

Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.

What we found at the site was perhaps surprising: there was nothing about the assemblage we recovered that suggested the artefacts were deposited by a predominantly female household. Or even that there were women living at the site: no women’s clothing, perfume bottles or shoes. Nothing specifically female at all. This is perhaps not surprising, given that we probably only recovered a fraction of the material culture discarded by the site’s occupants over the more than 40 years they lived there.

We found a fairly generic Victorian Christchurch domestic assemblage, with one exception. We only found three rubbish pits at the site, and one of these features contained almost nothing but alcohol bottles: 134 of the 146 artefacts we recovered from the feature probably contained alcohol (long-time followers of the blog will know that bottles were frequently re-used in 19th century New Zealand and may not have contained the contents suggested by their form). There was nothing about the rubbish pit that suggested the bottles had been deposited over a number of years, and the pit was probably filled over a relatively short period of time. So someone at the site may have been doing a lot of drinking – or it’s possible that the good doctor was using the alcohol for medical purposes.

 Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

Most of the remainder of the artefacts recovered from the site were either ceramics or animal bones (i.e. food waste from the Moores’ meals). The ceramics included a range of serving wares that suggested a well-to-do middle class establishment. There was a tureen, a platter, a milk jug and dinner plates, as well as more utilitarian items, such as chamber pots, a colander and a rather fabulous wash basin. There was only one tea cup, one saucer and no teapots – while that may not seem that interesting, archaeologists have often identified the presence and role of women on 19th century archaeological sites through the ritual of afternoon tea, and the material remains of that ritual. There was some evidence, however, to suggest a matching set of sprigged ware – and this may have been a tea set, as the items from this set were a milk jug, a saucer and a side plate.

 Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.

Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.

 Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The animal bones tell us that the Moores were eating mutton and beef, with a preference for mutton, and a range of both cheap and expensive cuts present – beef cheek anyone? The cuts of mutton were from both the forequarter (or shoulder) and the leg, with the latter suggesting the consumption of roast mutton. In amongst all this evidence for food and its consumption, it is perhaps surprising that no condiment containers were recovered from the site – no vinegars, salad oils or pickles.

 A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The artefact from the site that I found most evocative was a porcelain platter, made by Spode, and decorated with a blue floral pattern. The interesting thing about this platter was that the maker’s mark indicated that it was made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). That means that it was made before the Moores arrived in New Zealand, and that the Moores are very likely to have brought it with them from England, and kept it carefully and safely throughout their travels. For the family, this piece of china may have provided a direct and tangible link between the life they left behind in England and their new life here on the other side of the globe.

 A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.

A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.

We can’t relate this artefact to gender (at least, not without making a whole lot of assumptions that don’t sit comfortably), but it does tell us about the sort of items that new colonists – of a certain class – brought with them for their new lives, and their expectations of those lives: I don’t imagine that the holds of migrant ships were packed with Spode platters or ashets… This platter suggests that the Moore family expected to dine well, and possibly even to entertain, and to maintain certain standards in their new home.

Our experience at this site confirms that gender – and gender roles – can be difficult to explore archaeologically. But the question is an important one and needs to be considered carefully at any archaeological site, rather than simply making assumptions about the role of women in 19th century Christchurch.

Katharine Watson, Chelsea Dickson & Julia Hughes


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

Greenaway, R. L. N., 2007. Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour. [online] Available at: [Accessed June 2014].

H. Wise & Co., 1878-1979. Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.

Hughes, J., Dickson, C. and Geary Nichol, R., 2014. 89 Chester Street East, Christchurch: report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Hawkins Ltd.

Jacobson, H. C., 1914. Tales of Banks Peninsula. Akaroa: Akaroa Mail Office.

Lundy, D., 2014. Dr. Thomas Richard Moore. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed June 2014].

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: <>. Accessed April 2014.

The Potteries, 2008. A-Z of Stoke-on-Trent Potters. [online] Available at:

A humble home

Today’s post presents the story of William Bowen, a prominent Christchurch builder, as told by his residence at 441 Madras Street. Archaeologists recorded this building using building archaeology techniques before and during its post-earthquake demolition. 441 Madras Street was initially numbered 9 and then 13 Madras Street before the Christchurch’s street addresses were reorganised in 1911.

William and Ellen Bowen emigrated from Birmingham in 1873 and settled in Christchurch (Macdonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biography B604). William plied his trade as a carpenter in the city over the next decade. In 1891 William and Ellen purchased an empty section on the St Albans extension of Madras Street (LINZ 1891). Here William constructed the house that became the Bowen family home.

The house that William Bowen built at 441 Madras Street.

The house that William Bowen built at 441 Madras Street.

Over the next 18 years William developed a very successful construction business in Christchurch, becoming one of the city’s foremost builders. As well as his St Albans residence, William owned large premises on Kilmore Street in the central city from which he operated his construction business (Press 2/3/1910). William worked on many major building projects in Christchurch. Some of these became well-known buildings of 19th century Christchurch, such as the Theatre Royal on Gloucester Street (Press 2/1/1907) and Warners Hotel in Cathedral Square (Press 12/7/1900). William was also very active in the building industry’s political scene, being the director of the Industrial Building Society (Press 21/5/1897) and president of the Builders and Contractors Association of Canterbury (Press 29/7/1906). He also seems to have enjoyed participating in Christchurch’s social and recreational clubs. William was vice-president of the Christchurch Amateur Rowing Club (Press 3/9/1904) and a member of the Canterbury Automobile club, for which he drove a ‘French car’ in their Easter rally (Press 8/4/1904).

William Bowen's professional advertisement (Star 1/5/1908).

William Bowen’s professional advertisement (Star 1/5/1908).

William also dabbled in property development. The year after they purchased 441 Madras Street William and Ellen Bowen bought the neighbouring property at 443 Madras Street and built a house there before selling it in 1896, presumably for a profit (LINZ 1890). This building was also recorded by archaeologists before it was demolished.

William Bowen died in 1909 (Star 8/10/1909). At the time of his death he owned another house and section at 483 Madras Street and two more undeveloped sections on Madras Street near Canon Street (Press  8/12/1910). The auction of his estate in 1912 provides an insight into his lifestyle through the list of chattels.

Advertisement for the sale of 441 Madras Street (Press 21/9/1912).

Advertisement for the sale of 441 Madras Street (Press 21/9/1912).

In contrast to his thriving professional and social life, the archaeological investigation of his house at 441 Madras Street revealed a surprisingly modest residence. The Bowens purchased 441 Madras Street at a time when the outskirts of Christchurch were rapidly developing their suburban character. William Bowen, with his residential life in St Albans and large business premises in the inner city, was typical of the movement towards separation of work and living space that was becoming increasingly common as the city of Christchurch grew and developed.

The section at 441 Madras Street was originally larger than it is today, with room for stables, a carriage shed and a motor shed (perhaps used to house the French car’ that William drove in the 1904 Automobile Club rally). However, the house itself, with eight rooms, was surprisingly modest for a man of means with a large family. In contrast, John Cracroft Wilson built himself an 11-roomed house in Cashmere for his family of three (in the 1850s). Bowen’s house was a single-storey weatherboard villa typical of those constructed in late 19th century New Zealand and, like most villas, was formulaic in design. The house was situated on the street front, with a verandah on its front elevation. A central hall ran the length of the house, with rooms opening off to either side.

Floorplan of the house at 441 Madras Street. Image: K. Webb.

Floor plan of the house at 441 Madras Street. Image: K. Webb.

No overt indications of conspicuous display were identified in the house. One might have expected a man such as William Bowen to have had a two-storey house, with ornate decorations, such as stained glass and cast iron work, on its exterior. The only stained glass around the front entrance of 441 Madras Street was installed in the 1980s. However, several decorative features were recorded inside. These included a mosaic of tessellated tiles at the foot of the front door, a moulded plaster hallway arch, and several ornate ceiling roses and picture rails. These features are not unusual in late 19th century Christchurch houses, and are particularly common in houses occupied by the respectable middle-class.

Decorative features in the house at 441 Madrass Street. Clockwise from left: the mosaic of tessellated tiles at the foot of the front door; detail of the moulded hall arch; detail of a picture rail; one of the moulded ceiling roses. Images: K. Watson.

Decorative features in the house at 441 Madrass Street. Clockwise from left: the mosaic of tessellated tiles at the foot of the front door; detail of the moulded hall arch; detail of a picture rail; one of the moulded ceiling roses. Images: K. Watson.

The house had five fireplaces, four of which remained in their original condition. These fireplaces had moulded timber surrounds and were decorated with embossed patterns or colourful painted tiles. One fireplace was of particular interest. Along with decorative tiles, the fireplace had embossed panels emblazoned with the words ‘The Congo’ and the head of a mustachioed man flanked by two lions. This man was identified as Sir Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh-American journalist and explorer famous for uttering “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” upon discovering the missionary in Tanzania in 1871. Stanley had a long and complicated association with the Congo region, one that has subsequently been approached with criticism (Driver 1991). It is not clear why Stanley’s head was considered appropriate decoration for a suburban fireplace in Christchurch. Perhaps it was created in celebration of his feats of exploration. Or perhaps it was produced by a fireplace manufacturer named for the Congo. At the height of his popularity, Stanley’s image was used to sell “everything from soap to Bovril” (Driver 1991: 134).

Fireplace panel embossed with the head of Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Image: K. Watson.

Fireplace panel embossed with the head of Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Image: K. Watson.

The historical sources depict William Bowen as an extremely industrious and successful tradesman, active in both professional and social organisations. He was not only employed on major construction projects, but dabbled in property development and was presumably wealthy. The archaeological examination of his residence adds a new dimension to this image. While a comfortable residence, 441 Madras Street was more modest than what could have been expected of a prominent tradesman with a large family. It is possible that the house was built before the height of William’s success, and the family did not feel the need to change it. Alternatively, the residence could be attributed to William’s personal taste, and presumably that of his family, and may have been related to his religious faith.

William Bowen was a member of the Methodist (Wesleyan) church, and prominent in Methodist affairs in Christchurch. Several contemporary newspaper items indicate that both William and Ellen were active members of the St Albans Crescent Road Wesleyan Church (Press 1/5/1897) and that William was president of the Wesleyan Sunday School Union (Press 8/12/1900). The Methodist church emphasised discipline and social responsibility (Shoebridge 2012), and their religious affiliation no doubt influenced the Bowens’ lifestyle, including the house William built for his family on Madras Street.

Rosie Geary Nichol


Driver, F., 1991. Henry Morton Stanley and his Critics: Geography, Exploration and Empire. Past and Present 133: 134-166.

LINZ, 1890. Certificate of title, CB144/91. Landonline.

LINZ, 1891. Certificate of title, CB147/38. Landonline.

Press. [online] Available at:

Shoebridge, T., 2012. Methodist Church. [online] Available at:

Star. [online] Available at:

Let me tell you a story…

Historical archaeology has many facets, it includes recording buildings and features, artefact analysis, names and dates, but if you take a moment, collaborate all that data, you have a powerful tool for telling someone’s story. Some call this type of analysis ‘interpretative archaeology’ or ‘storytelling’ and both of these are right in a way. In its most simplest form, it is an attempt tell the story of those ordinary moments lost in time. When an assemblage containing a large number of children’s toys came through our doors we believed we had a topic to blog about. If we could, through the analysis of both the archaeological remains and the historical documents, identify the children who had played with these toys, how interesting would that be, what stories could be told. I’ll be the first to admit it, this proved more difficult than I initially anticipated.

Selection of children's items from Moorhouse Ave. Image Gwen Jackson.

Selection of children’s items from Moorhouse Ave. Image: Gwen Jackson.

These artefacts were part of an assemblage from Moorhouse Avenue, where over 600 artefacts were recovered, many of them domestic in form. Preliminary historical research showed that there was a house on the section in 1877; however, the vague nature of land transaction records and land occupation records mean that we can’t definitively pin down who lived in this house. This was complicated further by a range of other factors: the owner of a section was not always its occupant in 19th and early 20th century Christchurch; the next map or plan that shows the area in question wasn’t published until 1915 (LINZ 1915); and, worst of all, the street numbers in central Christchurch changed completely in 1911 – the streets were numbered from a different end, and the odd and even numbers switched sides. One can only describe this as a researcher’s nightmare.

Street Adress Numbers 2

Wise’s Directory (left to right) 1910, 1911 and 1912 – note 1911 changes from odds to evens and from higher to lower numbers.

In spite of these complications, we know that the section was the site of domestic occupation until the mid 1910s (when ownership was taken over by the Tai Tapu Dairy Company), and we have at least two potential candidates: Jason and Maggie Isbester, who may have lived on the site from 1905-1908; and Frederick Hammond, who may have lived on the section from 1908 to at least 1913. But both proved elusive in the historical records, so we had no way to confirm our hypotheses.

 Aynsley tea cup. Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

Aynsley tea cup. Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

So in absence of definitive historical records we turn to artefacts: what do the artefacts tell us, what story do they unravel to both the trained and untrained eye? A number of artefacts can be identified as ‘early’ due to their functional nature. The presence of candlesticks, gas lanterns and chamber pots suggest occupation of this house predated the advent of utilities such as sewerage and electricity. Moorhouse Avenue was connected to Christchurch’s sewerage system by 1882 (Wilson 1989) and electricity was available in the early 1900s. These artefacts represent Christchurch prior to the installation of modern services.

Tea pot, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

Tea pot, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

Whoever was living at the site in the late 19th and early 20th century appear to be reasonably affluent and may have been from the middle class. This assumption is based on the composition of the artefact assemblage, with a number of food serving dishes and the large number of children’s toys and other personal items. A number of serving platters or deep square dishes, champagne bottles, vinegar bottles and food vessels suggest the occupants liked to entertain at dinner parties, as was common for the middle and upper classes in the 19th and early 20th century. To find such a concentration of children’s toys in a single archaeological deposit is rare, as children are often surprisingly invisible in the archaeological record. Items of personal hygiene included everything from a toothbrush and accompanying toothpaste jar but also numerous perfume and cosmetic jars.


Dinner plate, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Gwen Jackson.

Entertaining ad for Kruschen. The Evening Post 16/01/1928: 19

Ad for Kruschen Salts (Evening Post 16/01/1928: 19).

A variety of pharmaceuticals were found in the deposit, which suggests a reliance on selfmedication for ailments – this is a common feature in historic New Zealand sites and as common as finding a Panadol box in your rubbish. Some of those bottles found included Jeyes Fluid, which acted as a disinfectant and antiseptic, Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure for coughs and colds and one called Kruschen salts which, well, let’s say it dealt with the more unpleasant side of the digestive tract.


Bottle with the label of J. Berry, a Christchurch chemist. Image: Jaden Harris.

A number of paint supplies were also collected from the site, with one paint dish identified to Reeves and Son Ltd, a firm which started operation in 1891 (Grace’s Guide 2007). It is assumed that the paint brushes found in the site were used at the same time as the paint dish, due to their functional association.

Ad for Reeves and Son Ltd. Grace's Guide: 1924

1924 ad for Reeves and Son Ltd (Grace’s Guide 2007).

So what does it all mean really? I did say we tend to use numbers, dates and names.  But we also tell stories. Perhaps what we have is a story of a girl in the late 1890s who grew up in a somewhat affluent Christchurch home. As a daily chore she would exit the rear of her house and empty the chamber pots and as payment for her daily chores her father, the painter, rewarded her with toys (given New Zealand’s “servant problem”, there was probably no servant). As she sits with her figurine dolls and her tea set, her parents entertain with food served in large Willow patterned and Wild Rose vessels with candles glimmering in the night light. The cold air means the Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure will be on hand tomorrow. Actually, her mother’s bad cooking probably means Kruschen will be used as well. As the wine pours, the little 19th century girls heads to bed, she brushes her teeth and says her prayers, for tomorrow is another day of more chamber pots and the promise of new toys.

This is only one interpretation, and yes, it is a story but it’s that one moment lost in time given life for a brief moment. Perhaps I could encourage you to offer us your interpretation?

 Kimberley Bone


Evening Post. [online] Available at

Grace’s Guide, 2007. Reeves and Sons. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 14th June 2013].

 LINZ, 1915. DP 4334, Canterbury. Landonline.

National Portrait Gallery, 2013. British Artists’ Suppliers, 1650-1950 -R. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 14th June 2013].

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch Swamp to City: A short history of the Christchurch drainage board 1875-1989. Te Waihora Press: Lincoln, New Zealand.

Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories. [microfiche] Held at Christchurch City Libraries.