Enterprise in a New Street

**TRIGGER WARNING: This blog talks of infant death and sex work**

 

Time forgives and forgets, dulling the harsh effects of first-hand accounts of shocking life events to a point where one can laugh at unfortunate events, or even become engrossed in the salacious accounts of someone’s long gone, some would say best forgotten, life. This ‘best forgotten’ approach to unfortunate historical events means history tends to present the winners in life, the successes, and the ideals of what a ‘good life’ is, skewing many a family history and leaving many questions and surprises for those who decide to delve.

In many of the histories we research we do get the opportunity to write about Canterbury’s success stories, but we also research the residential lives of the average colonial settler brought out to a new world. Despite the Canterbury Associations’ self-assured hubris, campaigning for the ideal Anglican settlement, life did get in the way. The need for immigrants to help play out the grand scheme of things brought working class innovations: the good and, in the Victorian’s eyes, the morally questionable.

Enter the world of a smallish new street, a right of way in the beginning, in the residential northeast of the city. It was a patchwork of small worker’s cottages with dodgy drainage. Most of these cottages were leased, and some were sold to those who ventured to better themselves by owning a property. Little was happening on this street during the early 1860s, but by 1868 the section we are going to focus on in this blog was sold, and a small cottage was built. The property went through a few owners with little fanfare. In July of 1878 the property sold to Mr John Hannan, who already lived in the new street. Hannan, hoping to extend his property portfolio, took a mortgage out with a Mr Michael Murphy. Hannan’s property empire wasn’t to be and, as mortgagee, Mr Michael Murphy, took over the property in 1879. It was from this time that life started to get interesting in the new street – yes you can cue the ominous music now (LINZ, 1860).

While this is not our street it does give an idea of early cottages in Christchurch in the 1860s – albeit in a nicer area! Image: Barker, Alfred Charles (Dr), 1819-1873. Canterbury Museum, 2016.13.7.

Michael Murphy, according to George Ranald Macdonald in his Macdonald Biography of Canterbury Project, along with his brother John ‘were two of the greatest rouges in the history of Christchurch’ (MacDonald, 1952-1964: M753a). It’s quite an accusation but Macdonald did go on to say, so vast and numerous were their appearances before the courts it was too much to record in the biography project. So, with this opinion of Mr Murphy and his brother in mind, the following events could be deemed unsurprising.

The year of 1879 for Murphy was relatively quiet year regarding court appearances. In July 1879 Murphy was fined 10 shillings and costs for allowing a cow to graze on Cambridge Terrace (Lyttelton Times, 15/7/1879: 3). Later in the same month Murphy was sued by a C. Hensley for the recovery of £15 for a dishonoured cheque. A Mr McConnell represented the plaintiff (Hensley), and Mr Izard represented the defendant (Mr Murphy). Murphy obtained £15 from his brother John in exchange for a cheque of the same amount. When John went to use cheque, it was returned endorsed with ‘payment stopped’. John then paid away the cheque to Mr Howe in liquidation of an account, and then Mr Howe paid away the cheque to the plaintiff, Mr Hensley in settlement of wages (still with me here?). Hensley made his way to the bank to deposit his wages, not noticing the endorsement, and duly had the cheque returned to him unpaid. Murphy disclaimed liability stating the cheque was given for a gambling debt. This resulted in some ‘very hard swearing’ and Murphy, in a peremptory manner, stated he could provide independent witnesses to state the contrary. It is at this point, dear reader, we find out that Murphy, true to form, had called in at his so-called witnesses’ office that morning to cross question him about the cheque and said if he leaned towards Murphy that it would be ‘worth his while’. Once the witness had stated the account to the court Murphy’s defence lawyer, Mr Izard, picked up his hat and quit the court room leaving Murphy to defend himself. Murphy then wondered if the Magistrate could adjourn the case stating, ‘I am left to myself’, with the Magistrate replying, ‘I don’t wonder indeed’. This left Murphy asking irrelevant questions of the incorruptible witness before asking for a verdict deeming, he had proved his case that the cheque had been produced under the influence of alcohol to pay a gambling debt. The Magistrate failed to see the case with Murphy having to pay all costs (Lyttelton Times, 18/7/1879: 6). This was a case among many of the Murphy Bros, sealing their reputation in Macdonald’s dictionary.

A day in the Magistrates Court… you can only imagine! Image: Addle-headed Justice on the Auckland Bench. Hangum J.P. (to smashed-up plaintiff): it serves yet tight far goin’ inter theae sort et ‘oases; so, let this be a warning to yer. The prisoner is discharged without a stain on ‘is character. ‘ (Observer, 27 May 1899). Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/5813200

So back from that brief interlude to characterise Murphy, to our property in the new street. Murphy, as the ‘mortgagee’, decided to sell. Three freehold sections were advertised for sale in the new street; all had been in the ownership of Hannan and all had three-roomed cottages (Lyttelton Times, 7/3/1879: 8). The properties did not sell, and it was the property’s next appearance in the newspapers that sealed its fate. In April of 1881 in the magisterial column of a Saturday paper it noted ‘Larrikin Prostitutes’, Josephine Ellen, Nellie Ross, Alice Hulbert, and Jane Wilmot, all but one being of a young age, were brought up under the ‘Vagrancy Act’ and charged with having no lawful visible means of support. It was deposed that they lived at a house, in the new street, owned by Mrs Michael Murphy (it has to be said that Murphy himself was in Lyttelton gaol awaiting a perjury trial). The arresting sergeants disposed that the girls’ occupation of the property caused great disturbance to the neighbourhood. The accused were described as prostitutes, with one neighbour, Mr J. McDonald, who lived near the house, disposing that orgies had taken place at the property. The Bench responded in a severe manner about the degradation of the neighbourhood by the defendants, who were then sentenced to prison for three months with hard labour (Globe, 9/4/1881: 2; Lyttelton Times, 11/4/1881: 3). Another newspaper article said the prisoners had flippantly informed the Bench that indeed they did have support, so much so that they had considered purchasing the house they rented from Mrs Murphy (Star, 9/4/1881: 3). Josephine Ellen, the elder of the women and deemed the keeper of the brothel, exclaimed ‘Vel, vot am I do mit my little dorgs!’ (New Zealand Herald, 21/4/1881: 3). It was not known what happened to the dogs and no further records could be found regarding Josephine Ellen, her name likely to be an alias. Mrs Murphy continued to let cottages in the new street and in October of 1881 one of the cottages burnt down (Star, 31/10/1881: 3).

In 1882 Murphy sold one of the properties to an Eva M Boyd (LINZ, 1860: 600). You could surmise it may have been the now empty section, as Boyd already lived in the street and had purchased a property with a shared boundary in 1881 and another later on in 1897. Boyd styled herself as ‘Mrs Boyd’, ‘Ada Boyd’, and ‘Mabel Ada Boyd’. Nothing was found with current research regarding a Mabel Ada Boyd prior to this time or an Eva Mabel Boyd.

‘Mrs Boyd’, as she was referred to, is noted in newspapers linked with the street from March 1881 where she was associated with a court case of a Frederick Walter Berry on a charge of vagrancy. It was deposed during the court case that Berry had been cooking for Mrs Boyd (Star, 20/5/1881: 3). Mrs Boyd started to make regular appearances in Magisterial proceedings where her home was described as a ‘house of ill-fame’ and a ‘brothel’ (Globe, 14/6/1882: 3; Star, 14/6/1882: 3). It seems Mrs Boyd picked up where Josephine Ellen left off. The following is a little unsettling, so reader beware.

Things came to a head in the street in 1883 when three people, Alice Hulbert, Ada Willett, and Alice Willet, were arrested on a charge of disposal of a body of a child. A woman, Boyd, also had a charge of concealment but had yet to be arrested. The body of the child was found ‘secreted’ in the garden adjoining the house occupied by Mrs Boyd. Some boys playing in the garden found the body concealed in brown paper. The body had been buried. It was not known at the time if the child was still born (Star, 3/5/1883: 3). As the court case progressed, Mrs Boyd was eventually found in Dunedin and arrested. Boyd was later noted in court attacking a Constable Neale, the principal witnesses in the case. The constable was said to have ‘parried’ off the attack very skilfully, suffering no injury from his ‘formidable assailant’ (Star, 15/5/1883: 2). As the details of the case transpired, it was a girl named Amy Dyson, a lodger with Boyd, who had died and had been pregnant. On hearing that the boys had found the body, the Willets, and Hulbert removed the body and reburied it elsewhere. None of the witnesses testified to have seen or buried the child (Evening Star, 5/5/1883: 2).

It was in these reports of the case that Mrs Boyd was referred to as Mabel Ada Boyd (Star, 15/5/1883: 3). Later, in the police gazette, it is recorded that the four women were charged of the offence of concealment of birth, but in consequence of a legal difficulty, the Crown Prosecutor presented an indictment (New Zealand Police Gazette, 8/8/1883: 140).

From 1884 Mrs Boyd appeared to have a consistent account of keeping a disorderly house and being described as a ‘nuisance’ in the new street. In a Magisterial hearing, Mabel Ada Boyd was accused of acting as the mistress of a house of ill fame. Her lawyer, Mr Joyce, even suggested she lease the property and close her business. One neighbour across the road from her property described the goings on as a ‘regular terror to the neighbours’ and it was a ‘very bad house’. Another neighbour also offered his property for sale to Mrs Boyd, in order to escape the bad character of the neighbourhood. Mrs Boyd stated that she did not live in the house. Mrs Boyd was noted as living on the corner of the street in a rental property belonging to a Mr John Goston, which incidentally had recently burnt down (Press, 9/4/1884: 2; Lyttelton Times, 24/4/1884: 3). In 1885 another fire in the street burnt down a four-roomed cottage owned by Mrs Mabel Ada Boyd. The dwelling was considered old and had not been inhabited for 12 months. It was also stated that Mrs Boyd had gone to Wellington, and the property was to be leased to Mrs John Hannan. In a strange twist, this was the wife of the same Hannan that owned the properties originally (Lyttelton Times, 7/2/1885: 5; Star, 7/2/1885: 3).

The perceptions of prostitutes in 19th century New Zealand. Image: Blomfield, William, 1866-1938. Blomfield, William, 1866-1938: The Seven Ages of a Lost Sister. New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, 12 October 1889. Ref: H-713-095. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22306446

After this eventful phase in the street, things seem to have settled down. Mrs Boyd was gone, having moved to Wellington and styling herself as Ada Boyd.  Again, Mrs Boyd is accused of bringing down the tone of a neighbourhood, this time in Boulcott Street Wellington.  The newspapers titled Boyd as a ‘notorious woman of ill-fame’ in an article titled ‘A Den of Iniquity’ (New Zealand Times, 10/9/1885: 3). Boyd was charged with keeping a disorderly house, frequented by idle and disorderly persons, and having no lawful visible means of support. Apparently, the nuisance had been tolerated by residents of Boulcott Street for some time, and it was hoped that it would be abated. The house was located in a very respectable area of town and close to two schools. The house was owned by a leading citizen of Wellington, no other than Mr John Plimmer. Plimmer stated that the lease was held by another woman called Farris. A Detective Chrystal gave evidence that Boyd kept a brothel with three girls called Carrie Williams, Sarah Williams (with an alias of Brighting), and Clara Mitchell.  A woman called Woodroofe, from Christchurch also resided at the property. It was stated that Boyd had been convicted of similar charges in Christchurch (New Zealand Times, 10/9/1885: 3). Boyd was later charged on remand and by 22 September had left the house in Boulcott Street (Evening Post, 22/9/1885: 3).

As for the new street? By 1891 it was renamed and the mysterious Eva Mabel Boyd, now listed as an Auckland spinster, seems to have purchased another section of land in the street in 1897. By 1899 the property was acquired by a building firm, who quickly subdivided, and developed the property into respectable residential sections – deemed no doubt by the Victorians as a more palatable enterprise for a new street.

-The Historian, Underground Overground Archaeology

References

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, 1877-1839. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds Index – A/S – Subdivisions of Christchurch town sections. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times, 1851-1920. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Evening Star, 1865-1947. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Globe, 1874-1882. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

MacDonald, G.R., 1952-1964. Macdonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biography project. [online] Canterbury Museum. Available at: <https://collection.canterburymuseum.com/objects?query=maker_name%3A%22George+Ranald+Macdonald%22>.

New Zealand Police Gazettes, 1877-1945 [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

New Zealand Herald, 1863-1945. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Star, 1868-1920. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

 

The Sum of a Life

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.

Town Reserves 4 and 5 are outlined in blue on the 1862 Fook’s map. What would become Lots 7 and 8 is outlined in red. Image: Fooks, 1862. 

Details from DP 51, showing Clogstown and Walker’s subdivision of Town Reserve 4 and 5 into 40 residential lots. Lots 7 and 8 are outlined in red. Image: LINZ, 1875c. DP 51, Canterbury. Landonline.

The sections advertised for sale. Image: Star 01/02/1875: 4. 

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.

Rowley’s advertisement in the newspaper that he had accepted Mr Verrall’s tender to build his how on St Asaph Street. Image: Press 13/02/1875: 1

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.

The announcement of Scott’s daughter’s marriage, in which their St Asaph Street house is referred to as Abbotsford House. Image: Lyttelton Times 13/17/1888: 4. 

The two houses shown on the 1877 Strouts Map. Rowley’s house in on the left and Scott’s on the right. Image: Strouts, 1877. 

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.

A photograph from our monitoring. The contractors excavate the areas of the site that they need to for the new building foundations. We watch them dig and if they hit any archaeology, we have them stop and wait while we investigate it by hand. Image: J. Hearfield.

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.

Some of the rubbish pits we found at the site. Once they have been exposed like this by the digger, the archaeologist investigates them by hand. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A mid-excavation photo of one of the rubbish pits from the site. Image: A. Trendafilov.

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.

Firstly, we didn’t find a lot at the sites. At Rowley’s site we found 133 artefacts, represented by 444 fragments, and at Scott’s site we found 109 artefacts, represented by 548 fragments, so pretty similar small assemblage sizes. Here are most of the ceramic artefacts found at the two sites. Rowley’s is shown on the left and Scott’s on the right. In terms of similarities, the Asiatic Pheasants, Rhine, and Willow patterns were found at both sites, as were sprigged and gilt banded tea ware vessels. These are decoration styles that we find across the city, and are very typical of the 1875-1900 period. However, like most of our sites, we found a range of different patterns suggesting that the two families were likely purchasing individual items that they liked, rather than focusing on maintaining sets (the teacup with the blue floral pattern from the Scott family assemblage is particularly nice). There are some interesting things in the Scott family assemblage. We found six penny ink bottles and an ink well. A search through the newspaper records show that school lessons were being advertised from the Scott’s house on St Asaph Street. A C. M’Farland is recorded as being the one offering the lessons. I haven’t quite been able to work out how he relates to the Scott family, but it seems likely that the ink bottles found at the site related to M’Farland’s school lessons at the property. We also found a miniature cup and jug, and a child’s plate in the Scott family assemblage.

The Scott’s weren’t the only ones to be offering lessons from their house. Next door, Miss Rowley, Joseph Rowley’s daughter, was offering piano, singing, drawing and painting lessons. Image: Lyttelton Times 17/09/1890: 8. 

Similar to the ceramic assemblages, the glass assemblages from Rowley and Scott’s sites are very typical of the 1875-1900 period. At both sites, alcohol bottles were most common, followed by pharmaceutical bottles and then condiment bottles. These bottles were types we often see on our archaeological sites, such as black beer, case gin, ring seal, hock wine, salad oil, castor oil, and rectangular bevelled pharmaceutical bottles, as well as pickle jars. As you can see from the photos, more complete bottles were found at Rowley’s site rather than Scott’s site. It may be that the Scotts were returning complete bottles back to retailers so that the bottles could be refilled and reused, and were only choosing to throw away bottles that broke, but it also may be that taphonomic processes have resulted in bottle breakages.

In terms of what else was found at the site, the Rowley’s assemblage was quite interesting as we found the soles from seven shoes in one of the rubbish pits. Most of these shoes were made using slightly older shoe making techniques, with the soles of the shoes attached using wooden pegs rather than nails, and at least two had been re-soled. This suggested that the Rowley family wore their shoes until they were completely worn out. That several shoes were found in the one feature perhaps suggests that most of the family got new shoes at one time, with the old shoes finally thrown away. Other finds from the Rowley site included writing slate, a doll’s arm, a safety pin, and a glass cruet bottle. We also found shoe fragments at the Scott’s site, however these hadn’t survived well and were very fragmented. We also found two bone toothbrushes, two porcelain Prosser buttons, and fragments from a basket weave moulded clay pipe. I like artefacts like these as they are such personal items and provide a real connection to the past.

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

 

 

 

The archaeology of natural disasters

When people first settled in Aotearoa, they had no idea that they were sitting upon a slice of one of two supercontinents; Gondwanaland. Around eighty-three million years ago this slice we now live on, known to us as Zealandia, broke away. We wouldn’t recognise Zealandia as it was then; most of it is now underwater. The bits which still protrude above sea level is New Zealand. The earth’s crust is still on the move though, which we can see on the surface through earthquakes, volcanoes and smaller geothermal vents (McLauchlan 2014: 7-8). All of these things are familiar to any New Zealander. While I don’t believe earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are events we’ll ever become used to, we now understand why they happen and are better equipped to deal with the aftermath.

Long before I had even stepped foot on the South Island, on 22nd February 2011 at 12.51pm an earthquake, with its epicentre in Lyttelton and a magnitude of 6.3, struck Canterbury (GeoNet 2018). Although we are now able to understand (thanks to modern scholarship) why earthquakes happen, it does not make the loss of life any easier. Unlike the previous earthquake that had struck Canterbury in 2010, this one took the lives of 185 people and had a devastating effect on the city’s infrastructure and landscape. While the Garden City had felt the effect of earthquakes in past, none had quite the same effect as these ones.

An example of damage to the Cathedral by an earlier quake to hit Christchurch in 1888. Photo: Christchurch City Library CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0059.

Damage to buildings in the CBD, Christchurch following the February 2011 earthquake. Photo: GeoNet.

Large rock falls in Sumner, Christchurch triggered by the February 2011 earthquake. Photo: GeoNet.

Since nothing with this much of a devastating impact has happened within New Zealand since the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in 1931, how are we supposed to know how to deal with the situation? Well, we don’t really. There is not really a right or wrong answer to this. We, as archaeologists, sit on a cusp of responsibility; to record the archaeology (that is anything pre-1900) for future generations and research whilst the demolition and regeneration of the city takes place, but also to do so quickly and not hinder these vital works whilst providing the best advice we can. I wasn’t here when the earthquakes took place but almost seven years on from the last severe earthquake of 2011, I find myself working on earthquake projects. The city is reinventing itself and will be for the foreseeable future. We’ve spoken on the blog previously about the challenges we face working in archaeology during natural disasters, but I want to take a more theoretical approach to disaster archaeology today. Theory plays a huge role in our interpretations within archaeology, but we tend to leave that for the reports and scholarly papers. I wanted to share with you today the theory I’ve applied whilst studying the impact of earthquakes and (especially) their aftermath.

First on the scene: archaeologists and tanks in the CBD following the February 2011 quake. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

So, here’s the technical bit: as archaeologists here in New Zealand we work under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act. This however was superseded by the Canterbury Earthquake (Historic Place Act) Order 2011 following the earthquakes. This order meant that the process of application for an archaeological authority was much quicker, and we were able to fulfil that moral obligation of not slowing down works.

Much of the CBD resembled this post quakes. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

The historical facades, that have for so long been associated with Christchurch by many, suffered extensive damage during the 2011 quake and had to be demolished. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

Often when we think of the archaeology of natural disasters our minds jump to the destruction of Pompeii or Pleistocene extinction. But what many forget, including archaeologists, is we all live through natural disasters and the archaeology that they create . In fact, here in Christchurch we have lived through/are still living through such a unique archaeological experience it can be difficult to know what to do with all the information. As it is a requirement by law to have an archaeological authority before altering or removing an archaeological site, you can imagine how much of Christchurch this would have affected. The entire CBD is considered a high risk zone for pre-1900 activity. A positive (for lack of a better word) is the huge wealth of information we’ve been able to retrieve about Christchurch and its formative years during post-earthquake works. Following the initial demolition of unsafe buildings much of this debris has been removed, exposing the 19th and 20th century layers in the archaeological record, which we have recorded as works have happened to avoid this information being lost forever. American archaeologist Shannon Lee Dawdy, who worked as an advisor post-Hurricane Katrina,  rightly argued that the moving of debris, the burying of past living surfaces and the rearranging of the landscape post disaster exposes the relationship between people and their landscape (2006: 720). Here in Christchurch, archaeologists were on the ground and in the red zone immediately. I’m able to talk to my colleagues here and find out how the major and minor decisions regarding the removal of debris and dirt changed the landscape of the city. For the past seven years archaeologists have been working constantly to keep up with the speed of the city’s demolition and rebuild, and now we’re making the transition from earthquake based work back to the ‘normal’ way of doing things.

“The Latin root for resilience is salire, to jump or spring.” – Hayward 2013: 37

When disasters strike a community, the challenges that come with this test more than just our physical resilience, but our economy, democracy, and our emotions (Hayward 2013: 36). A topic that we don’t talk about too often on this blog is the emotional aspect of archaeology. Most people become archaeologists because they want to understand the history of the everyday men and women, not just those in the history books (or at least this was a big factor for me). Through the study of phenomenology (the study of consciousness and direct experiences) and taphonomy (the study of the formative and disturbance processes effecting the archaeological record) I have been piecing together the changes in Christchurch and the impact that has had on the people, specifically their emotional experience and how, through the changing landscape, we’re able to express the way we feel. Emotions can, however, be hard to interpret as (in most cases) we are unable to leave an imprint of our emotions within the archaeological record that will one day excavated or recorded by  future archaeologists. One way we can do this however, is to memorialise the event that took place and the life that was lost. Most scholars agree that the critical ingredient of a disaster is the victims (Torrence & Grattan 2002: 5). To remember these victims’ reaction to disaster is one way we do this; for example we see monuments across the world to commemorate those who lost their lives in war. As material reminders of the past, these monuments form part of the archaeological record, as much as any of the buildings and artefacts left behind. Within Christchurch we can see the poignant 185 white chairs, including one baby seat. This is a temporary art installation by artist Pete Majendie, but there has been an outcry to keep the chairs as they have become symbolic in remembering the victims and the quake. One idea is to permanently install the chairs, each different and individual, at the site of the CTV building where so many lost their lives in an almost ‘ground zero’ nature (185 Empty Chairs, 2016). A more permeant feature to recently be added is the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial Wall, which has the names of those who lost their lives etched into the stone. This is an enduring way to remember those that lost their lives and enters their names into the archaeological record, making our emotions clear for years to come through these commemorations. In fact, the memorial is a fantastic example of how the landscape was deliberately altered to create this monument as they significantly excavated the river bank for the wall.

The temporary art installation 185 Empty Chairs, which is beginning to take a more permanent place in the ‘new’ Christchurch. Photo: Instagram.

Before: the riverbank where the Earthquake Memorial now stands. Photo: Megan Hickey

During: the redesign of the riverbank. Photo: Megan Hickey.

After: The Christchurch Earthquake Memorial, part of the Otakaro Avon River Precinct project opened 2011, where the names of those who lost their lives are to be permanently remembered. Photo: Kathy Davidson.

The landscape of Christchurch changed so quickly that people became lost in their own city, quite literally not able to find their way around, as the landmarks they had once used as guideposts no longer stood. I, for example, never saw the ‘old’ Christchurch that locals speak so fondly of. It’s a strange thought that two people in the same city can have such different relationships with the same place. I have experienced a modern city blossom from destruction, however many people remember the ‘old’ city and its subsequent demolition. Even a year and a half ago when I moved to the city, there were still huge areas of debris and buildings still being pulled down. Within recent months it feels like the rebuild has really picked up momentum, and it’s quite honestly an exciting city to be in. To have played (a small) role in that process has been an amazing experience. We’re living in a city that faced crisis, but rebuilt itself unlike so many ancient civilisations where natural disaster often resulted in the dramatic end of a culture (Dawdy 2006: 720). Is that due to the times we live in and the technology we have at our disposal? Or is it due to the socio-political structure we live in, where the rest of New Zealand came to the aid of Christchurch? Or is it due to a more resilient people? My guess would be a mixture of all three.

Kathy Davidson

References

185 Empty Chairs [online] Available at: https://www.185chairs.co.nz/about-185-empty-chairs/ [Accessed July 2018]

Christchurch City Libraries [online] Available at: https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/ [Accessed July 2018]

Dawdy, S.L. (2006) The Taphonomy of Disaster and the (Re)Formation of New Orleans. American Anthropologist. Vol. 108(No. 4): 719-730.

GeoNet [online] Available at: https://www.geonet.org.nz/ [Accessed July 2018]

Hayward, B.M. (2013) Rethinking resiliences: reflections on the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, 2010 and 2011. Ecology and Society. Vol. 18(No. 4): 36-42.

McGuire, W.J., Griffiths, P.L, Hancock, P.L. and Stewart, I.S. (2000) The Archaeology of Geological Catastrophes, The Geological Society: London.

McLauchlan, G. (2014) A Short History of New Zealand. David Bateman Ltd: Auckland.

Torrence, R. and Grattan, J. (2002) Natural Disasters and Cultural Change. Routledge: London.

Let’s paint the town, shall we?

So much of the archaeology that we deal with on a daily basis, particularly from an artefacts perspective, is associated with the everyday domestic lives of Christchurch’s 19th century residents that it becomes quite easy to forget about the other industrial and commercial aspects of life in the city in the 1800s. Every now and then, however, we are reminded that – as is the case today – there was another side to Christchurch that was just as important, if not quite as archaeologically obvious.

On that note, while working through a box of artefacts recently, I came across several stoneware jar stoppers with DAVID STORER AND SONS / GLASGOW impressed on the top, circling the image of a bell. As it turns out, David Storer and Sons were oil and paint manufacturers operating during the latter decades of the 19th century. They made all kinds of paint, oil and varnishes, from olive and linseed oils to white lead paints, yellow ochre paints and several types of varnish. Presumably, some of these were intended as artist’s paints, while others were made for more utilitarian or structural purposes (still artistic in a way, though, right?).

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

Their products show up in shipping manifestos and advertisements from the 1870s well into the 1890s, despite a plethora of notices in 1887 that the company ‘failed’ (i.e. went bankrupt). I have no idea what happened after this point or how their products continued to be sold in the 1890s – the aftermath clearly wasn’t as sensational or newsworthy as the failure. The lids that we found are likely to have belonged to one (or several) of the builders, carpenters and painters located on the site during the latter decades of the 19th century. The paint, oil or varnish contained within those jars could have been used to paint houses, furniture, cabinets, paintings, fences, machinery and who knows what else.

And, it got me thinking. Researching the life and times of David Storer and Sons led me to wonder about 19th century paint in general: how it was made, what it was used for, whether we have other archaeological evidence for its use in Christchurch. It’s not something we normally think about, archaeologically, but  – as it is today – it would have been everywhere back then.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

As it turns out, there were several types of paint available to New Zealand residents in the 19th century, from lead and zinc based mixes to paint made from iron oxide, asbestos (yes, you read that right), hematite, rubber, potatoes and skim milk. Some of these were available wet, while others arrived in the country in powdered form (just add water!). There was luminous paint (used on buoys), sanitary paint (not what you think, or, at least, not what I thought…), disinfecting paint, heat sensitive paint and even fire-resistant paint. Several articles and advertisements detail experiments undertaken to see how well certain paints helped to prevent fires, most of them surprisingly successful.

Advertisements also suggest that a range of colours were also available, from yellow ochre to red and white lead paints, white zinc paints and ‘Prussian blue’ (apparently made from the ashes of horses hooves). Lead based paints were very common and, as you would expect, sometimes affected the health of those around them. One account tells the story of a whole family who suffered from lead poisoning thanks to a painter who lost his lead paint covered brush at the bottom of the rainwater tank and contaminated their drinking water.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

Interestingly, New Zealand appears to have had its own paint manufacturing industry fairly early on, with the New Zealand Hematite Paint Company established operating in the 1880s with factories in Nelson and Collingwood. A Mr Louisson was making hematite paint in Timaru in the 1860s or 1870s (later bought out by the NZ Hematite Paint Company), and another paint manufacturing company based in Thames made oxide of iron paint in the 1880s. Smith and Smith, now a name synonymous with window glass repair, were also active as paint manufacturers and distributors from the early 20th century onwards (often with slightly less than PC advertisements).

Despite the strong local industry, still more types of paint were imported from overseas, with shipments coming from America (Vulcan paint!), Australia and the United Kingdom. Scotland does appear to have had its fair share of paint exporters, with several advertisements for Scottish paints appearing in contemporary newspapers.

The uses of paint in urban life haven’t changed much over the years, although there are perhaps fewer articles now suggesting that we should paint all our ships with luminous paint to prevent collisions. Hematite paint was used on everything from railways to most metal structures (it was less corrosive than lead paint on metal). Sanitary paint, despite it’s name, was used for internal walls and “all outside work in wood, irons or stone, from a steamship to a golf ball.” Other uses noted included priming, machinery, bridges and barns, agricultural implements and branding sheep.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Unfortunately, when it comes to archaeological evidence of paint use in the past – other than the occasional container lid – material is scarce, especially on 19th century buildings. Many buildings are, of course, repainted over the years (it would be very unusual to find the original coat of paint without any later layers over the top). Interior and exterior decoration of houses adapted to match the changing fashions of the last century and a half, so it stands to reason that very little evidence of 19th century house paint remains, particularly on external walls and weatherboards.

Additionally, in our experience, a lot of 19th century houses used wallpaper rather than paint as interior decoration. We occasionally find paint on skirting boards and trim (under several layers of later wallpaper and paint), but it doesn’t appear to have been used much on the internal walls themselves. Sometimes, we’ve come across instances where the floors or stairs of a building have been painted – often on either side of a rug – but it’s difficult to tell whether this is Victorian or not. Other times, we’ve seen paint used as a decorative element in the interior design – used to colour a ceiling rose, for example, or stencilled on to the ceiling.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: M. Hennessey. 

The relatively infrequent use of paint in the interior of houses may have been partly a cost or fashion issue, but was probably largely a result of the materials used to form the walls. Lath and plaster, for example, is far more suited to wallpaper than to paint, as is scrim – both of which were often used on internal walls. Tongue and groove match lining could sometimes be painted, but is far more likely to have been varnished instead. In truth, it seems like paint would have been used most often on exterior walls – which, of course, we’re unlikely to see. It’s weird really – for something so visible, paint is strangely invisible in the archaeological record.

There’s so many aspects of life that we take for granted – both in the past and now – things that are all around us all the time, which form the fabric of our material worlds and set the scene for the stageshow of our lives (to get all melodramatic and Shakespearian on you). The relative archaeological obscurity of something like paint is especially ironic, given the purpose for which it is intended. It’s just not something I thought about, until an unknown Scottish company and a small stoneware lid reminded me to look for it. Yet another reminder that the smallest of objects can have the greatest of stories to tell.

Jessie Garland