Cleanliness and Quality Combined

It came as a bit of a surprise when over 1000 fragments of broken stoneware jars were unearthed at an otherwise ordinary Christchurch archaeological site.

Sample of the artefacts found at the site. Image: Julia Hughes

Sample of the artefacts found at the site. Image: J. Hughes.

But there, sitting under some old petrol tanks, was Christchurch history waiting to be found.What made this very large assemblage more interesting was the clear warning emblazoned along the base of some of the examples: “PERSONS DETAINING, MISAPPROPRIATING OR TRADING WITH THIS JAR ARE LIABLE TO BE PROSECUTED”.

Warning label printed along the base of a jar. Image: Laura Davies

Warning label printed along the base of a jar. Image: L. Davies.

Initial research for this address, located along Worcester Street, had not returned much information. An 1877  map showed the section was empty but there were buildings on the surrounding land. We know that in the early 20th century the lot was owned by Henry Thomas Joynt Thacker, a “colourful”

mayor of Christchurch (LINZ 1911; Rice 2012). A resident for the street number used today, however, could not be found, with only the adjacent street numbers mentioned. Enter archaeology. After the ceramics had been thoroughly cleaned, the name ‘Sharpe Bros’ appeared, printed or impressed in different fonts and of varying quality. This narrowed research down from any time in Christchurch’s historical record to the time between 1908 and 1914, when the Sharpe brothers, cordial manufacturers, had a factory one number down from the site in question.

The Sharpe brothers hailed from England, with the eldest brother John Sharpe moving to warmer climes to improve his health in 1900. After joining his brother Percy, who had immigrated to New Zealand earlier, the two opened the first Sharpe Brothers cordial factory in Dunedin in 1903. Apparently not ones to waste time, by the end of 1905 Sharpe Brothers manufacturers could be found in Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Sydney (Sharpe 1992). The two brothers were prohibitionists and prided themselves on their non-intoxicating drink. The Sharpe Brothers operated in New Zealand until the final branch in New Plymouth closed its doors in 1981 (Wellington Antique Bottle & Collectables Club 2003).

Sharpe brothers newspaper notice about returning jars. (Thames Star 7/3/1911)

Sharpe Brothers newspaper notice about returning jars (Thames Star 7/3/1911).

The rather intimidating warning found on some of the fragments made sense now, too. The Sharpe Brothers, like most manufacturers of one-gallon stoneware jars, saw the large vessels as loans and these were not purchased when you bought the drink that the jar contained. A look at old newspapers from around New Zealand showed that the Sharpe Brothers just as frequently advertised their goods as they printed warnings that asked for their one-gallon bottles to be returned. The jars were a key component of the early Sharpe Brothers company. These jars were not only what they sold their product in (until the 1930s) but the names impressed on the front showed ownership and were a form of advertising (Sharpe 1992). But were jars returned? And if they were, were they re-used? How long were the jars used for? And what did they do with all the old jars?

Sharpe Brothers stoneware jar body fragments. Image: Laura Davies

Sharpe Brothers stoneware jar body fragments. Image: L. Davies.

Well, there are at least five different types of Sharpe Brothers one-gallon jars recovered from the site. Some were made by Doulton and Co. from London and another was made by P. Hutson and Co. from Wellington. Some had handles pre-dating John Sharpe’s patented wire handle in 1904 (Sharpe 1992), and some were decorated with taps and displayed the medals Sharpe Brothers were awarded at the 1906-1907 New Zealand International Exhibition.

Sharpe Brothers tap jar with images of medals won at the International New Zealand Exhibition in Christchurch. Image: Laura Davies

Sharpe Brothers tap jar with images of medals won at the International New Zealand Exhibition in Christchurch. Image: L. Davies.

Even though the company had been operating in Christchurch since 1905 the section wasn’t used by the brothers until 1908, therefore the presence of the handled jar forms from before the 1904 wire handle patent indicate that jars could be in rotation for a number of years. This is further evidenced by the presence of the jars made by Doulton & Co., which could have been the jars ordered from England in 1905 (Press 20/4/1905). The two manufacturers and different styles present means that rather than discarding an old design when a new one was introduced, Sharpe Brothers probably used the old jars until they broke. The mass grave of these old ceramic vessels suggests that when the jars broke, they were tossed into a hole out the back of the property. Though the density of the deposit could indicate that the old jars were used as foundations. In the Sydney branch the old unwanted Sharpe Brothers jars were broken and used in foundations when the focus shifted to crown seal bottles (Sharpe 1992). It could also be that in Christchurch the old bottles were kept to the side to be repurposed later and in 1914, when the factory moved to Armagh Street, they decided to dispose of all old stock instead of moving it to the new premises.

Notice posted by Sharpe Brothers about the order of Jars from England. Press (20/4/1905)

Notice posted by Sharpe Brothers about the order of jars from England (Press 20/4/1905).

Doulton & Co. manufacturing mark. Image: Laura Davies

Doulton & Co. manufacturing mark. Image: L. Davies.

Amongst all the Sharpe Brothers jars was a single example of a Ballin Brothers ginger beer bottle. Was it accidentally returned to the wrong place? Or was it a rebellious act of drinking the competition at work?

We never know what artefacts, if any, lie beneath the ground. But that’s the point. Archaeology can not only point us in the right direction to research a site’s history but can add depth, insights and evidence about the day-to-day workings of an influential New Zealand business. It may not always seem like it but it’s important to remember that fragments of broken, dirty, petrol-covered jars from a company whose motto read “Cleanliness and Quality combined” are as much a part of Christchurch’s history as carefully preserved papers.

Laura Davies


Cyclopedia Company Limited, 1905. Otago and Southland Provincial Districts: Cordial Manufacturers. [online] Available at:

LINZ, 1911. CB211/72, Canterbury. Landonline.

Press. [online] Available at

Rice, G. W., 2012. Thacker, Henry Thomas Joynt – Thacker, Henry Thomas Joynt. [online] Available at:

Sharpe, D., 1992. Remember That Heavenly Ginger Beer? A History of Sharpe Bros. Impact Printing: Melbourne.

Thames Star. [online] Available at

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

Wellington Antique Bottle & Collectables Club., 2003. Sharpe Bros. [online] Available at 

Christchurch: a global city

Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps. It sounds pretty exotic, right? As it happens, bottles that contained this schnapps are frequently found on 19th century archaeological sites all over the western world. The particular example of the bottle we’re featuring today was found during the excavation of the site of H. F. Stevens Ltd’s premises. Stevens was a wholesale chemist who was based in Worcester Street, near Cathedral Square, from the early 20th century And no, the chemist wasn’t drinking on the side – the schnapps was marketed as a medicine, and its presence at the site is representative of Christchurch’s position within a global trade network.

A Udolpho Wolfe's Aromatic Schnapps bottle found at the former site of H. F. Stevens's wholesale chemist. Image: J. Moyle.

A Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle found at the former site of H. F. Stevens’s wholesale chemist. Image: J. Moyle.

Our modern economic system is based on mass international exchange: the exchange of ideas, of labour and of goods. It’s all too easy to think that this system is a product of the late 20th century. In fact, international trade goes back to the Stone Age, but it was developments in the 19th century that really saw a global economy develop. Mass production, the forceful opening of new markets through colonial expansion and the rise of modern capitalist structures such as joint stock companies in the 19th century enabled the building of big business and the export of products all over the world.

Christchurch’s 19th century archaeology offers tangible evidence of this system. Many of the artefacts we find on 19th century sites in the city come not just from England – the country that most European settlers in Christchurch called home – but from all over the world. Amongst these, Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps provides a particularly good example of the development of trade and industry in the 19th century.

Evening Post 21:6:1877 page 2

An 1877 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe’s Schiedam Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Evening Post 21/6/1877:2.

The eccentrically named Udolpho Wolfe was a Jewish-American of German extraction. His family was notable in the United States even without their schnapps legacy. Udolpho’s father was a major in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, as well as being a friend of the fifth American president, James Monroe. Young Udolpho started his career in the 1820s, working for his elder brother Joel, a wine and sprit merchant. At the age of 21 Udolpho became a partner in the business. In 1839 the business went international when the brothers opened a distillery in Schiedam, Holland. And in 1848 Udolpho (now the senior partner) introduced Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps to the world.

Unlike the sweet fruity schnapps many will be familiar with in New Zealand today, Udolpho’s schnapps was a grain-based alcohol, flavoured with juniper berry essence. The spirit savvy amongst you will realise that this means that it was just plain old gin. What made the schnapps special was the way it was marketed. Sold not as a ‘frivolous beverage’, Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps was instead marketed as a wonderful medicine. In the (somewhat elaborate) words of the manufacturer:

As a tonic and corrective it is a positive specific, and will be found to prevent and remove the troubles occasioned by malarious influences or impure water, and is therefore an indispensable vade mecum for travellers and those who are unacclimated. At the same time its palatable flavour, and generally salutary qualities render it eminently desirable as a healthful substitute for the fiery potations which, in this country especially, are productive of such deleterious consequences.

            New Zealand Herald 29/9/1874: 3

Once described as a “vigorous advertiser” (Putnam’s Magazine 14 (23): 638), it seems that Udolpho Wolfe did everything he could to make sure that this was the perspective held by all potential consumers.

An 1874 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe's Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Auckland Star 14/3/1874: 1.

An 1874 advertisement for Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps. Image: Auckland Star 14/3/1874: 1.

His approach must have worked, as the business of schnapps went from strength to strength. Supposedly over 90,000 cases of a dozen quart bottles (or two dozen pint bottles) were being moved per year by the 1870s; that’s at least 1 million schnapps bottles sold around the world.

Aside from this prodigious quantity, the international aspect of the trade is quite remarkable. After being produced in Schiedam, the schnapps destined for consumption in the United States, Central America and the Caribbean was shipped to New York City for bottling and distribution. Meanwhile, schnapps to be sold in Europe, South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand was sent from Schiedam to Hamburg, where it was bottled and then shipped away. This, then, was an American company, producing liquor in Holland, bottling it in America and Germany, and exporting it to the four corners of the globe. Because of this massive trade one can now find bottles bearing the label ‘Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps’ in archaeological sites around the globe.

Having finished its long journey from Europe to Christchurch, the schnapps – and other medicines – would have been distributed by H. F. Stevens to chemists in the city, thus enabling the citizens of Christchurch to indulge in the ‘healthy benefits’ of Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps, along with the rest of the world. Even in the 19th century, Christchurch was part of the global economic system.

Jeremy Moyle


Auckland Star. [online] Available at:

Carter, M. and Moyle, J., 2012. 103-105 Worcester Street, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Nikau Contractors Ltd.

Evening Post. [online] Available at:

Marcus, J. R., 1989. United States Jewry 1776-1985. Wayne State University Press, Detroit.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at:

Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art. [online] Available at:

Syracuse Daily Courier & Union. [onilne] Available at: