Archaeology

The sad story of the secret staircase

Fig-1-1.jpg

The thing about being a buildings archaeologist is that even though some houses might look the same, the story of their occupants and occupation is always different. These stories of occupation are not always revealed in the archaeology of the buildings themselves, and are usually unearthed by our team of historians. When recording a house in the central city, we were confronted with a building that was most intriguing from a buildings archaeology perspective and had a sad story to match.

What made the house different was a ‘secret staircase’ located in the kitchen wall. From a buildings archaeology point of view this staircase didn’t appear to be an original feature, as its installation meant that one of the rooms in the house was unusable. Nor did it appear to have been used for some time, as the floorboards had been replaced where the stairs had once exited on the second floor, and the wall in the second-floor room where a doorway associated with the stairs had been located had been relined in the late 19th century. So why was it there?

fig-2.jpg
fig-3.jpg
fig-4.jpg
fig-5.jpg
fig-6.jpg
fig-7.jpg
fig-8.jpg
fig-9.jpg
fig-10.jpg
fig-11.jpg
fig-12.jpg

Historian Chelsea Dickson was tasked with uncovering the story of the construction and occupation of the house. What she discovered, and how it meshed with the buildings archaeology, is related below in the ‘Sad Story of the Secret Staircase.’

When Henry Wilkinson, a cobbler and shoe merchant, purchased the relevant land parcel from Cyrus Davie in 1872 he was looking to build a home for himself and his family. His wife Anna Maria, two daughters Laura (the eldest) and Louisa, and his son James Walter were no doubt looking forward to the prospect of living in a brand new home close (but not too close) to town, with the river nearby and Linwood East School just a short walk up Barbadoes Street.

Building started soon after the section was purchased, and the house was complete and the family had moved in by December 1872. Unfortunately, the reason we know that Henry and his family were in occupation of the house at the time is because of the funeral notice for the middle child, Louisa, who passed away in the house aged 7½ (Press 2/12/1872). This tragedy was followed 18 days later when the youngest child, James Walter, passed away aged 4 years (Press 20/12/1872).

By September 1873 Anna Maria had also passed away, aged 37, leaving only Henry and Laura at the house.

In 1874 Henry advertised the four front rooms of the dwelling to let as “the front apartments, four rooms, for a respectable family, of three to four adults, next to Mrs Cyrus Davie’s” (Lyttelton Times 9/4/1874: 4). In order for the tenants to access the kitchen, which was located in the rear of the building, Henry had a staircase built into the wall between the kitchen and the parlour, which provided access from the front upstairs bedroom to the kitchen.

This is the ‘secret staircase’.

Presumably the secret staircase went out of use when Henry ceased letting out the front four rooms of his house, probably in 1875 when he married Annie Martha Griffiths, and hopefully lived happily ever after.

Peter Mitchell

References

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register.

LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A/S 1 – Subdivisions of town reserves register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].

 

An archaeological treasure trove!

IMG_20170522_114712_HDR.jpg

As explained at length in the past, archaeologists don't much like the use of the word 'treasure'. But this really is an archaeological treasure trove - lots and lots of artefacts, from which we shall learn lots and lots of fantastic information. Angel is responsible for this beautifully excavated feature, which we think was probably associated with the London and Paris House, a fancy goods store on Colombo Street in the 1860s and early 1870s. Enjoy!

IMG_20170523_091417_1_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170523_110342_1_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170523_114631_1_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170523_114644_2_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170523_141319_1_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170523_141056_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170523_141434_2_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170523_153745_HDR.jpg
P5170070.jpg

The Trooper

Ceramics have been decorated to commemorate a range of events, people and places since long before the 19th century. The practice is particularly tied to British royalty, with some rather intense results. While tankards, jugs, plaques, mugs and miniature wares are most commonly decorated for commemorative purposes, a number of different ceramic types could be used in this manner (Perry 2011). The subject of the blog today is inspired by two mustard jars from Christchurch that commemorate events from the Crimean War. The Crimean War occurred from 1853 to 1856. Caused by the failing Ottoman Empire and power struggles between countries over religious rights of access to the Holy Land, two key parts of the war are depicted on these household artefacts, the Siege of Sevastopol (also known as Sebastopol) and the Battle of Balaklava (or Balaclava; Goldi Productions Ltd 1996 & 2000Wikipedia 2017).

The first of these came from the large Justice Precinct site in the city centre. It was decorated with polychrome transfer print in a style often identified as ‘prattware’. Prattware refers to polychrome underglaze transfer printed scenes that were associated with the manufacturers F. & R. Pratt & Co. Ltd (Perry 2010). This particular jar featured a scene known as the ‘The Fall of Sebastopol 8th Sept. 1855’ (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This scene refers to one of the classic sieges of the Crimean War, which aimed to capture the significant Russian naval base in the port of Sevastopol, on the Black Sea (Bunting 2017).

The print depicts and names Sir Harry Jones, the famous British military man who served in the Crimean War as commander of the British forces at the battle of Bomarsund and of the Royal Engineer forces at the Siege of Sevastopol (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). Most descriptions of this pattern presume that Sir Harry Jones is the figure on the stretcher in the scene, although there is no record of his being wounded during the battle. The full title of the pattern includes the date 8th September 1855, when the Battle of Malakoff occurred and the Russian forces began to withdraw (Atkinson 1911: 451-453; Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017).

The second mustard jar base was found on a residential site just outside the city centre. The whiteware jar had a polychrome transfer printed design depicting a battle and the words “The/…OON/CHAR…” around the base. This would have formed the full phrase: “THE DRAGOON CHARGE” (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This print depicts the Battle of Balaklava fought on 25 October 1854 as a part of the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. The Battle of Balaklava was a Russian assault on the British allied supply base that involved the famous Thin Red Line military tactic and the infamously deadly Charge of the Light Brigade (Wikipedia 2017).

 

Although no maker’s marks were evident on the base of either jar, examples of the same printed Prattware are attributed to the manufacturers John Thomas and Joseph Mayer. Thomas and Mayer manufactured pottery in Longport, Burslem, Staffordshire between 1842 and 1855 (Kowalsky & Kowalsky 1999: 274). The date range for the operation of the Thomas and Mayer company and the commemorative nature of the prints suggests a manufacturing date in the 1850s, possibly as early as late 1854 to 1855. This would have taken place while the Crimean war was still ongoing.

Although little remembered today, the Crimean War is often described as the “first truly modern war” (Groll and Frankel 2014). With the advent of new technology, industry and weaponry, the resulting high casualty rate marked this event as a significant moment in the mid-19th century. In addition to this, the perceptions of the war were shaped by real-time journalistic coverage and photographic documentation by Roger Fenton. Due to the process involved in setting up and taking photography at the time, Fenton was limited to producing images of still (sometimes staged) moments in between the carnage. Depictions of the fighting seem to be limited to paintings and prints made during the war by artist-correspondents or after the war.

Polychrome transfer printed scenes like this were used on ceramic food containers throughout the latter half of the 19th century, although they are not common on Christchurch archaeological sites. The jars are an example of commemorative objects available for consumption in the wake of significant events. The participation of British soldiers in the Battle of Balaklava in particular was seen as an example of some of the finest heroic fighting of the war and many depictions of this heroism were created in art and literature (Bunting 2017). These kinds of physical reminders of formative events in national identity have been noted elsewhere in discussions of commemorative products depicting the 1899 South African War, particularly with regards to the connections between colonial and national ideologies (Lucas 2004). Although New Zealand was not directly involved in this conflict, British soldiers who fought in the war later emigrated to New Zealand (New Zealand Crimean War Veterans 2017). Such an event was part of the collective memory of 19th century British national identity, as evident in other depictions of the battle such as paintings and in the poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. As such, the presence of objects commemorating the Crimean War in 19th century New Zealand archaeological sites demonstrate these links to important historical events.

The remembrance of aspects of the Crimean War continued through to the modern era. Lord Tennyson’s poem in particular formed the platform for later adaptations of and references to the event. The Charge of the Light Brigade was immortalised on screen in 1912, 1936 and 1968. Each version varies greatly in how it depicts the events of the war, in line with the time period and popular movie styles of the period. The poem has echoes in modern pop culture as Lord Tennyson’s poem formed the basis of the 1983 Iron Maiden song ‘The Trooper’ and references in movies and TV shows from Saving Private Ryan to Top Gear to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Megan Hickey

References

Atkinson, C. F., 1911. Crimean War. In Chisholm, H. (Ed). Encyopaedia Brittanica 7 (11th Edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kowalsky, A and Kowalsky, D. 1999. Encyclopaedia of Marks On American, and European Earthernware, Ironstone and Stoneware 1780-1980. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Atglen.

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2017. The Dragoon Charge - Balaklava [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/tcc2/data/patterns/d/the-dragoon-charge-balaklava/ [Accessed 05 May 2017].

"In the soil of a friendly country": an archaeologist's visit to Gallipoli

2015-11-14-15.25.54-1.jpg

This blog may lean more heavily on the personal than the archaeological. Every year, thousands of Kiwis and Aussies commemorate ANZAC Day. We take this time to reflect on the losses of war, and the terrible costs it has had for this country, as well as remember those who have fought and lost their lives in service. Thousands make the trip to Gallipoli itself, and in 2015, my friend Jack and I were among those that went to visit the place that figured so heavily in our nation’s consciousness, and our military history. Avoiding the crowds, we arrived shortly after Armistice Day.

For an archaeologist, it can be just as important to understand the landscape, the environmental context, as the site itself. For any who haven’t been, the Gallipoli Peninsula is a rugged landscape, characterised by steep cliffs and hill faces, and narrow ridges, now covered in regrowth of bush. Faced with these sheer faces it struck me just how difficult the fighting would have been, how every step was a struggle.

One of the things that only struck me once I was there, was how close everything was. The places burned into our collective memory – ANZAC cove, The Nek, Quinns Post, Hill 971, Wire Gully, Lone Pine, and Chunuk Bair – are all within a few scant kilometres of each other. The fighting took place on a few narrow ridgelines, in places barely 20 m across before plunging down steep faces. Men fought and died here over a few metres of ground.

Monuments have been built to commemorate the old battlefields, roads built to conduct the visitors between them, and the bush has reclaimed much of the peninsula, but the archaeological remnants of the fight are still present, if buried. Between 2009 and 2014, historians and archaeologists from Turkey, New Zealand, and Australia worked together to record and identify remnant evidence of the 1915 battlefields, under the Joint Historical and Archaeological Survey (JHAS). The survey was designed to only record surface evidence, and was carried out in response to allegations that the construction of the road providing access to Anzac Cove had uncovered and disturbed archaeological material, including human remains.

Among the recorded features were thousands of kilometres of trenches and tunnels. In places these remain in remarkably good condition, their zig-zags and dog-legs designed to confuse enemies and prevent easy capture of an entire section. Posts and barbed wire also remain standing, showing further steps taken to control the battlefield. Near Lone Pine the ANZAC and Turkish trenches stood in stark opposition either side of a narrow road, far too close for comfort. On the ANZAC side the trenches were clear, while the Turkish trenches were barely visible under the encroaching scrub.

During the JHAS, approximately 16.5 km of trenches were recorded over a 4.2 square kilometre area. These included forward trenches with their characteristic zig-zag, support trenches to usher supplies to the front line, and reserve trenches that acted as depots for soldiers and emergency supplies. In addition to the trenches were dugouts, and at least 82 tunnel openings, hinting at an as-yet-unrecorded tunnel system (Sagona 2015).

Even during our short visit, the earth and ocean was offering up its secrets, visible to any who took the time to notice. I saw shell casings and scraps of metal that had taken on the dusty hue of the surrounding clay, and artefact fragments washed up on the landing beaches. These I left in place, but those surface finds collected during the JHAS have been conserved and are now stored in the Naval Museum in Çanakkale. We know from the soldiers’ accounts that the ANZAC forces largely ate pre-packaged food such as tins of corned beef and jam, and that the Ottoman forces were fed cooked food from mobile kitchens. The JHAS recorded one of these Turkish ovens, and the distribution of food-related artefacts (mostly tin-plated steel cans) gave an indication of where the ANZACs ate. The majority were found within dugouts or support trenches, but the survey of Silt Spur showed that in that location, food refuse was found scattered with evidence of heavy conflict: shrapnel, bullet fragments, tunnel entrances and barbed wire. Here it seems the soldiers took their meals when they could under heavy fire, without being able to draw back to the relative comfort of support trenches (Sagona 2015).

In addition to the artefacts, the remains of the soldiers that fought and died at Gallipoli occasionally come to the surface. Many soldiers – Kiwis, Aussies, and Turkish, among others – were not able to be given proper burial, and their locations are not known. While I was walking at the Chunuk Bair Memorial for the New Zealand soldiers, I spotted something alongside one of the commemorative plaques for a New Zealand soldier. There, in the turned over soil of the garden among the names of the soldiers, was a bone. White and weathered, it was a metacarpal or metatarsal, a bone from a human hand or foot. I can’t say who the bone belonged to, whether they were young or old, or which side of the conflict they were on. One hundred years on from the terrible losses of the Gallipoli campaign, there was little to distinguish this unidentified soldier from any other.

Archaeology isn’t just an academic, dissociated exploration of the past. The remains of the past are indelibly tied to the people of today, and Gallipoli – like Wairau Bar, like Ship Cove, like Gate Pā – has value and meaning for all New Zealanders. These places, and their archaeology, need conservation, if we are to maintain the connection to them and the meaning and lessons they provide.

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 1934

 

Tristan Wadsworth

References

DVA and BOSTES NSW. 2016. A landscape of war uncovered [online]. Available at: http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/landscape-of-war-uncovered/. Accessed 16 April 2017.

Cameron, D. and Donlon, D. 2005. ‘A Preliminary Archaeological Survey of the ANZAC Gallipoli Battlefields of 1915’ in Australasian Historical Archaeology, vol. 23, pp. 131-138.

Patel, S. 2013. Anzac’s Next Chapter: Archaeologists conduct the first-ever survey of the legendary WWI battlefield at Gallipoli [online]. Available at: http://www.archaeology.org/issues/92-1305/letter-from/765-anzac-gallipoli-wwi-battlefield-allied-german-ottoman/.

Sagona, A. 2015. ‘An Archaeology of the ANZAC Battlefield’ in Humanities Australia, vol. 6, pp. 34-46.

Safety at the sawmill and that stack of bricks

Lately I have been doing quite a bit of Job Safety Analysis paperwork (because safety in the workplace is number one priority, folks), and that got me thinking about how the people of early Christchurch might have managed their own health and safety at work. And then that got me thinking about how health and safety practices might be represented in the archaeological record, which made me reminisce about that time when we excavated Booth’s Sawmill on Lichfield Street, and found that tidy stack of bricks… thought I’d share it with you. James Booth established his Victoria Steam Sawmills and Timber Yard on half an acre of land between Lichfield and Tuam streets around 1866. An 1875 description of his business tells us that about 10 men were employed there, and that pride of place in the mill were two circular saw benches that were powered by a 15-horsepower horizontal steam engine. In addition, the sawmill had a vertical deal frame sawing machine, and machines for planing, tongueing, grooving, beading and bevelling, as well as a moulding machine for making fancy skirting boards and architraves. Oh yeah, there were also lathes and a jigging machine – (because what’s the point in having a whole lot of wood if you can’t indulge a quick jig- right?; Star 15/2/1875:2).

Booth tried to sell his business in 1877, but was unsuccessful. Two years later he mortgaged it to William Hargreaves, though he stayed on as manager for a bit. By 1880 Booth had left the business altogether, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts by Hargreaves to sell the business after this time, the mill closed for good in 1895. It is suspected that soon afterwards Andersons Foundry occupied the mill building, though (on paper at least) they didn’t obtain the lease for the property until 1903.

We know from historic records that 19th century sawmills were notoriously dangerous places to make a living. Like other factories and workshops of the time that operated machines driven by belts connected to big noisy steam engines, there were often little or no measures in place to ensure the safety of workers. No safety guards, protective barriers, or emergency stop buttons, not to mention the mandatory wearing of personal protective equipment such as ear muffs and safety glasses. I was surprised to find out how often 19th century sawmill workplace accidents were reported in the daily papers, but also that sometimes quite gory details of these incidents were provided to readers.

I can’t help but share a few of these sawmill accidents with you, some serious, others fatal. A note of warning folks – skip this paragraph is you are a bit squeamish…

Mr Mortimer suffered a broken arm and leg when he was struck by a crane (West Coast Times 2/6/1882:2), and young lad Henry Brown had a middle finger cut off while working the circular saw (Thames Star 29/4/1891:2). Mr Henderson cut two fingers off his left hand while working the breast bench (Woodville Examiner 3/7/1891:3). Mr Powell was smacked in the face when a piece of timber came back on the circular saw. His wounds were sewed up and he was sent home (New Zealand Herald 18/2/1899:5). Mr O’Brien had a splinter pierce his cheek and tongue “transfixing them” and afterwards had to be fed through a tube (Marlborough Express 25/8/1880:2), while Mr Thompson lost his left arm at the elbow to the saw bench when he slipped shoveling sawdust (Hawera and Normanby Star 17/10/1884:3). Henry Ash was killed when his head was crushed between some logs (Grey River Argus 14/11/1884:2), Mr Faulknor got run over by a timber truck that crushed his stomach (Hastings Standard 12/2/1897:2).   Mr Anderson had his “brains knocked out” by a piece of wood that got caught in a circular saw (Wanganui Chronicle 16/3/1886:2), Mr Smith was killed instantly when he fell from a log onto the circular saw and got cut in half (Marlborough Express 19/4/1883:2) . And if you were to think that all 19th century sawmill accidents were related to being cut, squashed, or pierced, let us not forget poor 21 year old Norman McKay, who was scalded to death when the boiler at Campbell’s sawmill blew out. He died from his severe burn injuries two hours later (Oamaru Mail 4/3/1897:2).

We have found no historical records to suggest that any serious accidents, fatal or otherwise, occurred at Booth’s Sawmill, which we excavated over two weeks in late June 2014 while working on the site of the new Christchurch Justice & Emergency Services Precinct. What began as a small area of paved brick exposed below fill layers of granular ash and rubble-filled silt turned into a much larger complex of paved brick that was revealed to be the main working floor of the sawmill building. In addition, we found other paved brick surfaces outside the building, stone and brick footings onto which we suspect the sawmill’s machinery was once fixed, as well as the foundations of the sawmill’s chimney and the likely location of the timber storage yard.

The floor was made of three layers of brick, some laid flat and others on edge – the thickness of the brick floor is testament to the fact that this floor was built to be hard wearing and durable. Some stretches of brick were well worn, suggesting that these parts had seen heavy foot traffic over the years, and the wear to the bricks in these areas we suspect represented the main routes between different activity areas in the mill. We got some idea of where the different machines were probably once located, based on where areas of brick had suffered disturbance when these heavy machines were eventually removed. Complicating our interpretations about these different activity areas, however, was the fact that in its last 8 years of life, the mill was repurposed as a place of metalworking activity, and at least some of the existing features and parts of the mill building were modified to reflect this change in use.

Whether associated with the last days of the building’s use as a sawmill, or that short period afterwards in which the mill became a foundry, for me one the most memorable archaeological features uncovered at Booth’s was a row of broken bricks stacked up out of the way against the degraded remnants of one of the mill’s timber-framed walls. It was clear that these bricks had once been part of the adjacent section of floor (because the top layer of brick was missing here), but on becoming dislodged and broken, had become little more than a tripping hazard. Because no one likes a tripping hazard or falling flat on their face (especially in front of co-workers), someone had taken the initiative to remove the hazard and stack these broken bricks up out the way against the nearby wall. What do you think about our interpretation?

This neat stack of bricks reminded  me that archaeology is not just about the stuff and things from the past, and that all this stuff and things can inform us about was happening on a site back in the day, but that first and foremost archaeology is about people. Specifically, what they left behind can inform us about past human behaviour – what might have been going on in people’s heads – their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Remember folks, situational awareness at all times - watch your step, and mind how you go.

 Hamish Williams

References

Grey River Argus [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hastings Standard [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Hawera and Normanby Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Marlborough Express [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

New Zealand Herald [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Oamaru Mail [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Thames Star [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Wanganui Chronicle [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

West Coast Times [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

Woodville Examiner [Online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed March 2017].

No winter wonderland: a history of Christmas in New Zealand.

It’s that time of the year again, carols, Christmas shopping, annual staff parties, parades and backyard barbeques. For many of us, Christmas traditions are passed down through our families, and some of the fare found on our festive tables may be reminiscent of a Victorian Christmas, the way the occasion was once celebrated in the motherland. However, today on the blog, we compare and contrast the modern, and the Victorian New Zealand Christmas traditions, and we will see how the festive season has changed for New Zealanders over the generations.  

The modern idea of English Christmas celebrations was introduced in the Victorian era. While Santa Claus didn’t get a foothold in our chimneys until the 1890s (or Father Christmas as he was called then), presents were still exchanged. This exchange was originally done on New Year’s Day, before Prince Albert’s introduction of his native German-style Christmas to England in the 1840s (Midgley 2010). Around this time, the gifts were nowhere near as elaborate as the modern commercialised Christmas industry (which must keep Santa’s elves rather busy year-round). Instead, they were often nuts, sweets, oranges and sometimes toys (Clarke 2007).

A ghostly looking Father Christmas (Mr. McMillan) at Heathcote School - Mrs. Yeale in foreground - Mr James Weir - Chairman School Committee - 1900 – 1910. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference: Gimblett 0009.

 

Christmas cards were first introduced in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole and the English illustrator, John Callcott Horsley. The practice of giving specialised cards caught on as a form of present giving in itself, and it made Christmas gift exchange more conceivable between the New Zealand settlers and their families left at home. You may recall this tin postcard we recovered from a house in central Christchurch a couple of years ago. It is dated 21st December 1914, and appears to be a homemade Christmas greeting card.

 

1914 Christmas greeting card addressed to Mary. It reads: “Forget Me Not” “Don’t laugh Mary at this dear x x. Dear Mary, just a PC [postcard], hoping you are well, as it leaves me the same well. Mary I received your loving letter, but you know that I have a lot of letters to write so I got tired. Dear Mary, you might tell Mary Martin, that I am going my holidays on Christmas to Petone. So I will not see her. I am sorry more news next time. Well fondest love from your [?] Wish you a merry Christmas x x x.” Image: C. Dickson. 

 

Essentially, the largest difference between Christmas celebrations in the old and new continents was the adaption to the warmer Christmas climate – it was the difference between ‘Jack Frost nipping at your nose’ and summertime heat waves (for us, think, more chilled sauvignon blanc, less mulled wine). The Christmas festivities were moved from indoors - huddled together by a fire, to relaxing outside in the sunshine. Instead of ‘decking the halls with bells of holly’, these new-New Zealander’s decorated their homes with evergreens and native ferns and flax, and the pōhutukawa tree became the ‘Summer Christmas Tree’ (Clarke 2007, Swarbrick 2016). However, although barbeques are ever popular, our modern Christmas tradition still fiercely clings to the concept of hot plum pudding and a roast meat dinner. This is possibly because the 19th century saw many of the early settlers longing for the white Christmas of their former homes…

 

Lyttelton Times 24/12/1859: 3

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 28/12/1842: 2.

 

So what about the way people celebrated in wider community events? The first Santa parade wasn’t held in New Zealand until 1905, and before 1873, most people were required to work on Christmas Day! Law changes in 1873 and 1894 entitled most workers the day off (excluding farmers, of course). The season became more like the holiday we know it to be following the ‘Mondayising’ of Christmas and New Year’s days in 1921 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2014). During this era, many employers were known to throw company parties for their workers – so what kind of Christmas party is your workplace having this year? The team here at Underground Overground Archaeology is having a picnic in Hagley Park – this was actually a very popular way for workplaces to celebrate Christmas in New Zealand during the 19th century. Picnics required only an open space for spreading the food out and playing games, and parks offered an inexpensive venue that was able to accommodate a large number of people. These annual picnics also acted as an opportunity for employer/employee role reversal – at a company picnic the bosses would socialise with the workers, which wouldn’t have typically happened at the office or factory (Mitchell 1995: 20).

 

Christmas holidays at Wainoni, Christchurch, watching the Punch and Judy show [Jan. 1906]. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0066. 

 

Christmas in the new frontier may have meant an additional challenge for some of these early female settlers who came from the higher social classes of England. Many may have been required to learn to cook for the first time since arriving on new shores - such women would have been accustomed to the services of a cook in England, but the scarcity of servants in New Zealand meant that this luxury was not guaranteed for all (Burton 2013).  Imagine if this year, you had to cook your Christmas dinner using only the cooking equipment that our ancestors used here in the 1800s! We have found a few pieces of food preparation and cooking equipment during our field work - some of these are not too dissimilar to what we use today (often just replacing similar ceramic designs with stainless steel or plastic versions). But something you might not expect is the preparation of your plum pudding in a metal cauldron! Such vessels were not only utilised for witches’ spells or storing leprechaun treasure, but for stovetop cooking as well.

 

A selection of food preparation equipment found in central Christchurch. Clockwise from left: enamel pot, drainer, colander, egg timer?, milk pan.

A metal cauldron from central Christchurch. Image: S. Canton. Here is an 1843 exert from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol on how a cauldron like this may have been used to make a traditional Christmas pudding: "Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day! It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner's at the same time, with a laundry nest door. Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvelous pudding!" - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843).

 

Arguably, the most useful innovations for the cooking of your traditional Christmas roast dinner would be the coal ranges specifically designed for New Zealand’s sub-bituminous and lignite coal. The Shacklock Orion range, developed in 1873, had a shallow firebox, drawing in extra air to stop the ovens smoking, a problem with previous models. These ovens were hugely successful and remained a popular piece of kitchen equipment until the 1940s (Burton 2013).

 

Advertisement for Orion cooking range. (Southland Times 01/01/1898:1)

 

Another of most helpful of cooking innovations would have been the rotary type egg beater. These first appeared in the 1850s but were popularised by the Dover Egg Beater (patented in 1873). These types of beaters enabled the user beat eggs in five seconds, or to quickly whip the egg whites into stiff peaks (for your pavlova?). Before this time, eggs were beaten in a shallow earthenware pan with two forks strapped together, "a broad-bladed knife or clean switches, peeled and dried". This was a time consuming arduous task!

 

Advertisement for a rotary style egg beater. (Manawatu Herald 8/06/1880: 1)

 

Lastly, just while we are on the subject of whipping egg whites into stiff peaks at Christmas time – this may be the perfect opportunity to put to rest the trans-Tasman dispute of the origin of the humble pav… In 2008, Professor Helen Leach of Otago University established that in 1929, New Zealand beat out Australia by publishing the first creamy meringue cake recipe called pavlova. An Australian newspaper had published a pavlova recipe slightly earlier, but it was a four layered jelly dessert (Leach 2008).  So argument over? It would seem not. It was rather trendy to name fluffy deserts after Miss Pavlova in the 1920s, but prior to her pirouetting onto our dinner tables in the early 20th century, it seems that the idea of a meringue cake served with fruit and cream was something that the Germans and Americans had been devouring for quite some time. German people who had emigrated to America took with them the idea of a schaum torte (or foam cake). Duryea Maizena (an American cornflour company), ran with this concept and printed a similar recipe to our pavlova on the back of their corn-starch packets, and these were imported into New Zealand as early as the 1890s (Eleven 2015, Otago Daily Times 28/07/1896: 3).  This product was advertised in our newspapers with a very simple yet mysterious advertisement: “Use Duryea’s Maizena” (it’s all about the subliminal messages). Simple yet effective? Maybe with a catchier jingle we would have remembered to attribute this earlier version of pav to Duryea’s, and confined the Christmas bickering to the family dinner table.

 

Merry Christmas!

By Chelsea Dickson

 

 

 

References

Burton, D., 2013. 'Cooking - Cooking technology', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/cooking/page-1 (accessed 15 December 2016).

Clarke, A., 2007. Holiday Seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand. Auckland University Press.

Eleven, B. 2015. ‘Pavlova research reveals dessert's shock origins’. Good Food. [online] available at: http://www.goodfood.com.au/eat-out/news/pavlova-research-reveals-desserts-shock-origins-20151010-gk5yv9

Leach, H. 2008. The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History. Otago University Press.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2014. A day off for Christmas. [online] available at: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/christmas-day-holiday, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-May-2014.

Mitchell, I. 1995 'Picnics in New Zealand During the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: An Interpretive Study', MA thesis, Massey University.

Swarbrick, N., 'Public holidays - Easter, Christmas and New Year', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-holidays/page-2 (accessed 12 December 2016).

 

Making sense of it all

It is interesting to consider how we are influenced by an intangible map of our senses and emotions tied to our place in the world. We pay little attention to how we feel walking around a familiar neighbourhood, looking at an iconic heritage building in town, or going to a public event. Yet on any given day these experiences can be very different for each person. Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog post: phenomenology and heritage. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but bear with me, I shall explain. We often take for granted how we easily navigate through the city. We know to walk on the pavement, where to park our cars, the correct entry and exit points in a building. We practice our manners and courtesies and grumble when others make social faux pas. We live in this environment, entertaining, navigating and living in and around buildings without so much as a second thought. Phenomenology is the study of how we understand and interact with our environment. It has its origins in the study of philosophy. Philosophers Kant, Husserl and Heidegger first defined and elaborated on the subject, and it has been expanded upon through many other studies. For more (light) reading on this, have a look at Wells' website on phenomenology, which gives a very concise run down on a very heady subject.

If we were to think about the identity of Christchurch, words which spring to my mind are as follows English, earthquakes, gardens, heritage and traffic (Figure 1). Some of you might agree with them instantly, or disagree entirely, but how did I form this vision of Christchurch? My experience is based on my knowledge of history and stories, my activities and memories created here, and assumptions formulated in my youth. This personal memory bank (without delving into the psychological theory of memories) influences the decisions I make, both consciously and unconsciously.

By Roger Wong from Hobart, Australia (20100130-07-Christchurch Cathedral Square panorama) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsMy interest is in how people interact with heritage spaces and buildings, particularly how we interpret these spaces when we visit and participate in activities within them. My experience is different to yours, his, hers and theirs. It is this idea of experience and interpretation that feeds into phenomenological studies. Heritage buildings can be controversial (see the cathedral). They are seen through many different lenses and different eyes. People want them propped up, or torn down, others couldn’t care less about them. This begs many questions: Are heritage buildings relevant, vibrant community spaces? Are they mere sad relics of a by-gone era? White elephants in a world of progress? What is the point in keeping them? What do they say to people? Can everyone read them?

In Christchurch and wider New Zealand, gothic architecture is an indicator of local and national identity. Where heritage buildings are preserved, there is an emphasis on identity and community, based on the idea that these buildings reflect where we came from and form a picture of the place. The Arts Centre (as it is now known) is a collection of buildings constructed between 1877 and 1965 to house the educational sector of Christchurch, including the University College, the boy’s and girl’s schools, and the music and arts colleges (Figure 2, Figure 3). This was the primary campus for education before the university was relocated to Ilam in the 1970s.

Figure 2. The Great Hall prior to the earthquakes. Photograph by Greg O'Beirne (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.Bgabel at wikivoyage shared [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsWe have been involved with monitoring the strengthening and restoration project at the Arts Centre for several years. During our most recent work at the Arts Centre we found the remains of the ‘Tin Shed’ as it was nicknamed - the first science building constructed in Christchurch, built for the chemistry department, (Figure 5, Figure 6, Figure 7). The building was demolished in 1916, and it has largely been forgotten in history, except for a fleeting connection to Ernest Rutherford - who spent his formative years studying chemistry in the building. When we were recording the remaining piles and external foundations, I began to wonder - what do we value when it comes to our history? The archaeology in question was mostly removed, save for some sections of concrete foundations and a few piles that were able to be left in situ. This was a practical solution as the services were not able to be redirected and were vital to the endurance of the standing buildings (Figure 8). It was disappointing, but the above ground history is the most visible component of heritage and so is perceived as the principal component. This points to a dislocation from many parts of the story, especially the ordinary, unexciting bits. People aren’t campaigning to save drains or utilitarian buildings even if they are protected under our legislation. We have these magnificent buildings to symbolise our past and authenticate our identity. So where does the rest of the story and the archaeology fit in?

old-tin-shed-photos

Figure 6. The remains of the tin shed found in 2015-2016 during archaeological monitoring. Image K. Webb and J. Hughes.

Figure 7. A section of the piles from the Old Tin Shed uncovered during 2015 monitoring. Image: J. Hughes.

Figure 8. The North Quad as it is seen June 2016. Image Source: The Arts Centre.

There are many studies that use phenomenology to explore the idea of place and history. Wells and Baldwin used two different neighbourhoods (one historic, the other a modern development) to examine what made the place feel “local” to the participants in the study (Figure 9, Figure 10, Wells and Baldwin, 2012). They used interviews and photographic survey to explore sense of place and feelings towards heritage. Where the character buildings of the suburbs were championed in the orthodox descriptions of the area, as defining the ‘feel’ or identity of the place, the participants came up with different answers. It wasn’t the buildings themselves that enhanced that neighbourhood, but the collective environment (warts and all). Walls, trees, and fountains became key for the identity of the place. The sense of place was reinforced by imaginative and taken for granted features.

I, Maveric149 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I'on streetscape 2008. Image: www.citydata.com

Other studies about museum and tourist experiences and even local views on neighbourhood identity tell a similar story: much of what we identify in our environment is unique to our own experience, memories and imagination (Hughey-Cockerall et al. 2014, Kowalczyk, 2014). Emotional attachment to a place validated it in the eyes of the visitors. Past and future events, small details and forgotten things are highlighted in this approach and point to the value of the experience.

You might argue being impartial and presenting a singular story means that it makes all experiences equal, making it enjoyable for all. But if you take the emotion out of the city it blocks our perception (positive or negative) and generates the apathy currently influencing discussions about Christchurch and heritage. Perhaps it is time for emotion to be dragged into the commercial sector and public engagement - shining a light on the ordinary things so that we get a broader picture. This means giving all avenues of evidence equal weight: subsurface archaeology, architecture and historical narratives and documents, and examining our attitudes towards it all.

Why should it matter? It matters in the sense that heritage buildings in Christchurch and wider New Zealand are always thought of in terms of value and mostly monetary value. With the focus on the dollar sign, are we losing some of the meaning when it comes to symbols of our past? Christchurch demonstrates that it is not simply a case of demolishing the “old dungers”. The desire to retain and use these buildings is admirable, and draws many sectors of the community. The impetus to redefine Christchurch and retain the heritage is at the heart of the rebuild efforts. There are many people concerned with taking back the identity of the city- so that everyone can feel at home or welcome. There should be more discussion about what makes Christchurch ‘Christchurch’. We should pay attention to what people feel when they walk down the street and into a building. We should study how we can enhance that. If we look at the work of Katie Pickles and Fiona Farrell - they have articulated what makes this city Christchurch, and how the earthquake has affected that. An articulated phenomenological approach would validate heritage buildings through the experience of a multitude of people. Such an approach would renegotiate the urban landscape into an inspiring, vibrant setting to live in.

Julia Hughes

Selected references

Farrell, Fiona, 2015. The Villa at the edge of the empire, one hundred ways to read a city. Vintage, Auckland.

Hughey-Cockerell, A., et al. 2014. Developing a sense of place in St Albans. Unpublished draft report for St Albans Residents Association. Accessed [online].

Kowalczyk, A., 2014. The phenomenology of tourism space. Turyzm 24 (1). Accessed [online] www.deepdyve.com

Pickles, K., 2016. Christchurch Ruptures. Bridget Williams Books Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand.

Strange, G., 1994. The Arts Centre of Christchurch, then and now. Clerestory Press Christchurch, N.Z.

Wells, J. C., & Baldwin, E. D. (2012). Historic preservation, significance, and age value: A comparative phenomenology of historic Charleston and the nearby new-urbanist community of I’On. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(4), 384-400.

Wikipedia, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27On,_Mount_Pleasant,_South_Carolina

Whisky, that philosophic wine, that liquid sunshine

It is a well-known truth, in this office at least, that archaeology and whisky go well together. Or, perhaps more accurately, that archaeologists and whisky go well together. With a few exceptions (you know who you are, gin drinkers), it is not at all uncommon to find yourself in the company of an archaeologist with a fine appreciation for a single malt (or two, or three). With that in mind, it's a bit of a wonder that we haven't thought to write a blog post combining the two before now (honestly, archaeology and whisky are two of my favourite things, what were we thinking). It won't surprise any of our readers, I think, to hear that alcohol bottles are one of the most common artefacts we find on 19th century sites (here in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand). Despite the temperance movement in the late 19th century and the many discussions and testimonies about the evils of the demon drink, alcohol remained a popular product. As with the gin bottles we discussed a while back, however, it can be difficult to know exactly which types of alcohol were originally contained in these bottles - unless we have a label or embossing (and even then, these bottles were reused over and over again for a variety of products). Fortunately for this post, as it happens, we've been lucky enough to find a few examples that do have labels, each with their own story to tell about whisky consumption in Christchurch.

dsc_7168ed1

Johnnie Walker.

Genuine pure whisky will never injure the system.

removing the drunk from whisky

saucel-paisley

squirrel whisky

Kirkliston

doctor's special

thom-and-cameron-for-blog

Thom and Cameron

idle men need duff's whisky

Distiller's Company

heddle leith

Occidental

ruining the whisky punch

Jessie Garland

References

Papers Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Townsend, B., 2015. Scotch Missed: The Original Guide to the Lost Distilleries of Scotland. Neil Wilson Publishing, England.

The acclimatisation affair (or how we learned not to underestimate the power of the possum)

The first feeling that strikes everyone on coming to New Zealand is its intense want of animal life. Mountains, plains, rivers, - mere features without a soul; for you can hardly dignify the miserable ground lark, the wailing weka, or the ghoul-like eel with such a title.

- Lyttelton Times 18/02/1864: 5

When I first read the above quote, taken from a letter to the editor of the Lyttelton Times in 1864, I will admit to doing a double take. Then, to a sense of outrage and a strange urge to defend the ‘soulless’ landscape and wildlife of New Zealand from this 150 year old attack on its very being (despite the author of that sentence being unable to hear – or, I suspect, care about – my opinion). It’s such an odd, jarring statement to read about a country that now considers its natural landscape and native wildlife to be a source of pride, a country that places its mountains and plains and rivers at the heart of its national identity. Yet, this sentiment and others like it formed the impetus for one of the most influential colonial endeavours of the 19th century, one that irrevocably changed the land in which we live – to an extent that most of us don't fully realise.

The wailing weka and the ghoul-like eel. Just not good enough, apparently. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

It went by the name of ‘acclimatisation’ and consisted of the deliberate introduction of “beasts, birds, fishes, and vegetable productions, of such species as may be acclimatised with probable advantage to this province and to the colony” (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2). In New Zealand, and the rest of the British colonial world, the acclimatisation movement was largely driven by ‘Acclimatisation Societies’, who made it their mission to improve the plant and animal life of the lands they had chosen to settle. Basically, they imported a bunch of animals into the country from all over the world in a venture that seems to have been part scientific curiosity[1], part hunger[2], part boredom[3] and part an apparently inescapable need to rectify the “remarkable deficiency” of local wildlife.

There is perhaps no country in the world the natural zoology of which supplies so little to the subsistence or enjoyment of its inhabitants, as New Zealand. Of game there is almost none; quail, formerly plentiful, have nearly disappeared; pigeons and kakas are to be found only in the woods; ducks, eels and wild pigs complete the list. And if there are so few useful animals, those which add to the grace and enjoyment of life are scarcer still; of singing birds there are but the tui tui and the bell bird; neither of them ever heard, except in the neighbourhood of the forests…If, however, we turn from land to water, the inducements to engage in this enterprise are greater still. Our great snow rivers are absolutely without fish…At present, such rivers as the Waimakariri, the Rakaia or the Rangitata are worse than useless, obstructing travelling without assisting navigation.

- Press 17/08/1861: 1 (emphasis mine)

The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was first formed in 1864, modelled on the example of the London society, which aimed to introduce animals from the colonies into England, and the Victorian society, which aimed to introduce English and other colonial animals into Australia. Societies already existed in Auckland and Otago and the Canterbury branch followed in their footsteps, with the same stated intention of improving the fauna of the new colony (Lyttelton Times 8/03/1864: 2).

Excerpts from a letter about a proposed Acclimatisation Society in Canterbury.

Early supporters and members included some of the more well-known names of the early settlement, including Edward Wakefield, Sir John Cracroft Wilson, William Guise Brittan, Joseph Brittan, W. L. Travers, William Rolleston, William Sefton Moorhouse and John Edward Fitzgerald. Some of these men had already made their own individual efforts to introduce new species to New Zealand. William Guise Brittan had imported several ‘English singing birds’, as had John Watts-Russell. Sir John Cracroft Wilson had apparently made “an attempt…on a scale of oriental magnificence to introduce the game from the North of India” (Press 17/08/1861: 1). While their stated intention included the practical provision of food for the colony, their emphasis seems to have largely been on the aesthetic and sporting (i.e. hunting and fishing) advantages of acclimatisation.

crazy menu image

It is worth noting – in fact, important to note – that the acclimatisation societies of New Zealand weren’t the first to introduce new animals into New Zealand. Sealers, whalers, missionaries and early European visitors to the country brought with them chicken and pigs and sheep and other animals for food and companionship. Sir George Grey, the early governor of the colony, had his own collection of exotic birds and other creatures that he had imported into the country. And, of course, long before all of this, Māori had brought kiore (the Pacific rat), kurī (dog), kūmara and the ‘Polynesian suite’ of cultigens with them when they first arrived on these shores. For as long as humans have been moving around the world, they’ve been modifying the fauna and flora of the places they visit. The thing about the acclimatisation societies, though, that I think is worth emphasising, is that they were part of an organised, concerted and deliberate effort to change – to improve – the ecology of the country. It wasn’t just a hobby or a side effect of human migration. It was a bonafide movement.

Here in New Zealand, the species they introduced (and must take the blame for) include a selection of birds, fish, mammals, rodents and other creatures (bees!) - many of them now considered pests. Many of them were considered pests within a one or two decades of their introduction, to be honest. Some of them were creatures you might not have thought of as imported species, such as Ligurian bees (from Italy), bumble bees (sometimes referred to as ‘humble bees’) and lobsters. The article I found on lobsters begins with the sentence “Mr Purvis, chief engineer of the Iconic, has succeeded in bringing nine lobsters alive out of twelve” (Star 19/10/1892: 3). Well done, Mr Purvis, well done.

Ligurian bees and a picture of Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume (barely relevant, yet hilarious). Images: Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.

Birds seem to have been a particular area of interest and focus, which seems odd for an ecosystem already constructed around avian life. As well as game birds, like pheasants, quail, ducks and geese, there was an effort to introduce singing birds (clearly, Joseph Banks’ deafening dawn chorus of 1770 had lost its voice by the 1860s) and, to be honest, as many birds as they damn well could. Interestingly, the introduction of birds wasn’t a one-way street: there’s at least one account in 1872 of a shipment of 1000 tui, wax-eyes and parroquets from New Zealand to England (and a return shipment of English birds to this country).

Some of the birds introduced to New Zealand included the chukor (an Indian game bird), the magpie (thanks Australia, thanks a lot), the laughing jackass (amusingly mentioned in the papers as the Australian jackass), Virginian quail, Canadian geese, Teneriffe grouse, chickens from Kansas, swans, sparrows and German owls. The German owls are possibly my favourite, because the acclimatisation of German owls in the 19th century had turned into the GERMAN OWL MENACE by the 1930s (and yes, the caps are entirely necessary). So much so that the Canterbury association was indignant when the papers suggested that they were responsible for releasing more owls into the wild. A close second would have been the “peculiarly inoffensive” emu named Jack, who terrorised horses by trying to fraternise with them all the way back in 1865.

GERMAN OWL MENACE

There was also a strong emphasis on the introduction of fish, especially trout and salmon, into the otherwise “useless” rivers of the Canterbury plains. Millions of fish were “liberated” into the streams and rivers of the district , born from ova shipped into Lyttelton from all over the world and raised in purpose-built fish ponds in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We excavated the site of the fish-ponds a while back, but there was nothing left of what was once the gateway for Canterbury’s freshwater fish populations (the Otago ones do still exist, though, and have been the subject of some cool archaeological projects over the last few years).

A survey plan of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society grounds in 1913, including the fish ponds.

As well as the birds and the fishes, however, there were the beasts. Let us not forget the beasts. Possums and rabbits and deer, oh my. Polecats, even. There appear to have been wildly differing levels of success with mammals and rodents. Some, like the kangaroo or the “game from the north of India” attempted by Cracroft Wilson, weren’t hugely successful. Others, like rabbits (described as ‘evil’ as early as the 1870s), possums, hares, deer and, of course, sheep, took to New Zealand in a flash. Most of them were imported as game, rather than food (with a couple of obvious exceptions). Yes, that’s right. We have so many possums and rabbits because it seemed like a fun idea at the time.

TS18930819.2.45-a2-424w-c32

And when I say ‘in a flash’, it’s almost an understatement. Some of their greatest successes very quickly became their greatest headaches. By 1876, the New Zealand government had to pass the Rabbit Nuisance Act in response to the success of that species. By 1882, societies were recommending that hares be killed all year round rather than just during specific seasons. By 1898 they were suggesting that people could do so without a license. By the turn of the century there were suggestions for some measure of governmental control over the power of societies and individuals to import “animals or birds that might become nuisances to the community” (Press 23/05/1894: 5) and by the mid-20th century it was generally acknowledged that many of these introduced species had done irreparable damage to the native and other introduced species of New Zealand. Let’s not forget the German Owl Menace, everybody. At the same time, despite the increasing awareness of the problems of introduced species evident among acclimatisation societies as the decades progressed, they didn’t stop doing it, even importing other species to deal with problematic ones (why hello, stoats and ferrets).

I find the whole notion of acclimatisation societies quite weird to wrap my head around, to be honest. Especially in light of the biosecurity that is now so much a part of New Zealand life. Yet, the effects of their work are everywhere. If we look at it from an archaeological perspective the efforts of these societies are present in every assemblage of animal bones we excavate from 19th century sites in Christchurch - chicken, duck, sheep, cow, pig, horse, turkey, cat, rat, goose or dog, they’re all there.

bones

We don’t even blink at them most of the time, because we’re so used – so ‘acclimatised’ – to having these species around. They’re a part of our normal, a statement that says as much about how much the Acclimatisation Society of Canterbury (and its brethren throughout the country) changed and constructed our present day world as anything else I’ve written here.  Because 150 years ago, like the settlers who brought them here, these animals were very much strangers in a foreign land. And their impact, like the impact of the colonial settlement itself (and all colonial settlements), has changed this land forever, for better or for worse. You be the judge.

Jessie Garland

[1] “Hmm, I wonder if these ones will survive?”

[2] “They wanted practically to benefit the country by increasing the food of the people, and a plant or an animal that would not thrive on the ordinary conditions of English life and cultivation was of no use to them” (Lyttlelton Times 4/12/1861: 4).

[3] “What ho, old chap, where’s all the fish and game at?”