Hygiene

Good beard, bad beard, red beard, blue beard: facial hair in Victorian Christchurch

Part the First

Movember is upon us once again, and to celebrate Undershaved Overgrown Archaeology brings to you a brief history of facial hair in Aotearoa. Movember is all about men’s health, and we’ve previously covered health in the blog before, both mental health and otherwise, so this week it’s all beards and moustaches. Gird your goatees for a hirsute history of facial hair in the nation, followed by a review of classic beards of old Canterbury.

Important Māori who wore tā moko necessarily removed their facial hair in order to show it off, and trimmed their tui tufts by plucking with mussel shell. They may also have shaved with razor sharp tūhua/obsidian, as it was otherwise used for cutting hair (McLintock, 1966; Robley, 1896). However, some of the earliest Pākehā imagery we have of Māori - drawings done by Sydney Parkinson, the Scottish botanical illustrator on Cook’s first voyage – show a range of facial hair and top knots. It is not clear if within 3-4 years the top knots would all be replaced with the same vague haircut of shaved back and sides, and a floofy combover on top – you Millennials know who you are.

This painting was evidently done before Pākehā got the hang of drawing moko. The guy in the upper middle is so fed up with this man-bun business. Image: Parkinson, Sydney, 1745?-1771. Parkinson, Sydney, 1745-1771 :The heads of six men natives of New Zealand, ornamented according to the mode of that country. S. Parkinson del. T Chambers sculp. London, 1784. Plate XXIII.. Parkinson, Sydney, 1745-1771 :A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's ship, 'The Endeavour'. Faithfully transcribed from the papers of the late Sydney Parkinson. London; Printed for Charles Dilly, in the Poultry, and James Phillips, in the George-Yard, 1784.. Ref: PUBL-0037-23. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23044298

During Pākehā settlement of Aotearoa, the beard was a fairly recent phenomenon, growing in popularity during the Victorian period along with changing ideals of masculinity, at a rate roughly equivalent to Queen Vicki’s bloomers. Like the modern hipster beard, the Victorian beard craze coincided with conflict in the Crimea. During the Crimean War (1854-1856), the British army relaxed their long-standing ban on beards – due to the freezing winters and difficulty in obtaining shaving soap – and servicemen were russian to grow them. Beards soon became a mark of those who had served, and the fashion subsequently spread across the British Empire. Beards could be seen on the patriotically named Mount Victoria in Auckland and Wellington, the proud imperial city of Victoria in British Columbia, the humble Victoria harbour in Hong Kong, and probably even on Lake Victoria. It is no surprise then, that on the rugged outskirts of Wikitoria’s empire, the beard held particular sway.

God Save the Queen

The beard was also considered healthy, and recommended by doctors. The face tangle was believed to filter out impurities in the air, and prevent sore throats.

A Lyttelton Times article relating a ‘stache survey provides insight into just why men of the 1860s chose the old dental duster as an accessory (Lyttelton Times, 27/4/1861: 5). Helpfully for you dear reader, I’ve put it into a table! (please send your thanks and appreciation monies to T. Wadsworth C/- Underground Overground).

Reasons for wearing a moustache, 1861.

Given reason No.
To avoid shaving 69
To avoid catching cold 32
To hide their teeth 5
To take away from a prominent nose 5
To avoid being taken as an Englishman abroad 7
Because they are in the army 6
Because they are Rifle Volunteers 221
Because Prince Albert does it 2
Because it is artistic 29
Because you are a singer 3
Because you travel a deal 17
Because you have lived long on the continent 1
Because the wife likes it 8
Because it acts as a respirator 29
Because you have weak lungs 5
Because it is healthy 77
Because the young ladies admire it 471
Because it is considered "the thing" 10
Because he chooses 1

The most common reason to wear a moustache was to impress the ladies, but there are also reasons of vanity (“to hide their teeth, to take away from a prominent nose”), and again, the perceived health benefits (“because it is healthy, because it acts as a respirator, because you have weak lungs, to avoid catching cold”). The association of moustache and military is also clear, with “because they are Rifle Volunteers” the second most common reason given for the old Magnum P.I. It is not clear if the two who responded “because Prince Albert does it” had further ornamentation for similar reasons.

Prince Albert of ‘Stache-Moburg and Goatee.

When the Victorians kept a stiff upper lip, they need to make sure it looked good. Moustaches were tinted and combed, and fashions changed. In 1883, a local purveyor of cosmetics said that “a year ago the fashion was to have the end stick out in a fluffy fashion, but now they want me to make it drop at the corners of the mouth” (Star, 29/8/1883: 4). There were of course products to keep it looking fresh. The below bottle of Rowland’s Macassar oil – found on several sites in Christchurch – is  described as “unsurpassed as a brillantine for the beard and moustaches, to which it imparts a soft and silky appearance” (Press, 16/10/1897: 11). We’ve also found bottles of “bay rum”, which formed part of a recipe to darken grey hair and beards (Otago Daily Times, 9/3/1915: 8).

Rowland’s Macassar Oil. Like most 19th century products, this is essentially snake oil, but without the fun of being made from actual snakes. Image: J. Garland.

Bay Rum. Don’t drink it, just rub it on your face and head. Image: J. Garland.

But how to keep one’s soup strainer from acting in its name? On a site in Christchurch, we found a fragment of a cup with a “moustache protector”. This “yankee notion” kept one's lip toupee clean of coffee by way of a protrusion within the cup, as modelled here by our own beard-having Hennessey (Star, 15/2/1878: 2).

In the midnight hour, he cried mo, mo, mo.

Part the Second

In which we focus on the facial hair of the founding fathers of our fair city. We revisit some of the figures from Christchurch and the blog’s past and Tristan provides a highly subjective fever dream review of their moustaches and beards.

James Jamieson

The man:

James Jamieson carried on the proud Victorian tradition of Firstname Firstname-son and together with his brother William ran one of the leading construction companies in Christchurch, including the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Government buildings in Cathedral Square. We’ve talked on the blog before about Jamieson’s love of spreadable cheese long before Koromiko was a thing.

The moustache:

Jamieson grew the classic ‘walrus‘ moustache, and chose to draw maximum attention to it by banishing all other hair from his countenance. His care and attention in maintaining the structural integrity of his weighty moustache - enough to cause any lesser man to topple forwards - informed his construction style, and it is said[1]  that his own chrome-y dome inspired those of the basilica.

9/10

Draw your own conclusions. Confirmed Illuminati. Image: Photograph of Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament by Greg O’Beirne.

Charles Obins Torlesse

The man:

Nephew to New Zealand company agent Arthur Wakefield, Torlesse became a surveyor working under Captain Thomas, chief surveyor for the Canterbury Association. Torlesse made the very first sketch map of Canterbury in 1849, illustrating the vast plains and resources that would draw Pākehā settlers to the area (Montgomery and McCarthy, 2004). He is said to have made the first ascent of a Southern Alps peak – now Mount Torlesse – by a Pākehā. He was a pretty cool bloke, more (t) or less (e).

Sketch map of the country intended for the settlement of Canterbury. Charles Obin Torlesse, 1849. Image: Wikimedia Commons. (Attentive readers will note the originally intended location of Christchurch at the head of Lyttelton Harbour. Inattentive readers GET NOTHING).

The moustache:

Torlesse sported what is known as ‘friendly’ mutton chops, as popularised by Lemmy from Motorhead, and the general Burnside, for whom sideburns are named (seriously). These are not the distinctly un-friendly sideburns worn by Hugh Jackman/Wolverine, Elvis, and every jerk from the 70s. Ever the surveyor, Torlesse surveyed himself 75% facial hair, leaving the lower lip and jaw free for you to swipe right on Chinder.

8/10

charles_torlesse

John George Ruddenklau

The man:

John George Ruddenklau, his name is my name too. Ruddenklau was one of Christchurch’s early success stories, being a self-made man who worked his way up from an hotelier in 1864 to a retired hotelier in 1869, and from Mayor of Christchurch in 1881 to a retired former Mayor of Christchurch in the late 1880s. Ruddenklau’s City Hotel was successful enough that it had its own brand of dinnerware, which we have found on other hotel sites in Christchurch.

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug (with beard!), decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R. Image: J. Garland.

The beard:

Old J.G. had the kind of dense ruggedy beard typical of big deal businessmen in the 19th century, modern hipsters, and, er, delicious mussels. This particular photo of sad Ruddenklau shows just how he kept it so lush: it was well watered by his mayoral tears. Poor, sad-looking Ruddenklau.

John George Ruddenklau, blinging it up. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Dr Alfred Charles Barker

The man:

Dr A.C. Barker was one of Christchurch’s earliest amateur photographers, and is responsible for many of the earliest photographs of our city. Here at Underlit Overexposed, we’ve used Barker’s photography to illustrate how useful even the most mundane details of these images are in terms of historical information. So feel free to continue to capture your messy room in the background of your selfies, or even better, just go take photos of street kerbs! For anyone that’s interested in either selfies or photographs as a historical resource in little old New Zealand, you can go here to listen to oral historian Rosemary Baird discuss that very thing.

The beard:

Speaking of selfies, Barker took a few himself.

Dr. A.C. Barker. Blurry. Photographic. Evidence. Image: Canterbury Photography.

Here, Barker poses nonchalantly with his camera equipment, while showing off some serious mutton chops. If Bigfoot photographic evidence was this clear, he would have his own talk show by now. But nobody would watch it because podcasts fill that place in society these days. Get with the future Bigfoot!

dr_a-_c-_barker

This photo shows Bigfoot later in life, with a big old beard. Or Barker, probably. By this stage, Barker’s beard is perfectly complimented by a faux-Shakespeare haircut, which you don’t see enough these days. “There’s many a man has more hair than wit” the bard said, but considering Barker’s beard, I’m not sure what that says.

Sir John Cracroft Wilson

The man:

Wilson was a pioneering figure in Christchurch, being a former British army officer in India, who brought a number of his Indian servants with him when he settled in Christchurch. Cashmere is named for Kashmir in India/Pakistan, where Wilson served, and the adjacent suburb of Cracroft is named for...something. I forget. We’ve talked about Wilson’s home, now gone, before, but Wilson’s stone servant’s quarters still stands, and small portion of a mighty drain built by WIlson’s Indian servants remains nearby. This is a rare example of a drain lined with dressed stone, because, well, the dude liked stone. And who can blame him.

Cracroft's stone-line drain. Image: K. Webb.

The beard:

Wilson lived into his blankety blanks, and had the rare opportunity to grow a solid white beard. But as can be seen in the photo, Wilson’s facia hair went beyond the simple Santa beard and itself slipped into the snowy fey realm from which that fatherly character came, becoming an almost imperceptible, ethereal beard-shaped hole between realities. Wilson’s ghostly beard and eerie floating face were perfectly suited to snow-bound late 19th century Christchurch. Wilson would prowl the snows, camouflaged by his beard, shielding his nose with his hand to sneak up on unknowing foxes and seals. Or I might be thinking of polar bears. It is now impossible to tell.

10/10

cracroft

 

Show your support for Movember, by visiting its website. Show your support for moustaches in general by doing the finger guns to the next person you see with one. Pew-pew-pew!

References

Acland, L.G.D., 1975. The Early Canterbury Runs. Fourth ed. Christchurch, N.Z.: Whitcoulls Ltd.

McLintock, A.H., 1966. Stone Tools. In: An Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Available at: <http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/maori-material-culture/page-8>.

Montgomery, R., and McCarthy, K., 2004. The map that made Canterbury - or, how a little-known sketch map by Charles Obins Torlesse was transformed into Canterbury Association advertising in London. Records of the Canterbury Museum, 18, pp.51–65.

Robley, H.G., 1896. Moko; or Maori Tattooing. London: Chapman and Hall Ltd.

 

[1] By me, just now, completely unfounded.

So, hair's the thing...

As one 19th century advertisement begins, "in every civilised country throughout the world the human hair is always found to be a subject of peculiar attention." For centuries, millenia even, we have tugged and twisted our hair into unnatural and often physically improbable shapes, sought luxury and lustre through the addition of all manner of substances and continually attempted to find a tried and true way of stopping the damn stuff from falling out. The resulting works of art, be they hirsute, sleek or more reminiscent of a desert than a forest, have then been viewed through the discerning and often judgemental eyes of society. Your hair can mark your status, your wealth, your nationality, your personality traits, your identity, whether you want it to or not. It's no wonder, really, that the care and maintenance of hair elicits such effort from us, is it?

With this in mind, the following images showcase some of the evidence we've found - archaeologically and historically - for hair care in the 19th century. Some of it is weird and wonderful, some of it was probably a bit uncomfortable, and some of it we still use today.

Just to set the scene. Note the flattering description of red-heads and the character assassination of brunettes. Image:

Rowland's Macassar oil, culprit of oily hair and even oilier upholstery everywhere. Macassar oil was a hair restorative and beautifier, first introduced during the late 19th century by a barber named Alexander Rowland. It's the reason for the term 'antimacassar', which refers to the piece of fabric thrown over the top or back of arm chairs to deal with the oily residue hair-conscious people were leaving on furniture all over the place. The advertisement mentions scurf, which is another word for dandruff (I did not know this prior to this post), as well as the restoration of "whiskers, mustachios and eyebrows". How versatile! Image: J. Garland.

May I direct your attention to the highlighted section, in which the application of electricity to the scalp is recommended as a cure for baldness.

Bear's grease

The Toilet

Dr Frampton's Pomatum, by Price & Co., Her Majesty's Perfumers. For those with unruly hair, unhealthy hair or hair that just won't stay on the head at all. Pomatum was a common hair product during the 19th century and well into the 20th century (also known as pomade). It was usually made of a scented grease or lard and used to smooth down the hair (or moustache, presumably). Articles towards the end of the century, when the use of pomatum had become slightly less widespread, speak disparagingly of resulting "locks saturated with strongly-scented grease" (Nelson Evening Mail 19/10/1882: 4). Image: J. Garland.

Erm.

Bay rum

potato dye

DSC_0285ed1

One thing that was notably different to general hair care now was the recommended frequency of washing.

Alexander Barry's Tricopherous is probably the most common hair related artefact that we find on 19th century archaeological sites. Composes largely of alcohol and oil, it promised all manner of miracles when it came to the beauty and restoration of the hair, including the cure of baldness. It was, however, also used in place of pomatum as a far less greasy tool with which to style the hair. Image: G. Jackson.

less coffee more hair

Jessie Garland 

Everything's coming up roses (and lilies and jasmine and violets)

Farina-and-4711.jpg

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man or woman in possession of natural body odour is most definitely in want of something to cover it up. At least, in today's society, it certainly seems to be considered unacceptable to smell like unadulterated human in polite company (except in sporting situations or extreme, unavoidable situations – running from Godzilla comes to mind). In day to day life, we are expected to smell nice, or at least neutral, necessitating the application of a lot of perfume and deodorant in a never-ending crusade against the social iniquity of body odour. It should come as no surprise to realise that this is not a new phenomenon, even if the use and popularity of perfume and deodorant has grown significantly in the past century. In the 19th century, certainly, the fragrance industry was a flourishing one. One (English) set of statistics from 1881, for example, claimed that Europe and British India consumed approximately 150,000 gallons of handkerchief perfume yearly (for something usually measured in drops, that is a LOT). Furthermore, English revenue from Eau de Cologne cashed in at around £8000 annually and the total English revenue from other imported perfumes at £40,000 per year, a fairly significant amount by the standards of the time (New Zealand Herald27/08/1881: 7).

Perfume illustration and rhyme. Image:
Perfume illustration and rhyme. Image:

The wonderfully named ‘scent farms’ on which the floral foundations of these perfumes were grown offer similarly substantial statistics on the provision of hundreds of thousands of pounds of flowers and blossoms to perfume distilleries throughout the world. One single distillery in France used approximately 100,000 pounds of acacia flowers, 140,000 pounds of rare flower leaves, 32,000 pounds of jasmine blossoms and 20,000 of tuberose blossoms in one year (Wairarapa Daily Times26/03/1884: 2). I know, rationally, that these quantities must have been delivered and used over the course of the whole year, but I really can’t help imagining what that many flowers would look like delivered on the doorstep all at once (utterly delightful and horribly, traumatically allergy inducing, I think).

All of this perfume was eagerly and, in some cases, insanely, devoured by the bromidrophobic Victorian public (apparently, bromidrophobia is the fear of body odour – the things you learn in archaeology!). Contemporary accounts range from the faintly disparaging description of “the ballroom where the frou-frou of smart femininity exhales a violet fragrance” to tales of insane fads like the injection of artificial fragrance beneath the skin. To take it even further, one report on the "perfumes which ruin lives" recounts the stories of several people who inhaled or consumed perfume to the point of addiction, ill-health and death (Otago Witness4/02/1897: 49).

Article on the popular fad of injecting perfumes subcutaneously. Image:
Article on the popular fad of injecting perfumes subcutaneously. Image:

People didn’t just use artificial fragrance on themselves, however. Perfume was used to improve the smell of all manner of things, from clothing and handkerchiefs to notepaper and, memorably, butter. There were even perfume pills, made to be carried around in handbags and pockets as a neat and tidy repository of pleasant aromas. We’ve talked about the smells of life in the Victorian era here before on the blog, both inside and outside the house: in the perfumed accoutrements of daily life, there’s another smell to be considered (perhaps a response to some of the more unsavoury aromas people suffered through in the past).

Description of perfumed butter from 1894.
Description of perfumed butter from 1894.

It’s interesting, then, considering the obvious popularity of fragrances amongst the Victorian population, to learn that we find comparatively few perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. They’re not rare, but they’re not common either. Those that we do find tend to be predominantly the products of European or English manufacturers, such as J. M. Farina, Eugene Rimmel and Piesse & Lubin. The one exception seems to be Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water, made in America.

Piesse & Lubin perfume bottle found in Christchurch.
Piesse & Lubin perfume bottle found in Christchurch.

Eugene Rimmel and Jean Maria Farina were both titans of the perfume (and cosmetics, in Rimmel’s case) industry during the 19th century. Rimmel was the son of a French perfumer, who moved to London in 1820 to manage a perfumery on Bond Street, before opening his own establishment in 1834 with his son (aged 14 at the time). The company became hugely successful, expanding from perfumes to sell a range of cosmetics, hair products and personal hygiene items: they’re still one of the biggest cosmetic manufacturers in Britain today (Rimmel 2015). As far as perfumes went, Rimmel sold a range of fragrances and related products, from perfume vaporisers and fountains to lavender water and “toilet vinegar”, advertised as a “tonic and refreshing adjunct to the Toilet or Bath, a reviving perfume and a powerful disinfectant” (Nelson Evening Mail28/02/1884: 1). He secured a royal warrant for his efforts, being named as the official perfumer to both Queen Victoria and the Princess of Wales (Wellington Independent10/04/1866: 3).

Rimmel bottle base found in Christchurch. Image: G. Jackson.
Rimmel bottle base found in Christchurch. Image: G. Jackson.

J. M. Farina, on the other hand, was famous as the name behind the ubiquitous Eau de Cologne, the fragrance that took its name from Cologne, Germany, the town in which the Farina family had been based since the early 18th century (Farina 2015). As it happens, one of the Farina bottles found in Christchurch, despite being associated with the family name, was in fact produced and named after the establishment of another Cologne based perfumery run by the Mulhens family. The famous 4711 eau de cologne was first made by Wilhelm Mulhens at the end of the 18th century and named for the building in which it was produced. However, before the 4711 brand was adopted in the 1880s, Mulhens marketed his fragrance under the Farina name, leading to some confusion and a lengthy battle with the Farina family (Newton 2013).

Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.
Bottle of Mulhens 4711 cologne (left) and the Farina Eau de Cologne (right) found in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Interestingly, both the 4711 and the Farina Eau de Cologne seem to have had slightly more masculine overtones, with advertisements making note that – in contrast to Rimmel’s products – “the Prince of Wales has appointed, under Royal Warrant, Johann Maria Farina… to be manufacturer of Eau de Cologne for the Prince of Wales and his Royal Highness’s household” (Wellington Independent19/11/1873: 3). The notion of perfume and fragrances as ‘gendered’ is a particularly interesting one, and something that I’ll talk about in more detail in next week’s post.

Contemporary descriptions of Eau de Cologne suggest that it had a strong citrus and bergamot fragrance, with one account listing the ingredients as “twelve drops each of essential oils neroli, citron, bergamot, orange and rosemary, along with one drachm of Malabar cardamoms and a gallon of rectified spirit” (Press23/12/1887: 5). It seems likely that the 4711 had a similar fragrance, although the only description I could find just emphasised the particularly alcoholic base with which the cologne was made (Auckland Star14/06/1890: 1).

Unfortunately, as far as the other perfumes go, unless the name of the fragrance is embossed on the bottle, we don’t know which ‘flavours’ of perfume were contained within them. Contemporary sources indicate that floral scents were popular, as they are today, with many manufacturers advertising fragrances like jasmine, rose, heliotrope, lily, etc. Others seem to have been specific to the 19th century, with one French company advertising a fragrance with the scent of ‘freshly mown hay.’ There’s even an advertisement for a ‘Geisha’ perfume.

A recipe for the 'celebrated lily of the valley perfume', one of the popular scents of the 19th century. Image:
A recipe for the 'celebrated lily of the valley perfume', one of the popular scents of the 19th century. Image:

Certain scents were frowned upon: musk was not well liked, with one 1891 article going so far as to suggest that “the King of Holland got a divorce from his wife because she used musk as a perfume. There are many people who think this sufficient cause…” (Oamaru Mail1/08/1891: 3). And, amusing as that anecdote is, it’s symptomatic of a broader trend in contemporary (and modern) writing on the subject of perfume and the people who wear it. Several of the commentators that I came across talked of individual perfumes as an indication of a person’s character, particularly when it came to women. Even more than a sign of good or bad taste, a person’s perfume seems to have been seen (or sniffed, I suppose) as a manifestation of that person’s personality and place in life.

There’s something really interesting to be untangled here, in terms of how we – now and in the past – use personal fragrance as a way to define, maintain and reinforce individual and collective identity. Just think about how much your perfume says about you (or others): is it feminine, masculine, modern, old fashioned, cheap, expensive, designer, celebrity, professional, flirty, playful, down to earth, clean or any one of the other identity markers we use to describe the way we smell? It’s a really fascinating aspect of social behaviour but, for the sake of space and our attention spans, one that we'll save for next week's post.

Jessie Garland

References

Auckland Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Farina, 2015. Farina: the birthplace of Eau de Cologne. [online] Available at www.farina1709.de.

Nelson Evening Mail. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Newton, D., 2013. Trademarked: A History of Well-Known Brands, from Airtex to Wrights Coal Tar. The History Press, Gloucestershire.

Oamaru Mail. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Otago Witness. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

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

Rimmel, 2015. About Rimmel. [online] Available at www.us.rimmellondon.com.

Wairarapa Daily Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

No poo in the sewers, please…

In previousblog posts we've touched upon the smells of 19th century Christchurch and how, in the absence of an organised sewerage and rubbish disposal system, early Christchurch was, at the best of times, a dirty old town. Inadequate drainage was a persistent problem, accosting the senses of citizens on a daily basis. Following the formation of the Christchurch Drainage Board in 1875, and the development of an engineering solution, a sewerage system was eventually constructed in the city. Once this became fully operational in September 1882, it could be considered by the standards of the day to be one of the finest in the world. During the course of SCIRT infrastructure projects out and about in the central city, we’ve been able to get up close and personal with 19th century Christchurch’s drainage system. We’ve learnt a great deal: about how the system was built, how it functioned, and how this system expanded and changed over time. It’s also got us thinking about path dependency as we have been able to observe it in the archaeological record. The way that our city’s drainage infrastructure was designed and built more than 130 years ago is having a direct impact on the how we are able to go about repairing it in the present day.

Waiting at a bus stop last week, I got into a conversation with a fellow commuter about what I do for a living and what I’ve been finding looking at the city’s old sewers. “Found any old poo?” “No old poo, mate”, I replied. “What about Ninja Turtles?” “Only crocodiles, sorry.” “Any idea about who flushed the first Christchurch poo?” I told him that I haven’t yet found any historical documents about that kind of thing. As I boarded the bus, I got to thinking about the subterranean city: about the hidden horizontal infrastructure that, in an abstract kind of way, can be seen as an extension of our bodies (our digestive systems at least!), and about 19th century discard behaviours of the most private and personal kind. Which begs the question, how did Christchurch get its first flush toilets, and what did this mean in the transformation of early Christchurch?

afg
afg

The poo, the water closet, and the big “Drainage Question”

We have learnt from historical records that the citizens of 19th century Christchurch were scared about putting poo down the sewers.

The Drainage Board’s first consulting engineer was John Carruthers, who presented the first design for sewerage system to the city council in January 1877 (Wilson 1989:17). He advocated construction of a combined sewer system, which would see wastewater and stormwater conveyed eastwards out of town to an estuary outfall (Star29/1/1877:2). Carruthers strongly recommended allowing water closets to be connected to the sewers, but noted that:

I do not go so far as to recommend their compulsory use at present, as I have little doubt they will, if allowed, very soon be generally used for the sake of their healthfulness, decency, and cleanlinessthe primary object of sewers is not to carry water closet dejecta, but to remove household water after it has been used and fouled. It is obviously a matter of the first importance to get rid of this filthy water, and underground sewers form the basic vehicle for carrying it away...”  - Star 29/1/1877:2

The Board accepted Carruthers’ scheme, though without any public consultation and without an official stance as to whether water closets would or should be adopted, whether sewers were the right place for ‘closet dejecta’ or whether their installation should be made compulsory once the system had been completed. Frenzied public meetings were held wherein ratepayers, engineers, and medical men debated “The Drainage Question” in filthy detail (Press16/2/1877:2, 3/3/1877:1).

Of chief concern was sewage contamination at the estuary outfall, sewer blockages that would generate poisonous gases, and inadequacies in the local water supply for flushing. Backyard artesian wells across the district that were looked to for flushing purposes were already beginning to dry up (Press 3/3/1877:1). Unhappy with Carruthers’ plan, at the ratepayer’s suggestion William Clark was made the Drainage Board’s new consulting engineer, and by April 1878 had revised the original plans, presenting the board with a comprehensive report, Drainage Scheme for Christchurch and the Suburbs.

The key point of Clark’s scheme, which was approved in May 1878, was that wastewater flows were to be admitted into the sewers, but were to be kept separate from stormwater at all costs. A pumping station was to be built on land the Board owned on Mathesons Road, which would pump the city’s sewerage eastwards out of town, where a sewage farm was to be established on the sandhills. Here the sewage would be irrigated over the paddocks, fertilising the soil (Clark 1878:6-12). Construction of the sewage tank underneath the pumping station progressed slowly, on account of the unstable, quicksand-like subsoil, and the many baby eels “about the thickness of a man’s finger” that continually clogged the fans of the groundwater pumping apparatus (Star 16/7/1879:3).

ekjalf
ekjalf

Available historical records do not specify where or when the first water closet was installed and the first filth flushed, but it must have been by late 1882, once the last of the earthenware pipe sewers to receive the private house connections had been laid (Star10/1/1882:3). The completion of the system, however, did not result in properties becoming connected straight away. Landowners had to pay for a private connection to be made to the sewer, as well as satisfy the board that these private drains were properly laid, the water closet was of an approved type, was properly located and ventilated, and had a sufficient water supply for flushing purposes (Press21/10/1882:2). Because of installation costs, many households may have initially only made a house connection to the sewer for the removal of kitchen 'slop water', and would have continued to use their chamber pots, backyard long drops, dry earth closets, and the regular nocturnal services of the ‘night soil’ man. Clark thought that his estimated 2 pounds 10 shillings cost for constructing a 'water privie' of his own design would be affordable for households over the long term, considering that the night soil man was already costing them 7 pennies a week (Clark 1878:14).

In 1884 Christchurch had 293 water closets, by 1901 this number had jumped to 1915 (Wilson 1989:29).

300 mm diameter earthenware pipe sewer junction on Oxford Terrace, which was installed in early 1882. The 100 mm diameter inlet is stopped up, evidence of a private house drain or water closet connection that was never made
300 mm diameter earthenware pipe sewer junction on Oxford Terrace, which was installed in early 1882. The 100 mm diameter inlet is stopped up, evidence of a private house drain or water closet connection that was never made

We have found out by looking at some 19th century private connections into the 1882 St Asaph Street sewer that there was great variation in how these 100mm diameter earthenware pipe drains were installed. Some were fully haunched in concrete as a protective measure, others were simply laid down into the natural sandy clay subsoil and then backfilled with the same. Individual pipes were mostly bonded with rigid cement mortar joints,but we did find evidence for a more 'flexible' bonding agent on one drain: this was a sticky, sulphurous, coal tar. From impressed manufacturers marks on these pipes we have learned that these were all manufactured locally. The larger diameter sewer mains on the other hand were all imported, these were made in Scotland at James Binnie's Gartcosh Fireclay Works.

Tar joint
Tar joint

Pumping and flushing By late 1882 the Drainage Board had exhausted most of their funds on pipe laying; what was left in the budget was to be spent on pumping and flushing.

The pumping station on the corner of Mathesons Road and Tuam Street ceased pumping the city’s sewage in 1957, by which time the drainage system had greatly expanded in size and a new pumping station on Pages Road had taken over. The original pump-house building still stands, (albeit without its fine brick chimney) as one of the few visible above ground components of the city’s 19th century sewerage system, and is a Cat 2 registered historic place. Currently a recycled building materials yard, it’s also a good place to go if you are looking to buy a second hand toilet or wash basin…

The Christchurch Drainage Board's first wastewater pumping station as it stands today.
The Christchurch Drainage Board's first wastewater pumping station as it stands today.

As well as pumping, the Drainage Board was also involved heavily in the business of flushing. Brick ‘flushing tanks’ were built at various points along the sewer lines, and the regular flushing of the sewers ensured that no ‘closet dejecta’ or foreign solids was given any chance to settle: sewerage was to be kept moving through the sewers at all costs. These tanks were supplied with water from the board’s own wells, which were sunk all over the place. When Christchurch finally got a high pressure water supply turned on in 1909, these tanks were connected up to this new supply, thus preventing any 'back flow' from the sewers potentially contaminating the groundwater aquifers (Wilson 1989:26).

A 1882 flushing tank, as exposed on the corner of Madras and St Asaph Streets, during wastewater renewal works, June 2014. It had an arched roof, the 'H' bricks used were made by local brickmaker William Holmes.
A 1882 flushing tank, as exposed on the corner of Madras and St Asaph Streets, during wastewater renewal works, June 2014. It had an arched roof, the 'H' bricks used were made by local brickmaker William Holmes.

Past and future sewers

Although a number of Christchurch’s 19th century sewer lines were damaged in the earthquakes, and have since been dug up and replaced, some have been decommissioned and remain in situ deep underground, to perhaps to one day be investigated by archaeologists in the distant future. Other sewers, which may have cracked a little but have not been vertically displaced, have been relined. This non-invasive rehabilitation technique should ensure that these ancestral central city sewers can remain operational for perhaps another 130 years or more.

Relined barrel on Moorhouse Ave. Image: H. Williams.
Relined barrel on Moorhouse Ave. Image: H. Williams.

There can be no doubt that the sewerage system transformed 19th century Christchurch in so many ways, though for different reasons the system would have benefited some more than others. It reduced the mortality rate by removing problematic disease causing ‘dejecta’, and in doing so made the urban environment a safer, cleaner and we suspect, a much better smelling place. Parallel with changes to the physical environment, the sewerage system also brought about changes in peoples behaviour. The people of Christchurch could now flush, provided they were lucky enough to have a water closet, which makes us think again about archaeology and status. In today's modern world we all take flush toilets for granted, but when they first appeared in 19th century Christchurch I'm sure that they must have been a real novelty! For first time users, would the water closet experience have been scary, or exciting? Pondering this question, I couldn't help but think it perhaps best summed up by Tom Lehrer:

"Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it." 

And whatever you do, don’t forget to wash your hands.

Hamish Williams

References

Clark, W. 1878. Drainage Scheme for Christchurch and the Suburbs. Christchurch: The Times.

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A short history of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch: Christchurch Drainage Board.

In which the emanation of effluvia is offensive to one's senses

Continuing on from last week’s blog, today’s post takes a look (or a sniff, if you will) at the aromas of everyday life inside a Victorian house. Smell is such an intrinsic part of human life, yet so fleeting that it can only be experienced directly in the present moment. The smells of the past, as Hamish mentioned last week, are only available to us indirectly, through written descriptions and the power of our imagination (itself based upon our own past olfactory experiences). As far as the 19th century is concerned, many of the everyday scents and aromas experienced by people in Christchurch would still be familiar to us, even now. Others, however, have faded from daily life during the intervening decades as household products and technologies have gradually been replaced by modern, odourless, alternatives.

A lovely brass candlestick (used by Colonel mustard in the library, perhaps...). We think that the pieces of fabric stuck to the metal are just the remnants of the wrapping it was thrown out in, rather than a functional or decorative part of the candlestick itself. There's even a candle stub still visible inside the holder, near the base. Image: J. Garland
A lovely brass candlestick (used by Colonel mustard in the library, perhaps...). We think that the pieces of fabric stuck to the metal are just the remnants of the wrapping it was thrown out in, rather than a functional or decorative part of the candlestick itself. There's even a candle stub still visible inside the holder, near the base. Image: J. Garland

The smell of lighting, for example, is something that wouldn’t even register as a household smell now. Yet, in the 19th century, everything that produced light (with the exception of the sun, of course) – candles, kerosene lamps, gas lamps, wood or coal fires – would also have produced a smell.  Some of these have featured on the blog before, in the form of candle sticks and fireplaces found on Christchurch sites, but we’ve not really considered them in the context of their smell before.

Many of the fireplaces we’ve come across would not have ‘drawn’ well, meaning there would often have been coal or wood smoke in the room while they were lit. Kerosene lamps were notorious for their smell, to the point that advertisers made an effort to emphasise the less ‘distasteful’ smell of their own products (Wairarapa Daily Times7/2/1913: 7). Candles were made from a variety of materials, from cheap tallow to spermaceti (a wax found in sperm whales) and paraffin wax, some of which gave off distinctive smells and some of which did not. Even ‘odourless’ candles, though, such as ‘sperm candles’, would still have contributed to the scents of the household through the smell of the wick as it was extinguished, or matches as it was lit.

Advertisements for household lighting and heat
Advertisements for household lighting and heat
Article on the creation of an allegedly odourless 'super-cabbage'. Image:
Article on the creation of an allegedly odourless 'super-cabbage'. Image:

On the other hand, the smell of cooking – and food, in general – is one that we’re used to today, although perhaps not to the same extremes as in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  As well as the smell of coal ranges or cooking fires, people during the period seem to have been particularly concerned with the aromas of cooked vegetables and meat permeating through the house (Ashburton Guardian 31/3/1900: 4). Newspapers from the time are full of advice on how to prevent the smell of cooking from spreading, with noticeable emphasis on the smell of cooking cabbage, onion and other boiled green vegetables (North Otago Times 20/12/1906: 1New Zealand Herald5/07/1930:7). Of course, some of the cooking smells of the time must have been more palatable than others: the aroma of fresh bread or baking, for example, is unlikely to have provoked such negativity.

Advice on how to prevent cooking smells from permeating through the house. Images:
Advice on how to prevent cooking smells from permeating through the house. Images:

However, food smells wouldn’t have been limited to cooking. Without the refrigeration that we have today, even the storage of food in a house would have generated a variety of smells – some good (spices, perhaps) and some bad. We talked about a few of the foodstuffs that we’ve found on sites in Christchurch a little while ago. Some of these – the anchovy paste, for example – probably smelled quite pungent to start with, let alone after they’d been sitting in unrefrigerated storage for any length of time. In fact, many of the food-related artefacts we find, from vinegar bottles to Bovril to jars of ground cheese, would have had fairly distinctive aromas that we tend to forget about when we’re looking at them.

An Anchovy Paste jar found in Christchurch and accompanying recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.
An Anchovy Paste jar found in Christchurch and accompanying recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the household smells of then and now is, as it was with the smells of the outside world, related to the management of human waste, sanitation and personal hygiene. Last week, Hamish mentioned one site with a crudely made drain, which might have contributed to the smell of the sewer travelling up the pipe and into a house. We don’t know how common an occurrence this might have been in 19th century Christchurch, but we do know that the smell of human waste would have been a strong presence in houses anyway, thanks to the use of chamber pots – a multitude of which have been found on sites in the city.

Part of a chamberpot decorated with the May Morn pattern. Image: J. Garland.
Part of a chamberpot decorated with the May Morn pattern. Image: J. Garland.

For many 19th century households, the toilet (or privy) would have been located outside, separate from the main house or attached to the rear of the dwelling (Butcher & Smith 2010). While this set-up would have been fine for use during the day, chamber pots were common household items for use during the night, when it was too cold or too dark to stumble outside to the privy. Even when emptied frequently, the smell must have been fairly pervasive and less than pleasant.

An 1870s article describing the use of coffee as a disinfectant and de-odouriser. Image:
An 1870s article describing the use of coffee as a disinfectant and de-odouriser. Image:

However, there were a number of methods and products available in the 19th century to combat the more unpleasant household smells, products that would have themselves contributed to the overall aromatic signature of the Victorian Christchurch home. Examples of 19th and early 20th century cleaning products from Christchurch sites have featured here on the blog before. All of these would have provided a fairly strong assault on the nostrils, particularly the disinfectants like Kerol, Lysol and Jeyes Fluid (New Zealand Herald22/1/1912: 8). Other methods of preventing ‘noxious odours’ in the home included the cooking tips mentioned above, the careful placement of flowers or floral scented sachets (lavender or rose, usually; New Zealand Herald26/10/1912: 6), or the use of coffee as a “powerful means…of rendering animal and vegetable effluvia innocuous” (Southland Times3/6/1870: 3).

Kerol bottle found in Christchurch, along with 1920s poem singing the praises of the disinfectant. Images:  Colonist 24/02/1920; J. Garland.
Kerol bottle found in Christchurch, along with 1920s poem singing the praises of the disinfectant. Images: Colonist 24/02/1920; J. Garland.

Sadly, due to the constraints of space, in this post I’ve really only touched on the plethora of smells that would have defined a household in the 19th century. I’ve not mentioned the smell of the building itself (wallpapers, particular types of timber, the damp; Bruce Herald23/10/1872: 9) or the smell of household animals or pets or many of the other scented household products (for better or for worse) that would have been in use (Evening Post20/2/1930: 7). Not to mention the personal smells created by people themselves, from the smell of their clothing (washed and unwashed), the smell of leather shoes, individual perfumes or lack thereof, the smell of a person’s hair (which may have been washed with beetle juices!) or the soap that they used.

There are so many individual scents that make up the olfactory experience of our daily lives that it can be difficult to imagine that experience as a whole in the past, to combine all of the smells we’ve mentioned, this week and last, into an idea of what it was like to breathe in deeply in 19th century Christchurch. It can also be difficult to separate out the various smells that contribute to our own experience, especially the ones we’re so used to that we barely notice them anymore. You have to wonder if perhaps it was a bit like that for people in the 19th century as well: perhaps, so many of these smells were so common that they hardly registered in day to day life. For us, though, even imagining such smells has the power to make that daily life - those past scenes and experiences - more real, in a way that few other senses do.

Jessie Garland

References

Ashburton Guardian. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Bruce Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Butcher, M. & Smith, I., 2010. Talking trash: classifying rubbish-bearing deposits from colonial New Zealand sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1(1): 43-61.

Colonist. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Evening Post. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

North Otago Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Otago Witness. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Southland Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

"A few filthy features"

As archaeologists we almost exclusively describe and interpret the physical evidence of past human activity in visual terms, through maps, photos, and descriptions of what the archaeological features or artefacts look like. Although this makes perfect sense, lately I’ve come to ask myself: “Okay, so if this is what life in 19th century Christchurch looked like, what on earth does this tell me about what life in 19th century Christchurch smelled like?”

Unfortunately, we can only learn about the smells of the past indirectly through archaeology. Smells are not physical things that can be dug up and most don’t stick around for very long anyways. The smells of times past have long since been replaced by the smells of the present.

Historical records such as 19th century newspaper accounts, however, point to a number of different urban smells that were nothing short of offensive in the extreme for both local authorities and the general public.  And, despite the best efforts of those authorities, many such smells simply refused to go away.

In this week’s blog, for your eye-watering olfactory pleasure, I present you with a ‘few filthy features’, bringing the 19th century alive in all its ‘stink and glory’. Enjoy!

Drains and sewers

Before the Christchurch Drainage Board was established in 1876, the Christchurch City Council and other local authorities dug a number of drains and ditches, and built culverts, sewers, and roadside channels to remove stagnant and polluted surface waters. Draining mostly into the Avon and Heathcote rivers, these conduits were never intended to carry sewage and other offensive matter, although they inevitably did.

Image:
Image:

The gently flowing Avon soon became an open sewer by proxy. As one observer noted, it “oozed a mass of putrid and decaying animal and vegetable matter” (Star 21/11/1872: 3).

Box culvert Image: H. Williams
Box culvert Image: H. Williams

We have found some evidence of these early drainage conduits, such as a boxed timber culvert that carried the Ferry Road drainage ditch beneath Ferry Road (above), and early pipe drains, which were crudely constructed by modern standards. One such pipe drain, found on Oxford Terrace, was laid on a flat gradient, meaning that the filth and water it once carried can’t ever have been able to drain away freely (a factor that no doubt contributed to its eventual silting up). Worse still was a crudely made and un-trapped connecting house drain, which may well have resulted in the sewer stink travelling up this drain and entering the house. Yuck!

Image: H. Williams
Image: H. Williams

By 1882 the Drainage Board had helped to remove some of the sewage stink from Christchurch through the construction of a sewerage system that carried waste eastwards out of town towards the estuary, and stormwater via a separate network of sewers into the rivers. Many of these sewers, of brick and concrete construction, have been relined and are still in use today. We also know that for some disgruntled 19th century ratepayers, the sewers, and the Drainage Board itself, carried with it the reek of corruption. Although he never publically admitted it, the Drainage Board’s Engineer Mr Charles Napier Bell was accused of profiteering from a 5% commission on all the earthenware sewer pipes the Board was importing from Britain (Wilson 1989: 18).

One of the old sewer outfalls into the Avon River, still in use today. Image: E. Clifford.
One of the old sewer outfalls into the Avon River, still in use today. Image: E. Clifford.

Cesspits

Despite the expansion of the sewer network, many households did not connect to the sewers and instead continued the medieval practice of using backyard latrines/privies with subsurface cesspits for disposing of their bodily wastes. Typically unlined, these cesspits were directly implicated in the transmission of fatal water borne diseases such as typhoid and dysentery, with seepage contaminating the groundwater of nearby wells. Emptied by hand (before they were later abandoned and filled in with rubbish, much to the excitement of us archaeologists), ‘night soil’ was carted away and dumped on the fringes of town. From 1886 in Christchurch,  a specially converted tram was employed between the hours of midnight and 5am to take tanks of ‘night soil’ waste out to the Council’s newly established ‘rubbish reserve’ in Linwood  (Alexander 1985:11).

We have excavated a surprisingly small number of cesspits in Christchurch, the deepest of which was 1.8 m deep. The bottom of this deep cesspit was stained a light tan colour and was of a puggy, sticky consistency, which we have interpreted as the residues of decomposed poo. Layers of ash, and a white powdery substance (probably lime) found within one of these pits may represent deodorising agents.

Julia sitting in the cesspit feature she just excavated. Image: H. Williams.
Julia sitting in the cesspit feature she just excavated. Image: H. Williams.

Rubbish and rats

As we have mentioned before on the blog, rubbish disposal was a continual problem in early Christchurch. Although in some areas the council did operate a household rubbish collection system in the 19th century, and employed ‘scavengers’ to clean the streets of rubbish and horse poo on a semi-regular basis, many households continued to dig pits in their backyards for disposing of their rubbish, or simply dumped it out of sight under the house or on a vacant section, thereby avoiding the collection fee.

With particularly large rubbish pits, I have always wondered to what extent they may have smelled bad, as they were filled up over time with the household’s food and kitchen scraps and other offensive organic wastes, left to putrefy in the summer sun. To date, we have not found any clear evidence of layers of dirt or sand dumped in pits in Christchurch that would have helped to minimise any bad smells. Pits may have been covered in some way, however, perhaps with lengths of timber or sheet metal, which would have helped to suppress any nasty smell, and we hope, have kept the rats out.

With all the filth and rubbish in, around, and underneath Christchurch buildings, it is not difficult to imagine how easily a population of rats could get out of control. Many a subfloor space in built-up Christchurch may have sheltered a rat family or two, safe out of the cold and with a ready supply of food scraps about to sustain them.

By 1900 the rodent menace reached a crisis point, as civic authorities prepared for the coming of the plague, which had appeared in New South Wales and threatened to spread to New Zealand on infected stowaway rats (Star 27/2/1900: 2). Although the plague never arrived in Christchurch, the threat contributed to a greater awareness about the dangers of filth, and the eradication of urban rat populations.

Advertisement for O'Kearney's rat poison. Image:
Advertisement for O'Kearney's rat poison. Image:

A wide variety of strychnine, phosphorus, and arsenic-based rodent poisons were available from chemists to deal with rat infestations. Because they were implicated in a number of suicides and murders across the country, after 1895 purchase of these products required a signed declaration from a Justice of the Peace as to their intended purpose, as well as the payment of a government fee (Press 23/10/1895: 4).

At a site on Victoria Street we found two pit features like nothing we have ever seen before, features we have interpreted as archaeological evidence of 19th century rodent eradication activity. This took the form of two hand dug pits, each of which contained only rat bones – the remains of 34 rats in one pit and 21 in the other.

Rubbish pit filled with the remains of numerous rats, and some of the skull and jaw fragments found within. Image: H. Williams.
Rubbish pit filled with the remains of numerous rats, and some of the skull and jaw fragments found within. Image: H. Williams.

Whether both these pits were dug, filled, and covered over in the same day we will never know, nor what stinky state of decomposition these rat corpses may have been in when buried, nor whether these rats succumbed to poison, traps, or the resident tabby cat. What both these rat bone features do tell us, however, is that at the end of the day, it was the people of Christchurch who not only through their individual actions or inaction contributed to the filth and the stink, but were ultimately also the individual agents of change who helped play their part in cleaning it up. Such is the sweet retrospective smell of history.

Hamish Williams

References

Alexander, M., 1985. Rails in the roads – the steam and horse tram era in Christchurch. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Transport Board / Tramway Historical Society.

Press.  [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A Short History of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Drainage Board.

Public faces and private spaces: domestic pride and hygiene in the 19th century

Today’s post continues the theme of the last one (a little), in terms of exploring the relationship between products and industries in the past and their connection with our lives today. It's easy to scoff at some of the things we learn about the 19th century - like how backward the ideas were - but there are certain aspects of history that remind us how some human traits transcend time and generations. One such aspect of human behaviour that’s come to my attention recently, thanks to some artefacts we've found in Christchurch, is to do with cleaning the house, of all things. Specifically, how we can see delineations between public and private spaces in the products used by a 19th century household as much as we can see it in the actual physical structure of the house itself.

The object that triggered this train of thought was found recently, on a site in the Christchurch CBD. It’s a small ceramic pot, similar to others that we've come across before, that has the useful distinction of still having its label attached. This label identifies the original contents of the pot as Joseph Pickering & Sons' "celebrated polishing paste", for "cleaning and beautifying" a range of metal objects. The significant word here, I think, is 'beautifying'. Products like this polishing paste had a very specific purpose, and that purpose had everything to do with appearance. After all, something is polished so that it can be seen, is it not? Shiny harness ornaments, gleaming silver and brass, burnished copper – they're there to look good, and to make the people associated with them look good in the eyes of others. The virtue of keeping a clean house, and the reflection of that virtue on a person's character, is not a new concept to any of us (even if we don't always follow through as much as we should). Pickering's polishing paste is a product that has everything to do with this concept, with that public face of a household or business and the social construct of domestic pride.

This pot of Pickering & Son's polishing paste was found on a site in Christchurch's CBD. The label reads:
This pot of Pickering & Son's polishing paste was found on a site in Christchurch's CBD. The label reads:

It got me thinking about the other household products we find in archaeological sites and how they fit within this notion of public and private space in the home. With the exception of polishing paste, almost all of the other cleaning products we find are disinfectants. Products like Kerol, Jeyes Fluid & Lysol were all advertised primarily as disinfectants for the home (and on the farm, in some cases), although they also claimed medicinal properties among their applications. Kerol was advertised as a remedy for infantile paralysis (polio), due to its germ-killing properties (Wanganui Chronicle 24/03/1916: 6), while Lysol had some interesting (and disturbing) alternative uses (Evening Post 4/10/1930: 27). In the early 20th century, along with causing a number of deaths, it was marketed and used as a form of birth control and feminine hygiene product (Sanger 1917). Unfortunately for women, the extremely caustic and highly toxic disinfectant, which was applied by douching, created all manner of disastrous and highly painful health problems rather than solving them (Palmer & Greenberg 1936:142-146).

These astoundingly sexist advertisements for Lysol claim "in easily understood language", that good feminine hygiene can protect a woman's youth & vigor and save her marriage. Clockwise
These astoundingly sexist advertisements for Lysol claim "in easily understood language", that good feminine hygiene can protect a woman's youth & vigor and save her marriage. Clockwise

All of these disinfectants are associated with the gradual acceptance of germ theory during the late 19th century, along with the new understanding that personal and household hygiene formed an important aspect of individual health. For that very reason, as cleaning products, they form something of a contrast to Pickering's polishing paste as products that sit firmly within the private sphere of household cleaning. Their ability to kill germs notwithstanding, disinfectants like these would have little to contribute when it came to presenting the public spaces of the household to guests and visitors. In fact, horrifying feminine hygiene aside, their use in the home hasn't really changed during the past 100 years.

Kerol bottle found in Christchurch, along with 1920s poem singing the praises of the disinfectant. Images:  Colonist 24/02/1920; J. Garland.
Kerol bottle found in Christchurch, along with 1920s poem singing the praises of the disinfectant. Images: Colonist 24/02/1920; J. Garland.

This is what I'm getting at, really. The products themselves may have uses that seem barbaric (douching with disinfectant, ouch), or ingredients that we wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, but the driving force behind their use hasn't changed so much. The average household today might not have a lot of silver and saddlery to polish (to be fair the average household then probably didn't either) but a bottle of furniture polish wouldn't be unusual in most cleaning cupboards. Nor would glass cleaner, starch, or shoe polish, all of which are used more for the presentation of a clean house (or footwear) than for hygienic reasons. At the same time, although many solely 'private' products, like bleach or disinfectant, are common in modern households, so too are products that combine the appearance-based cleaning with the hygienic side of things. Anti-bacterial Spray & Wipe is an excellent case in point.

Perhaps that's the real difference between then and now. There's still the same drive to have a clean house, the same kind of domestic pride and same wish to be free from illness or disease: it's just easier to fulfil now. More convenient. The people haven't changed, not so much, but we've changed the world around us, one product at a time.

Jessie Garland

References

Colonist. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Evening Post. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health, 2014. [online] Available at http://www.mum.org/

Palmer, R. L. & Greenberg, Sarah K., 1936. Facts and Frauds in Women's Hygiene: A Medical Guide Against Misleading Claims and Dangerous Products. Vanguard Press. 

Sanger, M., 1917. Family Limitation. [online] Available at http://archive.lib.msu.edu.

Wanganui Chronicle. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

The Victorian Christchurch Child

christchurch-earthquake-new-zealand-archaeology-feeding-bottle_64534_600x450.jpg

Childhood. We all had one. Whether we remember it vaguely or with clarity, we all passed through this phase of life. As infants we shook that baby rattle with all our might or nursed that pacifier until our eyes closed and we dreamed of a faraway land. As we got older the toys became larger and more creative: teddy bears with a squeak in the stomach or crayons that ended up strewn across the house or even on the walls. We all remember the Barbie dolls and the G.I. Joes, or the Barbie dolls with crew cuts to make them look like G.I. Joes. Or even that first day of school where you were accompanied by your very own yellow Bananas in Pyjamas lunch box. This period of one's life, although so fundamental in how we mature as adults, is often forgotten. This is also true of the Victorian Christchurch child.

As a result of the February 2011 earthquake and the subsequent rebuild, a number of artefacts related to the years of childhood have been excavated. This collection of artefacts provide us not only a rare glimpse into the lives of the Victorian Christchurch child but is now allowing us to establish how different artefacts relate to different stages of a child's life.

A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.
A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.

Archaeological investigations regarding children in their first few years of life have often been restricted to analysis of infant mortality or mortuary practices and rarely touch on their lived experiences (and even historical documents are not much more helpful: simply looking up 'Christchurch Child' on Papers Past was a challenge, for almost all searches came up with child mortality stories). The sites that have been excavated across Christchurch provide an opportunity to catalogue this brief but important time in one's life.

Infant-related artefacts are largely related to a baby's health. These include health-benefiting bone marrow, baby powders and medicinal disinfectants designed to prevent against illness. The largest number of artefacts relating to the infant years, however, are glass feeder bottles and ceramic feeder lids.

baby bottle2
baby bottle2
rounded bottle
rounded bottle

One such item was even named the 'murder' feeder, due to the difficulty of cleaning the lid. Such hygiene-related difficulties meant that baby easily fell ill, but this problem may have been counteracted by disinfectants, medicines or simple homemade remedies (some of which have a recommended child's dosage).

bottlefeeder
bottlefeeder

The development and emergence of the Victorian Christchurch citizen, as with any society, was shaped by what was taught to children. A common theme that has emerged from the material culture of Christchurch are the children’s cups and plates bearing educational-themed images, which can increase imagination and creativity but also conveyed moral messages.

photo2
photo2

Nursery rhymes, playful one-liners and intense moral teachings have all been found on china in our Christchurch assemblages. Nursery rhymes or a simple play on words to create a small story are used as a subtle tool to stimulate the imagination and intellectual growth. Children learn language through the repetition of syllables and words, often repeating what a parent said (Bishop and Curtis 2001: 5). And with moral messages buried in the phrases, children also learnt socially acceptable behaviour. In a fun way, that is.

One plate found is an 'ABC' plate, named for the alphabet written around the outer edge of the plate. These ABC plates were a product of the teachings of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that Benjamin Franklin. During the 19th century, a series of plates were sold bearing philosophical teachings from his Poor Richard's Almanack. Our particular plate bears the phrase  "Fly pleasures, and they'll follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift, now I have a sheep and cow, everybody bids me good morrow". It means those who work hard are rewarded in comfort, plenty and respect i.e. that leisure comes to those who work hard.

franklin
franklin

This phase of nursery rhymes and moral themes was a precursor to schooling days. Prior to the Education Act of 1877 education or schooling for children was not compulsory. In 1877 the Education Act made it compulsory and free for children aged between 5 and 13 to attend school (Walrond 2012).

This did not extend to secondary education and it was not until 1901 that the secondary education was addressed. A law passed at this time stated that only children who passed a competency exam would be allowed entry into secondary school. It is suggested that even those children who may have passed the competency exams would have still left school at this age to work, and why would they go to school when they were another pair of hands to help put food on the table (Walrond 2012)? The artefacts associated with this period of a child’s life are slate pencils and boards. Some boards have ruled lines on one side for writing and grid lines on the reverse side for mathematics.

Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies
Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies
Untitled-1
Untitled-1

A large quantity of toys have been found throughout sites across Christchurch and are indicative of the subtle ways in which social mores were constructed.

'Frozen Charlotte' doll. Image J. Garland
'Frozen Charlotte' doll. Image J. Garland

Girls were presented with dolls and tea sets, confirming their domestic role in the Victorian world, whereas boys played with tin soldiers and marbles, items associated with competition and manliness. It is during this period, when toys are introduced, that we begin to see gender differentiation in the archaeology of childhood. Girls are the most visible at this time with few artefacts that can be unequivocally associated with boys. This is in contrast to adulthood, when men are generally more visible in the archaeological record than women,as so many of our blog posts indicate.

Toy horse. Image K. Bone
Toy horse. Image K. Bone
Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson
Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson
Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called 'commies' as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common..
Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called 'commies' as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common..

The number of artefacts relating to children found during demolitions and the rebuild of Christchurch has allowed a chronological understanding of the emergence of the Victorian Christchurch child. The infant stage is predominantly represented by feeding bottles, health-benefiting foods and disinfectants. This suggests that in the first few years of life there is no differentiation of gender but an emphasis on raising a healthy child. The following stage, prior to schooling, is also not gendered and includes developing the imagination with rhymes and moral themes. This non-gendered childhood changes with the school years, with girls in particular taking a visible role. The presence of tea sets and dolls emphasise their role in society and society's expectations of their later life, with themes of domesticity and civility. The recent excavations have significantly developed our understanding of the Victorian Christchurch child and the ongoing investigations will continue to contribute to our understanding of this period, these children and their lived experiences, so watch this space...

Kim Bone

References

Bishop, J. C. and Curtis, M., 2001. Introduction. In:  J. C. Bishop and M. Curtis, eds. 2001. Play Today in the Primary School Playground: Life, Learn and Creativity. Open University Press, Buckingham, pp. 1-19.

Otago Witness. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Walrond, C., 2012. Teenagers and youth - defining teenagers as a group.[online] Available at: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/teenagers-and-youth/page-1 [Accessed 10 October 2013].

“He’s jist sharpening his teeth”

One of the exciting things about being an archaeologist in Christchurch at the moment is that we're digging up lots and lots of artefacts. And the more artefacts you dig up, the more chances there are of finding something rare or unusual. Sometimes the rarity relates to the monetary or sentimental value of the artefact, such as the fobwatch we talked about a couple of weeks ago. And sometimes the unusual artefact is something pretty ordinary. Like a toothbrush.

Toothbrush
Toothbrush

This teardrop-shaped bone toothbrush handle was found during archaeological work on an historic hotel site in Christchurch, along with a ceramic toothpaste pot (below) and other personal artefacts. We were pretty excited to find it, since toothbrushes (or even parts of them) aren't often found on 19th century archaeological sites in New Zealand. Our research suggests that this may be a result of vastly different attitudes towards oral hygiene at this time, not only in New Zealand but throughout the world.

toothpaste-pot-copy
toothpaste-pot-copy

The humble bristle toothbrush originated in China, although 'toothsticks' and the like are known to have been used for thousands of years. These earliest bristle toothbrushes weren't so humble, being made of expensive materials like ivory, gold (imagine!), silver or precious wood. So only the very wealthy could afford them, although there were some cheaper toothbrushes around. In Europe, however, people cleaned their teeth using sticks or rags... Toothbrushes were available in England from at least the 17th century but weren't common until a certain William Addis was thrown in jail in 1780 for starting a riot. At least, that's how the story goes. Whatever the truth of the matter, Addis is credited with introducing cheap bone-handled toothbrushes to England, and no doubt kick-starting a revolution in dental hygiene. Addis's toothbrushes were typically made from animal bones and the bristles also came from animals. Badger bristles were apparently the most expensive but pig bristles were more common.

bookofillustrati00mawsuoft_0154
bookofillustrati00mawsuoft_0154

We know that from c.1850 on many toothbrushes were imprinted with trademarks, slogans or details of the manufacturer and our toothbrush is no exception. It's stamped with the mark of S. Maw, Son & Thompson (see photo above). From this, we know that the toothbrush was made between 1870 and 1901, when this firm was in operation.

The Maw firm was the largest pharmaceutical wholesaler in Britain and was actually a distributor of toothbrushes, not a manufacturer (i.e. a middleman). From 1870-1901, they sold toothbrushes made by William Addis & Son Brushworks, the company founded by William Addis almost a century earlier and continued by his son. The words “ALPASS LIVERPOOL” were also stamped on the handle and probably indicate the place of manufacture: Alpass Road in Liverpool, England. The number '29' stamped below the head indicates the manufacturer's model number.

So why are toothbrushes - and toothpaste pots - so rare on 19th century archaeological sites in New Zealand, given that they're such everyday items today (not to mention items that are thrown out pretty regularly)? Lots of chemists and druggists in New Zealand were advertising toothbrushes for sale, so they were definitely available.

We think that the rarity reflects a lack of awareness of the importance of dental hygiene, and possibly also that a rag - which would always be readily available and would cost nothing - would do the job just fine, thanks. And dentists in the 19th century had a pretty fearsome reputation, so anything to do with dental hygiene may have been a little suspect. But there might have been some other factors too, including the cost of toothbrushes.

toothbrush manufacturers press 18 feb 1874 pp3
toothbrush manufacturers press 18 feb 1874 pp3

So who used our toothbrush? It could have been the proprietor of the hotel, or a guest. If it was the proprietor, however, we might have found more toothbrushes, given that probably even 19th century toothbrushes needed to be replaced regularly. Our guess, then, is that it was used by a guest. We don't know for certain that the same guest left the toothpaste pot behind, but it seems reasonably likely, given the rarity of both artefacts in 19th century archaeological sites in New Zealand. And who knows, maybe a hotel servant who chanced to see this guest brushing their teeth thought the guest was in fact sharpening his teeth.

Kirsa Webb

sharpening Bruce Herald, 1 November 1871, Page 7
sharpening Bruce Herald, 1 November 1871, Page 7

Bibliography

  • Mattick, B., 2010. A Guide to Bone Toothbrushes of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Barbara E. Mattick, USA, available from Xlibris Corporation.
  • Maw, S & Son, 1869. Book of Illustrations to S. Maw & Son's Quarterly Price-Current. Butler & Tanner, London. Available at: http://archive.org/details/bookofillustrati00mawsuoft.
  • Press, 18 February 1874, page 3.
  • Taranaki Herald, 1 November 1880, page 4.