interpretive archaeology

The sad story of the secret staircase

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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?

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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].

 

So far, yet so close...

As a Spanish archaeologist who used to work on prehistoric sites and then became an artefact specialist in New Zealand, my experience has shown me that although they are worlds apart, Spanish prehistory and the Victorian era are closer than you think. And I’ll explain why… As you know, archaeology provides us with information about societies in the past. That means a long timeline and heaps of artefacts that let us know how people used to live. But, how much have these objects changed from thousands of years ago to the 19th century? Less than you might imagine…

Food, care practices and children’s education are aspects of life that are present in all times and all places around the world. It comes down to the simple fact that people are people. Daily activities are the most important ones for the survival and development of all societies. These tasks articulate the relationships and social links between people. However, although they are important, essential tasks, they have long been dismissed or gone unnoticed. How is it possible? Easy! Because history has been written in masculine, based on the idea of the technological and industrial progress carried out by man, and those domestic works associated with women and dwelling have been undervalued. This lack of attention in archaeological discourse doesn’t make sense because most of the artefacts recorded in all cultures and historical periods are associated with the household.

To be honest, I chose this topic because gendered archaeology is one of my passions. I have been analysing how women were represented in prehistoric rock art from the eastern area of Spain as researcher at the University of Alicante and I also used to work on the archaeological site of Cabezo Redondo (Villena, Spain), which dates to the Bronze Age. Currently, I have the chance to keep looking for women and children through the artefacts from 19th century sites in Christchurch. So, today, I want to merge my experiences here in the Antipodes with those from Spain. With that in mind, I’ll mainly look at the most common finds that archaeologists deal with: ceramic vessels, along with a couple of other unusual and cool artefacts.

So, first, a few basic ideas to start with!

The basic tasks of daily life may not have always been undertaken by women in prehistory, for sure! In fact, in the early periods of human history, the whole group (women, men and children) would have been involved. It was later that these activities became part of women’s heritage in traditional and historical societies. Especially, by the middle of the 19th century when homes and workplaces were no longer combined in the same place, a strict division of roles of family members became visible: the main responsibility for men was the economic support of the household, while the women undertook the role of homemaker and child carer and retreated from the public sphere. Women were encouraged to be the wives, mothers and domestic servants. Poor behaviour and inattention to housework was often linked to gossiping or even insanity. Can you believe it? Do you think domesticity causes illness? This husband didn’t agree because his wife was the most domestic woman ever.

Now that you’ve had a little bit of an introduction, we are ready! It is time to start democratising the past through archaeology, listening the silent voices from the past, and highlighting and researching the role of the people less represented. Let’s make women, children and their practices visible!

I’ll show you some objects related to food, caregiving and children’s socialization. Comparing both artefacts found in Spain at prehistoric sites and 19th century ones from Christchurch, we’ll reach an evident and clever conclusion: materials and manufacturing methods are different, but the use of the objects remains consistent.

Eating is probably the most essential activity for everybody. As well as being a biological necessity, food practices display social rituals and indicate different means, status and behaviours, based on factors like the variety of table settings. The first tableware and cutlery recovered from prehistoric sites in Spain dates to the 5th to the 4th millennium BC. Is that not amazing? At these sites, we find communal serving dishes from which household members were served, individual bowls for eating and handled vessels to contain and serve liquids. Simple for us, but an authentic revolution for the Neolithic groups. Their new economy, based on farming, involved significant changes in food preparation and consumption. These processes required knowledge about sources as well as tools and technical skills for cutting, grinding, boiling, smoking or roasting. A kind of soup and cream made from grains mixed with water was the main dish on the menu, and it was cooked and eaten with a spoon. It would look like a porridge. I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t as yummy as our current food! How lucky we are!

In the same way that eating is important in order to create and negotiate relations between people, childcare and education also have social significance. Through play and imitation, young children were taught roles that would be important in their daily life as adults. Based on the archaeological record, it looks like dolls were of the most popular toys from ancient times! By the 19th century, porcelain dolls were given to girls to encourage maternal instincts as well as toy tea sets to learn the rules of domestic etiquette and social interaction in the Victorian era. But again, this is not a modern invention! Miniature ceramics were also found in prehistoric sites, and they were not only used as toys but also as a way to learn about ceramic manufacture. These asymmetric and unburnished vessels showed the processes of skill acquisition needed to make pottery. To be honest, I don’t think that I would be able to make them any better using my hands…maybe because my mum didn’t teach me about that?

So why have I used prehistoric and 19th century artefacts to look at maintenance activities? I've tried to make you think about the evidence of daily life because artefacts hide a history behind them. They talk about social processes and relationships between people, which is the core of all societies. Women carried out an active role as well as men, of course, and the archaeological record confirms this. However, traditional historians and archaeologists, influenced by our contemporary minds, have interpreted the past by focusing on men and their achievements. But in reality, the development of all cultures and societies is the result of the tasks undertaken by men and women, as well as the relationships and connections between them. So, it is time to make women and their practices visible!

So how do we do it? The archaeological record provides the tools that we need - women and children are visible through objects from household contexts as I explained here. Also, human bones from burials and rock art are both especially useful in the case of prehistoric sites. In the case of the 19th century Christchurch sites, archaeologists are lucky as well. Lots of rubbish was dumped into pits or accidentally fell under the floors of houses, waiting to be uncovered and compared with the historical records for that period or site. Therefore, we only need to be asking the right questions to find the answers – and to find the women and children that we are looking for. Let’s go, get into it!

By Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

GEA. Cultura Material e identidad social en la Prehistoria Reciente en el Sur de la Peninsula Iberica. [online] Available at: http://www.webgea.es/ [Accessed 11/05/2017].

Gonzalez Marcen, P., Monton-Subias, M. and Picazo, M., 2008. 'Towards an archaeology of maintenance activities'. In Monton-Subias, S. and Sanchez-Romero, S., 2008 (ed.) Engendering Social Dynamics: The Archaeology of Maintenance Activities. BAR International Series 1862.

Museo Arqueologico Regional. Comunidad de Madrid. [online] Available at: http://www.museoarqueologicoregional.org [Accessed 11/05/2017].

Museu de Prehistoria de Valencia. [online] Available at: http://www.museuprehistoriavalencia.es [Accessed 8/05/2017].

Museu Nacional Arqueologic de Tarragona [online] Available at: http://www.mnat.cat/ [Accessed 9/05/2017].

Past Women. Material Culture of Women. [online] Available at: http://www.pastwomen.net/ [Accessed 9/05/2017].

Sanchez Romero, M., 2008. ‘Childhood and the Construction of Gender Identities through Material Culture’. Childhood in the Past 1, 17-37.

Symonds, J., 2007. Table Settings. The Material Culture and Social Context of Dinning, AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, United Kingdom.

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2017. Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct Archaeological Report. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.

 

The heady nature of pseudo-science

One of the most interesting things about being an archaeologist or a historian is seeing the development of ideas and knowledge throughout the ages. We are reminded, time and time again, that the ideas and theories that we consider primitive or even ridiculous in hindsight were the cutting edge of scientific enquiry or social theory at the time. It follows that at least some of the things we consider to be cutting edge here and now will be primitive or ridiculous to our children and grandchildren in the decades to come. comparativephysi00redf_0067

At the same time, it is easy to see the foundations of our current knowledge base and thinking in those same primitive or ridiculous ideas. Every theory or discovery that was later proven to be wrong or misapplied was still, in fact, part of a conversation – a social, philosophical and scientific discourse – that came to inform our understanding of the world in the present day. They either provided the building blocks for the development of an idea (the four humours of the body to miasma theory to germ theory, for example); a point of contention which forced the development of a more accurate theory; or used approaches and ideas that later proved to be useful, even if they were misapplied at the time. From geocentrism, the four elements of all matter (earth, fire, wind, water…heart! Oh wait…) and Copernican astronomy to the miraculous cough curing properties of heroin, our history is littered with theories and ideas that were wrong, but without which our current knowledge base would not be what it is.

One such subject – and the thing that got me thinking about this in the first place – is the now much maligned science of phrenology, a subject brought to our attention a while back by the discovery of a crumpled up poster inside the walls of a 19th century house in Christchurch. The poster depicted the head of a man in profile, with the skull divided into a quilt of small images, numbered and labelled with various character traits, including sublimity (“conception of the grand, awful and endless”), mirthfulness (“wit”), causality (“desire to know the why and wherefore of things”) and alimentiveness (“appetite”). Above this arresting image, a headline read “Phrenological Head of Charles Peace, The Burglar.”

The Phrenological Head of Charles Peace. Image: J. Garland.

As it turns out, Charles Peace was quite the well-known figure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a sort of combination of Sherlock Holmes’ master of disguise and Catwoman (this is not at all an accurate description, but it amuses me). His fame – or infamy – was on par with what we now attribute to Jack the Ripper or Bonnie and Clyde and his story has all the elements of a great melodrama (which, indeed, it became later on). A cat burglar with a limp who “could scale a wall like a fly”, the “man with many faces”, a master of disguise who “could change his face in a moment”, the “prince of housebreakers”, betrayed by his mistress after a daring near-escape from the police, having evaded the police as a wanted man for years. It’s a blockbuster in the making. Probably starring Peter Sellers (or the current equivalent – Steve Carrell?).

Peace was a Sheffield-born criminal executed in 1879 for two murders and a long, long list of burglaries committed during his adult life. Having plied his thieving trade in Sheffield and its environs during the 1860s and 1870s, he shot the husband of a couple that he had befriended and fled to Peckham, London. There, he continued to rob the houses of the wealthy, while living under a pseudonym (and under the very noses of Scotland Yard). He was arrested in 1878 after an altercation with police during a robbery, and eventually hanged (Auckland Star 14/05/1932: 3).

charles peace joke

Contemporary and later newspapers described him as the “cleverest burglar that ever lived”, a figure so famous that “even Dick Turpin could not hold a candle to him” (Alexandra Herald and Central Otago Gazette 4/12/1929:1). He became the subject of waxworks, of crime fiction, a stage play (which outraged society by depicting his hanging on stage, carried out by an actual retired executioner) and increasingly outrageous and dramatised depictions and characterisations in popular culture. One 1930s newspaper, for example, said of him “Peace is shown as he was, a dwarf of phenomenal strength, a colossal braggart, repulsive in mind and body and a perfect burglar.” Another went even further and called him “almost a monkey of a man…an unrestrained savage.” More interestingly, from the perspective of our phrenological head, is an article that equates his prominent ears and “head of enormous size”, with his criminal proclivities.

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And this is the thing. It is no wonder that, notorious as he was, Charles Peace became the subject of phrenological investigation. The science of phrenology, particularly in its heyday, was often associated with criminals and criminal behaviours, used in an attempt to make sense of why certain people did such unreasonable things – and perhaps, to impose an order on a world that didn’t always seem to make a whole lot of sense.

The ‘science’ was first ‘discovered’ in the late 18th century, by Franz Joseph Gall, a German neuroanatomist and physiologist. It was based on the premise that the various personality traits of a person corresponded to different parts of their brains, the size and shape of which could be ‘read’ in the bumps and indents of their skull. While ultimately discredited, Gall’s theories influenced the development of neurological science as we know it today, particularly when it comes to different parts of the brain being used for different functions (not a neuroscientist – am hoping I’ve paraphrased this correctly!).

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(On a side note, I had great plans to apply the phrenological model to our office full of archaeologists in an attempt to determine the most criminal amongst us. However, as it turns out, practicing the science of phrenology involves feeling for the bumps and cavities of a person’s skull with your palms and fingertips, which seemed like it would cross a boundary from which there is no going back. We’re all friends here, but there’s a line, right?)

1895-Dictionary-Phrenolog

Phrenology was most popular during the mid-19th century, but continued to be given credence by a small fringe of society through into the early 20th century. During the height of its popularity in various parts of the world, it was applied to criminal proceedings – both to understand the criminal defendant and to be assured of the character of the jurors, recommended to ladies as a subject of study that would ensure happiness in marriage and suggested as a way to “determine what should be restrained, what cultivated and the pursuit of in life best adapted” in children. One account even has it used to determine which of a lady’s suitors she ought to marry. It was also, in its most infamous applications, used to reinforce racial stereotypes, equating negative cultural and behavioural traits with physical – and racial – appearance. Essentially reducing human people, cultures and personalities to bumps on a skull.

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In New Zealand, phrenology makes an appearance here and there throughout the 19th century, with varying degrees of sincerity and skepticism. French naturalist and phrenologist, Pierre-Marie Dumoutier, for example, took four casts of Māori heads during his travels with Durmont d’Urville around the country in 1840, adding them to a collection of phrenological busts of indigenous peoples that he later displayed in Paris (photographic portraits of two of those busts, of rangatira Takatahara and Piuraki, are currently on display in the Christchurch Art Gallery). Several phrenological professors and consultants were active throughout the country, including in Christchurch, throughout the latter half of the century (sometimes these consultants also offered palmistry readings and séances, for what it’s worth). Demonstrations using “a large collection of the sculls of murderers, bushrangers, Maoris and notorious and eminent characters” were incredibly popular. And phrenological assessments of criminals and famous figures continued to turn up in popular culture well into the early 20th century.

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At the same time, in the 1840s and 1850s, jokes about the empty skulls of those who believed in phrenology and long arguments over the merits of the ‘science’ were being published in New Zealand newspapers. The lectures of a vocal and eminent phrenologist, Mr A. S. Hamilton, were treated and reviewed with a healthy degree of skepticism (and an appreciation for the appeal of spectacle) in the 1860s. In the 1870s, demonstrations of phrenology also included lectures on mesmerism, palmistry and electrical psychology. By the 1890s and early 1900s – both in New Zealand and throughout the rest of the world – it seems to have been more of a novelty than a science.

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There’s this great argument printed in the letters to the editor of the Colonist in the 1850s about the merits of phrenology as a science that really brings home the weird juxtaposition of ideas that it encapsulated in the subject. Because the arguments made in favour of it ring just as true to a modern scientific mind as those made against.

For example: “Phrenology depends neither on speculation nor on theory…it is essentially the science of observation, like chemistry and botany. It was discovered by observing facts, was perfected by comparison and induction, and every man with sufficient capacity may with his own eyes, test and verify its truth.” Colonist 9/02/1858: 3.

It’s just that as far as the application of phrenology went, those arguments simply weren’t true. Rather than being a ‘science of observation, like chemistry and botany’, it was actually a system of flawed assumptions and correlations, used to perpetuate a very narrow perspective of character and personality that failed to account for the effects of experience, cultural background, social upbringing and any of the other myriad factors that make a person who they are. Whoops, got a bit ranty there.

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The truth is, as an anthropologist and an archaeologist, phrenology both intrigues and terrifies me. Intrigues, because it is ultimately about understanding people, about trying to understand why and how people work. Because the analytical approach that it incorporates also forms the foundation of much of what I do as an artefact analyst, what so many analysts and scientists do (even little social scientists like us). But terrifies, because it is also so narrow, so rigid, so structural that it fails to employ the holistic approach necessary to truly understand a person – or, in our case, a culture or society. It sees correlation as cause, takes something – character – that is the result of a myriad of factors and experiences and distills it down to a series of boxes to check.

But it is, ultimately, part of that progression of ideas and knowledge that I talked about at the beginning of the post (remember that, doesn’t that seem like ages ago?). Call it a pathway, a tree, a foundation, whichever analogy or metaphor suits – however much of a misstep it was (and it really, really was), phrenology had its part to play in this ongoing human struggle to – and, ironically, I believe the definition of phrenological causality sums it up best – “understand the why and wherefore of things.”

Jessie Garland

References and Acknowledgements

Jeremy Habberfield-Short, for excavating and sharing his excellent discoveries.

Talking treasure

Words. Words, words, words. Words[1]. We’ve been talking about words this week. Specifically, the words and phrases associated with archaeology (and heritage) in the public sphere that we - as a profession - can find problematic. Even more specifically, the use of the word ‘treasure’ to describe the things we find, especially when we’re talking about them in a non-archaeological context (like an exhibition).

Much of this conversation arose following the opening of the pop-up archaeology exhibition we’ve been involved with curating (created by the fantastic Heritage Rescue team, currently at The Commons in Christchurch, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am-4 pm, go and see it!). The exhibition is called ‘Buried Treasures’, which is both an excellent and evocative name for a display and a term that, from a purely archaeological perspective, has some troubling associations.

Our exhibition, thanks to the excellent people behind the Heritage Rescue TV show. Also, some excellent clouds. Everybody go and see it!

Treasure immediately brings to mind several other words and meanings, many of which are not only inaccurate from our perspective, but potentially damaging to the archaeological record. In an attempt to make sense of what is, frankly, a somewhat circular and confusing topic we have once again turned to our friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Because everything makes more sense when it’s being said by talking animals. And Christopher Robin.

So let us go then, you and I, to where the evening is spread out against the sky (thanks T. S. Eliot) and our friends Owl, Tigger and Christopher Robin are once again embroiled in archaeological discussion. I’ll leave you in their capable hands….

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“Right,” says Owl, with purpose and no small amount of pomposity. “Treasure. I have thoughts. I have many thoughts.”

Tigger bounces in anticipation. Christopher Robin waits patiently.

“The heffalump[2] in the room is the immediate association with treasure hunting, which leads on to things like fossicking and site destruction. The thrill of adventure and discovery and all that. I think the biggest problem with a term like treasure, though, is the different perspectives on value that underpin the use of the word. We can all agree that treasure is something valuable, it’s just that definitions of valuable diverge.”

“Hmm,” says Tigger. “Even though that’s a perfectly cromulent–“

“Cromulent!” Owl hoots, rudely interrupting. “Good word.”

“–use of the word,” continues Tigger. “I think the heffalump[3] in the room is more that treasure brings to mind images of shining coins spilling out of chests and gold jewellery and the like.”

“Ah, yes,” says Owl. “Pirates and dragons and hoards of gold.”

The results of a Google image search for 'treasure.' Image: Google.

“Exactly,” says Tigger. “It makes me think of that film, National Treasure, where the treasure isn’t really the Declaration of Independence – a really significant historical document – but an actual roomful of gold and junk that they spent the whole movie looking for. In that movie, it’s the gold and statuary that’s most important and the priceless one-of-a kind dusty old piece of paper that’s just the means to an end.”

“That’s a terrible movie,” says Owl, darkly.

“But widely seen!” exclaims Tigger, standing strong against avian judgement. “So the message, whether or not it was intentional, was far reaching.”

Own continues to frown and exude cinematic outrage. It’s a skill.

“If you search for archaeological treasure on Google,” continues Tigger, blithely ignoring Owl, “the results are all sunken Spanish galleons, shipwrecks full of Blackbeard’s ill-gotten gains and Mycenean gold burial goods. It’s ALL gold and hoards and jewellery.”

“All things that fit a modern, capitalist definition of ‘valuable’ in the monetary sense,” says Christopher Robin, thoughtfully.

Again, this is what google thinks when you search for archaeology treasure. Image:

“I wonder if we do that – that immediate, unconscious valuation of artefacts by economic means – because that’s the easiest and most obvious way for people to wrap their heads around the significance of something in today’s society,” says Tigger.

“I hope not,” says Owl. “That’s a depressing thought.”

“There’s a lack of understanding of the cultural value of heritage on its own,” continues Tigger, “so people turn to something they’re familiar with, which is monetary value. I’m biased, of course, but I do think that this is a problem. You don’t see it with natural heritage, though. People don’t look at a baby kiwi or the view from a mountain in a national park and wonder how much money it’s worth.”

“Not to be cynical,” says Owl, “but they kind of do. Especially with views. Real estate prices on the coast, anyone?”

Both Tigger and Christopher Robin make a face at that.

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“We do place value on archaeological objects,” muses Christopher Robin. “It’s just not necessarily value that has anything to do with money or gold.”

“Yes,” says Owl, emphatically. “From my perspective, the ‘treasure’ to be found through archaeology isn’t physical things, it’s the information they offer and the window into our heritage that they provide. Knowledge is treasure! That said, although ALL artefacts have value as sources of information – collectively and individually – there are some that we value more as physical objects than others, because they’re rare enough or cool enough that they help us share the excitement of what we do with everyone else. I still don’t put a price on them, though. It’s a use value rather than a currency value.”

“Does treasure have to have a monetary value?” asks Christopher Robin, slightly plaintively. “If we’re talking about children’s impressions of treasure, for example, is it always associated with monetary worth?”

“I think it does, for the most part,” replies Tigger. “Blame the dragons and pirates and treasure hoards.”

“There’s another popular meaning of the word, though,” says Owl, ponderously. “In the sense of something treasured, something with sentimental value.”

“That’s still a problematic meaning, from an archaeological perspective,” says Christopher Robin. “We – at least here in Christchurch – don’t really find things that were treasured like that. People look after their valuable possessions – both those of monetary and sentimental value.”

“Unless they’re lost or broken,” says Owl, with just a hint of melancholy. “Sometimes I think that should be our professional motto. ‘Archaeology: it’s all just lost and broken things.’ Sounds about right.”

Christopher Robin and Tigger pause, as they consider how to respond to that.

“Moving on,” says Christopher Robin, quickly. “What about the things of your own that you value? Would you call them treasures? I don’t think I would, simply because I relate the term to pirates and treasure hunting.”

“I wouldn’t either,” says Tigger. “Sentimental, sure, but not treasured.”

“There are things that I’d rescue in the event of a fire, or things that I might consider family heirlooms,” Christopher Robin continues, “but I’d never refer to them as treasures. Precious items, maybe.”

“Hmm,” says Owl. “I would never use precious, because I equate it with gemstones and Gollum. It’s just a different frame of reference.”

“This is the problem, isn’t it?” says Tigger. “It’s word association. We have to use terminology carefully – especially in science communication – where we want the word we’re using to match the meaning that people will think of when they hear it.”

“And with something like treasure, there’s a dissonance between the two,” agrees Owl.

Tigger continues, “I think, if you’re using a word in a different sense to the way most people will think of it, it’s probably not an effective word to use. Like, in some places in America, they use ‘space archaeology’ to refer to the study of spatial relationships between things – what sensible people call ‘spatial archaeology’ or ‘landscape archaeology. Space archaeology immediately conjures up images of moon landings and floating fields of historical debris around the planet and just sets people up for disappointment when they discover what it actually is.”

“Aha!” says Owl. “But if a word manages to excite and interest people in the topic at hand, even if it’s somewhat inaccurate, isn’t it still effective? Is it more important to make archaeology accessible and of interest to everybody than it is to use technically accurate terminology? Where do you draw the line?”

Christopher Robin nods. “I do wonder if we’re being precious about the term, or if we should just embrace it. Perhaps, through our use of the term, we’re also helping to show other people that these ordinary things are also a kind of treasure (and therefore worthy of protection and study).”

“And sharing our own valuation of those treasures,” adds Owl. “Because they are important and valuable, even if neither pirates nor dragons would think so.”

“So we take back the term?” asks Tigger. “Use it with clear emphasis on heritage values, on information potential, on treasures in the cultural sense?”

“I think so,” says Owl. “It does make the exhibition sound exciting[4].”

“The odd blog post explaining our thoughts on the topic can’t hurt either,” says Christopher Robin, pointedly.

“True,” says Owl. “I’ll get right on that.”

Winnie-the-pooh-characters-movie-photo-09-550x550

Owl, Christopher Robin and Tigger

[1] The more you write and/or say words, the weirder it is.

[2] “A heffalump! Did you hear that, Pooh! A heffalump!” Piglet can be heard saying excitedly in the distance.

[3] “There is it again, Piglet! It must be nearby. A heffalump, Piglet, a heffalump! Let’s go!”

[4] And it IS exciting. You should all go and see it.

Acknowledgements

A. A. Milne, of course.

Archaeological challenges in the Hundred Acre Wood

Hello everyone! Belated happy new year and welcome back. We’ve decided to begin the year by talking about problems (just to start on a positive note). Well, sort of. We’re participating in an international round-up of blog posts this month on the subject of grand challenges in archaeology (you can see the whole thing here). Obviously, we’re approaching this from the perspective of Christchurch (and, to a degree, New Zealand) and the challenges we face here - both in the sense of difficulties encountered and challenges to be met.

To this end, three of us - with different areas of interest and experience in archaeology - got together and had a bit of a discussion about the challenges that stand out to us the most, the salient points of which are presented here. However, partly because it amuses me and partly because I want to see if any of you can guess who said what, I have replaced our real names with the names of Winnie-the-Pooh characters for the purposes of this post.

Imagine, if you will then, that Christopher Robin, Tigger and Owl, playing at being archaeologists for a day, are sitting around a fire in a clearing of the Hundred Acre Wood. Their conversation turns, as it always does when archaeologists congregate, to their (current) profession, and some of the challenges they’ve encountered while uncovering the mysteries of the past. For the purposes of this tortured metaphor, The Hundred Acre Wood is not always a place in England but sometimes a city in New Zealand (just go with it, okay?).

(In reality, we sat at our computers and carried out an online conversation over a couple of days when we should have been doing other work. The truth is always so much less fun than fiction.)

It was a situation not dissimilar to this. Image:

This conversation ranges from the specific and often practical difficulties they have faced in their daily work to some of the broader questions facing archaeology as a profession and field of research. Two major themes start to emerge: one revolves around the engagement of archaeology with the world today, the other encompasses the research potential of archaeological work, especially when it comes to answering big, broad questions.

The challenges of research - from the practical difficulties of realising it, to the scale at which it can be approached and the questions to be asked and answered - is perhaps the most obvious to the three participants, given the scale of work and amount of archaeological data being gathered in the city after the earthquakes. The last five years have resulted in over 2000 new recorded archaeological sites in Christchurch, approximately 1000 (or more) boxes of artefacts and the systematic excavation of the first 50 years of a whole city (not to mention several earlier Maori archaeological sites as well). It can be a little overwhelming.

“Indeed,” says Owl, hootingly. “Just from a practical perspective, there are the challenges presented by the time and money required to undertake research, by issues like databases and data management and accessibility and so on. A lot of which is made more challenging by the fact that all of the archaeological work in the city is done by archaeological consultants, who have neither the time nor funds to actually do the research.”

“Yeah,” says Tigger, bouncing up and down (please feel free to imagine this said in a Tigger voice, it’s kind of hilarious). “It’s the perennial problem of realising the research potential of archaeological consultancy, where most of the work happens but not much of the research. Unlike universities and research institutes, where most of the research happens, but less of the work. I mean, less of the initial data collection and excavation. I would never suggest that academics do less work.”  

In which Tigger bounces and

“Maybe,” says Christopher Robin (who has been uncharacteristically silent until now), “we’re excavating too many sites. There does seem to be too much data and not enough people to work with it. But it’s also important that we don’t lose the information offered by those sites.”

Owl nods. Wisely. Because owls are wise. “It’s not just the amount of information we have from sites being excavated and investigated right now. It’s also all of the accumulated information we have from old sites, which is constantly being re-analysed and integrated into new databases and new methods and new research questions.”

Christopher Robin gently suggests that Owl try not to be such an Eeyore, and think instead about the potential of this information. “The fact that so much data has been accumulated makes possible some really interesting challenges as far as research questions go. We can look at bigger, broader questions of life in the past that we couldn’t before. Ideas like the birth of the modern city, the development of regional architectural styles, the development of identity at different scales and at different groups.”

“Capitalism! Consumerism! Colonialism!” hoots Owl, in a momentary loss of dignity.

Tigger, in the typically positive manner of tiggers everywhere, reminds the other two that this potential is one of the most exciting things about working in Christchurch. The other two agree, nodding solemnly in the firelight. Christchurch has immense potential when it comes to broad research questions in archaeology, uniquely placed as it is to explore the past through the lives of individuals and communities and the global processes that changed the world. We’re excavating on a site by site basis, but accumulating a city wide dataset that fits within a much wider context. The scale of the archaeology (in every sense of the word) has so much to offer.

Owl, the ruffled feathers and dignity from the previous outburst settling back into place, adds “There are some challenges inherent in that as well, though. There’s a need for comparative data from other places and time periods in the world, especially if we want to address these questions on a global scale over time. Accessibility and data compatibility - and comparability - is a real challenge, as other archaeologists have already talked about elsewhere.”

“It doesn’t mean that incompatible or incomparable datasets can’t contribute to a bigger global conversation, though,” says Christopher Robin, reasonably.

“True” Owl continues, on a roll. “It’s not just the practicalities of it, though. It’s not always easy to reconcile different scales of research potential. When you’re looking at big picture questions, it can be hard to hold on to the nuances and details of individuals and things and easy to over generalise or simplify complicated situations and concepts. But, at the same time, these are the questions we need to be asking, the ideas and changes that are most relevant to the world we live in today - and some of the most exciting to pursue.”

Owl holds court on

It is at this point that a second big theme begins to emerge from the conversation: the challenge of engaging archaeology with the world today. Again, it is one that is particularly obvious to those of us working in Christchurch, where the value and relevance of heritage in the present day is a complex and often controversial topic. So much of the city’s visible heritage has been lost and the significance and future of those elements that have survived (the cathedral is a case in point) is very publicly and contentiously negotiated. The challenge goes beyond this, however, beyond the very obvious examples of symbolic heritage buildings to the ways in which archaeology (and heritage in general) is engaging with the world and lives of people today.

“Exactly,” says Owl, slightly long winded-ly. “There’s so much potential, especially with the situation here, to make use of all this information we have about the history of the city in the context of the world around us now. Like the parallels and contrasts you can see between the social, political, and urban processes that are occurring in Christchurch now, after the earthquakes, and those that occurred during the first decades of European settlement in the 19th century. Our past is relevant to our present (and our future) and we need to be better at communicating this.”

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Christopher Robin adds, thoughtfully (everything Christopher Robin does is thoughtful), “There’s definitely a lot to be said for the value that relevance adds to archaeology, as well, especially from the perspective of non-archaeologists. That’s one of the biggest challenges for me, you know - the public perception of archaeology and the apparent lack of value that people place on heritage in Christchurch (and New Zealand), outside of a few select examples.”

“That’s something that archaeology faces all over the world, I think,” says Tigger.

“Yes,” says Christopher Robin. “It’s that issue of archaeology, and heritage in general, being seen as something that halts or holds up development and is therefore a nuisance, rather than something useful to society.”

Owl hoots in agreement. Or something.

ChristopherRobin

“For New Zealand in general, though” Christopher Robin continues, “it does seem like we place a lot of value on our natural heritage, which is such a huge part of our national identity, but not as much on our cultural heritage. Maybe, as a profession, one of the challenges to be met here is how we present what we do to the general public. Maybe we should be focusing more on what the public wants out of archaeology, rather than what we think they should know about.”

“Maybe,” says Owl. “It’s true that I am often surprised by the kinds of stories and discoveries that people - archaeologists and non-archaeologists, alike - think are interesting and cool. It turns out that the things that owls find interesting are not always interesting to other people.”

“Who knew,” says Christopher Robin, only a little sarcastically.

“It’s not just what we’re communicating,” says Tigger, still bouncing. “It’s how we’re communicating it. We need to be better at making archaeology accessible to non-archaeologists. Tiggers watch a lot of YouTube videos, you know, and a lot of the archaeology channels are dry. They should be active, experimental or - if we’re talking about that natural heritage focus - taking place in relation to the landscape. Time Team was a good example of that.”

“I miss Time Team,” says Owl, mournfully.

“And if we’re talking about individual artefacts or sites or even archaeologists,” adds Tigger, "they need to be personalised in some way.That’s it! We need to personalise the past, make it engaging and accessible.”

“What, like writing an entire blog post as fictional characters from our childhoods?” asks Christopher Robin.

“Sure,” says Owl. “That sounds like a good idea. Could be fun.”

Fun,” agrees Tigger. “Fun, fun, fun, fun fun.”

It is here that we shall leave our three intrepid archaeologists, although their conversation continues long into the night, as the flames of their campfire flicker through the trees of the Hundred Acre Wood. There are other challenges to be solved, other adventures to be had and discoveries to be made, but these are tales for another day.

(Or, the online conversation occurring in reality deteriorates into a series of typos and comments on coffee and shoes and the subject is tabled for another day.)

Owl, Christopher Robin and Tigger.

Acknowledgements:

The fantastic, fabulous work of A. A. Milne, of course.

Pieces of the Past

This week on the blog we're sending you over to Pieces of the Past, an online exhibition we've curated as part of Beca Heritage Week here in Christchurch. The exhibition features the staff of Underground Overground Archaeology and their favourite artefacts. There's a wealth of different objects and stories there (and a suspicious number of caffeine related biographies for our archaeologists), from a sheep hoof on a stick to pocket watches, spinning tops and poems about cowboys. In fact, we may have been so excited about it that we modified (or butchered, depends on your point of view) a famous song in our excitement.

Glass eyes on skulls and sheep hooves on sticks, Old broken watches and bright orange bricks, Upright pianos, still with their strings, These are a few of our favourite things.

Lost spinning tops and pointy bone hooks, Cheese jars and Marmite and Rantin's old books, Cowboys and boats and small figurines, These are a few of our favourite things.

When the trowel scrapes, When the glass breaks, When we're feeling bored, We simply remember our favourite things, And then we don't feel so bad.

Check it out here. 

In which a fortune is made, an Oddfellow is not a type of mint, and archaeology happens

Earlier this year, we excavated a site on Armagh Street that revealed not only a large quantity of artefacts, but also a historical and material narrative set in the swampy bowels of a fledgling city, a tale of politics, commerce, secret societies, nefarious happenings and ...BETRAYAL (cue ominous music). Well, maybe not those last two.  And maybe not quite as melodramatic as all that. This story, told in turns by the objects and features we found on site and the records of those who owned them, included everyone from Oddfellows and Freemasons (even the United Ancient Order of Druids) to radicals (free radicals, even!) and liberals and some of the prominent voices of early Christchurch. Among the many figures whose history formed a part of the tale of this site, one who stood out was a Mr Edward Hiorns, tinsmith, hotelier, victualler, and protagonist of this particular post.

Excavating an archaeological feature filled with artefacts at a site on Armagh Street. Image: K. Bone.

Mr Hiorns first arrived in Christchurch in 1862 on board the Victoria. A plumber, tinsmith and metal-worker, he operated a business from premises on Armagh Street East during 1860s and 1870s. By 1872, however, he had branched out into hotel-keeping, becoming the proprietor of the Central Hotel (later the Masonic), located on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester streets. He seems to have had something of a colourful time as a hotel proprietor, appearing in the courts several times as plaintiff and defendant in cases ranging from stolen watches to bail forfeit, forgery and the inappropriate sale of alcohol.

Edward Hiorns, the man himsef. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Like so many of Christchurch’s early residents Hiorns was a man of many hats, not just in terms of how he made a living, but also in regard to his involvement in the community. Among other things, he was a prominent member of the Licensed Victuallers Association (yes, this was a thing) from the 1870s onwards, as well as involving himself in local politics, both successfully and unsuccessfully. In 1875, he ran for the city council but only managed to finagle 21 votes, a meagre offering when compared to the winning candidate’s 634. Not one to be easily put off, though, he ran again successfully in the 80s and 90s. Hiorns was also a member of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association in the 1860s, a liberal organisation that aimed to assist working men with the purchase of land (an important part of socio-political independence and status at the time).

A description of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association from 1866, when they were first formed. Image:

On top of all this,  he was also active in the Oddfellows society, attaining the rank of Provincial Grand Master, an occurrence which seems to have been something of a prerequisite for the residents of Armagh Street in the 19th century (no, seriously, they’re ALL Oddfellows and I have the flowchart to prove it). If they weren’t Oddfellows, they were Freemasons, and if they weren’t Freemasons there’s every possibility that they were Druids. To modern ears, these societies (and their unbelievably amazing names, thank you "The Mistletoe Lodge of Druids") sound incredibly anachronistic, but they were one of the major vehicles by which people (when I say people, I mean men, sadly) interacted with and supported each other. In the case of the Oddfellows, that support was largely aimed at the working classes. Ostensibly apolitical, they also likely fostered the growth of political ideas and movements enacted outside of the organisations, helped by the membership of men like W. S. Moorhouse, W. Rolleston, Rowland Davis, William Pember Reeves and many others.

The initial date of Hiorns’ arrival at our site on Armagh Street is a bit unclear, thanks to the existence of the similarly named Mr W. Hyorns, who leased the section in 1867 and may be the same person, a completely different person or a 19th century typo made flesh. Nevertheless, we know that he was active on Armagh Street in the 1870s and had leased the section on which our site was located by at least 1878 (for the period of 14 years, at the grand total of £20 a year; LINZ 1878: 337). Interestingly, one of the clauses of his lease was that he had to make £1000 pounds of improvements to the section at his own expense over the following two years, suggesting that he had a reasonable yearly income at the time (this is a LOT of money for the time). As it turns out, he later went on to buy and reside in Linwood House, the super fancy Georgian/Regency style house first built for Joseph Brittan. Pretty good for a tinsmith turned hotelier.

Linwood House in 2003, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeological site plan of the Armagh Street section on which Edward Hiorns resided in the 1870s. Image: K. Webb.

From historic photographs and maps, we know that between 1878 and 1884, significant modifications were made to the site. Two smaller buildings that are present on an 1877 map have, by 1884, been replaced with a large two storey brick townhouse (visible in the image below). It seems likely that this building tied into Hiorns’s £1000 pounds of modification to the section.  Unfortunately, we found no structural evidence of either this building or the earlier one during our excavations. What we did find, however, were several other archaeological features, including a large depression to the rear to the building that was completely and utterly filled with artefacts (unfortunately for us, this was the asbestos site was we’ve talked about previously on the blog, in the case of which more definitely wasn’t merrier). A smaller, rectangular pit feature was also found at the front of the section, containing a large quantity of tin and iron and a handful of artefacts, in addition to another small rubbish pit filled with domestic artefacts.

Ceramic artefacts from one of the rubbish pits on the section. Image: J. Garland.

While it is difficult to associate the features found on the site with any one resident during the 19th century, it is almost certain that some of them were deposited by Hiorns and his family, including some of the 1037 artefacts found in the large depression to the rear of the building. That particular feature looks to have been used for the disposal of rubbish over an unknown period of time, based on the presence of small concentrations of objects within the feature as a whole, the size of the assemblage, and the wide range of manufacturing dates found among the artefacts. Many of the artefact dates, however, fit in well with the period in which Hiorns was resident on the section. On top of this, the assemblage contained a large number of alcohol bottles and several artefacts which are considered to be “higher status” items, or objects more often associated with people of reasonable wealth. It would make sense for the man who a) ran a hotel and wine bar and was in court more than once on alcohol related charges and b) later purchased the prestigious Linwood House, to have owned items like these.

Selected glass bottles from the site, including Rowland's Macassar Oil, a Piesse and Lubin perfume bottle and part of an infant feeding bottle. Image: J. Garland.

The assemblage also contained large quantities of ceramic tea and table wares, as well as household and hygienic items like chamber pots, wash basins and ointment pots, a quantity of shoes and fabric, food containers, pharmaceutical bottles and children’s artefacts. One of the most interesting finds, however, was a cluster of clay tobacco pipes that included pipes with political motifs as decoration. These pipes – bearing the name and bust of William Gladstone, liberal English politician, and the name of Garibaldi, famously nationalist and progressive Italian general – can easily be tied into Hiorns’ political engagement (which I sort of alluded to above, but haven’t had time to go into detail about) and the politically charged narrative of this entire Armagh Street site (which I definitely haven’t had time to go into). They’re an example of material culture that is actively entangled with the more intangible ideas and ideals of the people and society by which they are made and used (a topic for another day, I think).

Clay smoking pipes found in Feature 3 (the depression to the rear of the house). Image: J. Garland.

I may have started this post with a melodramatic paragraph that reads more as pulp fiction than historical narrative, but in truth, the story of Edward Hiorns (and all of the residents of this block of Armagh Street) is not all that sensational. What it is, however, is a tale we come across all the time in Christchurch. There are many interesting themes to be found in the archaeological and historical records of his life, but two of the most interesting from my perspective are the way he “improved” his situation in life, so to speak, and the way he involved himself so readily in the governance and development of the city in which he had settled. It’s a combination that we see again and again in the lives of Christchurch residents from the 19th century.

People talk a lot about the fluidity of class and social affluence in the 19th century, especially in colonial settlements like New Zealand, and the significance of the capitalist ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ in the prospering of Victorian society. These are both more than evident in the case of Mr Edward Hiorns (and Mr Jamieson, and Mr Ruddenklau and Reverend Fisher). What is just as evident, however, is the active engagement made by people like Hiorns with the present and future of the community in which they lived – be it at the local, national or global level. I could, with the aid of Mr Hiorns and others, very easily take you all down the rabbit hole with me here into the fascinating world of political and social change in 19th century Christchurch (the labour movement! radicalism! women’s suffrage!) and the lives of the people who fought to change the world around them, but that is too much for any one blog post, let alone this one. Nevertheless, it bears remembering that theirs were the hands that shaped a city and, though the city, helped to shape a nation.

Jessie Garland.

References

LINZ, c. 1850. Deeds Index – A – Christchurch town sections and town reserves. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Office.

McAloon, J., 2000. The Christchurch elite. In Cookson, J. and Dunstall, G., eds). Southern Capital Christchurch: Towards a City Biography, 1850-2000., pp. 193-221. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Wright, G. R. 1998. The Petty Bourgeoisie in Colonial Canterbury; A Study of the Canterbury Working Mans' Political Protection and Mutual Improvement Association (1865-66) and the Canterbury Freehold Land Association. MA Thesis, University of Canterbury.

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

Blowing smoke: clay pipes, advertising and other things in the 19th century

As the study of human history, it comes as no surprise that archaeology can be an exercise in contradictions. Humans are, after all, complex and paradoxical creatures. From a material culture perspective, one of the most obvious and frustrating incongruities lies in the dissonance between a profession with classification at the heart of its investigative method and a subject – a world – that defies easy classification. People, and the things we create, the objects we use, are not easy to put into tidy little boxes, however much we might like to do so. This is particularly obvious when it comes to understanding the role of objects in the past, specifically, the different ways in which we have used them. Many of the artefacts we find in the archaeological record are likely to have had more than one function during their ‘uselife’. Sometimes this is a result of re-use: a teacup repurposed as a measuring cup, a beer bottle base used as a preserving jar, a coin turned into jewellery. Sometimes an artefact can have several different purposes, depending on how you look at them and why they are being used: ointments with both medical and cosmetic qualities, for example, or coffee cans that are as much souvenirs as they are objects for drinking out of. Children’s ceramics that were simultaneously intended to be vessels for children to eat off and objects which reinforced educational and social ideals.

Polyfunctional-artefacts-for-web
Polyfunctional-artefacts-for-web

Another good example of this is the humble clay pipe, an object which, on the surface, has a fairly definitive and obvious purpose – smoking tobacco (or flammable substance of your choice, I suppose). Yet there are numerous recorded instances in the past of clay pipes being used for activities that have nothing to do with smoking. Archaeological investigations in the United States have discovered clay pipe stems converted into penny whistles through the addition of drilled holes, while other accounts describe the use of stems as hair curlers (when warmed, of course), gardening aids (for killing bugs in carnations, specifically) and even murder weapons (Walker 1976). One record recounted the use of clay pipes as a prop in dancing, “where about a dozen pipes were laid close together on the floor and the dancer placed the toe of his boot between them while keeping time to the music” (Walker 1976: 125). Our own New Zealand newspapers advertise their use as bubble-blowing instruments for children and the occasional adult (Observer 17/05/1902: 7). There’s even an excellent and somewhat disturbing illustration of their use in the application of horse enemas for the treatment of ‘lilac passion’ in the 17th century (I kid you not).

A selection of alternative uses for clay smoking pipes. The expression on the horse's face is priceless. Images:
A selection of alternative uses for clay smoking pipes. The expression on the horse's face is priceless. Images:

With the exception of the bubble blowing, which used new pipes, all of these alternative uses were, presumably, carried out after the pipe in question had been smoked (although in the case of the horse enemas, all bets are off). They’re cases of re-use, the 19th century (or earlier) recycling of an object that was no longer wanted or needed for its original purpose. We see this with quite a few artefact types, but most often with glass bottles and jars (we’ve talked about it a little on the blog before). There’s another use for clay pipes, however, that relates directly to their nature as a highly visible and easily available object on which any motif, slogan or name can be displayed. This function was exploited by people in the 19th century for all kinds of political, social and commercial objectives including, as is evident in Christchurch’s archaeological record, advertising.

We recently found a large assemblage of clay pipes on one of our sites in central Christchurch, including fourteen pipes bearing an oval mark with HEYWOOD / LYTTELTON / NZ impressed on the bowls. The mark refers to the business of Mr Joseph Martin Heywood, general commission agent, insurance agent, customs agent, goods transporter and all around 19th century entrepreneur. Heywood first set himself up in business as a general commission agent in Lyttelton in 1851 in partnership with Messrs. Tippetts and Silk, which I think sounds like the name for a detective agency and my co-worker argues sounds like a tailor’s shop (crime fighting tailors?; CCL 2013). The partnership dissolved, and Heywood went on to expand his business into Christchurch: in addition to his premises on Norwich Quay in Lyttelton he also had a building on the corner of Colombo Street and Cathedral Square in the city (Star 22/10/1897: 2, Press 19/12/1908: 8). His business interests expanded as well, going from ‘general commission agent’ to operating a customs house and a ‘cartage’ company, involved with the storage and transportation of goods between Lyttelton and Christchurch. He was exceedingly successful, securing the railway contract for the delivery of goods between the two towns in 1879 and holding it until 1896 (Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903).

Selection of Heywood pipes found on one site in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.
Selection of Heywood pipes found on one site in Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

We’ve found pipes with his mark on them on a couple of sites in the city, dating from the 1860s to the 1880s. All of them refer to the Lyttelton store, suggesting to me that this was the premises most closely associated with Heywood or the one from which the pipes were sold (although they could easily have been sold from the Christchurch store). At least one advertisement for the Norwich Quay store lists “pipes, meerschaum washed (Heywood’s)” available for purchase, telling us that, although the ones we’ve found aren’t meerschaum, Heywood definitely sold pipes bearing his name in his store (Lyttelton Times 31/07/1861).

A close up of the Heywood / Lyttelton mark found on the pipes. Image: J. Garland.
A close up of the Heywood / Lyttelton mark found on the pipes. Image: J. Garland.

All the pipes that we’ve found with the Heywood mark were also made by Charles Crop, a prolific London pipe maker, making it likely that Heywood commissioned pipes exclusively from the one manufacturer. It’s not likely to have cost him very much: one price catalogue from 1875 for D. MacDougall and Co. gives a price of 2 pence for a gross extra (12 dozen or 144) of “pipes stamped with name on bowl or stem” (Sudbury 1978: 106). He also wasn’t the only one to do it. We’ve featured pipes bearing the mark of Twentyman and Cousin and Trent Brothers here on the blog before. This suggests to me that not only was this a common thing for pipe-makers to offer, but it was a relatively common thing for Christchurch businesses to commission and use clay smoking pipes as a means of advertising for their own companies. Not just Christchurch businesses, either: we’ve found at least one pipe with the name of an Australian tobacconist business on it as well.

Two clay pipes marked with the names of local Christchurch retailers. Image: J. Garland.
Two clay pipes marked with the names of local Christchurch retailers. Image: J. Garland.

It’s not that surprising, when you think about it. As a cheap and disposable item (one of the 19th century’s first truly disposable objects), clay pipes provided an excellent medium for advertising a range of products and businesses throughout the European world. They were everywhere: pipe smoking was exceedingly popular during the 19th century, and was one of the few activities that crossed almost all social and status boundaries in society. Anyone could smoke a pipe. They were highly visible: marks or decoration on the front of a pipe bowl would be seen by anyone in conversation with or even just sight of the smoker, while marks on the back of the bowl were in the eyeline of the smokers themselves. Even their fleeting existence was an advantage: being disposable items allowed advertisers to not only continue to sell or distribute them, again and again, but also to change or update their marks, emblems or decoration as they wished.

They were most often used to advertise the associated paraphernalia of smoking, as one would expect, from tobacco and tobacconists’ shops to the pipe makers themselves (Walker 1976). Increasingly, though, as the 19th century unfolded, they were used to advertise the general businesses of merchants and agents, locally and internationally, and it’s interesting that this is the only type that we’ve found in Christchurch. All three of our locally commissioned pipe examples relate to businesses that have nothing to do with the smoking industry itself. Heywood had many fingers in many pies, but none of them were specifically related to tobacco, while Trent Brothers operated a chicory farm and Twentyman and Cousin were wholesale and retail ironmongers. I suspect that this simply reflects the fact that by the time these businesses were operating, the value of pipes as merchandise had begun to equal their value as smoking paraphernalia, resulting in their commissioning by a wider variety of business types.

There are all kinds of directions we could go in with these pipes and what they tell us. The use of mass-produced disposable items as an advertising medium is both something that relates to the modern day (basically the 19th century equivalent of the tote-bag?), as well as to the rise of modern consumerist culture and the huge role advertising played in the development and maintenance of that culture. As commissioned objects they tie into the increasingly globalised nature of international trade and goods production, representing in physical forms the relationship that existed between colonial businesses and British manufacturers. Their simultaneous function as an implement of smoking and a form of advertising also has implications for how we look at and understand the role of objects in our lives, both in the past and in the modern day. They fulfil certain purposes in our own lives, but they’re also part of wider social and cultural phenomena that we may not even think about which shape, and have shaped, the world around us.

Jessie Garland

References

CCL (Christchurch City Libraries), 2015. [online] Available at www.christchurchcitylibraries.com. 

Cyclopedia Company Ltd., 1903. Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Canterbury Provincial Distict. Cyclopedia Company Ltd., Christchurch. [online] Available at www.nzetc.victoria.ac.nz.

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

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

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

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

Sudbury, B., 1978. Additional Notes on Alternative Uses for Clay Tobacco Pipes and Tobacco Pipe Fragments. Historical Archaeology, Vol. 12: 105-107.

Walker, I., 1976. Alternative Uses for Clay Tobacco Pipes and Tobacco Pipe Fragments. Historical Archaeology, Vol. 10: 124-127.

Feminine, masculine, grounds for divorce: the social effects of wearing perfume in the 19th century

When it comes to personal fragrance (continuing on from our post a couple of weeks ago), exactly which perfumes and deodorants we choose to wear can reveal a lot about us, as individuals and as a society. How we define ‘smelling nice’, for example, can vary depending on factors like the identity of the individuals present, their gender, the strength of the perfume or the context in which it is worn. A strong perfume in an enclosed space (on a plane, perhaps, with no chance of escape) can be the opposite of nice, for example, and it’s no secret that there are noticeable differences in the smells deemed attractive for men and women. In truth, many perfumes can be said to reinforce gender distinctions, through socially acceptable or traditional notions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ scents. There’s a certain level of subjectivity – we do, after all, wear scents that we like personally – but perfumes are, unquestionably, involved in a wider social discourse in which the way we choose  to smell says something about who we are, whether we want it to or not.  Really, we only have to look at modern advertisements for perfumes and deodorants to see how much the way we smell is entangled with popular notions of, say, femininity or masculinity (and other aspects of social identity – wealth, status, elegance, refinement, desirability, etc). Whether those advertisements do this by choosing to challenge those stereotypes (Chanel, I’m looking at you) or reinforcing them (Old Spice, without a doubt), they’re still very much working from the basis that our personal fragrance is not just a fragrance.

Old Spice advertisement. The manliest of fragrances, apparently. Image:
Old Spice advertisement. The manliest of fragrances, apparently. Image:

People have been wearing perfume for a very long time, and it’s always been a marker of personal identity. In older societies, for example, perfume would have said something about the wealth of the wearer and their ability to afford frivolities like artificial scent. It still does, to a degree, just not for all perfumes: wearing an easily recognisable and expensive perfume today immediately implies that the wearer has a certain level of disposable income (or is willing to skimp on other things to afford it). Many perfumes today play to this, using images of wealth and luxury to see their fragrances (Dior, looking at you this time).

In the 19th century, perfume became inextricably entangled with gender. Some studies have suggested that the gender distinction in the perfume industry emerged out of early 19th century changes in society and social structure. With the growing prominence of the ‘bourgeoisie capitalists’ came a new set of social values, which included new perspectives on masculinity and femininity. In particular, one researcher suggests that “it was absolutely not done for men to spend their money on such ‘wasteful frivolities’. To put it bluntly, the modern (male) capitalist had better things to do, and with the exception of a small group of male artists and dandys [and there’s a stereotype all in itself], perfume became the exclusive domain of women” (Aspria 2005).

By the latter half of the 19th century, a brief scan of contemporary writing indicates that perfume was becoming more and more gendered, especially towards women. Although men did wear artificial fragrance (something that became increasingly acceptable in the early 20th century), perfume seems to have been a large part of the Victorian ideal of the proper, feminine woman (and, it follows, the absence of floral scents with an ideal of masculinity). It’s not so much that every perfume wearer was a proper lady, but rather that every proper lady wore perfume – of the correct strength and correct fragrance, of course. Lord help anyone who wore musk.

More than just a fragrance, the wrong perfume (musk, again, no surprises there) could even be blamed for the breakdown of a marriage, the transformation of “affection into aversion”, the “unwillllingness to marry which is one of those difficult questions which modern Governments at census times periodically have to consider .”
More than just a fragrance, the wrong perfume (musk, again, no surprises there) could even be blamed for the breakdown of a marriage, the transformation of “affection into aversion”, the “unwillllingness to marry which is one of those difficult questions which modern Governments at census times periodically have to consider .”

There were numerous articles and advertisements in which various scents were discussed in correlation with certain feminine ideals, some even going so far as to describe the character traits found in women wearing particular scents. Significantly, all of these descriptions used terminology like ‘dainty’, ‘warm-hearted’, ‘unassuming’, ‘quiet temperament’ and ‘lovable if not very strong nature’ (ouch). One article described how “the suggestion of an ethereal atmosphere in which a slight and delicate fragrance has a part” immediately spoke of the wearer’s refinement, charm and a ‘gracious personality’.  Another writes that  “delicate odours, such as violet, heliotrope or orris root, are always permissible…a moderate use of a faint, suggestive odour, such as wood violet, for instance, is all in the way of a perfume that is allowable by a really refined woman.”

Article on the various character traits associated with the use of certain perfumes. Image:
Article on the various character traits associated with the use of certain perfumes. Image:

This positive ideal to which women were encouraged to aspire is reinforced again by descriptions of the negative image: the "superabundant use of the cheap stuff" is discussed in terms of "artificiality, vulgar and unredeemed [women]" (New Zealand Herald19/09/1913:10). The claim that “a woman who saturates her belongings with strong perfumes…is likely to be mean-spirited, over-ambitious, strong-willed, but uncertain in temper” becomes an automatic judgement and dismissal of a person’s character, derived entirely from the way she smells. It simultaneously defines the identity of that person and reinforces the social ideal that is her contrast: the refined, demure, calm and content woman who only ever wears the appropriate level of perfume. It’s also, in a Victorian context, tied into the widely held belief in the importance of moderation and the physically, morally and socially debilitating effects of excess in any aspect of life.

Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the reality of life accurately reflected these social ideals as they were discussed in the written record (or vice versa), even if they were seemingly widespread. No matter what we read in historical accounts, we don’t know that people actually believed that perfume could develop character, that someone meeting a new acquaintance would smell roses and think “she must be imaginative and warm-hearted”, or that the 'ideal of femininity' discussed so often in writing was as prevalent or as valued in day to day life.

The archaeological record is important here, as another data set against which we can compare written information. The contrast allows us to tease out the similarities and differences between the ways in which people present themselves (and others) in writing and the ways they do so in the physical world. Even more importantly, we can examine why those differences exist: the disconnect between written and physical history can be as important in understanding human behaviour in past societies as the actual records themselves.

For example, despite the increasing popularity of perfumes in the written record towards the end of the 19th century, especially for women (the number of perfume advertisements increases exponentially in the 1880s and 1890s), we don’t find that many perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. And we have to wonder why. Is it because of something specific to Christchurch? Were people here less into perfumes than elsewhere in the world? Is it the result of other social behaviours: i.e. rubbish disposal practices, reuse of perfume bottles or other ways of obtaining perfumes?

We do know that it was possible to make your own perfumes. There were several recipes and detailed instructions available for the self-sufficient Victorian woman (they’re always directed at women) who wished to make her own fragrance. Perhaps this was happening in Christchurch? I don’t know. As an aside, there’s another ‘ideal’ perpetuated through these do-it-your own perfume instructions for women: as well as constructing and reinforcing a concept of femininity, they also touch on the ‘industrious woman’, part of the ideal of domesticity that was so prevalent in the 19th century.

Instructions on how to make your own perfumes.
Instructions on how to make your own perfumes.

In another example, one might be inclined, given the large quantity of literature relating perfumes to femininity, to see perfume bottles on archaeological sites as an indication of the presence of women. Yet, many of the perfume bottles we’ve come across (and I’m only talking about the small proportion that can be identified to brand, here) are brands or fragrances that were used by men as much, if not more than, women. Eau de Cologne, in particular, is increasingly associated with the ‘masculine toilette’ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although it’s certainly also used by women (Star 16/7/1904: 3West Coast Times2/5/1907: 2) . Both Florida Water and the 4711 fragrance also appear to have been used by men as well as women.

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.

What does this mean? Is it just a result of our sample? Maybe all the unlabelled, unbranded perfume bottles contained stereotypical feminine floral scents and we just don’t know. Or does it follow that notions of femininity and the ‘proper woman’ were different in Christchurch? That notions of masculinity were different? Are we seeing an example of a division between a social commentary largely derived from life and society in Britain and the distant reality of life in New Zealand? Am I speculating too much? Possibly. In truth (and we don’t have enough information to figure it out yet), the answer is probably more complex than any one of these possibilities. It usually is.

All the same, questions like these are an excellent reminder of how much the tangible things we use in our daily lives – like perfume – are connected to the intangible social constructs we navigate through every day, be they gender, personal identity or moral values. This material culture that we’re recovering from these sites, these pieces of broken glass, broken ceramic, broken rubbish – they’re more than just physical objects. They were part of a socio-cultural discourse – active agents in the construction, maintenance and transformation of human behaviour, of our social ideals and perceptions, especially regarding the perception of certain social stereotypes – in this case, the ‘ideal’ Victorian woman.

Basically, things aren’t ever really just things: they’re (in every sense of the word) artefacts of our lives, past and present, intrinsically entangled with who we are and, often, who we want to be.

Jessie Garland

References

Aspria, M., 2005. Sociologist Marcello Aspria: interview about perfume and gender. [online] Available at: www.boisdejasmin.com/2005/10/perfume_and_gen.html.

Aspria, M., 2005-2009. Scented pages. [online] Available at: www.scentedpages.com/default.html. 

Lindqvist, A., 2012. Preference and gender associations of perfumes applied on human skin. In Journal of Sensory Studies 27(6): 490-497.

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

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

West Coast Times. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

A tale of two suburbs: the story (and the man) behind the naming of Sydenham and Waltham

Colombo Street between Gloucester and Armagh in 1882. Sydenham house would have stood in the block on the left of the image, between the Golden Fleece hotel and Gloucester Street. Image:
Colombo Street between Gloucester and Armagh in 1882. Sydenham house would have stood in the block on the left of the image, between the Golden Fleece hotel and Gloucester Street. Image:

Should you have been so fortunate, while wandering the streets of 1860s Christchurch, to find yourself north of the square, you may have come across an establishment bearing the name of Sydenham House and containing within its walls all manner of treasures. Stepping inside, you would have been surrounded by an elegant assortment of glass and china, exotic oranges, lemons and pineapples and a few choice canaries, fowls and prize-winning birds of all kinds. You may even have caught a glimpse of the proprietor, Mr Charles Prince, a man of excellent taste and education and the eventual, unintentional, inspiration for the naming of two of Christchurch’s southern suburbs.

We first came across the story of Charles Prince and Sydenham House earlier in the year, when we found an artefact – a double handled serving bowl – from Sydenham House on a site elsewhere in the central city. It was found blocks away from the actual location of the china shop (between Armagh and Gloucester on Colombo Street), and the bowl was marked with the name of the manufacturer (Copeland), a pattern registration diamond (with a registration date of 17th or 27th September 1861) and a banner bearing the words “Sydenham House, Christchurch, C. Prince”. As we researched the bowl and the maker’s mark, we found ourselves unravelling the tale of Charles Prince, a shopkeeper, bird importer and teacher who had a hand in naming the Christchurch suburbs of Waltham and Sydenham, through his residence and business respectively.

This piece is particularly interesting, marked as it is with 'Sydenham House, Christchurch' on the base, along with the name of the manufacturer (Copeland) and pattern registration diamond. Image: J. Garland.
This piece is particularly interesting, marked as it is with 'Sydenham House, Christchurch' on the base, along with the name of the manufacturer (Copeland) and pattern registration diamond. Image: J. Garland.

Charles Prince arrived in Christchurch in 1858 on the Zelandia, having previously been the principal of the Classical School of Westbury East in St Kilda and the master of Grays Grammar School in England (Christchurch City Libraries 2014). On or soon after his arrival in New Zealand, he appears to have formed one half of the partnership of Prince and Dawes, with a man named Edmund Marriott Dawes, although this was broken in 1861 (Lyttelton Times24/04/1861: 8). Sydenham House was in operation from at least 1860, and Prince continued as proprietor of the shop until 1867, when he went bankrupt and the business was sold (Christchurch City Libraries 2014; Lyttelton Times2/04/1867: 2).

Prince also continued his calling as a schoolmaster, filling the role of master of the Christchurch Commercial School in the 1860s in addition to founding the private Christchurch Commercial Academy in 1860, with the intention of “embracing every branch of a sound English and Commercial education” (Lyttelton Times8/09/1860: 1). Until his bankruptcy in 1867, he also lived in a large - twelve roomed! - house known as Waltham House, “pleasantly situated in Colombo Street south, within a mile of the Town Belt (Moorhouse Ave)” (Lyttelton Times9/03/1867: 3). The size of the house alone suggests that he was a relatively successful and affluent man – at least until he went bankrupt.

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He was known, not only as an educator and a retailer of assorted finery, but also as an importer and keeper of prize-winning birds (Press10/09/1866: 2, Lyttelton Times10/09/1866: 2). Many of the advertisements for Sydenham House and mentions of Charles Prince in contemporary newspapers make reference to his birds, some of which won prizes at local A & P shows (my favourites are the excellently named dorking fowls!). After he went bankrupt in 1867, Prince ended up on the West Coast, where he remained traceable in the newspapers of the time due to his occupation as a schoolmaster and, amusingly, to his reputation as a bird fancier, with one article stating that he has “become prominent by his expenditure and taste in the purchase of poultry” (Grey River Argus15/03/1873: 2, 13/05/1873: 3). Another West Coast newspaper recounted an incident in which he ran afoul of some erstwhile avian burglars who allegedly absconded with a pair of ‘Bramah’ chickens (although the article does also suggest that the birds might just have run away…; Grey River Argus4/11/1872: 2).

However, bird burglars aside, it’s Charles Prince’s time in Christchurch that is most of interest to us today, specifically his time as proprietor of Sydenham House and resident of Waltham House. Sydenham House is described in contemporary accounts as a building “containing eight rooms, a coach house, stables, a shop and store” and was sandwiched between G. Coate’s watchmaking and jewellery store and Miss Phillip’s drapery (Lyttelton Times16/04/1867: 6). As well as birds (and dogs!) the store appears to have sold all manner of goods, from fancy glass wares (including cake shades, decanters and custard glasses) to all manner of china (“breakfast, tea, dinner, dessert and toilet services”) and household accoutrements (candlesticks, lamps and toilet boxes; Lyttelton Times28/09/1861: 510/09/1862: 6). He also sold local and exotic delicacies, from “Canterbury grown walnuts” to pineapples, which can’t have been a common foodstuff in 19th century Christchurch (Lyttelton Times 22/03/1862: 5, 23/04/1862: 5).

Advertisement for Sydenham House from
Advertisement for Sydenham House from

The establishment also functioned as a boarding house,  with a variety of tenants, including a French teacher, a writing teacher and a professor of phrenology (Lyttelton Times30/01/1866: 3, 15/09/1866: 1, 14/02/1867: 7). This last, Mr A. S. Hamilton, was available for consultation at Sydenham House, describing himself as “twenty eight years [a] Practical Phrenologist in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and the Australian Colonies… [who] may be consulted [for] delineations of characters and advice for direction, correction and profitable application of the mental powers” (Lyttelton Times14/02/1867: 7). I’m not sure of the efficacy of Mr Hamilton’s advice, but I know that I could definitely use some help with the “profitable application of the mental powers” this morning…

Colombo Street between Armagh and Gloucester in the 1880s. Sydenham House would originally have stood on the right hand side of the image, about a third of the way along the block. Image:
Colombo Street between Armagh and Gloucester in the 1880s. Sydenham House would originally have stood on the right hand side of the image, about a third of the way along the block. Image:

Several advertisements for Sydenham House in the Press in 1863 and 1864 are of particular interest, as they mention Prince’s intention to take orders for dinner, tea and breakfast services etc. from England, all of which could be marked with the crest, initials or “other distinctive badge” of the purchaser, if they wished (Press12/09/1863: 122/10/1864: 6). These advertisements not only provide a tangible connection between our artefact and the historical record, but also a possible one between Charles Prince and the story of John George Ruddenklau, mayor,  proprietor of the City Hotel and the subject of one of our blog posts last year. J. G. Ruddenklau’s role in Christchurch’s early decades was also brought to our attention through a few personalised ceramic artefacts we found that were, coincidentally, decorated with exactly the same pattern as the Sydenham House bowl, along with Ruddenklau’s initials and the mark of the City Hotel. The latter was founded in 1864 and run by Ruddenklau until 1869: it’s not implausible to think that J. G. Ruddenklau might have ordered personalised china through Charles Prince in 1864 for his newly established hotel.

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug, decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R.
Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug, decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R.

This notion of connectedness seems to be something of a theme with this artefact, and this story. It’s been fascinating, actually, researching Charles Prince and finding all of these connections – direct and indirect – between his life and business in Christchurch and other people, places and things in the city – both then and now. Initially, when I deciphered the mark on the bowl I thought that the Sydenham House mentioned must have been named after the suburb and was probably located in that general vicinity. As it turns out, it was the other way around: it seems to have been due to the fond recollections of Charles Prince’s china shop by a man named Charles Ellison that ‘Sydenham’ was first used for the local borough council in 1876 and, eventually, the actual neighbourhood south of Moorhouse Avenue (Christchurch City Libraries 2014).

Christchurch south
Christchurch south

A similar connection is evident for Prince’s residence, Waltham House, which played a comparably crucial yet indirect role in the naming of Waltham (of special note to those of us at Underground Overground, as our offices are in Waltham). In 1866 a group of people placed an advertisement in the Press stating that a meeting of residents at that house had unanimously decided that the neighbourhood “of Colombo Street south and the Gasworks road, leading to Wilson’s bridge” should be called Waltham (Press 26/10/1866: 1). A letter to the editor placed four days later decried it as a hoax, and offensive to the “modest and rather retiring disposition of that gentleman” (although there doesn’t seem to be any word on it from the man himself; Lyttelton Times 30/10/1866: 3). Still, the name seems to have stuck and Charles Prince, teacher and shop owner, through no fault or intention of his own, left an indelible mark on the city of Christchurch. A reminder, perhaps, that sometimes our legacies aren’t always ours to determine?

We talk about six degrees of separation (two at most in New Zealand, right?), but sometimes I think we forget that it doesn’t just apply to people in the here and now – that it doesn’t just apply to people, full stop. Increasingly, as we uncover more and more of Christchurch’s past, literally and metaphorically, we’re finding connections between the lives of the city’s inhabitants in the objects, places and moments in time where their stories cross over. These things, these tangible connections between people, are the physical embodiment of the ever increasing network of human interaction that’s built the world we live in today. It’s incredibly cool to see those connections in Christchurch’s archaeological record and the role they played in shaping the city we see around us today.

Jessie Garland

References

Christchurch City Libraries, 2014. [online] Available at www.christchurchcitylibraries.com

Grey River Argus. [online] Available at www.paperspast,natlib.govt.nz.

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

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