A lost fob watch
found beneath 261 Madras Street
The modern section 261 Madras Street was originally part of Town Sections 551 and 553, which bounded Chester and Madras Street. After the modern building on the site was demolished, archaeologists found 1,629 artefacts. Most of these were buried in a highly unusual "brick structure" that may have been the basement of an old building.
Jewellery is a rare find
It is unusual for archaeologists to find jewellery for two reasons:
1. people didn't usually throw it in the rubbish or under the floorboards of their house (we've taken poetic licence to suggest someone lost the watch).
2. delicate metal can rust away easily in the ground.
Along with the fob watch, a brooch was also found on the site.
Whose watch was it?
The simple answer is: we really don't know.
The first owner of the site was Herman Franz Fuhrmann. He lived there 1874-1884, and owned the whole tract of land until his death in 1907.
Mr Fuhrmann had come to New Zealand via Australia in the 1860s. He had varied business interests: furniture upholsterer, cabinet-maker, undertaker, saddler, and insurance. He also co-owned Molesworth Station with Charles Willis. They bought the property for £10,500 and sold it six years later for £20,500.
When Mr Fuhrmann moved out in 1884, he rented various pieces of the land. There would have been at least three buildings. At various times, for instance, a large house at 82 Chester Street was rented to Charles J Russel (a surgeon), Horatio Nelson (a tea merchant), Edward Jennings (a surgeon), and Geoffrey Clayton (a surgeon). Then, from 1901, Mrs Edith White ran it as a boarding house.
On other parts of the land, we know that Miss Mary Elizabeth Driscoll had a boarding house at 76 Chester Street in 1913, and Mrs Jennie Dickie had a boarding house at 74 Chester Street in 1910.
As for 291 Madras Street itself, perhaps the site was a bit of a dumping ground? There is no record of occupation there until 1920, when William Simpson (an engineer - not another surgeon) lived there.
The rubbish pit at 291 Madras Street
Along with the unusual brick structure, where archaeologists found the jewellery, there was also a more standard 19th century rubbish pit. Although Christchurch did have household refuse collection at the time, it was often erratic. Burying rubbish in the backyard was a widespread practice, and the remains of many purpose-dug rubbish pits were found during post-quake earthworks.
Find out more
76-82 Chester Street & 291 Madras Street, Christchurch: Report on Archaeological Monitoring, by Matthew Carter and Jaden Harris, May 2012 (Archaeological Authority No. 2012/657eq) is available for download through the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Digital Library
Life Before Plastic. Blogpost by archaeologist Clara Watson about rubbish disposal in 19th century Christchurch
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