Home and contents: the second bedroom

Having described and discussed James and Priscilla’s bedroom, we move on to Margaret’s bedroom, which was immediately behind her parents’ bedroom. Margaret would have been about 18 when the family moved into the house and, as with her mother, we know very little about her life, particularly prior to her marriage. In fact, the only pre-marriage information (as it were) that I’ve been able to find is that, at age 12, she won a prize at school for her sewing (Press 17/12/1883: 3). Which is lovely, but just seems to feed into all the stereotypes about women’s roles in the 19th century. We don’t know how much longer she continued at school for (education was compulsory for Pākehā children up to the age of 13 in New Zealand from 1877), or whether or not she might have worked after she finished school, as became increasingly common for young women at the end of the 19th century (Olssen 2003: 84).

Image: M. Hennessey and J. Garland.

Margaret’s bedroom was pretty similar to her parents, although it was slightly smaller. The two bedrooms had identical fireplaces and mantelpieces, and this is one of the pieces of evidence that makes us think that the master bedroom was a master bedroom. The biggest difference between the rooms was in fact the amount of natural light they would have got. Priscilla and James’s bedroom faced northeast and would not only have received sun for most of the day, it had a pair of sash windows that would have let in a reasonable amount of light (veranda notwithstanding). Margaret’s bedroom, on the other hand, had just one window and it faced southwest. This would have been a cold, dark room.

Looking into Margaret’s bedroom from the door. Note the window – while this was the original window, it was the position of the original window. Image: M. Hennessey.
The fireplace in Margaret’s room, which was identical to that in her parents’ bedroom. Image: M. Hennessey.

Margaret’s bedroom would have functioned in a similar way to her parents, although it would not been a place for visitors to leave their coats and nor would it have been a place where children were born. Materially, there’s not likely to have been much of a difference between the objects used in each room (except, one assumes, a lack of male grooming products in Margaret’s bedroom!). Perhaps fewer ornamental objects, and smaller furniture. Her washbasin and ewer set may have been of slightly lesser quality, given that the space was more private than her parents’ bedroom, but they may also just have been decorated in a style more suited to her personal tastes. Unfortunately, without any artefacts from the house, it’s impossible to know what this might have been.

A selection of artefacts that Margaret might have used in her bedroom. Left: (top) Gourard’s Oriental Cream and (bottom) bottle from Rimmel, London. Gourard’s cream was marketed as a “magical beautifier”, but actually contained a compound of mercury and could have some serious side effects. Rimmel was the brand of Eugene Rimmel, who started a perfumery company in the 1830s that went on to become the cosmetics giant it now is. Middle: (top) cold cream pot lid and (bottom) hairbrush handle. Cold cream was so-named because of the cool feeling it elicited on application (apparently) and was popular during the 19th century as a facial cream, emulsion for the skin and makeup remover (Williams et al. 2017, Vol. 3: 52). Right: more plainly decorated chamber pots, which may have been used in Margaret’s bedroom. Alternatively, she may have had a set that was decorated according to her own aesthetic. Images: J. Garland, C. Dickson.

While we pause here in the second bedroom, about which there’s not a great deal to say, there two elements of late 19th century housing in Aotearoa New Zealand that I’d like to turn to very briefly. First up, door locks. Every internal door had a lock. Whether this was to really emphasise the point about privacy, or was for added security, I’m not sure, but it intrigues me. More to the point, I’d like to know when it stopped being a thing. Secondly, skirting boards. As already noted, the hall arch separated the public from the private within the house, and the (public) rooms in front of the hall arch were typically more decorative than those in front. One of the ways this played out was through the height of skirting boards, which were often higher in the public rooms than they were in the private rooms. This wasn’t just about display, but also about budget – the greater the height of the skirtings, the more they cost. In the Chalmers’ house, however, this was not the case and the skirting boards were the same height (and, at 270 mm high, these skirtings were a fairly normal height). Why there would be no difference is not known. Certainly, it’s clear from the other small details in the house that the Chalmers recognised and understood the relationship between public and private rooms and display. Perhaps the builder offered them a discount for a job lot of skirtings of the same height?

This is actually the lock on the door into Priscilla and James’s room, but the one on Margaret’s bedroom door was identical, although the maker’s mark was not as clearly visible. Notice also the decorative corners on the lock housing. Image: M. Hennessey.
The skirting boards in Margaret’s bedroom. These were the same height as the skirtings in the parlour, the master bedroom and the dining room. Image: M. Hennessey.

Katharine & Jessie

References

Olssen, Erik. “Working Gender, Gendering Work: Occupational Change and Continuity in Southern Dunedin.” In Sites of Gender: Women, Men and Modernity in Southern Dunedin, 1890-1939, edited by Barbara Brookes, A. Cooper and R. Law. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003.

Press. Available online at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2017. Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct Archaeological Report, Vol. 1-3. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.

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