Two sites were excavated on waterfront town sections in central Wanganui. The block they were located on was one of the original New Zealand Company Town Section divisions and, being close to the river, was a centre for early production and trade in Wanganui. The two areas under focus were one domestic setting – the house of Thomas Bamber and his family – and one primarily commercial setting – that of the Wanganui Hotel and surrounding businesses.
Thomas Bamber was a blacksmith who came to Wanganui in 1856 along with his wife and son. He later became Mayor of Wanganui, between 1878 to 1880. Photographs of early Wanganui show his house on the section clearly. Excavations revealed that a house had existed here before that recognised as Bamber’s house and also that Bamber’s forge, which was recorded as being located adjacent to the house (beyond the excavation area), had existed before either of the other buildings when metal refuse associated with the forge had been disposed of on this site.
At the Wanganui Hotel site excavations revealed a busy sequence of commercial activity on the site throughout the 19th century. The hotel existed on the section since at least 1858 and over time a corn merchant, a livery business and stables and an auctioneer’s yard operated around it. In the early 20th century, once the hotel no longer existed, extensions of the Thompson & Lewis soft drink factory were on the excavation area. Postholes from the various different buildings and boundary fences were discovered as well as three wells, a possible cellar and numerous rubbish pits related to the hotel. The commercial activity of the hotel was clearly illustrated by the several bottle pits discovered. These were rubbish pits filled almost exclusively with bottles, the vast majority of which were alcohol bottles. Soil conditions were such that the paper labels on the bottles had survived extraordinarily well, allowing us to know what the contents of the bottles had been.
Analysis of the archaeology and material recovered from this site illustrates early urban development and commercial activity in Wanganui.