Jubilee Hospital Excavations

March 9, 2007

By Grant Keddie

TAKING IN THE GARBAGE ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER

EXCAVATING THE PROVINCIAL ROYAL JUBILEE HOSPITAL DUMP

The Victoria Branch of the Archaeological Society of British Columbia was engaged from April to July 1991 in weekend excavations of hospital dump material associated with the early years of the Provincial Royal Jubilee Hospital. On sporadic occasions over the next two years evenings were spent cleaning, sorting and gluing the artifacts. The hospital opened in 1890 and dropped the Provincial part of its name in 1938.

The Provincial royal Jubilee Hospital about 1904. (Keddie Post Card Collection).

The Jubilee Hospital excavations project started when Dr. Stuart Kenning of the Victoria Medical Society and Norma Friedmann, the Facility Planner for the Greater Victoria Hospital Society came to the City of Victoria Heritage Advisory Committee to seek heritage designation for a small hexagonal building called the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room. This operating room was functioning from 1896 to 1925 and was the first surgical operating room on the west coast of North America north of San Francisco.

The Royal Jubilee Hospital was being redeveloped with the intent of preserving the old operating room as a medical museum within the new structure. As a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee I learned from Norma Friedmann that old bottles had been recovered in the area to be redeveloped and was invited to observe the area. Due to the recent historic nature of the deposits (which are not protected by law) I thought this would be a good opportunity that would allow for inexperienced excavators to recover material that could be used for display in the future museum and maybe uncover information that is not available in the written record.

Male Surgical Ward

Ground Plan of the Provincial Royal Jubilee Hospital in 1899 with new text showing the location of the old operating room and the area of the 1991 excavations.

Many volunteers worked weekends troweling through the often hard compact ash layers of dumped material. Although the hospital had undergone many previous alterations a small area between the old women’s ward wing and the main hospital corridor had missed total destruction. It was here that the hospital garbage was dumped and at least partially burned in what appears to be the first few years of hospital operation. Some later material was subsequently mixed into the surface layers.

Some side testing was undertaken to locate a time capsule composed of a copper box containing silver coins, hospital reports, letters, newspapers and the Queen’s Birthday Celebration Program, that was placed under the operating room foundations by the architect John Teague on May 15, 1896. Unfortunately we did not locate this important capsule.

Members of the Archaeological Society of B.C. excavating near the Heritage Designated Pemberton Memorial Operating room. (Grant Keddie photograph May 19, 1991).

 

Nurses working in the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room in 1906. Artifacts in use here were found in the excavations. (Royal B.C. Museum Archives B-09492).

The Artifacts

In the old dump we found artifacts in everyday use at the hospital. There were the expected medicine bottles, chemical jars, thermometers, bed pans, large washing bowls and glass and metal components of coal oil lamps.

Many broken thermometers were found along with only two bakalite (early form of plastic) thermometer cases.

 

Several corroded tin boxes were found that contained special Surgeon’s adhesive bandages. Others contained items such as cat gut suturing material and cotton pads.

 

Parts of coal oil lamps were a common type of artifact found at the Jubilee hospital excavations.

 

Parts of adjustable metal beds – Some with porcelain knobs. Upper left – brass rings for curtain rods.

 

Group of brown glass medicine bottles.

 

The blue bottle on the far left is embossed with: Lactopeptine Elixir. The New York Pharmacal Association. The contents of the brown bottle on the left are not known, but it is embossed: The Maltine MFC. Co. Chemists. New York. The right one is embossed with: Cartrelle & Cochrane.

There were many delicate objects thrown out with ash deposits which helped cushion their fall and preserve them in good condition. We found many thin walled pill vials, fine Chinese flower vases, porcelain doll parts, some very fancy tea sets and beautifully patterned dinnerware.

Porcelain Doll Parts.

 

Many unidentified medicine bottles were found along with a large number of thin tubes used for powdered pills.

 

Childrens toys. A childs thmble, glass marble and part of tiny tea cup.

Plain stoneware mugs and dinner sets dominated the assemblages. It may have been the wealthier private room patients who were favored with the better quality wares. In the days when flower selection was limited, it was seen as a keen sentiment to put flowers in fancier vases.

Ceramic mug with flower pattern.

 

Cut glass candy dish.

 

Porcelain egg cups.

 

Cherry Blossom Patterned dish set.

We uncovered an 1888 nickel, children’s marbles and toy parts, cut glass candy dishes, different types of bone brushes, metal containers for special bandages and cat gut, knives, forks, large stirring spoons, clock parts, many types of metal, porcelain and mother-of-pearl buttons, and men’s’ bone and porcelain cuff buttons and even a porcelain sink.

One of the more interesting objects was a small brilliant blue, eight-sided bottle of a type that our bottle specialist Archaeological Society member, Tom Bown, recognized as the type known to contain poisons such as arsenic.

Society member Shirley Cuthbertson dug into the historic records and found A MANUAL OF NURSING: MEDICAL AND SURGICAL by Dr. LAURENCE HUMPHRY, published in 1892 – around the same time as the deposits we were excavating. The manual explained that:

THE NURSE SHOULD HAVE THE FOLLOWING REQUISITES ALWAYS IN READINESS:

1) EXTRA BLANKETS AND MACINTOSH-SHEETS 2) TOWELS

3) HOT AND COLD WATER

4) BANDAGES AND STRAPPING PLASTER

5) LINT AND COTTON-WOOL

6) OILED SILK

7) BASINS, LARGE AND SMALL

8) BUCKETS and SPONGES

10) OIL AND VASELINE

11) SCISSORS AND DRESSING-FORCEPTS

12) PINS AND SAFETY-PINS

13) SYRINGE

14) BRANDY AND AMMONIA

We found many of these things in the dump – especially safety pins.

Three types of safety pins were found

One of the most common bottles found in the excavations were two sizes of Lea & Perrins Sauce, along with large numbers of their glass stopper tops. Four of the six types of stoppers found are Lea & Perrins.

 

Buttons included these of shell, as well as some of bone and metal.

 

Bottles of French perfumes were not uncommon.

 

Sauces made from the mustard plant were common.

 

Scottish Marmalade was among the toast spreads.

 

Bone brushes included tooth brushes with names like: “The Athlete”, as well as other specialty brushes made by pharmaceutical companies.

 

One of the most esthetic objects recovered was a fancy porcelain tooth paste container.

 

The lids of porcelain cold cream containers.

 

Blue tinged food jars.

 

Porcelain Bed Pan Fragment.

 

Staffordshire plate with Japanese style design.

 

Bottle from Moore Druggists of Victoria.