Behind the Scenes at North Otago Museum – Mrs Paterson’s Coffee Pot
Work is underway at North Otago Museum on refitting the permanent exhibition area. The Museum has over 30,000 items in its care. Each item has its own story. They can’t all fit in the new displays so staff and volunteers have been researching the tales behind some of the objects to ensure those with the most interesting and relevant stories make the cut.
This pewter coffee pot was made in the 1870s. It is decorated with a floral design that is engraved and embossed. The coffee pot has the following inscription engraved on it "Presented to Mrs James Paterson by the boarders in Albion House, as a token of respect." James Paterson (1833-1911) owned Albion House, which was located on the corner of Wansbeck and Wharfe Streets. I believe this coffee pot was presented to the second wife of Mr James Paterson, Elizabeth Paterson nee McClymont (1833-1899). The coffee pot may have been a gift from the boarders when she married James Paterson in 1874. James's first wife, Euphemia Paterson nee Middleton, died in 1873.
James Paterson and his wives operated the boarding house from the early 1870s until he went bankrupt in 1879. Advertisements viewable on Papers Past show the Paterson's seeking staff to help with their operations at various times. It cost the people living in Albion House the equivalent of $150 a week to live there. In 1877 there were 16 registered boarding and lodging houses in North Otago including the Albion. At the time it was reported in the paper there were 201 boarders residing in these houses. The Albion was the busiest with 34 boarders. In 1879 hard times caused the Paterson’s to attempt to sell. Without a quick sale, James was declared bankrupt in August. His properties were then auctioned off.
The fact that Elizabeth was presented with a coffee pot seems appropriate given her future endeavours in hospitality after the sale of the Albion. In 1879 a local committee determined to open a place other than a hotel “where visitors from the country and others could obtain a good reasonable meal.” At first a temperance hotel was considered but ultimately it was decided to establish a “modest Coffee Rooms.” Local women fundraised to establish this business and Mrs Paterson was employed as the manageress. It was a successful enterprise. Mrs Paterson ceased managing the business in 1898 after almost 20 years of work. Many women, like Elizabeth, worked during the Victorian era whether as part of family businesses like boarding houses or in endeavours like the Coffee Rooms. This coffee pot will be on display in the Empire exhibition space.