The Unquiet Earth

New Zealand, 1885. English historian J.A. Froude follows a popular tourist route to the North Island’s thermal region.

…..we saw in the distance a blue, singular range of mountains, while immediately underneath us, a thousand feet down, stretched a long, greenish lake with an island in the middle of it, and a cluster of white houses six miles off standing on the shore. The lake was Rotorua; the white houses were Ohinemutu, the end of our immediate journey.

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As we drew nearer to our destination both Ohinemutu and the district touching it seemed to be on fire. Columns of what appeared to be smoke were rising out of the Ti-tree bush, from the lake shore, and from the ditches by the roadside. We should have found the lake itself lukewarm if we could have dipped our hands in the water.

The smoke which we had seen was steam rising from boiling springs – alkaline, siliceous, sulphuretted, and violently acid – not confined, too, exactly to the same spot, but bursting out where they please through the crust of the soil. You walk one day over firm ground, where the next you find a bubbling hole, into which if you unwarily step, your foot will be of no further service to you. These springs extend for many miles; they are in the island on the lake; they must be under the lake itself to account for its temperature. Across the water among the trees a few miles off, a tall column of steam ascends, as if from an engine. It arises from a gorge where a sulphurous and foul smelling liquid ….. bubbles and boils and spouts its filthy mud eternally. I have no taste for horrors, and did not visit this foul place, which they call Tikiteri.

Rotorua_Tikitere

The native settlement [Whakarewarewa] was at one time very large, and must have been one of the most important in New Zealand. It owed its origins doubtless to these springs, not from any superstitious reason, but for the practical uses to which the Maori apply them.

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They cook their cray-fish and white-fish, which they catch in the lake, in them; they boil their cabbage, they wash their clothes in them, and they wash themselves.

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Text source: ‘Oceana, the tempestuous voyage of J.A. Froude, 1884 & 1885.’ Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. 1985.
Images from postcards in my collection.

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A card for your collection

The international craze for collecting picture postcards began in the mid 1890s and reached its peak a few years before the Great War. It’s easy to understand the attraction in an age when privately owned cameras were few and expensive, and foreign (or even local) travel was a luxury. A good postcard collection could provide a “virtual” experience.

As William Main points out in his book ‘Send Me A Postcard’ –
“In some households every member of the family had their own album which they would proudly display to visitors. To justify this pastime, it was argued that postcards added greatly to one’s knowledge of other cultures. Clubs were established and specialised publications appeared which gave stature and a measure of respectability to postcard collectors”.
Craig Potton Publishing, 2007.

Beginners would have been happy to start with this one, the first New Zealand picture postcard.

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Published in 1897 by the Post and Telegraph Department and printed in London, it features four tourist-attracting views of Waikite Geyser, Mount Cook, Mount Egmont (now Taranaki) and the Otira Gorge. A government department, no less, had the foresight to recognize the sales potential of postcards and got the ball rolling, hoping that private enterprise would follow. Which it did.

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This image ‘Crossing the Mandamus’, published by Ferguson and Taylor, probably dates to around 1902. It would have been among the first cards the local company produced and was posted in 1906. The unsigned message says
“Many thanks for pretty card. Your collection is growing. I have about (260). Do you prefer view cards or actresses?”
Some collectors specialized in themed cards; foreign countries, animals, royalty. Actresses – who had never been seen on a stage by most of their collectors – were very popular.
The Mandamus river, by the way, is in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island. It joins the Hurunui 25km. (16 miles) west of Culverden (population less than 500) and although it is bridged today, it’s still a long way from the main highway. So why these four intrepid ladies and their driver were parked in the middle of it in 1902 is anybody’s guess.

Many vintage postcards carry the auctioneer’s description “message on back (m.o.b.), not postally used” which suggests there were a lot of absent-minded or lazy people around in the early 1900s. Often this can just mean the card has no stamp or postmark and was, in fact, posted in an envelope – sometimes with others. Like an illustrated letter. The Edwardian equivalent of an email with photos attached. Here’s a good example

Tuck's Oilette postcard of Belfast harbour c. 1904. Posted 1908.

The Harbour. The shipping at Belfast is very considerable, both passenger and cargo steamers leaving here for all parts of the world. Next to the linen industry, the shipbuilding trade is the most important in the town, some of the largest and finest ships in the world having been constructed there. The harbour has been greatly improved, enlarged and deepened at a cost of over half-a-million sterling.
[Raphael Tuck & Sons. Oilette No. 7416]

This was the last of a three card set posted on September 27, 1908, by John Quirk from No. 3 Depot Royal Field Artillery, Seaforth, England, to an unknown address, presumably in New Zealand. The message reads
“….before finishing my badly written epistle I must compliment you on the nice description of Auckland you gave me on the card which I have before me and which I shall add to my collection of 2000, have you as many? Trusting you are well and hoping to hear from you again soon”.

With a score of 2,000, John Quirk was on his way to becoming a serious collector, although some heavy hitters could have added a zero to that number.

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Seaforth Barracks, near Liverpool, where John Quirk was stationed in 1908.

Adventures in Dublin Castle

Upon returning from school for my first holidays, I learnt that my father [James Hamilton] had been appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland [1866], and that we were in consequence to live now for the greater portion of the year in Dublin. …… It was the custom then for the Lord-Lieutenant to live for three months of the winter at the Castle, where a ceaseless round of entertainments went on.

J. Valentine postcard of Dublin Castle c. 1896.

Dublin Castle c. 1896

The Castle would have made the most ideal place for playing hide-and-seek, with its vast extent and endless staircases had it not been that there were people everywhere; uniformed police, messengers, footmen, and a peculiarly officious breed of uniformed busybodies, who lived in little glass hutches, and pounced down upon little boys at unexpected moments with superfluous inquiries as to what they wanted there…….

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The Throne Room

My brother and I were not allowed in the throne-room on ordinary days, but it offered such wonderful opportunities for processions and investitures, with the sword of state and the mace lying ready to one’s hand in their red velvet cradles, that we soon discovered a back way into it. Should any of the staff of Mr. Healy, the present Governor-General, care to examine the sword of state and the mace, they will find them both heavily dented. This is due to two small boys having frequently dropped them when they proved too heavy for their strength, during strictly private processions fifty-eight years ago. We had seen our father conferring knighthoods, and were quite familiar with the

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James Hamilton

procedure. My brother and I must have mutually knighted each other dozens of times before the “Rise, Sir Frederic,” or “Rise, Sir Ernest” had lost the charm of novelty. I often wonder what a deputation from the Corporation of Belfast must have thought when they were ushered into the throne-room, and found it already in the occupation of two small brats, one of whom, with a star cut out of silver paper pinned to his jacket to counterfeit an order, was lolling back on the throne in a lordly manner, while the other was feigning to read a long statement from a piece of paper. The small boys, after the manner of their kind, quickly vanished through a bolt-hole……

…..a battlemented terrace, probably a modern addition, runs the full length of the back of the Castle. We called this “the ramparts,” and my brother, a child of the most fertile imagination, suggested that if only we could borrow some of the old armour which hung on the grand staircase, we might hold the most splendid tournament on these ramparts. There were, however, always two uniformed policemen on the grand staircase who were unsympathetically inquisitive when we tried to unhook the armour. We gradually realized that for us the Castle was to be a place alike of endless opportunities, and of thwarted ambitions.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton (1856-1928), Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Everybody needs a hobby

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A Lady’s Pedestrian Hobby-horse

In 1818, Denis Johnson, Coachmaker, of Long Acre, London, introduced the Hobby-horse into England. A year later a modified version of this contrivance for the use of ladies was introduced, probably by Johnson, who exhibited it at his riding school. The machine, which weighed about 66 lb., had a wooden dropped frame somewhat resembling that of the lady’s bicycle of to-day. The saddle was supported on an iron pillar fixed to the lower part of the frame. There is very little evidence that the ladies of the early 19th century indulged in the pastime, although Johnson’s advertisements assured them that it could be enjoyed without loss of decorum.

Well Denis would say that, wouldn’t he? He was trying to sell them! It could be argued that a lady’s decorum might be slightly damaged just by getting on to the thing and completely destroyed when seen pushing a 66 lb. wooden contraption up a hill on a hot day.

The image and text come from a “Cycling” collection of cigarette cards produced by John Player and Son in 1939. It could be the start of an occasional series.

A Mobile Memorial

The folks over at Historic England featured 7 unusual war memorials in a blog post last week. My favourite was the Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire. But they didn’t have a memorial that moved.

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This is the Ab class locomotive “Passchendaele”, built in the Addington Railway Workshops, Christchurch, for New Zealand Railways in 1915. It was plain old Ab 608 then of course because the battle didn’t happen until two years later.

New Zealand locomotives didn’t usually have individual names but, in 1925, it was decided to rename the engine in honour of railway workers who fought and died in the Great War.

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Time, and the change to a diesel-powered fleet, put an end to Passchendaele’s service in 1967 but, because of her role as a war memorial, she was saved from the scrap yard. Many years later, the dedicated volunteers at Steam Incorporated accepted the challenge to restore the old loco to full working order – a feat they achieved in time for WWI commemorations. You can find more details of Passchendaele’s history and restoration here.

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Ancestral Bones

The town of Esher, in the English county of Sussex, is known today as a commuter town on the outer reaches of London’s suburban sprawl but in 1902 it was described by Charles Harper as “a pretty village” and a “charmingly rural place, with a humble old church behind an old coaching inn, and a new church, not at all humble, across the way.”

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The old church of St. George in Esher, parts of which date to the 16th century.

“The old church of Esher”, he writes, “long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera-box than anything else.

The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road. …..

The reflections conjured up by an inspection of Esher old church are sad indeed, and the details of it not a little horrible to a sensitive person. There is an early nineteenth-century bone-house or above-ground vault attached to the little building, in which have been stored coffins innumerable. The coffins are gone, but many of the bony relics of poor humanity may be seen in the dusty semi-obscurity of an open archway, lying strewn among rakes and shovels. To these, when the present writer was inspecting the place, entered a fox-terrier, emerging presently with the thigh-bone of some rude forefather of the hamlet in his mouth. “Drop it!” said the churchwarden, fetching the dog a blow with his walking-stick. The dog “dropped it” accordingly, and went off, and the churchwarden kicked the bone away. I made some comment, I know not what, and the churchwarden volunteered the information that the village urchins had been used to play with these poor relics. “They’re nearly all gone now,” said he. “They used to break the windows with ’em.” And then we changed the subject for a better.
Charles G. Harper. ‘Cycle Rides Around London’, 1902.

photo from wikimedia

Note: Follow the Royal Pew link to see the present condition of the old church.

Pahiatua: small town New Zealand.

In my last post about the now closed Manawatu Gorge in New Zealand’s North Island, I mentioned the Pahiatua Track as an alternative route across the mountains. It got that name from the town of Pahiatua at its eastern end.

Pahiatua

Pahiatua photographed by “McCasky”, and looking like a scene from the American West, sometime between 1900 and 1905.

As I mentioned, the “track” is now a road but, at the time this photograph was taken – when it really was a “bridle track” – it was known as the “Ridge Road“, and work was underway to widen it to a more useful 14 feet!

The town was founded in the 1880s and, according to the Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1897), “Its growth has been so much more rapid [than expected] that it has attained quite imposing proportions while surrounded with most unmistakable signs of newness. Even within the borough boundary there are many acres still covered with stumps and burnt logs, and only the principal streets are formed, yet the public buildings, hotels, and shops would be a credit to many a town four times as old”.

The Commercial Hotel is at the centre of the photograph with a coach out front. This might have belonged to McPhail and Fly whose livery stable can be seen to the left. They had a monopoly on the livery and rental business in 1897 – “the vehicles for hire include sulkies, gigs, dogcarts, single and double-seated buggies, expresses, drags, four-in-hands, coaches, etc. ….. Tourists placing themselves in the hands of Messrs. McPhail and Fly may rely on seeing all the points of interest”.

The building to the right, on the corner, is the well patronized “public hall or concert room” where “the various musical and other societies cater well for the public. The Burns Society concert, held annually in the early spring, is always most successful, and it is generally the precursor of what is known as a “long night.”

Pahiatua’s Main Street is not one-sided, as you might think at first glance, but divided. The other half is on the left. The Cyclopedia explains why. “When Main Street was laid off, it was expected that the railway would be laid down the centre, and that all trains would thus run through the town; but, unfortunately for both Pahiatua and the railway, this very sensible proposal is not being carried out. Passengers and goods for Pahiatua will be dropped at Scarborough, or thereabouts, and all the inconveniences and expense of cabs, ‘buses, expresses, drays, etc., will be ruthlessly cast upon the people, unless, indeed, they indulge in the luxury of a tram service from Scarborough to Pahiatua”.

And so it came to pass. The surveyors, who knew a good deal more about the terrain than the Cyclopedia writer, laid their track just over a mile to the west of town soon afterwards, leaving the residents of Pahiatua with a “railway reserve” in the middle of the street that had to be filled in some other way. The image shows early attempts at tree planting, and that worked out just fine in the end.

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Pahiatua is known for its park-like central islands and an impression of space that makes it seem much bigger than it is.

Park areas on the railway reserve, Main Street, Pahiatua, New Zealand.