A Triple Tragedy

Aboukir_vThe image at left comes from a postcard by Raphael Tuck and Sons, published around 1908, and features the British armoured cruiser H. M. S. Aboukir. She was launched in 1900 by Fairfields of Govan, Scotland and, on completion two years later, had a short career in the Mediterranean before being withdrawn from service and laid up in reserve in 1912. The rapid development of warships at the time had made her, and the rest of the “Cressy” class to which she belonged, practically obsolete.

She was recommisioned on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and sent on patrol with the 7th Cruiser Squadron to guard the eastern approaches to the English Channel. On the morning of 22nd September, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-9 and when Cressy and Hogue closed to rescue survivors, they were dispatched in the same way. Three cruisers and over 1400 men were lost in less than an hour. You can find the crew list here. Writer Antoine Vanner gives a thorough description of the disaster on his blog.

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This image by artist, Norman Wilkinson, was printed in ‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’ (1916). Captions in the book claim “one of the sailors described the last moment as follows: “The captain sings out an order just like on any ordinary occasion, ‘If any man wishes to leave the side of the ship he can do so, every man for himself,’ then we gave a cheer and in we went.”
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“The horrors of modern warfare are illustrated by the notice issued after this disaster by the British Admiralty, which reads in part, ‘no act of humanity, whether to friend or foe, should lead to neglect of the proper precautions and dispositions of war, and no measure[s] can be taken to save life which prejudice the military situation.'”

Translated into plain language – in the event of this situation being repeated, commanders must put their own ships’ safety first and leave men in the water to their fate.

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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.

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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.

Manawatu Gorge, N.Z. Then and Now

Today’s post is part history, part travel advisory for the benefit of visitors. The second part won’t be news to New Zealand readers!

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This postcard mailed in the early 1900s, shows a painting of the Manawatu Gorge from the eastern entrance, as it was in the 1860s.

In the early days the Manawatu Gorge, a natural cleft dividing the Ruahine and Tararua ranges, was covered with beautiful bush from hill top to the brink of the river that flows through it. There was no track through the gorge, and the settlers in the Woodville district were unable to have any direct communication with those living on the west coast.

When the Government decided to open up the country, a bridle track was made on [the southern] side of the gorge; it was later widened into a road, but until the bridge was built, people crossed the river in a cage suspended from a wire; cattle forded it as best they could. Later timber was cut in the bush about the settlement of Woodville, then hauled by bullocks and floated down the river to the site of a bridge which was opened in 1875.

After the bridge was built a four-horse mail and passenger coach travelled daily through the gorge, and its arrival was eagerly awaited by everyone at Woodville, for it was their only connection with the outside world…….

Then the [railway] line through the gorge was commenced [on the opposite side], and the Woodville end became a very busy settlement, where temporary dwellings housed many of the workers on the line. The boring of two large and three small tunnels, bridge building, and excavating, made the job a long one, and the work gave many of the settlers a good start.

At last it was finished, the eastern and western coasts of New Zealand [North Island] were linked by road and rail, and the first train travelled through the gorge in 1891.
‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Ed. A. E. Woodhouse. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., 1940.

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The Manawatu Gorge now. State Highway 3 from the western end.

The road has been vunerable to landslides, euphemistically known as “slips” in New Zealand, since it opened. The rail line as well, to a lesser extent. Each one seems to get bigger and more expensive to fix. The engineers and road crews had not long recovered from repairing a huge slide that closed the road for 18 months when another came down in April this year, followed by a smaller event a couple of months later. Expert opinion is that the hillside is unstable and moving slowly all the time, encouraged by a very wet winter. It is too dangerous for road crews to go in and clear the mess. (Some of the boulders are about half the size of a small car).

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Looking east down the gorge. Ruahine mountains and rail line at left; Tararua mountains and road at right.

Fortunately there are two alternative routes; the Saddle road to the north, and the Pahiatua Track to the south. Not a “track” anymore but neither road was built for State Highway traffic volumes. Noises are being made about building a new road along a reliable route while bureaucracy uses buzz words like “public engagement in the process” and moves at its usual glacial pace. A final decision will be made in December, after the ground dries out. Meanwhile we have to wait and see which political party holds the purse strings after the general election on 23rd of this month.

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One alternative route, over the Pahiatua Track. Not a “track” anymore but obviously not made for high traffic volumes.

Whatever the outcome – if you’re planning to visit the North Island of New Zealand, don’t expect to cross it via the Manawatu Gorge this summer. Or, perhaps, ever.

Sometimes Nature wins.

Edinburgh and its Castle

I meant to follow my last post about Holyrood Abbey and Palace with some past impressions of Edinburgh and its castle. The fact that a poll of Rough Guide readers has just voted Scotland the most beautiful country in the world is pure coincidence!

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From a postcard by J. Valentine and Co. Image registered 1903.

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The view from Johnstone Terrace, date unknown. Published by Francis Caird Inglis.

Edinburgh Castle from the West. J. Valentine postcard image registered 1913.

Edinburgh Castle from the West. J. Valentine and Co. 1913.

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J. Valentine and Co. Cameron Highlanders on parade.
“The Castle, which stands at a height of 443 feet above sea level, has an area at the top of about 7 acres”.

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J. Valentine and Co. 1913.
“The Forewall Battery was erected in 1336 by Edward III, while St. Margaret’s Chapel dates back a period of over 800 years”.
The caption on this, and the following, card claim the Chapel was built by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, but it was actually built to her memory by her son, David I, who also founded Holyrood Abbey (see previous post).

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There was even more confusion about dates for this giant cannon, Mons Meg. Check today’s official version.
This is another image published by Francis Caird Inglis (1876-1940), although it looks old enough to have been taken by his father Alexander (c.1847-1903)

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Photograph by Francis Caird Inglis.
Card caption (abridged): The “Magne Camere,” or Great Hall …. was erected in 1434, and is connected with many events in Scottish history. …. In 1502 James IV had the Hall renovated for the home-coming of his young bride, Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England. In 1561, Mary, Queen of Scots, was entertained to a grand banquet on her arrival in Edinburgh. In 1616 James VI of Scotland and I of England celebrated the anniversary of his fifty-third birthday. …. After the Union [with England 1707] the Hall fell into disuse, but was restored by Mr William Nelson, a prominent Edinburgh citizen, and opened to the public in 1892.

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Image by Alexander Inglis, father of Francis Caird.
“An interesting sight is the small, well-kept cemetery with its row of miniature gravestones marking the burying-ground of the regimental pets.”

You can check where all of these attractions are with this nifty interactive castle map, and see why Scotland won this year’s Rough Guides poll here.

The Legend of Holyrood

Edwardian Valentine's postcard of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh.

Valentine’s Series postcard printed after 1903 from a photograph believed to be c. 1878.
Caption: The Abbey and Palace of Holyrood
Was founded by David I, in the 12th Century. It has seen many changes, having been partly destroyed by Edward II, in 1321; burnt by Richard II, in 1385; restored by Abbot Crawford at [the] end of [the] 15th Century; demolished by the English in 1547; and sacked by a mob in 1688. What little remains of the original structure was put into order in 1816. Suggestions have been recently made for the restoration of the Chapel Royal, but it is feared that this is now unpracticable.

From ‘The History of the Abbey, Palace, and Chapel-Royal of Holyrood House’, Mrs John Petrie, Second Edition, 1821.

This monastery of Sanctae Crucis, or Holyrood, was founded by David I of Scotland, A. D. 1128, and, like most other religious establishments of the dark ages, originated in superstition. The account generally given is, that it was established by that Monarch, to perpetuate the memory of a miraculous interposition of heaven, said to have been manifested in his favour. This event is narrated by the historians of those times, with all their usual enthusiasm when treating of such subjects.

“The King,” say they, “while hunting in the forest of Drumselch, one of the royal forests, which surrounded the rocks and hills to the east of the city of Edinburgh, on Rood-day, or exaltation of the cross, was attacked by a stag, and would in all probability have fallen a sacrifice to the enraged animal, which overbore both him and his horse, (as his attendants were left at a considerable distance behind,) when lo! an arm, wreathed in a dark cloud, and displaying a cross of the most dazzling brilliancy, was interposed between them, and the affrighted animal fled to the recesses of the forest in the greatest confusion. This having put an end to the chase, the Monarch repaired to the Castle of Edinburgh; where, during the night, in a dream, he was advised, as an act of gratitude for his deliverance, to erect an Abbey, or house for Canons regular, upon the spot where this miraculous interposition had taken place.”

In obedience to this visionary command, the King endowed this monastery for Canons regular of the Augustine order, a colony of whom he brought from an abbey of the same kind at St. Andrews, and dedicated his new establishment to the honour of the said Cross.

It’s worth mentioning again, in case you missed it, that this book was published in Edinburgh by Hay, Gall and Co., forMrs John Petrie, No. 1 Abbey, and sold by her at the Chapel Royal, for behoof of herself and family.” An early 19th century example of self-publishing and business enterprise by a woman.