Dance hall girls

Frontier towns all over the world had their saloons and dance halls where cowboys, miners and railway gangers could let off steam, and the dance halls needed dancing girls. The gold rush settlements of New Zealand’s South Island were no exception, although civilization caught up with them in the end.

Robert Gilkison in his ‘Early Days in Central Otago’, published in 1930, wrote –
At those places young women were paid by the hotelkeepers to dance with the men, and they generally received a commission on the amount spent on liquor by their partners. The girls had little chance of keeping their positions unless they encouraged their partners to drink freely. Nor would ordinary beer suffice. The lucky digger loved to ‘shout’ champagne, not only to his friends, but for all in the house. Old ‘Champagne Bill’ (William Adams) ….. earned his soubriquet from the fact that he once spent £200 in one grand ‘shout’ of champagne, and insisted on bestowing a share on the horses.

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Queenstown in the 1870s. The gold prospectors’ tents are gone and civilization has arrived. Photo by Burton Brothers of Dunedin from the Te Papa collection.

The practice of employing dancing girls …. eventually was prohibited by Act of Parliament. The penalty for a first offence was twenty pounds, and for a second fifty pounds and forfeiture.

In a case at Queenstown in May 1863 a hotelkeeper (Cameron) sued a Miss Williams for fifteen pounds damages for breach of contract, inasmuch as she had received her coach fare and had undertaken to sing at the All Nations Hotel, but only sang once. The girl said she went once and sang but was compelled to dance with everyone against her will. She heard the house did not bear a good name and left. Wood, the magistrate, said: ‘Quite right, too. Case dismissed.’

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Queenstown beside Lake Wakatipu. Another view from Burton Brothers.

Cameron was back in front of the magistrate at the end of the month charged with keeping a disorderly house, and not for the first time. He was fined £5 and warned that the next offence would result in loss of his license.

In early June his hotel roof was “split” in a devastating storm that roared down Lake Wakatipu and caused havoc in the young settlement. By 8th July the All Nations Hotel was advertised for sale by auction – “A Sure Fortune” for the lucky bidder. Two weeks later the license was held by a Mr Arthur Simpson.

Modern Queenstown (link)

A one horse town

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St. Bathans, 1879. Photo by Burton Brothers of Dunedin from the Te Papa collection.

St. Bathans, in the Central Otago district of New Zealand’s South Island, was one of the towns that sprang into life after the discovery of gold there in 1862 and it soon held a population of 2000. By the time this photograph was taken, it seems the “rush” was over. A sign painted beside the window of the Montezuma Hotel advertises a “Horse for Hire”.

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Note – “horse”. Singular. One only.

On the left of the photograph is the Vulcan Hotel, a typical “tin” accommodation house for travelers in the ’60s and ’70s. It comes from what the English novelist, Anthony Trollope, called the “corrugated iron period” of New Zealand architecture.

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Writing about his winter visit to the region in 1872, he observed –
Corrugated iron does not make picturesque houses. It is very portable; very easily shaped; capable of quick construction; and it keeps out the rain. It is, however, subject to drawbacks. The rooms formed of it of course are small, and every word uttered in the house can be heard throughout it, as throughout a shed put up without divisions. And yet the owners and frequenters of these iron domiciles seem never to be aware of the fact. As I lay in bed in one of these metal inns on the road, I was constrained to hear the private conversation of my host and hostess who had retired for the night.

“So this is Mr Anthony Trollope,” said the host. The hostess assented, but I could gather clearly from her voice that she was thinking much more of her back hair than of her visitor.

“Well,” said the host, “he must be a — fool to come travelling in this country in such weather as this.” Perhaps, after all, the host was aware of the peculiarity of his house, and thought it well that I should know his opinion. He could not have spoken any words with which at that moment I should have been more prone to agree.

Several websites will tell you that the Vulcan Hotel was built of mud brick in 1882 and was previously known as the Ballarat, yet here is photographic proof that it was known as the Vulcan before that date. The brick version, now a Category 1 historic building reputed to be haunted, is still in business and attracting tourists and ghost hunters.

The permanent population of St Bathans today is 6 to 10, depending on your source. No figures are available for the number of horses.

The Conventions of High Society

In 1932 Mary, Countess of Lovelace shared her memories in an essay for the Times of London.

For a picture of social life fifty years ago I can only draw upon a limited experience, first as a girl before 1880 and as a young married woman after that date. I can, in short, only give the youthful feminine point of view.

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…nearly every social custom which applied to ordinary intercourse between both sexes was based on the idea that every young woman, and especially every inexperienced girl, was a sacred thing to be carefully guarded from any possibility of insult or undue temptation. The well-guarded girl of the years 1870 – 80 could not walk alone in the street or drive alone in a cab or in a railway carriage. To any sort of entertainment she must be accompanied by father or mother or by some married woman. At a ball, the place where her chaperon sat was a kind of home to which she was supposed to return after every dance. Of course, she did not always do so; and the wise mother knew when to be lenient and when to enforce the rules. All dancing partners are not equally attractive, and the necessity of “going back to Mamma” provided a by no means always unwelcome end to a tete-a-tete. Looking back I cannot recollect ever feeling my chaperon to be an irksome restraint, and she was often a most welcome protection and adviser.

The real drawback to the system was the fatigue and boredom that it imposed on the older women. How well I remember the rows of weary faces on the benches against the wall, and I wonder if they always got the loving gratitude from their charges which was certainly their due.

Now and then there would appear a male chaperon – a kind father or uncle – who took his turn at the social treadmill. He got his reward in extreme popularity, and as he was in great demand for taking dowager after dowager down to supper, he did not suffer from inaction.

I am told that there are still some chaperons, though not nearly so many as in the old days. For dinners and entertainments other than balls, apparently the girls now do not need any female protector whatever. They go about anywhere and everywhere with any male friend whom they chose. In fact, they “walk out” and “keep company” just as our friends in the servants’ hall do.
‘Society and the Season’, reproduced in ‘Fifty Years’, Thornton Butterworth, Limited, 1932.

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Rotten Row and Hyde Park in 1913, when standards were beginning to slip – there are unaccompanied women in the street! Perhaps they’re from the servants’ hall.

The way of the Dodo

While the first New Zealand Company settlers were trying to establish a foothold at Port Nicholson (later Wellington), 20-year-old Jerningham Wakefield set off to explore the coastline to the north.

March 14, 1840. — Having engaged eight natives, slaves of a chief of Wanganui, to carry my baggage, and accompanied by another, an inhabitant of Pari Pari [Paraparaumu], a settlement on the main land near Entry Island, I started over the hills immediately beyond the Koro Koro stream. Our way lay over hilly forest land and the path was much obstructed by the karewau or suple-jack. On the way I shot a young huia.

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A male Huia.
Huia, Heteralocha acutirostris, collected no data, New Zealand. Acquisition history unknown. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (OR.000064)

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A pair of Huia in Canterbury Museum. Male, at left, and female.

This bird is about the size of a small fowl, its plumage is black, with the exception of the tail feathers, which are tipped with white, and are much esteemed by the natives as ornaments for the head. The beak is long, and curved, and a yellow wattle grows from each side of its insertion. The natives imitate the bird’s note, from which it takes its name, and thus attract it until almost within their grasp. These birds are peculiar to this part of the country, and their skins are frequently sent as presents to the natives of the northern parts.

It should come as no surprise that the Huia is now considered extinct, although exactly when the last example flew into the great beyond is a matter of debate.

The Mystery of the Three Chimneys

From ‘Otago Daily Times’, 7 October 1869.

The special correspondent of the [London] Times who accompanied the Great Eastern during the laying of the French Atlantic Cable, after describing the course which it was intended the cable should take, says :— “This course would have brought the Great Eastern close to the northward of the supposed gaunt spires of rocks called the ‘Three Chimneys,’ and which, as laid down in the Admiralty chart, were confidently believed to exist. When this was mentioned some months ago in the Times, a controversy at once arose in these columns, some naval men utterly denying the existence of these extraordinary rocks; while the other side tendered the evidence of eye-witnesses, who averred that they had actually seen them.

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 I.K. Brunel’s Great Eastern laid the French Atlantic telegraph cable in 1869.

The matter is now set at rest, and if ever the ‘Three Chimneys’ had an existence they have none now. The Atlantic cannot afford to lose the small amount of interest which attached to the supposed presence of those solitary peaks, but facts are stubborn things, and it has now been placed beyond a doubt, that they are not to be found, at least in the latitude and longitude in which they appear on the charts. Lieut. Johnstone in the course of his soundings went over the exact spot where they are indicated in the chart, and found more than 2000 fathoms water [12,000 feet], with deep water all around, and not the slightest trace of rock or shoal in any direction. The sooner, therefore, they come out of the Admiralty Map the better, and it would be curious to know how they ever got there at all.”


This mysterious rock formation was first reported by a Captain de Clas Fernel who claimed to have “approached within two leagues of it” on 10th July 1729 and “remained two hours in sight of it.” The position varied on charts and its existence was considered “very doubtful” by the turn of the century.

Then, in 1824, a Mr Heron of Greenock, Scotland, chipped in with – “I am informed by the master of a merchant-vessel that the Chimneys actually exist, for a whole watch as well as himself saw them. They were seen about twilight, and three heads were distinguished. From an observation taken at the preceding noon, it was inferred that their latitude, as laid down on the chart, is very near the truth.”

Captain Roallens of the brig Eagle was quoted in the ‘Nautical Magazine’ for 1843, claiming he saw it in July 1842 from a distance of four miles. “It formed in three distinct points, the highest 80 feet.”

The following year, Captain William Skiddy, in command of the Packet Ship Garrick, “determined, first opportunity, to run for and, if possible, see this danger.” The opportunity came twice, running 10 miles north and 10 south of the supposed position, “having on both occasions clear, beautiful weather” but “nothing could be seen from the royal yard*.”

So the question remains – assuming Fernel, Roallens and the other witnesses hadn’t been raiding the rum locker – what did they see, and where did they see it?

Background information from ‘Memoir of the Dangers and Ice of the North Atlantic Ocean’, George William Blunt, Third Edition, 1848.

*royal yard – the highest yardarm on the main mast.

 

Desperate measures.

One evening in 1849, a British soldier stationed in Wellington, New Zealand, robbed a man at gunpoint. The villain, strangely, did not run off with his booty, which amounted to little more than loose change, but insisted – at gunpoint – that his victim report him to the authorities immediately. The soldier was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 17 years transportation to an Australian penal colony.

We could assume the soldier had a mental breakdown and this outrageously disproportionate sentence was the tragic result. But then it happened again. Different soldier, similar crime.

From the New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. Wednesday 4 July 1849.
On Monday night, Connolly, a private in the light company of the 65th regiment, having armed himself with his musket, proceeded about 10 o’clock to Mr. Townsend’s house on the Tinakori Road and having obtained admittance demanded money from the inmates. With the view of intimidating them he discharged his musket, and eventually obtained from Mr. Lowe, a lodger at Mr. Townsend’s, a coat and the sum of four shillings.

He then went to Te Aro, between 12 and 1 o’clock to the house of a carpenter named Levy, in the neighbourhood of the barracks on Mount Cook where he obtained a pair of trousers and two shillings. Information was given to the police the next morning at daylight, and on sending to the barracks it was found that Connolly, who had committed the offence for the avowed purpose of getting transported, had given himself up and was in custody of the guard.

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Te Aro Flat with army barracks on the hill in the background.
Stock, Arthur Henry (Rev), 1823-1901. Te Aro, Wellington. Crawford family :Photographs of James Coutts Crawford and family. Ref: PA1-f-019-17-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23023083

It appears that some months ago some soldiers belonging to the regiment were transported to Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania, Australia] and shortly after their arrival received tickets of leave ; these men have written to their comrades representing their present way of life as being in every way so preferable to their former condition, that several soldiers have lately committed offences with the express intention of getting transported.

This is a subject of grave importance and one that calls for strong representations from the proper authorities to the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. In the administration of convict discipline, it is understood that tickets of leave are usually granted to criminals who, after having served a portion of their time, have shown themselves, by their good conduct, deserving of this indulgence. But if convicts are to receive tickets of leave almost immediately after their arrival in a penal settlement, transportation ceases to be a punishment, and in cases of this kind the practice becomes subversive of military discipline by holding out a premium on insubordination and a temptation to the commission of crime.

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Early Wellington. Perhaps not the most popular outpost in the British Empire.
From Hobson Street, Wellington. Crawford family :Photographs of James Coutts Crawford and family. Ref: PA1-f-019-13-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23071258

 

The treasures of conquest

When visiting museums we’re often so impressed by the exhibits that we don’t stop to think how they came to be there. Sometimes they were “acquired” as “spoils of war” or, to put it more bluntly, by looting – although the guardians of the treasure haven’t always been keen to advertise the fact. Artifacts “came into the possession of…” or (my favourite) “fell into the hands of…”, as if from a tree or upper balcony.

treasure 1These cigarette cards issued by Churchmans in 1937 are a good example. All the loot was in the care of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, at the time. If you aren’t familiar with the period or its Imperialist wars, just follow the links.

The Golden Throne of Ranjit Singh.
The ambitious nature of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh [1780-1839], combined with his forceful character and military genius, earned him the title of “The Lion of the Punjab.” The throne illustrated was made for him after his accession to the throne of Zaman Shah, King of Afghanistan, whom he defeated in 1799. It is made of wood covered with richly-chased gold plates, analysis showing the metal to contain 97-75% of pure gold. The throne later came into the possession of the East India Company, becoming the property of the British Government after the Indian Mutiny [1857].

Gold treasures from the Burmese Regalia.
treasure 2After the third Burmese War of 1885-6, in which King Thibaw was decisively defeated, the Burmese Regalia were taken from the Royal Palace at Mandalay, passing into the possession of the Secretary of State for India and thence, in 1890, to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We illustrate two of the many magnificent objects from the Regalia on view there : left, a gold food-vessel in the shape of a duck, elaborately chased and set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds; right, a gold salver, 23¼ inches in diameter, bearing a 9-stone ornament in the centre.

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Gold Crown and Chalice from Abyssinia [Ethiopia].
When the British military expedition to Abyssinia, under Sir Robert Napier, entered Magdala on April 13th, 1868, several of the Emperor Theodore’s treasures fell into Sir Robert’s hands. We show two interesting items of this treasure. The gold crown (on right) belonged originally to the Abuna or Head of the Abyssinian Christian Church, being subsequently appropriated by the Emperor Theodore [Tewodros II]. The chalice, of hammered gold, bears incised inscriptions recording that it was given by King Joshua (1682-1706) to the Sanctuary of Quesquam.

A few of the looted treasures have been returned to Ethiopia over the years. An association was founded in 1999 to lobby for the rest.