A Parisian Boulevard

This hand-coloured postcard image of the Boulevard Montmartre in winter is very evocative of time and place. It was probably made between 1906 and 1913 but, unfortunately, there is no record of publisher or photographer so I can’t give well deserved credit where it’s due.


A message on the back adds to the time capsule effect. It’s number 2 in a series of cards posted together as a letter so we have no beginning, no end, no idea who wrote it or to whom. What we do know is that he was a soldier and it was a remarkably upbeat, chatty letter in the circumstances.

“…. to Mick a few weeks ago and he was also quite well. We are now in billets, having come out of the trenches about a week ago and having a good time. We are having showery weather at present and it is pretty muddy but it isn’t very cold yet. I didn’t know that Mrs Hynes had moved up to…..”

It’s like turning the dial on a time machine radio. A fragment of conversation drifts in from the Great War and then fades out again as we search for the station we’re trying to find.


Trouble with Trams 2


Brooklyn, in this case, is a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand, not New York. The Evening Post report of 4th May 1907 continues….

A “roaring noise”, a rumbling, and finally a tremor of the earth made householders near the tramway line on the Brooklyn heights fear that an earthquake had visited them last evening, at about half-past five. The cause of the disturbance was a large electric car, of the new palace pattern, which left the rails while it was whirling down at terrific speed and plunged over a bank.


There were only four passengers, including one woman, Mrs. Eliza Bell, wife of Mr. Thomas Bell, a sheep-farmer of Murchison [South Island]. She was crushed under the frame. Her husband and the other passengers were cut and bruised, but were not seriously injured. Mr. Bell was taken on a stretcher to a neighbouring house, and received attention from Dr. Hogg, pending his removal later on to a private hospital. The other passengers dispersed, and were soon lost from view. The motorman, John Rea, and the conductor, Arthur D. Perkins, were dazed by knocks on their heads, and were taken home soon after the accident.

After rounding a curve….[the tram] swept along a straight strip for some distance, and then forsook the metalled way. The outside wheels scoured out a deep groove in the ballast for a dozen yards, and then the rear bogie was left behind. At this moment the car must have been turning on its side, on the slope of a bank, and after skidding about ten yards, the body was jolted from the front bogie, and the whole of the car body was pitched on its side, with the bottom towards the rails. Fragments of the lower woodwork were left along the hillside as the vehicle plunged over the earth.


A distracted driver, experienced but unfamiliar with that particular route, incorrect settings on a complicated triple braking system, damp rails on a steep incline, all combined to produce this result. It could have been worse. The Brooklyn line had a single track with sidings to allow trams to pass. Unable to stop and back up to the nearest siding, John Rea’s runaway was hurtling towards an “up” tram with forty people on board when it jumped the track. An inquest a week later, when the crew had recovered from their concussion, returned a verdict of accidental death on Eliza Bell.

The photographer here was Joseph “Zak” Zachariah (1867-1965), a man with the instincts of a photojournalist before the word was invented – “Things would happen at eight o’clock in the morning, and “Zak” would have the photographic record of it staring at you from his window before noon.”

Brooklyn Road has been widened and the corners modified but, for those of you who know Wellington, I think this spot is opposite where the Renouf Tennis Centre stands today.

Christmas kittens

Whoever designed this Edwardian Christmas postcard wanted to tick all the boxes.

A Christmas postcard, c.1905 featuring celebrity Seymour Hicks family.

We have the snow scene, the Christmas wish, a happy, smiling celebrity couple with their cherubic little daughter and – just to make sure all the emotional buttons have been pushed – lets tack on a pair of completely irrelevant, mesmerized kittens. Because you can’t go wrong with kittens! Right? Kittens will always close the sale.
(It worked for me).

The celebs are English actors Sir Edward Seymour Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terris with daughter Betty. This famous couple had careers that transitioned from the Victorian stage to 1930s film. Lady Hicks was the subject of This Is Your Life on British television in 1962.

Betty was born in 1904, so this card probably dates from December 1905 or 1906. The Christmas wish, of course, doesn’t age. May you find the peace and goodwill to enjoy the day according to your custom. I’ll be back in the New Year.


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.

collect_4 views

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.


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.


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

Cruising Fiordland

The remote region of New Zealand’s South Island covered by the Fiordland National Park has been a tourist attraction since the 19th century. Then, as now, the most comfortable way of seeing it was by cruise ship, or steamer excursion as it was known then. The sounds were visited by many ships, especially in summer. S.s. Waikare was one of the most popular.

Milfor art

Mitre Peak. Of the many beautiful Sounds of New Zealand, Milford Sound is the most famous. It is situated on the west coast of the South Island, and the scenery found there equals any in the world. Many great mountains slope to its shores, one of the most important being Mitre Peak (6,000 feet high).
Postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons, c. 1911. Artist A. H. Fullwood.

Manawatu Standard, 28 November 1901.
SUMMER EXCURSION To The WEST COAST SOUNDS BY S.S. WAIKARE, LEAVING DUNEDIN on MONDAY 13th JANUARY, 1902. For Patterson’s Inlet, Halfmoon Bay (Stewart Island) thence via Preservation Inlet, Dusky Sound, Wet Jacket Arm, Breaksea and Doubtful Sounds, Crooked Arm, Hall’s Arm, Smith, Bradshaw, Thompson and George Sounds to MILFORD SOUND, Returning to Dunedin on 27th January. FARE: £15 and Upwards. For full particulars apply to offices of UNION STEAM SHIP COMPANY OF N.Z., Ltd.

Milford mono

New Zealand Herald 19 Jan 1909.
Dunedin, Monday. The Waikare left Port Chalmers on Saturday on her annual excursion to the West Coast Sounds. A large number of excursionists arrived during the afternoon by the Ulimaroa from Sydney, and joined the party, which included ladies and gentlemen from all parts of the Dominion. After visiting Preservation Inlet, the Waikare will call in at Dusky Sound, Wet Jacket Arm, Doubtful Sound, Bradshaw Sound, Hall’s Arm, Thomson, George, and Milford Sounds, and return via Stewart Island.


George Sound


Wet Jacket Arm

(Per Press Association.)

DUNEDIN, Jan. 4, [1910]. The Union Steamship Company received word this evening that the s.s. Waikare had struck a rock in Dusky Sound at noon. The vessel is reported to be badly damaged, and the engine room and stokehold are full of water to the water’s level. She was beached on Stop Island, passengers and crew being safely landed on the beach of the mainland.
Arrangements are being made to despatch the s.s. Moura as early as possible to-morrow for the scene of the wreck.

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.”


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 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.

Pahiatua 3

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.