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)

The Basin Reserve

How New Zealand’s oldest cricket ground got its name…..

“Basin Reserve” is the name given many years ago to what is the principal cricket-ground of [Wellington] City. There is no resemblance to a basin about it, nor does it seem as if there could ever have been any; but old residents can remember when it was a large waterhole. The earthquakes of 1855 raised it a few feet*, and in common with the swamp above and below, it has been drained and converted into valuable and dry land. The area of the reserve is ten acres, about half of it being turfed, and the remainder grassed and planted. There is a very large Grand Stand, a band pavilion, and an elaborately pillared and domed drinking fountain.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897.
*Magnitude 8.2 earthquake raised the ground about 6 feet (2 metres)

Basin Reserve

An Edwardian postcard.

….mention may be made of Kent Terrace, after the Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria, and Cambridge Terrace, after her uncle, the Duke of Cambridge.
B_TerracesThese two terraces form the right and left sides of what is one of the finest thoroughfares in the Dominion, occupying the site of an early project of the settlement, namely, the construction of a canal to lead from a proposed dock, now the Basin Reserve, to the sea. The great earthquake of 1855….transferred the dock site into dry land, leaving the Basin Reserve, and incidentally the dock scheme, high and dry.

As the result of the earthquake, the Provincial Council in 1857 acceded to a petition to set aside the “basin,” as the swamp was called, for a public park. Dock Street, bordering the south side, was accordingly changed to Rugby Street. The clock in the grandstand was the gift in October, 1890, of the family of the late Mr. Edward Dixon, cordial manufacturer and enthusiastic supporter of cricket ….. The clock is now transferred to the new pavillion.
‘The Streets of My City’, F.L. Irvine-Smith. A.H. & A.W. Reed Ltd. First published 1948.

B_Terrace

Kent Terrace with Cambridge Terrace at right. The area was often referred to as the Canal and Basin Reserve into the early 1870s.
Creator unknown :Glass negatives of Wellington. Ref: 1/2-230265-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22303054

Basin Reserve crowd

Now exclusively a cricket ground, the Basin supported many codes in it’s early days. These subdued soccer fans are some of the estimated 1300 people who turned out on a Tuesday afternoon for a provincial match in June 1913. Maybe they were Canterbury supporters. Wellington 10, Canterbury 0.
Te Papa collection.

Basin Reserve wide 2

The Basin Reserve at left, c.1937. Kent and Cambridge Terraces are obscured by buildings but they run from the edge of the field to the right of the picture.
Te Papa collection.

Source for the vertical image of Kent and Cambridge Terraces in the 1930s – Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 1/2-090001-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22433150

 

The Skirl of the Pipes

Are these Highland gatherings, these Highland games (I have never been able to discover the difference, if any, between “gatherings” and “games”), ancient and traditional? If they are, then history is remarkably silent on the point. Was it ever the pastime of the Highlander to hurl the trunks of pine trees about the countryside? Somehow I doubt it. Indeed, I harbour a suspicion that Highland games are only about 100 years old….

Braemar Pipe band

To put it bluntly, I do not believe that the Highland Gathering is ancient nor that the Highland Games are traditional, although they have undoubtedly become a tradition. They are also one of Scotland’s very best advertising media.

Let me hasten to add that this does not mean that I dislike or disapprove of Highland Games. On the contrary, I love them. As a spectacle I do not think they can be bettered anywhere in the British Isles.

Braemar duoWatching the games, the observant onlooker cannot fail to notice a marked difference in interest between the Scots in the audience and the foreigners in the audience, especially among the women. The kilt, it is apparent, arouses emotion in the foreign female breast; the Scots female…. appears to be quite unmoved….the Scots, male and female, are much more interested in the pipe music and the dancing.

This, surely, is because both are, in fact, ancient and traditional, technical and very highly skilled. You have to be an initiate to understand the finer points of either. I like watching Highland dancing, which I find both graceful and energetic: but the technical points are a closed book to me. I love the barbaric music of the bagpipes, but I am quite unable to distinguish between the playing of one competing piper and another on the platform. They sound exactly alike to me. But they do not to the Scots.

Braemar Pipers

Text edited from an article by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald (1900-1981) published in the ‘Sphere’, September 21, 1957.

Images from the Royal Braemar Gathering 1984.

Now You Has Jazz*

Friday Flashback says Happy Birthday.

Welsh jazz fans are gearing up for their annual treat next weekend (9th – 11th) when the Brecon Jazz Festival celebrates its 35th anniversary. I was lucky enough to be there for the first one.

Brecon jazz festival 1

A band called Adamant, from Cardiff, leading the first parade down High Street.

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It was a modest programme compared to this year’s offering but everybody had so much fun they decided to do it again.  And again……

*’Now You Has Jazz’ is a classic performed by Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and his “ensemble” in the 1956 movie ‘High Society’. Watch.

Wellington whales

Matariki, the southern right whale that’s been entertaining the population of Wellington for the past week and making headlines around the world, is lucky to be living in the 21st century and not the 19th or 20th. Back in the early 1840s, when the fledgling settlement pinned its economic hopes on becoming the port of choice for the whaling industry, he or she would have met with a very different reception.

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Wellington in September 1841 drawn by Charles Heaphy, “draftsman” to the New Zealand Company.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. Saturday 30th July 1842.

During the past week, more than one of the cetacea have entered our harbour. They were mostly considered by those who saw them, to be young, or small species of the common or black whale. In one case a female followed by her cub were distinctly made out. The appearance of these strangers in Port Nicholson is by no means a common occurance, and all the spare hands and boats went in pursuit, but hitherto without success.

With the knowledge that most of the species of true cetacea frequenting the South Seas are by no means satisfactorily determined by systematic naturalists, we feel as strong a desire to see a specimen, for the sake of science, as the practical whaler can for the oil. The crania and imperfect skeletons of many of the larger cetacea are to be met with on the coast, and although the crania are in themselves of high prize to the comparitive anatomist, it yet does not, as we have distinctly repeatedly shewn, enable him to distinguish species.

The living specimens now in the bay, are said to have had no appearance of protuberance or fin on the back, and consequently must belong to that species possessing the elongated baleen, but all measurements which are simply comparitive, however they may differ, will not determine species – without the number of vertebrae composing the spinal column were at the same time given.

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Port Nicholson as British settlers found it in 1840. They could never have imagined a time when a right whale would be allowed to roam their harbour unmolested – and stay long enough to start its own Facebook page.

The last shore-based whaling station in New Zealand closed as recently as 1964.

(Images from the Te Papa collection).

Having a ball

I stumbled on this peculiar photograph while browsing the Te Papa image collection recently. Thankfully it comes with a helpful explanation.

Poster ball

The postcard depicts a woman in a ‘poster costume’ advertising Hunky Dory boot polish and Hoxo Pad Rubber Heels for ‘no more sore feet’. While she wears a lady’s shoe atop her head, her feet are clad in roller skates. During the early part of the century, skating rinks frequently hosted fancy dress events, including poster competitions. In 1906 Wellington’s Elite Skating Rink, offered prizes of ball-bearing skates for the best fancy dress costume, the best poster costume and the most graceful skater.

Fancy dress events were a popular form of fundraising in the early part of the 20th century. Poster Balls and competitions were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in late 1900. While one reporter described it as a new ‘species of fancy dress’, another called it ‘a new phase of advertising’. It was a novel combination of both. As the name ‘Poster Ball’ infers, ball-goers were required to wear costumes that represented ‘poster advertisements of well-known goods, or the goods themselves’. For the privilege of advertising their wares, companies paid an entry fee and provided printed material for the models’ costume.

Hailed as a ‘decided improvement on the ordinary fancy ball’, Poster Balls remained a popular entertainment throughout the first half of the 20th century both as fund-raisers and general entertainment. They were organised by a wide array of groups, from patriotic and benevolent societies to sports clubs.

Advertisers are smarter in the 21st century. Now we buy their branded clothing (because it’s cool) and they don’t give us a cent.

London’s Gaiety Girls

In the “seventies” [1870s] there was a wonderful galaxy of talent at the old Gaiety Theatre, Nellie Farren, Kate Vaughan, Edward Terry, and Royce forming a matchless quartette.

Kate Vaughn

Kate Vaughan

Young men, of course, will always be foolish, up to the end of time. Nellie Farren, Kate Vaughan, and Emily Duncan all had their “colours.” Nellie Farren’s were dark blue, light blue, and white; Kate Vaughan’s were pink and grey; Emily Duncan’s black and white; the leading hosiers “stocked” silk scarves of these colours, and we foolish young men bought the colours of the lady we especially admired, and sat in the stalls of the Gaiety flaunting the scarves of our favourite round our necks.

As I then thought, and still think, that Nellie Farren was one of the daintiest and most graceful little creatures ever seen on the stage, with a gaminerie all her own, I, in common with many other youths, sat in the stalls of the Gaiety wrapped in a blue-and-white scarf. Each lady showered smiles over the footlights at her avowed admirers, whilst contemptuously ignoring those who sported her rival’s colours. One silly youth, to testify to his admiration for Emily Duncan, actually had white kid gloves with black fingers, specially manufactured for him. He was, we hope, repaid for his outlay by extra smiles from his enchantress.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Aldwych

Nellie Farren

Nellie Farren

For a popular burlesque, in the days of Nellie Farren and Connie Gilchrist, of Fred Leslie and Arthur Roberts, the same stalls were filled night after night by the rich unemployed, who afterwards followed their fancies hither and thither and spent quite considerable sums upon them. There was no great stir when marriages followed such aquaintance, and most of them turned out a great success.
‘Gilded Youth’ (essay) ‘Fifty Years, Memories and Contrasts’, Sir Ian Malcolm. Thornton Butterworth, Ltd; London, 1932.

I have to admit, in the interest of accuracy, that the Gaiety shown above in 1913 is not the “old Gaiety Theatre” these two men remembered. That stood across the road on the site of the Morning Post newspaper office at left. It had its last performance in 1903 and was demolished soon afterwards. The new theatre (on the right) had been under construction since 1901 and opened four months after the original closed.

Some of the Gaiety Girls held a reunion in 1950 and what remained of the theatre, just a shell since 1939, was demolished in 1957. The Morning Post building, completed in 1907, is now the One Aldwych hotel.