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.

Australian invasion

This piece was written in 1850, at the height of the Californian gold rush, but the rhetoric seems oddly familiar.

Immigration from New South Wales – A paragraph in our last paper, in reference to a late arrival from Sydney, and an intimation of the disreputable character of a large portion of the passengers, seems to have produced no small excitement in certain quarters; and any quantity of indignant comment has been made thereupon by those who are supposed to have decided preferences and sympathies for the people of that celebrated locality.

Now, we hold it to be the duty of the press, as the conservator of the morals, and defender of the rights and interests of the people, to throw its vast power and influence into the scale in favour of whatever is beneficial ; and to expose, fearlessly, and without regard to threats designed to intimidate or restrain it from the fulfilment of that duty, whatever is detrimental to the public welfare.

sailing shipIn the case alluded to, we had reason to believe the statement made was correct ; — for the facts came to us from the most reliable and different sources. Subsequent investigation, however, showed that our paragraph was premature, — that we were entirely in error, in regard to the character of the passengers in the vessel in question, who are represented as of the most respectable people in Sydney. To the females, whom our statement was calculated to injure, it is due that the amende honorable should be made, and we cheerfully make it. We have much too high a regard for virtuous and respectable females, to wantonly cast an imputation upon their reputation ; and regret that in the present instance, we were led to do so unintentionally.

In regard to the foreign immigration now daily landing upon our shores, it is not to be denied that there are many persons of individual excellence ; and it would be strange indeed, if this were not so in relation even to individuals from Sydney. But while we welcome to our State “all good people,” to whatever nation they belong, we confess to the entertainment of fears that a sufficient watchfulness is not exercised to exclude the hordes of scoundrels who are tempted by the prospect of gold or plunder to crowd upon us from the world’s ends, making California the receptacle of the stews of every nation.

We said that our paragraph was “premature;” but that an importation of persons of the very character depreciated is daily expected to arrive from Sydney, we have good authority for believing. That British colony contains a population of about 150,000 persons, of whom over 10,000 are convicts, and nearly 60,000 are unable to read. It is not the place, therefore, from which we can hope to receive the most intelligent class of immigrants, notwithstanding the respectability of those who have arrived during the past week from that port, numbering over five hundred persons. It behoves all good citizens to see that we are not overwhelmed by the tide of corruption that thirst for lucre is hastening to our shores, and to frown upon those shipowners who are willing to become the agents of spreading moral disease and crime into the young State, whose welfare we have so much at heart. — Pacific News, February 21.
Reproduced in the ‘New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian’, 29 June 1850.

Hordes of scoundrels, tide of corruption, moral disease and crime. Maybe they should have built a wall along the Pacific coast.