Wearin’ the green


Bunches of Shamrock appearing on the flower-sellers’ baskets on March 17th are reminders that this is the festival of Ireland’s Patron Saint, the day when good Irishmen will be “wearin’ the green” in many lands. Baskets of shamrock are sent on St. Patrick’s Day by Princess Mary to be distributed to the Irish Guards quartered at the great military centre of Aldershot. Our photograph shows the Countess of Cavan presenting the shamrock to the Officers of the Irish Guards.

St.Pats_2The Irish Guards quartered at Wellington Barracks, London, also receive their St. Patrick’s Day gift of shamrock from Princess Mary. Our photograph shows General Sir Alexander Godley [right] presenting the shamrock on behalf of Princess Mary to the Officers of the Irish Guards. He afterwards placed a wreath of shamrock on the Guard’s Memorial, London, in memory of the Irish Guards who fell in the War.
‘Homeland Events’ series of cigarette cards by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1927.

The Irish Guards can be distinguished from other Guards regiments by their tunic buttons which are arranged in groups of four.


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.

The Red Cross at the Front

These cards were issued in 1916 by a British cigarette company so we can safely assume there was an element of morale-boosting propaganda involved.

Image of WWI motor ambulances from a cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1916.

The Rulers and Princes of India have vied with each other in showing their patriotism and devotion to the British Empire, freely offering their services and lavishly contributing to the expenses of the great war. The Maharajah of Scindia presented to H.M. King George V., 41 Siddeley-Deasy ambulance cars, 5 motor cars for officers, and 10 motor cycles – a timely and munificent gift. Men, money, and material have been generously offered by the Indian Princes, and freely accepted by our Government.

Image of WWI motor ambulance from a cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1916.This Motor Raft, or Flying Bridge, is used for conveying motor cars, &c., across a river. The raft, on which the car is securely fixed, is attached to a long buoyed cable, longer than the width of the stream, and fastened to a rock or tree further up the river. A lighter rope is tied to the cable, close to the raft, and taken over to the opposite bank; the raft is pulled across and unloaded. The rope is then played out, the force of the stream swinging the raft back to its starting place ready for another load.

RC_NZEDNumbers of these splendidly equipped Motor Ambulances accompanied our brave New Zealand forces to the Eastern theatre of the war. The strongly built cars were eminently suitable for the very rough roads on the Eastern front. The chassis is a 20 h.p. extra strong Colonial Napier. The men were all thoroughly trained, and rendered splendid service during the historic Gallipoli operations, when our Colonial troops earned undying fame through their almost superhuman bravery.

RC_mcAmboThe Red Cross organisation of the French Army has been carried to a high state of perfection. Motor vehicles of all descriptions are adapted and used in different districts. In the mountainous Vosges, where in many places the roads are so narrow and steep that ordinary Red Cross Ambulances cannot be used, these small sidecars have proved most useful for quickly transporting the wounded from the field of battle to the hospitals, where everything is done to alleviate their pain and suffering.


These cars have been painted to represent the surrounding scenery, and to harmonise with the country in which they work. In the Vosges, where they are doing excellent service, the French first used the ordinary ambulances with the Red Cross painted on each side, but owing to the frequency in which they were shelled by the enemy – regardless of the Geneva Convention – protective colouration had to be adopted, as the cars have frequently to work within range of the enemy’s guns.

While on the subject of non-combatants in WWI, I can recommend this post from Heritage Calling about the almost forgotten men of the various Labour Corps recruited by the British army from all over the world.

The Spoils of War

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Berengaria.In the 1920s, and into the 30s, British and American shipping companies were able to boast that they operated the biggest trans-Atlantic passenger liners afloat. It was a source of national pride. They didn’t advertise that some of them had been built in Germany for the Hamburg-America Line before the outbreak of world war and handed over to the victors as part of the peace settlement. Cunard’s Berengaria, which had sailed under the German flag for over a year as Imperator, was one.

C.R. Vernon Gibbs takes up the story in his book ‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, (1952).

[Imperator] began a trio of Hamburg-American ‘giants’ which remained the world’s largest liners until 1935. The others were Vaterland (afterwards the United States Line’s Leviathan), and Bismarck (later the White Star Majestic). The subsequent vessels were given extra beam to improve watertight sub-divisions in the light of the Titanic disaster.

Work on Imperator started in August 1910. The ship was launched in May 1912 and began her maiden voyage thirteen months later. The Ambrose Channel up to New York had been deepened just in time to take her and she worked from Cuxhaven [at the mouth of the river Elbe], not Hamburg. A novel detail was a gilded figurehead in the form of a German eagle, but this proved a nuisance, was often damaged and finally removed.


Imperator c. 1913, before the figurehead was removed.

Imperator and her consorts were the first big German turbine liners and nothing was spared to make them the most luxurious ships afloat. The after funnel was a dummy. Uptakes of the other two were split and rejoined above the boat deck so as to avoid passing through the dining saloon.

The beginning of August 1914 found her lying safely in the Elbe, where she stayed until surrendered to the victorious Allied Powers. She ferried American troops homewards between May and August 1919 and was then laid up at New York, to be transferred to Great Britain the following February. The Cunard Line operated her on the Southampton route throughout 1920 and needed the ship to replace the lost Lusitania, but was in no hurry to buy. The Bismarck was also for sale and the only possible purchasers for either were the Cunard and White Star companies. To avoid outbidding each other, the Cunard and White Star bought Imperator and Bismarck jointly from the Government in February 1921.

The Cunard sent Imperator to the Tyne for reconditioning and conversion to oil fuel. She returned to Southampton with her speed improved to run alongside Mauretania and Aquitania, clearing the port as Berengaria* for the first time on April 16th, 1922.

Cunard White Star liner Berengaria, ex-Imperator.

Postcard of Cunard ship Berengaria, ex-Imperator, in drydock at Southampton.

The ex-Imperator completed her last voyage in March 1938 and was sold for breaking up at Jarrow six months later. The final stages of dismantling took place at Rosyth [Scotland] in 1946.

Postcard of Cunard ship Berengaria, ex-Imperator

*Berengaria, after whom the ship was named, was the wife of King Richard I of England – Richard the Lionheart.

Riding the rails

This piece of history rolled through the region today so I thought I might share a few impressions. It’s a Ja locomotive built for New Zealand railways in 1956.




And, just for good measure, here’s one I prepared earlier – in better weather (3rd Dec.). A Da Diesel loco from 1957.



Both locomotives are maintained and operated by the Steam Incorporated railway society north of Wellington, New Zealand. Their excursions are almost always booked out.

Drama on Lambton Quay

The photograph on this vintage postcard of Lambton Quay in Wellington was taken in the first nine months of 1906. The reason we know this will come later. First, let’s take a walk down the street.

Lambton Quay 1906

On the left of the picture, at the corner of Grey Street, is the New Zealand Insurance Company building which shares the block with other financial institutions. At the extreme right, you can just see the Wellington Auctioneering Company next to Miss Roach’s fruit shop in “an old dilapidated one-story wooden structure – a survival of past days.” Then we have in turn the Trocadero Hotel and Restaurant, the three-storey wooden Commercial Hotel, Whitcombe and Tombs – book seller, printer and stationer – and, in the middle distance, the new imposing facade of the Bank of New South Wales, built “at a cost of upwards of £50,000” and only occupied since the beginning of the year. That gives us our starting point for a date.

The end point for this scene came on 22nd October 1906 when, at 3.25 a.m., a fire was discovered at the back of the Auctioneering Company building. By a cruel coincidence, the main water supply pipe to the city had burst ten minutes earlier, leaving the fire brigade to cope with a secondary low-pressure system. When the firemen turned on their hoses, the water could reach no higher than twelve feet.

The height handicap and a rising wind contributed to the peculiar nature of the inferno that followed. Sparks and glowing embers from the old wooden building spread to the roof of the Trocadero, set it alight, and burned from the top down, which gave the boarders time to escape; some with hastily packed suitcases, others with only the clothes they wore. The pattern was repeated with the Commercial Hotel next door and so on down the street.

The Evening Post tells us about one cool customer at the Commercial ….. “several of the early spectators were astonished to see dimly through an upstairs room a man moving about. In a second or two he calmly got out of the window, having the appearance of being dressed for business. No sooner had he alighted on the balcony than the flames burst out of the window with such force that had they caught him they would have swept him over. The spectators howled at him “Look out,” but by this time the danger was over. He calmly got on to the verandah of the Trocadero, and descended to the street by a ladder which had been adjusted for him.”


The N. Z. Insurance building in the 1870s.
Photo: J. Bragge

Sparks were carried across the street to the roof of the New Zealand Insurance building which started to smoulder. A fireman was sent up a ladder to deal with it “but the hose could not even weep a tear, and the man had to come down.” While the brigade concentrated on the main blaze, fire crept along the Insurance building roof. Eventually the entire block was lost except for one brick structure saved by the heroic efforts of its occupants.

“The march of the flames was irresistible” and by 5.30 a.m. everything in the photograph up to and including the bank was on fire. A Post reporter thought “Whitcombe and Tombs’s presented a particularly magnificent appearance. The fire, commencing from above, gradually devoured floor after floor in its descent, and then, with a sudden roar, it burst open the big iron shutters on the ground floor and swept in a bright red mass right across the road. The pressure from within was so great that the iron shutters stood out over the footpath almost horizontally, while the furnace within belched its flames for some moments, and then, as the pressure lessened, they closed down again and the fire went on with its work inside.”

By 8.30 the fire’s progress had been checked and it was brought under control, thanks to a change in the wind and several volunteer bucket brigades on rooftops. The Post reported “Roughly, fifteen business premises were destroyed, and probably over one hundred different firms and companies occupying offices in the various buildings are outcasts today.” Incredibly, there were no fatalities.


Lambton Quay with the Insurance building on the corner of Grey Street at centre. The heat from the fire was so intense that the metal poles supporting the tram wires were bent and twisted. Photo: Muir & Moodie.

Building in wood meant that fire was a constant danger in early Wellington. There had been many similar disasters in its short history but the damage was repaired each time. By the end of December 1907, every building had been replaced and improved. The new Commercial Hotel had four storeys – built in brick. By that time, of course, the Parliament Buildings had burned down. But that’s a story for another day.

Photo sources: Colour – a card in my collection posted, oddly, in 1911. Someone must have been selling off old stock.
B+W – Te Papa museum.
All quotes are from The Evening Post newspaper at paperspast.

The Unquiet Earth

New Zealand, 1885. English historian J.A. Froude follows a popular tourist route to the North Island’s thermal region.

…..we saw in the distance a blue, singular range of mountains, while immediately underneath us, a thousand feet down, stretched a long, greenish lake with an island in the middle of it, and a cluster of white houses six miles off standing on the shore. The lake was Rotorua; the white houses were Ohinemutu, the end of our immediate journey.


As we drew nearer to our destination both Ohinemutu and the district touching it seemed to be on fire. Columns of what appeared to be smoke were rising out of the Ti-tree bush, from the lake shore, and from the ditches by the roadside. We should have found the lake itself lukewarm if we could have dipped our hands in the water.

The smoke which we had seen was steam rising from boiling springs – alkaline, siliceous, sulphuretted, and violently acid – not confined, too, exactly to the same spot, but bursting out where they please through the crust of the soil. You walk one day over firm ground, where the next you find a bubbling hole, into which if you unwarily step, your foot will be of no further service to you. These springs extend for many miles; they are in the island on the lake; they must be under the lake itself to account for its temperature. Across the water among the trees a few miles off, a tall column of steam ascends, as if from an engine. It arises from a gorge where a sulphurous and foul smelling liquid ….. bubbles and boils and spouts its filthy mud eternally. I have no taste for horrors, and did not visit this foul place, which they call Tikiteri.


The native settlement [Whakarewarewa] was at one time very large, and must have been one of the most important in New Zealand. It owed its origins doubtless to these springs, not from any superstitious reason, but for the practical uses to which the Maori apply them.


They cook their cray-fish and white-fish, which they catch in the lake, in them; they boil their cabbage, they wash their clothes in them, and they wash themselves.


Text source: ‘Oceana, the tempestuous voyage of J.A. Froude, 1884 & 1885.’ Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. 1985.
Images from postcards in my collection.