When the boys came home

Lambton Quay

Dear Kid
This is a view in our capital. It is a fine town, plenty of hills and good Bays not far out to take on the sea bathing. I am going to go down to Dunedin on Sat next and start work the following week. They don’t want me to start for awhile at home but it is nearly a case of have to. I want to make some dollars you know if I am thinking about that trip to U.S.A. What do you think. I have not met my mate yet to give him your friends address but I will write to him one of these days. How is your friend, give her my best wishes. I have been very crook [ill] this last few days. I caught a bad cold coming over from the North Island the other night on the ferry steamer. Our boys are still coming home in great numbers. I suppose it is the same with your boys.
Alex.

This postcard from New Zealand to the United States has no date or post mark but the last lines about the boys still coming home suggests it was written a hundred years ago in 1919. It’s a reminder on this Anzac Day that, although the shooting stopped on 11th November 1918, the peace treaty wasn’t signed until the following June and the business of returning troops to their homeland was a long, drawn-out affair.

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Fear of The Other

In June 1853, a settler from Tasmania, Australia, called Edwin Meredith scouted the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand for suitable land to graze his sheep. June was the first month of winter and he was forced to take shelter from the rain wherever he could find it.

I had only about 20 miles to ride to reach Waipukurau but ….. my poor horse was completely knocked up as the result of his previous day’s experience [stuck in a bog and dragged out with difficulty]. There was nothing for it but to put my saddle and bridle in a flax bush and walk on in the hope of finding shelter before dark, for I was wet through.

It was raining steadily and the country around did not afford a tree or bush to break the wind and rain, or fuel for a fire. With my rug on my back I arrived at the Waipukurau Pah. Having satisfied myself that there was no European habitation in the neighbourhood, I had no alternative but to take refuge from the rain and cold of a winter’s night in one of the many whares* within.

Maori Pah

I made for a large one, about the low entrance to which I saw a number of men standing or going to and fro. It was my first experience of being in a large Maori Pah [fenced or fortified village] and I can hardly recall the circumstance without a shudder. Not that I feared any evil treatment but to be the only European in the midst of about 300 savages, the majority of whom were, or had been, cannibals and whose every feature was made hideous by tattooing – to witness the gesticulations which accompanied loud and rapid utterances in harsh gutteral tones emphasised by savage excitement might, or might not, be the prelude to something still more exciting. I was subsequently informed that there had been a pig-hunt that day on a large scale, and in all probability I had been listening to a somewhat theatrical recital of the adventures of the day’s sport.

I sat crouched upon my rug and, though occupying a conspicuous position near the doorway in a large room occupied by perhaps 50 men, none appeared to take the slightest notice of me – till my eye lighted on a man who had been especially voluble and, from the time he subsided and sat down, never took his eyes off me. Every atom of his face was tattooed and I could not help tracing in the expression of his disfigured features something malignant. I had remarked, while he was tossing his arms about in delivering his address, that he had only one hand.

Having scrutinized me long and intently, to my great relief he disappeared. I hoped that he would not return and, as no one seemed to notice me, I was about to roll myself in my rug, wet and cold as I was, when suddenly I was startled by a tap from behind upon my shoulder. On looking around, there stood the man whose gaze had been so repulsive to me, holding in his hand a clean new shirt and a pair of trousers. With the stump of the other arm he touched my wet clothes, motioning to me by signs to take them off and put on those he had brought. Never in my life had I been so rebuked for my misjudgment.
‘Reminiscences and experiences of an early Colonist’, Edwin Meredith, 1898.

*whare = house, building, residence.

There is a town at Waipukurau today but there was only the Pa in 1853.
Follow the link to learn more about Ta moko – Maori tattooing.

Bush travelling

Approaching Taranaki, what sight more beautiful than Mount Egmont’s snowy peak, seen just before the dawn of day, slowly tinged with rosy light – the plain around still lost in gloom-like morning rising from the bed of night?

Egmont

To be encamped for the night, too, in the forest at its base, the blazing watch-fire fitfully lighting up the surrounding gloom, and disclosing to momentary view the stately stems and leafy canopy of gigantic forest trees; and to awake at early dawn, listening with bated breath in charmed surprise to a chorus of sweet sounds (too sweet almost for earthly melody), would prove a poet’s and a painter’s Paradise!

fern leafBut health, also, as well as amusement, is gained by a journey in the bush. By change of scene, the dull routine of daily life is broken, and its business and care for the time forgotten. Almost constant mental excitement, gentle in degree, and agreeable in its kind; exposure to the open air, active exercise, and plain and scanty diet, all tend to health. The appetite is sharpened, the nerves are braced, the blood is purified, the cheek is bronzed, and the traveller commonly returns from his journey a stronger and a better man. What wonder that bush-travelling, then, should be a holiday amusement?

But a lengthened expedition into the interior of a new country, cannot of course be undertaken without some preparation. The pleasure which the traveller will derive from his journey, will greatly depend upon the character of his native party. Nor should a stranger, or a novice in bush travelling, ignorant of the language, and unaquainted with the manners of the people, be advised to start alone. On the contrary he should, if possible, secure as a companion some experienced bush traveller.

There being no wayside hostelries, the traveller, if he be not content with the skies for a canopy and the earth for his bed, must snail-like carry his house upon his back; or, which he will probably prefer, must persuade some other person to undertake the labour for him.

bush path

For a traveller who intends to live bush-fashion, three natives, for bearers, are a sufficient complement. On a long journey, when expedition is an object, the weight of each load should not exceed thirty pounds. Tent, bedding, clothes, and food, need not altogether exceed ninety pounds, or thirty pounds each man. This does not allow of bottled beer, wines, &c.; but nothing will surprise a bush traveller more than the indifference with which he will regard these enjoyable home luxuries, after a few days’ free exposure to the open air : itself an all-sufficient stimulant.
‘Auckland, the Capital of New Zealand’, W. Swainson. Smith, Elder & Co. London, 1853.

Note : Auckland was the capital of New Zealand until 1865, when the “Seat of Government” moved to Wellington.
The author, William Swainson (1809-1884), was Attorney General of New Zealand based in Auckland, not the naturalist William John Swainson who died in Wellington in 1855.
Mount Egmont’s name has reverted to the original Taranaki.

The place for girls

o_thames st

Oamaru
Aug. 24th 1914.

Dear Mum,
Here is a few views of the place I live in. Am having a very decent time here but the work is a bit monotonous. May go to a dance tonight. We are having lovely weather here. I have only 1 letter since I have been here so things are pretty slow. Tell Jim this is the place for girls. It is better than Wellington. Went over the gardens on Sunday, they were very nice.
Love to all
Gordon.

o_memorial

The monument at the centre of Gordon’s postcard is in honour of local troopers who served in the South African (Boer) war. It was unveiled in 1905 and is one of the most impressive of its type in New Zealand. The statue at the top was sculpted by Carlo Bergamini using Trooper David Mickle Jack as his model.

Oamaru is famous for its locally quarried sandstone (as well as girls). Much of the town was built with it but none was used in the memorial. Granite and marble for that were sourced from as far away as Europe.

The Troopers Memorial was moved in 2008 to make way for road improvements. It migrated 40 metres south and turned through 180 degrees to face north, the opposite direction from that shown on Gordon’s postcard.

o_troopers

Troopers Memorial, Oamaru, New Zealand. December 2013.

 

Up on Christmas Creek

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Photograph by Burton Brothers c.1890. Te Papa collection.

The stream with the season-appropriate name lies to the west of Dunedin, New Zealand. It flows under the rail bridge in the picture and joins the Taieri river on the other side.

The engine and its train of wagons belonged to the Otago Central Railway which, according to the Cyclopedia of New Zealand’s volume of 1905, had “been the subject of heated controversy….the funds for its construction have been obtained at various times only after bitter struggles with the promoters of rival provincial undertakings. [The province of] Otago understands its importance and has long since proved her determination to sacrifice many another public interest rather than fail in the great work of opening up the central districts of the province, and bringing them within easy range of the coast and the [provincial] capital”.

“….the promoters of the line hold that great ultimate benefits would accrue to the colony as a whole, through the exploitation of mineral and agricultural wealth, and the facilitation of the already extensive and lucrative tourist traffic”.

Work had begun on the track in 1879 but, due to terrain and shortage of money, it advanced only 100 miles over the next 23 years – “less than five miles a year”. The writer thought the hardest part had been done and “it does not seem that there is any special difficulty involved in the formation of the line, as far as Clyde, 130 miles from Dunedin. It is altogether a great undertaking; and its completion is in every way essential to the ultimate prosperous development of the province”.

The railway did reach Clyde eventually, finally arriving at Cromwell and its surrounding agricultural land by 1921. It had been 42 years in the making. Meanwhile roads had improved and the traffic moved from rails to trucks and cars. The line struggled to compete for business.

The Clyde to Cromwell section was closed in 1980 to make way for the Clyde hydro dam and what is now Lake Dunstan. The track from Clyde to Middlemarch was removed in 1991 and has since been developed into the Otago Rail Trail, a popular route reserved exclusively for cyclists and walkers.

You can still ride the train as far as Middlemarch as it winds up through the rugged Taieri Gorge and over the bridge at Christmas Creek. It’s one of the region’s major tourist attractions. Book early to avoid disappointment.

(All links open in a new window)

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

 

Where no man ever stood before

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is said to be the best one-day hike in New Zealand and the route is walked by thousands of visitors each year. But, in the mid-19th century, it was uncharted territory for new settlers. The first man to climb Mount Tongariro, and only the second European to penetrate so far inland, was 24-year-old John Carne Bidwill. This is a (heavily) edited version of his detailed account.

March 3rd, 1839 – When I arose in the morning, I was astonished to see the mountains around covered with snow, except the cone, which was visible from its base to the apex, and appeared quite close. The natives said the mountain had been making a noise in the night, which, at the time, I thought was only fancy : there seemed to be a little steam rising from the top, but the quantity was not sufficient to obscure the view. I set off immediately after breakfast, with only two natives, as all the others were afraid to go any nearer to the much dreaded place; nor could I persuade the two who did set off with me to go within a mile of the base of the cone.

As I was toiling over a very steep hill, I heard a noise which caused me to look up, and saw that the mountain was in a state of eruption : a thick column of black smoke rose up for some distance, and then spread out like a mushroom ….. the noise, which was very loud, and not unlike that of the safety-valve of a steam-engine, lasted about half an hour, and then ceased, after two or three sudden interuptions. I could see no fire, nor do I believe there was any, or that the eruption was anything more than hot water and steam.

MA_I281750_TePapa_Ketetahi-Steam-Holes_full-2

 “Steam holes” on Mount Tongariro.

The cone is entirely composed of loose cinders, and I was heartily tired of the exertion before I reached the top. Had it not been for the idea of standing where no man ever stood before, I should certainly have given up the undertaking.

MA_I249512_TePapa_Summit-of-Tongariro-Shewing_full-2

One man and his dog repeat Bidwill’s achievement. c.1880s.

After I had ascended about two-thirds of the way, I got into what appeared a water-course, the solid rock of which….was much easier to climb than the loose dust and ashes I had hitherto scrambled over. It was lucky for me another eruption did not take place while I was in it, or I should have been infallibly boiled to death, as I afterwards found that it led to the lowest part of the crater, and from indubitable proofs that a stream of hot mud and water had been running there during the time I saw the smoke from the top.

The crater was the most terrific abyss I ever looked into or imagined. The rocks overhung it on all sides, and it was not possible to see above ten yards into it from the quantity of steam which it was continually discharging.

MA_I249826_TePapa_Ngaruahoe-Ruapehu-From_full-2

Tongariro’s summit crater with the cone of Ngauruhoe in the background and snow-capped Ruapehu beyond that.

I did not stay at the top so long as I could have wished because I heard a strange noise coming out of the crater, which I thought betokened another eruption. I saw several lakes and rivers, and the [surrounding] country appeared about half covered with wood, which I should not have thought had I not gone to this place.

I had not above five minutes to see any part of the country, as I was enveloped in clouds almost as soon as I got up to the top. As I did not wish to see an eruption near enough to be either boiled or steamed to death, I made the best of my way down….. I was half frozen before I reached the ravine, and thoroughly drenched by the mist; so that I was very glad when I found the place where I had left the natives and the fire. I got back to the tent about seven in the evening.
‘Rambles in New Zealand’, J.C. Bidwill, 1841. Reprint by Capper Press, 1974.

Photographs by Burton Brothers in the 1880s from the Te Papa Collection.

Note : Tongariro is better behaved today and, like its neighbours, is closely monitored by all kinds of scientific instruments. They can’t even sigh without their minders noticing. There are shorter walks available in the park if you don’t feel up to the Alpine Crossing.