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.

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

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

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Wellington architecture #3 – the evolution of Parliament.

When New Zealand’s capital, or Seat of Government as it was known then, moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1865 Parliament’s “House of Assembly” moved in to the existing Provincial Council Chambers.

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Photo: ATL – Swan, George Henry, 1833-1913. Provincial Council building, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-003739-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22494909

It was a convenient place to start but obviously not big enough. Additions to accommodate debating chambers for Upper and Lower Houses, committee rooms, the members’ restaurant (very important) and offices were added in stages until the original became part of a much bigger complex.

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Photo: ATL – Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-011625-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22795018

Restricted by Sydney Street on the left and Hill Street on the right, architects had to build over the back yard. Twenty years later, the side view from Sydney Street looked like a Gothic fantasy castle made in wood.

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In the 1890s, when the overflowing Parliamentary library demanded a new fireproof home, architect Thomas Turnbull went full circle and put his masonry extension in front of the original Provincial Council Chamber.

Pre 1907 postcard image of Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

It should have been a three storey building but political bickering over cost saw it redesigned by the Government’s architect with two storeys. Turnbull resigned from the project and asked for his name to be removed from the foundation stone. Fortunately, fireproof rooms and doors remained part of the design, despite budget cuts.

Parliament fire

On 11th December 1907, the tinder-dry wooden buildings burned down. The library and most of its contents survived, was rebuilt, and can still be seen today.

Parl library

The destruction of everything else disrupted Parliament for years to come and brought about a dramatic change in the landscape. The Governor abandoned his official residence, Government House (see previous post), and it became a “temporary” House of Assembly. An architectural competition for a new building was won by John Campbell – the Government’s own architect – with a grandiose design. The shallow gully that was Sydney Street was filled in and the site levelled to accomodate it. Construction began in 1912. And then came the Great War.

Work dragged on despite the lack of manpower available but when the war ended enthusiasm waned. An already small population had been decimated by conflict and the Spanish flu pandemic, materials became difficult to source, and the country was short of funds – again. Construction stopped in 1922 when the new House of Assembly was literally half the building it was meant to be. It has never been completed.

Parliament buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.

The building you see today is only half of the original concept, which is why the entrance steps are at the left instead of in the centre. The “Beehive” Executive Wing was added in the late 1960s to make a bold statement about “modern” New Zealand.

Whether or not you think these buildings “work” together is a matter of personal taste, but they have their own story to tell and represent three distinct periods in the architectural history of Wellington.

Wellington architecture #1

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The Government Buildings, built on newly-reclaimed land in 1876 and photographed by James Bragge soon afterwards. Wellington would continue to spread into the harbour for most of the next century.

To many, the gem of Lambton Quay, undoubtedly one of the finest structures the Dominion has to offer, is the Government Buildings, erected in 1876 to meet the needs of the rapidly growing civil service, a beautifully proportioned block somewhat resembling a wooden replica of Somerset House, and standing in grounds which, though limited, serve to enhance not only the building they surround but the whole northern end of the Quay. The building is constructed entirely of wood, and forms the largest permanent wooden structure in the world.

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c. 1902. The original “ugly” corrugated iron fence was replaced by railings, and the gardens improved, in the 1890s.

And what wood! A list of the materials used – a million feet of them – sounds like a building contractor’s dream. For the main block, the framework of Tasmanian hardwood, the weatherboards and interior of kauri, For the wings, added later [1897 and 1907], the framework of rimu, the piles of totara, the weatherboards and flooring of matai, the interior finishings of kauri – an epitome of all the most precious of New Zealand forest products. The thought comes uppermost: “What forests passed beneath the axe to rear its walls!”
‘The Streets of my City’, F.L. Irvine-Smith, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1948.

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The civil service had outgrown its old offices by 1990 and left them empty. In recognition of its status as a heritage building, government sponsored restoration and conservation began four years later. Most of the interior is now leased to the Victoria University School of Law but parts of it are open to the public and well worth a visit.

The city has grown around (and above) it as cities do, and it’s a little sad to see the old building, that used to dominate its surroundings, being overshadowed by modern office blocks.

Govt offices 4

This is the first of three loosely connected posts about the New Zealand capital’s early architecture. Next – Government House, 1871.

Oxford Circus

Sepia postcard image of Oxford Circus, 1920s or 30s.

Oxford Circus, London. Junction of Regent Street and Oxford Street. One of the principal shopping centres of the world. Noted for its magnificent Buildings.

[Oxford Street] has seen in our time a marvellous transformation, for those who are not even old remember the day when men smiled at Mr. Selfridge coming from America and setting up his great shop at the wrong end of Oxford Street where nobody came. People come today in their thousands and hundreds of thousands, and all the world knows Selfridge’s, the greatest shop in England that has no need to put its name on it. Its massive row of stone columns stretches for 500 feet along the street. Its windows are one of London’s annual shows at Christmas, and in summer its roof is a daily delight.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.

Postcard image of Oxford Circus from Regent Street c. 1930s.

Approaching Oxford Circus from Regent Street.

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.

Rotorua_Ohine

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.

Rotorua_Tikitere

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.

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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.

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

Lake Wakatipu

English novelist Anthony Trollope visited New Zealand in the winter of 1872, landing at Invercargill in the far south of the country. From there, he planned to visit Lake Wakatipu, 70 miles to the north and already a tourist attraction.

We were unfortunate in the time of the year, having reached the coldest part of New Zealand in the depth of winter. Everybody had told me that it was so, – and complaint had been made to me of my conduct, as though I were doing New Zealand a manifest injustice in reaching her shores at a time of year in which her roads were all mud, and her mountains all snow. By more than one New Zealander I was scolded roundly, and by those who did not scold me I was laughed to scorn….

With great misgivings as to the weather, but with high hopes, we started from Invercargill for lake Wakatip. Our first day’s journey was by coach (after travelling to Winton by rail), which was tolerably successful, though fatiguing…….

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The Remarkables at Lake Wakatipu. Some of the scenery Trollope missed on a journey up the lake in a rain storm.

…..We passed up [a] valley, with mountains on each side of us, some of which were snow-capped. We crossed various rivers, – or more probably the same river at various points. About noon on the second day we reached the lake at a place called Kingstown [Kingston], and found a steamer ready to carry us twenty-four miles up it to Queenstown, on the other side. Steamers ply regularly on the lake, summer and winter, and afford the only means of locomotion in the neighbourhood. But no sooner were we on board than the rain began to fall as it does only when the heavens are quite in earnest. And it was very, very cold. We could feel that the scenery around us was fine, that the sides of the lake were precipitous, and the mountain tops sharp and grand, and the water blue; but it soon became impossible to see anything. We huddled down into a little cabin, and endeavoured to console ourselves with the reflection that, though all its beauties were hidden from our sight, we were in truth steaming across the most beautiful of the New Zealand lakes. They who cannot find some consolation from their imagination for external sufferings had better stay at home. At any rate they had better not come to New Zealand in winter.
‘With Trollope in New Zealand 1872’, Ed. A. H. Reed, 1969.

Fortunately for the New Zealand tourist industry, travellers have ignored Trollope’s advice. They descend on Queenstown every year in their thousands for the winter festival and surrounding ski fields. (It’s popular in summer, too).

Edinburgh and its Castle

I meant to follow my last post about Holyrood Abbey and Palace with some past impressions of Edinburgh and its castle. The fact that a poll of Rough Guide readers has just voted Scotland the most beautiful country in the world is pure coincidence!

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From a postcard by J. Valentine and Co. Image registered 1903.

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The view from Johnstone Terrace, date unknown. Published by Francis Caird Inglis.

Edinburgh Castle from the West. J. Valentine postcard image registered 1913.

Edinburgh Castle from the West. J. Valentine and Co. 1913.

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J. Valentine and Co. Cameron Highlanders on parade.
“The Castle, which stands at a height of 443 feet above sea level, has an area at the top of about 7 acres”.

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J. Valentine and Co. 1913.
“The Forewall Battery was erected in 1336 by Edward III, while St. Margaret’s Chapel dates back a period of over 800 years”.
The caption on this, and the following, card claim the Chapel was built by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, but it was actually built to her memory by her son, David I, who also founded Holyrood Abbey (see previous post).

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There was even more confusion about dates for this giant cannon, Mons Meg. Check today’s official version.
This is another image published by Francis Caird Inglis (1876-1940), although it looks old enough to have been taken by his father Alexander (c.1847-1903)

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Photograph by Francis Caird Inglis.
Card caption (abridged): The “Magne Camere,” or Great Hall …. was erected in 1434, and is connected with many events in Scottish history. …. In 1502 James IV had the Hall renovated for the home-coming of his young bride, Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England. In 1561, Mary, Queen of Scots, was entertained to a grand banquet on her arrival in Edinburgh. In 1616 James VI of Scotland and I of England celebrated the anniversary of his fifty-third birthday. …. After the Union [with England 1707] the Hall fell into disuse, but was restored by Mr William Nelson, a prominent Edinburgh citizen, and opened to the public in 1892.

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Image by Alexander Inglis, father of Francis Caird.
“An interesting sight is the small, well-kept cemetery with its row of miniature gravestones marking the burying-ground of the regimental pets.”

You can check where all of these attractions are with this nifty interactive castle map, and see why Scotland won this year’s Rough Guides poll here.