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.

The evolution of Oriental Bay

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Oriental Bay, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-140283-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22857401

The only piece of beach available anywhere near the city is the small strip in Oriental Bay, and in the summer time it is constantly thronged with juvenile pleasure-seekers, and on fine Sunday afternoons it forms a pleasant place for their seniors to stroll to. The original design of the city contemplated the formation of an esplanade along the edge of this bay, and there is no reason why this design should not be carried out. The bay might be made a lovely spot, by a little planting and other not very costly improvements.
Evening Post, 18 July 1884.

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Oriental Bay, Wellington. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-000528-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22907525

Sir,— Having read the Harbour Board agreement re boatsheds, I did not see anything distasteful to a person who really requires a boatshed. I think the Board is quite right in enforcing their regulations, which will put an end to any more eyesores being erected such as we see in Oriental Bay….
Evening Post, 17 Oct. 1885.

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The bay would no doubt be made more attractive if the City Council would provide seats at intervals along the road. NZ Mail, 10 Dec. 1896.

Fast forward this scene by about 75 years.

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1981

Oriental Bay 5

2006

Oriental Bay 6

2016

The Oriental was the second ship to bring immigrants to the new settlement at Port Nicholson in 1840.

Temple Church

The Temple at the gate of the City [of London] lies in the historic Square Mile but is not of it. As the City belongs to itself, like a kingdom within a kingdom, so it is with the Temple, the sanctuary of the legal world. It owns the land it stands on, it governs itself, it gives the police no trouble, and it allows us all to enjoy its beautiful domain.

It was the home of the Templars who formed themselves into an Order of Chivalry 800 years ago to guard the Holy Tomb and protect the pilgrims. It was granted to the knights of St John in 1324, and in turn they left it to the lawyers, who hold it in perpetuity. It is now the home of two Inns, Inner and Middle Temple, the rough dividing line being Middle Temple Lane, which runs from Fleet Street to the Thames Embankment. The Inner Temple Gateway stands close by and leads us to the famous church.

Temple churchExcept for St. Bartholomew’s and St John’s in the Tower, Temple Church is the oldest in London, the finest of the five round churches left in England from the days of the Crusaders, who built them in the style of the church they loved in Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulchre. Only a few steps from Fleet Street, this little round church has looked much as it is since the day it was consecrated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem [in 1185]. Half a century more and the choir [Chancel] was added to the nave (the Oblong to the Round), and through all the changing centuries these walls have stood while all around has changed.

The porch has been refashioned and has one round and two pointed arches, but the doorway within it is a gem of Norman building, with a fine array of recessed shafts and mouldings and the flower of Norman ornament is in its lovely decoration… In it hangs a massive door about 400 years old, covered with scrolled hinges and ironwork ornament; it swings to our touch yet weighs two tons and a half, and is opened by a key which weighs five pounds.

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Round church at Cambridge

It opens on to a forest of clustered columns and an arcade of pointed arches circling round us in the nave……. The mosaic of red and blue glass shining in the triple east window is a delightful vista from the west doorway.

A small Norman doorway leads to a stairway at the top of which is a tiny cell in the thickness of the wall, four feet long and under three feet wide, lit by two slits in the stone. It is said to have been a place for solitary confinement in the days when the Templars were extremely strict. Here refractory brothers were confined in chains and fetters, and it is said that Brother Walter le Batcheler, who bore the standard for King Richard into Jerusalem, was here starved to death for disobedience to the Master of the Temple. [The crime was embezzlement and the year was 1301].

But it is on the floor of the Round that the eye of every visitor falls. Here lies an impressive array of Templars [in stone], perhaps the best preserved collection anywhere. Most of them wear chain mail and coats, with shields and swords, as on their crusades.

Under the floor are the remains of a 13th century chapel.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.

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Little Maplestead Church in Essex, one of four medieval English round churches still in use today. The fourth is in Northampton.

London’s Temple Church was badly damaged by fire during World War II and its restoration lasted until 1958. The conical roof seen in the first postcard above was a Victorian addition and was not replaced.

The Laird of Abbotsford

[Sir Walter] Scott was now [1810] in receipt of £1,300 a year as clerk of session, and when the lease of Ashestiel ran out in May 1811, he felt justified in purchasing, for £4,000, a farm on the banks of the Tweed above Gala-foot. This farm, then known as Clarty Hole, became Abbotsford, so called because these lands had belonged of old to the great Abbey of Melrose; and in his own mind Scott became henceforth the Laird of Abbotsford.

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During [1817] the existing house of Abbotsford had been building, and Scott had added to his estate the lands of Toftfield, at a price of £10,000. He was then thought to be consolidating a large fortune, for the annual profits of his novels alone had, for several years, been not less than the cost of Toftfield.

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The house of Abbotsford was not completed and finally rid of carpenters and upholsterers until Christmas 1824; but the first time I saw it was in 1818, and from that time onwards Scott’s hospitality was extended freely, not only to the proprietors and tenants of the surrounding district but to a never-ending succession of visitors who came to Abbotsford as pilgrims. In the seven or eight brilliant seasons when his prosperity was at its height, he entertained under his roof as many persons of distinction in rank, in politics, in art, in literature, and in science as the most princely nobleman of his age ever did in the like space of time.

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Scott’s diary from November 1825 shows clear forebodings of the collapse of the [publishing] houses of Constable and Ballantyne. In December Scott borrowed £10,000 on the lands of Abbotsford, and advanced that sum to the struggling houses; on January 16, 1826, their ruin, and Scott’s with them, was complete.
On May 15 Lady Scott died, after a short illness, at Abbotsford. “I think,” writes Scott in his diary, “my heart will break.”

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An expedition to Paris in October, to gather materials for his “Life of Napoleon,” was a seasonable relief. The “Life of Buonaparte” was published in June 1827, and secured high praise from many…… It realised £18,000 for the creditors, and, had health been spared him, Scott must soon have freed himself from all encumberances.
‘Life of Sir Walter Scott,’ John Gibson Lockhart, published 1837/’38 in seven volumes.

Sir Walter Scott, author of such classic novels as ‘Rob Roy’ and ‘Ivanhoe’, died at Abbotsford on 21 September 1832.

Profits from the ‘Life’ were donated by Lockhart, his son-in-law, to the creditors.

Abbotsford (“just a short train ride from Edinburgh”) is now in the care of a charitable trust and still attracts thousands of “pilgrims” every year.

The Old Curiosity Shop

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Retracing our steps….we shortly arrive at Portsmouth Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. At No. 14 will be found (for a short time only) a small old-fashioned house, on the front of which is painted an inscription, “The Old Curiosity Shop, Immortalised by Charles Dickens,” now occupied by Mr. H. Poole, dealer in wastepaper. This is said to be the house assigned by the novelist for the residence of Little Nell and her grandfather, with whose pathetic history we are all familiar—

“One of those receptacles for old and curious things, which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town, and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust.”

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It cannot, however, be regarded as absolutely certain that this particular house was the author’s intended “local habitation” for one of the best-known and loved of his creations. The tale itself concludes with a reference to Kit’s uncertainty as to the whereabouts of the place:—

“The old house had long ago been pulled down, and a fine broad road was in its place. At first he would draw with his stick a square upon the ground to show them where it used to stand. But he soon became uncertain of the spot, and could only say it was thereabouts, he thought, and that these alterations were confusing.”

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[A lady, personally acquainted with the great novelist, has informed the author that she was once taken by Mr. Dickens to No. 10 Green Street (approaching Leicester Square from the east)—at the corner of Green and Castle Streets, behind the National Gallery—the business of curiosity-dealing being then and there carried on. Mr. Dickens himself localised this house as the home of little Nell, pointing out an inner room—divided from the shop by a glass partition—as her bedroom. The premises are now rebuilt.]
‘Rambles in Dickens Land’, Robert Allbut, S.T. Freemantle. 1899.

Images top to bottom:
1. This old photograph reproduced on a postcard may have been made in the 1870s.
2. New tenants Gill & Durrant, successors to H. Poole photographed c.1912-1914. The shop was threatened with demolition at the time Allbut wrote that it would be there “for a short time only”. It was saved, but Mr. Poole had already moved to new premises.
3. Another tenant – who needs to fix that roof urgently! Could be early 1920s. I think the lady in the doorway is dressed in Victorian style for maximum Dickensian effect.

The old shop today is surrounded by the brick and glass of the London School of Economics and in need of more maintenance. Modern opinion agrees with Allbut that it had no connection to Dickens. In fact Steve Draper claims in this post that it was rebranded in 1868, when it was a bookshop, to increase trade.

That dicussion is a distraction from the building’s real historic value. Here is a 17th (some say 16th) century structure that has survived the Great Fire of London and the bombs of two world wars. Surely that deserves better than a Grade II listing.

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.

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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.

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 “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.

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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.

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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.