A Parisian Boulevard

This hand-coloured postcard image of the Boulevard Montmartre in winter is very evocative of time and place. It was probably made between 1906 and 1913 but, unfortunately, there is no record of publisher or photographer so I can’t give well deserved credit where it’s due.


A message on the back adds to the time capsule effect. It’s number 2 in a series of cards posted together as a letter so we have no beginning, no end, no idea who wrote it or to whom. What we do know is that he was a soldier and it was a remarkably upbeat, chatty letter in the circumstances.

“…. to Mick a few weeks ago and he was also quite well. We are now in billets, having come out of the trenches about a week ago and having a good time. We are having showery weather at present and it is pretty muddy but it isn’t very cold yet. I didn’t know that Mrs Hynes had moved up to…..”

It’s like turning the dial on a time machine radio. A fragment of conversation drifts in from the Great War and then fades out again as we search for the station we’re trying to find.


Out of Action

Today’s image comes from a WWI postcard.

Image from WWI postcard of captured German Pfalz DIII aircraft.

The original is a very dark sepia with almost no detail in the shadows so although this isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement, believe me. It shows a group of British military personnel gathered round what is left of a German aircraft. I think we can see a mixture of army and Royal Flying Corps uniforms there.

The wreck on the trailer used to be a Pfalz DIII, probably a DIIIa which dates the photograph to sometime between November 1917 – when the type was introduced – and the end of the war twelve months later. The shape of the cross on the fuselage suggests it might have been prior to April 1918. Two R.F.C. men are standing in front of the aircraft’s number which makes it difficult to be any more specific.

Although over a thousand of both variants were made, no originals have survived. There are only two replicas to show what the DIII would have looked like in one piece. This is one of them.

A replica Pfalz D.III German WWI fighter aircraft.


It was made in 1965 for the movie ‘The Blue Max’ so, at 53 years old, it’s edging towards veteran status.

Christmas kittens

Whoever designed this Edwardian Christmas postcard wanted to tick all the boxes.

A Christmas postcard, c.1905 featuring celebrity Seymour Hicks family.

We have the snow scene, the Christmas wish, a happy, smiling celebrity couple with their cherubic little daughter and – just to make sure all the emotional buttons have been pushed – lets tack on a pair of completely irrelevant, mesmerized kittens. Because you can’t go wrong with kittens! Right? Kittens will always close the sale.
(It worked for me).

The celebs are English actors Sir Edward Seymour Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terris with daughter Betty. This famous couple had careers that transitioned from the Victorian stage to 1930s film. Lady Hicks was the subject of This Is Your Life on British television in 1962.

Betty was born in 1904, so this card probably dates from December 1905 or 1906. The Christmas wish, of course, doesn’t age. May you find the peace and goodwill to enjoy the day according to your custom. I’ll be back in the New Year.


Having a ball

I stumbled on this peculiar photograph while browsing the Te Papa image collection recently. Thankfully it comes with a helpful explanation.

Poster ball

The postcard depicts a woman in a ‘poster costume’ advertising Hunky Dory boot polish and Hoxo Pad Rubber Heels for ‘no more sore feet’. While she wears a lady’s shoe atop her head, her feet are clad in roller skates. During the early part of the century, skating rinks frequently hosted fancy dress events, including poster competitions. In 1906 Wellington’s Elite Skating Rink, offered prizes of ball-bearing skates for the best fancy dress costume, the best poster costume and the most graceful skater.

Fancy dress events were a popular form of fundraising in the early part of the 20th century. Poster Balls and competitions were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in late 1900. While one reporter described it as a new ‘species of fancy dress’, another called it ‘a new phase of advertising’. It was a novel combination of both. As the name ‘Poster Ball’ infers, ball-goers were required to wear costumes that represented ‘poster advertisements of well-known goods, or the goods themselves’. For the privilege of advertising their wares, companies paid an entry fee and provided printed material for the models’ costume.

Hailed as a ‘decided improvement on the ordinary fancy ball’, Poster Balls remained a popular entertainment throughout the first half of the 20th century both as fund-raisers and general entertainment. They were organised by a wide array of groups, from patriotic and benevolent societies to sports clubs.

Advertisers are smarter in the 21st century. Now we buy their branded clothing (because it’s cool) and they don’t give us a cent.

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.

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…….


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).

Pahiatua: small town New Zealand.

In my last post about the now closed Manawatu Gorge in New Zealand’s North Island, I mentioned the Pahiatua Track as an alternative route across the mountains. It got that name from the town of Pahiatua at its eastern end.


Pahiatua photographed by “McCasky”, and looking like a scene from the American West, sometime between 1900 and 1905.

As I mentioned, the “track” is now a road but, at the time this photograph was taken – when it really was a “bridle track” – it was known as the “Ridge Road“, and work was underway to widen it to a more useful 14 feet!

The town was founded in the 1880s and, according to the Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1897), “Its growth has been so much more rapid [than expected] that it has attained quite imposing proportions while surrounded with most unmistakable signs of newness. Even within the borough boundary there are many acres still covered with stumps and burnt logs, and only the principal streets are formed, yet the public buildings, hotels, and shops would be a credit to many a town four times as old”.

The Commercial Hotel is at the centre of the photograph with a coach out front. This might have belonged to McPhail and Fly whose livery stable can be seen to the left. They had a monopoly on the livery and rental business in 1897 – “the vehicles for hire include sulkies, gigs, dogcarts, single and double-seated buggies, expresses, drags, four-in-hands, coaches, etc. ….. Tourists placing themselves in the hands of Messrs. McPhail and Fly may rely on seeing all the points of interest”.

The building to the right, on the corner, is the well patronized “public hall or concert room” where “the various musical and other societies cater well for the public. The Burns Society concert, held annually in the early spring, is always most successful, and it is generally the precursor of what is known as a “long night.”

Pahiatua’s Main Street is not one-sided, as you might think at first glance, but divided. The other half is on the left. The Cyclopedia explains why. “When Main Street was laid off, it was expected that the railway would be laid down the centre, and that all trains would thus run through the town; but, unfortunately for both Pahiatua and the railway, this very sensible proposal is not being carried out. Passengers and goods for Pahiatua will be dropped at Scarborough, or thereabouts, and all the inconveniences and expense of cabs, ‘buses, expresses, drays, etc., will be ruthlessly cast upon the people, unless, indeed, they indulge in the luxury of a tram service from Scarborough to Pahiatua”.

And so it came to pass. The surveyors, who knew a good deal more about the terrain than the Cyclopedia writer, laid their track just over a mile to the west of town soon afterwards, leaving the residents of Pahiatua with a “railway reserve” in the middle of the street that had to be filled in some other way. The image shows early attempts at tree planting, and that worked out just fine in the end.

Pahiatua 3

Pahiatua is known for its park-like central islands and an impression of space that makes it seem much bigger than it is.

Park areas on the railway reserve, Main Street, Pahiatua, New Zealand.