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.

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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.”

MA_I325318_TePapa_New-Zealand-Insurance_web

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.

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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.

Recovery
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…….

Remarkables

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

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.

Stonehenge: the Giants’ Dance.

This image has been taken from a postcard sent from Malmesbury on August 21 1907 – one hundred and ten years ago (plus one day).

Image of Stonehenge from an Edwardian postcard mailed in 1907.

The front of the card, below the crop line, repeats a popular myth about the Giants’ Dance, sometimes known as Giants’ Round or Giants’ Circle.

“A Legend states: – Aurelius, wishing to commemorate a battle, sent for Merlin, the Prophet, to consult on the proper monument to be erected to the memory of the slain; he replied: “If you want an everlasting monument, send for the Giants’ Dance in Killarus, Ireland. There are stones of a vast magnitude, & wonderful quality.” The Britons despatched 15,000 soldiers under Uther Pendragon. The removal was violently opposed by Gillomanus, a youth of wonderful valour, who exclaimed: “To Arms, Soldiers! While I have breath they shall not move one stone.” A battle was fought & won by the Britons. Merlin then directed with a mystical & wonderful facility their removal. When accomplished, Aurelius summoned the Clergy and people to the Mount Ambrius, and a great solemnity was held for 3 days in honour of the event. Aurelius at his death was buried in the midst.”

This legend, and variations of it, can be traced to Geoffrey of Monmouth – “that master historian and myth-dispenser of the twelfth century,” according to Gerald S. Hawkins in his book ‘Stonehenge Decoded’. It could contain the seeds of two or more ancient events blended together and embellished by the author. Geoffrey wasn’t a man to let facts get in the way of a good story.

Gillomanus is claimed by some to have been the “king of Ireland”, Aurelius and Pendragon were real people outside the King Arthur legend (another one of Geoffrey’s fictions), but the stones of the henge came from Wales, not Ireland.

Research into this ancient World Heritage site continues and, incredibly, new discoveries are still being made. This detailed Wikipedia page will bring you right up to date and give you as much information about Stonehenge as you ever wanted to know.

Feathered Friends

New Zealand journalist Pat Lawlor (1893 – 1976) remembers the old days in Wellington, with prompts from his childhood diary.

May 30 1905….. Heard Mrs _____’s cockatwo swearing…..

It is in no spirit of charity that I leave out the name of the owner of the swearing cockatoo; and there were not ‘two’ of them as suggested by my diary entry. The plain truth is that the name of Mrs_____ is written in pencil, smudged with the years and unreadable. I would surmise that the worthy owner wished at times that the shrill declarations of her pet, when in anger born, were smudged or entirely obliterated.

cockatooThe famous cockatoo, white in colour and assertive in mien, was brought up in a bar-room, where he learnt his ABC (with an accent on the B), and was later acquired by the owner of a crockery shop…… On fine days cocky’s cage would be placed on the edge of the footpath, and it was then that he really performed if small boys annoyed him. I hope I was not one of them but I do know that whenever I was in the vicinity I always stopped to listen to him – just in case.

Mr L. C. Smith, who has many wonderful memories of Wellington, relates that once when Mrs_____ was in hospital a police sergeant from the station nearby agreed to look after the bird. When the Inspector of Police arrived one day, cocky took violent objection to him and poured out a torrent of the kind of abuse that is generally written on paper and handed to the magistrate. The inspector was shocked. He averred that capital punishment was too good for the bird. Another day the cockatoo mimicked the growl of a passing dog, who, resentful, tried to get at cocky through the wire cage. Mr Smith declares that it took two policemen to separate the screeching, swearing cockatoo and the snarling bulldog.

cuba street

December 4 1905…… Saw the penguin at Hurcombes swallow a fish and not be sick…..

Hurcomb the fishmonger in Cuba Street could have given points to a modern display merchant. There was always something doing at his shop. In this case it was his penguin, who, in between other displays, was on duty at the front door, wandering occasionally on to the footpath. Every now and then Hurcomb would appear and give him a fish which would disappear in one neat swallow, causing me to wonder why he was not sick.
‘More Wellington Days’, Pat Lawlor. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd; 1962.

Lawlor didn’t mention the type of penguin Mr. Hurcomb fed but it was probably a little blue, found all around the New Zealand coast including Wellington harbour.

A road sign near Wellington airport warning of penguins crossing.

This warning sign is only a few hundred metres from the end of Wellington’s airport runway. Why does the penguin cross the road? To get to its nest burrow on the other side.

Here’s a quote from New Zealand Bird’s On Line
“As their name suggests, the little penguin is the smallest species of penguin. They are also the most common penguin found around all coasts of New Zealand’s mainland and many of the surrounding islands. Primarily nocturnal on land, they are sometimes found close to human settlements and often nest under and around coastal buildings, keeping the owners awake at night with their noisy vocal displays. They live up to their scientific name ‘Eudyptula’ meaning “good little diver”, as they are excellent pursuit hunters in shallow waters.”

Follow the link to this excellent site for more information and some excessively cute photographs.

Cockatoo photo credit: lwolfartist DSC04118 via photopin (license)

On Active Service

The Belgian village of Watou, on the border with France, lay behind Allied lines during the Great War (WWI) and escaped destruction.

Vintage postcard of a street scene in Watou, Belgium. Message dated 1915.

One soldier was able to send this postcard from there while he was being rested from the front. It is marked “On active service” and was sent from Field Post Office D. 49 to a Miss M. W. “Dalzell” in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Many thanks for letter. All continues to go well. Much rain lately. Have spelt your name wrong as usual! Pardonnez!! Best wishes to all for 1916. May its early days see Britannia gloriously triumphant and the war a thing of the past.
Am still very well.
Best Rgds, A. J.

The message is dated 3rd November 1915. A. J. would have to wait another three years and eight days before his wish came true. We have to wonder if he lived to see it.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of a three-month nightmare called Passchendaele that left over half a million men from both sides of the wire dead, wounded or missing.