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.

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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.

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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.

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A card for your collection

The international craze for collecting picture postcards began in the mid 1890s and reached its peak a few years before the Great War. It’s easy to understand the attraction in an age when privately owned cameras were few and expensive, and foreign (or even local) travel was a luxury. A good postcard collection could provide a “virtual” experience.

As William Main points out in his book ‘Send Me A Postcard’ –
“In some households every member of the family had their own album which they would proudly display to visitors. To justify this pastime, it was argued that postcards added greatly to one’s knowledge of other cultures. Clubs were established and specialised publications appeared which gave stature and a measure of respectability to postcard collectors”.
Craig Potton Publishing, 2007.

Beginners would have been happy to start with this one, the first New Zealand picture postcard.

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Published in 1897 by the Post and Telegraph Department and printed in London, it features four tourist-attracting views of Waikite Geyser, Mount Cook, Mount Egmont (now Taranaki) and the Otira Gorge. A government department, no less, had the foresight to recognize the sales potential of postcards and got the ball rolling, hoping that private enterprise would follow. Which it did.

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This image ‘Crossing the Mandamus’, published by Ferguson and Taylor, probably dates to around 1902. It would have been among the first cards the local company produced and was posted in 1906. The unsigned message says
“Many thanks for pretty card. Your collection is growing. I have about (260). Do you prefer view cards or actresses?”
Some collectors specialized in themed cards; foreign countries, animals, royalty. Actresses – who had never been seen on a stage by most of their collectors – were very popular.
The Mandamus river, by the way, is in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island. It joins the Hurunui 25km. (16 miles) west of Culverden (population less than 500) and although it is bridged today, it’s still a long way from the main highway. So why these four intrepid ladies and their driver were parked in the middle of it in 1902 is anybody’s guess.

Many vintage postcards carry the auctioneer’s description “message on back (m.o.b.), not postally used” which suggests there were a lot of absent-minded or lazy people around in the early 1900s. Often this can just mean the card has no stamp or postmark and was, in fact, posted in an envelope – sometimes with others. Like an illustrated letter. The Edwardian equivalent of an email with photos attached. Here’s a good example

Tuck's Oilette postcard of Belfast harbour c. 1904. Posted 1908.

The Harbour. The shipping at Belfast is very considerable, both passenger and cargo steamers leaving here for all parts of the world. Next to the linen industry, the shipbuilding trade is the most important in the town, some of the largest and finest ships in the world having been constructed there. The harbour has been greatly improved, enlarged and deepened at a cost of over half-a-million sterling.
[Raphael Tuck & Sons. Oilette No. 7416]

This was the last of a three card set posted on September 27, 1908, by John Quirk from No. 3 Depot Royal Field Artillery, Seaforth, England, to an unknown address, presumably in New Zealand. The message reads
“….before finishing my badly written epistle I must compliment you on the nice description of Auckland you gave me on the card which I have before me and which I shall add to my collection of 2000, have you as many? Trusting you are well and hoping to hear from you again soon”.

With a score of 2,000, John Quirk was on his way to becoming a serious collector, although some heavy hitters could have added a zero to that number.

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Seaforth Barracks, near Liverpool, where John Quirk was stationed in 1908.

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.

Marble Arch and the Tyburn Tree

If you buy a picture postcard with a printed caption on the back, you expect it to be short, factual, upbeat and positive. No room for personal opinion. Maybe this caption writer didn’t get the memo.

Vintage postcard by J. Valentine of Marble Arch, London.

Marble Arch, London, – This fine if rather useless ornament of Hyde Park is reminiscent of the triumphal arches beloved of the Romans. The view serves to suggest the superb vistas available in the Park dear to fashion, which covers some four hundred acres, and is encompassed by a carriage drive two and a half miles long.

Arthur Mee, in his book ‘London’ (1937), gives us more detail about the Arch and the gruesome past of the place where it stands. This is the short, less harrowing, version.

At the top of [Park Lane], the meeting place of four great roads, stands the Marble Arch, which changed its address in the year of the Great Exhibition [1851]. Till then it stood at the entrance to Buckingham Palace; now it stands at the head of Oxford Street a few yards away from a little brass plate* which tells us that this was Tyburn Hill. Here were hanged men and women and children, heroes and malefactors, patriots and traitors.

The site took its name from the little river Tyburn, one of whose arms crossed Oxford Street here. Tyburn then lay among the fields, with only a few houses, from one of which the sheriffs watched the executions. Round the gallows were stands with seats, let to spectators at half a crown. Until 1783, when Newgate took its place, Tyburn was the busiest scene in the world of agony and sorrow. It became the frightful clearing-house for criminals of both sexes and of all ages. Upwards of 200 petty offences were punishable with death, and offenders were sent in horrifying numbers to die here in batches, a dozen or more at a time.

Vintage postcard of Marble Arch, London.

The arch was set up by John Nash ten years after Waterloo at a cost of £80,000. Chantrey’s statue of George the Fourth in Trafalgar Square was made for it, but never fixed. The arch was designed after [one] in the Roman Forum, and made of marble from Michael Angelo’s quarries at Carrara. It was orininally intended to symbolise the victories of Trafalgar and Waterloo in its picture panels, but the arch was made an arch of peace instead.

Map
*The little brass plate was replaced by a bigger concrete marker in 1964.

Destination Cape Town

My last post on Tuesday left a large group of Union Castle mail ship passengers playing deck games on their way to South Africa in 1913. So today I thought I would deliver them to their destination and visit a couple of sights in Cape Town.

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After the ship’s band played the last waltz there would have been lots of goodbyes

Vintage postcard of a man and woman on a  ship's deck in the moonlight.

Some were harder to bear than others.

Vintage postcard of a group of ship's passengers with binoculars.

In the morning there would have been great excitement as their next port appeared on the horizon. The lady in the centre of this image, peering through binoculars with hand on hip, looks like a fashionista of her day. It’s a pity we can’t see that outfit in colour.

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This card from the Cape Town branch of J. Valentine and Sons shows the Grand Hotel on the corner of Strand and Adderley streets. Built in 1885, it probably catered to many Union Castle passengers before it was demolished in the 1950s.

Vintage postcard of Cape Town Grand Parade and City Hall (opened 1905).

Cape Town City Hall was completed in 1905, to house a growing city administration and has, in its turn, been outgrown in more recent years. This landmark building was built facing the sea with the Grand Parade in front where regular markets were held.

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Cape Town’s Houses of Parliament, built in the same year as the Grand Hotel, became the legislative centre for the new Union of South Africa in 1910. The administrative capital is Pretoria.

Table Mountain dominates the view in the last two cards. Locals might possibly get used to this sight eventually, but to a visitor, it never fails to take your breath away no matter how many times you return.

 

The games people played

Modern cruise ships provide every kind of entertainment to keep their passengers from boredom at sea. Shops, movies, nightclubs, casinos and live theatre shows; luxuries that less demanding travellers in simpler times couldn’t have imagined. But some of the old favourites have been dropped in the name of progress.

What about ‘Slinging the Monkey’, ‘Chalking the Pig’s Eye’, ‘The Turtle Pull’, and Cock Fighting? These were all part of the fun on your journey from England to South Africa on a Union Castle liner in the early years of the 20th century.

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This Union Castle mail ship leaving Cape Town isn’t named on the postcard but is probably the RMS Kinfauns Castle (1899 – 1927).

You’ll be relieved to learn that no animals were harmed during these activities. In fact, no animals were involved. They relied on volunteers from the audience.

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 Slinging the Monkey. The rope is standard issue (non-elastic) so this isn’t an early form of horizontal bungee. A tall man with long arms would be a safe bet to win.

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Chalking the Pig’s Eye. A variation on the old Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey game you might remember from childhood birthday parties. Obviously these people had no sense of direction.

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 The Turtle Pull looks like it could have been invented by a rugby coach. Was it a consolation event for men who weren’t picked for the Tug-o’-War team?

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Cock Fighting. Yes, I know – you have to see it to believe it.

These illustrations were taken from an extensive list of postcards published by the Union Castle company. I have 33 of them and wouldn’t be surprised to find there are more. They were issued in booklet sets and can be dated fairly accurately to 1913, give or take six months.

London Notes, 1918

Vintage postcard of Rotten Row, London, by J. Valentine. Used 1918.

Card caption: Rotten Row – a corruption of route de roi, is reserved for equestrians. Is situated near Hyde Park corner.

I seen this row from the other end. I walked right through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park to Marble Arch. Roy, 16-10-18. [map]

Vintage postcard of Westminster Abbey by J. Valentine.Dec 31st 1918
Dear Louie. After leaving the Albert Memorial behind we passed along Rotten Row where the knobs hang out on horse back of a sunday morning and came to the Abbey. We were all over it and saw the tombs of the different ones buried there. She’s a great joint and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Its an interesting old place.
Love Frank x x x x

Frank may have been an American soldier on his way home at the end of World War One. It seems he was a man given to understatement.
Both cards are by J. Valentine. Although they were used in 1918, the images are probably 12 to 15 years older.

A footnote about Prince Albert and his memorial – many web sites still maintain that Albert’s cause of death in 1861 was typhoid. Modern medical opinion is that Crohns disease, a condition not understood at the time, was the more likely cause. See here and here.