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.

The Novelty of Naples

In the summer of 1844, Charles Dickens moved with his family to Italy where he used Genoa as a base while he explored the country. A book about his experiences, Pictures From Italy, was published in 1846. He explained in his introduction that….

The greater part of the descriptions were written on the spot, and sent home, from time to time, in private letters …… a guarantee to the Reader that they were at least penned in the fulness of the subject, and with the liveliest impressions of novelty and freshness.

One of his excursions took him south to Rome and from there down the Via Appia through Fondi (which did not impress him), Itri, Capua, and finally, travelling along….

….. a flat road among vines festooned and looped from tree to tree; and Mount Vesuvius close at hand at last! – its cone and summit whitened with snow; and its smoke hanging over it, in the heavy atmosphere of the day, like a dense cloud. So we go, rattling down hill, into Naples.

Vintage postcard of the Bay of Naples.

A funeral is coming up the street, towards us. The body, on an open bier, borne on a kind of palanquin, covered with a gay cloth of crimson and gold. The mourners, in white gowns and masks. If there be death abroad, life is well represented too, for all Naples would seem to be out of doors, and tearing to and fro in carriages. Some of these, the common Vetturino vehicles, are drawn by three horses abreast, decked with smart trappings and great abundance of brazen ornament, and always going very fast. Not that their loads are light; for the smallest of them has at least six people inside, four in front, four or five more hanging on behind, and two or three more, in a net or bag below the axle-tree, where they lie half-suffocated with mud and dust. …..

Why do the beggars rap their chins constantly, with their right hands, when you look at them? Everything is done in pantomime in Naples, and that is the conventional sign for hunger. A man who is quarreling with another, yonder, lays the palm of his right hand on the back of his left, and shakes the two thumbs – expressive of a donkey’s ears – whereat his adversary is goaded to desperation. Two people bargaining for fish, the buyer empties an imaginary waistcoat pocket when he is told the price, and walks away without a word: having thoroughly conveyed to the seller that he considers it too dear. Two people in carriages, meeting, one touches his lips, twice or thrice, holding up the five fingers of his right hand, and gives a horizontal cut in the air with the palm. The other nods briskly, and goes his way. He has been invited to a friendly dinner at half-past five o’clock, and will certainly come.

All over Italy, a peculiar shake of the right hand from the wrist, with the forefinger stretched out, expresses a negative – the only negative beggars will ever understand. But, in Naples, those five fingers are a copious language.

All this, and every other kind of out-door life and stir, and macaroni-eating at sunset, and flower-selling all day long, and begging and stealing everywhere and at all hours, you see upon the bright seashore, where the waves of the bay sparkle merrily. But, lovers and hunters of the picturesque, let us not keep too studiously out of view the miserable depravity, degradation, and wretchedness, with which this gay Neopolitan life is inseparably associated!

Vintage monochrome RP postcard of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, Italy.

R.M.S. Olympic

White Star Line postcard of RMS Olympic.

Olympic and Titanic were the White Star reply to the [Cunard] Lusitania and Mauretania, but designed for more economical operation. Speed was the minimum necessary to allow a sailing every three weeks, but gross tonnage was increased to 40 per cent more than the Cunard greyhounds…… Work on Olympic commenced on December 16th, 1908; on Titanic, March 31st, 1909.

Vintage postcard of Cunard's RMS Mauretania.

Cunard’s Mauretania

Olympic’s maiden departure was on June 14th, 1911….. Westbound on September 20th, she seriously damaged the cruiser [H.M.S.] Hawke in collision in Spithead and had to cancel her voyage. An ingenious theory that the collision was due to suction caused by passage of Olympic’s massive bulk through the water was accepted at the subsequent enquiry but dismissed on appeal……..

Following the most terrible disaster in marine annals [sinking of the Titanic], Olympic made five more voyages and was then ordered to Belfast for major alterations. She had been designed to remain afloat with two compartments flooded, but building a complete inner skin, constructing extra bulkheads and increasing the height of others raised the number to six. Additional lifeboats were fitted to provide room for everyone on board. Olympic returned to work with a revised tonnage of 46,350 and 300 fewer First Class berths. In October 1914 she took the mined battleship [H.M.S.] Audacious in tow, but the warship sank before reaching safety. The White Star liner was afterwards requisitioned for transport work. On May 12th, 1918, when approaching France she was attacked by U.103. The submarine fired a torpedo* which missed the heavily laden troopship, but had approached too closely for her own safety and Olympic sank her assailant by ramming……

Olympic took her first post-war sailing on July 21st, 1920. Reconditioning had included conversion of her furnaces to oil-firing. She passed into the combined Cunard-White Star fleet in 1934 and on May 16th [15th] of that year sank the Nantucket Lightship ……in thick fog. Profitable employment was lacking for Olympic under the new regime and Jarrow shipbreakers bought her the following year.
‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, C.R. Vernon Gibbs. Staples Press, London. 1952.

*Later accounts confirm the crew of U.103 were unable to fire their torpedo before Olympic attacked.

Travelling by stagecoach

In the late sixties of last century [19th], when the “Diggings” were in full swing, there was an excellent service of coaches owned by Cobb & Co. Coaches left Dunedin daily by the main north and south roads; the distance covered each day was well over seventy miles, so that an early start was the rule.

stage west coast

Breakfast at 5 a.m. “with our hats on” was the beginning of the first journey alone for three little sisters who set off to spend a happy summer holiday with an elder sister in her home on the banks of the Molyneux River [Clutha].

Our own road down the Glen joined the South Road a mile or so out of Dunedin, and we had, therefore, no share in the bustle and importance of the daily start from the office in town. We had not long to wait before the coach appeared on the crest of the hill and rattled down towards us. Good-byes were said and last instructions given as the big coach pulled up with a swing and stood heaving and swaying on its great leather springs, while the harness creaked and clattered as the six big greys shook it, stamping with impatience at the delay.

We were soon in the places reserved for us at the back of the coach, where we would be well protected from the weather by big leather curtains – on this fine morning rolled up so that we might enjoy the pleasant country through which we drove.

Besides the seats of honour on the box and above it, there were four (or more) seats set across the interior – just hard wooden seats with very little padding and a wide leather strap for a back. The coaches were generally overflowing with diggers, usually very cheerful, confident that they were on their way to make their fortunes, or, still more cheerful, with fortunes in their pockets, on their way to town to spend them……

The number of horses in use by Cobb & Co. must have been enormous, and the quality was outstanding. Beautiful greys were always reserved for the entrance into town, and the procession of the Gold Escort was indeed a sight never to be forgotten. Armed out-riders led and followed the special coach bringing in the gold; and there was frequently a prisoner or two, in which case the armed guard on the box, and riding alongside, would be considerably increased.

Vintage postcard of two stagecoaches on the Christchurch to Greymouth road.

All that, however, was a thing of long past when, after my marriage, I travelled by coach, this time to my new home on the Maniototo Plain. The railway that was eventually to stretch from one end of the [South] Island to the other could now be used to shorten distances, and our coach journey began at Palmerston, following up the Shag river, to Naseby – one day’s journey. In the earlier days the coach had to break the journey for the night at a so-called accommodation house that bore the very descriptive name of Pig-root.

Some of my happiest recollections are of these old coach journeys to our up-country home, my children enjoying the adventure, tucked away inside the coach with their nurse. Of course, there were inevitable discomforts, but one could forget the bumping into and over frozen ruts on a winter’s morning when looking out on the frost-laden snowgrass, the sun covering the great white domes with jewels, and icicles veiling the blue depths of fairy halls below them.

The driver, appreciating my husband’s eye for a horse, always kept the box-seat for us, and his fund of yarns was inexhaustible, so that on many a drowsy summer afternoon their voices seemed to me to grow fainter and fainter as the coach wound up the sunny side of the Range. But, at the top, the fresh breeze in one’s face was like the meeting with an old friend, and, with a crack of the long whip and the rattle of loose swingle-trees, away we would go, down the long cutting and across the river-bed, till, in the cool dusk, sweet with the scent of the flax blossom and dewy tussock, we pulled up at the wayside hotel where we changed horses for the last stage that day.
J. M. Buchanan, a contributor to ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, 1940.

The stagecoaches illustrated here, with the popular five horse configuration, are similar to the one Mrs. Buchanan would have taken on her trip to Naseby. These coaches travelled some New Zealand “roads” until the early 1920s.

Artistic Licence

These two vintage postcards, published when London’s Admiralty Arch was still “new”, illustrate the liberties an artist could take with a scene compared to a photographer (in the days before Photoshop).

Admiralty Arch2

Tuck’s Oilette number 7975. One of a set of 12. First recorded use 1919.

In this view by H. B. Wimbush, Nelson’s Column has grown to a dizzying height and dwarfs the Arch. The domed tower on the right has not only been stretched but moved several hundred meters to the left. As you can see from the image below, it can’t actually be seen from this position at all. We can only speculate on why the artist put it there. It may have been simply to balance the composition. Digital photographers didn’t invent the art of bending reality – they were just catching up.

A vintage postcard of the new Admiralty Arch, London.

National Series. Published by M & L Ltd.

The truth is less exciting, although this image is so empty it must have been taken on a weekend in the off-season! Not much doubt about which card would have sold best. The message on the back of this one is more interesting than the front. The writer has dated it 16. 6. 16, although the last number has been over-written and could be 19. The message takes up all of the back so it must have been posted in an envelope, and we have no address for the recipient.

Dear Mrs Land,
Just had a note from Mabel to say she has settled down. Will try and get out to Richmond where she lives in a day or so. Everything went off just fine at the wedding and say – Tom Murray is a splendid fellow. Straight as you make them. Will see you soon as we are booked for U.S.A. on 28th this month. Have still the wee mascot so I’m safe.
Kind regards to Mr Land and self. A. R. Don.

It’s a tantalizing hint at the lives of several people and leaves more questions than answers. Was Mr. Don an American soldier being repatriated in 1919 after the war, or a private citizen braving the Atlantic U-boat menace in 1916? Whatever the case, he was superstitious enough to need a lucky charm. Did Mabel find it difficult to settle down and why, and was she the bride? Was the splendid Tom Murray the groom?

Maybe one of you fiction writers out there can exercise your own artistic licence, change the names, flesh out the characters, invent your own answers, and create a short story. I’m sure novels have been inspired by less.