Friday, 14 April 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: the wellbeing edition

The Thames gold fields were a treacherous place, so it comes as no surprise that the idea of setting up a local hospital is not much younger than the idea of setting up the gold field itself. In March 1868, just seven months after the gold field was proclaimed, a public meeting was held at Butt's American Theatre in Shortland (the site of Fresho’s fruit shop and the old information centre today) to discuss setting up Thames Hospital. Hundreds of people attended, all with the goal of making the fledgling town a safer place to live and work.

Searching for gold in the 1860s was a dangerous business. With most men living in tents or small huts in the first years of the gold field, it was easy to fall sick in the cold and muddy conditions before you even got as far as your gold claim. The tent city that first sprang up in Thames had little in the way of public amenities – no sewers and makeshift roads were the norm. The hunt for gold was physically and mentally demanding, with much of the gold found in quartz hidden deep underground in the hills. Accidents were common, as were illnesses caused by inhaling fumes and quartz dust. Getting professional medical help to injured miners could be a huge logistical nightmare.

The hospital’s opening in November 1868 was a huge cause for celebration, with the New Zealand Herald calling the new building ‘the most valuable institution yet established [on the Thames].’ Due to the hospital’s small size, it operated on a subscription system; while anyone could turn up in need of medical help, men who had subscribed to hospital tickets would take priority over those who had not, if there wasn’t enough space available. If you didn’t own a ticket, the doctors had the right to turn you away.

By February, however, Thames’ population explosion had already rendered the hospital far too small. The hospital had an average of ten indoor patients and twelve outdoor patients per day; although the New Zealand Herald noted that on the day it visited there were thirty outdoor patients, several of which should really be moved indoors. The Herald thought a new Thames Hospital would need space for about eighty patients to keep up with demand.

By November 1869, a year after the hospital opened, 101 patients had received treatment at the hospital. Eighty of those patients were from England or Ireland, and only seven had been born in New Zealand. Forty people had been involved in an accident, and only ten had subsequently died. The hospital had proved itself a huge asset to the frontier town.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: Thames Heritage Festival edition

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the March edition.

‘A Momentous Year:’ Thames’ Golden Jubilee, Part 1. An important meeting took place at St James' Hall in Grahamstown in April 1916. Prompted by a letter to the mayor asking what was being done to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Thames goldfields, the meeting was called to form a jubilee celebration committee. The anniversary itself was not until August 1917, so there was plenty of time to prepare - an exciting bright spot on the horizon for a country otherwise consumed by a world war. Thames was not, by 1916, the economic powerhouse it had once been, but its influence on the growth of Auckland made the jubilee nationally significant. News of the upcoming celebration quickly filtered through the nation's newspapers. The Auckland branch of the Old Thames Boys' Association quickly sprang into action, launching a letter-writing campaign to track down Thames pioneers now scattered across the world. The Old Thames Boys were an enthusiastic lot, enticing their fellow Aucklanders to the Coromandel with plans for a week-long jubilee carnival. 'But who will pay for it?' asked Thames' locals. Unimpressed letters to the editor of the Thames Star pointed out that 'the greatest war on earth is now in progress,' and Thames' inhabitants had already been hit in the pocket by wartime grocery prices and liberal donations to the patriotic fund. 'We, the British nation, have nothing to celebrate over,' wrote one correspondent. 'I fail to see how we can conscientiously invite our old associates of the early days of the field [to the jubilee festivities]... while at present I know of a great many who have their sons away fighting our cause,' wrote another. The jubilee committee enthusiastically continued its planning, despite concerns over costs and appropriateness. The next committee meeting proposed a 'jubilee celebration second to none yet witnessed in the Dominion,' including a mining and industrial exhibition, a ten-day carnival, a regatta, All Nations tug-of-war, Caledonian sports and fire brigade competitions. By early 1917, however, reality had dawned; these plans for the jubilee had been condensed into a four-day carnival to be held in Thames in summer, the February after the anniversary date. Meanwhile, the Old Thames Boys' Association planned a Thames pioneers' reunion at the Auckland Town Hall in August. In May, however, it seems the committee's initial enthusiasm was beginning to wane. Two separate letters to the editor pointed out that the jubilee was a little over eight weeks away, and the general public was none the wiser on what exactly was being planned. 'The talk of ten days of jollification and revelry seems to have died a natural death, but that is no reason why something befitting the occasion should not be arranged for August 1st,' wrote one person.  At the next committee meeting, it was decided to hold a series of small events in Thames on August 1st, to complement the Old Boys’ event in Auckland and advertise the summer’s bigger celebrations. With mere weeks to go, August 1st was declared a public holiday and an array of church services, dinners and concerts were hastily thrown together to mark the date of the goldfield’s proclamation. But would these plans come together?

Friday, 10 February 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: Romance Revisited edition

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the February edition.

A small scandal with a local connection rippled through the country’s newspapers in 1911. ‘Breach of Promise,’ shouted local papers near and far, as the story unfolded in Hamilton’s Supreme Court. The promise in question was between Alice Beatrice Barker, of Waihi, and Alexander Walter Bird, the foreman of Waihi’s Grand Junction battery. Miss Barker was claiming £551 in damages after breaking off the pair’s engagement, due to emotional stress caused by her fiancé’s negligence. 

The Bird family were well-known and highly respected in Thames. William Zaccheus Bird had forty-two years’ experience as a miner on the Thames gold fields; and at the time of their son’s engagement, he and his wife Mary were living at Waiotahi Creek with Alexander’s younger siblings (Alex’s sister, Gertrude, is my great-grandmother). In 1908, Alex Bird was living in Waihi, and making the acquaintance of Alice Barker. However, their promising romance did not go as planned. 

‘Love’s young dream had a prosaic termination at the Supreme Court,’ reported The Observer three years later in its Pars About People column. The paper called Alex a ‘dilatory wooer,’ recounting Alice’s frustration as Alexander spent nearly two and a half long years pursuing her, before finally proposing marriage in September. As soon as they were officially engaged, however, Alice claimed Alexander had almost immediately stopped showing interest in her. He rarely visited her at home, hardly ever wrote, and showed little interest in their upcoming January wedding. 

In his own defence, Alexander claimed he had been extremely busy working at the Grand Junction in the months following the proposal, to the point where even taking time off for his own wedding would have been inconvenient. He’d written to his bride mere days before the wedding, asking to move the ceremony to a later date, but had subsequently ignored her letters for the next three weeks. He admitted to the court he had intended to break off the engagement on Christmas Eve, but had been too frightened to do so. When Miss Barker began legal action against him in February 1911, he had offered to marry her the next day, but she instead broke off the engagement and left town in distress.

The jury awarded Alice £251 in both special and general damages.  ‘There’s money in breach of promise cases these days,’ noted the Observer, ‘and dilatory swains will have to watch themselves.’

The Observer ended their coverage of the case with a poem:
When Alexander Walter,
The jury’s verdict heard,
Let’s hope he’s no defaulter,
But cashed up like a Bird.

Friday, 20 January 2017

A first look at the Steampunk'd Thames, with Miss Archivy Daguerre-Rouge

Thames holds an annual Steampunk festival every November, and for the last two festivals I've been fortunate to be involved with the Academy of Futures Past events. For the 2016 festival, I gave two talks at the Academy - one was a lecture about my time at the 2015 Weekend at the Asylum (Europe's largest Steampunk festival), and the other was as part of a panel talk titled Steampunk 101.

Archivy Daguerre-Rouge is my steampunk alter-ego - I've toyed with aspects of her personality in the past, but the 2016 Academy was really the first time I've thought about her back-story. I've framed her as a new breed of historian - in her world, small-scale time travel is a parlour trick for the fabulously wealthy back in Merry Olde England, but when Archivy takes up a post as historian on the wild frontier of the Thames gold field, the old rules no longer apply. The Thames' steampunkers are flippant about the consequences of their new, stronger, augmented technologies, and things become murky as Archivy struggles to keep track of multiple contradictory timelines. Ultimately, she establishes the Forbidden Archive, a storage place for the ephemera of days that never were.

This piece is one written by Archivy and the lovely Domina Cattus Deus - in their world, it's a PSA for Gazette readers about the caffeine preferences on several notable historic Thames personalities one might find timeswept in the main street. In the real world, it's something my friend Shannon and I brainstormed after work one afternoon while I was researching my January Grahamstown Gazette article.

Archivy Daguerre-Rouge and Domina Cattus Deus

 Time travel is a thirsty business on the wild frontier of the Steampunk’d Thames. With the advent of quick, painless and vaguely accurate steam-powered time travel technology, zapping yourself or your friends through the vast unknown vortex of ether has never so easy. These days, you never know whose obscure great-grand uncle or parallel-universe evil twin you'll run into down at the tea parlour.

Fortunately for us, local historian and teapot enthusiast Miss Daguerre-Rouge has compiled - from her extensive notebooks on the Intricacies of Varied and Interesting Timelines on The Thames - a list of notable home-town heroes; each annotated with the Refreshing and Delightful beverages they enjoy whilst visiting the modern café scene.

·         Captain Butt, owner of the infamous Shortland Hotel on Butt's Corner - an Americano for now. Maybe something a bit stronger for later.

·         Sir George Grey, local MP and New Zealand Premier - your finest Earl Grey, in a fine china cup.

·         Robert Graham, recreational shipwreck survivor and founder of Grahamstown. And Tararu. And Ellislie – what’s the new Coffee of the Month?

·         Edgar Rigden Batten, Jean Batten's uncle and well-known Thames dentist - just chilled water, thanks, nothing too sugary.

·         Charles and Ruth Palmer, confectioners – Candy Cane Mochaccinos all round!!

·         Rev. Vicesimus Lush, prolific diary-keeper and local voice of reason – two flat whites: one suspended, one to go.

·         William Hall, founder of the eponymous local Arboretum – a Hazelnut Chai Latte.

·         Sir Keith Parks, the man who won the Battle of Britain - a Short Black; no milk, no sugar, no poncing around.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: the Cafe Edition

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the January edition.

From The Treasury:

Cafe culture as we know it today was a late arrival to Thames, although coffee was a popular addition to many grocery lists in the late nineteenth century. J. E Hansen, Grocer, in Shortland was selling coffee and milk for one shilling and sixpence in 1878 (cocoa and milk was a shilling and three pence). Instant coffee was invented in Invercargill by David Strang in 1889, revolutionising New Zealand’s relationship with store-bought coffee. ‘Strang's soluble coffee powder requires no boiling, but is made instantly with boiling water,’ reported the Otago Daily Times. ‘Then... it can be made in a breakfast cup and requires neither the use of pots nor the employment of experienced cooks.’ In the early decades of the twentieth century, you would still be hard-pressed to find anything resembling a cappuccino in Thames, but instant coffee was easy to find at Wood’s Grocers in Grahamstown.

Mrs. Beaton’s Dominion Cafe, on Pollen Street, was a popular local spot in 1909, and potentially one of the first establishments in Thames to style itself as a ‘cafe.’ According to her advertisements in the Thames Star, Mrs. Beaton sold afternoon tea, bacon and eggs, fish, pies, coffee, and oysters in season.

If you were walking down Pollen Street a hundred years ago, looking for a place to relax over a hot drink, you would have far more luck finding a tea room or refreshment lounge than a cafe. In 1913, The King’s Theatre in Grahamstown had refreshment rooms run by Miss Elsie Price, serving confectionary and hot and cold drinks. Next door at Halligan’s tea rooms and small goods bakery, one could expect ‘prompt attention, cleanliness and civility’ while ordering a fruit pie for three pence or birthday cake for two shillings and sixpence. Further up the road, Lewis’ Central Tea Rooms (telephone 29) also sold ‘high class confectionary,’ as well as ‘a dainty cup of tea.’ 

By 1920, you could find the Huia Tea Rooms, run by Mrs. Morrow, opposite the Brian Boru Hotel. Mrs. Morrow’s establishment was popular for its morning and afternoon teas, as well as sandwiches, soft drinks, pies and cakes.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Grahamstown Gazette: Friendship is Magic

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the December edition.

From The Treasury:

First, New Woman: "Come, Julie, let's go and have a friendship lunch together."
Second Ditto : '"Friendship lunch! What's that?"
First: "Why, you pay for mine and I'll pay for yours." (Thames Star, 26 November 1915)

Unlike today's local newspapers, the Thames Star at the turn of last century would often print funny little asides or short stories, like the one above, whenever it had more column space to fill than news or ads to fill it. Much like a modern internet meme, these jokes would circulate both nationally and internationally through the local newspapers, perhaps picking up a local twist for wherever they were published. Local newspapers would also regularly publish pieces of short fiction, or longer serialised works. Occasionally, you might also find a particularly good recipe or even an obituary doing the rounds. Without modern copyright laws, these texts were happily pirated by news editors and circulated freely throughout hundreds of newspapers, without much thought for their origins.

Here's a selection of short pieces and one-liners which graced the columns of the Thames Star:

Another Broken Friendship:
Miss Effie Aucee (just engaged) — ' What do you think Edwin said last night! That if he had to choose either me or a million pounds, he wouldn't even look at the million!
Miss May Tour (still waiting) —'Dear, loyal fellow! I suppose he didn't like to risk the temptation.' (26 May 1890)

An exchange says, "Matrimony is a noble institution. Not only does it unite man to his best friend, but it finds a good living for thousands of divorce lawyers." (8 June 1880)

What's, in a Name ?—one of the most guileless ministers in Scotland, an intimate friend of Dr. Guthrie's, was named Blackadder. (8 October 1874)

A fond mother in Valparaiso, on hearing that an earthquake was coming, sent her boys to a friend's in the country to escape it. After a few days she received a note from the friend, saying "Take your boys away and send along the earthquake instead." (4 November 1880)

Scribbler—  I have just lots of fun writing my jokes.' Friend— 'Then that explains it. I wondered where the fun came in.' (25 May 1891)