29 June 2009

Every shining bonnet…


1952 Studebaker Champion


Sometimes I just can't function
My heart's spaghetti junction
Every shining bonnet
Makes me think of my back on it

(Elastica, ‘Car Song’)

Okay, so maybe I don’t get anywhere near as excited about cars as the delightfully louche Justine Frischmann of Elastica, who penned the above motoring-inspired ditty, but certainly my first trip to the Southward Car Museum yesterday with Catherine and Alastair proved to be a rewarding experience.  

The museum is located just north of Paraparaumu on the Kapiti Coast, and opened in 1979 to display the collection of Sir Len Southward.  These days it offers a rare chance to see an impressive range of vintage vehicles, from the workaday to the exotic.  Its collection of vastly rare early automobiles such as the 1895 Benz Velo and a 1904 Wolseley Tourer are doubtlessly extremely valuable as well as being of considerable historical importance, but the museum is at its strongest from the inter-war period to about 1960.  In this timeframe it offers dozens of cars, from the grand swoop of a 1934 Cadillac Town Cabriolet that was originally owned by Marlene Dietrich, with its bat-winged bonnet hiked into the air as if the huge car was about to lift into space, to the simplicity of a 1948 Austin 8 in a particularly un-fetching shade of postwar brown (similar to my grandad’s first car).

Aside from Dietrich there’s plenty of glamour on display, from the Back To The Future stalwart, the stainless steel DMC DeLorean, made at ruinous expense in Northern Ireland with a huge UK government subsidy, to the beautiful streamlining of a silver Mercedes-Benz Gullwing, a design that has yet to be surpassed for graceful sophistication.  But the museum sensibly also provides a more realistic overview of twentieth century motoring, and its in this respect that most motorists can enjoy the museum, because within its massive hangar (and downstairs in the newer basement display area) there’s a multitude of vehicles that all will remember from previous generations: cars that belonged to uncles, grandfathers and aunts.  It’s the Anglias, Morris Minors, Austins and Volkswagens that connect the Southward collection with the real world of everyday driving, and the museum is much stronger for their presence.


Marlene Dietrich’s 1934 Cadillac Town Cabriolet

Austin 8

1948 Austin 8


1904 Wolseley Tourer

Southward 1

One corner of the main car hangar at Southward

25 June 2009

Comparing energy use in Australia and New Zealand

Recently released statistics outline the different methods Australia and New Zealand use to power their economies.  The BP figures show that each country derives its energy from different sources.

Fuel consumption in 2008 (millions of tons of oil equivalent)

  Australia New Zealand
Oil 42.5 7.3
Natural gas 21.2 3.4
Coal 51.3 2.1
Hydro 3.4 5.0
Total 118.3 17.9


In July 2008 the population of Australia was estimated at 21.00 million, while New Zealand’s was estimated at 4.17 million, i.e. just about a five-to-one ratio (CIA Factbook figures).  The table shows that Australia consumes 6.6 times as much energy as New Zealand despite only having 5.03 times the population (it’s a bigger economy, obviously). 

The proportions of energy use types are also noteworthy, illustrating the substantially different approach to energy generation in each country:

Percent of total fuel consumption, 2008

  Australia New Zealand
Oil 35.9% 40.8%
Natural gas 17.9% 19.0%
Coal 43.4% 11.7%
Hydro 2.9% 27.9%
Total 100.0% 100.0%


(Note that the above information excludes the relatively small-scale renewable resource use that also provides some energy in both countries).

Clearly New Zealand is more reliant on oil imports to supply its energy needs: in 2008 Australia possessed oil reserves of 4.2 billion barrels, while New Zealand’s reserves were not significant enough to mention in BP’s report.  Natural gas usage is proportionately similar, but the big difference is in the alternate use of coal and hydro power.  Australia’s massive coal reserves were heavily tapped, providing 43 percent of Australia’s needs, while New Zealand coal use was the equivalent of 2.1 millions of tons of oil – only one twenty-fourth of Australia’s total coal use.  In comparison, New Zealand’s bountiful rainfall meant that it was able to make substantial use of its hydro-electric schemes to generate energy: over a quarter of New Zealand’s energy use came from this source, as opposed to under three percent of Australia’s energy.   

New Zealand’s balance of generation methods enabled the Ministry of Economic Development to state, in its December 2008 Energy Quarterly, that ‘due to the country’s high percentage of renewable sources utilised for electricity generation, New Zealand’s emissions intensity for electricity generation is very low by international standards’.  By way of comparison with Australia, the World Bank’s 2007 Little Green Data Book listed CO2 emissions statistics in 2007:

Comparing Australian and New Zealand CO2 emissions, 2007

  Australia New Zealand
CO2 emissions per unit of GDP 0.7 0.4
CO2 emissions per capita 17.8 8.7
CO2 emissions growth, 1990-2003 (%) 23.1 32.1


So while New Zealand can note that its per-unit and per-capita CO2 emissions are considerably lower than those in Australia, a note of caution should be sounded that New Zealand’s emissions are actually catching up with Australia’s! 

‘Europe is mad. The world is mad’

LandingSGeorgiaOne of the most famous exchanges in the twentieth century is recorded in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South!the account of his ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17, and the book that helped to secure Shackleton’s legacy as a leading exemplar of British heroism.

Shackleton and his crew set off from Plymouth in August 1914 at the outbreak of the Great War, having petitioned the Admiralty to offer their services to the war effort, only to receive a one-word telegram ordering them to ‘proceed’.  Apart from brief calls at Buenos Aires and South Georgia, the expedition was then completely out of contact with the outside world as the war progressed. 

The long and arduous entrapment of the expedition crew in the Antarctic ice are stuff of legend.  After the sinking of the Endurance in November 1915, the famous 1300km voyage of the tiny boat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia to summon aid is rightfully described as one of the greatest feats of maritime navigation in modern times. 

Upon finally reaching the Norwegian whaling station at Stromness in May 1916, the exhausted and relieved party begged for news of the outside world, having been totally isolated from developments.  Shackleton recites the scene in South!:

Shivering with cold, yet with hearts light and happy, we set off
towards the whaling-station, now not more than a mile and a half
distant.  The difficulties of the journey lay behind us.  We tried to
straighten ourselves up a bit, for the thought that there might be
women at the station made us painfully conscious of our uncivilized appearance.  Our beards were long and our hair was matted.  We were unwashed and the garments that we had worn for nearly a year without a change were tattered and stained.  Three more unpleasant-looking ruffians could hardly have been imagined. [Shackleton’s navigator, New Zealander Frank] Worsley produced several safety-pins from some corner of his garments and effected some temporary repairs that really emphasized his general disrepair.  Down we hurried, and when quite close to the station we met two small boys ten or twelve years of age. I asked these lads where the manager's house was situated.  They did not answer.  They gave us one look—a comprehensive look that did not need to be repeated.  Then they ran from us as fast as their legs would carry them.  We reached the outskirts of the station and passed through the "digesting-house," which was dark inside.  Emerging at the other end, we met an old man, who started as if he had seen the Devil himself and gave us no time to ask any question.  He hurried away.  This greeting was not friendly. Then we came to the wharf, where the man in charge stuck to his station. I asked him if Mr. Sorlle (the manager) was in the house.

"Yes," he said as he stared at us.

"We would like to see him," said I.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"We have lost our ship and come over the island," I replied.

"You have come over the island?" he said in a tone of entire disbelief.

The man went towards the manager's house and we followed him.  I learned afterwards that he said to Mr. Sorlle: "There are three funny-looking men outside, who say they have come over the island and they know you.  I have left them outside."  A very necessary precaution from his point of view.

Mr. Sorlle came out to the door and said, "Well?"

"Don't you know me?" I said.

"I know your voice," he replied doubtfully.  "You're the mate of the Daisy."

"My name is Shackleton," I said.

Immediately he put out his hand and said, "Come in.  Come in."

"Tell me, when was the war over?" I asked.

"The war is not over," he answered.  "Millions are being killed.
Europe is mad.  The world is mad."



[Above: Frank Worsley statue, Akaroa waterfront, 19 June 2009]

Shackleton’s associate, Frank Worsley (DSO and Bar, OBE, RNR), is the subject of an excellent exhibit at the Akaroa Museum on Banks Peninsula, which honours the town’s local hero.  Worsley (1872-1943) played a major role by captaining the Endurance and navigating the James Caird during its perilous open-sea voyage to South Georgia, and in 1931 wrote a highly successful account of the adventure, entitled Endurance.  The New Zealand Railways Magazine published a biographical piece on Worsley in October 1933 as part of its series on famous New Zealanders, and observed that:

If ever there was a man who could be described as a “Sailor of the Sail” it is Frank Worsley. And now, after a lifetime of hard-weather seagoing, when most men of his age are expectant of easy retirement, certainly when a man of his national services and achievements should be enjoying a comfortable pension, he is still ready for a job of adventure. For Worsley is one of those whose hearts are eternally young.

Worsley was a true adventurer.  He played an active role in Great War naval service, commanding a vessel that sank a German submarine, tried his hand at treasure-hunting in Central America in the 1930s and even tried to falsify his age to enlist in the Navy again as war returned in 1939.  Below is the reply he received from the Admiralty, pointing out that he was in fact aged 67, not 57:


Still, you can’t blame him for trying!

22 June 2009

A feeding frenzy


Every year a feverish mist descends upon Auckland City.  The streets fill up with shifty-eyed prowlers who patrol the city’s suburbs at kerb-crawling speeds, hoping to spy a treasure trove.  Because, you see, once a year Auckland holds its inorganic rubbish collection, and this is the cue for half the city to drive around for hours on end, on the lookout for a life-enhancing freebie amidst the ruins of another person’s junk. 

I’m not saying that at this time of year Auckland is akin to the slums of Mumbai, with urchins picking a living from the carcases of a consumer society.  But the collection does bring out that great character trait of New Zealanders: their unerring love of free stuff. 

There are only two problems.  Despite the threat of hefty fines, Aucklanders have begun to put out their refuse earlier and earlier, so as to allow scavengers more time to find items worth having.  And the earlier the junk is deposited on the grass verge, the longer there is for the collection of junk to mess up the neighbourhood, as kids play with the junk piles and the wind distributes the contents hither and yon.  And the longer the junk is on the verge, the longer there is for the passing scavengers to rummage through the material, and there’s no way to ensure that they leave the pile as tidy as they found them.  (I should add that the pile pictured above, which is in our street, is a fairly well-organised one).

The inorganic collection is one of Auckland’s foibles: in Wellington, there’s still space in the city’s valley-filling public landfill, at least for the time being.  And it’s nice to see the spirit of recycling taking hold of the city and encouraging people to re-use other people’s discarded but often perfectly serviceable goods.  But as with many issues that develop in a city of over a million people, the collection brings its own problems, with unsightly heaps of rubbish hanging around Auckland streets for weeks on end.  It also encourages wasteful habits, because consumers are not held directly responsible for the cost of their large-scale rubbish disposal.  These concerns and others are summarised in the 21st century equivalent of talkback radio whining, the Herald’s Your Views column (from November 2008). 

The Herald has also reported on the clever Waitakere City Council scheme to offset the cost of collection by refitting and on-selling broken-down appliances that turn up in the city’s collection.  That story contains an interesting lead for a possible longer-term approach to Auckland’s inorganic rubbish collection.  Free inorganic collection has ceased in Waitakere, and now residents must pay for a collection, which occurs inside their property, rather than on the street.  This defrays some of the cost of collection and prevents junk cluttering up city streets.  When the amalgamated Auckland Super City begins operating, here’s hoping it will adopt Waitakere’s approach rather than stick with the old-fashioned Auckland City approach.    

12 June 2009

The lifeblood of a young colony

Schooner on calm waters - 1850s (ATL collection)

(Pic: ‘Schooner on calm waters’ by Charles Heaphy, 1850s (?), Alexander Turnbull Library collection)

Shipping in Wellington, 1850-1870

In the 19th century travel between towns in New Zealand was dictated by the rugged and often impassable terrain of the intervening bush, with fast-flowing rivers and treacherous hills often preventing the construction of safe roads.  Railways did not spring up until the 1870s, and even then it took decades for the most troublesome terrain to be breached.  The North Island main trunk line between Auckland and Wellington was not completed until 1908, so for a generation of travellers a journey between the two cities generally involved a sea journey in boisterous waters, either the whole way or via New Plymouth, which was linked to Wellington by rail from 1886 onwards.

Aside from the ever-present demand for passenger transport, the burgeoning colonial economy required a busy transport infrastructure to move farm produce and timber to markets, and distribute the consumer wares imported from England and other nations.  The terrible state of the roads meant that much of the longer-range intra-colonial transportation in New Zealand was undertaken by coastal shipping.  Larger vessels linked the main ports, initially sailing ships but later steamers as well; these fed consumer goods to merchants and brought commodities for shipping to the eager markets of England or Australia.  Smaller boats also played a vital role, acting as the Victorian equivalent of modern delivery trucks, dispatching individual cargoes to tiny ports in the colonial hinterland that could not attract the larger vessels.

Wellington was founded in 1840, and was the first New Zealand Company settlement.  Its central location on Cook Strait assisted the town’s commercial growth, as its superb harbour, Port Nicholson, became an ideal point of trans-shipment for the entire colony.  From the very beginning of the colony, shipping links were of the utmost importance to the Wellington economy, and particularly to its shopkeepers:

[In Wellington in the 1840s] the shops sold a practical range of merchandise, as was evident by the number of bakers, butchers, clothiers, furnishers, tobacconists, ironmongers, saddlers and chemists.  All their stock arrived by sea, either from other New Zealand ports or Australia and England, and was distributed from bond stores and warehouses.  New bulk shipments were advertised widely in the newspapers and caused much excitement among shoppers.

- Terence Hodgson, Colonial Capital: Wellington 1865-1910, Auckland, 1990

The shipping advertisements mentioned above often form the largest part of the slim colonial newspapers of the time.  Online resources such as Papers Past now enable us to examine newspaper archives of the time with ease, so as a small project I decided to examine shipping reports in Wellington over three decades, to see if there were any noticeable changes.  To do this, I examined three Wellington newspapers, each printed on or around Waitangi Day – one each from 1850, 1860 and 1870.  (By 1880 Wellington had a rail link to Masterton, and by 1891 the capital’s rail links extended to New Plymouth and Napier, so by that time coastal shipping occupied a less pivotal role in the colonial transport infrastructure).  By the time of the 1870 publication, Wellington had become the national capital, the seat of government having moved from Auckland in 1865.

6 February 1850: The New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian

For those seeking passage out of Wellington, the front page of the Spectator advertises the availability of accommodation on the regular trading clipper barque Cornelia (372 tons), which was shortly bound for London direct, while for those wishing to travel southwards, the ‘fine fast sailing schooner’ Dolphin was advertising for passengers to Otago.  (Dunedin had been founded two years earlier in 1848; the first of the settler ships to populate the new colony at Christchurch did not arrive until December 1850, ten months after this newspaper was published). 

Page 2 also contains passage advertisements for the ‘fine fast sailing barque’ Woodstock (300 tons), bound for London direct on 1 March, and ‘to sail positively on the 10th February, the fine fast sailing first-class Barque’ Thames (407 tons), bound for California.  The latter would doubtless be carrying passengers stricken by gold fever, given news of the great Californian gold rush of 1849 had already reached New Zealand, although one commentator of the time believed otherwise.  In an essay lambasting Auckland, a New Zealand Company agent wrote in 1851 that:

As an instance of colonisation, it was altogether rotten, delusive and Algerine.  The population had no root in the soil, as was proved by some hundreds of them packing up their wooden houses and rushing away to California, as soon as the news of that land of gold arrived.  In Cook’s Straits not half a dozen persons were moved by that bait.

- William Fox, The Six Colonies of New Zealand, London, 1851 

(Fox later entered politics and achieved four terms as Premier).

Other front page advertisements record the contents of ship manifests from the Cornelia and others including the Minerva, William and Alfred, Inconstant, Kelso, Pekin and Thames.  The ship cargoes, some of which had arrived up to several months previously, reflected the demands of a burgeoning young colony, with building supplies and grog featuring prominently.  As an example, here’s the advertisement of Hervey Johnston & Co. (which was originally published on 21 November 1849):

For sale ex “William [and] Alfred”

  • First quality Sydney flour in 100lb bags
  • Hunt’s treble diamond Port Wine in quarter cases
  • Manila cigars, Nos. 2 and 3 (new numbers)
  • Manila coffee
  • Qr. cases of Glenlivat Whiskey, 11 o.p.
  • Rice and Scotch Pearl Barley
  • An assortment of Drapery suitable to the present wants of the market, consisting of:
    • Bleached Linen Drills assorted
    • Rough Hollands, Osnaburghs
    • Brown Cheese Cloths
    • Irish Linens, &c., &c.

The newspaper’s shipping intelligence column shows a busy harbour, with 16 commercial vessels in port ranging from the hefty Inconstant (589 tons), which later became Plimmer’s Ark, and General Palmer (573 tons), down to a selection of much smaller schooners and cutters ranging from 15 to 82 tons.  These were joined by three naval vessels visiting the port: HMS Fly (18 guns), the training ship HMS Havannah (19 guns), which (if I have identified it correctly) was so elderly that it had an illustrious history in Napoleonic War actions, and HMS Acheron (a 6-gun paddle steamer). 

The important role played by the smaller vessels is seen in the details of the cargo of the schooner Old Man (15 tons) under Captain Smith, which arrived in Wellington from the Manuwatu on 4 February, carrying a cargo of ‘3 1/2 tons wool lashing, 1 ton flax, 128 planks’.

Departures listed over the past week included six small vessels dispatched to various parts of the colony: Taranaki, Port Victoria (soon to be renamed Lyttelton), Manuwatu, Castle Point, ‘Castle Point and Otago’, and Waikanae.  The latter run, by the 8-ton schooner Emma Jane (8 tons, Captain Brown), indicates how even settlements in close proximity to Wellington were easiest reached by sea.  The Emma Jane’s cargo shows the many requirements of the colonial way of life: ‘1 chest tea, 2 bags sugar, 1 case gin, 1 hhd. [hogshead?] brandy, 1 bag sugar, 1 bag salt, 1 box soap, 1 package canvass, 3 casks bottled porter, 1 bag flour, 1 bag bread, 4 flagstones, 10 bags flour, 1 cask beer, 3 bags potatoes’.

7 February 1860: The Wellington Independent

Ten years later the Wellington Independent portrays a stronger, wealthier colony.  While the 1850 newspaper was four sheets long and bore almost no embellishments such as illustrative engravings, the Independent in 1860 is six pages long and boasts several sizeable engravings, including a huge graphic on page six advertising Lewis Moss’ clothes for men: pictured are fine items such as the Double-Breasted Oxonian jacket and Lewis Moss’ Self-Adjusting Trousers.  

Self-adjusting trousers (1860)

Readers requiring passage out of New Zealand were served by a multitude of prominent advertisements, and those seeking passage to London would have noted messages offering places on clippers such as the Melbourne, Eclipse, Wild Duck, Zealandia, and the Robert Small.  A new sense of punctuality is evident in the advertisement for the Arthur Willis, Gann & Co. line of packet-boats to London, with a list of 11 large sailing vessels ranging in size from 800 to 1600 tons making the long journey on regular schedules.  Closer to home, the clipper brigantine Ariel was loading freight and passengers for Melbourne via Nelson and New Plymouth, and a sign of modernity was evident in the listings for two steam vessels making domestic journeys: the SS Oberon was intending to run fortnightly between Wellington and Otago, while the SS White Swan was seeking passengers and freight for Napier and Auckland ‘on or about the 1st and 14th of every month’.  (The White Swan entered the headlines two years later when it sank whilst carrying government officials and records to Wellington).   

Also of note is the connection between the popular sport of horse racing and the shipping trade.  The size of the advert on page 2 for the 1860 Hutt River Races, to be held on 14 and 15 March, indicates considerable public interest in the event.  This interest is echoed in the page 1 advert for a special sailing of the well-known steamer, SS Wonga Wonga:

Canterbury Races

February 14th, 15th, and 16th, 1860. 

The SS “Wonga Wonga”, Capt. RENNER, will be despatched for Lyttelton, (should there be a sufficient number of passengers engaged previous to the 1st February), on SATURDAY, 11th February, at noon, and return direct to Wellington on the 17th February, the day after the Races are concluded.  DUNCAN & VENNELL, Agents, 24th January, 1860.

While this might not seem particularly noteworthy, it is worth observing that a mere 20 years after the founding of the colony a substantial commercial venture – a speculative ship charter of a sizeable vessel – was undertaken with the understanding that there was sufficient consumer demand for summer holiday transportation hundreds of kilometres south for a sporting fixture.  It is unlikely that the journey was in doubt at the time of publication, given the 1 February deadline had already passed, so presumably the promoters were seeking a few more passengers to fill out the manifest.     

The scale of intra-colony passenger transport can be seen in the shipping intelligence column, which amongst a broad selection of ship movements records the visit of the Airedale:

The I.C.R.M. Company’s steamer Airedale, Captain Johns, arrived in this harbour on Wednesday last, from Manukau, Taranaki and Nelson.  She brought 20 cabin, and 93 steerage passengers besides a fair cargo of merchandise.  The steerage passengers are parties who proceeded to Auckland under the land regulations of that province, and are now on the way to Otago.  The Airedale sailed the same day as she arrived, for Canterbury and Otago, with 28 cabin and 97 steerage passengers.

The complicated itinerary of the Airedale shows the nature of the trade, with vessels making numerous stops at ports the length of the country rather than relying solely on single point-to-point journeys.  Under this arrangement, a passenger wishing to travel on the Airedale from New Plymouth to Wellington would have to make an intermediate stop at Nelson before arriving at Port Nicholson.  

It’s also worth noting that the column lists the names of the Airedale’s cabin passengers, but only a few of the steerage passengers’ names.   

Stock manifests, which appeared in a prominent location in the 1850 newspaper, now appeared further in on page four and six of the 1860 equivalent.  This indicates that while the contents of ship cargoes was still newsworthy enough to form part of advertising campaigns.  If the adverts are a reliable guide to consumer tastes, then Wellingtonians were most eagerly awaiting the arrival of alcohol and clothes, with plentiful quantities of booze and a wide variety of fabrics for sale.  While many of the adverts are too long to quote in full, one briefer note placed by W & G Turnbull & Co. is fairly representative:

Ex “Countess of Fife”

  • 200 doz. Ginger Wine
  • 240 doz. Bottled Stout, Quarts
  • 160 doz. Bottled Stout, Pints
  • 16 cases assorted drapery
  • 2 cases Candied Peel

Overall, the 1860 newspaper indicates a stronger economy befitting a mature colonial town, with considerably more plentiful shipping services and a wider range of merchandise delivered by those services. 

7 February 1870: The Evening Post

By 1870 Wellington was 30 years old, and was firmly established as the nation’s capital.  The four-page Evening Post contains three noteworthy items distinguishing it from the 1860 newspaper. 

First, on page 1, an advert for Cobb & Co.’s Telegraph Line of Royal Mail Coaches from Wellington to Patea, apparently a new service, indicates that land transportation was becoming more feasible.  The Post indicates that the journey was scheduled to take two days from end to end, with an overnight stopover in Wanganui.  (The Post’s back page also details the company’s services to the Wairarapa, departing every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning). 

Second, the report of the coach’s progress and of other details in the Post’s shipping intelligence column is labelled as being received ‘by electric telegraph’.  By 1870 improved land transportation had also been joined by instantaneous communication to various parts of the colony, enabling details of the overseas newspapers to be transmitted to most parts of the country when they reached a New Zealand port.  (Here’s a map of the telegraph network in 1868; the country was not linked to Australia, and therefore the rest of the Empire, by an international undersea telegraph cable until 1876).

Third, the front page advert placed by the Provincial Government of Otago seeking tenders for the construction of the Otago Southern Trunk Railway from Dunedin to Balclutha indicates that the railway construction boom that was to grip New Zealand in the 1870s and provide strong competition for coastal shipping was just around the corner.

The Post’s shipping adverts are clustered on page 3.  Passengers wishing to depart New Zealand are served by only one advert, and that for a departure from Auckland - that of the Circular Saw Liner Alice Cameron, bound for New York via the whaling port of New Bedford, Massachusetts.  The clipper Melita was also advertising its upcoming trip from Wellington to London, but this appears to be solely for a cargo of wool rather than paying passengers.

The newspaper lists plenty of New Zealand and trans-Tasman shipping routes though, and these are well developed when compared with earlier decades.  The Circular Saw Line lists three ships on provincial routes including the venerable Airedale, still making the same multi-stop journey as in 1860.  McMeckan, Blackwood & Co.s’ steamers show the range of ports offered by one shipping line in a calendar month:

Messrs. McMeckan, Blackwood & Co.’s steamers are appointed to leave Wellington on or about the following dates during the month of February:

10th – RANGITOTO, for Nelson, Greymouth, Hokitika and Melbourne

15th – TARARUA, for Lyttelton, Otago, Bluff and Melbourne

22nd – CLAUD HAMILTON, for Lyttelton, Otago, Bluff and Melbourne

OMEO, for Nelson, Greymouth, Hokitika and Melbourne.

For freight or passage, apply to N.Z.S.N. Co. Limited, Agents.

It is interesting to note that in 1870 it was possible to travel directly to Melbourne from Hokitika and Bluff!

The shipping intelligence column, as mentioned above, contains not only port movements from Wellington, but also telegraphic reports from Port Chalmers, Lyttelton, Napier and Hokitika, so interested parties could determine if a ship containing loved ones or valuable cargoes had reached its destination unscathed.  (For a more detailed understanding of the effect that the telegraph had on the 19th century society and economy, read Tom Standage’s excellent book, ‘The Victorian Internet’). 

The Wellington shipping report contains the standard mentions of small and medium-sized vessels travelling to and from regional ports, with the smallest ship being Captain Thompson’s ketch Mosquito (14 tons) from the Manuwatu, which had arrived at Wellington on the day of publication.  Expected arrivals included the SS Rangitoto ‘from Melbourne, via the South’ on the 9th, and the William Cargill from London.

As in 1860 the summer season encouraged a holidaymaking venture.  The Airedale had departed on the morning of publication with no less than 500 excursionists on board for a journey to Picton in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds.  In its large editorial columns, the Post commented:

The excursion trip of the Airedale to Queen Charlotte’s Sound seems to have taken remarkably well, and to have exceeded the expectations of those who projected it.  As many as could possibly find room got on board this morning at the wharf – people who professed to be adepts at reckoning live stock said there were 500 – and about a hundred more were, with the utmost difficulty, kept back.  Whether or not they all paid the 5s will remain something of a mystery.  The weather being so beautifully fine, there is little doubt that the trip will be a very pleasant one.  Five hundred excursionists landing at once in Picton, will be quite an event for that forlorn town.  Had the N.Z. Co. have prepared another steamer to start an hour after the Airedale, it is most likely that she would have picked up a full freight.  These excursions afford a very pleasant and healthy means of enjoying a day’s relaxation, and it is to be hoped the idea will not be allowed to drop.

The regularity of shipping services and the scale of one-off events like the Airedale day charter show that the shipping lanes were still of considerable importance to Wellington and New Zealand in general.  Later years would see a diversification into other modes of transport, but the changes in shipping networks from 1850 to 1870 mirror the growth of the colony from a fledgling settlement into a capital city and centre of trade.  

11 June 2009

Yet another blog project

As if two blogs and assorted photo-sharing sites weren’t enough, this week I decided to add another blog to the stable.  Rock Vocab is my excuse to post videos of some of my favourite songs, with the catch that they have to deploy interesting or unusual lyrics, with the premise that the blog will highlight tracks that have expanded the rather limited vocabulary that rock and pop lyrics tend to rely upon.  (‘Ooh baby, yeah baby, I love you bayyyybeee…’). 

I’ve always appreciated the effort when a songwriter shows the richness of the English language, and with any luck the random function on my iPod will spit out plenty of examples that I’ve forgotten along the way.  Perhaps it’ll also encourage me to stay a little more in touch with current releases, given that I’m usually loath to listen to commercial radio.

Despite my love of interesting lyrics, I’ve often discovered the words of a song after being drawn in by the tune or the vocal performance.  Perhaps that’s got something to do with having both a love of great pop hooks, coupled with mildly duff hearing, so I have to listen quite carefully to pick up specific lyrics.  Sometimes it’s nigh-on impossible, like when John Martyn is slurring his woozy way through some late-night number, when rapid rappers befuddle me with quick-fire machine-gun delivery, or when American singers (and increasingly, their New Zealand emulators) drown their performances in show-off melismatic frippery (‘I-eee-I-eee-I will always love yooo-ooo-uuu-uuu…’), unleashing a soulless vocal dexterity that ultimately overshadows the quality of the song. 

I guess a good lyric is like a well-written story: anything that can surprise the listener with an innovative approach is worth examining.  With any luck there’ll be plenty of material for the blog.  Suggestions welcome!

03 June 2009

An imperial requiem

Ann Morrow’s 2006 book, Cousins Divided: George V and Nicholas II, paints an interesting picture of the long-standing relationship between two imperial cousins, which was curtailed by the Bolshevik Revolution’s overthrowing of the Russian Empire in 1917, and was finally exterminated by the Bolsheviks’ assassination of Nicholas, the Tsarina, all their children and key royal servants in Ekaterinburg in July 1918. 
George (1865-1936), the grandson of Queen Victoria, and Nicholas (1868-1918), the husband of Victoria’s favourite granddaughter, bore a striking resemblance to one another.  Their immaculately-groomed beards and handlebar moustaches, similar heights and predilection for military garb often found them being mistaken for one another when on royal visits.  Each monarch was dedicated to the duty of their birthright and doted on their wives (Mary of Teck in George’s case; Alix of Hesse in Nicholas’).  Both also struggled to come to terms with rapid social changes in their countries that called into question the validity of their reign.  But while George managed these challenges and emerged as a successful and admired king, Nicholas retreated into the rarefied and almost absurdly privileged isolation of his immediate family and failed to adapt when his country slid into anarchy, which ultimately led to his death and the deaths of his family.
Morrow, a former royal court correspondent for the Telegraph, gained widespread access to royal correspondence to inform her book.  It charts the long course of the cousins’ relationship, which was sustained through lengthy correspondence and much-cherished extended family gatherings.  The often charmingly unaffected letters provide strong evidence of the warmth of the relationship between the King and the Tsar, which was in stark contrast to the rather chilly links with that other grandson of Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (1859-1941).  But the fact remains that when imperial Russia was dissolving in a riotous panic during the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, which led to Nicholas being forced to abdicate his throne, George failed to offer a lifeline of refuge to the Russian imperial family, despite earlier indications from Britain that this would occur.  Ultimately, it seems, the King put the security of his own kingdom as the highest priority above the safety of his Romanov relatives: fearful of a British workers’ uprising akin to that in Russia, the Romanovs were not offered safe haven in Britain. 
The last ten chapters of the book are the most stirring and insightful, chronicling the ever-increasing chaos in Russia before and after Nicholas’ abdication, the fallout from the brutal government-ordered murder of not only Nicholas but also his wife and children, and the much later exhumation of their remains in the post-Soviet era for reburial in the chapel of the St Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.  Here Morrow describes the reburial ceremony on 17 July 1998, the eightieth anniversary of the murders:
The imperial requiem epitomised all the lusciously emotional extravagance of the Russian Orthodox Church; the music had never sounded more poignant, as the bearded priests in gold and cream-embossed silk robes recited the canticles in deep, resonant voices.
As Nicholas II’s coffin was lowered into the earth to the sound of muffled drums, the entire Romanov family [the remnants of which had returned from around the world for the ceremony] sank to their knees.  His simple coffin was placed in a vault in the whitewashed crypt, the traditional resting place of the Romanov ancestors, and a nineteen-gun salute was fired across the Neva.
As the Romanovs left after the ceremony, a press of people crowded around them, saying “Forgive us, forgive us…”  This recurring lament was almost too much for some of the Tsar’s more elderly relatives.
The only criticisms I have to offer about the style of Morrow’s book is that the first two-thirds is devoted to a rather dense, spillikins-jumble of royal anecdote and parenthetical observations about obscure members of both families, which is at times hard to follow.  Morrow’s willingness to write about important events in George and Nicholas’ lives simultaneously when the events being discussed actually occurred years apart also ran the risk of confusing the overall narrative and placing events in a misleading historical context.  These caveats aside, Cousins Divided is still an interesting project and is worth reading, particularly for those with an interest in Russian history and the demise of the Romanovs.
Below, pictures taken on my July 2008 trip to Russia: the Romanovs’ graves and the chapel in which they reside, in the St Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.
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