For amateur historians and trivia collectors everywhere

Location: Masterton, New Zealand

I survived school history despite the best efforts of the education system to bore me to death. Many years later, I discovered Treaties, dates, the movement of nations, are mere context. The fascination is in the details.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Horatio Nelson was born this day in 1758, at Burnham Thorpe parsonage, Norfolk, England.
From Carola Oman, prize-winning author of 'Nelson' (1947) -

It is the curious truth that many of the facts most widely known in connection with Nelson are partly, or wholly, mistaken. Nelson lost the sight of his right eye amongst the mountains of Corsica, not at sea, and he never lost the eye and never wore a patch over it; though he sometimes wore a green shade to protect his 'good' eye.
He next lost his right arm, but not in one of his spectacular victories, and again not at sea, but before he had fought the Nile, Copenhagen or Trafalgar. [At Santa Cruz, 1797]
He was unemployed from the age of twenty-seven until he was thirty-two. He first met Lady Hamilton for a few hours when he was thirty-five, and not again until he was forty.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

From 'The Expansion of England' by J. R. Seeley, 1883 -
You see, the [Indian] mutiny was in a great measure put down by turning the races of India against each other. So long as this can be done, and so long as the population have not formed the habit of criticising their Government whatever it be and of rebelling against it, the government of India from England is possible, and there is nothing miraculous about it. But .... if this state of things should alter, if by any process the population should be welded into a single nationality, .... then I do not say we ought to begin to fear for our dominion, I say we ought to cease at once to hope for it. ....
.... the moment a mutiny is but threatened, which shall be no mere mutiny, but the expression of a universal feeling of nationality, at that moment all hope is at an end, as all desire ought to be at an end, of preserving our Empire. For we are not really conquerors of India, and we cannot rule her as conquerors; if we undertook to do so, it is not necessary to inquire whether we could succeed, for we should assuredly be ruined financially by the mere attempt.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

From 'The Indian's Side of the Indian Question' by William Barrows D.D., 1887 -
Greed for Indian lands, miserable white neighborhoods, and bass passion have been the constant enemy of Indian elevation, and have often added to his barbarism and profligacy. Moreover, the average sentiment west of the Mississippi concerning the Indian is that he is a worthless remnant of his race, and incapable of elevation to the average American grade; and it is no harsh judgment to express that the two-thirds of our domain thus indicated would greatly prefer a civil and moral quarantine between them and an Indian community - the breadth of a State or Territory. This is the gentler way with some of saying that the best Indian is a dead Indian. I once saw an unpopular candidate carry, as with a whirlwind, a doubtful campaign in Colorado, under the popular war-cry, "The Ute must go!".....
Our failures in the Indian policies for a century have not come so much from the lack of fair legislation. .... The ends sought by the law have not been desired in those sections of the country where the law must be administered, and by the people who must administer it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

This day in 1839, Colonel William Wakefield of the New Zealand Company bartered with Maori for what is now Wellington Harbour. His nephew, E. J. Wakefield, wrote -
..... when all the articles had been selected and arranged, a message was sent on shore for all the chiefs, who came accompanied by their sons. They examined the stock of [trade] goods strictly and carefully, and approved of the quality and quantity. They seemed, however, embarrassed as to the distribution among the six minor tribes of which the population was composed. It was therefore proposed to them to divide the lots on our deck.....
It was plainly contrary to the custom of the Maori to dispose of so important an affair without plenty of talking; so they debated in due form as to the course to be adopted in distributing the goods; and Wharepouri, as he had been repeatedly urged by us, used his best endeavours to prevent the occurrence of one of those fierce and sometimes fatal scrambles which Barrett and the other white men told us were the universal consequence of a large present of goods to any of these tribes.
Puakawa [Te Puwhakaawe] addressed another violent harangue to the assemblage, disuasive of the whole measure....... 'What will you say,' urged he, 'when you find that you have parted with all your land from the Rimurapa to the Turakirae [headland], and from the Tararua [mountains] to the sea?..... What will you say..... when many, many white men come here, and drive you all away into the mountains? How will you feel when you go to the white man's house or ship to beg for shelter and hospitality, and he tells you, with his eyes turned up to heaven, and the name of his God in his mouth, to be gone, for that your land is paid for?'

Among the many practical articles offered could be found 1 gross of Jews harps, 60 red nightcaps, and - 2 pounds of beads.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

This day in 1905, a rabid anti-Asian campaigner called Lionel Terry walked down Haining Street in Wellington, picked out a Chinese man seemingly at random and shot him dead. When tried for the murder of Joe Kum Yung, Terry defended his action as a service to the public.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Pioneer cuisine
While working as a boundary rider on his uncle's sheep station, G. L. Meredith tries to make bread -
"... I was a bit excited about having a breakfast off my first loaf. I fried a couple of chops in the camp oven; made my tea in the billy; squared my shoulders, and started to cut the first slice off the loaf with my sheath-knife. The knife slithered along the outside of the loaf. I stood up to my job; but do what I might the knife resolutely refused to enter that loaf. I began to suspect that the flour could not have been all that it should have been; but meanwhile my chop and tea were getting cold; so there was nothing else for it but the tomahawk. With this I managed to hack a hunk off one side; but I had to "mellow it" with the back of the tommy before it was soft enough to bite.
....I gave the balance of my first to my collie, who amused himself trying to cut his wisdom teeth on it.
I managed to get the next loaf better. I "set" it before breakfast, intending to bake it at night. It wasn't an unqualified success, as the cat had been roosting on it whilst I was away. I covered it with a clean dish-cloth and a bit of blanket to keep it warm, and pussy found it a very comfortable spot for a snooze. If she could have spoken, she would probably have pleaded that she was protecting it from the rats, which are very numerous in New Zealand. They are a graniferous variety, with a dark fur. The Maoris eat them."
(Source: Adventuring in Maoriland in the Seventies, G. L. Meredith, 1935.)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Australia, 1840 - From 'Poenamo' by John Logan Campbell -
From the Lachlan River I made another long tour, and in all spent three months travelling through the country, which gave me a perfect idea of that part of Australia, and of the description of life that had to be led and the social intercourse that existed. And the conclusion that my sapient youthdom arrived at was that the whole thing would not do for me.
I concluded that if I turned squatter and kept sheep with my nearest civilised neighbour fifty miles off, and with only my fellow-men of the released chain-gang kind to look at, the chances would be that I should soon lose the half-memory with which I had been born, and become little better than the sheep I had intended to own.
And there was still more cogent reason, and of a pecuniary kind .... for determining not to turn squatter - the price of stock was at such an exorbitant rate, some eight to nine pounds a head for cattle, and forty shillings for "maiden ewes," that my small capital was nowhere.
Add to this, moreover, that at this epoch of Australia's history the assignment system was done away with, so that the hitherto cheap free convict labour, which had been no inconsiderable element in the profits of wool-growing, had now to be replaced by free very dear labour.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Loss of the Pamir - This day in 1957 the sailing ship Pamir sank in a hurricane south-east of the Azores. There were only 6 survivors from the 86 people on board. A German film about the tragedy is currently in production with the Russian sail training ship Sedov standing in for the Pamir.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Vietnam - First the French tried to stop the Red tide, aided by the U.S.A. Then America, aided by Australia and New Zealand. Millions killed and maimed on all sides and the consequences are still with us. Yet, on this day in 1977, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was admitted to the United Nations.
The old cliche about the "futility of war" is oft repeated (oft by the mealy-mouthed hypocrites who sell us wars in the first place), but can you think of a better illustration?
Sorry folks - can't keep it "lite" all the time.

Footnote: For some inhabitants of Vietnam it seems the war is not yet over.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Votes for Women - On 19th September 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote. Such is the national pride for this "world-leading" event, we sometimes forget that the Territory of Wyoming (1869) and the Isle of Man (1881) beat us to it. But, as it can be argued they weren't self-governing nations, New Zealand claims the credit.
Follow the local struggle in this overview, and click to the world timeline (right column) for some interesting comparisons. France? - shameful! A more detailed New Zealand story can be found on this archived page from the 100th anniversary.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Meetings and paintings - Attended the A.G.M. of the N.Z. Ship and Marine Society in Wellington's historic Bond Store building yesterday. The society has members worldwide and always welcomes more. Take a look at our new, improved, completely re-designed web site and see what you get for a very small annual subscription.
Took the opportunity to visit the Museum of Wellington, in the same building, and see their exhibition "A Shepherd and his Ships" - 70 ship paintings by Frank Barnes (1859-1941). Barnes is classed as a "naive" painter, although some of his best work approaches the detail of draughtsmanship. Not much is known about him except that he probably jumped ship in Wellington and was a loner with a binge drinking problem. He worked as a shepherd and boundary rider on a coastal property owned by the Riddiford family.
Sadly, Frank Barnes is buried in an unmarked grave. Donations in the box provided at the exhibition will, hopefully, rectify that.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Genealogists take note - In future, when this nifty gadget hits the market, your research will become much more entertaining.
From Wellington's Dominion Post:

An American company reportedly plans hi-tech tombstones with embedded flat screen monitors to allow visitors to play videos of the deceased. Joe Joachim, who says he wants to be the Walt Disney of the funeral business, plans to unveil the Vidstone at a funeral directors convention in Chicago in October. The solar-powered Vidstone will play a memorial video at the touch of a button. It will not have speakers, but will have a jack for headphones.

The Walt Disney of the funeral business? Way to go Joe! It's good to know people in your line of work have such a well developed sense of dignity and decorum. Should sell by the truckload in Hollywood.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Argosy pilot
I've been dipping in to "The Romance of a Modern Airway" by Harry Harper, written in 1930 about the early days of Imperial Airways - forerunner of British Airways - when "express" airliners were bi-planes with 3 engines, had room for 18 passengers, and the pilot sat on the outside!
It's a fascinating time capsule. Expect me to quote small chunks from time to time.

Short S8 flying boatMeanwhile you might like to check out the very informative Art Deco site at Imperial Airways, where I was able to discover that the Short S8 Calcutta flying boat on the right was called "City of Athens" and was sold out of the company in 1937 - unlike some of the others that came to a sticky end.
The team running this site is trying to restore what's left of the last Handley Page HP42.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Middlerun farm
Joined the annual pilgrimage, on Sunday, to Middlerun farm near Carterton, to pick daffodils. This has been a local tradition since 1920 when the Booth family first opened their property to the public. The flowers were planted in 1890 by Alfred Booth, farmer and daffodil breeder, and now cover about 3 acres.
A bunch of 24 blooms cost $NZ4, all proceeds to charity. The weather was perfect and I was surrounded by overseas tourists, daytrippers, and locals, picking and photographing in equal measure.

The open day has been incorporated into Carterton's Daffodil Festival which includes a street market, art and flower shows. An excursion train was laid on from Wellington, pulled by the magnificent "Gloria" - a 180 ton J Class steam locomotive built in 1939 - owned and operated by Mainline Steam.
More photos at Flickr.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

World's biggest surfboard?
On or about 10th September 1865, the 26 ton schooner "Midas" was caught in a storm and driven on to a reef at Flat Point on the Wairarapa coast. At dawn, with the masts carried away and the vessel pounded by surf, all seemed lost. Then the complete deck broke away from the hull and Capt McTaggert and his crew were safely swept ashore. Is this a contender for the Guiness Book of Records?

A new book released this week - "Hell or High Water: New Zealand Merchant Seafarers Remember the War" by Neill Atkinson. More details at the excellent NZHistory site.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Welcome to my first post. What can you expect from this blog? The title is your best clue. You might find a bias towards the Wairarapa region, north-east of Wellington, New Zealand, because that's where I live - but I'll try to keep it interesting.

I went to a book launch last weekend. "Ketchil: A New Zealand pilot's war in Asia and the Pacific" was written by Neil Frances and follows the WWII exploits of a local man, Vic Bargh. The venue couldn't have been better - Hanger 14 at Hood Aerodrome. We were surrounded by the aircraft collection of the Old Stick and Rudder Company, including a Chance Vaught Corsair - the last aircraft type (of 17) flown by Vic.
Neil surprised Vic by presenting him with a 1/48th scale model of his old Brewster Buffalo made, and donated, by Garth Didlick of Oregon. The gift was a well kept secret and arrived from America only 2 days before the launch.
Why Ketchil? That was a name given to Vic by his fellow pilots. It's a corruption of a Malayan word meaning small - he was the smallest man in the squadron.

The book is published by the Wairarapa Archive and you can see more photos of the launch party on my Flickr page.