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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Launching Leviathan.
The Victorian era engineering genius I.K. Brunel (1806-1859) over-reached himself when he conceived the Great Eastern. Built on the banks of the Thames at the Isle of Dogs, she was five times bigger than any steam ship afloat and nearly 700 feet long.

"The Great Eastern was to be launched sideways, a scheme then contrary to all precepts of large shipbuilding, and one which drew many warnings of failure. ....
To overcome her twelve thousand inert tons, Brunel would need sufficient hydraulic rams to push her, steam tugs on the river to pull her, gigantic steam winches on shore to let her down the ways and huge windlasses to check the mass when it slid too fast. .....
Despite misgivings, Brunel announced the launching for November 3, 1857, when the ship could be floated on a rising tide. The Times tried to quiet public excitement by saying, 'The launch is likely to be a long and tedious affair, which will probably occupy eight to ten hours'."
(The Great Iron Ship, James Dugan, 1953).

It took almost 3 months. The 'Wonder of the Seas' floated free on 31st January 1858.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Religious Observations 2
from John Logan Campbell in his book 'Poenamo' (1881)

The early missionaries who came in contact with the Maori race (with one or two bright exceptions, whom I delight to honour) were not men who could command respect or even cope with the "savage faculty" in intellect. I wish not to be misunderstood in the remarks I am about to pass (made in sorrow, not ridicule) on the humble but brave men who went with their lives in their hands to live amid a savage but highly-intellectual race to convert them to religion and teach them a trade. It was a fatal error to suppose that men with this double qualification would prove the right men in the right place amongst such a highly intelligent race as the Maories. ....
.... When respect for mental capacity of the teacher is wanting, small is the effect of the doctrines inculcated, in the mind of the taught. ....
.... Oh! ye Foreign Missions that only make your heathen change one form of incantation for another, and that so miserably fail to imbue your converts with any true idea of the guiding principle of Christian faith, I pray ye stay at home.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Religious Observations
from Mrs. Alec-Tweedie in her book 'An Adventurous Journey' (1926)

As one knocks about the world and sees and hears things one becomes more and more convinced that every land must run its own religion. Religion is born inside. It takes many forms; but religion is there, and each country has evolved its own means of expression - the expression best suited to its national idiosyncrasies, its climate and its circumstances.
To interfere with other people's religion is mistaken zeal......
.....In China each person has ten souls, by the way, although the more popular idea is confined to three. One remains on earth near his tomb, another wanders round the ancestral tablet, and the third goes to heaven, or enters another body. It would do Europe a vast amount of good if she imbibed a few axioms from China. Interchange of ideas is good for all of us, and for all lands. China may have too much ancestor worship: we have too little; except among those who have no ancestors to be proud of - and buy them on canvas.

Friday, January 27, 2006

P-38 with port propeller feathered
The Two-Tailed Devil.
Excerpts from a note on the Lockheed P-38 "Lightning" in 'Flames in the Sky' by Pierre Clostermann (1953).

"The U.S. Army Air Corps had issued a schedule of requirements for a fast twin-engined single-seater fighter with a large radius of action.....
....Among the firms that tendered designs was Lockheeds, a small young firm. It had a mere thousand or so workmen and technicians and up till then produced only five types of aircraft amounting to a total of 107 light transport planes, including the successful Lockheed 12 "Electra." .....
.... on 27th January 1939, ....Ben F. Kesley succeeded in getting the XP-38 into the air, watched by the chief engineer, Hall Hibbart, and the entire personnel massed at the foot of the control tower on March Field in California.
Just as they were all patting each other on the back over a perfect take-off, the trouble began. As Kesley tried to pick up his flaps, a control rod came unstuck. Skaken by terrific vibrations, the plane started to swing all over the place. The pilot hesitated whether to bale out, but obeying the unwritten code, "bring the kite home at all costs," decided to try to land her. By an incredible feat of airmanship he succeeded in putting her down all of a piece in a ploughed field on a hillside.
The plane was repaired and the next ten flights went off without a hitch."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Birth of a Scottish Icon.

From 'The Life of Robert Burns' (1828) by John Gibson Lockhart -

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in a clay cottage at Alloway, two miles south of Ayr, and near the "auld brig o' Doon."
..... at the age of six, Robert, with his brother Gilbert, was learning to read, write, and sum under the direction of John Murdoch, an itinerant teacher, who has left an interesting description of his pupil.
"Gilbert always appeared to me to possess a more lively imagination," says Murdoch, "and to be more of the wit, than Robert. I attempted to teach them a little church music. Here they were left far behind by all the rest of the school. Robert's ear, in particular, was remarkably dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get them to distinguish one tune from another. Robert's countenance was generally grave and expressive of a serious, contemplative, and thoughtful mind. ..... certainly, if any person who knew the two boys had been asked which of them was the more likely to court the muses, he would never have guessed that Robert had a propensity of that kind."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

River Thames frozen solid.
January 24, 1684. The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames before London was planted with booths in formal streets, all sorts of trades and shops furnished and full of commodities, even to a printing press.
Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays, cooks, tippling, so that it seemed to be a carnival on the water; while it was a severe judgment on the land, the trees splitting, men and cattle perishing, and the very seas locked up with ice.
London was so filled with the fuliginous steam of the coal that hardly could one see across the streets, and this filling the lungs with its gross particles, so as one could scarcely breathe.
The Diary of John Evelyn.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The 100 Aker Wood.
This day in 1882 saw the birth of A. A. Milne, the man who created Christopher Robin (in more ways than one), Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and many others, in the 1920s. His characters have survived the years, although today's generation will be more familiar with the diluted, commercialised Disney versions.

Reading about the fictional Christopher Robin through modern, adult eyes, we can see a rather sad, lonely child of his times - born of aloof English upper-class parents and raised by a nanny - who retreats into an imaginary world with his bear of little brain and other stuffed toys .

This is poignantly illustrated in the last verse of a poem about Binker, a secret friend who nobody else can see -
"Well, I'm very fond of Daddy, but he hasn't time to play,
And I'm very fond of Mummy, but she sometimes goes away,
And I'm often cross with Nanny when she wants to brush my hair
But Binker's always Binker, and is certain to be there".

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Great South Land.
There were at least two milestones in the history of Antarctica on this day.
In 1773, Captain James Cook was the first recorded explorer to cross the Antarctic Circle in his ship Resolution.
Then, in 1912, the legendary, doomed, Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole only to find the Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten him to it a month earlier.
"Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers, and Seaman Evans reached the South Pole on 17th January, 1912, a horrible day, temperatures 22 below zero. The party fixed the exact spot by means of one of our little four-inch theodolites, and the result of their careful observations located the Pole at a point which only differed from Amundsen's "fix" by half a mile, as shown by his flag....
.....Scott and his companions had done their best, and never from one of them came an uncharitable remark. .....
.....The Norwegian explorers' names ..... were: Roald Amundsen, Olaf Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Oskar Wisting, Sverre Hassel."
South with Scott, E.R.G.R. Evans, 1921.

Monday, January 16, 2006

German surface raider.
From 'The Great World War' Vol. 5. (c.1916)

The successful commerce-destroying cruise Mowe sinks the Clan MacTavish of the armed German S.S. Mowe (i.e. Sea-gull), and her safe return to a home port, constituted an achievement of which the enemy had no cause to be ashamed, and was one we could hear of without bitterness. It was no doubt rather disappointing to have to learn that on January 16 [1916], ...... the S.S. Appam, of the Elder-Dempster line, had been captured by a German cruiser, and had....been carried across the Atlantic to Norfolk, in Virginia, as a prize.

The actual capture cannot be better told than in the words of the Appam's commander, Captain H.E. Harrison:

"The day was brightOne of Mowe's forward guns and clear when the Appam was captured. She was travelling at a fair rate of speed when we sighted what appeared to be an ordinary tramp steamer, which was gradually coming closer. We feared no danger and made no preparations to resist, as we were not expecting any attack. Suddenly the tramp fired across our bows. I immediately hove to. Simultaneously the tramps forecastle head, which was apparently made of canvas, fell away, revealing a battery of huge guns. We surrendered without offering any resistance."

In one case she was resisted. The S.S Clan MacTavish made a fight, but was sunk

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Robert "Ruby" Fitzsimmons. This day in 1891, Bob Fitzsimmons won the Middleweight title from Jack Dempsey in New Orleans. Knockout in the 13th.
Fitzsimmons was born in England, raised in New Zealand, and started his pro career in Australia. He became so famous, all three countries claim him as their own.
But why "Ruby"? I would have thought calling a 5ft 11 boxer Ruby would earn a knockout in the first second.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

This day in 1913 saw the first beam of light shine from Castlepoint lighthouse on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island. It has become one of the most photographed icons of the region and every visitor goes home with this shot.

The tower was made of cast-iron in Wellington, shipped to the site as pre-fabricated hoops and re-assembled. The light stands 52m above sea level and can be seen up to 26 nautical miles away. Yesterday's mystery photo showed part of the French-made fresnel lens that magnifies the light source.

Fully automated in 1988, Castlepoint light was threatened with downgrading to a less powerful flashing beacon five years ago. The local community was rightfully outraged and persuaded the Maritime Safety Authority to abandon the plan.

Visit composer Peter de Vocht's site, where you can see more photos and listen to mp3 files of his Castlepoint Symphony, or, if you're a Lighthouse groupie (they do exist) check out www.ihdigest.com

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

And today's mystery object is.....

What is it? Register your guess in the comments section.

Yes, of course I know what it is! It does have an historical connection. All will be revealed tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On this day in 1928, two New Zealand pilots - George Hood and Robert Moncrief - took off from Sydney, Australia, in their attempt to be first to fly across the Tasman Sea. They were never seen again. Searches in the Marlborough Sounds, where rumour said they had crashed, produced no evidence and they were officially judged lost at sea.
Hood was born and raised in the Wairarapa region and Masterton aerodrome was named in his honour in 1931. Today it is the base for the Wairarapa and Ruahine Aero Club and the Sport and Vintage Aviation Society - SVAS.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Thought I'd share some design and social history with these photos taken at the Early Ford Club rally held recently in Masterton.

A 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr convertible coupe ( left). Only 6 in the world, only 2 mobile.

There were many more, in sparkling condition. Who says history is boring?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

It's been a big day for the citizens of Harihari as they celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to New Zealand.
Australian pilot, Guy Menzies, crash-landed his plane in a swamp near the small West Coast settlement on 7th January 1931 after a journey of almost 12 hours.
A biography - Guy Menzies: The Forgotten Flier - by Max Wearne should be available from your favourite online bookstore.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In the early hours of 4th January 1852, the steamship 'Amazon', on her maiden voyage, caught fire and sank 60 miles west of the Scilly Isles. One hundred and forty people died, including the travel writer Elliott Warburton who had made his name with his first book 'The Crescent and the Cross'.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

From American Notes by Charles Dickens, that master of the half-page sentence -

"I shall never forget the one-fourth serious and three-fourths comical astonishment, with which, on the morning of the third of January eighteen-hundred-and-forty-two, I opened the door of, and put my head into, a "state-room" on board the Britannia steam-packet, twelve hundred tons burthen per register, bound for Halifax and Boston, and carrying Her Majesty's mails."

Dickens had just learned the meaning of 'misleading advertising'. The state-room that looked so spacious in the lithographed artist's impression "was no bigger than one of those hackney cabriolets which have the door behind, and shoot their fares out, like sacks of coals upon the pavement."

The saloon, drawn as "a chamber of almost interminable perspective" turned out to be "not unlike a gigantic hearse with windows in the sides; having at the upper end a melancholy stove, at which three or four chilly stewards were warming their hands; while on either side, extending down its whole dreary length, was a long, long table, over each of which a rack, fixed to the low roof, and stuck full of drinking-glasses and cruet-stands, hinted dismally at rolling seas and heavy weather."

And so they ventured out into the Atlantic in the middle of winter. Think about that next time you complain about flying 'Tourist'.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

I'm not one for New Year Resolutions but, now that the holiday period is almost over, I resolve to post on a (semi) regular basis and not slack off so much. This prospect may excite you if you need to get a life, or fill you with complete disinterest.
I couldn't let today go by without noting that its the 105th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Australia. Happy birthday cobblers!
Today in 1901 the individual colonies of the "Lucky Country" became states under a federal system of government. There was a suggestion that New Zealand should join the club but the offer was declined. Don't expect me to comment on that.