Sunday, 23 July 2017

A Second World War 'Aerograph' Letter

An "Aerograph" message sent from Italy by
Liet. Corp. R.W.E Taylor, 1944
[From my own collection]

I have always been intrigued by a small 1944 letter in my collection, being from a World War Two New Zealand serviceman to his Aunt in New Zealand. Obviously a photographic print, this is what is termed an "Aerograph" [known in the USA as "V-Mail"] and carries an interesting story. But the story of who wrote it, or at least as much as I have found out, is also equally fascinating in that the writer served with one of just two mobile New Zealand Field Transfusion Units stationed in Italy.

But before we look at the "Aerograph" postal system and the Field Units, what do we actually know about the writer himself? Well initially I knew very little as the writer, being one 'Edgar Taylor', does not appear in any family history for my Grandmother's extended family. So hopefully this blog may also elicit further information from family descendants. The Lucy Froggatt he mentions in the first sentence is however known to me as a family relative.

What we do know is that the letter is written by 15160 Lieutenant Corporal Robert William Edgar Taylor of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Having to pass a censor the letter is short on some specific information. 'Edgar', as he was obviously known, states that he had "now been overseas for over three years" and that he had met and become engaged to a New Zealand Nurse in Cairo, being a Miss May Croom of Wanganui who had since returned home.

Additionally, Edgar writes that while he came over in the infantry he was recalled to the Laboratory at the No 1 New Zealand General Hospital based at Helwan near Cairo then around 1942 was offered a position at the Field [blood] Transfusion Unit when it was formed;

"...It is a most interesting...[position] and brings it's own reward in seeing the help that we can give in the field to our wounded comrades."

After moving from Helwan to Molfetta in Southern Italy in April 1944, the No1 NZ General Hospital then moved in August 1944 to Sengallia north of Ancona which is about half way up the Italian Peninsula on the Adriatic coast. It would be from here that the 'Aerograph' was written.

Just two New Zealand Transfusion Field Units operated in Italy, consisting of one medical officer, two transfusion orderlies, and two drivers with at least one being a refrigeration mechanic. Two trucks were used for each unit, one being a 3-ton truck being fitted with "a refrigerating pump using methyl chloride as a cooling fluid, and driven by a small petrol motor." An insulated box surrounded by a water jacket could hold up to 110 bottles of blood, plasma / saline, and glucose / saline which were all obtained from the British Base Transfusion Unit. The other truck in each unit acted as a stores vehicle.

I assume Edgar to have been one of the four orderlies working with the two units. While he must have had some medical knowledge or training he would appear to have been employed by the Canterbury Education Board in a management position just prior to the war.

By August 1944 the New Zealand forces had joined the British 8th Army’s march east and north towards the Italian plain and the Savio River but the rugged terrain of the Apennine mountains, numerous destroyed bridges, and heavy rain turning the low lying east to mud made progress difficult. It would be in the immediate footsteps of this campaign north and west of Ancona that Edgar Taylor and his transfusion units would have served.

With not being a close relative I have not attempted to access his World War Two military record but this would certainly answer a few additional questions. It does appear from statutory records that Mr R.W.E. Taylor, born 28th July 1916, died in 1999. I'm sure he had a few interesting stories to tell of his war service but also of his first hand experience of the human face and aftermath of war. If any relatives read this I would be very interested in hearing from you. An email link appears in the right hand menu bar.

As to the "Aerograph" itself, the short UTube film below is more or less self-explanatory. Basically, instead of despatching a very bulky and heavy quantity of mail from servicemen to their home countries, in this case half way around the world in New Zealand, letters written on special forms would be taken to a central point (I assume the UK), passed by the censor, photographed, probably onto 35mm film, and the reels of negatives then sent by the quickest method, including by air, to their intended country of destination. There the negatives were printed out onto thin photo sensitive paper and the letters then dispatched to the recipient by ordinary postal mail. And of course being mail from servicemen in the forces there was no cost to the sender or recipient.  

And considering that images were printed out on photographic paper with very little time for fixing and washing away of residual chemicals my 'Aerograph' is in a perfect state of preservation and legibility, just rather small to read. The paper size appears to have been kept to a minimum to reduce the use of imported photographic paper and I have also noted this with personal photographs printed out during the war years.

This short one minute explanatory video is well worth watching :

"The Aerograph Letter Service"
A British Movietone Film

Sources :

- Personal family papers
- New Zealand Electronic Text Collection / Te Pūhikotuhi o Aotearoa
- New Zealand History / Nga korero a ipurangi o Aotearoa
- Archives New Zealand / Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
- New Zealand Military Nursing website

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Researching a 1787 Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch

A Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
together with Chain and Wax Sealer
[From my own collection]

As my regular readers will probably attest, I delight in researching old family owned items in my possession, usually with quite some success. This example, being a 230 year old double-pair cased sterling silver pocket watch with a one day fusee chain drive and verge escarpment has proven no exception. I know who made it (or at least the case) and when, who sold it, who owned it, and even, quite surprisingly, who repaired it!

The Theory of the Fusee Drive
[Source : Wikipedia]

But first, the basics. By "double-pair", this simply refers to the pocket watch having an outer case which helped to protect the inner case and movement. The fusee chain drive is an ingenious system whereby the power exerted by the spring is applied to the watch movement by means of a spiral cone. When the watch is fully would the chain pulls from the narrowest part of the cone and when the spring winds down the chain is increasingly pulled from the wider part of the spiral cone. Thus a reasonably even "pull" is applied to the watch movement in order to maintain consistent timekeeping.

The Action of the Verge Escarpment

By the 1850's the simple but ingenious verge escarpment system, having been in common use since the 13th century, had been superseded by the more precise lever escarpment found in later watches. The speed of the verge escarpment watch was difficult to accurately regulate, friction and wear was excessive, and over time, due to wear, the movement would tend to speed up. The verge escarpment, being vertically placed within the movement along with the fusee drive, also made these watches unfashionably thick. Technology slowly advanced to make both of these regulation systems obsolete thus leading to the modern and virtually self regulating mechanical wrist watch which is still made and sought after today.  

Silver Marks on Pocket Watch by
P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787

The inner and outer cases carry five hallmarks, firstly the manufacturer of the sterling silver case being "R.R", secondly the Lion's Head (with coronet) London City Assay office hallmark denoting the place of manufacture, thirdly the Lion Passant guardant certifying the silver quality, fourthly the Sovereign's Head Duty Mark (being of King George III which certifies the payment of duty for Sterling Silver), and fiftly, the date letter "M" for 1787 in a cartouche matched to this period.

Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
showing the outer case open

The case maker, "R.R" is Richard Rowney, then having his premises on the corner of King Street, St Giles, London and trading as a Jeweller and Silversmith. In 1793 Rowney, now of Broad street, advertised that he was selling up his stock in trade and going into the wholesale perfumery business at 95 Holborn Hill with his brother Thomas Rowney, thereafter trading at "T&R Rowney". The business was dissolved in 1801 with both then going their separate ways. Richard Rowney became a "hair merchant and perfumer" while Thomas Rowney became a "colourman", preparing and retailing artists' colours. The well-known name of Rowney is still associated with artist's supplies today. Unfortunately, Richard Rowney and then still in business in the wholesale perfumery business along with his son, was made bankrupt in 1811. He died in 1824 aged 69 years and is buried at Elim Baptist Chapel, Fetter Lane, London.

Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
showing the movement with finely pierced balance wheel cover.

The name engraved on the movement, perhaps surprisingly, was "P. Edmond, Dublin", and being numbered 7142. Very little is known about Mr Edmond and all I can establish from published sources is that he ceased business in 1797. But I tend to doubt that Mr Edmond himself manufactured the movement. Over most of the 19th century watch and clock retailers would normally add their names to what they sold even though they were not the actual manufacturer. So the mechanism or at least the parts may very well be a generic London manufacturer which would make more sense. Intriguingly, I have noted one other watch sold by Mr Edmond, apparently dated 1790 but rather oddly numbered 3446. having been sold on EBay but am unable to obtain an image of it. If anyone can add additional information about Mr Edmond or has an Edmond watch I would be pleased to hear from you.

The watch itself includes a finely pierced and quite beautiful balance wheel cover typical of this period along with a numbered regulation wheel to increase or decrease the 'recoil' of the balance spring, thus at least having some control over the speed of the verge escarpment. The balance wheel is simply a piece of round flat steel with no temperature compensation. The back of the watch is truly a thing of beauty although almost permanently encased away from view. The inner case did not need to be opened to wind the watch, being achieved with a key suspended from the accompanying watch chain. The dial is of enamel with blackened steel hands. While the watch will go, the ratchet click (to stop the fusee cog uncontrollably spinning round) is broken with worn cog wheels and the repair to it is at best temporary. At some stage the small handle has been re-soldered onto the inner case. The original bulbous crystal (glass cover over the dial) is also missing.

"John Watson, Burnhead, Dalserf",
first confirmed owner of the watch.
From a book dated 1812.
[From my own collection]

The provenance of an item adds so much to its intrinsic value, this information often being lost in the mists of time. The very old style of watch chain is probably original to my family ownership of the watch but how it came to be purchased in Dublin is not known. It could easily be that the watch, then an expensive purchase, had been bought second hand. Attached to the end of the brass watch is a carved crystal wax letter seal with the initials "JW" in intaglio. This is the clue as to the original confirmed owner in my family, being John Watson, a tenant farmer to the Duke of Hamilton at "Burnhead Farm" in Dalserf Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland. As John was only born in 1777 a second-hand purchase is more likely. John died at "Burnhead" in 1872, then aged a commendable 94 years.

John Watson of Crossford,
second owner of the watch
Taken circa 1870's,
Bowman Photo, Glasgow.
[From my own collection]

The watch and chain then passed to his son John Watson, born 1818, a grocer of Crossford, who died in 1883. Although he almost certainly never used it John's ownership of this watch is fully supported by a note left by his great niece. As John had latterly been residing with my Grandmother's family they retained the watch and chain (even though Watson family cousins still resided at 'Burnhead'), bringing it with them to New Zealand in 1911. But the watch would return to Scotland in 1922 when the then owner, James Watson (a great nephew of John Watson of Crossford), returned to Scotland to live. But after his death in 1957 his New Zealand brother and sisters asked for the watch back so it returned once more to New Zealand. My late mother, a niece of James Watson, gifted it to me in 1978 due to my interest in horology and being a descendant of the original confirmed owner, my Gt. Gt. Gt. Grandfather.

Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
showing the Fusee Drive gaduated cone.

As to who repaired the watch over the years, this can be seen by looking at the "watch papers" placed into the back of the double-pair case. When a watch was repaired, and assuming it was in a double-pair case, the watchmaker would place a paper in the back printed with his business name, sometimes writing the name of the owner, date and type of repair on the back. These watch papers also served the purpose of acting as cushioning. This watch includes no less than nine of these papers including an extra one of khaki coloured silk which may be original to the watch.

A Selection of Watch Papers
found in the back of my watch

The watch papers are printed with the various names of "William. Barr, Watch and Clockmaker, Hamilton" then later "Wm. Barr and Son...", "Morgan, Watch Maker, South Bridge Street, Edinburgh", "James Bennie, Watch and Clock Maker, Jeweller etc, 4 Townhead Street, Hamilton". Unfortunately none of the papers carry a date, those of Mr Barr only having a repair number. So we must look at other sources to try and ascertain when these Watchmakers were active.

"Old Scottish Clockmakers" by John Smith (2nd Edition) published in 1921 usefully states that William Barr of "Muir Wynd, Hamilton" was in business from at least 1808 (when nine pocket watches were stolen from his premises) up to at least 1837. "William Barr, Watchmaker" and listed as "Head of Family" appears in Church of Scotland rolls dated 1834, 1836 and 1839. Historical records also tell us that William Barr died around late 1847 to early 1848. His wife Margaret, whom he had married in 1840, continued the business until she "sold her inventory" in 1851. A Rootsweb message left by a descendant states that William Barr, Watchmaker, was born in 1780 and evidently married twice. So he must have been in business from prior to 1808 until his death, when the business was being run jointly with his son.  

Donald Whyte in "Clockmakers and Watchmakers of Scotland 1453 - 1900" published in 2005 notes James Bennie of 4 Townhead street as being in business from 1842 to 1852. I also note a James Bennie of Hamilton who appears in the 1861 census of Hamilton and who died in 1884 aged 54 years.

"Old Scottish Clockmakers from 1453 to 1850" records Thomas Morgan as being in business from 1767 to 1803. Period published sources also record him as a "watchmaker" in 1789 and additionally of "South Bridge Street" Edinburgh in 1800 and 1801. So this would appear to be the earliest watch paper with my watch. Although the first John Watson would have been 24 years of age by 1801 there is even the vague possibility that this watch paper relates to a previous owner.

These interesting watch papers certainly give a guide as to when the watch was in normal use but I believe the watch would have ceased being in use by the 1850's and certainly before the original confirmed owner died in 1883. The next owner was then an older man with a gold and a silver watch of his own. And in any case the Edmond watch is in a damaged state which indicates that upon the crystal cover breaking and / or the ratchet breaking it was put aside and then kept as a valued family keepsake. If you have read this far the very short video above shows the watch working.

Sources :

- Watson Family photographs and artefacts (held by the writer)
- "Old Scottish Clockmakers 1453 to 1850" by John Smith, 1921 [Google Books]
- Various Internet Sources
- Invercargill Public Library

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Prohibition Era and the Illicit Supply of "Hokonui Moonshine"

An Original Bottle which once held
"Hokonui Moonshine", now being
owned by family members in Southland
[From my own collection]

The forest clad Hokonui Hills of Southland New Zealand are today celebrated for having been the scene, for many years, of the illicit distilling of Whisky, being commonly know as "Hokonui Moonshine".

Being primarily settled by a "Highland community", the then Hokonui Schoolteacher noted from his arrival in 1885 that the locals, although "a kind, generous, sociable people, anxious for the education of their children..." also had "a strong leaning towards their national beverage." And this from the very same gentleman who, some twenty years later, publicly berated a stunned country hall of local residents after his own bottle of whisky, which he hid in a hedge and repaired to at intervals for a nip and a yarn with his friends, had gone missing. Storming into the hall and holding up the empty bag he informed the astonished crowd that " all his travels round the world he had never experienced an act so despicable as the theft of his whisky."

"Staying With Your Old Friends - Come and Join Us"
A postcard sent by my Gt. Gt. Uncle, a resident of
Central Southland, to his brother in 1909.
A cigar box, cards - and whisky - are prominent
[From my own collection]

Thus, while it was generally accepted by many that a nip of whisky was perfectly acceptable in moderation a number of influential groups such as the Southland Prohibition League, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the Presbyterian Church clergy, saw things rather differently. While my own family came from Central Southland my Father's family were strictly teetotal, my Grandfather representing the district in the above Southland Prohibition League and holding a life insurance policy under the "Temperance section". This is despite his own Grandfather just out of Edinburgh, whom he had lived with for some years, having owned a public house just down the road. Or was it perhaps because of this?

Conversely, the senior Scottish born members of my Mother's family, despite being staunch members of and Elders in the Presbyterian Church, were known to enjoy a drink, commonly offering their visitors a nip of whisky from a handsome silver plate cut glass double decanter which I still hold - along with a decorative and very empty old Scotch Whisky bottle. But both families remained good friends, good neighbours, and both committed churchgoers.

So, as we can see, opinions on the availability and consumption of alcohol were divided. And as can be guessed, the good residents of Hokonui were, by and large, not great supporters of the prohibition movement although they were regular churchgoers. Likewise they appear to have happily turned a very blind eye to what was happening under their very noses.

A correspondent writing in 1926 explains the origins of whisky distilling in Central Southland; "Away back in the middle of the last century, whole clans emigrated en masse to Otago and Southland, bringing with them a wealth of clan customs. Many of them still persist to the present day. In those early days, the potent spirit of the Highlands was hard to obtain. It involved many a weary journey through bushland and swamp on foot or by horse to the seaports scattered round the coastline, and the canny old Highlanders had a better way, a relic of similar conditions in their far-off native land. In their mountain fastnesses, they set up the tried and trusted stills of their forefathers, and distilled the precious spirit of their country... The main source of supply came from the Hokonui Hills." One of the prime suppliers in those early days was the McRae family of whom we shall hear more of.

A Good Part of the Hokonui Hills in Central Southland
remains forest covered and protected for posterity.
[Source : Google Maps]

The forest clad and rugged Hokonui Hills in Central Southland (then covering an area much larger than what remains today) proved to be the ideal and favoured location for the illicit distilling of whisky. Stills and barrels of maturing product could easily be hidden from prying eyes with a steady supply of firewood at hand. But the proof was naturally elusive and the local community protective and tight-lipped.

A correspondent writing in 1925 states that "For years it has been common knowledge to many of the oldest Southlander's that in the fastnesses of the Hokonuis the manufacture of 'Moonshine whisky' has been carried on as a commercial proposition... Many can remember that thirty off years ago a man met his death in the hills, and rumour had it that he strayed too near a still."

The Gore correspondent for 'The Southland Times', writing in June 1896, alludes to the quantity of whisky distilled and that it supplied an area greater than just Southland; "It might as well be said that more whisky is distilled in the Hokonui Hills than is consumed in Southland."

And there is the story of one brazen supplier thumbing his nose at the authorities, "When the pursuit of an illicit whisky trader was being pressed, the trader in question resolved to give the best evidence possible of his fearlessness to hearten his customers. His dray rolled down Gore's Main Street one fine morning with a huge barrel aboard and a sack slung carelessly over the top. He was accorded only the passing notice of ordinary traffic. But his barrel was full of whisky which had not paid its quota to the treasury."

A correspondent describes the quality of the distilled product of these earlier days; "The murderous stuff that masquerades under the heading of 'bootleg whisky' in arid America found no counterpart in Southland in the early days when a pride was taken in the expert manufacture of home-made whisky. I have tasted crystal-clear Hokonui whisky, mellowed by years of storage in the bush fastnesses, which compared more than favourably with the best of [former] times."

And herein lies an interesting contradiction. Whatever offence the illicit distilling of whisky constituted under law this was not seen by an otherwise law-abiding and intensely religious community "as any offence against moral laws". When queried on this point,  a venerable old 'Highlander', being a respected member of the local community, and "with a twinkle in his eye", simply replied, "Och aye, but think o' the awfu' cost, mon", of course referring to the cost of obtaining the imported product through the normal channels. The Scottish heritage of thrift and saving a penny - and getting the better of the excise men -  were traits that were just as important to the new émigrés as they had been to their Scottish forebears. And the illicit brewing of whisky was also one entrenched Scottish Highland 'tradition' that would not be readily forsaken half way around the world.

That the imported product was not always obtainable, and together with excise duty, considerably more expensive than the not inferior local product was thus sufficient justification in the eyes of many for an illegal activity. But the tide of public opinion on the availability of alcohol would eventually turn, although perhaps not in many parts of Central Southland.

The Mataura electorate (which included Gore) voted "no-licence [i.e. dry]" in 1902, followed by Invercargill, with a margin of just nine votes, in 1905. Conversely, the Central Southland electorates never reached the necessary three-fifths majority to force prohibition. But the downside of prohibition in the province was that it merely fueled the demand for alcohol from non-official sources, particularly to supply "dry" districts. And with a willing supplier excise duty could be avoided, another powerful incentive. Even moderate drinkers could secure a supply at considerably under retail price "and with just as much kick per nip" if they knew where to obtain it. Considerable quantities of "the illicit article" were even found as far north as Oamaru, being sold in bulk at a low price, but "how it reaches here has not been disclosed [and] those 'in the know' are very reticent."

The Famous "Old Hokonui" Whisky Label
(although most early Hokonui whisky had no label)
[Source : The Southland Daily News]

The prohibition era thus brought forth a surge in whisky distilling in the Hokonui Hills to meet the demand, at least more stills were being discovered. It appears that "enterprising amateurs" were quick to exploit the situation, taking a leaf out of the old-timer's book by setting up stills of their own. The quality of much of the distilled product produced by these new stills appears to have suffered as a consequence. An elderly 'Highlander' deplored the misdeeds of outsiders, "with no respect for the cherished traditions of his ancestors, and has prophesied an untimely end for the desecrators of an imperishable tradition".

One writer who tasted the product declared it to be of "fair quality" with a "peculiarly nutty flavour". Another writer describes it as having "not the taste of the best brands on the market to-day. It is sometimes more of a fire-water than a whisky proper." But amateur salesmen found no difficulty in disposing of their 'wares' to tight-lipped buyers.

By the 1920's the Police appear to have been much more active in attempting to suppress this illicit trade. The Customs Dept also sought to shut down what was clearly now a 'commercial' and very well organised operation, additionally depriving them of considerable amounts of revenue in the form of excise duty. Such was the fate of Messrs Alex Chisholm and Alexander McRae who were caught at Springhills [in the Hokonui district] in late 1924. Police and Customs officials discovered a still and 60 gallons of 'Hokonui whisky'. The men, having been caught red-handed, pleaded guilty, had their still confiscated, and were fined £100 apiece. But rather than shun them, the local community and not a few Southlanders would more than likely have greatly sympathized with the two unfortunate men that they had been found out.

An article published in the "New Zealand Truth" in 1929 alludes to the highly organised network of 'informants' assisting the suppliers in keeping one step ahead of the Police; "the agencies for the distribution of the 'moonshine'... are widespread. The sources supplying information to the headquarters of the trade are correspondingly extensive. Thus a police car proceeding from Invercargill, for instance, may take an unfrequented road to the suspected quarter, but at some stage of the journey it is liable to set the alarm system in motion. Once the [telephone] bells ring the case is hopeless."

In 1929 the matter of illicit supply from Southland also came up in the House of Representatives when the Police Dept. annual estimates were being discussed. The House was informed that while the supply from "outlying districts" had now been "cleaned up", it was believed that "the principal distilleries have not yet been discovered. It is a fact that it is [allegedly] possible to buy Hokonui whisky for £1 a bottle... Energetic steps should be taken to clear the matter up." The Minister of Justice informed the House that "the sly grog question in Southland was being well tackled". The discovery and confiscation of a still the previous year and the "tremendous fine imposed on the men" had assisted in supressing the trade. Rewards were being paid to Police Constables engaged in locating illicit stills as "it was a rotten job and it was very difficult to detect [them]. Men would not give one another away. The success of the police officers last year had practically stamped out the evil [trade]."

Occasional references to convictions appear in the papers over subsequent years. In January 1933 a Mataura "distributor" of Hokonui whisky, "which was most dangerous to drink from a health point of view", was fined £100. In December 1933 a Ferndale farmer, being "well known and highly respected" and who had turned to illicit distilling earlier that year due to the economic effects of the depression, was caught and fined the maximum penalty of £500. He had sold his product at between 20s and 30s a gallon. After "months of inquiry", the police raid was undertaken on a Sunday morning with the telephone service being disconnected prior to the raid to prevent any warning being given. While his neighbours were "amazed" to hear of his activities - I do wonder! This was the 13th successful prosecution in nine years.

The same month two five gallon kegs were sized from a lorry on the Wyndham-Edendale road. A mock "funeral" took place with customs officers, police and reporters acting as 'pall-bearers'. The casks were then carried to and emptied into a nearby drain, the Collector of Customs giving a short reading, commencing "These evil spirits..."

In February 1934 a raid on a large still hidden in native bush in the Dunsdale area led to the prosecution of William (Billy) McRae Snr. and his son on a lesser charge, (yes, those canny McRae's again!) the location adjoining the property of the accused. McRae senior pleaded not guilty, denied any knowledge of the still, and with commendable bravado even offered a £20 reward if one were to be found on his own property. Despite a horse borrowed from McRae, and "when given its head" leading the Constable to the illicit still the prosecution failed in their case and the accused was discharged. There were probably a few whisky glasses raised to the McRae's that day, even if their distilling operation had been (no doubt only temporarily) put out of action. I perceive that no one got the better of the ever resourceful McRae's.

An amusing incident took place in 1944 when a bottle of 'Hokonui Moonshine' (as pictured at the top of this page), probably by design, was added to the display in the Southland Court at the New Zealand Industries Fair in Dunedin. One could not help but notice the label which included the words, "Produce of SOUTHLAND". Was it any coincidence that there had always been a ready market for Hokonui Moonshine in Dunedin?

At a Royal Commission on Licensing in 1945 "Hokonui" whisky was noted as being sold at £5 to £6 a bottle which indicates that the Police were yet to fully extinguish this trade. But by the mid 1950's a wider availability of the legal product and continuing convictions for "sly grog selling" appears to have finally brought an end to this illicit commercial trade in liquor.

After a 37 year "drought", the Invercargill electorate had voted in 1943 to end prohibition, the vote being influenced by returning servicemen. But the vote only allowed for the sale of alcohol under the "controlled sale" option. On the first trading day, being the 1st July 1944, bars were packed full, £1,200 of liquor was sold, and "418 glasses broken or stolen". The Mataura electorate similarly voted for the controlled sale of alcohol in 1954. Liquor outlets in these areas would be run by locally elected Licensing Trusts with all profits being returned to the community (mostly to local non-profit organisations, sports clubs and charities), an arrangement that continues successfully even today. This is despite all alcohol supply options being publicly voted on every three years (including a return to 'no licence') as the positive benefits to the community are obvious.

But illicit 'Hokonui Whisky' would not be commercially sold in Licensing Trust areas or in fact any area, liquor trading laws naturally being strictly policed and enforced - including (then) 6 o'clock closing. Any public house caught selling 'bootleg' alcohol of any description would risk heavy fines and losing their licence - in other words their livelihood. 

Miniature bottles of "Old Hokonui" Whisky
sold by the Hokonui Moonshine Museum

But the rich, even rather romantic, heritage of Hokonui Moonshine endures today, being celebrated at the Hokonui Moonshine Museum in Gore. You can even buy a sample of Hokonui whisky brewed to an authentic recipe by Hokonui Distillers Ltd (based in Timaru) and with the skull and crossbones label - but with excise tax paid! Personally I thought it tasted like the "fire-water" previously referred to, even watered down, and while it definitely had a "kick" it was not to my own personal taste in whisky (I prefer peaty, smokey and well aged but unfortunately that comes at a cost). All accounts indicate though that McRae whisky, produced from the mid 1870's through to the mid 1950's was a quality product. But I do wonder how a genuine "crystal-clear Hokonui whisky" expertly crafted by a Highland master of their craft and especially "mellowed by years of storage" in the bush [forest] would have tasted?

Meanwhile a reasonable portion of the Hokonui Hills remain forested and protected today, thus being preserved for posterity, along with its rich and secretive history. A nature lover, committed churchman, and benefactor, the late Hugh Anderson of "Brookdale", Hokonui (died 1980 aged 91 years) proudly wrote in 1974 that he had purchased a bankrupt estate of 3,000 acres in the Hokonui area in 1906 and that "one of my happy thoughts as I take my departure" was that he had secured 470 acres of forested land bordering three sides of "Brookdale" as a native forest reserve. Along with his long letter he enclosed two small pieces of Hokonui fern.

If you're really into the history of "Hokonui Moonshine" here's some really informative and interesting (clickable) links, even the original recipes :
- Hokonui Distilleries Ltd
- New Zealand Geographic - Hokonui Moonshine
- Clan MacRae - South Island Moonshine
- Hokonui Moonshine Museum

Copyright : This blog may not be reproduced without my specific written permission. Excerpts may however be quoted for non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged.

Sources :

- "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Pages From The Memory Log of G.M. Hassing", 1930 (from my own collection)
- "Looking Back 100 Years - Heddon Bush School 1881-1981" (from my own collection)
- "The Southland Daily News" (From my own collection)
- Watson family papers (in my possession)
- Various Internet resources
- With thanks to Geoff & Paula Kidd, Oreti

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Story of the Invercargill Town Clock 1860 - 1989 (Part Four of Four)

Wachner Place and the Re-Instated Town Clock
as it appears today

From Gathering Dust to Re-Instatement 
1943 - 1989

This concludes the story of Invercargill's 1893 'Littlejohn' Town Clock and chimes. You can read the first part HERE. This fourth part details the final restoration and re-mounting of the clock and chimes almost half a century later.

A four-sided electric non-striking clock, the gift of Miss Lumsden on the 14th April 1942, had been placed on a pole on the "tramway island" opposite the Post Office, now more or less taking the place of the old Post Office clock for public and tramways timekeeping. After the Tramways system was scrapped in September 1952 this clock was, with some opposition, shifted a short distance south to the Boer War Memorial at the corner of Dee and Tay streets where a modern replacement clock is still situated today.

On the 18th July 1950 the Council referred to their Works Committee a suggestion that the old Post Office clock and chimes be re-erected in a structure not less than 60ft in height. Upon the Council being advised that this would cost "some thousands of pounds" the matter appears to have been dropped. A "Southland Times" report from the 1970's claims that "several attempts have been made to have the clock re-erected". All appear to have failed because of the need for a structure at least (as above) 60ft in height and space of at least 12 sq ft for the mechanism not to mention a suitable site; "cost and site presented problems to which no solution could be found".

In October 1952 the Dunedin City Council, who were then seeking a replacement for their life-expired Exchange clock asked about the suitability of the Invercargill clock for their purposes. The Invercargill Town Clerk duly replied with the relevant dimensions and quoted a guide price of around £400 based on scrap brass value as "it is unlikely to be used again by my Council". The feeling may have been that as Invercargill had installed a 'Gent & Co. Pulsynetic' system for electric clocks around the city with a master clock in the Town Hall there was probably no longer any relevant need to retain the old clock.

In November 1952 the Invercargill Town Clerk replied again "that the Council, after consideration, regrets that the clock and chimes are not available for sale." Likewise, the offer of the services of their retired clock service-man to install it was likewise withdrawn. There was thankfully still some sentimentality attached to the old clock but it would be interesting to know how close the vote came to losing it.

The clock mechanism, bells and partially broken clock faces would now continue to gather dust in the Invercargill water tower until around 1973 when the question of reinstating the clock would resurface at a Council meeting. It was felt that the old clock and melodic chimes "would lend a quaint old world atmosphere to the city".

Mr Alex Casey with one of the Clock Faces,
taken circa 1973
[Source : "The Southland Times"]

A qualified Horologist, Mr Alex Casey, inspected the various parts and "marvelled at the excellent condition of the mechanism, which showed hardly any wear and only minor rust." He was, however, "staggered at the size of the bells", warning that they may create "a big noise problem." Three of the four dials had their centre glass missing and could be expensive to replace but the hands were intact and the winding handle had been found. He also thought the 8ft pendulum was large, "even by town clock standards.".

But a "ding-dong problem" now confronted the appointed Council sub-comittee when it was found that one of the bells was missing. I recall the mad scramble round Invercargill church bell towers searching for a 'missing' 2cwt Town Clock "chime" bell. Then some bright individual pointed out that the clock chime only ever extended to the four bells in storage, the musical setting for this being on Mr Nicol's printed card shown in my second blog. The set comprised of one large hour bell and three chime bells.

Around 1978, and with at least the condition of the clock making restoration possible, a Council committee, including representatives of local organisations, now set to work. Firstly, members of the the local Jeweller's Association would fully assess the clock mechanism while a suitable site was thought to be on the corner of Tay street and Elles Road / Queen's Drive where a 105ft tower would be erected. A local Architect then drew up a rough plan of what a suitable tower might look like. Mr Casey also advised that the bells could easily be switched off at night.

The Invercargill Town Clock
in Wachner Place Today
[Source :]

But it would be 1989 before the clock and chimes were eventually reinstated. Wanting an inner city site and to partially recreate the sorely missed town square, Council would close off part of the western end of Esk street, a clock tower with linking arcades forming a backdrop (and wind break!) to the new square which would be known as "Wachner Place", so named after a former Mayor, Abraham Wachner. Unspecified parts from the former 1900 'Littlejohn' Bluff Post Office clock were also used for the restoration. I wonder what now remains of the latter clock which is reported to have had "cathedral chimes"?

The 1894 'Littlejohn' Clock Mechanism
[Source :]

The large mechanism of the Invercargill clock is visible at ground level and can be viewed working through glass panels with the bells in the tower above, together with a brass plaque with the history of the clock and the musical score for the Westminster chimes :

"Town Clock History"
[Source : www.waymarking,com]

"Town Clock History - Originally installed in 1894 in the Old Post Office Tower in Dee Street, for the sum of £250, and the council were asked to supply the chimes for this clock. The Turret Clock was manufactured by W.J. Littejohn of Wellington and the bells cast by W. Cable of Wellington in 1893. The clock has a double three-legged escapement mechanism with a one-and-one-half second pendulum and a bob weight of 160lb. and is of the same design as 'Big Ben'. In 1943 the clock and tower were dismantled as it was considered to be an earthquake risk. The council was asked to accept the clock and chimes as the property of the citizens of Invercargill. The clock and chimes were restored by council staff in 1989 using the original clock and parts and bells from the town clock from Bluff."

This statement does infer that bells were also used from the Bluff Post Office clock but I am not aware that this was actually the case. If anyone knows anything more about this I would be pleased to hear from you and will update this blog accordingly.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Story of the Invercargill Town Clock 1860 - 1989 (Part Three of Four)

The Invercargill Post Office and Town Clock.
Taken prior to 1908
[Source :]

Proving Its Usefulness
1900 - 1943

This continues the story of Invercargill's 1893 'Littlejohn' Town Clock and chimes. You can read from the first part HERE. This third part details the lengthy campaign to have the clock tower raised and the reason for the eventual dismantling and storage of the clock.

In July 1900 comes a surprising report. The Mayor, Mr J.S. Goldie, is reported as having received a telegram from Mr J.A. Hanan, Invercargill Member of the House of Representatives, confirming that he had "interviewed the Minister [of Works] re raising the Post Office tower, so that the clock may be seen and the chimes heard all over the town. The Government are prepared to bear the expense of raising the tower, if the Borough Council or the public will bear the cost of raising the clock." The Council duly agreed to bear their share of the expense.

But raising the tower would apparently not be as easy as first anticipated. In August 1900 the Minister of Public Works writes that he had been advised; "that the brick work is as high as it is safe to take it as the walls and foundations were not designed for a greater weight than has been put on them. The tower could, however, be carried up in timber and brick nogging (not solid brick work), cement plastered on exterior, for some 15ft or so additional, but the clock would require to have seven feet dials to be seen effectively."

The Mayor then advised Council that "Mr Sharp" had informed him "that the building was quite strong enough up to the walls of the tower, above which they were somewhat weak; but still he thought they were quite strong enough to admit of the tower being carried 15ft higher." The matter was referred to the Finance Committee who duly recommended "That the Government be informed that the clock tower can be safely raised 15ft without any public risk."

Mr Hanan advised Council in early September 1900 that he had interviewed the Minister of Works who had handed him a copy of the report on the matter by the Government Architect, Mr Campbell. The latter did not believe there was much advantage in raising the tower but that the chimes might be placed above the clock chamber. This would be at a cost of about £300 "Councillor Stead thought the public would not be satisfied with simply raising the bells, they wanted the clock raised."

In November 1900 Council were advised that the Government would however vote £250 towards raising the tower, again subject to the Council bearing the cost of moving the bells. The Mayor noted that original plans had provided for a tower 25 feet higher but had, it was believed, been reduced due to consideration of cost. The Council would ask the Government for plans of the proposed alterations. In July it was advised that the plans submitted had not been approved by the [Works?] Department and that new plans would have to be prepared. This would, however, lead to a further delay but there the matter appears to have rested as there is no further mention of it.

Just after midday on the 23rd January 1901, the clock, along with church bells, began tolling upon the sad news being received that Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, had died.

In response to an offer by Mr Nicol in March 1901 to install more efficient lighting of the town clock dials at a cost of £42 per annum for five years, a correspondent notes that "the tradesman" already receives £40 a year, that "the illumination is quite good enough for all the distance that the time can be made out on the dials" but notes ruefully that for the price paid there might be an improvement in the running of the striking mechanism; "Every few days or week we have erratic chiming, or, as to-night, none at all; the hour struck mixed up with the chimes or at 15 minutes past the hour... the Council should call upon their servant for an explanation." In actual fact, Messrs Nicol Bros. appear to have charged £25 p.a. for maintaining the clock.

But the clock itself appears to have proven itself an accurate timekeeper. In April 1906 "The Southern Cross" marked the twelve year anniversary of the clock, noting that; "Many doubted its ability to keep the correct time, but it has now lived to prove its usefulness, and if it performs its duty as well during the next 12 years, it will have served the residents well."

In June 1909 the District Traffic Manager of Railways advised Council that "The Department had been in the habit of coveniencing the public by delaying departing trains when the Town Clock was slow, but the discrepancy on the 8th inst. had amounted to eight minutes, and it was out of the question to delay trains that length of time." The mayor advised that he had discussed the matter with "Mr J.T. Peter's" who had kept a man in the tower "to watch the machinery for the purpose of finding out what the trouble was." and to "rectify any fault that appeared." He believed that "the clock had been knocked about" and that unknown persons had removed shot from the compensating balance. It was believed that members of the public were accessing the tower and that a glass casing should also be placed over the main parts of the clock.

In April 1912 a similar problem of irregular timekeeping was noted with the tramways after complaints had been received about the irregular running of the trams which had timed their departure to the Town Clock. But, as the Inspector noted, no trams had left before the advertised time.

In August 1912, and despite Cabinet having voted the sum of £400 the previous July, the Minister of Public Works advised; "that if the chimes are raised as proposed there will be no occasion to elevate the clock itself, and in view of the considerable additional expense which would be involved, it has been decided, after consideration, not to interfere with the position of the clock or dials."

By September 1913 continuing problems with the chimes and of timekeeping caused the Town Council to notify the contractor "that unless the clock is attended to more satisfactorily than it has been for some time the contract will be cancelled and the deposit forfeited." Mr J.T. Peters had been awarded a new three year contract in March 1912 for his tender price of £25 p.a. but as he was now out of town he had sublet the contract to Mr J.S. Roby. The latter was to be notified that the Council intended terminating his contract.

This appears to have spurred Mr Roby into action, replying that he had taken over the clock which he had now "overhauled and put in good order and repair and had it going within ten seconds of time over a period of a week." As Peters advised in Novermber 1913 that he had sold his jewellery business the afore-mentioned Mr Roby was then given the job of maintaining the clock.

In June 1914 the Mayor, Mr D. McFarlane, advised Council that he had written to the Minister of Public Works drawing his attention yet again to the raising of the Post Office Clock tower which, due to building work all around, could not now even be seen beyond the other side of the street; "An objection was formally raised to the proposal on account of the difficulties which would have to be overcome in raising the tower, but Mr McFarlane has stated that it has since been found that the difficulties can be easily overcome."

In July 1914 the Town Council received word that Government had finally approved the raising of the tower by twenty feet and that the matter was now in the hands of the Public Works Department. But with the First World War soon taking precedence the work did not proceed and the necessary funds appear to have subsequently been removed from the Government vote. The last mention of this matter in Council appears to be July 1919.

In July 1919 Council were advised that "the Post Office clock was being interfered with and damaged by small boys who were in the habit of climbing up to the works." A small bomb or cracker was found lying on the floor of the clock room and one of the wire cables that carry the striking weights (which weighed over three cwt.) had been partly cut through. This matter was referred to the "Government authorities" for action. Security in the clock tower does appear to have always been somewhat lax.

The Foundations Under Construction for the New Post Office.
Foundation Stone laid 2 Aug 1938
[Source : "The Southland Times"]

But the clock and chimes would continue to mark the time and chime the quarters, at least to those within sight or earshot of the Post Office Square, up until the late 1930's. With the need for a new enlarged Post Office, and "to the dismay and indignation of the people of Invercargill", the Government authorities of the day decreed that the Square facing the old Post Office would be utilized for this purpose, thus now depriving the City of a useful public space. But even as early as 1893 the Government had made it very clear that any use of the space was conditional until they required it for their own purposes. The foundation stone would be laid on the 2nd August 1938.

The city council were however advised on the 17th December 1940 that the Government had no objection to the old clock remaining in situ behind the new building,  While the clock would largely be obscured from Dee street the chimes would at least still be heard. The new three story Invercargill Chief Post Office building (which I worked in for 18 years), to the design of Government Architect Mr J.T. Mair, would be officially opened by the Hon. Patrick Webb, Postmaster-General, on the 28th July 1941.

But the death knell for the old clock and chimes came as early as 1943 after the Government had decreed that all towers on Government buildings must come down "because of previous experience with earthquakes", a reasoning that was actually quite valid. The Council were then asked to accept the clock and chimes "as the property of the citizens." The clock would now be placed in storage in their old water tower.

Click HERE to read the fourth and final part of this Blog.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Story of the Invercargill Town Clock 1860 - 1989 (Part Two of Four)

The Invercargill Post Office and Town Clock,
Published in "The Otago Witness" 4 Apr 1906
[Source : Alexander Turnbull Library]

Setting the Clock in Motion

1892 - 1899

This continues the story of Invercargill's 1893 'Littlejohn' Town Clock and chimes. You can read the first part HERE. This second part describes the building of the clock tower, the ordering of the clock mechanism and chimes, the starting ceremony, and some of the initial unforeseen problems encountered with the clock.

By April 1892 it was noted by a correspondent that "the Post Office building is in course of extension" and that now was the time to have a town clock incorporated as a central part, preferably in a clock tower over the entrance portico as "if the building goes on without regard to the requirement , it will be difficult hereafter to supply the deficiency."

On the 14th April 1892 a deputation duly waited upon the Hon. J.G. Ward, Postmaster-General, to urge that provision be made to having a large clock placed on the new Post Office building. The Mayor noted that both in Wellington and in Wanganui the Government had erected clocks above new Post Office buildings and as Invercargill would;

"ultimately become the 'City of the South', [it] had a reasonable right to an equal concession... If the Government provided a clock the Corporation would probably agree to provide for the lighting of the clock by giving the gas free."

The Hon. Mr Ward replied that a clock would "require a fairly large sum of money", going on to suggest that "if a little effort were made by the people of Invercargill in the way of subscribing a small contribution towards the cost of purchasing a clock, he could undertake to say that a turret would be provided." The Mayor noted that the citizens had been "canvassed freely of late in connection with other calls" and if the Postmaster-General could see his way to give the clock, the citizens would, he thought, provide the chimes by subscription. This offer was noted as "a reasonable one" and if the citizens provided the chimes and the council the lighting, "he would promise to erect the tower and clock."

The Borough Council duly approved a resolution (with four dissenting votes) agreeing to light the clock and also, after some discussion, to keep it in repair. The Postmaster-General had since learnt that other corporations were responsible for the maintenance of their town clocks and that this would be "a primary condition". The Mayor noted that Dunedin's Town Clock, of English manufacture and having been purchased in 1880, "had cost nothing in repairs" nor had the clock at Ashburton which was of New Zealand manufacture.

But it appears the chimes would not please everyone. A letter to the Editor from "Sweet Silence" dated the 29th April 1892 is quick to point out that;

"When I go to Dunedin I pass my night a-bed in vain attempts to get to sleep between the chimings of the town clock there. The inhabitants no doubt get used to the musical sounds, but to strangers they are a nuisance, and as our clock will be right in the middle of our hotels, if chimes are attached to it, visitors will bless those who, in their great desire to mark their era by some great work, inflict such a sleep-murdering device on weary mankind."

A "South Ward Ratepayer" writing on the 27th August 1892 was also quick to query the Borough Council voting to contribute the sum of £250 towards adding "toy chimes" to the Town Clock at the cost of other necessary projects;

"The Council can find money to throw away in ding-dong toy chimes - which can only amuse children, while they treat the jetty with neglect and so treat the trade of our port, which is certainly a matter of vaster importance to the community that town clock chimes."

In February 1893 tenders were duly called for the erection of the clock tower. But a delay ensued after the tender prices were considered too high so the contract was re-advertised in March. Finally, and in April, Mr G. Morrison would be awarded the tender. But already there were grumblings about the lack of height for the tower meaning the clock could not easily be seen from around the city. The height of the tower would be 90ft with the height to the centre of the clock dials being 85ft.

As regards the tender for supplying the clock, the Council were advised that only one tender had been received so this would be re-advertised in June, the stipulation being that "the time-piece to be made in the colony". A Councillor moved that an "hour bell" be included additional to the chimes. The Mayor reported that there would be four bells weighing a total of 30cwt, the largest to be about 10cwt. A separate bell would cost at least £200 and alterations to the tower would be necessary. The motion was therefore lost.

Curiously, "The Southland Times" note on the 18th July that although a tender had recently been accepted for the Invercargill Post Office clock, they had it on good authority that the successful tenderer had already completed the work, it being well known that there was only one firm in the colony which could complete the work. Littlejohn and Sons of Wellington were the successful tenderer at £685 The four bells would be cast by Messrs Cable & Co. of Wellington, the largest now weighing in at 11½ cwt. and the smallest at about 7 cwt. The chime would be the same as at Westminster London, being known as the St. Mary's chimes, of Cambridge. At the end of the 18th century words were written to the musical chimes by the Rev. Dr. Taylor (as shown on the card below).

The four open clock faces on the tower were now completed and boarded up, but; "As that facing Dee street had on the boarding a well painted representation of a clock dial, not a few passers by imagined that the big clock was already in position."

While the new Post Office would be formally opened on the 7th August 1893, it would be some months before the clock and chimes, together with the clock faces, would be installed. This work would commence under the supervision of Mr W. Littlejohn after the "Waihora", having carried the clock, bells and machinery down from Wellington, arrived at the Bluff on the 15th March 1894.

Hoisting the bells up into the tower by the use of a derrick and winch proved difficult and time consuming, not helped by it being found that the largest bell, having a diameter at the bottom of 3ft 6in, would not fit through the window which was only 3ft 2in wide. This necessitated the removal of a number of bricks. Additionally, the floor upon which the clock would rest was found to not be sufficiently stable and needed strengthening. Lead flashing would also need to be laid on the floor of the bell tower to carry away water that would surely find its way through the louvered windows in stormy weather. The clock tower inner walls would be whitened "so that the illuminating power of the gas at night may be fully utilised."

By the afternoon of Monday the 2nd April work had advanced sufficiently for the Dee street clock face to be connected to the mechanism, now faithfully recording the time. But the official ceremony of starting the clock would be at 3pm the following day.

A card printed by Mr Nicol when the Post Office clock
was erected in 1893 with the musical score for the chimes
[From a card formerly in my possession]

With Tuesday the 3rd April 1894 being declared a public holiday and with the weather all that could be wished for, a large gathering of citizens had gathered in the Post Office Square to witness the official starting of the clock and the chiming of the bells. With space in the tower at a premium, only a select group, comprising mainly of past Mayors, councillors and the contractor, would witness the current Mayor, Mr Raeside, cutting a slender bit of twine which then set the pendulum in motion. Various speeches (each one reported on) were then given but were only heard by those guests in the tower with the public having to content themselves with just hearing the chimes and hour bell.

"His Worship said that the ceremony might appear to some to be a small one and of little moment, but he regarded it as a very important function and felt no small pride in his part in it."

Mr McFarlane, immediate past Mayor, along with others present, noted that a tower 30 or 40 feet higher would have been an improvement. While they had reason to be thankful he believed that had the question of adding another storey to the tower been put to the ratepayers at the time they would have authorised it. It was noted that even the Architect had protested from the start against the short tower.

But overall, all were pleased and grateful to the Government, the clock being "one of the evidences that the Government fully recognised the importance of the district." Councillor Mair added that he "hoped its presence would relieve the citizens of the scream of whistles and jangle of bells which now made certain portions of the day hideous."

Mr William Nicol, Watchmaker and Clockmaker in the Athaeneum building next door, would initially hold the tender for maintaining the Town Clock. His son, who entered the business in 1893, had in fact previously worked for Littlejohn's in Wellington so was quite conversant with their timepieces.

But the clock early on "disgraced its elevated position by playing practical jokes". The headline on the 26th January 1895 reading "Oh you Giddy old clock! What were you thinking of?" reports the first problem with the clock; "The Post Office clock, heretofore a model of propriety, behaved in a most erratic fashion for about half an hour, making time fly with the recklessness of a chronological millionaire." It appears that the clock struck the hour 383 times - and at night - making it "383 o'clock" although "The Times" made it 550, "but at that hour of the night the reckoning of a few hundreds is neither here nor there." The cause is not given.

While the clock would safely usher in 1896, with Mr Nicol sending off coloured flares and catherine wheels from the clock tower, the beginning of 1897 would highlight a major problem which had in fact been previously highlighted - that of the floor supporting the clock;

"Mr Wm Nicol, custodian of the post office clock states that the partial and unharmonious chiming of the quarters, which has been so noticeable recently, is not due to any defect or derangement of the mechanism which he can remedy, but to the warping of the floor of the tower. Upon the rigidity of this depends the accuracy of the work of the striking movement and the recent hot dry weather has so twisted the woodwork, that, as no doubt been noticed, one of the hammers does not get in its blow and a note is of course omitted. Mr Littlejohn, of Wellington, who built and erected the clock, remarked at the time that the construction of the floor was such that it was likely that the chimes would not at all times be perfect. A few days of humid atmosphere would probably bring the floor back to normal conditions and nature would thus rectify the defect, but the insertion of a light iron girder would be the best solution of the trouble as it would not be effected by the weather." [Sthlnd Times, 28 Jan 1897]

At the same time Mr Nicol requested Borough Council approval to have a heavier weight cast for the chiming barrel, the present weight being insufficient as highlighted by the current warping of the wooden bell frame on which the bells were hung. This request was left to the Mayor "With power to act". As to if he 'acted', this question would appear to be answered in February 1899 when the same chiming problems occurred. "Hour Hand" writes asking not only why the clock had not been lighted for the previous three nights but also why the chimes are frequently wrong or do not strike at all; "When a clock neither strikes nor is seen, one begins to ask the use of it." In March it was noted that one of the hammers was not striking but again, the cause is not noted. At this time Mr Nicol still held the tender for maintaining the clock.

You can read the third part HERE.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Story of The Invercargill Town Clock, 1860 - 1989 (Part One of Four)

The Former Invercargill Post Office
"Littlejohn" Clock Mechanism as it appears today

The Importance of An Accurate Knowledge of Time
 1860 - 1891

(Last Update 12 Jun 2017)

In 1989 the southern City of Invercargill finally resurrected their precious Town Clock and chimes, having once graced their 1893 Post Office building before spending almost half a century in storage.

When I myself saw the dusty remains of this clock, including the bells and partially broken clock faces, in storage and gathering dust in the Invercargill Water Tower during a school visit in 1970 I, along with almost everyone else who had seen them, would never have imagined that this clock would realistically ever see the light of day again, let alone once more becoming a fully functioning timepiece. But from a "peep show" and "ding-dong toy chimes" to "dismay and indignation" the long fight to not just obtain - but also retain - a Town Clock over the years has not been without its many challenges. This four part blog is not intended as a comprehensive history of Timekeeping in Invercargill although other clocks are mentioned in passing or where relevant.

I am aware of a three page article pertaining to this subject by John Watts in the NZ Postal History Society quarterly journal, "The Mail Coach" of Feb 2011, but am unfortunately unable to access it locally nor does it appear to have been published elsewhere.

Our story commences back in 1860 when Invercargill became the centre of the new self-governing Province of Southland. It was natural for the residents to now expect those civic amenities that other towns enjoyed and which would also reflect their 'importance'.

As early as the 10th July 1863 the local "Invercargill Times" writes;

"In Dunedin, the importance of an accurate knowledge of time, or rather an accurate standard, has so impressed itself upon those in authority, that a large clock has been constructed so as to peep out from the higher story of the Custom House building, and thus prominently inform all of the progress of the old gentleman with the scythe. Were the same idea followed out here,... it would be in its results most useful to the inhabitants, and conduce towards preventing the community in general being 'behind the time'. There is scarcely a village, either in old countries or new, which has not its public clock."

In September 1863 the same newspaper again stressed the need of a public Town Clock, referring to the present woefully inadequate arrangement at the Post Office for ascertaining mail time closures, being sarcastically referred to as a "Peep Show";

"We have before adverted to the necessity there exists for a clock, placed in such a position as to be of service to commercial men and others. The present peep show at the Post-Office is of little use. Strangers cannot of course be aware of it, and townspeople have not always the time in the crowded portion of the day to fight their way to the 'hole in the wall'. On the last English mail day towards half-past eleven o'clock, there were so many scrambling to ascertain the hour, that ordinary folks thrust their letters into the box regardless of late stamps, and reckless for a month's delay. The Provincial Government would earn the thanks of the community, by placing a large legible clock on a public site such as the Government buildings, or the General Post-Office. We do not think the expense would break their bank."

The Invercargill Railway Station showing
the clock above the Entrance, circa 1860's
[Source : Centenary of Invercargill Municipality]

By July 1864 it appeared that the closest to a town clock for the time being would be a timepiece placed above the main entrance of the new Railway Station, being the new "Grand Termini of the Bluff and Oreti Railways", but primarily for the use of travellers. This clock, featuring a 30 inch dial, and manufactured by 'Elder' of Bourke street, Melbourne, would be fitted up in October 1864.

But in September 1864 Mr Broad, a Jeweller of Tay street (and previously of Beverley's, Dunedin), would make the town a generous offer. He had in his possession a large eight day clock with two three foot diameter transparent dials, a seven foot pendulum,and lighting, having been made by "Messrs Syms and Sons" in Edinburgh for "a Town Hall, Church or other public building" and costing £200. This timepiece he would offer to the Town of Invercargill "by subscription" and to place it in the hands of three gentlemen "who should appoint a site for its erection". "The Southland Tmes" optimistically noted that;

"Seeing that so much inconvenience is felt in this town from the want of correct time, we trust this opportunity would not be lost by the Inhabitants of Invercargill, and that the sum required for the purchase of this clock may speedily be found."

But there is not one further comment in the paper regarding this offer and Mr Broad must have then sold it on. But another clock would at least be erected at this time. On the 4th April 1894 an "old identity" called into the offices of "The Southern Cross" after the new Post Office Clock had been started the previous day. He related that "a good many years ago he assisted to put up the scaffolding for a clock on the old iron building in Dee street where the Theatre Royal now stands." Mr Watt had erected an imported iron building on this site in 1863 before it became Sloan's Theatre about 1875 and Broad Smalls hardware shop from 1903.

But from this gentleman's comments it would appear that the clock, known as the 'Exchange Buildings' clock, soon "lost its tick and suspended operations" so was no more reliable as a town clock that any of the others. It appears that this "large clock", which included a ninety pound weight, had been erected above Mr Watt's 'Exchange' building some time just prior to June 1866. I have no idea if this had been Mr Broad's clock mentioned above but this two-faced clock must have been driven by a mechanism inside the Exchange Buildings so it is certainly possible that Broad's clock had been adapted for this use.

Next we find an editorial dated the 5th July 1867 referring to the General Government purchasing and installing public clocks;

"The want of a public clock has long been felt in Invercargill. In most other towns in Australia and New Zealand the want is met by a post-office clock. True it is that there is a railway clock of erratic notoriety; and inconveniently placed for general utility. The following paragraph will show that the Postmaster-General is giving his attention to clock erections, and it is to he hoped that his operations will be extended to this town. The 'Canterbury Times,' 22nd June, says :-'In the absence of a public clock in Lyttelton, it is gratifying to notice that the General Government have supplied the telegraph office with a clock of a superior description, manufactured to order in Melbourne... The office at Christchurch has also been fitted with a clock of a similar kind'"  

We then find that a new clock would be fitted up at the Post Office in September 1867. But as this clock would show Wellington rather than Invercargill time [New Zealand then had different time zones] would it be a 'convenience' or an 'inconvenience'? ;

"The business of the Electric Telegraph Department will now be regulated as, regards time, by a new clock which has just been placed in a prominent position over the outer door of the office. It will be necessary, however, for those doing business through the wires, to bear in mind that as the clock is to be kept to Wellington time, it will always be some forty minutes in advance of Invercargill time..."

Dee Street Invercargill showing the Elegant
 "Exchange Buildings" at right with the Clock
highlighted by an arrow. Taken 1860's.
[Source : Centenary of Invercargill Municipality]

There were evidently reliability issues with the afore-mentioned Exchange Buildings clock as it was taken down, cleaned and oiled, and placed on a new and stronger stand in October 1869 "so that the vibration of the building will not disturb the works". Additionally, "a patent copper cord, presented by Mr R. Tapper would replace the native flax cord previously used so that sudden stoppages, through breakage of the cord, will now be avoided." At this date the clock was "placed in the hands of E.D. Butts, Esq. [the Chief Postmaster], who has authorised Mr Renwick to collect subscriptions for its purchase for the public". This will be the clock projecting from the Exchange Building in the photograph above.

But as with Mr Broad's clock there is no further specific mention of this clock. Perhaps the public considered it was not "grand" enough for their town. At any rate it appears to have disappeared by 1874. While Mr H.E. Osborne, Auctioneer, advertised a "large clock" for sale in early 1872 this was only "suitable for a church or public hall" so would probably have been a 14" Station type clock.

"The Sign of The Clock" (George Lumsden)
when located in Tay Street, pre 1872
[Source : Kete Invercargill]

George Lumsden, a Watchmaker and Jeweller with premises known as "The Sign of the Clock" located in Tay Street "opposite the English Church" prior to Oct 1872 and thereafter in Dee Street "opposite the Post Office" had a public clock with two faces above his shop. The same clock can be seen above his old shop above and above his new shop below. But this appears to be too small to have been Broad's clock which had three foot diameter dials.

"The Sign of The Clock" (George Lumsden)
when located in Dee Street, post Oct 1872
[Source : Kete Invercargill]

In May 1874, an anecdote is related of how a traveller wanted to start from Invercargill by one of the morning coaches. This perfectly demonstrated the farcical lack of reliable public timekeeping in the town. After ascertaining the time with the Post Office he made doubly sure by testing his watch by the telegraph clock. This showed such a variation that he determined to check the time at the "Sign of the Clock" over the road. This proved "worse than ever" and on going round to the other side, he was still further puzzled to discover "that this two-faced clock was a perfect conundrum, as the two sides did not agree with each other!". In desperation he then rushed round to consult the Railway clock which was different again, the variation between all the clocks had been up to to fifteen minutes.

August 1875 would see a Meeting of the "Railway and Immigration Committee" in the Town Council Hall making a representation to Mr Cuthbertson, the Invercargill Member of Parliament;

"to use his utmost endeavors to get the additional sum necessary for the completion of the Government buildings placed on the estimates, and, if possible, to obtain the sanction of the Minister of Public Works to the erection of a tower and clock in the centre of the block."

Mr Cutherbertson advised in November 1875 that the site had now been secured by the Government and that, "next year, if he still remained member for the town, he hoped, by energy, and by having better reason on his side, to be able to secure money for the completion of the buildings." The Minister of Public Works would shortly be in Invercargill and would also see for himself. But such are the promises of politicians and Cuthbertson would be ousted in the 1875-76 General Election.

The New Clock placed above the
"eastern window" of the Telegraph Office
[Source : "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality]

In May 1877 "The Southland Times" reports that the Telegraph Office had obtained a clock from Wellington and that it had been placed in the eastern window of the building, "where it can be seen by the public, to whom it will be an excellent guide, as Mr Bush informs us the time is derived from Wellington every morning." This is the Government building shown above, having been designed by Colonial Architect Mr W.H. Clayton with tenders called in January 1875. The Telegraph Office moved into the upper floor of the eastern wing on the 15th July 1876. This building would form the south wing and part of the central wing of the new Post Office building opened in 1893.

A correspondent writing to the Editor in May 1883 notes that having travelled through Victoria and New Zealand he thought; "Invercargill is behind the towns of the sister colonies in not having a town clock." He goes on to suggest that a public meeting be called with a committee to be formed to divide the town into wards and have a subscription list prepared for the purpose of obtaining and erecting a clock. This was no less that twenty years since the desirability of a town clock for Invercargill had first been publicly highlighted. Even a "Stranger to Invercargill" remarks later that year that although "Invercargill is a very nice town", he goes on to suggest that "Perhaps a town clock in one of your beautiful buildings would be an improvement." But still the residents of Invercargill would be left wanting.

It appears that the Town Council, unlike the majority of councils and boroughs in New Zealand, desired the Central Government to pay for a town clock rather than out of their own funds. And of course the (by then debt ridden) Southland Provincial Government had been re-amalgamated with that of Otago in 1870 with all Provincial Governments themselves being abolished in 1876.

So, had it not been for this intransigence and southern 'penny pinching' Invercargill might have had a Town Clock as early as 1863. But does this, I wonder, also say something about the naturally thrifty nature of the predominately Scottish settlers of the south? Obviously it existed all the way up to their elected City Councillors and Mayor.

But the need for accurate town time had obviously now become acute. At a Council meeting in June 1887 Councillor Stewart moved that;

"Whereas the want of a correct public time is a great source of trouble and annoyance to employers and employed, and until a public town clock is provided it is expedient that the Fire Brigade Engineer ring the fire bell at 8, 12, 1 and 5 o'clock daily, Sundays excepted..."

The time would be set by the Telegraph Office time which came from Wellington.

With the bold heading "What O'clock?" a letter from "Northerner" to the Editor dated July 1891 again questions the lack of a Town Clock;

"One very great want and noticed in Invercargill - at least so nearly every stranger or visitor will tell you - is a town clock which could be seen and heard by night as well as by day - something reliable and worthy of the name. Surely our city fathers might make some move in so desirable a direction, seeing that every borough of any importance in the colony, with the single exception of Invercargill, possesses one, leaving us behind the time."

You can read the second part of this Blog HERE.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013

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