Monday 31 December 2012

The Holiday Season - Rural New Zealand Style!

Washing up the dishes after an Outdoors Christmas Picnic Lunch,
Heddon Bush, New Zealand. Taken 25 Dec 1916.
[From my own collection]

That quiet holiday period in New Zealand, stretching from Christmas Eve until the first working day after New Years Day (either the 3rd of January or even later if it fell on a weekend) was right up until my late teenage years, characterized by many shops and businesses, and almost all service industries being closed. What was open operated on a skeleton staff. This led to the well-known expression that "New Zealand is Closed" during the holiday period, something which visitors found decidedly inconvenient. Especially with all schools being closed for the summer break, and if one was not away on holiday, one had to make one's own entertainment. For small rural communities the sense of community spirit was strong and local inhabitants willingly banded together to organise or promote any worthy event.

An unidentified piper in Highland costume playing
during a public event, possibly at Winton, pre 1920.
[From my own collection]

The small rural township of Heddon Bush where I was brought, being located on the vast Southland Plains of Southern New Zealand and under the shadow of the usually snow-clad Takitimu Mountains, was predominately populated by immigrants of Scottish and Irish descent. Coming as they did from the Northern Hemisphere, where winter of course fell over the Christmas period, the inhabitants were early on not slow in organising some summer entertainment. One also has to remember that, typically Scottish Presbyterian, Christmas Day itself held no religious significance for many, being treated purely as a day for family, relatives and friends. And if it fell on a nice sunny day then why not a picnic! While, of necessity, the daily grind of farm work continued, time could always be found for some communal entertainment and enjoyment.

Heddon Bush Sports Club Poster, Dec 1894
[From my own collection]

The "Heddon Bush Sports Club" appears to have successfully filled the void from around late 1892 until at least 1909. Held annually between the 28th and 28th December, this event included a full programme of horse racing, and competitive sports comprising of races, hurdles, walking races, high leap, wrestling, hammer throwing, stone throwing and a boy’s race. Competitors were charged 2s 6d entry fee, and along with Member's subscriptions, the profits were distributed pro-rata by way of prizes.

Heddon Bush Sports Club Member's Ticket, Dec 1895
[From my own collection]

The large printed poster for the 1894 Heddon Bush Races and Sports Day reproduced here was found among effects belonging to my relative Mr William Watson who acted as Treasurer. This, along with two members tickets for 1893 and 1895 respectively, are now held by the Invercargill City Libraries and Archives but were professionally scanned prior to donation. The Club appears to have waned around 1909, most likely due to increasing public mobility and other neighbouring events and entertainments which were now in easy reach by motor vehicle.

An Edwardian New Zealand New Years Greeting
Card with an image of a Maori Maiden.
[From my own collection]

New Years Day, should it fall on a nice day, was usually occasioned by a picnic in the countryside, perhaps at a river, or at the beach. Older members of my family could recall the lengthy task of "getting the car ready" for a days outing, something we hardly think twice about today. Such an event as a picnic with family and friends occasioned something more resembling an 'expedition'. Wooden crates (previously containing cans of motor spirit) would be packed with not only food but also crockery and cutlery. Latterly my family included fold-up canvas topped seats for everyone and a fold-up table.  Last but not least was the trusty Primus kerosine stove for heating the 'billy' for a cuppa. It was simply impossible to go without one's cup of tea!

Thus typically passed the "holiday season" in rural New Zealand. I wish you all a Happy New Year and the best that 2013 can bring you!

Bibliography :

- All images are from my own personal collection and may be freely copied provided a link is given back to this page.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Summer Holidays

Vintage New Zealand Holiday Poster,
circa 1940
[Source Internet]

I will now be taking a well-deserved break over the summer holiday season and will hopefully come back refreshed and inspired with more ideas to write about into 2013.

Vintage New Zealand Holiday Poster,
circa 1940
[Source : Internet]

As a bit of background, I had only just joined Blogger in 2011 when I was diagnosed with Leukaemia (AML) which then necessitated an enforced 17 week total stay in hospital and four gruelling rounds of chemotherapy.

"On Holiday"
-  an anthropomorphic Edwardian postcard from my own collection

I have since made good progress and the word defeat was never in my vocabulary. Adversity has however changed my outlook on life, my priorities and how I view the world. It has also emphasized how little control we have over our lives and the stress that others impose on us. Blogging has however proved extremely therapeutic in my recovery.

Dunedin Harbour and Peninsula, taken 16 Dec 2012

I do not work now (my choice) and balance my life between somewhat academic pursuits such as blogging and especially genealogy research; leisure and exercise, and particularly walking, and have now dusted off my trusty mountain bike and road cycle. Recreational road cycling has always been my passion and I have made a real effort to regain my full level of fitness to again do battle with Dunedin's hills as these two photos taken just this morning show.

"The Junction", North East Valley, Dunedin 16 Dec 2012

So, as we again approach Christmas I sincerely thank all those readers who have read my peripatetic wanderings. I have also greatly enjoyed reading those blogs that I subscribe to. As I look back on 2012 "Victory" does seem to have a special relevance for me. 

Taken at "Victory Beach", Dunedin. Dec 2012
(Photo Credit : S. Carroll)

Sunday 2 December 2012

Exploring an 1833 Scottish Sampler

Sampler worked by Miss Helen Dougal, Lanarkshire, Scotland, 1833 

I am indeed fortunate to have inherited a large 18 inch square embroidered sampler worked in 1833. Samplers were very commonly worked by young women to exhibit their needlework skills and many beautiful examples survive today. But sadly, damaging sunlight causing fading and rotting, unqualified attempts at cleaning and restoration, and inappropriate storage over the space of close to 200 years have taken their toll on many fine pieces. If cleaning of an old sampler is absolutely necessary I would strongly advise you to seek the assistance of an experienced fabric conservator who will test fibres for colour fastness and may also use specialised cleaning equipment including a dust vacuum. Professional museum staff are the best people to ask for advice on who should undertake such work.

Thankfully, this sampler is in good condition for its age, being worked on a backing of typically coarse weave linen which has darkened slightly with age. Being framed behind thin glass in a very old polished wood frame will at least will have kept dust and grime to a minimum. For at least the last 90 years it has always been hung in dark hall-ways well away from direct sunlight.

Rather than including the conventional elements of a sampler such as the alphabet and number sequences, this particular sampler has helpfully been designed as a genealogical family tree. But additionally, some interesting motifs also appear which have a recognised and deeper meaning. Intriguingly there is also the riddle of "Solomon's Temple". But more of that shortly.

Knowing the provenance of an artefact and the story of its creator adds considerable interest and value. Ownership of this sampler has always been retained by family descendants. Recent research on the history and format of samplers now firmly points to it being worked by Miss Helen Dougal, then aged about 16 years, and residing at Marshill Farm, Draffan [Drafan] in Lesmahagow Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland. The names of her parents, Thomas Dougal and Mary Dykes, appear along the top of the sampler. Helen has also made a point of highlighting her own name in full but only the initials of her six siblings, all being born between 1817 and 1831. The initials of her Father and his own siblings born between 1781 and 1798 have also been included.

Marrying Thomas Watson of 'Muirhead' Farm, Dalserf Parish in 1843, Helen Dougal died in May 1882 while in a state of "melancholia" after the death of her husband in October 1881. Both were interred in Dalserf Parish Churchyard. Unfortunately there is no known photo of Helen. The sampler was then brought out to New Zealand in 1886 by Helen's daughter, Miss Helen Watson. It has subsequently passed to me, being a Great Great Great Nephew of Helen Dougal.

This sampler is primarily in a traditional two-tone green, white and gold colour scheme. A skillfully executed decorative border surrounds the work. Notably visible among the many motifs are the large Scotch thistle signifying Scottish ancestry, two doves perched on a heart over the words "Amor" signifying love, and a number of birds and animals. In the centre are the words of the almost obligatory 'moral verse', in this case :

"Be virtuous while thou art young so shall thine age be honoured

This verse is attributed to Robert Dodsley in his 1750 work "The Economy of Human Life", being frequently reprinted in subsequent years including in "Elegant Extracts in Prose : Selected for the Improvement of Young Persons" published in 1816 which ran to at least 10 reprints.

The meanings of many of the motifs may elude me but an interesting list of meanings may be found HERE. But what of the intriguing reference to and representation of "Solomon's Temple"?

While many samplers include a typical representation of a school house or even of the family home, this sampler specifically includes the words "Solomons Temple" and an image of the 'temple'. This small architectural feature on a sampler is often referred to as "Solomon's Porch". Very similar images are found on samplers of the period and it is generally believed that this was a representation of part of Solomon's Temple which appeared in The King James version of the Bible published by John Field in 1660.

A 1660 Engraving of 'Solomon's Temple' published in
The King James version of the Bible by John Field in 1660.
[Source : Needleprint]

The 'Needleprint' website records an especially great interest in Solomon's Temple between 1790 to 1850. Models of the Temple were even made and toured for display. But one factor seems to focus on the year of 1847, and that was the date predicted for the second coming of the Messiah. Therefore the Temple as a symbol of the Christian faith was topical and very much to the fore. We know that Helen Dougal was a Religious and pious woman, I hold three volumes of the sermons of the Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon which were in her possession.

But one intriguing fact has emerged in my research of this sampler. While searching for similar styles of sampler I stumbled across one which is extraordinarily similar in style, being held by the 'Wyndham and District Historical Museum', also here in Southern New Zealand [View Link HERE].

Sampler by Mary Meikle, 1833
[Source : Needleprint]

This leaves me wondering if both Mary Meikle, who worked this sampler in 1836 and Helen Dougal who worked her sampler in 1833, both lived in Lesmashagow Parish, possibly having the same needlework teacher, or if they worked from a similar pattern book. While still individual works they are quite alike. Even the temple, doves on a heart, flower and Scotch thistle are the same. Mary Meikle, like Helen, has also made a point of highlighting her name in full.

I am not an expert on needlework but would welcome any comments on aspects I may have overlooked. A further Blog on my 1795 Scottish Sampler may be viewed HERE.

Bibliography :

- Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand
- Needleprint