Sunday 30 July 2017

Dunedin's Electrical Entrepreneur, Mr R.C. Jones (With a Guest Appearance by "Electra", The Wonderful Electric Lady)

Robert Clay Jones, 1852 - 1928
Electrical Engineer, Entrepreneur and Inventor
Taken in Wellington circa 1910
[Source : Turnbull & Jones]

I am often amazed at the stories I just happen to stumble across in the course of my regular blog research. The story of Mr Robert Clay Jones of Dunedin was just far too good to be overlooked and forgotten. And in fact, as is usually the case, once I delved more deeply I became fascinated by this gentleman. The passion and ability Mr Jones exhibited in variously promoting, inventing, demonstrating, and lecturing on the uses and benefits of Electricity in an age where gas and oil lamps were very much the norm is well worth recounting. Such was his belief in how electricity could be utilized in so many useful ways for everyday household and commercial use that he would eventually make it his vocation.

Robert Jones, the son of a Liverpool Lawyer, first arrived in Dunedin in the 1860's, being accompanied by his widowed mother. By 1871 they had moved to the West Coast where Jones was apprenticed to a Watchmaker and Jeweller in Hokitika. While here he took an active part in the local Vocal and Amateur Dramatic Club as well as contributing to many good causes and charities. But it would be the electroplating of metal in the course of his profession that would 'spark' his interest in electricity.

In May 1874 we find Mr Jones, with some considerable regret, being farewelled prior to his returning to Dunedin in July, initially working as a draper with the firm of "Brown, Ewing & Company". But electrical experimentation and research had by now become not only his hobby but also his passion.

In July 1878, at the Telegraph Office, we find Mr Jones successfully demonstrating an electrical microphone he had constructed based on the new invention of Thomas Edison and Professor Hughes whereby sound could be effectively magnified through a Bell telephone receiver and speaker;

"Speaking into it at a distance of several feet from the telephone, the conversation was reproduced to the listener at the other end with astonishing distinctness... but the most astonishing surprise of all was that a whisper in the microphone, as soft as a lover's whisper, which could not be heard by those a foot away from Mr Jones was audible to the gentleman at the other end of the telephone."  

Dunedin Young Men's Christian Association
Lecture by Mr R.C. Cook on
"The Electric Light (with experiments)",
[Source : The Otago Daily Times, 12 May 1879]

Jones now commenced his popular public lectures on electricity and new technology, ably addressing the "Young Men's Christian Association" in August 1878 on the subject of "Electricity and the Telephone". His talk and demonstration of the "primitive" and the "improved" telephone microphone, which he had constructed from an illustration in the "Scientific American", were concluded with "considerable applause". This was followed up in May 1879 by a lecture on "The Electric Light (with experiments)". It was however noted that a fault in connection to the lecture "was its length and also the minuteness of detail with which every point of difference in the various inventions and patents were described.", the audience not being dismissed until after 10 o'clock.

In October 1879 Jones claims the invention of "The Electro-Thermostat", "an instrument which will give warning immediately on an outbreak of fire in any apartment in which it is placed". But a knowledgeable correspondent calling himself "Thermo-Pile" was quick to state that "while I have no desire to detract from the value of Mr Jones's contrivance, still I would point out that an apparatus of apparently a similar character... has been in use in the Home country for a number of years." The latter states that he looks forward with some interest to a fuller description of Jones' apparatus but unfortunately no more appears to have been said on the subject. The Turnbull and Jones history does however state that Jones, and in business with Mr J.K. Logan, "supplied Dunedin's first electrical alarms" but I am unable to confirm this from any other source.

In 1881 Jones built a curious electrical mechanism for the singing of "The Messiah" in St. Matthew's Church, beings based on M. Carpentier's invention of a communication device between a conductor and a hidden choir. Jones "arranged a similar piece of electrical mechanism, whereby the exact beat of the conductor was most successfully made plain to the organist by a little hammer at his side - a great improvement on the usual looking-glass system".

In August 1881 Jones is noted as having been a partner in "Watt & Co, Engineers & Electricians", the partnership being mutually dissolved on this date. We next find Jones lecturing on "The Daily Practical Applications of Electricity", being fully illustrated with experiments and lantern slide demonstrations. But as soon as November 1881 the apparently new partnership of "Jones and Le Lievre, Electro-Platers & Importers" (both having worked for "Watt & Co") was also likewise mutually dissolved.

But Jones' business involvement with "Watt & Co." appears to have endured as their battery powered "electro-dynamic engine" which "converts electricity into motive power", and having been designed by Messrs C.[Chase] Watt and R.C. Jones, was shown in October 1882; "These engines are eminently suitable for driving sewing machines, fret saws, dental engines, and every kind of light machinery." At a YMCA Church social later the same month Messrs Watt and Jones jointly exhibited not only their new Electro-Dynamo but also "a frictional engine machine, a battery of Leyden jars, electrical chimes, dancing figures, laryngoscope lit by the electric light, and galvanic, telegraphic, and telephonic instruments." Both gentleman would then lecture on the subject of electrical lighting with Jones continuing to speak on "Electricity and it's Applications".

In 1884, Jones took employment with the Union Steam Ship Company as their first 'Electrical Officer' and had the responsibility of installing electrical lighting on many of their larger vessels.

In October 1885 Jones next gave a lecture, "being both amusing and instructive", illustrating the many uses electricity could be put to including "firing off torpedoes, giving alarms, and surgical operations". Future lectures over the following years, including in Oamaru and Balclutha, would generally continue to illustrate the everyday and many practical uses of electricity including "Electric light, Telegraph, Telephone, Burglar Alarms, Fire Alarms, Electroplating, Electric Transmission of Power, Railways, &c." It would be in 1887 that Jones was appointed as an Associate Member of the Institute of Engineers [A.M.I.E.].

Jones would also himself utilize electricity in a practical manner in order to give regular and very popular limelight magic lantern slide shows on foreign travel, "with a mixture of comic slides", by means of the "Ozy-Hydrogen Light". I note many of his lectures supported inter-denominational Christian Church fundraising including providing his lighting expertise to the Jewish Congregation.

Many years after Jones' death, a grandson produced a letter the former had written to the well known German Physicist, Dr Heinrich Hertz [1857-1894] on the subject of the magnetic field of the Earth and the reply he had received. That such an eminent person as Dr Hertz, who proved the existence of electro-magnetic waves, took the time to reply says something for Jones' technical abilities.

In March 1896, the entrepreneurial Mr Jones, having been appointed a full Member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers [M.I.E.E.] in 1893, obviously felt sufficiently confident in his abilities that he wrote to the Lawrence Borough Council offering to give an estimate of the cost of electrical lighting for the township. His offer would be allowed to "lie on the table" while other options were explored but electricity would eventually win the day.

The Turnbull and Jones history states that Jones, ever the innovator, had studied X-ray and electrical medical treatment and worked with Dunedin hospital on its introduction. This no doubt led to Mr Jones leaving for Wellington in July 1897 where he took part in the vice-regal entertainments during the reception for the Governor and Lady Ranfurly. Here he assisted Mr R.T. Turnbull of Wellington [a brother of the well known Alexander H. Turnbull] in demonstrating Roentgen Rays [X-Rays] using a fluorescent screen nine square feet in size. Lord and Lady Ranfurly had their hands radiographed and "each had the pleasure of looking through the body of the patient little boy, a son of Mr J.K. Logan, Inspector of Telegraphs... The boy's heart and ribs could be easily discerned...". [I dread to think of the radiation the poor boy was subjected to].

Jones' electrical skills would next be utilized as chairman of the Lighting Committee for the 1898 Otago Jubilee Industrial Exhibition. The same year he would also provide a report on the requirements of the new classes for teaching practical electrical engineering at the Dunedin [later King Edward] Technical School.

But after having been in the employment of the Union Steam Ship Company for the previous 14 years, Jones would in April 1899 enter into an electrical engineering and contracting partnership with "a kindred spirit", the afore-mentioned Mr Robert T. Turnbull of Wellington [1865-1925], the business being named "Turnbull and Jones". Turnbull, who held 14,000 shares, would be in charge of the Wellington branch while Jones, who held just 1,000 shares, would be in charge of the South Island branches in Dunedin and Christchurch,

Their business would initially specialize in the supply of and installation of electric lighting, electric traction, electric power transmission plants, as well as being agents for "Crompton" dynamos, arc lamps, "Henley's" Telegraph cables and wires, and "Ediswan" electric lamps. Early orders to install electrical equipment for the New Zealand Refrigeration Company at Burnside and to design and supply hydraulic generating equipment and electrically driven power plant for the "Fourteen Mile Beach Gold Mining Company" dredge working in the Molyneux Gorge and the "Earnsclough No 3 Dredge Co" dredge working in the Frasers River / Clutha River area amply demonstrates the early commercial success the company enjoyed. Electricity driven gold dredging and mining equipment was then considered "a novelty" but "both of these dredges operated successfully for many years, and were the first three phase power plants in New Zealand." [R.T. Turnbull reminiscences, 1921]

The business would later encompass hydro-electric town plants, motor and generator installations, electric lifts, lighting and power installations, fire alarms, telephones, bells, wireless apparatus, magnetos, and electro-medical and X-ray apparatus, electrical repairs and the manufacture of parts in well equipped workshops.

Advertisement for a Lecture on "Electricity
in War and Peace
" and Featuring "Electra,
The Wonderful Electric Lady
[Source : Otago Daily Times, 16 Mar 1900]

In between his busy work schedule Mr Jones still found time for lecturing. It would be in March 1900 that Jones would lecture on "Electricity in Peace and War", in aid of the Fourth Contingent Fund [Second Boer War] Patriotic Fund. The lecture included "different sorts of magnets, bells for use in private homes and offices, a miniature cannon, electric lights, a watchman's clock,.. hospital clock, marine fire alarm, Roentgen ray apparatus, telephones, etc.". But the star of the show would undoubtedly be "one of the most ingenious and life-like figures it is possible to imagine" in the form of the 5 foot 4 inch high automaton, "Electra, the Wonderful Electric Lady", being the invention of Mr J. Jenkins of Rattray street.

Mr Jenkins who, "...has spent years perfecting his figure" and "a very large sum of money in adapting the necessary appliances to giving it the natural movements which enable it to represent a graceful young lady", was "persuaded" by Mr Jones to place his "animated lady" at his disposal for the event. Unfortunately, no photographs of "Electra" are known or her eventual fate but she is well described.

"The movements of the figure were watched with deep interest by those present. She glided on to the stage, carrying in one hand a bouquet of flowers, bowed to the audience, turned her head, moved this way and that, went over to Mr Barth at the piano and shook hands, and did other evolutions. The audience were thoroughly pleased with her demonstration."

A reporter, who had a preview of "Electra", additionally writes that "The automaton... is beautifully dressed in the latest fashion; her face is perfectly natural, as are also the movements she makes." She "...bows, turns round her head, moved her eyes, and moves with facility either forward, backward, or sideways. So natural is all this performed that if it took place on a public stage a great majority of the audience would only with difficulty be persuaded that the figure was not a real live lady."

Robert Clay Jones, circa 1921
[Source : Turnbull & Jones]

Thereafter, his business appears to have occupied much of Jones' time with frequent mention of his name in the daily Express Passenger List. But although very interesting, his latter work in the electrical field is primarily connected with his business activities rather than in a personal capacity so I will not provide a full resumé of this part of his career. This is however adequately detailed in the history of the firm published in 1988. But unfortunately, while "Jones was clever and hardworking [he had] little of the commercial sophistication of the Turnbull's."

This commercial failing became obvious in 1915 when an Assistant Manager had to be appointed to Dunedin to assist in returning the branch to profitability, The amounts Jones charged for large commercial deals had often been insufficient to cover commissioning and call back costs thus the business sustained a number of losses. While having been on a salary of £500 p.a. since 1902 the Company Board now made it obvious what they thought of his management abilities and reduced this to £350 p.a. While Jones was now on the "bottom rung and probably rather unhappy about it" he would at least remain a Director of the Company and continue in the employment of the company. In light of further revelations Jones probably had no choice but to remain working on until his death.

But by 1922 we find that Mr Jones was now President of the Otago Radio Association, a post he would hold until his death. In embracing and promoting this new technology to amateurs Mr Jones remarked (sensibly, and perhaps with some foresight), "that parents would have difficulty in getting boys to bed if they possessed wireless sets, but surely that was better for them than walking the streets at night". The early story of this Association would easily make an interesting blog in its own right.

But sadly, money again came to the fore with Jones evidently being a very poor manager of his own finances. His reduction of salary had only made this worse then leading to numerous pleas to the board for "better consideration". These would fall on death ears, the board long since having made known what they thought of his management skills.

After his death in 1928 Jones' finances "were found to be in a deplorable condition." His son, Longton, by now a senior manager in the firm, wrote to the board suggesting that, taking into consideration his Father's long association with Turnbull and Jones, that they could do something for Mrs Jones. The less than sympathetic board replied that "The Company had already assisted Mr R.C. Jones over a number of years, and the fact that the Dunedin office was not on a paying footing, it was impossible to make any grant to Mrs Jones further than a month's salary and the cancellation of the amount owing by the late Mr R.C. Jones... [around £45.0.0]".

Still, the partnership of Turnbull and Jones had endured from 1899 until Turnbull's death in a motor accident in July 1925 and Jones' death in August 1928. Both built the foundations of a very successful business which remained active until being taken over by Cory-Wright & Salmon Ltd. in 1984.

White Marble Gravestone of Mr Robert Clay Jones,
Anderson's Bay Cemetery, Dunedin
[Source : Dunedin City Council]

Robert Clay Jones A.M.I.E., M.I.E.E. and a Director of "Turnbull & Jones", died in Dunedin on the 4th August 1928 aged 75 years and is buried in the Anderson's Bay Cemetery. He was survived by his second wife and two sons by his first marriage. At their annual social the local staff of "Turnbull & Jones" observed a two minute silence out of respect to their late founder. The last word comes from the 1988 history of the firm; "It seems he always struggled financially, which showed where his true interests lay - work for the interest of it rather than the rewards."

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
- "Turnbull & Jones, 1899 - 1984 : First in the Industry", by Les Boyle 1988
- Dunedin City Council
- McNab Room, Dunedin Public Library
- Archives New Zealand

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 published sources state that he ceased business in 1797. I have since found this cannot be correct as I have now sighted a watch he sold with a case dated for 1808. This illustrates the challenge of researching out and piecing together accurate information when there is a paucity of period records.

I strongly believe that Mr Edmond himself did not manufacture 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. The mechanism will most likely be from a generic London manufacturer which would make more sense. Intriguingly, I have noted one watch sold by Mr Edmond, apparently dated 1790, and numbered 3446. having been sold on EBay but am unable to obtain an image of it. Another watch I have actually sighted is engraved for P. Edmond but dated for 1808 and numbered 1303. The latter movement is also of a different design. As mine is No 7142 and dated for 1797 I think this clearly tells us that the engraved number is for the unknown movement manufacturer and has nothing to do with Mr Edmond who simply engraved his name on it and sold it in his shop in Dublin. But if anyone has further information on 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, East [?] Side, 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.

Update Apr 2018 : Note the interesting public comment on Thomas Morgan posted in comments below which would now appear to date the watch paper to between 1790 and 1800. The paper itself would appear to record the address as "East Side" and "South Bridge Street" but is rather worn so indistinct.

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
- With my thanks to David Craig, Brisbane, Australia re Thomas Morgan

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 seized 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