Sunday 9 September 2018

"Missing in Action"

A not insignificant collection of slides and negatives
[Held by the Writer]

In case my readers have noticed a lull in posts I had better explain why I have been "missing in action"....

I have now commenced a major digitization project which will keep me very occupied for quite some time. My first project was digitizing my old VHS tapes using an inexpensive but effective cable to USB computer connector with an accompanying simple but equally effective program on CD. VHS tapes degrade over time and after a good 25+ years mine were no exception, the most noticeable change being slight fading, but are still watchable. I also had issues with some tapes being chewed up in my old VHS player which I think was due to old damage and creases to the tapes.

Anyone retaining this old technology, if they be now unobtainable commercial tapes or home movies, should consider digitization sooner rather than later, either undertaking this work yourself (at little cost except time) or commercially. Degradation to tapes cannot be effectively restored. Unlike vinyl records I seriously doubt that VHS will ever make a comeback. So my vinyl records are quite safe as they are and in fact my TV sound bar works very well amplifying the sound from my old but good quality Philips record player which now lacks its original amplifier.

Once this project was completed I then started thinking about my family slide and negative collection (not to mention an extremely large photographic collection), mainly taken from 1954 to 1974 with a considerable number taken around Scotland during 1957. Added to this are glass plate negatives from 1903-1915 and nitrate and cellulose negatives dating from 1918.

A word of warning here, old nitrate negatives are extremely unstable and virtually "blow up" if lit by a match. The effect is quite spectacular but I don't recommend it! The first sign of degradation is the smell of rotten eggs. Thankfully no later cellulose negatives are degrading, the first noticeable change being the smell of vinegar then the emulsion begins to noticeably "bubble". Unless you are a professional archive with the necessary equipment and a specialist studio for handling toxic chemicals there is no way of stopping this degradation which will ultimately destroy the negative.

Result from Old Scanner

So I have now purchased a professional scanner, an Epson V800, which is the same but updated model of a scanner I was using in my former 17 year life as a Photographic Archivist. The above image, being of the old, and no longer extant, Exchange Building in Dunedin was scanned, for want of any other quick option, with a cheap scanner. The image below shows what a difference a professional scanner can make. I almost feel that I could zoom right into those shops under the veranda, particularly on my high resolution scan.

Result from New Epson Scanner.
Exchange Building Dunedin,
Taken August 1960
[William Dykes Collection]

So, once I purchase a stand alone hard drive back-up I will commence scanning slides in earnest and completing a searchable database as I go. As there are quite a number of historical slides amongst the collection I may put up some here in due course. But my digitization efforts don't stop here.

My main hobby back in the early 1980's was taking Super 8 cine films, not the cheapest of hobbies considering that I mostly worked in sound and that alone required of necessity some quite expensive equipment, namely a good sound camera, sound projector, sound editor, splicing machine, and manual sound fader. The subject content primarily consists of vintage transport related films, steam railways, traction engines, tramways, classic car racing, vintage car club rallies, two steam tugs and a (now) 106 year old lake steamer.  

While I have been able to have my silent movies digitized by a relative in the USA as a favour on a "Wolverine" scanner the sound films could only be done commercially. Thankfully I was able to approach "Convert it" here in Dunedin who have already provided a very good quality transfer of one sound and two silent films which leaves me wondering if I might have a couple of the "Wolverine" transfers re-digitized. This next week I shall be submitting a further 16 sound films to "Convert it" and hope to get at least one or two back a week.

So, if any of my readers have any interest in vintage transport related films you can view one film already on my new UTube Channel under "Donald's Vintage Transport Film Archive" (clickable link). The first film, which was taken during the period 1981-82, runs for 30 minutes and is shown below. This film will play well on an HDMI or UHD television.

"Kingston Flyer"
Invercargill to Wairio Return

Interestingly, Super 8 film is still available today, but at some cost, and has developed an almost cult following amongst specialist amateur photographers because of the nostalgic and aged "look" of 8mm cine film which simply cannot be simulated by video. The method of developing the film has been simplified somewhat but the results are virtually the same as evidenced by some UTube uploads. Sound film is, however, sadly no longer available as the two magnetic sound tracks were affixed using an extremely hazardous substance. 

Had it not been for sound I would not have entered this hobby but I can still understand the strong appeal of cine film and musical backing can be very effective. I have not re-added any background music to avoid copyright infringement on UTube but the actual original recorded sounds literally speak for themselves. And one viewer even advised me that they liked hearing the occasional light background "clatter" of the camera film gate which emphasizes the fact that you are indeed watching a cine film. 

So, enjoy, and I will be back here in the foreseable future with some historic circa 50 to 60 year old colour images.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Dalserf - a 17th Century Scottish Parish Church

Dalserf  Church Today
[Image Used with the Kind Permission
of Bob Hamilton Photography]

Dalserf Parish Church in Lanarkshire, Scotland and originally built in 1655, is an interesting and very historic building dating from the time of Oliver Cromwell's "Interregnum" (Commonwealth). Unpretentious in design and not overly large, it is truly a rare survivor of this period in Scottish history. Having been altered, enlarged and ornamented over the intervening 363 years, Dalserf Church still happily serves the purpose for which it was originally built and consecrated. Furthermore, the church has weathered not just the passage of the ages but also, early on in its history, a major ecclesiastical upheaval which shook the Church of Scotland itself to its very core. This picturesque church, which I have personally visited three times, is also of great significance to me as my maternal mother's family worshiped here from 1784 to 1910, most now lying at rest in the adjoining walled graveyard.

The Curious "Hog Back" Stone (lower left)
outside Dalserf Church
[Image Used with the Kind Permission
of Bob Hamilton Photography]

But first let us take a short look at the interesting history of the church site itself. Other ecclesiastical buildings are believed to have existed here prior to the present structure and evidence of this early habitation can still be found outside the Church. In 1897, the gravedigger, Mr Ritchie, dug up a 6ft 3in long gravestone or foundation stone with four rows of scalloping resembling shingles, the style known as a "hog-back" stone. A report to the Ecclesiological Society in 1922 stated that the stone may date from, or even pre-date, Norman times. Similar "hog-back" stones can be found at Govan including a slab fragment at Paisley Abbey. The graveyard itself is in fact known to contain the former foundations of an earlier chapel, most likely to St Serf, "a follower of St Mungo", but this has never been properly investigated, no doubt out of respect for those now interred within the graveyard and not wishing to disturb a large quantity of human remains. But when the wooden flooring of the church was removed in 1894 and two feet of earth dug out prior to being concreted, "a great number of human bones and skulls were found, showing that in bygone days people had been buried within the sacred edifice."  These burials would, however, most likely pre-date the construction of the present church in 1655.

The road leading to the small village of Dalserf is off the now very busy A72 Lanark Road which winds through the scenic Clyde River valley between Lanark and Hamilton, being aptly known as the "Orchard District". A short tree lined side road leads us to the village itself which now comprises of a small row of very picturesque and much photographed cottages and the stone walled church grounds, all being situated in a bend of the River Clyde surrounded by farm and parkland. It is therefore hard to imagine that this truly idyllic and peaceful corner of rural Lanarkshire was formerly much larger and quite populous with the main Ayr to Edinburgh Road in fact passing through "Dalserfe Toune" to the nearby Clyde River crossing. Hence the original importance of this town as a strategic river crossing point and in fact, on the other side of the river is the former ancient site of the strategically placed "Moat Castle".

The Rev Wm. Rorison with "Old Parishioners"
Taken circa 1901
[Source : In Memoriam - Rev W.P. Rorison]

As noted, the Parish would very early on in its existence face a major upheaval, being very aptly named, "The Killing Time". From the ousting of Cromwell in 1660 and the Restoration of the Catholic Stuarts under King Charles II until the overthrow of his successor King James VII at "The Glorious Revolution" in 1688, the Church of Scotland and its members were forced to accept Episcopacy, in other words, the English form of church governance. This included the installation of Bishops and Curates, and the signing of an oath acknowledging the English King as head of the Church of Scotland. Records tell us that no less that 52 parishioners from Dalserf (out of a Parish population of 600) "suffered sorely for their church", with many no doubt refusing to sign the odious 'Oath of Allegiance' to the King. A gravestone to Robert Laurie, being a 'Covenantor' (one who actively resisted this imposition), can be found opposite the belfry door.

But along with a third of Scottish Ministers who, and to their great credit, would not accept the new forms of Episcopacy, the then Dalserf Parish Minister, the Rev Francis Aird M.A., would likewise be ousted from his charge in 1664. Aird would be replaced by Ministers who "conformed" to the new style of church Government and worship, the final appointment being the highly unpopular "Curate" Joseph Cleland. Well educated but single minded and "steeped in Episcopacy", he would put 35 steadfast and resolute parishioners "to the circuit court for trial". Scotland would finally be delivered by "The Glorious Revolution" of 1688 with the Catholic Stuart's now themselves being banished and replaced by the Protestant Hanoverians under King William III.

Thus, one morning in December 1688, Curate Cleland would be "visited by a deputation of armed men" led by my own Covenanting forbear, Captain John Steel of Waterhead. Steel, and as instructed to instill fear, drew his sword and made a small rent in the Curate's gown whereupon the Curate's wife unexpectedly threw herself between the two, asking the Captain to spare her husband and kill her instead! To his credit, Steel "immediately put down his sword and was at great pains to comfort her." Further bloodshed was not the intention with Cleland being simply informed "of the changed circumstances of Church and State..." and "in King William's name ordered to depart beyond the parish bounds".

The Rev Wm. Rorison with Session Members, 1901
(L to R) : Mr Thompson, Mr Chisholm, Mr Scott,
Mr Sorbie, Rev. Dr. W.P. Rorison, Mr Sim,
Mr John Watson (Cander Mains), Mr William Templeton.
[From my own collection]

It was only just prior to this turbulent time in Scottish ecclesiastical history that Dalserf Church had been built, being originally rectangular in shape and without the now distinctive belfry or "bell-cote" with its "elegant slender cast-iron posts".  A branch of the noble and powerful Hamilton family were responsible for funding the building cost, most parishioners being relatively poor but hard working tenant farmers. Within the Church of Scotland these benefactors were known as 'Heritors' and would continue to support the church, the maintenance of the fabric of the Church, and payment of the Minister's stipend. But the downside of this arrangement would be that the 'Heritors' would "present" a Presbyterian Minister of their own choosing to the parish. Only the Rev. James Hog, who served for a short time after 1690, appears to have not settled at Dalserf, believing his congregation "made large profession" but of whom "many were grossly ignorant and otherwise defective" in all that pertained to religion. Some well liked and respected Ministers have, however, happily served unusually long ministries in the parish.

Styles of worship and preaching have changed somewhat since the Protestant Reformation in Scotland in 1560. The aforementioned Rev Aird, having been installed in 1646, was noted for his piety and "wept much in prayer and preaching and insisted much on death and judgment". His communions were well attended, drawing many "hearers" from outside the parish which was quite a compliment. Aird was also "punctilious in dress" and believed that "mounted [embroidered] gloves" should be worn while preaching.

The earliest extant Communion cup now at Dalserf is a "glitter ware" vessel of "chaste [restrained] design", having been donated to the parish in 1701. The original church accommodated a long "fenced" communion table down the centre, the style of communion formerly practiced being to sit down at the table to receive the Lord's Supper so more than one sitting would have been necessary. 

It was in the early 18th century that the area "gained a rather odious reputation for the crime of body snatching". Cadavers were then sold for medical dissections on a "no questions asked" basis. This crime was prevalent in many areas and although no specific cases are given,  Dalserf was, according to Historian Andrew Cunningham B.Sc., like their neighbours not immune.

Order of Service for the Coronation
of King Edward VII, 9 Aug 1902
[From my own collection]

The Rev. John Risk, who served from 1761 to 1805, appears to have been blessed with a quick wit and keen sense of humour although this did not always please his parishioners. When a number of pious men of the district expressed dissatisfaction with his doctrine as, "he did not make them renounce their own righteousness." He replied, "For a very guid reason; I didna ken ye had ony to renounce." 

Until the latter years of the 19th century the Church Minister and Session spent what we would consider to be an excessive amount of time passing judgement on Parishioners who were in breach of accepted standards of behaviour, an example of which occurs in the Dalserf Session minute book of 1812 ; "The Session resolve that all persons absenting themselves habitually from Divine Service shall be excluded from all communion with the Church till they shall give solemn promises of amendment and ample external proofs of repentance, etc., etc.

Church discipline also extended to those who needlessly worked on the Sabbath and to those who, "ignored or forestalled the marriage ceremony". But equally, the Heritors and Church Fathers administered poor relief and oversaw the Dalserf Church Library and Church School, educational support from the State then being sadly lacking. In 1840 the Session Clerk was also the Schoolmaster and had the responsibility of "collector of [the] poor's rate".

A Presentation Bible, Purse and Sovereign
presented to my Gt. Grandfather in 1910
[From my own collection]

Church attendance over the early years of the 19th century is worthy of mention. With 800 regular communicants there was only seating in Dalserf church for 550 and "much bad temper at times prevailed amongst the parishioners, and some unseemly quarrels took place even in the church." By 1835 this had led to the unusual phenomena of "tent preaching" in the church yard over the summer months. With a chapel opened at Larkhall in 1836 this would finally relieve the pressure on church accommodation at Dalserf. But from the 1831 census we know that not only was the population of Dalserf itself dwindling but that the population of the parish was growing to the extent that there were 91 more families in the parish than houses. The importance of Dalserf had in fact diminished from the time of the opening of the direct Hamilton to Lanark Road in 1800 which bypassed the town.

From 1848 the parishioners of Dalserf would have the added convenience of a stove in the church to keep them warm during services. This was no doubt appreciated as services - and sermons - could be tediously long. Little wonder that one of my forebears at Dalserf took their own "pew cushion" to church. I note, however, a reference dated 1904 that unusually for the time, sermons were; "sometimes as short as ten or twelve minutes, but usually much longer." The now aged Minister had probably not the same stamina as formerly. Short sermons would, in earlier years, certainly be the exception rather than the rule.

"William P. Rorison Minister of Dalserf" [30 Nov 1882]
[From my own collection]

A notable Ministry, being the Rev. William Rorison D.D., occurred from 1851 until his death "in office" in March 1907, a quite remarkable period of 56 years. The great depth of feeling at his loss is aptly expressed in the account of his funeral service and mournful procession through the village to the Dalserf Railway Station (which closed in 1951). An interesting anecdote describes an event which occurred at the end of the funeral service;

"In conclusion [Rev] Mr Paterson, with a thrill of emotion, besought the divine intercession for the bereaved congregation, and the sorrowing relatives and partner of his life. After the benediction, the children of the four Board schools in the parish sang that beautiful hymn, 'The Sands of Time are Sinking'... Up till this point in the service the interior of the church was somewhat dull and dark, but when the second verse of the hymn was reached a stream of sunshine burst from one of the gallery windows, and striking up the coffin, encircled it with a halo of light. The effect produced added much to the general impressiveness of the service." 

Dalserf Church, circa 1906
[From my own collection]

Rorison's Ministry marked a time of further change in Church worship and practice ranging from the use of the new "Scottish Hymnal" to the use of printed communion cards in 1874 which now replaced the traditional metal 'communion token', and the introduction in 1894 of an "American Organ Harmonium" to now accompany church singing. By now the taking of Communion had also changed with the Lord's Table no longer being "fenced off". I have been informed by a former Presbyterian Church Archivist that the communion wine had, in at least one Church of Scotland parish, been taken using small individual ladles rather than commonly drinking from Communion cups or vessels. Curiously, upon my Great Aunt's death we found upwards of 20 six inch long mid-Victorian era silver plate curved ladles carefully wrapped in old thin brown paper. As her Father had been a long-serving Elder at Dalserf I wonder if there is a connection here as whatever reason could they otherwise have had for so many ladles!

In 1894 William Hozier, First Baron Newlands, being the owner of nearby Mauldslie Castle, gifted £1,000 to further enlarge and renovate the church (previous renovations and enlargements having occurred in 1721 and 1818-19), including the addition of upper galleries and the curious outdoors stairways to access them as well as a new clock for the steeple. The church now forms a "T" shape but retains elements of the original fabric of the 1655 church. While each of the three galleries have their own entrance the ground floor alone has four entrances, so with seven entrances in total this is surely a record for any church of this size! Pews still have numbers while some 'boxed' areas and galleries carry the names of local estates including Dalserf House and Mauldslie House [castle] denoting reserved seating for themselves, their staff, guests, and principal tenants. Records confirm that "pew rentals" were not charged prior to 1840 but, as indicated by the numbered pews, may have been subsequently introduced as a source of revenue .

In 1911 the Church 'Heritors', with their landholdings and fortunes diminishing from changed economic conditions, suppressed agricultural prices, and the imposition of punitive death duties and taxes, offered to pay just half the cost of the redecoration and repainting of the church and now expected the parishioners to assume responsibility for the other half. Hozier's son, James, Lord Newlands, would, however, generously come to their aid, and completely covered the parish's liability. Such was the generosity of these great families who gave so much back to their community. Now, sadly, even their grand residences have gone, including Dalserf House, Broomhill, and the much lamented Mauldslie Castle.

Dalserf Church Interior Today
 [Image Used with the Kind Permission
of Bob Hamilton Photography]

In late 1910, my Great Grandparents along with the remainder of their children, having been tenant farmers on lands in the Parish owned by the Duke of Hamilton, departed Dalserf to join the rest of their family in New Zealand. Three members of the same family would return in 1957, noting that the Church interior had been renewed since their time; "Pulpit and organ and Communion Table all changed – too modern to be in keeping with the rest of the Church.” Personally I like the design but they would have been familiar with the original which was no doubt typically plain and sombre. The attractive oak Communion table and chairs were in fact donated by Mrs Lockhart of Lockhart House in 1911, the year after my family departed so even by 1957 were not exactly "modern". They also noted the "thatched cottages" leading to the church which are now roofed in slate which lacks the same romantic appeal. The beautiful large stained glass windows on either side of the pulpit were gifted, according to the church history, in 1928. These windows were formerly covered up except for a small section of "coloured glass" in the upper areas, being the generous gift of the Rev and Mrs Rorison in 1894.

My Great Aunt would, however, never forget Dalserf, the church of her youth and of former happy times. Upon reading in the "News" of October 1977 that very expensive repairs costing upwards of £7,000 were required to the then decayed fabric of the church including three outside staircases coming away from their walls with one being "potentially dangerous", eroded lead roof flashing, water damage and rot to the massive roofing timbers, and a deteriorating bell tower; she remitted a sum of money to the Parish towards the repair fund and only a month before her death was thrilled to receive a personal reply from the Minister, the Rev Keith McRobb. Now without the support of the former 'Heritors', maintaining Dalserf church over the intervening years has evidently been, for a now smaller congregation, rather a challenge. But the historic nature of the building together with a Category A Historic Places listing and thus eligibility for "grant aid" engenders for it a level of public and local support which other churches may lack.

The church now appears to be well cared for and in good condition. One hopes that Dalserf church will, in these times of ever diminishing congregations, continue to serve as a House of God for many more years, a purpose for which it has already ably served for over three centuries. If you have the opportunity please visit this 'hidden' gem and neighbouring village which, incidentally, is currently vying for the "Wee Villages" section of the "Beautiful Scotland" contest to find the nation's 'greenest' communities. I think it has every chance of success. The winners will be announced in September 2018.

All Rights Reserved

The very kind assistance of Mr Bob Hamilton of Bob Hamilton Photography, Motherwell for his beautiful photographs of Dalserf Church and cemetery grounds is very gratefully acknowledged.

Sources :

- Watson family collection; photographs, ephemera and artefacts (held by the writer)
- Period newspaper clippings (no attribution)
- The "News", October 1977 (from my own collection)
- Dalserf Parish Magazine, 1912 (from my own collection)
- "In Memoriam, Rev. W.P. Rorison, D.D." (from my own collection)
- "A Short Historical Account of Dalserf Parish Church", 1955 (from my own collection)
- "Dalserf Parish Church, Founded 1655", circa 1977 (from my own collection)
- "Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae : The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland" (Hewitson Theological Library, Knox College, Dunedin)
- "The Lairds of Dalserf", by C. Henderson-Hamilton (Internet source).
- South Lanarkshire Council Cemeteries Officer (correspondence 2013)

Sunday 5 August 2018

The Heddon Bush School Riot of 1888

The Heddon Bush School Building and Pupils.
The old Schoolhouse is to the rear.
Taken circa 1939
[Source : "Looking Back 100 Years"]

The Heddon Bush School riot of 1888 is a story I have touched on before but considered this most unusual story worthy of some further background research in an attempt to find out more about this destructive fracas. For it would be the parents who rioted and damaged the school property and building rather than the pupils! But, as we shall read, this small country school would suffer another 'riot' and I was in fact an eye witness to the second all out fight to the death!

Our story commences on Friday the 18th February 1881 with the opening of the small Heddon Bush School in rural Central Southland. The school, being sited on a 12 acre 'glebe',  had been surveyed prior to the district being thrown open for selection under the 'Deferred Payment System' (lease to buy) only three years previous. But without doubt, one thing that mattered greatly to the new settlers was the education of their children (being a harmonious mix of both Catholic and Protestant) and they worked hard to have a school built and opened.

The opening of the school took the form of a soiree, concert and evening ball carrying on till "daylight did appear" but presumably being held in a local shed as the school itself was only a diminutive 24ft by 16ft with the public hall not built until 1897.  Still, the School Secretary, Mr JH Young; "congratulated the residents of the district on being possessed of a school, and hoped it would flourish. Many older settled districts did not possess such a fine school, and it said much for the energy of the settlers that they had succeeded in such a short time in getting a school in their midst." As the settlers had experienced "a [great] deal of trouble in getting the school" he hoped that the children would attend regularly. While a schoolhouse had not yet been built this was completed within the following 12 months. 

Heddon Bush School from the rear, showing the entrance.
The Head Teacher, Mr Samuel Jackson and Mrs Jackson
appear in this image. Taken circa 1916.
[From my own collection]

The first appointed Teacher, being from March 1881, would be Mr John Armstrong being followed by Mr John Officer. As in future years, all Teachers would be employed by the Southland Education Board but were also directly responsible to an elected School Committee formed of local settlers, generally all having children attending the school.  

The first reference to the apparently divisive Samuel ["Sam"] Rosewell Girle as Teacher at Heddon Bush is May 1882, having been appointed by the Southland Education Board, such appointments usually being renewed every twelve months. Girle would still be in residence as "Head Teacher" through 1887 but his days would now be numbered. 

George Hassing with his Wife and Daughter
outside the Heddon Bush Schoolhouse.
Taken circa 1905
[Source : "Looking Back 100 Years"]

But who was Samuel Girle? Genealogy sources confirm that he had been born in North Shields, Northumberland, England on the 8th May 1821, arriving in Tasmania on the "Boedicea" in 1836. I might add that there is no record of him as being a convict! He appears in fact to have worked here as a Teacher, would marry in 1846, but in 1850 was unfortunately forced to apply for bankruptcy. He appears to have continued teaching thereafter. The first mention of him in New Zealand is when his appointment to the Long Bush school was confirmed in 1879, and then noted as passing an elementary science examination for teachers in March 1880. 

The first hint of trouble at the Heddon Bush school would come in October 1887 with Girle being; "given three months notice of the termination of his engagement" by the Education Board. While the reason is not given one only has to look back at the School Inspector's grading marks for October 1886 so see that Heddon Bush School, at 55% of passes, rated bottom for academic achievement with, for instance, Limestone Plains at 72.3 and Riversdale as high as 76.4 This followed similar results in August 1885. 

The local community were quick to respond, with "a number of residents" petitioning the Education Board on the 4th November 1887 to have the services of their Teacher retained. The Board then referred the matter to the Heddon Bush School Committee for "an expression of their opinion".  While their reply has not been published their opinion would strongly support the Board in their original action.

Mr George Hassing with Heddon Bush School Pupils, circa 1905.
My Aunt and two Uncles appear in the front row
(from left, 3rd, 6th, and 7th).
[From my own collection]

At the Board meeting on the 6th January 1888 it was decided to adhere to their former resolution of termination. But after a deputation of residents waited on the Board asking that any decision be deferred until a new School Board had been elected in April their request was acceded to. 

At the next meeting, being held on the 3rd February 1888, the existing School Committee and represented by their Solicitor Mr Macalister, questioned the Board as to why the notice of termination of engagement had been suspended. The Board responded that; "The object was to enable the householders to give an expression of opinion on the subject".   

On the 23rd March 1888 the Board, and after taking the unusual step of going into committee, "resolved that the committee of the Heddon Bush school be informed that the Board proposed to re-appoint Mr Girle as head teacher of their school till the 31st May next [i.e. 1889]". 

No doubt feeling considerably aggrieved and effectively sidelined, the School Committee, and obviously then wishing to be rid of Mr Girle, took the highly unusual and equally divisive step of writing to the Minister of Education asking him to intervene as they had not been consulted on the Board's decision. The Minister replied that he had not the power to intervene and that, while the committee should be consulted, it was ultimately up to the Board to appoint or dismiss. Mr Girles' re-appointment was duly confirmed on the 4th May.

George Magnus Hassing
Heddon Bush Schoolteacher 1888 to 1906
[From my own collection]

But most surprising, and considering the intransigence of the Education Board, it was publicly announced in July 1888 that Mr George Magnus Hassing would "take charge of the Heddon Bush school". While published records are now silent on the matter, the memoirs of Mr Hassing give us a fascinating glimpse of what then transpired, being written in his usual lively and entertaining style. Here is an unedited copy of his report of the proceedings and the subsequent "riot";    

"My predecessor [Girle], an old and worthy gentleman, had for years, unfortunately, made but poor progress with his pupils. He was a teacher of the 'old school', and certainly ignored the new [Education] Act, hence the stagnation. The parents divided for and against retaining him, and the local feud became very bitter indeed. Finally, after a free fight at the annual householders' meeting, a committee opposed to retaining the teacher came into office.  As the [Education] Board did not immediately grant their request to remove the teacher, they turned him out of the school and locked the building.

The teacher, however, opened the school in the residence for those who wished to retain him. But one night, under cover of darkness, he made a sortie and captured the school building. When this news reached the committee they armed and rushed for the recapture. They drove out the teacher and scholars, smashed up the table, chairs, windows, and doors. The teacher, finding himself utterly defeated, thereupon left the district, and died a few years after.

Heddon Bush School Pupils, circa 1907
My Father is seated 5th from left, 2nd row from front
beside the Teacher, Miss Minnie Hanning.
[From my own collection]

Apart from the smallness of my salary as a teacher, I worked overtime till near mid-night for the first month in repairing the broken furniture, pasting up maps, putting in panes of glass etc. I saw at once that it was absolutely necessary to create peace and harmony between the opposing factions in order to make the school a success. I therefore advised them that an important public meeting would be held in the school house. In anticipation of another free fight the meeting was well attended. I then addressed those assembled, stating to them that the unchristian and suicidal policy they had followed, showed them clearly how they were ruining the chances of their children's progress as well as their own social joy, happiness and brotherly feeling. I entreated them to look upon the matter in its most serious aspect, and called upon them as good and honest men to make friends at once.

At the close of my address a wonderful reaction set in. The whole assembly stood up and shook hands most heartily, they fell upon each other's bosoms, and shed tears of joy. After that evening we had uninterrupted friendship and brotherly love among the whole community during the many years it was my privilege to live and labour among them."    

Being written in the years prior to Hassing's death in 1928 I would discount any possibility that he had embellished the story for dramatic effect. Despite being of Danish birth he simply had a wonderful mastery of the English language. Elderly residents of the district would have quickly called him out had he been telling tall tales and there were even a number of first day pupils still living who attended the 68th Anniversary celebrations in May 1949. The unusual anniversary date had in fact been chosen because of this very fact.

My Father's Badge & Decade Ribbon from the
Heddon Bush School Anniversary, May 1949.
[From my own collection] 

As to the unfortunate Samuel Girle, and then aged 67 years, he would go on to be appointed as "Temporary Head Teacher" at the new school at Longridge, Balfour in June 1888. Thereafter his name appears at various Southland schools but always on temporary appointments, the last such appointment being in 1889. By 1890 he had moved to Invercargill where he died on the 19th July 1906, aged 85 years. Descendants placed a new headstone over the family grave site in 2016.  

Even Hassing appears to give Girle a passing compliment in referring to him as "an old and worthy gentleman" and it must be remembered that half the local residents were quite happy to retain him. But retaining old teaching methods and not being readily amenable to change he had simply had his day as an effective Teacher. By comparison, Hassing successfully taught until he was 85 years of age and was much liked by pupils and parents, being not too strict but "if a pupil wanted to learn, he provided the opportunities and the benefits available from even the best of teachers" [written by George Catto, a former pupil of Hassing].

Now, as to the second Heddon Bush school "riot", this would have taken place around December 1966 and also involved a smashed table and chairs with pupils intent on hitting each other, but let me explain. The Head Teacher, Mr Warner Lamb, had gone to some trouble to go over to Otautau to purchase a quantity of soft "Pinex" wood panels to use as props for an end of year school production. Needing to undertake some other business he left the senior room boys to make these into a makeshift table and chairs. During the play, a cast member would be pushed over the table and chairs in a mock fight and they would safely collapse. It may have been a western themed play but I cannot recall for certain. But things got out of hand when temptation became too much and a few boys were whacked with pieces of pinex. Then it became a free for all and a matter of self preservation although I recall that the girls kept well out of it saying that there would be big trouble when the teacher returned.

The Newly Extended Heddon Bush School,
Taken early 1965
[William Dykes Photographic Collection]

Naturally he was furious at his precious pinex being smashed up in such a manner and all the boys, including myself, were given a stern lecture including the strap, regardless of culpability or age. This was not the only occasion where all the mixed age male pupils in this classroom were strapped and on one occasion it turned out that none of us were at fault. But nothing was said, no apologies, no complaints from parents, these were just very different times. 

Having met this same (and now far less scary) teacher again at the 125th celebrations in 2006 he was quite blown away and perhaps, I even thought, rather emotional at the academic achievements of his former pupils so perhaps such punishment had its place after all! Having said that, my Scottish born Grandfather strongly believed in the birch as a form of punishment, perhaps having been forced to submit to this in his youth. But then he was, as was his brother, both very high achievers, a Solicitor in Edinburgh and a First Class Marine Engineer. But seriously, I believe it is always a qualified and engaged teacher who has the ability to bring out the best in and inspire their pupils onto greater things in life. Both Mr Hassing and Mr Lamb undoubtedly had these attributes.

All Rights Reserved

Sources :

- Personal Family Papers and Photographs (held by the writer)
- William Dykes Photograph Collection (held by the writer)
- "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "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)

Monday 23 July 2018

"Bunny is Getting it in the Neck" - Tackling The Rabbit Plague in Southland

Sign at Rabbiter's Residence, Otahuti, April 1964
Photograph taken by William Dykes
[From my own collection]

Having been innocently introduced as a source of fur and meat it would now be hard to comprehend the wholesale destruction, financial ruin, and complete utter despair that the rabbit plague has caused in Southland. Unfortunately for many, including those in Central Otago, the rabbit problem is ongoing.

Rabbits appear to have been introduced into Southland by whalers as early as 1843. Historian and early landowner Mr WHS Roberts observed in 1857 that they were then well established from Riverton (a former whaling base) and along the sand dunes of the Oreti Beach but had not yet crossed the Jacobs [Aparima] or Oreti Rivers or spread inland. Rabbits were, at this time still "regarded as a novelty which would in time provide sport for the gun".

By the 1860's rabbits were now well established in Southland and rapidly spreading inland. By the mid 1870's they had become an invasion, having "taken complete charge of the land, and were destroying it". Up till now the only real problems had been wild pigs and marauding wild dogs but these were nothing in comparison to the rabbit plague.

In May 1877 the Wallace County Council passed a resolution; "calling the serious attention of the Government to the incredible rapidity with which the rabbit nuisance was increasing in that county and in adjoining portions of the Southland County, more especially in pastoral districts." The Council had found, with some considerable alarm, that the annual value of the pastoral districts were, due to being overrun with rabbits, now diminishing thus affecting Council income.

The Council stressed; "that unless energetic means were immediately adopted towards exterminating the pest, large portions of Crown lands or public estate in the colony would be absolutely valueless before the expiry of the existing [land] leases, while the balance would be seriously deteriorated in value." Unoccupied Crown land, including reserves, bush and other unsold land had now become; "gigantic nurseries for the propagation of this scourge throughout the district."

Pet Ferrets kept by my Father for Rabbiting.
Taken early 1920's
[From my own collection]

Brothers Richard and David Spence, being the lessees from 1870 to 1880 of the large Heddon Bush Station, Run No 153 in Central Southland, encountered the full devastating effects of the rabbit plague which greatly reduced stock carrying capacity and thus their income. The "Old Man Flood" of 1878 coinciding with an economic slump led to them being forced to put the property up for auction in 1880. Having made their money as retail merchants they lost it all on the land. The new Station owner, Mr John Tennant, appears to have had slightly better success at rabbit control;  "The rabbits were very bad on the river flat but with trapping and poison they were got almost completely under control." Closer settlement of the newly surveyed and settled blocks on the "Hundreds" will also have aided control with small holding farmers naturally keen on minimizing damage to their precious holdings, their livelihood depending on it. But "control" would never equate to complete extermination.

By the 1880’s, the rabbit infestation was now endemic throughout Southland. “Te Ara”, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, states that the carrying capacity of one Southland station had fallen from 50,000 to 20,000 sheep. While rabbit numbers subsided through the 1890’s this respite would be short-lived. The serious matter of rabbit control again came to the fore at the Farmer’s Union Conference held at Invercargill on the 20th December 1901, being attended by my Gt. Gt. Uncle, a large landowner in Central Southland. A remit was passed calling on the Government to “... enact legislation for the systematic poisoning of rabbits as trapping had proved unsuccessful

Trapping did however prove lucrative. Two trappers working in the Drummond district during 1916 had been trapping and killing up to 200 rabbits per night, averaging an income of £7 per week for the sale of skins, rabbit furs being a sought after commodity. In January 1916 Otago and Southland exported a total of 659,155 skins with a commercial value of £9,092 [NZD$1, 273,379.00 in today's values]. 

Naturally more than a few rabbits that had been trapped or shot ended up in the stew pot. In 1981 the late George Catto of Heddon Bush in Central Southland (whom I well remember) reminisced of his schooldays prior to 1907 that after the departure of their long-serving Teacher Mr George Hassing and being succeeded by Miss Minnie Hanning, "a strong disciplinarian", that; "no longer were the big boys able to extend their lunch hour to two hours while they went rabbiting, knowing full well that the presentation of a rabbit to the teacher would serve to avert the wrath for which might have been called down on them for their misdemeanours."

As my two Uncles were then classmates of George they would also have been complicit in this activity. I am assuming that the boys, and being of primary school age, may have had unsupervised access to a rifle, something that would certainly not happen today, let alone having a two hour lunch break! George Catto also notes that, "In common with other farmers' sons, I got no wages for my work on the farm in those early days and any money which I earned came from catching rabbits for their skins, from a little shearing, and from working on the threshing mill."

"St. George" Brand "Rabbit in Jelly", Dunedin
[From my own collection]

Particularly heavily hit by the rabbit plague, Central Otago Councils had by 1921 resorted to forming “Rabbit Boards” to co-ordinate “the destruction of the rabbit pest”. The “Dunstan Times” emphasized the benefits of co-ordinated, systematic and scientific means of eradication and control. The cost of the Rabbit Board would be a levy on Council rates of up to 1d in the pound with the power to borrow money for the purchase of rabbit-proof netting, the employment of men to carry out the work, and the State would additionally pay a subsidy of £1 for £1.   

This concept appears to have been slow to come to fruition in the south. The Wallace County Council had by at least 1921 employed a “Rabbit Inspector” with the power to request landowners – and the Council itself - to undertake eradication work. But if extermination around the district was not consistent “the bunny” simply returned.

Rabbiting and the sale of fur skins continued to provide a good income. Common methods of extermination and eradication included spring-loaded rabbit traps, shooting, rabbit-proof netting, portable cynogas rabbit exterminator machines operated by means of fumigation, poison (phosphorized pollard, phosphorized oats, strychnine, and carbon bisulphide) and the use of dogs. Ferrets could also be employed to force the rabbits out of their burrows which were often particularly bad along the banks of streams and rivers, in gorse hedges, around trees, and on uncultivated land. 

"St. George" Brand "Rabbit in Jelly", Dunedin
[From my own collection]

My Father's family in Central Southland, and owning 459 acres of flat arable land, employed various methods of rabbit extermination including phosphorised pollard (poisoned wheat bran), poisoned oats, shooting, trapping (I recall the fierce looking traps), smoking out [fumigating], and my Father also kept pet ferrets that would fearlessly go down rabbit holes. A bottle of strychnine was found after my Uncle's death and this method of poisoning was also made use of. Occasionally they also used a commercial rabbitter, mostly using poisoned oats. This is my Uncle's recipe for phosphorised pollard from 1926, noting in his diary, "Results good” :

4 cups pollard (fine bran and flour)
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
Boil then add –
4” phosphorus & 15 to 20 drops essence of aniseed

By the 1920's rabbit skins were also becoming an increasingly  valuable commodity. In 1926 the “Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle" reported that “Bunny is getting it in the neck” with skins worth from £5 to £6 per hundred, and with not a few townsfolk earning a few extra pounds “by spending their half-holidays and every possible spare hour in pursuit of ‘Brer Rabbit’”.

By 1931, and in the depths of the depression, “The Unemployment Board” encouraged “…every unemployed man to make every endeavour to secure other work as days worked outside the scheme are all to the good. With the rise in the value of rabbit-skins there is every opportunity to make a living by catching Brer Rabbit…” It was no accident that rabbit skin furs were then a popular fashion accessory with a ready demand. Furs would be made into coats, stoles and hats.

Although not unemployed, my own Father resorted to earning 'pocket money' from the sale of rabbit skins for their fur as the family farm at Heddon Bush was not in a sufficiently financial position to be able to pay him an actual wage. My Great Uncle on another farm in the district made good use of a .22 calibre “Winchester Repeater” rifle with a mounted sight which was later in my possession. Rabbits were, over these years until the establishment of the Rabbit Boards, apparently "the bane of his life".

To put the problem into perspective, after laying poison in July 1932 my Uncle notes a kill of 306 rabbits from an area of 259 acres. But this would be ineffective if neighbours did not undertake similar extermination measures. During 1932 to 1933 a home built rabbit smoker also proved "highly successful" with a kill tally of 100 on the first day but on the second day the “smoker backfired & burst bellows”. But it would be repaired and be successfully used over a number of days. Incidentally, this smoker would also prove effective on rats, smoking out 161 rats from their warrens over a two day period.

Cargill Brand "Canned Rabbit Bone In",
Invercargill, circa 1940's
[Source : National Library of New Zealand]

In 1932 the Secretary of the “Southland League” wrote to the Wallace County Council in regards to the scheme for “Rabbit Control” whereby the Council would contribute on a pro-rata basis with three representatives on the proposed Board. The “extermination of rabbits” would be organised under the No 11 Scheme for the Unemployed, single men being paid 30/- per week and married men £1 per week. But to succeed it would need to be a combined and co-ordinated effort with each Riding adopting the proposal. But Councils could later administer the scheme within their own Riding. While some in the Wallace Council were opposed to the cost as an additional burden on all farmers, some of whom did not require the service, the vote was carried 5 to 4 in favour of supporting the scheme.

Although apparently not as heavily hit as other provinces, the rabbit infestation reached another peak throughout Southland in the 1940’s, perhaps due to the lack of available manpower during the war.  In April 1941 my Uncle purchased strychnine from the Inspector of Stock at Otautau, assumedly for rabbit control, but in June 1941 would again bring in a commercial rabbitter who laid poisoned oats. The rabbits were then skinned as the furs still had a commercial value. While my Uncle purchased a quantity of "rabbit netting" at this time, this fine mesh fence netting ordinarily being placed along the bottom of fence lines and also dug into the ground to deter burrowing, it appears to have been used for other purposes. But such netting would be much used in the high country and in Central Otago.

My Uncle also notes that he voted at a "Rabbit Board Election" at South Hillend in October 1941. This would appear to be the forerunner of the later Rabbit Boards, of which there would be one hundred throughout New Zealand by 1946. South Hillend Rabbit Board Rates levied for the year 1944 to 1945 were £7.13.1 [NZD$606.00 in today's values] based on 459 acres while the Wallace County Council annual rates were £23.4.7 so the cost to farmers to eradicate the rabbit nuisance came at a heavy cost.

But this further 'infestation' would prompt new moves to permanently eradicate the problem. In 1947 the Government enacted “The Rabbit Nuisance Amendment Act 1947” which empowered the Rabbit Boards to kill all rabbits almost regardless of cost, to co-ordinate staff and resources as required, and to "de-commercialize the rabbit industry". Central Government would pay a subsidy on a pound for pound basis. Maximising post war food production both for New Zealand and Britain (which was still heavily reliant on food produced by its Dominions) was no doubt the driving force.

Thereafter the local Rabbit Boards were funded either by direct County Council levies on rates or, as in the case of the Wallace County area, a separate Rabbit Board rate. This system continued successfully for many years thereafter. I can myself only recall isolated and occasional pockets of rabbits or evidence of rabbits on our own farm at Heddon Bush in the early to mid 1960’s, particularly tell-tale burrows along stream banks and under macrocarpa trees. Any evidence of recent activity or sight of "Brer Rabbit" would be promptly reported with the Rabbit Board man appearing within the next day or so to eradicate the new infestation.

The now very dead rabbits would usually then be handed over to us to skin and cook up for rabbit stew, something that would later be frowned upon due to the risk of them being diseased or having possibly ingested toxic poisons. This really is a shame as rabbit meat is very tender and quite delicious. Rabbit meat is however available from strictly controlled and licensed sources such as "Fare Game" in Invercargill, the product being sourced from the Central Otago district [Link HERE] where rabbits numbers are again out of control.

Of all the old family cookery books I hold only the tried and trusted New Zealand Women's Division of Federated Farmers (WDFF) Cookery Book for 1965 lists a number of recipes, one being shown below. There are however plenty of recipes for rabbit stew on Internet.

Recipe for Baked Rabbit taken from the
Women's Division of Federated Farmers of New Zealand
Cookery Book published 1965

While local Rabbit Boards have now disappeared into history, the furry menace now able to be be at least adequately controlled in Southland, the Southland Regional Council have strict regulations which places a personal responsibility on landowners to control rabbit numbers; 

"Land occupiers within Southland shall control rabbits on the land they occupy to reasonable levels at their own expense to reasonable levels. No person shall possess, sell, breed, transport or release live rabbits on or to Stewart Island/Rakiura, any offshore island, any island or area enclosed by a predator proof fence. No person shall release any rabbit into the wild within Southland."

Suggested methods of control and extermination today include shooting, poisoning, fumigants, commercial pest controllers, and any means of prevention  or exclusion. In areas of New Zealand the rabbit virus has been introduced as a means of control but as the Council themselves state, this is not the "silver bullet" to totally eradicate the problem.

It was only just over a week ago that national publicity was given to Jane Avery, a Dunedin Designer who is hiring a rabbiter to catch rabbits in the Central Otago area with the fur being made into luxury rabbit fur coats under the "Lapin" brand and the meat used as pet food. Avery calls rabbit fur an "eco-conscious and environmentally friendly" product which avoids the use of non-degradable synthetic faux fur while making productive use of what is otherwise considered a pest (and a now rapidly increasing one in this area). Each coat takes up to six weeks to manufacture and uses between sixteen and fifty-five rabbit skins.

Whatever your views on animal welfare and the various methods of rabbit control, we would not wish to go back to the earlier days of rabbit plagues virtually devouring all that the land produced and bringing despairing landowners to the brink of financial ruin. According to one contractor quoted in "The Otago Daily Times" this month, some large Central Otago landowners are already having to spend up to $100,000 annually on rabbit control including reverting to the highly contentious 1080 poison (sodium fluoroacetate).

That invasive and destructive species such as the rabbit, opossum or red deer could have been so innocently introduced into this country and to have caused such ongoing problems and expense reaffirms the unique but fragile environment that is New Zealand.

All Rights Reserved

Sources :

- Papers Past / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
- Te Ara Cyclopedia of New Zealand
- Personal family papers
- William Dykes Photographic Collection (held by the writer)
- “West to the Fiords”, By FWG Miller, 1954 (from my own collection)
- “Historical Southland” by FG Hall-Jones, 1945 (from my own collection)
- "Looking Back 100 Years - Heddon Bush School 1881-1981" (from my own collection)
- Southland District Council

Sunday 15 July 2018

The Story of the Homer Tunnel Project - and of a Bedford Truck

The Eastern Portal of the Homer Tunnel 1935
and showing what is most likely a Bedford Truck
[Source :  Invercargill Museum & Art Gallery, Ref 2004.936] 

While completing a large family history I discovered that my family had purchased a 1934 Bedford WLG 26HP truck used on the Homer Tunnel project during the late 1930's. The tunnel enabled a road to be pushed through the mountainous Darran Mountain Range in Fiordland and onwards down the Cleddau Valley to Milford Sound. But not only was there correspondence concerning the sale of the vehicle but also photographs taken of the truck after this date so I felt it would be worthwhile to tell something of this story.

The Location of the Homer Tunnel on the Road
from Te Anau  through to Milford Sound
[Source Google Maps] 

According to IPENZ, which commemorates engineering heritage in New Zealand, the Homer Tunnel project  itself  commenced in 1935 with men using pick, shovel and wheelbarrows to bore a 1,240 metre long tunnel through solid granite type rock. The route through to Milford Sound had been promoted "because of the route’s potential tourism value." with the work to be undertaken by the New Zealand Government Ministry of Works. This would additionally provide useful unemployment relief work for men during the depression years. Work was apparently paid "on the basis of progress" with wages being extremely low.

Tunnel Construction by Pick and Shovel
[Source : Alexander Turnbull Library]

But following an avalanche in 1937 which killed the Engineer-in-Charge, Mr D.F. Hulse, and the Tunnel Works Overseer, Mr T.W. Smith, the approximately 40 workers employed on the site were withdrawn for safety reasons. From 1938 the tunnel contract would then be let to Downer and Company Limited. But even then weather conditions and the ever present risk of winter avalanches would bring work to a halt with the men being withdrawn. Rocks falling from above the tunnel portals also presented an ever present danger. The tunneling work itself would not be without some risk although the only recorded deaths and major injuries were through avalanches. The work was also hampered at times by water within the tunnel, entering through fractures in the rock.

"Homer Camp"
[Source : University of Otago Hocken Collections] 

The conditions the men had to endure in this isolated alpine environment were, to say the least, severe. Accommodation was provided at the Ministry of Works "Homer Camp", a small settlement first of canvas tents then promitive wooden huts fitted up with fireplaces but no insulation and with no amenities within easy reach. The cold was all pervasive and made worse by alpine winds blowing through the valley. Weather conditions can be changeable at any time. Driving through the Gertrude Valley leading up to the eastern tunnel portal on my way to Milford in late November 2017 (ie, late Spring) we encountered a layer of cold, damp fog hanging over the entire valley. On the return journey, and again at the eastern tunnel portal, we were able to get out and inspect the icy deposits of snow that had not yet melted while a brisk wind whipped through the area. For public safety this is still a "no stopping zone" during the 'avalanche season'.

Vehicles waiting to enter the Homer Tunnel.
Taken on a cold, foggy morning, 24 Nov 2017
[From my own collection]

This area, which sees no direct sun for six months of the year, receives an annual rainfall of around 6,000 mm and frequent heavy snowfalls, is now constantly monitored during the colder months. Even in winter this is a prime tourist route but in summer becomes manic, the trip to Milford Sound being the highlight for most overseas visitors. The men who lived and worked in these inhospitable conditions probably had no realization of the impact this tunnel would have on the tourist industry in the decades to come or the pleasure this very isolated but stunningly beautiful (albeit still rather challenging) 144 mile Highway through to Milford Sound would give millions of visitors and tourists.

The Homer Tunnel Carpark which emphasizes
the extreme alpine nature of the area.
[From my own collection]

While communication was provided from the Camp via a phone line down to Te Anau I would suspect that it was probably no more effective than the telephone line to Milford Sound that existed through to the 1980's and which I had to use on a number of occasions in the course of my Post Office work. One could often hardly hear the Postmistress on the other end and wet conditions would mean that there was not enough power getting through the line to even make it ring at the other end so a radio telephone was used in Te Anau to alert Milford to pick up the phone. Often I would simply resort to sending a service telegram.

These twisted metal reinforcing rods are all
that remain of the "shelter" destroyed by
an avalanche in 1945.
[From my own collection]

The start of the Second World War led to a winding down of work on the tunnel although the initial 'hole through' was at least achieved in February 1940 prior to widening to the required dimensions of 5.5m by 7m. This work would be resumed in the early 1950's, there having been a shortage of labour in the years immediately after the war ended in 1945. The 1.2 kilometer tunnel rises from the western portal at a relatively steep gradient of 1 in 10 and remains partially unlined although it has been further widened in the years since full completion in 1953.

For safety reasons traffic lights restrict the traffic to one way although two passenger vehicles could now - and for awhile did - pass within the tunnel.  At the eastern portal can be seen the remains of a solid reinforced long concrete shelter, having been built to reduce the risk from avalanches. But this extended portal entrance would itself be destroyed by an avalanche in 1945, only the reinforced and twisted mountings being visible today. A very solid looking steel truss avalanche and rock shelter has now been constructed at the western portal to reduce the obvious risk from the sheer cliff face above.

The Challenging and Steep Hairpin Bend Road Leading
up the Cleddau Valley to the Western Tunnel Portal
under the Sheer Face of the Homer Saddle
[Source : Google Maps]

If you would like to experience the steep drive up the Cleddau Valley hairpin bends and then up the 1 in 10 gradient through the tunnel here is a great 4 minute 52 second video of the journey (best to watch full screen to gain a proper perspective of the climb up the valley) :

But returning to our Bedford WLG truck, my Uncle sent a telegram to a Mr A.L. Knipe at Homer Tunnel in July 1941 inquiring about the availability of the truck. It appears that the truck and other plant had been advertised for sale as the work had wound down due to war conditions.

The Telegram from Homer Tunnell to Heddon Bush
[From my own Collection]

The extant reply, being a telegram from "Homer Tunnel" to "Heddon Bush", would without doubt be pretty unique today. It would appear that Knipe was the Officer in Charge and was selling the truck on behalf of Downers, his employer. I have endeavoured to find out more about Mr A.L. Knipe but so far without luck. His name is only listed in the Homer Tunnel history as he was a Downer's man rather than an M.O.W. employee. Possibly a brother, "C. Knipe" is also noted. The truck had previously been fitted with a "cutter" and an "engine" which would have been used on the tunnel widening, both being sold separately with the truck "chassis" which cost my Uncle £40.0.0  Knipe refers at one point to an item having been sold at "the sale" and as the truck was then located in Tuatapere in Western Southland the sale may have occurred here, perhaps in the form of a works equipment 'clearing sale'.

In correspondence dated the 10th July 1941 Knipe provides an interesting insight into the isolated work conditions at Homer Tunnel; “I am considering chucking this job as it is so difficult to get anything done but I am also hanging on because there is a probability of me being transferred and I might get quite a good job out of it. It is all in the lap of chance for a few days.”

Knipe writes again in August that; “Things are not going well here or at any rate they don’t suit me because they are tying most of us down to 40 hrs a week and it not worth staying out here for.”   

The "Homer Tunnel" Bedford WLG on the
family farm at Heddon Bush, circa late 1940's
[From my own collection]

After some difficulties encountered in moving the truck from Tuatapere a Motor Engineer then gave it a thorough overhaul costing £115.16.10 The itemized list would indicate that the truck had had a fairly hard life at Homer. But no sooner had my Uncle refurbished the truck when the NZ Army issued a "Warrant of Impressment" then a "Notice to Repossess", in other words that it be handed over to the New Zealand Army for the duration of the war. Duly scrubbed up and looking spic and span (as it was photographed on the day) it was then taken down to the Invercargill A&P Showgrounds for inspection on the 2nd March 1942. But it was, for whatever reason and no doubt to my Uncle's great relief, rejected. I can only assume that wear and tear had taken a toll on the vehicle.

While fuel restrictions would initially limit its use there was still a considerable saving in having to pay for commercial transport and I know my family made good use of it. Thus the trusty 'Homer Tunnel' Bedford would continue to faithfully provide farm transport until March 1956 when it was sold to local Engineer and Farmer, Mr Alfred (Alf) George Heenan of Heddon Bush for £80.0.0 I have been unable to ascertain what became of it in later years but I suspect that Alf would have sold it around early 1968 when he gave up his lease on our farm on the Hundred Line due to ill health and moved to Winton. A 1934 Bedford WLG truck would be quite collectible now so if a 2 ton WLG Bedford with the Engine No 435079 and Chassis No 0126090 should ever turn up I would naturally be rather interested!

Finally, if you love old trucks and automotive history check out the Bill Richardson Transport World in Invercargill [Link Here], it is simply the largest private automotive museum of its type in the world, is full of surprises, and has plenty to appeal to a wide range of people even if you thought you were not a fan of automotive history!  

All Rights Reserved.

Sources :

- Personal Family Papers and Photographs
- Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
- University of Otago Hocken Collections 
- IPENZ Engineers New Zealand
- NZ History