Archive for the 'Historic events' Category

Long to reign over us

Queen Elizabeth II on the observation platform of her royal car, 1954 (pic: Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga)

Queen Elizabeth II on the observation platform of her royal car, 1954 (pic: Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga)

On Wednesday, after more than 63½ years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II surpasses her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as the longest-reigning British monarch. Because New Zealand did not become part of the British Empire until several years after Victoria’s accession, Elizabeth has been this country’s longest-reigning monarch since 2013. Between them, Victoria and Elizabeth have been New Zealand’s head of state for more than 70% of its existence as a separate colony, dominion or ‘realm’.

The two reigns have an inverse symmetry. Victoria became monarch in an era of imperial expansion accompanied by economic and social upheaval (think Chartism). She lived long enough to experience the high point of empire – absolute British rule over India – but also anxiety about the rise of Germany and the United States, and trouble with the Irish.

Elizabeth’s era has been one of imperial decline. By the time she succeeded her father, King George VI, in 1952, the country that had stood alone against Hitler in 1940 was no longer a great power. The Indian subcontinent was already independent, and the rest of the Commonwealth soon followed suit. In 2015 the United Kingdom is a middling country on the edge of Europe whose internal unity can’t be taken for granted.

The monarch’s role has shrunk along with her domain. Victoria – especially while her husband Albert was alive – expected ‘her’ ministers to at least take her views seriously. Even after the Reform Act 1832, only 5% of Britain’s population had the vote, and Parliament and government were dominated by an elite steeped in deference. Today, Elizabeth acts only on the advice of the people’s representatives.

Queen Victoria never visited New Zealand – or India, even though she was installed as its Empress and studied Hindustani. Elizabeth II was the first reigning monarch to visit New Zealand, in 1953, six months after her coronation. She has been back nine times, on the last occasion in 2002 as part of a golden jubilee tour of the Commonwealth. Since then younger members of the royal family have visited this country frequently.

The significance of the monarchy today is largely cultural. In the 1950s every household seemed to have a souvenir of the first visit by the young Queen and her dashing naval officer husband. Tea towels hung proudly on walls and commemorative booklets graced mantelpieces. Watching the Queen’s Christmas message on television remains part of the Christmas Day ritual for many households.

Though Elizabeth retains an aura of authority – or at least, mystery – royal pomp and ceremony isn’t what it used to be. One milestone, in Wellington in 1970, was the Queen’s first so-called ‘walkabout’ (as it was dubbed by the British press corps, in a misguided reference to Australian Aboriginal custom). There was a strict ‘no-touching’ policy in relation to the royal person – yet today, a selfie with Prince Harry is probably the most sought-after souvenir of a royal visit.

As the silken bonds of empire continue to fray, the record royal reign is also likely to be one of the last, at least for New Zealanders.

Wellington 150

Wellington in 1866, the year after it became the capital (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Alexander Fisher Album)

Wellington in 1866, the year after it became the capital (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Alexander Fisher Album)

This weekend Wellington celebrates a birthday – 150 years as the capital city of New Zealand. To mark this event, a host of national and local institutions are participating in The Treasures of Wellington, a series of free tours and events. On Saturday Dave Dobbyn and the Orpheus Choir will perform on the grounds of Parliament, accompanied by a sound-and-light show about the city’s history. Wellington will be in celebration mode.

Roll back 150-odd years and the mood in Wellington was not only celebratory, but triumphant. In January 1865 the New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian reported that the city was ‘preparing herself to take that station among the New Zealand provinces which her central position and natural advantages have so well fitted her for, and which have marked her as the Capital of the Colony’.

Wellington’s gain was Auckland’s loss. Auckland had been the capital city since 1841, when Governor William Hobson moved his premises from Okiato near present-day Russell in the Bay of Islands, after being offered land in Tāmaki-makau-rau by Ngāti Whātua chiefs. In an era of scattered settlements, basic transport links and painfully slow postal services, Auckland was very far removed from the rest of the population. In 1854 New Zealand’s first head of government, James FitzGerald, proposed moving the capital to a more central location. This first bid was unsuccessful but the issue remained a live one. In 1864, after Parliament passed a resolution to move the capital, three Australian commissioners chose Wellington over Whanganui, Picton, Port Underwood, Havelock and Nelson. The legislators set up shop in Wellington the following year.

The 19th century was a time of fierce provincial and town rivalries as different centres struggled to establish themselves as going concerns. The capital city question provoked disdainful, and at times lurid, commentary in newspapers.  The New Zealand Herald, then as now an Auckland paper, heaped scorn upon Wellington, a ‘wretched collection of dirty wooden structures, built partly upon a mud beach, and partly in the space formed by the scarping of the hill which hems the “city” into landward’ (31 March 1865, p. 4). Well-informed people knew that Wellington ‘would not make up a third rate street in Auckland’. The paper described Wellington’s impending new seat of government as:

… a very creature of Frankenstein…. The monster, however disgusted with its existence in such a spot has, like its prototype, destroyed one after another of the dearest objects of its creator’s affections. It clings to him with pertinacity, returns gibbering and grinning to him from time to time with the evidence in its hands of some new disaster which it has worked for him. (New Zealand Herald, 24 March 1865, p. 4)

Papers in rival centres like Christchurch, not facing a great loss as Auckland was, could indulge in a little pompous, self-satisfied commentary:

The great difference between the South and the North is that here the question of self-interest is really never thought of. It is no exaggeration to say so. We talk of all parts of the colony as parts of a common country having common interests. In Auckland they talk of nothing but Auckland. (Press, 14 January 1864, p. 2)

It’s fun to browse through the newspapers of the time and have a good laugh at the duelling colonials, but things are not so different now. In 2013 Prime Minister John Key told a meeting of Auckland businesspeople that Wellington was dying, much to the chagrin of many Wellingtonians, who vociferously defended the health of their city. Then-Labour Party leader David Shearer retorted, ‘This is absolutely negatively John Key talking about Wellington, it’s a vibrant city, anybody that drives down to Courtenay Place on a Thursday or Friday night knows that’. Perhaps in another 150 years readers will chuckle over statements like this.

The Dawn Parade

Cyril Wilton, at his sister's place in Tawa during the Second World War, left; and in London, 1944, right (Images: Private collection, Caren Wilton)

Cyril Wilton, at his sister's place in Tawa during the Second World War, left; and in London, 1944, right (Images: Private collection, Caren Wilton)

The Anzac Day I remember as a child growing up in 1960s and ‘70s Masterton involved my father getting up very early, rustling through the house in the dark to head out to the Dawn Parade. He would come back later, in his suit and tie – unusual for him, a motor trimmer – wearing a red poppy on his lapel and smelling of what I thought was aftershave, but was probably alcohol.

He was a Second World War veteran, a bomber pilot over Germany in the last 18 months or so of the war, probably trained to fly after the huge losses among New Zealanders in the RAF depleted their ranks. He was old for a pilot, born in 1913, just before the First World War. Fifty by the time I was born, he was 20 years older than my mother.

I sometimes went with my father selling Anzac poppies – red cones then, not the flat, black-centred circles they later became – door to door. We lived near the railway station, in a street of tidy, modest 1920s houses surrounded by streets of down-at-heel wooden villas with unkempt gardens, some of them converted into businesses: hairdressers, mechanics’ workshops, welders. We would walk around these streets, my father knocking on the doors and handing over the poppies, me carrying the bag into which people dropped their coins.

I never went to the Dawn Parade. It was a thing for men, for the men who hung out at the Soldiers’ Club. There were men’s worlds and women’s worlds – my mother and her friends, who stayed home with children and did housework and went to each other’s houses for coffee and talking, seemed to have little to do with my father’s life, his workplace with its big roller doors and its enticing, intoxicating smells of glue and paint, its oddly blind-looking cars with their headlights and windows masked with newspaper, its men in overalls, its tearoom with its long wooden benches and – oh joy! – crate of bottles of WACO soft drinks. Work was a men’s world, as were many of the other worlds my father inhabited – Rotary, the Savage Club, the Soldiers’ Club (for many years, I assumed that this was a casual term for the RSA, but Masterton’s beautiful 1918 clubhouse really was called the Soldiers’ Club), the Anzac celebrations. Women and children were only occasionally permitted in these male enclaves.

More than 40 years later, I’ve still never been to a Dawn Parade, though I’ve thought about it, mainly as a way of connecting with my father (now long dead), trying in a small way to share some of what he experienced. Numbers of people at Anzac celebrations have boomed in recent years, as the number of actual veterans has dwindled, and no doubt this year’s celebrations, the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, will be huge. New Zealanders have begun wanting to remember.

My father, I think, wanted to forget. I never heard him mention the war. But every year, he quietly got up in the dark and went to the Dawn Parade.

Celebrating Waitangi 175

Waitangi 175 logo

Waitangi 175 logo

On 6 February 2015 New Zealand will commemorate the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

A logo has been developed for the 175th, which depicts the kōtuku (white heron) in flight in a morning blue sky, representing the progress of the past 25 years while looking forward to the bicentenary in 2040.

Te Ara has an entry on the Treaty of Waitangi by acknowledged Treaty expert Claudia Orange.

It also has a large number of biographies of people involved in the signing of the treaty in 1840. A number of them can be seen in the biographies portrait gallery (scroll down the page to view), including Tāmati Wāka Nene, William Hobson, Te Ruki Kawiti, Rangi Topeora and James Busby.

NZHistory has the Treaty sheets and signing locations, and will be rolling out short biographies and biographical notes about signatories over the next few months, beginning on Waitangi Day.

Bicentenary of New Zealand’s first Christmas sermon

Samuel Marsden preaching the first Christmas sermon in 1814 (click for image credit)

Samuel Marsden preaching the first Christmas sermon in 1814 (click for image credit)

On Christmas day 1814, Reverend Samuel Marsden preached the first sermon in New Zealand to local iwi. His service was held under the patronage of Ngāpuhi chief Ruatara who also acted as his translator. Marsden began with Psalm 100 and then preached from Luke 2:10: “Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy”

At Christmas time, the hymn Te Harinui, which is a hymn based on this first sermon, is heard in churches around New Zealand.

On 21 December this year Governor General Jerry Mateparae opened the Rangihoua Heritage Park in Northland. This opening was timed to recognise the bicentennial (1814-2014) of the first sermon.