Archive for the 'New Zealand history' Category

Wild flowers from Palestine

In response to my earlier blog about a First World War souvenir book of pressed flowers from the Holy Land, Alison Parr, our wonderful oral historian at Manatū Taonga the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, brought in a similar book, Wild flowers from Palestine, which she had inherited from her mother. Her mother had nursed in Egypt during the 1940s and Alison thought that perhaps it dated from that time.

Book cover

Book cover

Interestingly it turns out that this book dates from the late nineteenth century, and was compiled by a Reverend Harvey B. Greene. He gives a lovely description at the beginning, explaining how he collected the flowers over three seasons, assisted by a large number of the local people and ‘a most faithful dragoman’. (I had to look up dragoman, as to my eyes it looks too much like dragon and I had images of a Victorian reverend accompanied by a large fire-breathing creature. Too much Harry Potter, I think. In case, like me, you didn’t know, dragoman actually refers to an interpreter or guide in a country speaking Arabic, Turkish or Persian).

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

One of Greene’s aims seems to have been to try and find the flowers referred to in the Bible, and each dried flower is matched with a Biblical quote or a snippet of poetry. In the case of the Rose of Sharon (’I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys’) Greene refers to the English translations of the Bible, which note that ‘rose’ refers to an autumn crocus- and it is a crocus that he has chosen to include here. He names it as Crocus gaillardotii, today known more commonly as Crocus aleppicus.

Greene himself was American, born in 1864, and he graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1891. After serving for a few years as a congregational minister, he left the church and established a florist business in Lowell, Massachusetts. He first went to Palestine in 1895 and this book was first published that year, with subsequent editions in 1896 and this one in 1899 (I think. To be honest trying to work out the editions of this book is like swimming in treacle). Greene also compiled Pressed flowers of the Holy Land, which is very similar in content and feel.

Madonna flower

Madonna flower

Various interpretations I’ve read link these books with the increasing American interest in Palestine during the nineteenth century; with the wider Victorian genre of printed books with natural history specimens; and with a vogue for souvenir albums of pressed flowers. Certainly Greene and his books fit into all of these interpretations, even the last. He also produced a couple of floral souvenirs from American wildflowers.

Unfortunately Alison wasn’t able to ask her mother about the book, so we will probably never know how a book containing wild flowers from Palestine, collected by an American, and published in both the United States and Britain, ended up in New Zealand. But it’s a fascinating object and story all the same.

Happy anniversary, baby

Gay liberation protest at government failure to provide time for a private member's bill on homosexual law reform, 1974 (click for image credit)

Gay liberation protest at government failure to provide time for a private member's bill on homosexual law reform, 1974 (click for image credit)

Today is the 29th anniversary of the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, which decriminalised sexual activity between males. These days, with a wave of gay marriage legalisation across the globe, and politicians keen to get on-side with the gay community and be seen boogieing with drag queens at community events, it’s startling to think that not 30 years ago, consensual sex between adult men was illegal in New Zealand, and undercover police entrapped men cruising for sex on ‘beats’ such as public toilets or parks. Sex between women was not illegal, but many lesbians also joined the campaign for law reform.

I listened to some of the remarkable audio in Radio New Zealand’s 20 years out! documentaries, made to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the act, and was reminded of the degree of vitriol employed by the bill’s opponents, as well as what now seems like the extreme reasonableness – timidity, even – of the gay activists’ demands. The recordings include National MP Norman ‘Normal’ Jones thundering that homosexuals should ‘go back into the sewers!’ and a 1970 clip of Brian Edwards asking ‘Gary’ (it was an era when few gay men were willing to be identified as such) if he’d sought treatment for being gay. (He had – he’d been to a psychiatrist, who told him that his attraction to men was too fixed to be changed.) Interviewed in 1978, Chris Piesse of Auckland University Gay Liberation expressed his hope for ‘a society in which people, anybody, can express their sexuality without being hassled and put down and ridiculed for it’. Rather sadly, he added, ‘It’s a very idealistic view, but I don’t think it’s impossible.’

Most prominent in opposition to the bill was the Coalition for Concerned Citizens, which in 1985 presented 91 boxes of their anti-law-reform petition to Parliament in an overblown, flag-laden ceremony that some compared to the Nuremberg Rally. Norm Jones banged on predictably about legalising sodomy, and the organisers claimed to have more than 800,000 signatures in their boxes (labelled ‘The people have spoken’). However, many of the signatures were later discredited, and the act passed the following year, by 49 votes to 44. The second part of the bill, which would have prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, was rejected; it was another seven years before the Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual orientation. The road towards equality has been long and slow – it was not until 2005 that same-sex couples were able to legally formalise their partnerships in a civil union, and only in 2013 that same-sex marriage was made legal in New Zealand.

So I’m taking a moment today to remember all those brave men and women who came out about their sexuality despite a society that ridiculed and vilified them, who were staunch and steadfast and worked so hard for repeal of a manifestly unjust law. Happy 29th anniversary of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, everyone.

Flowers from the Holy Land – a First World War souvenir

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Wellingtonians (and ex-Wellingtonians) might remember Quilters, the second-hand bookshop run by John Quilter for 36 years. Earlier this year John decided to close the store (although he plans to keep selling rare New Zealand books online), and, as is traditional, he had a closing-down sale.

As I waited in line to pay for my small pile of goodies, while brooding about whether I should buy the incredibly fluorescent poster for Hair (I should have), I noticed a small book with a wooden cover on the counter. I had a quick look and discovered that it had pages of pressed flowers from sites in the Middle East. Having never seen anything like it before, I added it to my pile and took it home.

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

It turned out to be a book of ‘Flowers and Views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem’. It has lovely, slightly naïve prints showing places such as Bethlehem, separated by tissue paper from delicate dried flower arrangements collected from the same location. My copy has 12 plates and 12 matching flower arrangements, as well as a title page and the wooden cover. The lithographs are credited to A. L. Monsohn of Jerusalem, which, according to Wikipedia, was a lithographic press that began in 1892.

A bit more of a web search revealed that these little books were popular souvenirs from the Middle East from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. The covers were generally made from olive wood. (I can’t tell if mine is or not, but I’m going to assume so for now.) Some of them, like this one from the Australian War Memorial Museum, have a carved cross on the cover. Others have ‘Jerusalem’, surrounded by a carved and coloured border, or silhouettes of camels and palm trees. Mine is much plainer, and has ‘Jerusalem’ stamped on the cover. It would appear that some of these books only have the pressed flowers, and some have much more elaborate flower arrangements, such as this one, where the leaves, grasses and flowers have been arranged into a picture of a tree in a meadow.

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

So how did this book end up in New Zealand? The inside cover has a pencil note, ‘to Auntie Anne [or Annie?], from Kenneth M Stevens in Palestine’, with 1916 added in pen. The handwriting is a little hard to make out, but I think that’s right. So, assuming that this little book was sent back by a New Zealand soldier, I had a look at Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Cenotaph – where I found a record for Kenneth McKenzie Stevens, 13/2375, of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. On Archway, Archives New Zealand’s website, I found two First World War records for Kenneth Stevens – the one above, and Kenneth Murdock Stevens (13/237). Both men served in the Auckland Mounted Rifles, which fought in Palestine in 1917–18. My best guess is that one of the Kenneths picked this book up and sent it to ‘Auntie Annie’ – but which one will have to wait for another day.

I’m fascinated by this little book, and would love to know if anyone else in New Zealand has one. It also raises other questions, such as who did the flower arranging, and were the flowers really collected from the specific locations, or were they pulled out of one large pile? Possibly unanswerable, but interesting to think on.

The Magna Carta down under

The 1297 version of the Magna Carta on display in Canberra (pic: Flickr: NickHodge's photostream)

The 1297 version of the Magna Carta on display in Canberra (pic: Flickr: NickHodge's photostream)

Today marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, a document granted by King John of England that limited the power of the Crown. This document was fundamental in establishing the concept of the rule of law and notions of freedom and justice. Why, I hear you ask, are we interested in such an anniversary here in New Zealand? Because New Zealand was once a British colony, we inherited its laws. One clause of the Magna Carta remains on the New Zealand statute books:

‘NO freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.’

The Treaty of Waitangi has been described as the ‘Māori Magna Carta’.

The Magna Carta 800 Committee for New Zealand has listed on its website a series of events around the country. There’s a lot on this month, including commemorative services and lectures. In July the University of Auckland is holding a five-part lecture series. If you’re at all interested in the legacy of this important document, check out the New Zealand committee’s website and consider attending one of the events. You can also find out about the Magna Carta and its application to New Zealand on Te Ara.

In search of ‘Auntie Naughty’

Poster advertising Mrs W. H. Foley, 1858 (pic: Canterbury Museum, Canterbury Pilgrims and Early Settlers' Association Collection)

Poster advertising Mrs W. H. Foley, 1858 (pic: Canterbury Museum, Canterbury Pilgrims and Early Settlers' Association Collection)

In August last year I received an intriguing email from Ernest Huggins, a retired school teacher from London, Ontario. He had just come across our Dictionary of New Zealand biography entry on Mrs W. H. Foley, one of the varied band of entertainers who travelled round the country in the 19th century, bringing song, dance, poetry and spectacle into the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. Mrs Foley was a much-fêted actress, but somewhat elusive – when her biography was first published in 1990 we knew only her stage name, and had no details of where she was born, her early life or what happened to her after she apparently faded from the scene in 1867. That was about to change. Mrs Foley, Ernest told me, was his great-great-aunt, and his cousin, Zoe Cant, had details that could fill in some of the gaps: ‘She has quite a file on Mrs Foley, aka “Auntie Naughty” and I am sure would be delighted to share it with you.’

Indeed Zoe had a wealth of information on Mrs Foley. For starters, she knew her original name – Catherine Huggins – and had discovered that she was born into a family of actors in Lincolnshire, England around 1821. In 1843 Catherine Huggins gave birth to a son, Charles, and she married his father, Daniel Caparn, two years later. The family emigrated to Tasmania in 1847. Catherine ran a dress shop in Hobart for a while before she and Daniel separated. She went on her own to San Francisco; Daniel ended up in Honolulu, where he died in 1851.  That same year, Catherine married William Henry Foley, ‘a charismatic clown, circus proprietor and theatrical entrepreneur’ in Sacramento. In 1855 they arrived in New Zealand with their circus, and Mrs Foley soon branched into acting. This was the point at which our original biography had started.

Realising that major amendments and additions would be needed, I contacted the author of the DNZB biography, Peter Downes. It turned out that, with the assistance of Catherine Bishop, a PhD student, and Ian Harding, another family historian, Peter had found out even more information about the feisty Mrs W. H. Foley. After the birth of a daughter, the Foleys had parted company in 1857, and some time later Catherine took up with her company’s new leading man, Vernon Webster, who confusingly also went by the name Lowten Lowten. In 1867 Catherine and Lowten embarked on an unsuccessful tour to Chile, followed by a period in England. In 1882 they married (bigamously, as William Foley was still alive), and the following year came back to New Zealand. They made a brief return to the stage, then retired to Napier to run a hotel. Catherine died there in 1887, and is buried in the Napier cemetery. Her gravestone gives no clue that she was once the celebrated Mrs W. H. Foley.

Peter’s revised version of the entry is now up on the site and makes a fascinating read. The discovery of all this rich new information is the result of some great collaborative detective work, made more impressive because of the many names Mrs Foley went by during her lifetime. Mrs W. H. Foley, aka Catherine Huggins, aka Catherine Caparn, aka Lucy Catherine Foley, aka Lucy Kate Lowten and Mrs Lowten Lowten, enjoyed her finest hours in New Zealand. It seems fitting that her bones now lie in New Zealand soil.

There is one more mystery I want to solve: what did she look like? If you have or know of the existence of a portrait of Mrs W. H. Foley that we could attach to her biography, I would love to hear from you!