Thursday, April 24, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: U is for Underwear

A weighty matter for today's discussion. Let us draw a veil over the matter of men with their long-johns and woollen combinations, confining ourselves to ladies and their not-quite-unmentionables.

Throughout the Victorian era ladies wore layer upon layer of undergarments. The precise items varied somewhat with changing fashions over the decades, but the quantity and complexity of what was considered necessary for decency did not change until the 1920s brought such a startling loosening-up of female garments.

The crinoline had gone by the time of the period my books cover, thank goodness. Women were busy enough with what remained. Typically they would wear:
- drawers
- stockings (with garters)
- a chemise
- a corset
- a camisole
- several petticoats, including a flannel one in winter

How they could move at all, let alone run a busy household, takes some imagining.

Most women were limited to fairly utilitarian white cotton, but lingerie could be quite lovely, especially that belonging to wealthier women who might even run to silk (and have someone else to launder it for them), with lace and ribbons and frills.

Vintage underwear pattern,

As for those drawers mentioned earlier: with heavy and complicated outer garments, a visit to a gloomy outhouse, probably well-populated with spiders, was enough of a challenge without having to struggle with hooks, buttons and tapes to lower one's drawers. For much of this period, drawers consisted of two separate leg sections, joined only at the waistband, with no crotch seam. It must have made life just a little simpler.

In my quest for authenticity, I made a pair of my own:

They're quite full in style, loose around the thighs and trimmed with generous frills. Should the unthinkable happen, and a man get a glimpse of these drawers, they would look like a petticoat, albeit an indecently short one (they barely cover the knees).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: T is for Tarawera

Tarawera is a volcano near the North Island town of Rotorua. After being quiescent for centuries, it erupted in June of 1886, killing about 150 people (the exact death toll is unknown).

The eruption also buried what were then major tourist attractions: the Pink and White Terraces, beautifully layered silica deposits with thermal pools for bathing.

Blomfield, Charles, 1848-1926 :White Terraces, Lake Rotomahana. 1890. Ref: G-630. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Blomfield, Charles 1848-1926. :Pink Terraces, Lake Rotomahana 1890. Ref: G-667. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
The people of the coastal Bay of Plenty were far enough away to be in no danger, but to have ash falling from the sky must have been terrifying, especially while they waited to learn just what was going on. I made it particularly frightening for one young couple in Mud and Gold: their first child decides to be born during the eruption.

Blomfield, Charles 1848-1926. Mount Tarawera in eruption, June 10, 1886. W. Potts, lith. C Blomfield, del. Wanganui, A D Willis [ca 188-?]. Ref: C-033-002. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: S is for School

Primary school education was made free and compulsory in New Zealand in 1877.

In practice this covered far fewer children than "compulsory" suggests. Parents were exempt from having to send their children to school if they lived more than two miles from the nearest one, which was often the case in rural areas, especially in the early years of compulsory education. Those who lived close enough to a school might be separated from it by a river that occasionally became impassable; or they might simply be kept at home if their labour was considered essential. And the school itself might only be open part of the time: even by the 1920s, when my father-in-law went to a little one-roomed school, the teacher only came out from town three days a week. On three other days of the week (yes, that busy lady taught from Monday to Saturday) she drove her gig to another one-roomed school on the other side of town.

Unidentified school group. Ref: 1/4-005265-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
The sole-charge teachers with their rooms of pupils ranging in age from five to 13 or even older must have needed all the skills they could muster to keep order and to impart some sort of education to such a mixed range of age and ability. But their pupils were probably better off than those crammed into the busiest of the city schools, like this group:

Classroom of school children. Making New Zealand :Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2816-1/4-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: R is for Railway

In the early decades of European settlement in New Zealand, most travel of any distance was by water. Towns and villages grew up along the coast, or on navigable rivers, and for many years the little coastal steamers transported the bulk of passengers and freight.

New Zealand's first railway lines were built in the South Island in the 1860s. By 1880 the South Island's main trunk line had been completed—and the North Island's had not yet been started.

The South Island's eastern plains, where the island's largest settlements were, made building the railway comparatively straightforward. It was a far more difficult task to build a railway line through the central North Island, with its mountains and ravines, requiring some impressive feats of engineering. The central section has towering viaducts and the dramatic Raurimu spiral, with tunnels and sharp curves and a line that circles back on itself.

Makatote Viaduct, Mt Ruapehu in background, c.1910
Raurimu Spiral. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-42886-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Building began on the North Island Main Trunk in 1885, and the 680-kilometre track was completed 23 years later, in 1908. There was a rush to complete the final 24-kilometre section in time for a Parliament Special train to take MPs to Auckland in time to greet Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet in August  of 1908.

The North Island Main Trunk line was officially opened a few months later, in November 1908, when the Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward ceremonially drove home the final spike.

Passengers who travelled on the first Main Trunk train, including Sir Joseph Ward. Making New Zealand: Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-1685-1/4-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The last scheduled steam train service was in 1971, but today journeys by steam train are a popular recreational activity.

Kingston Flyer

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: Q is for Queen

Queen Victoria's reign began in 1837, just a few years before New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. So her reign and the nation that was the most distant of her dominions were of a similar age.

Only a small proportion of those New Zealanders alive at the end of Victoria's sixty-three year reign would have remembered its beginning. The era we call "Victorian" covered a period of changes and developments in many areas, technology and fashion included. But the adjective still calls to mind a period of strict morality (outwardly, at any rate) and rigid social structures.

New Zealanders were generally perceived, not least by themselves, as loyal members of the British Empire. No public function was complete without a toast to the Queen. Many towns and cities have Victoria (or Queen) Streets, and the country has many statues of Queen Victoria.

View of the statue of Queen Victoria in Albert Park, Auckland. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-000451-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria at the head of Queens Wharf, Post Office Square, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-007908-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: P is for Piano

In the days before gramophones and radios, if a family wanted to enjoy music they had to provide it themselves. A piano was a prized addition to many households.

Music was also an important part of entertaining guests. It might be a feature of an elegant soirée in a stylish drawing room, or perhaps a more modest entertainment in a small parlour; what Lizzie insists on calling a "soyree" (it's generally a mistake to let Lizzie know how a word of foreign origin is spelled, rather than just telling her how it's pronounced).

New Zealand Graphic & Ladies Journal: A Musical Evening, [by an unknown artist]. 1890. Ref: PUBL-0163-1890-001. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The soirée (or soyree) might be a gathering of only family and close friends, or might include people whose closer acquaintance was wished. And sometimes it might be a way to show off the accomplishments of a marriageable daughter, thereby increasing the prospects of a good match.

And sometimes the piano was played simply for pleasure, perhaps as a respite from the demands of a busy household.

Unidentified woman playing piano, location unknown. Williams, Edgar Richard:Negatives, lantern slides, stereographs, colour transparencies, monochrome prints, photographic ephemera. Ref: 1/1-025675-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: O is for Opotiki

The Bay of Plenty near Opotiki

Opotiki is my old home town, where I spent the first seventeen years of my life. It's small and little-known, even within New Zealand. It's also the real-life inspiration for the fictional town of Ruatane, a setting in my books.

I paid a return visit to my home town a few years ago. Memories and photographs from that visit: Ruatane in Real Life