Saturday, June 26, 2010

One Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago, on 23rd June 1910, a group of thirteen farmers gathered in Palmerston North and formed the New Zealand Holstein Friesian Association. What makes this occasion rather close to my heart is that my husband's great-grandfather was one of the thirteen, and I have his diary recording the event.

Just getting from the farm to Palmerston North was quite an undertaking. On Friday 17th June he went by buggy into Opotiki (the town where I grew up, and which my fictional Ruatane is based on). He caught the coastal steamer Ngatiawa at 1 pm, and arrived in Auckland the following morning at 11 am (in the diary he comments that "We would have been earlier only we had to put off sheep at Orakai"). He stayed two nights with family members in Auckland, then on the evening of Monday 20th June he caught the train to Palmerston North and arrived there about midday on 21st June.

One hundred years ago this circuitous route, first north to Auckland, then south (despite the name) to Palmerston North, was the fastest way of making the journey. Today it's about a seven hour drive, on sealed roads all the way.

Communication could be a trial. Great-grandfather had arranged to stay with a Mr Lovelock of Palmerston North, one of the other founders of the Association, but he found that "Lovelock was not in to meet me so I borrowed a horse from the New Zealand Loan and rode out there. When I got there I found Lovelock had missed me having gone in in his Motor car for me. But he got home about eight o'clock." Next day "I could not ride into P/N with him in his car as I had to take back the horse. But I came home with him this evening, and I rather like riding in the car."

He obviously did "rather like" it, because a little later he became one of the earliest motorists in Opotiki.

Thursday 23rd June's entry includes "We all went into P/N after dinner we went to the Holstein meeting had a good talk there and formed a Holstein Association." Here's the page:

The following day he began his journey home, retracing his route by train, steamer and buggy, and on Thursday 30th June was back on the farm. He'd had quite an eventful two weeks.

The Association still exists, and this week has been celebrating its centenary. I've found on their website a request for any descendants of those thirteen men to contact the association; I'll bundle up some of my information and send it off to them.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In good company

I was checking the Barnes & Noble e-book listings for historical fiction today, sorted by number of sales, and was pleasantly surprised to find Sentence of Marriage at Number 34 (of 2,019) sandwiched between a Michael Crichton and Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall. Heady company for my little tale.

Of course there's the not-so-small matter of money: Sentence is free. So I was just as pleased to find Mud and Gold, which isn't free, at Number 168, with one of Laurie King's Mary Russell books and Rafael Sabatini's tale of derring-do, Captain Blood, either side of it. It's a good neighbourhood.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Ma's out, Pa's out, Let's talk rude!
Pee, Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers.

Flanders and Swann's "naughty words" song isn't referring to an innocuous chest of drawers, but to gasp underwear. As if that weren't shocking enough, Victorian ladies often wore split drawers.

As part of my quest for authenticity, and my wish to share from the comfort of today a little of the experience of being a Victorian woman, some years ago I made a pair of 19th century-style drawers.

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).

But the legs are quite separate, joined only along the waistband.

Split drawers are sometimes assumed to have been the Victorian equivalent of naughty knickers, and to have been worn only by women of ill-repute, but that's not the case at all; they were normal, everyday underwear, worn by respectable women as well as (presumably) their fallen sisters. Their design is based on simple practicality.

A woman's underwear included, in addition to drawers, a chemise, a corset, a camisole, and at least two petticoats, and all this in the days before zippers or lycra. With split drawers, relieving oneself doesn't mean struggling with hooks, buttons, or cotton tape; it's simply a matter of making a minor adjustment. When braving a gloomy outhouse, complete with a population of spiders, anything that makes the task a little easier is to be welcomed.