Friday, 21 April 2017

ANZAC Day Remembrance 25th April 2017 - A Serviceman's Story


Henry George Edward Simpson 8/2132
Note the badges shown below.
Wakefield's Photo, Chiswick & Brentford
[From my own collection]

ANZAC Day, the 25th April 2017, "broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations and the contribution and suffering of all those who have served."

As a tribute to these men and women I am, by bringing together artefacts, photographs and information from a variety of sources, telling the story of a New Zealand World War One serviceman with a strong connection to both Otago and Southland, being Henry George Edward Simpson 8/2132.


14th South Otago Rifles Regiment Badges
belonging to George Simpson.
The bird is a New Zealand Kea.
[From my own collection]

Being my Grandmother's cousin and with both being brought up by a mutual Aunt in the small Southland district of Wreys Bush they kept in close contact, along with my Father, Uncles and Aunt, until George's death in 1950. This means that I have inherited a number of items relating to George (as he was known) including, as I only discovered last year, his 14th South Otago Rifles Regiment hat badge and one shoulder badge. This was a surprise even to me considering they had been in my possession since 1982 but I had incorrectly assumed they belonged to my late Uncle. The scanning and placing online of military records finally led me to be able to correctly attribute them to George, the sole family member who had served with this regiment. And as if to confirm this attribution beyond doubt, I then noted the self same badges in George's photo above.

While I do not hold his war medals I do however also hold a number of photographs and postcards which he wrote to my family while overseas. Together with his digitized military record this has enabled me to built up a picture of his war service which includes, Egypt, Gallipoli, and the Western Front in France. So ANZAC Day provides me with the perfect opportunity to bring all these items together and give a brief overview, as best I can, of a soldier whose record of service to King and Country would otherwise likely continue to be forgotten. This also shows how a combination of sources of information, where little else is known, can be used to build up a useful picture of a person's life and, in this case, war service. When a detailed family history was professionally commissioned by the extended family some years ago no further information on George was discovered other than what is quoted here.

George, the son of William Henry Simpson and Agnes Brown was born at Havelock in the Hawkes Bay region of the North Island on the 13th September 1877. But in 1882 his mother died and he was then separated from his brother Albert and sent south to Wrey's Bush in Southland to live with his Aunt, attending the local Annandale Public School. Initially moving to Invercargill and working as a railways employee, George had by 1907 changed careers and entered the teaching profession working for the Southland Education Board, initially at Raes Junction School then in 1910 at Woodlands School.

On the 12th February 1915 George, and at the age of 37, enlisted as a Private with the 2nd Batallion of the Otago Infantry (14th South Otago Rifles Regiment). His overseas service commenced on the 13th June 1915 and he would spend a total of one year and 336 days overseas, returning to New Zealand in May 1917 before being discharged, his total war service being 2 years and 118 days.

His quite detailed Army Casualty Form gives the most accurate listing of his various placements in the various theatres of the war. Additionally, his postcards confirm this information and give confirmation of various dates.

We know that George was initially posted to Egypt and to Zeitoun Camp near Cairo. While the postcards may appear somewhat vague and lacking in detail one must remember that all mail had to pass a censor to ensure that no information was divulged which could prove useful to the enemy. But the frustrating thing is not having a clear record of his week to week postings, day to day life, and what specific enemy action he may have been engaged in such as at Gallipoli and the Battle of the Somme. This can only be estimated from regimental records but his own personal observations would have been invaluable.


A postcard from Zeitoun Camp,
Egypt dated 1st August 1915
and sent to my Aunt.
[From my own collection] 

"Zeitoun [Camp near Cairo, Egypt] 1st Aug 1915, We do most of our training in the mornings and evenings, as it is too hot during the day. It never rains..."

By the 9th August 1915 George had been posted with the ANZAC's to the Dardanelles during the Gallipoli Campaign but was admitted to hospital on the 2nd September due to "dysentry" before being transferred to a hospital in Malta via H.M. ship "Nile" so it must have been quite serious.

"Panorama of Floriana, Malta"

A Postcard from Malta,
and sent to my Aunt,
Sept - Oct 1915
[From my own collection]

"Dear Dott, You have a post card of one of the best parts of Malta, some of the parts where the poorer people live are very squalid, while some of the hovels in the country are miserable almost beyond description. I have not been able to have a look round Malta yet, but I would like to. I am getting better now...

Entrance to Grey Towers Barracks, Hornchurch, England
[From my own collection]

On the 8th October he was transferred by H.M. ship "Italia" to the 5th Southern General Hospital at Portsmouth in England, being classed as "slightly sick", then on the 7th February 1916 we find him at the NZ Base Depot at "Grey Towers" Barracks in Hornchurch, Essex. He left here to re-join his unit on the 1st March.

George Simpson, no date
[From my own collection]

On the 13th March George joined the 14th Company Battallion of the Otago Infantry Regiment at Moascar Camp near Ismailia on the Suez Canal. The Ottomans had attacked nearby in February 1915, hence no doubt, the strategic placement of a camp here.


A postcard sent from "The Desert, Egypt"
to my Father, dated 2nd April 1916
[From my own collection] 

"The Desert, Egypt, 2nd April 1916, ...We are out in the desert among the flies, the heat and the sand and we enjoy life immensely...".

But his time in the desert would be very brief as on the 9th April 1916 George embarked from Alexandria for France on the 'Llandovery Castle'. After the Gallipoli withdrawal the New Zealand forces had been re-organised into the newly formed New Zealand Division prior to leaving for France and the Western Front.

While serving at Houplines (near Armentieres) in Northern France, he was reported sick on the 31st May 1916 and sent to hospital but rejoined his unit on the front line on the 4th June. This was during an initial three month period where the New Zealand forces guarded a quieter section of the front in order to gain valuable front line experience.

A silk embroidered postcard sent from France, 12th July 1916
[From my own collection] 

A postcard sent from France, to
my Aunt, dated 12th July 1916
[From my own collection] 

"July 12th, 1916, France. Dear Dott, I hope you are all well, the morning note [?] and the daily strafe are tiresome at times but they will soon end..." [By "morning note" I am unsure if George is referring to a morning bugler. Any suggestions are welcome!]

But on the 13th August he fell sick again "In the Field", being attended to by the 3rd NZ Field Ambulance before being admitted to the 8th Casualty Clearing Station the same day. His affliction this time was a hernia which indicates heavy lifting. From here he was admitted to the 35 General Field Hospital in Calais on the 15th August. It is likely he was operated on here. From here he was transferred yet again, this time to the No1 Convalescent Depot at Boulogne on the 19th August but was "Discharged to Base" the following day.

On the 23rd August 1916 George joined the New Zealand forces "In the field" at Etaples on the 28th August, having been transferred from the 14th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment to the 14th Company of the 1st Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment".

Early September 1916 had seen the New Zealand forces enter the 'Battle of the Somme', taking part in the third great push to break the enemy lines. It would be during this extended battle that George was wounded. By the end of September a decisive breakthrough had not yet been made but already at a huge cost in lives and injuries.

"Eighteen thousand members of the [New Zealand] division went into action. Nearly 6000 men were wounded and more than 2100 lost their lives. Over half the New Zealand Somme dead have no known grave".

After being "Wounded in action" on the 16th September George was attended to by the No1 NZ Field Ambulance then taken to the 38 Casualty Clearing Station the following day. On the 18th August he was admitted to the 23rd General Hospital at Etaples before embarking for England on H.M ship "Dieppe" on the 24th September. After just over three weeks at the 2nd London General Hospital at Chelsea he was then transferred to the Convalescent Camp at Hornchurch on the 17th October 1916. His service record only states "GSW [gun shot wound] elbow-severe". But from around this period George appears to have a wound to his head which may have been caused by flying shrapnel. Thus he was probably very lucky not to have been killed from this event alone.  At this point his active service was effectively over.


Servicemen recuperating from war injuries at the New Zealand
Convalescent Hospital at "Grey Towers" Hornchurch, England,
an unpublished photo taken circa late 1916 - early 1917.
George Simpson is the 3rd man from left at rear.
Unfortunately no other men are named.
[From my own collection]

A close up of the above photograph
showing George Simpson at the back

A folder of printed images of Hornchurch
sent by George Simpson in late 1916
to my Aunt in New Zealand.
[From my own collection]

On the 22nd January 1917 George Simpson was classified as unfit, "placed on NZ Roll", and transferred to Codford Camp on the Salisbury Plains before departing for New Zealand on H.M.N.Z.T. "Maunganui" on the 17th March 1917, his discharge being on the 11th June 1917. "Discharged in consequence no longer physically fit for war service on acct of pre-enlistment disability aggravated by active service." At all times during his service his rank had been that of a Private. He completed his military service with a completely unblemished record.

Henry George Edward Simpson 8/2132
Wakefield's Photo, Chiswick & Brentford
[From my own collection]

After the war, George was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. After George's death in 1950, and with the lack of an immediate relative, these were, with the approval of the Secretary of the NZ Army in Wellington, and indeed the Minister of Defence, sent by the Public Trustee to his niece Miss Jean Simpson. All I know is that Jean married John Dennis Daly, a veterinarian, in 1965 but had no children. It would be good to track down the current whereabouts of George's medals and to ascertain if any other records pertaining to George's military service may exist.

George Simpson,
taken at home, circa 1950
(The lady is unknown)
[From my own collection]

Returning to teaching George is known to have been at Winton Primary School in 1919 then appears to have lived in Dunedin from at least the 1930's but often visited and stayed with my family in Southland as they did with him in Dunedin. He retired to 62 Signal Hill Road in Dunedin where he died on the 14th December 1950. George appears to have been an intelligent man with, I note, a great love and appreciation of English poetry. With no immediate family of his own he requested in his will that the bulk of his estate be paid over to the Anglican Melanesian Mission.

I know that at least one photo that had been in George's possession at his death came to our family as my Uncle mentions this in a letter. There may have been other items but specifically how his 14th South Otago Regiment badges ended up with my family is not recorded. Late last year I donated these badges (under his name) to the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin as I felt they should stay in Otago, the province he had represented in war, and to be somewhere where they would be appreciated and have some significance in future. I feel sure that George would approve. Although they still have to go through an acceptance process, the curator was very keen to get them to fill a gap in their collections.  

Gravestone of Henry George Edward Simpson,
Havelock North cemetery
[Image : Hastings District Council] 

Despite living most of his life in the south George Simpson chose to be buried with his parents, brother Bert, and family members in the Havelock North Cemetery. 

Copyright : 

Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own personal collection and may be freely copied for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Images may not be used for commercial purposes without my express written permission.

Sources :

- Family papers and photographs (held by the writer)
- Archives New Zealand / Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
- Simpson Family History, 2006
- New Zealand History / Nga korero a ipurangi o Aotearoa
- Hastings District Council Cemetery Records

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Waihou and Ohinemuri River Improvement Scheme, 1911 - 1928


William Dykes (centre rear) with D. Shankland and crew,
taken on a P.W.D. "Ruston" 2 cubic yard capacity dragline
with locomotive boiler used on stopbank building.
Taken at Paeroa, July 1924 

With a very wet summer and autumn season, and with Cyclone Cook having just crossed the country, flooding is understandably a very topical subject in New Zealand.

It was in the period 1911 up to 1928 that the New Zealand Government Public Works Department (PWD) spent around £1,000,000 on channel clearing, stopbanking and the installation of (I believe up to 200) floodgates on the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers on the Hauraki Plains of the North Island. This scheme, which was completed in 1928, was not only to control recurrent flooding but also to aid drainage of swampy low lying land so that it could be developed for agricultural purposes. Flood protection work and stopbanking was completed along the entire length of the Waihou River from near Turua to Mangaiti (near Te Aroha) and to Karangahake on the Ohinemuri River.

One of two 90 Ton "Ruston" Draglines, 65 Foot Boom,
1½ cubic yard, 2 cubic yard heaped capacity.
Taken circa 1924

In 1974, Kevin Simson, the Hauraki Catchment Board Engineer, wrote that "Considerable lengths of the original stopbanks on the Waihou River are built principally of sand. Firstly, two small banks were built parallel to the centre of the final bank. These initial banks were generally only two or three feet high, and of a similar width. The material was obtained on the site using horse scoops, barrows and much hand labour to move the material. The next stage was the pumping of the sand fill from the river channel to be placed between the small toe banks which retained the material. After a period of settlement, the sand fill was trimmed... and a veneer of silty clay obtained from the river berm was spread as a top cover, being a foot to 18 inches thick. Approximately 28 miles of stop banking... were built in this manner."

Although the scheme was effective successive floods in 1954 and 1960 showed that a greater degree of flood tolerance needed to be allowed for to avoid a catastrophic flood covering up to 20,000 acres. Intensified farming (another topical issue!) in the upper catchments was part of the underlying problem which increased runoff and silting of the waterways thus putting pressure on the existing system. This led to the "Hauraki Catchment Board Waihou Valley Scheme" of the 1970's which built on the initial work undertaken in the 1920's but in a far wider and more comprehensive manner and with a cost of up to NZD$6,000,000

But it is the initial pre 1928 scheme that is the focus of my blog and features many original photographs taken by my Grandfather, William Dykes, a 'Dredgemaster and Overseer' for the PWD, who held a First Class Marine Engineers Certificate of Competency. Luckily he left quite detailed reminiscences of his time here and I think it best if I let him tell this quite unique story in his own words and photographs. William Dykes, later inspected P.W.D. machinery and steam boilers throughout the country including equipment in use as far afield as at the Waitaki Hydro Dam construction and stop banking on the Taieri Plains near Dunedin.This is, however, just a small selection of the photographs I hold. As late as May 1970 my Grandfather was still following the plans for the proposed Hauraki Catchment Board Waihou flood alleviation scheme with great interest.  William Dykes, whom I remember very well, died in 1971 aged 91 years,

A "Bucyrus" 30-B Dragline Building Stopbanks

"After a month or six weeks I left Heddon Bush [Southland, early 1911] to have a look at the country further north, travelling by coastal passenger ship, stayed over at Timaru and Gisborne and then rejoined the ship on one of her subsequent trips north to Auckland, during my stay there, replied to an employment agency’s adverts for a man to take charge of a launch and assist with survey work. I was engaged and travelled by the well-known Paddle Steamer “Whakatore” to the Thames where I was met by a Maori who was to navigate the launch up the Lower Waihou River to the Junction, Paeroa a distance of around 25 miles and tidal all the way. We took over the launch from the owner Mr Kirby who ran a launch passenger service up the Piako River. In due course we arrived all well, found that it was the Public Works Dept. I was engaged by. The Engineer in Charge, Mr R Young, had just arrived, I was the first of the staff to be employed, the date, May 1911, I think it was, thus started my 16 years stay at Paeroa."


"One Cubic Yard Dipper Dredge", cutting its own flotation as
it digs a drainage channel through miles of rough swamp.

"The survey camp and office was in a fairly large farm house belonging to Mr Buchanan out the Waihi Road close to the town, it served for awhile until we moved into an old deserted Bank Building in town. Later a redundant Post Office was moved in from a worked out gold mining area near Waihi, it was enlarged once or twice to accommodate the large staff of later years. Although the office was now in town, the house was still in use by the single men of the survey, the man cook was paid by the Department, and we boarders shared expenses and lived well. Wages were 8/- per day."

A Log Hauler at Paeroa, used to remove willows etc from the riverbank

"As the result of damage to farm lands on the Ohinemuri & Lower Waihou Rivers by mining tailings dumped into the river by the Waihi Gold Mine, mostly from their Waikino Stamp battery, the river beds were being raised that in flood time the rivers overflowed and depositing this silt or tailings over good farm land etc. A Royal Commission sat and suggested certain remedial works & after survey of the damaged land pay compensation. Thus came into being the Waihou & Ohinemuri Improvement Scheme and entrusted to the Public Works Dept. to carry out."

P.W.D. No 1 Waihou 10" Suction Dredge, built 1914.
The revolving cutter head and suction ladder are
submerged but I do hold images of them.

"Many miles of river stopbanks were built using wheel barrows and drays. Later on when the Draglines and Suction Dredges were employed, the major work of building the larger stop banks were done, the dredges pumping spoil from the river beds for this purpose, some of the banks were 90ft wide at the bottom & 12 to 14 ft height and quite a few miles were done. Preliminary work of clearing the bases for the stop bank itself, removal of scrub, trees & roots using log haulers and hand work as well as clearing the river of willows. Of the Suction Dredges, No1 was 10” steam driven and was used initially for the cutting of the Ngararahi canal 63 chains long by 80 feet wide and 12 feet deep to deviate the whole upper Waihou River to shorten it’s course by some miles. At the lower end of Ngararahi cut, another cut, the Koutu, was made 10 chains long, 16 feet wide & 12 feet deep was made to carry both the Ohinemuri & Upper Waihou Rivers. This work was carried out when the First World War was in its early stages."


P.W.D. No 1 Waihou Dredge Engine Room

"...I was called up for military service but at my medical examination did not pass [supposedly due to 'flat feet' so could not march], later on I realized that the Dept. had pre-arranged this considering that I was essential in the interests of the river works."


P.W.D. No 1 Waihou Dredge Engine Room
showing the 10" Gravel Pump

"I was [initially] employed on a casual basis, later I was placed on the permanent staff of the department [and] appointed Dredgemaster and overseer then. The plant during the 1920’s was extensive, 2 Ruston & Hornsby 1½ co yd draglines, steam driven on Caterpillars, each 90 tons in working order, 2 Bucyrus ¾ cu yd Draglines 30 tons each on Caterpillars, 1 Dipper Dredge 1 cu yd capacity, used for digging main drains through swamps, it dug out its own flotation, 2 log haulers 8” cylinders, dry back Horiz [sic?] Boilers on both, a 4 ton motor lorry for coal cartage etc, 4 launches, a barge with mast & derrick to handle 5 tons operated by a winch & boiler, several service barges, one large one was used for moving the 90 ton draglines about the river."

P.W.D. No 1 Waihou Dredge
showing the 10 inch floating discharge pontoon
pipe line, the outlet being placed over where
the stopbank was being formed 

"No1 Waihou Dredge, steam driven, had a 10” gravel pump, No 2 Waihou Dredge, Electric, 250 hp variable speed 3 ph 50 cycle motor. The Steel Hull was built in the Dept’s Workshops at Tauranga and towed round to Paeroa where I superintended the installation of the machinery & electrical equipment, the Electric Power came aboard by cable at 11,000 volts to the transformer & control systems in an isolated compartment on board, the pump motor and those for the winches and rotary cutter took 440 volts 3ph. When in operation an Electrician was employed and his duties included the dismantling & re-erecting the shore powerlines as required between the dredge and the tapping point with the Power Board lines. I was responsible for the repairs and upkeep of the plant, and had a workshop at the Puke, the Public Works Department (P.W.D.) Depot, manned by Fitters, Turner & Blacksmiths full time, also for the ordering of spare parts and consumable stores, wire, rope, coal, benzene etc used on the works."


The 10 Inch discharge Pipe from the No 1 Waihou Dredge
discharging sand to build up a stopbank

"There were quite a few day men and contractors employed on concrete culvert work as well as digging and deepening ditches, handling, transporting coal to the Draglines & No 1 Dredge etc. Repairs to launches and barges were done by our own men, we also built several road bridges over rivers, Australian hardwood trusses & piles, all of which I had to do with. During the earlier years, men were employed on the Co-op contract system on the building of stopbanks by wheel barrow from barrow pits, some lived in tents or PWD huts. This work required a good deal of supervision. The number of men on the works varied greatly, an all high of nearly 100 was almost reached once, then towards the end of the war, we had nearly 100 Jugo Slavs interned with us, more or less, enemy aliens. They were put onto digging ditches and clearing willows etc and lived in a camp on the river bank at the end of Mill Road. The Police had to be informed of any leaving, several had to be repatriated, many did drift away, eventually the camp was closed down, but several stayed, and taken on to work in our gangs being good men."


P.W.D. No 2 12" Electric Suction Dredge 

"At times I was delegated to inspect Post Offices & other Government buildings when small repairs were needed and arranging, after estimates etc were approved for the work to be done by contract. There were other inspections out with my duties on the Ohinemuri River Scheme. I often assisted the Chief Clerk and a timekeeper in making up and checking the pay sheets including the money for each man of an evening. I also accompanied them on pay day to recognize the men being paid etc. Over the years I travelled by launch a good deal, also a saddle horse and latterly was provided with a car [a Ford Model T]... The office staff grew from small beginnings to a Chief Clerk & Assistant, Time Keeper, Cost Clerk, several draughtsmen, Engineer’s Assistants etc."

The Public Works Dept, Paeroa, 1920's
Back Row (L to R) : Mr Todd (No 1 Waihou Dredge Engr.); Unknown;
Cyril Halliday (Chief Clerk); Jack McDonald (Draughtsman).
Front Row : William Dykes (Dredgemaster & Overseer);
H.R. Young (P.W.D. Engineer); J. Burnside (Road Overseer).
And "The Dog"!

Useful Links and Publications :

- "Ohinemuri - Exploring our Historic and Natural Heritage Literature"
- Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers Improvement Act 1910
- Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers Improvement Amendment Act 1912
- "Taming the Waihou" by Graham Watton, 1995 (publication)

Copyright : 

Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own personal collection and may be freely copied for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Images may not be used for commercial purposes without my express written permission.

Sources :

- William Dykes Papers and Photographs (held by the writer)
- "Hauraki Plains Story" by Rufus E. Tye, 1974 (held by the writer)
- "By Design", by Rosslyn J. Noonan, 1975 (held by the writer)
- Hauraki Catchment Board Waihou Valley Scheme proposals, 1970 (held by the writer)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Exploring a Victorian 'Mauchline Ware' Souvenir of Dunkeld


1870's 'Mauchline Ware' box with image of Dunkeld
[From my own collection]

In this blog I am featuring a recently purchased circa 140 year old Scottish Mauchline Ware velvet lined jewellery box covered with no less six engraved block images of 1840's to 1860's era Victorian buildings and scenes from in and around Dunkeld in Perthshire. I have also been able to identify and research not only the retailer who sold it, being a Mr McLean of Dunkeld, but also, quite unusually, the engraver. For my previous blog featuring a history of Scottish made "Mauchline Ware", including other examples in my slowly growing collection, click HERE.

An advertisement for
"McLean's Bazaar", Dunkeld, 1879.
[Source : Google Books]

Being a small town fifteen miles north of Perth, my box purports to be "Made of Dunkeld Wood", almost certainly sycamore, which according to advertising, would be from the plantations of the Dukes of Athole. "DunkeldC. McLean, Publisher" appears under the above attribution. This is Charles McLean, being both an historical author and retailer of Dunkeld  who owned "McLeans Bazaar", a corner shop at "8 Athole street" in Dunkeld where he additionally sold "Fancy Wood Work from the Athole Plantations". In 1857 McLean commendably wrote and published "Dunkeld : It's Straths and Glens" which comprehensively details the history and scenic highlights of the area. McLean published updated editions in 1865 and 1879.

Statutory records show that Charles McLean, "Jeweller, Stationer and Dealer in Fancy Goods" died at Dunkeld in 1882 aged 55 years. So, while this box would definitely have been sold in his shop as a small souvenir or gift this was more likely to have been prior to 1882 when his son Alexander appears to have formally joined the business. As at 1881 his son was 19 years of age with his occupation given only as "Assistant to Father". After 1882 the business appears to have traded as "Dunkeld. McLean & Son Publishers" then later as "Dunkeld. McLean & Sons Publishers" so another of Charles' sons will have latterly joined the business as well. The census also lists residents from 1 to 8 in Bridge street then jumps to the McLean's at 8 Athole street which would appear to confirm the location of the shop on the corner with Brae street. Today No 8 is one residence along although the buildings are contiguous.

An Engraving of Dunkeld by "W. Banks, Edinburgh"
from "Dunkeld : It's Straths and Glens"
published in 1879.
[Source : Google Books]

Usefully, all the engraved illustrations appearing in McLean's 1879 edition of "Dunkeld : It's Straths and Glens" note the engraver as being "W. Banks, Edinburgh", being William Banks, Artist and Engraver. But two of the self same and very detailed engravings also appear printed on my box so we can also safely attribute all these printed and very detailed block engravings to Mr Banks as well. While William Banks, "Engraver of James Square" died in 1866 aged 55 years, his line engraving of Dunkeld Cathedral published in the 1857 first edition appears again in the 1879 third edition of McLean's work as well as on my box. While I cannot access the 1865 second edition it is noted as being "illustrated", assumedly also by Mr Banks. So by 1879 Mr McLean would simply have used Banks' very detailed pre 1866 but still very useful engravings for his third edition. While the sycamore box manufacturer is unknown the majority of Mauchline Ware was made by "W & A Smith" in the town of the same name in Ayrshire.    

Velvet Lined inside of Mauchline Ware Box

I have unfortunately never visited this very picturesque town set in the Tay Valley, being known as "the Gateway to the Perthshire Highlands". I have however passed through Birnam which is just a short walk across the bridge over the Tay River from Dunkeld on the rail line from Perth to Aviemore and have also driven within 12 miles of Dunkeld on my way north from Perth and over the Spittal of Glenshee on my way to Royal Deeside. But the scenic Tay Valley, including the picturesque township of Dunkeld, would definitely appear to warrant further exploration in the future.

"Dunkeld", An Engraving by "W. Banks", Edinburgh

So let us look more closely at the images portrayed on the box. The largest view is looking over the market town of Dunkeld set among the hills of the Tay Valley and clearly shows the very attractive stone bridge over the river with Dunkeld Cathedral just visible to the far left. Dunkeld mostly dates from post 1689, the majority of the township having been all but burnt to the ground on the 24th August of that year after the 'Battle of Dunkeld' between the Jacobites supporting the deposed Catholic King James VII of Scotland and the Cameronians supporting the Protestant William of Orange (King William III). The latter would claim victory after the valiant Highlanders, "depleted of energy and ammunition", eventually withdrew after a sixteen hour battle and with the loss of 300 men which all but ended their campaign. Holes made my musket balls can still be seen in the walls of the Cathedral.

The opening of the new bridge in 1809 led to the construction of the row of substantial and very well preserved buildings leading off the bridge along what is now called Atholl street. It was here that our Mr McLean had his shop, most likely on the corner of Brae street.

The bridge, built with elegant stone arches by Scottish Civil Engineer Thomas Telford, dates from 1809. This was originally part of the main road north to Inverness hence the substantial nature of its construction which still serves its purpose well today. Since 1977 the A9 has diverted traffic through Birnam. The township itself features a very well preserved and delightful 18th century streetscape, being acknowledged as "one of the most complete 18th century country towns in Scotland".

"Dunkeld Cathedral" and "Murthly Castle",
Engravings by "W. Banks", Edinburgh 

Dunkeld Cathedral dates from the 13th to 15th centuries but suffered greatly after the reformation. Today only the much restored choir, having originally been built in 1318, is in use today as the Parish Church. The nave, which is now roofless, was built between 1406 and 1448 with the aisles and porch being finished in 1460. A Chapter House followed in 1469 then the still extant tower in 1501, now including a clock with four faces and a chime of bells, having been installed by the Athole family (click HERE to hear the bells]. Around the outer walls of the Cathedral may still be seen the arms of the various Bishops who erected the various parts of the building for "the worship and glory of God".

At the time of the Protestant Reformation "the superior enlightenment of the reformers considered it their duty to destroy [the Cathedral] in 1560", leaving it in a ruinous state. While the order from the Scottish Privy Council had simply asked for all idolatrous images to be taken down and burnt and to "cast down the altaris [altars]", the rest of the building, including the windows and ironwork were to be left intact, "Faill not, but ye taik guid heyed that neither the dasks, windocks, nor durris, be onywise hurt of broken - eyther glassin work or iron wark." But the reformers were not about to entertain any half measures and completely sacked the Cathedral, including smashing all the windows.

An Engraving of Dunkeld Cathedral 
by "W. Banks, Edinburgh", 
from "Dunkeld : It's Straths and Glens",
published in 1857.
The same image appears on the Box.
[Source : Google Books]

It was however the local laird who was responsible for removing the roof of the Cathedral, despite one of his ancestors having built a considerable portion of the building. In the year 1600 Stewart of Ladywell, a "neighbouring proprietor", re-roofed the choir then in 1691 the Dukes of Athole, being owners of the cathedral ruins, converted the choir into the present day Dunkeld Parish Church. In order to save it from further decay restoration of the fabric of the roofless parts of the old Cathedral were first undertaken in 1815.

"Dunkeld House", An Engraving by "W. Banks", Edinburgh

The Dunkeld House Hotel website claim that the present Dunkeld House (now being incorporated into the Dunkeld House Hotel) had been built by the Duke of Athole after 1897, being situated a mile further up the river from the previous older pre 1811 Dunkeld House which had been situated on the Cathedral lawns. The former had been an old Inn and was bought by the 4th Duke of Athole as a "summer house", being renamed "St Adamnan's Cottage". Over the following years it was extended, mainly by the 6th Duke, George Murray, who spent £20,000 to £30,000 on his "Palace". Queen Victoria stayed here on one occasion and in 1887 I note that it served as the residence of the Dowager Duchess of Athole.  On the Duke's death it was still unfinished and the 7th Duke decided to build the new Dunkeld House which is now incorporated in the present hotel and country club. While this must be correct I do not know what became of the 6th Duke's pre 1897 "palace". But if you look at images of the current hotel (click here for link) the central block bears a very striking similarity to the above pre 1866 engraving of the old Dunkeld House.

The present day hotel is surrounded by 280 of woodland and guests can engage in many outdoors activities including walks, cycling, shooting and salmon fishing.

"Murthly Castle", An Engraving by "W. Banks", Edinburgh

The "[New] Murthly Castle" portrayed on my box [image next to Cathedral image above] was a magnificent Elizabethan style house designed by James Gillespie Graham being built between 1828 and 1836 for Sir John Drummond Steuart. But building work ceased on the death of Sir John and the house was never finished, always being classed as a folly, and being demolished in 1949. The stone work was used as "ballast" for the Hydro Electricity Boards dam at Pitlochry. Even by 1879 a great many of the stones were "decayed" and "it's completion may be considered doubtful." While the house always remained a shell some quite ornate interior rooms intended for installation in the new castle were simply transferred to the old castle where they remain today. The former (and present) castle dates from the 15th century, being remodeled in the 17th century.

"Birnam", An Engraving by "W. Banks", Edinburgh

The town of Birnam, through which I passed on the train on my way to Aviemore and Inverness some years ago, lies just across the Tay River from Dunkeld. It owes its existence mainly to the "Perth and Dunkeld Railway" which arrived in 1856. It is well known for the neighbouring forest of Birnam Wood which also features in Shakespeare's "Macbeth". The large building with the corner tower is the still extant "Birnam Hotel" being built in the "Saxon Gothic" style around 1840 to 1850.

"Pass of Killicrankie", An Engraving by "W. Banks", Edinburgh

The Pass of Killiecrankie lies about 16 miles north of Dunkeld, being an impressive mountain gorge between the 2,757 ft Ben Vrackie and Tenandry Hill on the River Garry, also being famous for the Jacobite battle which took place nearby in 1689.

"[The] wooded gorge is a popular location for walkers and naturalists. There are a number of easily accessible trails by the River Garry through fine oak and deciduous woodland, rich in wildlife. Autumn colours are particularly spectacular, with the view along the pass from the Garry bridge being one of the most photographed in Perthshire. The gorge is a Site of Special Interest and lies within the Tummel National Scenic Area."

An advertisement for
"McLean's Bazaar", Dunkeld, 1879.
[Source : Google Books]

Sources :

- Wikipedia
- "Dunkeld : It's Straths & Glens", by Charles McLean, 1879 (Google Books)
- "Scotland's Lost Houses" by Ian Gow, 2006 (from my own collection)
- "Leslie's Directory for Perth and Perthshire 1891-92" (Google Books)

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Thomas Edison's "Telephonoscope" of 1878 - Transmits Light as Well as Sound


An 1879 Representation of Thomas Edison's "Telephonoscope" in use

Thomas Edison is remembered primarily as the inventor of the incandescent electric light bulb. But Edison was also an accomplished inventor and businessman with a prolific 1,093 US patents to his name. A few of his other more widely known inventions are the cylindrical phonograph for permanently recording and playing sound, the carbon microphone used in all telephones until the 1980's, and the "Kinetoscope" for viewing motion pictures.  

But do you believe that "Skyping" is an invention of the modern age? Well think again. One of Edison's more interesting and technologically advanced but lesser known inventions was his 1878 "Telephonoscope", an apparatus which enabled the transmission of not only sound - but also of light. The above representation of the device in operation by George Du Maurier gives us is an accurate representation of this apparatus in actual use, truly an optical "electric camera obscura" but also with sound.

"The Electroscope", published by the
"New York Sun", 29th March 1877

The "New York Sun" heralded this new invention on the 29th March 1877 when it announced that "an eminent scientist of this city" [being of course Edison at Menlo Park] was on the point of "exhibiting an instrument invented by him by means of which objects or persons standing or moving in any part of the world may be instantaneously seen anywhere and by anybody. The utility of the "electroscope" [as it was initially termed] is undeniable, and if the invention proves succesful it will supersede in a very short time the ordinary methods of telegraphic and telephonic communication." 


The Theory of "The Electroscope", published
by the "New York Sun", 29th March 1877

It is this machine that Edison had by 1878 perfected into the new "Telephonoscope". The theory behind the "telephonoscope" is simple, well at least to us in this technogically advanced age. A "camera obscura", of which there is a well known example in Edinburgh, optically captures an outside image and projects it on to a screen in a darkened room. But by means of converting that optical image into rapid electrical impulses by projecting that image onto a complex system of many thousands of light sensing wires the impulses may then be transmitted over copper wires using the same principle as a telephone voice transmission but obviously using a more technologically advanced receiver and transmitter. 

A similar battery powered apparatus at the receiving end is then used to convert the electrical impulses back to an optical and sound image using a receiver containing a newly discovered gas, "a sort of magnetic electric ether".The resultant optical image would then be projected onto a screen by means of a mirror and Edison's incandescent light. The sound would be transmitted by the normal method for telephonic communication. This then enabled one-way picture transmission (albeit of low picture quality) and two-way sound communication.   

Du Maurier's caption reads; "Every evening, before going to bed, Pater and Materfamilias set up an electric camera-obscura above their bedroom mantlepiece, and gladden their eyes with the sight of their Children at the Antipodes [in this case Ceylon], and converse gaily with them through the wire".   


The "moving image" transmitted by the "Telephonoscope"
from the other side of the world - in "cinemascope" no less.

You will observe the "speaking and listening tubes" in use by the grandparents in London in the image at the top of this page while a daughter in Ceylon holds a similar device at the other end. Their conversation is recorded as being:

Paterfamilias (in Wilton Place [London]): “Beatrice, come closer, I want to whisper."
Beatrice (from Ceylon): “Yes, Papa Dear.”
Paterfamilias: "Who is that charming young lady playing on Charlie’s side?"
Beatrix: “She’s just come over from England, Papa. I’ll introduce you as soon as the Game’s over?” 


But the heavy expense of the equipment coupled with the complexities of having not only a receiver but also a transmitter at the source, the "cutting-edge" technology yet to be fully perfected, the difficulties and prohibitive cost of communicating via an unreliable and expensive copper cable network designed for telephone and telegraph use, effectively transmitting that electrical communication - in this case half way around the world - and the need for amplification of the transmission [achieved by the use of "loading coils"] over longer distances not to mention the problem of voltage fluctuations, echoes and static electrical disturbances on the line disrupting the signal would all contribute to the Telephonoscope not becoming the hoped for commercial success that Edison had envisaged.  

Still skeptical? In 1891 it was reported by none other than "The New Zealand Herald" [19th June 1891, p6] that Edison, obviously not one to accept defeat, was then perfecting and intended exhibiting his now so-called "Photo-Phonographic Machine" at the great Chicago World's Fair of 1893. But instead of transmitting the signal by air waves in what we would today called "Television", the signal would be sent to multiple viewers and any number of receivers but still via copper wires. It is interesting that he was aiming this new device at a different market, undoubtedly with the aim of now making it a commercially viable proposition by way of entertainment. Evidently Edison foresaw the practical advantages of what we know today as Cable Television

[Source : "New Zealand Herald", 19 Jun 1891]

"I hope by this invention to throw upon canvas a perfect picture of anybody and reproduce his words. Thus, should [Adelina] Patti be singing somewhere this invention will put her full-length picture upon canvas so perfectly as to enable one to distinguish every feature and expression of her face, see all her actions, and listen to the entrancing  melody of her peerless voice.. The invention will do for the eye what the phonograph has done for the voice, and reproduce the voice as well; in fact more clearly."

"I have already perfected the invention so far as to be able to picture a prize fight, the two men in the ring, and the intensely interested faces of those surrounding it. You can hear the sound of the blows, the cheers of encouragement and yells of disappointment."

"And when this invention shall have been perfected", added Mr Edison... "A man will be able to sit in his library, and having electrical connection with a theatre, have reproduced on his wall or a piece of canvas the actors and hear anything they say. The only thing the invention wants is the finesse to reproduce the most delicate features and expressions."  

"Concert and Opera at Home" -
A prediction for a form of television "One Hundred years hence" 

Edison was truly "America’s greatest inventor" but also a brilliant man well ahead of his time.

Blog Published 1st April 2017


Bibliography :

- Various Internet Sources
- Wikipedia
- "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A Little Bit Busy....


The New Zealand Hardware Company Ltd,
Ironmongers & Iron Merchants,
Invercargill, June 1904

There will be no Blog postings over March while I work on refurbishing the exterior of my house. In the meantime, here are some very rare if not unique invoices from my collection dating from the period 1898 to 1904 which relate to hardware, homeware, building and building supplies.

Donald Sinclair,
Builder & Contractor,
Nightcaps, March 1904

James Manson,
Wholesale and Retails Ironmongers,
Invercargill, February 1898

James Manson,
Wholesale and Retails Ironmongers,
Invercargill, June 1898

James Manson,
Wholesale and Retails Ironmongers,
Invercargill, December 1898

E. Matheson,
General Merchant,
Otautau, Jan 1904


The New Zealand Pine Company,
Invercargill, July 1898


The Otautau Sawmill Co.,
Sawmillers & Timber Merchants,
Otautau, Oct 1898


Jack Bros., Winton Sawmill,
Sawmillers & Timber Merchants,
Winton, August 1899

Copyright : All images are from my own collection and may be freely copied for personal and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Please contact me for any other use.

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