Month: July 2018

Fabulous Florrie Forde

At the Whanganui Regional Museum, a recent cataloguing project for the recorded music collection revealed some music hall treasures and raised some eyebrows. One such recording is the song Girls Study Your Cookery Books by Florrie Forde which contains the lyrics, “Every courtship from the kitchen / Always ought to start / They say that through man’s appetite / Is the way to reach his heart.” Sage advice.  So who was Florrie Forde?

1. Girls Study your Cookery Book

 The storage box which housed Florrie Forde’s cylinder recording of Girls Study Your Cookery Book. Ref: TH.3361

Florrie was born Flora May Augusta Flannagan on 16 August 1875 in Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia. She was the sixth of eight children born to Lott Flannagan and his wife Phoebe, who had two children from a previous marriage. Flora’s parents separated and her mother later married Thomas Ford, a theatre costumier, and they had another six children.

Flora and some of her siblings were sent to live in a convent but at the age of 16 she ran away to live with an aunt in Sydney. She altered the spelling of her name and made her first music hall appearances in 1892. Her efforts were well received with one reviewer stating her performance of the serious-comic song Yes, You Are was “a great attraction”.

Florrie loved the stage and took several dramatic roles but preferred pantomimes and audience interaction. She toured with Harry Rickard’s variety company and was encouraged by vaudeville star George Chirgwin, who invited her to tour with him in Britain.

She wanted to make it on her own, however, and at the age of 21 Florrie moved to London. She made her stage debut in August 1897, performing in three music halls on the same night: The South London Palace, The Pavilion, and The Oxford. She became an immediate star and was booked out by Moss & Thornton variety theatres for three years.

Music hall entertainment was at its peak and Florrie’s engaging stage presence and particular diction fitted in very. She specialised in songs that were partly serious and partly comedic and would invite her audiences to sing the catchy choruses with her, expertly calming them down before she moved on to her next piece.

2. Florrie Forde

Florrie Forde, early 2th century.  Image sourced under Creative Commons.

Florrie made her first recording in 1903. She recorded a total of 700 songs in between her stage appearances over the next three decades. She appeared in the first Royal Variety Performance in 1912, and during the height of her popularity in WWI, she made several popular recordings including It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag.

Known for her generosity as well as her great talent, she helped less successful performers, setting up her own travelling revue in the 1920s to launch new artists.

Florrie gave her last performance to patients at a naval hospital in Aberdeen on 18 April 1940, after which she collapsed and died of a cerebral haemorrhage, aged 64.

Someone in Whanganui’s past has been a fan of Florrie and left a number of her recordings to the Museum. As well as Girls Study Your Cookery Books, the Museum also holds copies of I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off the Girls, They Sang God Save The Queen, Are We Downhearted No-o-o?, and On The Banks Of The Rhine. Several of her recordings can be heard on YouTube.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Cave Crabs of Bali

As a museum curator, I’ve done field work in lots of places, but this was the first time I’d had to wear a purple sash.

The sash and sarong were hired for 5,000 rupiah (about 50c) from a shop by the main road on the island of Nusa Penida, near Bali, Indonesia. I was about to venture into a cave to look for endangered crabs, but because the cave is also a popular Hindu temple you have to be properly attired.

1. Entrance Giri Putri

 You are warned when entering Giri Putri cave that it is a sacred place.

The Giri Putri temple used to be just a smallish hole on a hillside; you have to crouch, clamber, and shuffle to enter it, before the ceiling rises and you’re in one of several large caves. Today, there are steps, buildings, white-clad priests praying, and a visitor’s book.

Back in 1993 Australian biologist Tony Whitten explored Giri Putri, and was struck by the number of crabs scuttling about on the cave floor. He collected some, and they turned out to be not one, but two new species, dubbed Karstarma emdi and K. balicum. Freshwater crabs like these can be found in several cave systems in south-east Asia. They have long legs for feeling their way about in total darkness. Isolation and time leads to speciation, and the two species in Giri Putri seem to be found nowhere else but this small cave.

4. Hindu Temple at Giri Putri

Giri Putri is a working Hindu temple, with worshippers present at all hours, leaving food offerings and coexisting with insects and bats.

Unfortunately, they’re under threat. Giri Putri is now a busy temple with artificial lighting everywhere, large fans to keep the air moving, lots of concrete and tiled floor and rows of benches and altars. Whitten noted that in every visit he made there were fewer crabs, and in the hour I spent searching with a headlamp in the dark corners of the cave I didn’t see any at all. I asked one priest if the crabs were there. He told me “sometimes”. The International Union for Conservation of Nature is pushing for better monitoring of the crab population, and the temple authorities seem keen to work to minimise human impact, so here’s hoping.

There’s plenty of other life in Giri Putri, though. I kept disturbing bats which zipped here in there in silence, sometimes an inch from my face, reminding me that I didn’t get a rabies vaccination before coming to Bali. The walls of the cave were crawling with invertebrates, including large Periplaneta cockroaches, camel crickets that looked just like the cave wētā back in New Zealand and good-sized whipscorpions.

2. Cockroach

The cave was full of large winged cockroaches in the genus Periplaneta.

Back home, I uploaded the photos I’d taken with my phone to NatureWatch, and asked Mark Harvey at the Western Australian Museum what he thought. Mark identified them as tailless whipscorpions in the family Phrynidae, probably the genus Phrynus. This was interesting, because almost all species of Phrynus are found in the New World, through Mexico and Central America. The sole exception is a species Mark himself named and described, Phrynus exsul from the island of Flores, Indonesia, thousands of kilometres away from its closest relatives.

3. Whipscorpion

Whipscorpions are also known as whipspiders. They are arachnids, but are neither scorpions nor spiders.

Only one problem: Bali is 400 km away from Flores. So either these whipscorpions are Phrynus exsul and a new record far west of where they were first observed, or they’re an undescribed species of Phrynus.

Whipscorpions are not especially inconspicuous. Giri Putri is right by the main road, and a popular tourist destination. Nusa Penida is a short ferry ride from Bali, which has millions of tourists a year. And it seems that in over 20 years nobody has thought to collect one of these critters, take it to an expert, and find out if it’s an undescribed species or not. This is the plight of the tropics in miniature: stuffed full of biodiversity which is disappearing faster than we can discover and put names to.

 

Mike Dickison was the Curator of Natural History at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Bumpy Road to Wedded Bliss

Some fields of science have been around for millennia – there have been mathematicians ever since humans ran out of fingers and toes to count on. Others are more recent. Phrenology, the study of an assumed relationship between the size and shape of the human skull and individual or racial characteristics, is unusual in having a precise start date. It was announced to the world of medicine in 1796 by the German doctor Franz Joseph Gall.

In the following two centuries Gall’s ideas were elaborated on by a large number of followers, including criminologists, anthropologists and self-declared racists. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a devotee and his creation Sherlock Holmes relied on phrenological principles to deduce from the height and curve of his forehead that his nemesis Professor Moriarty was a criminal mastermind.

L0002360 Photograph: `Phrenology', a ceramic head

 A model of Fowler’s Phrenology, showing the layout of bumps and what they indicate. Source: Public Domain.

It is hard to find a practising phrenologist these days, but the discipline was once highly thought of in Whanganui. The Chronicle reported in 1879 on an examination of the prophet Te Whiti by one Professor Frazer, an eminent phrenologist. “The organs of memory are full,” he declared, “and the eye indicates plenty of language. His strong point, and the one most likely to influence, is his combination of spirituality, veneration and hope… The portion of the brain in which these organs are located is not only large, but active.”

1-os-fowler.jpg

A portrait of Professor O S Fowler, Phrenologist and Lecturer. Source: Public Domain.

Once phrenological credentials were established, other opportunities beckoned. Orson Fowler, declared by a pamphlet in the Whanganui Regional Museum to be “acknowledged by all classes as the most distinguished exponent now living of the science of phrenology”, evidently felt qualified to extend his wisdom to “the mutual relations of the sexes”. The flyer promotes his 1870 book Sexual Science which examines “that great code of natural laws by which the Almighty requires the sexes to be governed in their mutual relations”. Knowledge of these laws, it contends, is “of the highest importance, and it is the general ignorance of them among all classes which swells the list of diseases and misery in the world”.

3 Fowler's Great Work

Headline of the flyer advertising O S Fowler’s Great Work. Ref: 1802.8272

The book is described as “pure and elevated in tone; eloquent in its denunciations of vice and forcible in its warnings against the secret sins which are practised with impunity in every community.” As you might expect, it provides practical advice, including “how to make a right choice of husband or wife; to judge a man or woman’s sexual condition by visible signs; to keep wives healthy and avoid sickly wives; to keep a husband faithful and avoid discord; to avoid the evils attending pregnancy; to manage children; to recognise the signs of self-abuse and cure it; and to raise healthy and vigorous girls fit to be wives and mothers”. It also offers useful information on how to promote the growth of the female bust.

Unfortunately the Museum does not hold a copy of Sexual Science, originally on sale at AD Willis bookshop for 25 shillings. Modern readers will have to make do with Eat, Pray, Love.

 

Frank Stark is Director of the Whanganui Regional Museum.