Australia

Jack Allen – A King Country Character

In the early 20th century, many swagmen wandered the country from farm to farm earning their keep as they went, and living a simple life. Jack Allen was one such wanderer.

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Jack Allen in fighting stance, ready to take on a friend for a fee. Ref: P-I-003

 

Jack didn’t often speak about his early life and a rumour he was Steve Hart from the Ned Kelley Gang, in hiding, was never confirmed or denied. He was born in Victoria, Australia, and arrived in New Zealand around 1886 with his parents. They settled on freshly felled land at Tokirima, near Taumarunui, and lived in a tent for several years.

Jack was tall and stocky with uncut white hair and a beard to match. He usually wore denim dungarees rolled half way up his calves and a cotton shirt. He carried a leather bag which contained his money and essentials. His wife had run away with another man and he swore he would not wear a coat or socks until she was found and her new beau had been dealt with. Neither event occurred.

He was not fond of washing, claiming bathing made him ill. Jack’s feet were particularly notable; he was rarely seen wearing shoes and his bare feet were as tough as rawhide. He climbed Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont) barefoot, although did remark afterwards that he probably left it a little late in his life to properly enjoy the experience.

2. Jack Allen

 Jack Allen wearing his usual shirt and dungarees, this time with doctor-ordered shoes. Ref: P-I-002

In his later years, a man who remembered him from childhood ran into Jack on a train and was surprised to see him wearing leather shoes. Jack replied by saying, “It’s the Doctor, dammim, said I was getting old, dammim, and ordered me – ORDERED me, if you please, to wear shoes. What does he know? Nothing, but I wear them to please him. Maybe the roads are a bit rough, but he didn’t order socks. I have not come down to that yet.”

Jack was a gentleman towards women, a friend towards men, and was always kind to children despite their initial trepidation. He was known to wear flowers in his hair and had even trained some small birds to land on his head when he whistled. He was never known to drink or smoke and was a talented concertina musician.

In Australia Jack earned fame by droving a flock of geese from Melbourne to Sydney on foot. He earned a living in New Zealand by travelling between Taumarunui and Whanganui, shooting rabbits, selling fish, picking fruit and selling it at the local train stations. Jack was offered a bed and meals where he worked but would usually sleep on the floor with a single blanket and would take his meals in the doorway rather than at the table.  He regaled his hosts with tricks such as balancing a broom on his toes while spinning in circles and was an entertaining story teller.

1. Sketch of Jack Allen

 Sketch of Jack Allen. Ref: 1965.43.1

Jack always insisted on paying his own way and earned extra money through local competitions. He was a crack shot with a rifle and rarely missed his target. He also swung an axe with expertise.  He was a common sight at country galas and often took away the prize money. He was always eager to complete a dare or a fight a colleague for money.

A hard nomadic life eventually caught up with Jack and he was found in the Taumarunui Railway Station, suffering from pneumonia. He was put into a taxi which he told the driver would be “Jack Allen’s last ride”, and sent to the local hospital where he died on 19 April 1937, aged 86 years.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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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.

Pat Hanna and The Diggers

Even as we go through the first days of autumn, there is still unfinished summer business to attend to before Easter. New Zealand is playing England in a test match, with a pink ball it is true, but nonetheless a traditional highlight of the season since 1879 when the first England team sailed into Christchurch after a thorough drubbing in Melbourne – and en route to a showdown with the gentlemen of Hoboken, New York.

Even though it wasn’t until 1956 that New Zealand won an official test match, and another 22 years before they finally beat England, cricket dominated summer sport here for a hundred years or more. There were dozens of clubs in Whanganui, many hundreds around the country, and a swirling social life beyond the boundary. Visiting teams came and went, though for many years not the cream of Australia as we were usually considered worthy only of non-test playing B teams – mixtures of old stagers and up-and-comers.

New Zealand did provide Australia with one legend of their game, Clarrie Grimmett. Born in Dunedin on 25 December 1891, Grimmett took his leg spin skills to Sydney at the age of 22 and eventually became the first bowler to take over 200 test wickets, all of them for Australia. Although his team mate Bill O’Reilly described him as “the best Christmas present Australia ever received from that country”, he joins Phar Lap and Russell Crowe as one that got away.

2. Pat Hanna, WWI

 Pat Hanna in uniform during World War I. Courtesy of the Australian Variety Theatre Archive http://ozvta.com/entrepreneurs-g-l/

The Whanganui Regional Museum has unearthed a cricketing link with another trans-Tasman celebrity amongst its extensive collection of early gramophone records. Pat Hanna was a member of the Otago Regiment which fought in Egypt, France and Belgium during World War I, and remained behind with the occupation forces in 1919 as an entertainment officer. This posting grew into a fully-fledged vaudeville troupe called “The Diggers”. On Hanna’s return to New Zealand, the troupe was demobilised into “Pat Hanna’s Diggers”, a concert party of up to 25 singers, dancers and humourists, which toured the country to great acclaim.

His on-stage showstoppers, developed from war-time routines, were monologues in the role of a stereotypical army chaplain. The best-known of those were “The Gospel According to Cricket” and “Discourses on Cricket – Even Unto the Fifth Test Match”.

1. Pat Hanna recording

 Pat Hanna recording: Pat Hanna Discourses on Cricket. Ref: 1802.7093

Hanna, like Grimmett, was soon lured away to Sydney where he became a bit of a star, first with the increasingly Aussie “Diggers” and then as a solo artiste. His stage and radio fame led to a recording career. A 78 rpm thermoplastic disc of one of those old hits, “Discourses on Cricket”, is in the Museum collection. He later tried his luck on the big screen as writer and star of the second-ever Australian sound movie called, perhaps inevitably, “Diggers”. Next he moved into directing with the sequel “Diggers in Blighty”, which was not a great success. Undeterred, Pat Hanna continued in film and radio for decades before retiring to Britain where he died in 1973.

 

Frank Stark is Director of the Whanganui Regional Museum.

First Encounter of War – SMS Emden

About 8,000 men and 4,000 horses, which made up the Main Body and 1st Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, embarked from Wellington in October 1914, sailing in a convoy via Australia to Europe to join the war. Ten troopships had been requisitioned by the NZ government from shipping companies to accommodate men and horses on this momentous voyage. The NZEF anchored in Hobart, Tasmania, for two days and the men went ashore for marching exercises. They re-embarked and sailed to Albany, Western Australia, on 28 October where they were joined by 28 Australian troopships and escort vessels and about 22,000 men and 3,500 horses.

The combined ANZAC fleet of 38 troopships and escorts, carrying 30,000 soldiers and 7,500 horses left Albany on 1 November 1915. Their destination was no longer Europe.

Turkey had declared war against the Allies only the day before, and the Expeditionary Force was diverted to Egypt. On that leg of the voyage, the convoy encountered war for the first time when sailing to Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. While the convoy was at sea, the Imperial German navy cruiser, SMS Emden, captained by Karl von Müller, had raided the Cocos Islands, also known as the Keeling Islands, in the Indian Ocean, in order to destroy British operations that were stationed there.

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Emden, beached on North Keeling Island, November 1914. (SLV, Public Domain)

The Emden was pursued and attacked by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney. She was badly damaged and run aground by von Müller to avoid sinking with all hands aboard. More than a third of her crew was killed and most of her surviving crewmen were taken prisoner. Captain von Müller escaped with a small crew in a commandeered schooner and managed to sail back to Germany.

The wounded German prisoners were sent to Australia while the uninjured were taken on board HMAS Sydney to Colombo and transferred to ships in the convoy. The prisoners were interned in Malta after their voyage north and finally repatriated to Germany in 1920.

The ship’s ensign somehow found its way into the hands of New Zealand soldiers. A series of holes in the linen, apparently made by shrapnel, are visible. The simple cotton ensign is composed of a white field with a red cross and a yellow crown at the centre of the cross. It was donated to the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1957.

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The ensign of the SMS Emden (WRM ref:1957.15)

Also in the Museum collection is a badly stained and dog-eared mimeographed issue of The Arrower, the newspaper of the NZEF aboard HMNZ Transport No.10 Arawa. The magazine records the Emden event in great detail alongside current events, the voyage schedule and poetry. Apparently, this copy of the Arrower was later sunk in a submarine and rescued and acquired by Captain Morgan of the first NZ Expeditionary Force, who donated it to the Museum in 1935. “A.H.W.” puts the Emden event into verse.

Sydney and Emden

Here’s to the Sydney cruiser,

That put the Emden out,

She beat the German bruiser,

With a good Australian clout,

No more the German pirate,

Will sink our helpless ships,

She took the count for the full amount,

When the Sydney came to grips.

 

The Germans wanted something soft,

So to the Cocos went,

The wireless saw him from aloft,

So “S.O.S.” was sent,

The Sydney quickly took the hint,

And turned her nose about,

In an hour or two the news came through,

The Emden’s down and out.

 

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

 

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Dr Eric Dorfman’s professional credentials would be a separate – and very long – story. The books he’s written and studies he has made, in themselves, would make a fascinating Midweek article (note to self: write fascinating Midweek article about Dr Eric Dorfman’s books and published studies).

In this issue, however, we treat him as the recently appointed director of the Whanganui Regional Museum and hear about his interest in the long extinct Tasmanian Wolf, Thylacinus cynocephalus.

To do that I had to follow the tall, one-time Californian (but I think New Zealand has claimed him now) down into the bowels of the museum, shuffling between shelves until finding dozens of specimens of the taxidermists’ art. There we encountered our Tasmanian Wolf.

The museum has a stuffed specimen, collected by the museum’s founder, Samuel Drew, sometime around 1891, well before the species met its total demise. It looks its age, poor thing, but the astounding fact is that we have one.

Eric lived in Australia for some years and knows a bit about these creatures. So why did he choose it to present to Midweek?  “It’s immensely cool from the fact that we have an extinct Australian species of which there are only a few in the world and exemplifies the importance of the collection internationally, as well as nationally. It’s cool on a personal level because I’m a conservationist by profession and there is still an effort afoot to see if maybe there are some left in Tasmania … and evolutionarily it’s very cool because although it looks like a dog it’s actually more closely related to a kangaroo, koala or wombat.”

The Thylacine is a marsupial and has a pouch like a kangaroo … well, the female does. The museum’s specimen is an adult male. Eric says they are more closely related to the quoll, another Australian animal, which is “more like a marsupial weasel”.  “From an evolutionary standpoint, this is convergent evolution with a dog,” says Eric. “Also biologically that’s very interesting.  One of my research thrusts is about humans’ relationship with nature,” he says. Eric has a book coming out later this year – Intangible Natural Heritage – of which he is author/editor in league with a team of distinguished authors.

Looking at this sad, stuffed specimen, Eric sees past the obvious and finds a symbol of “our coming of age as a society when we realise that doing this [making animals extinct] is a really bad thing.” He stresses that while this new-found consciousness is too late for some species, it’s not too late for many others.

He praises the work of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and its work here and overseas. “DOC is supporting other countries, including the United States, in methodology of setting up island sanctuaries … and it’s fantastic to be in New Zealand – even though this is an Australian species – from the point of view of this is a place where we have come of age in terms of the environment, and I hope we stay there. You can see why this launches into a lot of really interesting philosophical issues … and also thinking about where museums have been and where they’re going.”

It’s incredible, almost, to realise that Samuel Drew, Whanganui Regional Museum founder, actually helped, in his way, send species such as the huia extinct. He did that by trading stuffed huia (probably) to get an example of another species that, itself, would be extinct in another 50 years. At the time he traded for the Tasmanian Wolf, it was reasonably common but he needed it for his marsupial collection.

“No museum curator has ever intentionally sent a species extinct,” says Eric, “but back in the 19th century when species looked like they were going extinct, often, museum curators would run out to make sure they had them in their collection before anyone else got them … the huia was a victim of that kind of thing.”

The Thylacine was once a pan-Australian species, says Eric, with cave paintings to prove it was once even in the very north of Australia in Kakadu National Park. “By the time Drew was around it was restricted to Tasmania,” he says, although it was being hunted until its final (probable) extinction in the 1930s.

Eric says there is enough genetic material in existence so that, one day, techniques of cloning may be able to reintroduce the species. And so we looked at Samuel Drew’s legacy, part of his vision of a great museum that was all-encompassing.  “We now ‘get’ why he did it,” says Eric, “and we now have this incredible treasure. This is an amazing thing to have.”

There are lemurs from Madagascar and animals from all around the world, some exhibited upstairs, others hiding from the light below decks in the vaults. The Thylacine stands with them, an example of old ethics and philosophies and yet a symbol of what we are today. And if we do manage to clone them back into existence, will we look after them this time? The last word goes to Dr Eric Dorfman.

“If the Thylacine is never going to be reinvented and really is extinct, and the same with the huia, don’t we owe it to the species and owe it to ourselves to allow it to awaken us to the realities of what we’re doing to the planet?”

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek newspaper in June 2011.  Reproduced with permission from the author.