illuminated address

Thomas William Downes

Thomas William Downes was a Whanganui historian, ethnologist and writer with an immense love and respect for the Whanganui River, the people and wildlife, past and present, who lived within its valley. As a writer, he attempted to record as much as he could about the history of the Whanganui River, believing it would otherwise be lost.

2. Downes

T.W. Downes, circa 1910.  Unknown photographer. Ref: P/J/37

Born in Wellington, Downes moved to Bulls with his family in about 1874. He showed early interest in history and never lost his enthusiasm, although he made his living by other means. In 1910 he published a paper, “Early history of the Rangitikei and notes on the Ngati Apa” in the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. This article reflected his work and interests while he was growing up in Bulls.

Downes had moved to Whanganui in 1898 with his wife Margaret. In 1921 he was appointed Supervisor of River Works and Ranger for Domain Lands for the Wanganui River Trust. His annual salary was £100. It is said that Downes knew the full length of the river better than any other European. He travelled up and down the river repeatedly, made friends and paid attention to the oral histories of tangata whenua. He documented a version of the early history of the Whanganui district in his book, Old Whanganui, published in 1915. He used the “h” in the Whanganui of the title, believing it to be the correct spelling of Whanganui dialect.

1. Expedition

 Thomas Downes on an expedition to inspect Wanganui River Trust works. Photographer: F J Denton, 1908
T W Downes is in the centre of the photograph with his feet dangling in the water.  Standing behind him is George Marriner, the Curator of the Wanganui Museum. On the far right is photographer Frank Denton, who took this image using a remote cable fitting so he could be in the photograph. The men were voyaging in a motorised canoe, the Stewart, owned by the Wanganui River Trust. Ref: UWR/S/219

This major work was followed in 1921 by his History and Guide to the Wanganui River. This publication, surprisingly, did not employ the “h”. A final book, River Ripplets, was published much later on in 1993.

Downes was also a busy and gifted artist. He painted many scenes from history, using his knowledge and imagination. One that survives is in the Museum collection, a large oil painting titled Retaruke Reach, Wanganui River, a work of large proportions and undisguised romanticism. He created illustrations for his own and other’s books and was in great demand for painting and lettering illuminated addresses, often presented to people of civic importance as a token of respect and thanks.

3. Illuminated address

 Illuminated Address to James Crichton Esq. In 1904 this illuminated address was created by T W Downes as a tribute to James Crichton “In appreciation of your sterling worth as a Citizen …” Ref: 2017.26

Downes was elected to the Wanganui Museum Board of Trustees in 1910. He served for two periods, from 1910 to 1918 and from 1923 until his death in 1938. While on the Board he facilitated the purchase of a number of taonga Māori and was responsible for negotiations involved in the lending or gifting of many treasures from the region. He also made personal gifts to the Museum of Pacific Island artefacts that he had purchased at auction, photographs and archives.

A modest, quiet and unassuming man, Downes dedicated forty years of his life to the recording and preservation of Whanganui heritage. He was still employed as the supervisor of the Whanganui River Trust when he died in Whanganui on 6 August 1938.

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Prince Edward in Wanganui for one day in 1920

Invitation to a supper party held at the Sarjeant Gallery in honour of the Prince of Wales. Notice the date is for 30 April, the date originally scheduled for HRH’s visit to Wanganui. (1968.89.10)

Invitation to a supper party held at the Sarjeant Gallery in honour of the Prince of Wales. Notice the date is for 30 April, the date originally scheduled for HRH’s visit to Wanganui.
(1968.89.10)

A recent article in the Wanganui Chronicle develops a most interesting discussion of the formidable succession of royal visitors to Wanganui in past years.

Mayor Charles Mackay receives HRH the Prince of Wales in a public ceremony in Cooks Gardens on 4 May 1920. (RO.V.74)

Mayor Charles Mackay receives HRH the Prince of Wales in a public ceremony in Cooks Gardens on 4 May 1920. (RO.V.74)

Yet most surprisingly, the article omits all mention of HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII. On 4 May 1920, the Chronicle was not to be misled and devotes an entire page to the Prince’s visit to Wanganui. Perhaps the most striking column discusses a Citizens’ Loyal Address to the Prince, edited by the distinguished historian, T W Downes, and illustrated by twelve watercolour sketches of scenes in and about Wanganui by artists of the calibre of Charles Duncan Hay-Campbell.

 

The souvenir programme from the Wanganui RSA Reception and Concert to HRH the Prince of Wales. (2011.94)

The souvenir programme from the Wanganui RSA Reception and Concert to HRH the Prince of Wales. (2011.94)

Since no trace of this brilliant illustrated address has been discovered to date, I have been writing to possible libraries and art galleries in the UK in order to discover its present whereabouts. The most likely reply was sent to me in 2009 by Brigadier John Smedley,  Private Secretary to the Earl and Countess of Wessex: “I am sorry to say that no trace of the Loyal Address has been found in the Royal Archives or elsewhere although extensive searches have been undertaken. I understand that the moves and disruption during the Second World War resulted in many losses, and it is sad that the Wanganui Address is among them.”

HRH inspecting troops at the official welcome held at Cooks Gardens in Wanganui. Afterwards the Prince presented medals to a number of returned servicemen. (1970.23.2)

HRH inspecting troops at the official welcome held at Cooks Gardens in Wanganui. Afterwards the Prince presented medals to a number of returned servicemen. (1970.23.2)

Yet there has been some compensation in the fact that a collection of the intensely revealing letters written by the Prince to his mistress at the time, Freda Dudley Ward, has been recently purchased by the Alexander Turnbull Library. These letters were usually dashed off late at night and with utter frankness by Prince Edward, and reveal his spontaneous and at times peevish responses to the carefully planned events of the royal tour.

Thus, on 4 May, the Prince writes from the Imperial Hotel, Wanganui (at 1.00 am): “such a pompous address beloved, but it’s really a miserable hole;  no electric light & the hotel boilers elected to burst before dinner so no baths & a vewy nasty dinner!!  But we are all pretty peeved tonight as we’ve really had a desperately twying day…”.

The Imperial Hotel, Victoria Avenue in Wanganui, of which the Prince of Wales complained bitterly. (B-H-059)

The Imperial Hotel, Victoria Avenue in Wanganui, of which the Prince of Wales complained bitterly. (B-H-059)

A useful image of the Imperial Hotel, Victoria Avenue, survives in this photo by Frank Denton, dated 1913. Two motor cars flank the hotel. (Could they be a pair of Willys-Overland Roadsters in the 1910 model?)  Whatever the case, the hotel was already showing signs of decay and the Prince would have been conscious of this when he addressed the assembled crowd from the first floor balcony.

Saucer from the Imperial Hotel, Wanganui, taken by a waitress who served the monarch. (2011.94)

Saucer from the Imperial Hotel, Wanganui, taken by a waitress who served HRH. (2011.94)

Next day the Prince and his entourage moved on by car to Palmerston North, where HRH presented his own message to the ”Children of New Zealand”. A finely coloured leaflet was circulated among the children gathered at Palmerston North, and this survives in a number of libraries. He wanted them all to bear in mind that they should “never do or say a dishonest thing” and “always remember other people’s interests when pursuing your own” and “play for the side and play the game.”

Precepts 2 and 3 may seem ironic in the light of Edward’s later life and abdication.

Perhaps a more apt and indeed lyrical summation in 1990 in Philip Zeigler’s official biography, King Edward VIII is “Edward’s character was evanescent, bewildering, rippling and swirling like a mountain stream which is whipped by the wind and broken by the boulders in its path”!

 

By Ian Laurenson

Ian Laurenson was formerly Senior Lecturer in English at Monash University, Australia. He is now living in retirement, writing about a collection of annotated postcards from World War I. He contributes to the Museum’s research programme.