London

Dear Santa…

Christmas has been and gone but many children will already be planning their wish list for later this year.  Reaching for a tablet or smartphone they could sneakily message Saint Nick another gift for their wish list, while a frustrated parent threatens to email Father Christmas and tell him to cancel the toys because of too many tantrums.

2. Santa Claus's visit

 Postcard of a child waiting for Santa Claus to fulfil her wish list, while her father offers advice about not being too greedy, presumably. WRM ref: 1978.77.5 73c

In today’s world of digital communication, it is quick and easy to get an instant message to Santa through any of the websites the Google elves offer. But what about the hand-written and illustrated letters that used to be sent by post?

The following report appeared in the Wanganui Chronicle on Wednesday 24 December 1952:

 “Father Christmas, No.1 Cloud, Iceland”, so the address proclaimed. The blue envelope with its tuppence-ha’penny stamp rested in the trained hand of the postal sorter. All round him stretched the pigeon-holed sorting bays of the overseas mail floor at London’s General Post Office.

“Well, well,” said the sorter, turning to his companion, “Christmas must be closer than I thought. Here’s the first of the Father Christmas mail. A good one, too.” He put it aside and returned to his stack of letters with a shake of his head, a smile and a thought of Christmas and the children.

That was way back in September. But as the mail sorter said, it meant that Christmas was on the way.

1. Christmas toys

 Postcard of a child’s Christmas wish – fruit, biscuits and toys. WRM ref: 1978.77.5 34b

The letter, with its fairy tale address and childish scrawl, was the first of about six thousand of its kind to pass through London General. They came in from overseas as well as from all around Britain. It is a law of the Post Office that a letter must get as near to its destination as possible. And a request to “Santa Claus, Snow Cottage, Iceland”, which might have been posted in Fiji, comes first to London on its way to Iceland.

The Post Office in Iceland, unable to find Santa, who is probably out on his rounds in any case, holds the letter for a time and then it … well, who but Santa is entitled to read the Christmas wish of a child?

There are very few exceptions to this rule of forwarding Father Christmas’ mail. One is when a child’s letter is addressed simply to “Father Christmas” or “Father Christmas, Fairyland”, or “Toyland”, or when the letter is sent to “Santa Claus, the North Pole.” In these cases the letters are held at their office of origin.

3. Tickner envelope

 Hand-decorated envelope with a festive theme, from the Tickner Envelope Collection. WRM ref: 1989.15.3

Father Christmas has many homes, judging by the variety of addresses where children hope to find him. There was one to “Father Christmas, Reindeer Hotel, Iceland” and yet another with the direction “The North Pole, Arctic Ocean, Siberia”. One child tried to reach him through “Fairy Land, Iceland, England”.

Let’s just hope that Santa’s email account has a good spam filter and plenty of storage.

Dr Kater’s Voyage

The following extracts are from a journal kept by Dr William Henry Kater during his voyage to New Zealand aboard the ship Sir Charles Forbes, which departed London in May 1842. He was engaged as Surgeon Superintendent on board what was the first ship to sail from London to Nelson direct. His original spelling and punctuation have been kept intact.

2. Accommodation on board

 Plan of the accommodation aboard the Sir Charles Forbes on a previous voyage in 1839

1 May. Set off from London at 8a.m. to Gravesend by Steam boat where the Ship was lying. Having had but three days notice I had very little time to prepare.  Before going on board I met on the Pier at Gravesend Mr. Somes the Governer of the Company to whom I am indebted for my appointment. He was very kind in his advice and wishes.

17 May. At sunset this evening the funeral of the child that died yesterday took place.  I have often witnessed a funeral on shore but unless a soldier’s I never saw one equalled in sadness and impressiveness to one at sea … the pure feeling of the hearts break out when the souls prison is launched into the unfathomable ocean, fit emblem of eternity.

27 May. Saw the first flying fish today thought it a gull at first.

1 June. Surrounded by an immense shoal of porpoises, tried to shoot some but did not succeed.

8 June. Hurrah!  At four this morning we crossed the Equinoctial line and find ourselves in the Southern Hemisphere in the Ethiopia Ocean.

22 June. We had an addition this morning to our Mess on board. Mrs. Chamberlain having been confined and given birth to a daughter.

25 June. One cannot sleep in peace for the rascally outfitter did not send the hammock I purchased and I was obliged to use the wooden ledge called “a bunk” from which an occasional heavy lurch will transfer me to the floor where I must industriously pick myself up again.

20 July. Standing this day upon the poop musing upon the mutability of mortal affairs and gazing upon the deep a huge black mass met my view and before I could call to ask anyone what it could be I perceived the unwieldy bulk of a large whale apparently about 50 feet long and about as many feet from the ship, whilst with others looking on and wondering, the creature I suppose saw the ship for it suddenly spouted high in the air and turning up his fluke disappeared. The water he spouted was brought by the wind upon the quarter deck and covered us all with a cloud of spray, wetting us through.

30 July. Myself rather tired and sleepy having been up these two nights in attendance upon the most impatient patient that I ever had.

11 August. An overheard conversation between a husband and wife from Somerset:-

Wife. “Job dost thee love I?”

Husband. “What dost think?”

Wife.    “Noa but dost thee?”

Husband. “Love thee I could gnaw thee like mutton”

20 August. Before daybreak this morning word was passed to the Captain’s cabin “Land right ahead”, few but those who have been at sea know the thrilling interest that such a sound awakes after four months confinement in about 30 yards by eight.  As soon as the sound reached below the clarinet player seized his instrument threw his legs out of the bunk and struck up “Happy Land”. It remains yet to be proved whether he is a false prophet.

1. Nelson Examiner 27 August 1842

 Immigration Office Report on the passengers aboard the Sir Charles Forbes, taken from the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 27 August 1842

Dr Kater did not have long to live. He was drowned in Nelson Harbour in September 1843 when the flat bottom punt he was in capsized. Two boys who were with him at the time were saved, one by swimming ashore and the other by clinging to the punt.

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.