Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Looking back in time

One of my favourite recent additions to my twitter stream is life100yearsago.* It's a group account sharing daily snippets from diaries of New Zealanders from one century ago.

The account is run out of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, as part of the WW100 programme, with a number of contributing organisations who are digitising material and writing tweets, including Te Papa, Kete Horowhenua and the Wairarapa Archive.

Te Papa is digitising the diary of Leslie Adkin, a Levin farmer, amateur photographer and scholar who made significant contributions to New Zealand science. Adkin did not serve in the war, but his diary describes life in New Zealand over this time. In 1913 the war is still a far-off thing; Adkin's diary currently records farming life (putting the "old ewes" through an arsenic footbath) and his steady pursuit of his soon-to-be wife, Maud (a saga a friend has described as Love in a Time Of Innocence: the Seduction of Maud).

One recent entry caught my eye though. Adkin's diary entries are usually short, but on the 18th of April 1913 he and a group of friends, including Maud (who seemed less discombobulated by the city than their other companions, he notes, admiringly) trained to Wellington to see the HMS New Zealand. 

I've taken his lengthy entry from that trip and played with it below. It captures a sense of awe, but also of Adkin's lively and intense observation and curiosity.

The battlecruiser HMS New Zealand in Wellington Harbour. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972 :Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: 1/1-020101-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22802746

She was a monstrous vessel
low grey hull
three funnels + two tall masts
a grim + formidable
fighting machine

She carries several 12 inch guns
wonderful engines of destruction – about ½ a chain
in length, about 2 ft
in diameter at the muzzle, + 5 ft
at the breech.  The barrel is 6 inches
thick at the muzzle.
the complicated + marvellous machinery
could hardly be described
in 20 pages

They had just taken on 500 sacks of flour +
gangs of sailors were dumping the sacks to the chutes
leading down to the storeroom
others were swinging over the side
dusting the flour off
the armour-plates.

We were shown the galley
where there are no fires but where
the cooking + boiling apparatus consists of steam-pipes;
also the bakery where
a huge batch of fine white bread emitted
an agreeable odour.

Regaining the deck we passed along
a maze of passages
massive walls of steel on every side, + saw
the case of silver cups
+ other trophies
presented by the various Governments of the Empire to
the “NZ”.

On the walls of the superstructures
the ships’ motto + arms – the latter
in carved polished wood
with dates + the names of Cook + Tasman
on either side.

One motto was “Fear God; Honour the King”.

*I have a lot of friends working on this - inevitably - but even if I didn't, I'd admire it as a effective and engaging long-term project. 

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