An Odd Walking Tour of Early Radio in New Zealand
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of what happened in World War One will find the following appreciation of Lord Islington and his class darkly humourous.
He is a fine example of that kind of ability – all round ability – which has always been displayed by the British governing class…. His instinct is to be a man first and last, a man for a man’s work, and New Zealand will be a good field for it.
Evening Post, 24 May 1910
It is a little unclear from this “appreciation” if (a) Islington’s second instinct was to be a woman, or (b) if New Zealand was enthused about Islington’s desire to prove his manhood willy nilly all over our country. Nevertheless, it was certainly a belief in the ruling class’ all round ability that led to such corking decisions as having old Winnie Churchill plan the Gallipoli campaign. And it was certainly a totally naive attitude to manhood that led the first waves of soldiers over the top into a withering machine gun welcome from Germany.
As it happens, Islington was friends with Winston Churchill, and with a chap who was always called Colonel Seely (who wrote a book called Fear and be Slain, and a biography of his horse). Of the three, Islington had the least glittering career. In fact there are enough hints among the glowing tributes to suggest that Izzy was a bit dull. Aside from being told that he was not eloquent, the readers in New Zealand eager for news of their new Governor General could glean that he was “eager and interested, hard-working, and a glutton for detail”; that his personal motto was to be “thorough”; and that he liked to dig down for detail (that word again) ”and always his digging is solidly good.”
At the farewell his tenantry arranged at the Angel Hotel in Chippenham (in which Islington was admired and appreciated by his loyal tenants), the Lord explained how much he had enjoyed his work on the Royal Commisions, and how much he looked forward to witnessing New Zealand’s “experiments” (women voting, old people having some money, etc). His real duty as Governor, he felt, was to strengthen “the ties which bind that distant Dominion to the Mother Country”; Dominions which must “increasingly support” Britain (Evening Post, 15 June 1910). Apparently he was also a good speaker on agricultural reform; a field that has contributed much to the annals of great oratory.
The prospect of a dull toff arriving galvanised the New Zealand of 1910. Two things needed to be got ready. The new Governor General’s residence, and a welcoming parade.
How to Welcome a Governor General: (1) Organise a parade
When you organise a parade in an egalitarian country like New Zealand it is very important that you get the marching order right: non-entities at the front, and VIPs clustered about his Lordship at the climax of the parade (think of his Lordship as being like Santa at the Santa Parade). Let’s see then who the unimportant and important were in 1910.
Non-entities (to be a front of procession, out of sight Izzy)
- Boy Scouts
- Sons and Daughter of Temperance
- British Independent Order of Oddfellows
- Independent Order of Rachibites
- United Ancient Order of Druids
- Ancient Order of Foresters
Entities (can be seen but not spoken to by Izzy)
- People with proper jobs (judges, soldiers, politicians)
Celestial Bodies (may talk with Izzy)
Hopefully the Prime Minister’s staff warned him to stay away from the topics of agricultural reform, imperialism, and trade in the West Indies. Mind you, Sir Joseph Ward was a fairly dull man himself.
Getting the Governor General off his ship and into Parliament was essentially an exercise in fitting in as many speeches and reponses as possible so that important people could say how happy they were that Islington was here, and Islington could say how happy he was to be here. The Prime Minister would get to do this a few times, the Mayor of Wellington a little bit. The riff raff got to clap. It was going to be marvellous.
The planned route was onto Post Office Square, up Panama Street, along Lambton Quay, up Molesworth Street and then into Parliament. There was a great deal of planning around where people could park their carriages, and who they should leave their cards with, and what people should wear (members of Friendly Societies were to wear small streamers of red, white and blue).
Stands had to be erected, marching bands prepared, and everything along the route given a once over. Wellington was to be looking its best.
How to Welcome a Governor General: (2) Build the Governor a House
I was delighted to discover that the current Governor General’s residence in New Zealand was built on the site of Wellington’s former lunatic asylum.
On 24 May 1910, the Marlborough Times reported on building progress,
There is a general belief “on the job” that the work will easily be completed by the middle of June, in ample time for the new Governor’s immediate occupation upon arrival.
Good to know that the builders in New Zealand were as reliable in 1910 as they are now. The Governor’s new digs weren’t ready when he arrived, nor for two months afterwards. In fact much of the reporting around this new house is pretty funny (more on that soon).
So, a bit of a let down about the house, but the parade was all ready for Lord Islington when he arrived on the 22 June, 1910. Let’s imagine, then, that it is the 21st of June now, 1910, and we are going to bed in Wellington with our fingers crossed for good weather. The Mayor has checked and rechecked his speech. The Premier has made sure his best suit is pressed. The stands at Post Office Square and Parliament have been swept clean and hung with bunting, and somewhere out at sea is a Lord, tucked up in his sheets, as the Ulimaroa steams through night towards an expectant city.