Friday, 26 June 2015

Brave McRoberts Brothers

While researching soldiers named on the Tauranga Domain War Memorial Gates the brave deeds of the McRoberts brothers, Evan and Wilfred, came to light.

Second-Lieutenant Evan O. McRoberts of Mt Eden, Auckland, Killed in action
NZ Sport and Dramatic Review 8 Nov 1917 Auckland Museum Cenotaph
Evan McRoberts is named on the gates and his military record states Tauranga as his place of birth. By 1921, when the gates were opened, the McRoberts family had long since moved away from Tauranga, and his mother and wife are both recorded as living in Auckland. So why was Evan remembered?

Welcome Bay, Tauranga, postcard
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection
An incident recounted in The Bay of Plenty Times in March 1905 may explain -
Narrow Escape of a Boating Party: A narrow escape from drowning befell a party of picnickers yesterday afternoon in the arm of the harbour behind Matapihi. It appears that Mr G. E. Spooner with his wife and her sister, Miss Garland, and Mr E. Roberts went for a sail up the arm of the harbour between Maungatapu and Matapihi, and when in deep water a squall capsized the boat, from the leeward side, thus throwing all the occupants into the water and under the sail of the boat.   After considerable exertion the whole party extricated themselves, and the ladies having been got on to the keel of the boat, it was decided that McRoberts, being a strong swimmer should try and get help from the shore. Accordingly he struck out and after a long swim only reached the Matapihi shore to find no boat available, and then with rare courage, took to the water again with the intention of crossing the wide and rough channel between Matapihi and Maungatapu. After an exhausting swim against wind and waves, most fortunately he was seen by two Maori who called to Mr F. Chappell, who was working on the new church, and he with one of the Maori at once went to McRoberts’ rescue, picking him up greatly exhausted, but nevertheless able to explain the predicament of his friends. The rescue party immediately pulled with all speed in the direction indicated and succeeded in taking off the other three, who were also in an exhausted state having been in the water over an hour, and the boat having turned over with them several times. The party was landed and helped by the Maori to a house which was placed at their disposal in a most hospitable manner by the Moaris, who did everything they could for the comfort of the unfortunate people and looked after them all night, enabling them to return to their homes this morning little the worse for their trying experience. Too much cannot be said for the courageous conduct of McRoberts, who, by the way, is a member of the local Post Office Staff, for whether or not the other members of the party might possibly have been rescued by the means in his absence, he undoubtedly took his own life in his hands, and narrowly escaped losing it, in carrying out his manly intention to save them at all hazards to himself.
For his brave actions he was awarded a Royal Humane Society Silver Medal and Certificate.

Remarkably Evan’s brother Constable Wilfred McRoberts also received a Royal Humane Society Medal for life saving (Grey River Argus, 4 March 1916).
Case Number 438 Wilfred Gilmore McRoberts, Bronze Medal. On 3 March 1916, Alexander T. Emmis 49, was bathing on the beach at Greymouth, and being caught in a strong backwash was carried out to sea. When the alarm was given the lifeline was procured, and Constable McRoberts, 35, of Greymouth, immediately volunteered to swim with the line in order to affect a rescue, and after a hard struggle against the heavy sea that was running, he managed to rescue Emmis, who was in a very weak and exhausted state.
– Zealandia’s Brave, The Royal Humane Societies in New Zealand 1850 to 1998, John D Wills.
Sadly both McRoberts brothers would have their own lives cut short. Evan was killed in action 4 October 1917 and Wilfred died in November 1918 of influenza. His obituary referred to him as a “fine stamp of a man” and a very popular police officer. Evan left behind a wife and child and Wilfred a wife and 3 children.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Great Tauranga Cockroach Cure

Auckland Star, 4 March 1908, Courtesy of Papers Past
Tauranga has wakened to find itself famous. It has produced a preparation which, according to Dr Purdy [Auckland District Medical Officer], is a sure killer of cockroaches. In future, Tauranga will be known to the whole world as the place where the cockroach-killers come from.
The Observer, 7 December 1907, page 16.
Mr Thomas Albert, or Albert Thomas, Pruden (1872-1957) ran “The Art Studio” on The Strand, next to Mr Wayte’s Fancy Goods Department. He advertised himself as a painter, signwriter, paperhanger, glazier, and artistic director, and he sold wallpaper and artists’ materials. To supplement his income he also gave painting lessons to those wishing to develop their artistic talents. But this art lover had a very practical side: he invented and patented an “insect destroyer”, and this is what became known as the Tauranga Cockroach Cure, even though in 1901 when he took out the patent he had been living in Taranaki.

What its formula was we don’t know. The Waihi Daily Telegraph believed it was a substance found in a natural state at Tauranga – in which case the vigour of the present-day cockroach population in this town is hard to explain – but most other papers describe it as a “concoction”. One suggestion is that it was a mixture of sugar and arsenic, which would have killed just about anything, let alone cockroaches. Spread in the holds of ships and in the premises of a particularly badly-infested Auckland bakery, it was, apparently, very effective. Mr Pruden advertised it in the newspapers for a couple of years, but in about 1909 it vanishes from the headlines and the advertisement columns and does not reappear.

George Sound, by George E. Pruden
Mr Pruden came from an artistic family. This painting is by his brother, George Edmund Pruden, who is noted in Una Platts’ Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists as exhibiting with the Canterbury Society of Arts, 1905-1912.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Tauranga Photographers: Robert Walter Meers

Probably Ada Kate Teasey nee Brain (1874-1950)
Mounted studio portrait by R.W. Meers, Tauranga, taken c.1909-1915
Image © and courtesy of the Brain Watkins House Collection
This portrait of one of the daughters of Joseph and Kate Brain, probably the eldest Ada, born in 1874, was taken around 1909-1915, and on the reverse is marked with the stamp of Tauranga photographer Robert Walter Meers.

R.W. Meers settled in Tauranga with his wife and three children in 1905, moving from Christchurch where he had operated a successful photographic studio for two decades.  Thomas E. Price, Tauranga's only photographer since 1897, was married to Meers' sister Anne and this may be one of the reasons for Meers removal to Tauranga after his home in Christchurch burnt down in April 1903.

A.E. Hammond's timber yard, Willow Street, Tauranga, c.1910
The back of Meers' studio visible at centre right, with large windows on 2nd story
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 99-1140
Meers bought a property on the Wairoa river and initially operated a private hotel named Bellevue House on Wharf street.  However in November 1909, a month after the death of his father William Denne Meers, a successful Christchurch draper, Robert Meers opened a well appointed new studio behind Norris & Bell's buildings on The Strand.

Norris & Bell Land Agents,
The passage to Hammond's Timber Yard and R.W. Meers' Excelsior Art Studio at right
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 99-1147
The Bay of Plenty Times of 10 December 1909 published a detailed description of the studio premises and the equipment in use.  The photographic studio shown in the photograph below is one used by James McAllister in Stratford in 1905, but would have been very similar to that described by Meers.

Sarah Coombridge and Christina McAllister working in James McAllister's studio in Stratford.
McAllister, James, 1869-1952 :Negatives of Stratford and Taranaki district. Ref: 1/1-010137-G.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
"There is now to be seen in Messrs Norris and Bell's buildings one of the most up-to-date studios to be found outside the large towns. The suite of apartments are occupied by Mr. R.W. Meers, and comprises six rooms on two floors, viz., vestibule, dressing-room, finishing-room, work-room, studio and dark-room. Entrance is obtained from the Strand through a long passage, the customer entering a neatly furnished vestibule. The dressing room is cles [sic] handy, fitted with all necessary conveniences, and immediately adjoining is the finishing and retouching room. A carpeted staircase leads to the studio, 32 feet in length and 12 feet in breadth. This apartment, is of course, the principal one, and is beautifully lit with two skylights having a surface of rolled plate-glass 64 feet square. Two side-lights on the southern side, each measuring 8 feet by 6 feet, are also provided, while in the construction ventilation has received every attention. The skylights are fitted with two sets of blinds - black and white - so as to enable the operator to secure the most delicate lighting for any class of subject. The walls are decorated in neutral green, so as to relieve the glare of light from the sitters' eyes. Linoleum of a design to match covers the floor and shows at once that Mr Meers has blended colours in this most important compartment in a most tasteful manner."

Unidentified child, Gunson Collection, taken c. 1909-1910
Cabinet card by R.W. Meers of Tauranga, mounted on old Christchurch card stock
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection
"Mr Meers possesses a local reputation as an artist and intends to make the vignetting and backgrounds a special feature of the room and to have a complete set of changes in this department. The furniture and accessories are also to be of the very latest designs. In photography the instrument is a prime factor for the production of high class work, and in the Excelsior art studio is to be seen a 'Hare' camera in mahogany of the very latest British make, fitted with an instantaneous shutter, working inside the instrument, which enables the operator to take pleasant and natural expressions without the sitter being aware of the fact that the portrait has been taken, while restless babies are no longer a trouble to the photographer and mother when this instrument is in operation. The lens is an important accessory, the instrument being fitted with a Dallmeyer 3 B instantaneous lens having a 4-inch aperture."

New Patent Field Camera, c.1888, George Hare, London, England
Image © and courtesy of
"Just off the studio is the dark room, which is specially designed and fitted with ruby and orange lights.  In addition there is a special, enlarging apparatus fitted with a Ross' lens, which will throw pictures to full life size up to six feet in height.  This apartment has a water supply laid on, and is connected with the drainage system below.  the above brief description will convey some idea to readers of the establishment where Mr Meers will be pleased to meet customers from now onward.  The construction work has been carried out in a most workmanlike manner by Messrs Krakosky and Appleton, two builders from the South Island who have settled in Tauranga, while the decorations have been executed in a most finished manner by Messrs Stewart and Shaw."

Advertisement for R.W. Meers & Co.'s Excelsior Art Studio
from the Bay of Plenty Times, 7 January 1910
Image courtesy of Papers Past
Meers' studio burnt down in the Strand fire of 12 November 1916, but he resumed operating shortly afterwards, and continued to do so until he sold the business to R.J. Rendell, father of Alf Rendell, in 1926.

Headstone for Robert Walter Meersand Maud Margaret Meers, Anglican Cemetery, Tauranga
Image © 2015 Brett Payne
Robert Walter Meers died on 27 January 1929, and is buried with his wife Maud Margaret in the Anglican cemetery, Tauranga.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Mrs. Potts' Sad Irons

While the Katikati Heritage Museum spends a few months in hibernation, we will be showcasing a selection of items from the collection which were photographed and catalogued during the packing up process last year.

A sad iron is a smoothing iron with a solid, flat base which could be heated by placing it directly on a a stove, the term "sad" being Old English for "solid."  They were developed in the later Middle ages, and  rags were used around the handle to avoid burns.

Mrs Mary Florence Potts patented two clothing irons in 1870 and 1871, the second of which was the "Cold Handle Sad Iron."  It became so popular that it was copied by several other manufacturers, and effectively revolutionised clothing iron production in the United States.  The removable wooden handle was sold with three bodies and a stand.

J & J Siddons is a well known foundry from West Bromwich in the English Midlands, still in production, although now their output consists mostly of industrial castings rather than sad irons.

The difficulty with sad irons is that they don't hold their heat very well.  The charcoal iron was hollow with metal pans to hold glowing charcoal, often designed small holes in the side to feed the glowing charcoal with air, and a chimney to direct the smoke produced away from the garments.

The Tilley paraffin pressure domestic iron was advertised in 1953 as proving "themselves a friend to every housewife."

Photographs and text by Brett Payne