Forward to the past

Naseby today. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Naseby today. Photo: Christine O'Connor
As the 19th century drew to a close, a citizen of Naseby was transfixed by a vision of the glorious future awaiting the Maniototo goldrush town. Historian and writer Jim Sullivan recently stumbled upon that vision and has identified one or two discrepancies.

Writers who describe a golden future are on to a good thing. Nothing is more fascinating than imagining your town as Utopia 50 years from now. Naseby got the treatment in the Mount Ida Chronicle in 1891 when ''Hayseed'' (possibly newspaper owner Hugh Wilson or local MP Scobie Mackenzie) wrote a description of the town as it might be in 1941.

Hayseed notes the population in 1941 is 50,000 but in 1941 it was actually about 200 and in 2019 it is 100. (In 1941 Dunedin had 82,000 people).

Hayseed takes some visitors to the top of Mount Ida (1614m) by the ''No. 2 car of the Mount Ida Electrical Inclined Railway''. Throughout his report, Hayseed, writing just a few years after the pioneering hydro plant at Bullendale on the Shotover and a couple of years after Reefton became the first town to have electric street lighting, has electricity as the great energy source of the age but he never mentions the internal combustion engine. (It was 1898 before New Zealanders saw their first motor car). The electric car journey up the mountain is something like (four times longer than) the 450m trip on today's Skyline gondola ride to Bobs Peak.

''We glide up with a rapidity little inferior to that on the gentler grade. Very little time elapses ere we arrive at the summit, a distance from the starting-point of about eight miles, which has been traversed in 10 minutes, and we immediately repair to the observatory, where, by means of a powerful telescope we are enabled to obtain a capital view of the surrounding country.''

Naseby women have made their mark by 1941.

''Many of the fair sex are seen in the stores and warehouses busily engaged behind counters, sitting at desks with great piles of books before them clerking, or working type-writers, telephones, etc., while others are entering and leaving the courthouse with huge law volumes under their arms.''

(New Zealand's first woman lawyer, Ethel Benjamin, was still six years away from graduating). Hayseed is writing two years before women got the vote but his Naseby of 1941 is represented in parliament by ''that talented politician, the Hon. Mrs. X.''

By 1941 the gold industry is booming after ''the most recent discovery of gold struck by the Spec Gully Deep Lead Association in one of the drives in their famous claim of Spec Gully''. In fact, Naseby gold-mining was in steep decline by the 1920s, although Hayseed is pleased to note that in 1941, ''there are now no bogus legal managers or swindling in any shape or form in connection with mining. It is a legitimately-managed industry, and everything in relation thereto is fair, square and above-board.''

The new printing office of the Mount Ida Chronicle, Naseby, photographed in 1912, in a fanciful...
The new printing office of the Mount Ida Chronicle, Naseby, photographed in 1912, in a fanciful imagining of Hayseed’s vision. IMAGE: OTAGO WITNESS/ALISTAIR CRAIG

Naseby has become a thriving city with ''a great many men, many of them visitors from the other centres, such as Eweburn, strolling about the streets in a leisurely manner, fashionably dressed and with a well-to-do appearance, visiting alternately music halls, art galleries, museums, and other places of public amusement, smoking superfine Auckland cigars, or stopping to drink a glass of the finest New Zealand wine at counters adjoining the above-mentioned places. [Hayseed may well have been a moderate temperance man as he later describes the pleasing absence of the old-style hotels in 1941 Naseby]. The poorer classes of men are engaged in working the street cars, driving the waggons, carts, vans, carriages and cabs in the city, although occasionally a woman may be seen on the box with the ribbons, a whip-in her hand, and a number on her cap.''

Electric railways run in the streets. ''One can ride in them in any part of the city for one penny an hour'' and Naseby in 1941 has become an imposing town.

''The public buildings, as a rule, are noble structures, the City Hall, in particular, being a magnificent edifice. It is built of steel and aluminium, its spire is 520ft in height and of splendid workmanship; it has a chime of 16 bells, which toll out with sweet music the hours, halves, quarters, and five minutes. The four faces of the great clock show the time by day and night, being brilliantly illuminated at night by means of electricity. Indeed, the whole motive power of the clock, bells and all, is electrical, generated at the great station of the Hogburn Power and Light Supply Company in Derwent Street. The offices and rooms in the hall are beautifully arranged and furnished, while the Lord-mayor's chamber is a masterpiece of art.

''The General Post-office is another fine piece of architecture, having a spire 400ft high and a bronze dome. In this building there is another beautiful clock, which calls the hours in stentorian tones of the human voice by means of a powerful phonograph, which, through subtle and intricate mechanism, reproduces the voice 10 times louder that when spoken into it. There are 10 in and out mails per day, which, with the enormous telegraph business, necessitate a staff of 54 persons. So perfect is the order and system of the business, however, that a hitch or mistake seldom occurs. This building is also used as the central switch bureau of all the telephone lines in the city. One of the principal buildings is that wherein is conducted the business of the Naseby branch of the great State Bank of New Zealand.''

Hayseed has anticipated the government rescue of the Bank of New Zealand in 1894 and describes its 1941 role in a way which confirms that he has Liberal/Socialist leanings:

''The bank is an admirable institution. The business is conducted for the benefit of the people at large, and not to profit any particular individual or company, as was the case in the olden days. Money may be borrowed at 2½ per cent, on security which 50 years ago would not have been accepted. The reason is that dishonesty is treated as one of the greatest crimes which a man can be guilty of, and punished by the most effective measures, with the result that it is now almost unknown, and the whole community is a truly honest and happy family.''

The Naseby newspaper world in 1941 is a far cry from the weekly four pages of The Mount Ida Chronicle in 1891.

''My young friend Hugh [Hugh Wilson was the paper's owner in 1891] is looking at the office of The Mount Ida Chronicle, which has been established for about 73 years. It is located at the corner of Earn and Leven-streets, on the site formerly occupied by Mr H's shop [Neils Hjorring was a long-serving draper]. It is a magnificent building of white enamelled brick pointed with green and gold. The proprietors are Messrs. W Brothers, and the editor is the son of Mr S, who used to run the show when I was a boy, and who retired some 20 years ago. He (the editor) is a thorough master of his profession, and has a staff of subs, readers, reporters, compositors and devils numbering 150. The paper is a daily journal of 16 pages, and is got up in a style that whips creation. It is printed by photography, and cut, folded, numbered, and addressed before it leaves the machine. The circulation amounts to 60,000 copies daily. Then there is the weekly edition, which is profusely illustrated and has also an immense circulation. The tone of The Mount Ida Chronicle is of the broadest Liberalism, not what it used to be. There are also three or four other organs in existence, but, being less important, we shall not waste time over them just now.''

Naturally, Naseby in 1941 has a ''Free Library which consists of 12,000 volumes, including the best works of all the principal authors. The librarian is Miss L who has four assistants, by whom the place is kept delightfully tidy, a complete contrast to the state of affairs half a century ago.'' Hayseed is having a dig at the Naseby Athenaeum which still operates today.

Hayseed confirms the strong agitation in the 1890s for a railway through Danseys Pass to Oamaru and the use of electricity instead of steam. Sadly for Naseby, the Otago Central railway by-passed the town, leading to the establishment of Ranfurly which soon became the main town of Maniototo.

''First we have the engine and car factory of L and Co. on Dead-level Street, where most of the rolling-stock is manufactured for the Otago Central railroad and the Oamaru Pass line. Many of the fine electric locomotives and luxurious carriages noticeable on our lines are turned out on these premises. Our attention is now attracted by two trains whirling into Naseby, one from Kyeburn, and the other from Eweburn. They are travelling at the rate of about a mile per minute, the speed having been somewhat slackened on nearing the city. A few moments more and they are drawn up like a flash at the great central depot by aid of the powerful atmospheric brakes that are applied to every wheel on the train. The power for the engines is transmitted through the rails, the connection with the great dynamos of the engines being made by means of the wheels. The engines work up to 3000hp and are provided with wheels from eight to 10feet in diameter, a maximum speed of two miles per minute is attainable. The road-bed is seven feet wide, the rails and ties being made of the finest steel.

''The Otago Central Railway passes through the heart of Eweburn [the name Ranfurly was yet to be adopted] city, and has a fine station on Inder St [in fact, the name of the pioneering Inder family has not been used for a street name in Ranfurly or Naseby], where the two branches join the trunk, one going to Naseby, and the other forming the loop line which traverses the plain in a circle via Gimmerburn, Puketoi, Linnburn and Patearoa. The railways are all double lines, as with the great speed there is more security. Eweburn is a great coaling place for the supply of the steam engines on the lines that generate the electricity for the trains, vast deposits of the best bituminous coal having been discovered close to the city some 25 years ago.

''There are many handsome public and private buildings to be seen, prominent among which is the Town Hall on Newman St. There is also a market square, where scores of farmers come twice weekly with waggon loads of produce and sell direct to the consumer. On Tuesdays and Saturdays it is indeed a sight to watch the rough-looking bucolics, with their lines of wagons drawn up around the square, selling their goods, and the scene is one of great animation.

''Eweburn also has concert halls, a museum, art gallery, fine schools, churches, and a splendid free library. It is not the 'City of the Plain,' but truly the 'City of the Beautiful'. Crowds of pretty girls and jovial, good-natured men are to be met with every hour of the day. Indeed, Eweburn has hardly an equal in New Zealand at the present time for youth and beauty.

''Well, here comes the car, so we must now repair to the metropolis, having enjoyed a pleasant day's outing. The conversation turns on the cause of the great results which have been achieved in Maniototo during the past half century, and we compare the miserable, inactive, and comatose state of the inhabitants in the year 1891 with the bustling, lively activity of the present day. After fully discussing the subject, the conclusion arrived at is that the great prosperity of today is entirely due to the wonderful, health-giving, life-sustaining properties of Mother Seigel's Curative Syrup - a splendid tonic for the stomach - the ruler of the world - sold everywhere.''

Although Hayseed made some insightful comments and fairly accurate predictions it is only in that last sentence that we realise he may have been pulling our leg all along.

Mother Seigel's Curative Syrup was widely advertised in the Mount Ida Chronicle and elsewhere and perhaps Hayseed was having fun at the expense of quack remedies and our own gullibility.

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