Soldiers diaries and letters

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Anna Blackman | 2 Comments

Behind the downstairs reference desk at the Hocken are some shelves where each week’s newly acquired books are kept for staff to familiarise themselves with what is newly published. In the lead up to Anzac Day each year there are often books relating to New Zealand’s experience of war, and in particular the First and Second World Wars. The stand out book on the shelf last week was Glyn Harper’s latest, Letters from Gallipoli : New Zealand Soldiers Write Home. Professor Harper has collected together and edited the letters of many soldiers to tell the story of Gallipoli in a kind of collective first person account.

Letters from Gallipoli includes letters that are held at the Hocken Collections. We are grateful to many Otago soldier’s letters and diaries which have been generously donated by families. We would welcome further donations of soldier’s papers and photographs, not just relating to the First and Second World Wars but all wars that New Zealanders have experienced. These kinds of papers are the primary sources for books such as Professor Harper’s, and they are also regularly used by University of Otago students for their studies. Apart from post-grads researching and writing theses, Professor Tom Brooking’s HIST 105 paper focuses on the ANZAC’s and their legacy, students of this paper make intensive use of some of the soldier’s papers cared for at the Hocken.

A selection of soldiers papers from the Hocken Collections

To hear more about Professor Harper’s research and the book listen to Radio NZ online
2009 interview (half way through research)
2011 interview (project finished)

War is almost certainly the most popular topic for historical research in New Zealand after family history. And so often family history is entertwined with war history. This keen interest is undoubtedly because of New Zealander’s close personal involvement in these wars. Almost every NZ family in the early to mid 20th century had at least one or more family member(s) in the armed forces and even if they didn’t their daily lives were greatly effected by what was happening.

The Hocken Collections is well resourced to meet this interest and has produced a series of subject guides to assist researchers. The guides are available in PDF form from the Guides page of our website. There are five guides covering the NZ Wars 1840s, NZ Wars 1860s-1870s, South African War, World War I and World War II.

Post prepared by Anna Blackman, Curator of Archives and Manuscripts

Nobblers, duffers, and life on the goldfields

Friday, April 8th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

The spirit of the Otago Gold Rush is colourfully captured in Allan Houston’s manuscripts. Not much is known about Houston, but he arrived from Scotland on the Hamilla Mitchell in September 1864 and was for a short time a self-described miners’ representative, practical digger, and storekeeper at Gabriel’s Gully. His manuscript, compiled in 1865, includes description of work and social life on the goldfields, politics, farming, commerce, flora, fauna, and settlements in Otago.

A group of Tuapeka men

Commenting on a digger’s reminiscences of the first rush in 1861, Houston wrote: ‘Of all unpoetical sort of things, one of the most so, is for a young, newly married person to “go off to the diggings”. He is indeed a brave, bold, man who can go straight home & without wincing quietly say “Wife I’m off to the new rush”! It’s more trying than “popping the question” for the decent man has a great chance of being considered insane by his affectionate partner in Life – “What! Going to the diggings? Eh! what do you mean, Sir?”’

Houston explains some of the lingo in use at the time, including:

  • Making Tucker: Getting gold only sufficient to make a living.
  • A Duffer: A failure – disappointment.
  • A Stringer: A small vein of gold that does not pay, but leads a digger on ‘Will-o’the-Wisp’ like, and ends in a ‘Duffer’.
  • Cockatoos: Small owners of land, but poor.
  • Jumping a Claim: Taking forcible possession – ‘Might being right’ ‘a-la-revolver’ – Any person having a ‘Miner’s Right’ or ‘Licence’, can lawfully ‘Jump’ the claim of those without this document.
  • New Chum: The latest arrival.
  • Old Identity: Old Settlers of Otago – Barracouta – i.e. a fish contemptibly applied to old settlers.
  • New Iniquity: The Victorian new arrivals.
  • A Nobbler: A glass of any Liquor – usually costs 1/- at the diggings. 
Houston’s description and photos of Balclutha and the Crown Inn.

These manuscripts would be a great transcription project for someone. The picture painted is sometimes a little too rosy to be convincing, but Houston was there and his writing is full of life, charm, and a sense of optimism prevailing over adversity. 

The scene at Gabriel’s Gully, 1865

Post prepared by David Murray, Assistant Archivist, from Houston, Allan: ‘The Gold fields of Otago, A.H.’s Jottings 1865 with Lithographic Illustrations. Memoranda of Otago Gold diggings and of Gold Diggers, from personal inspection and reliable information written in March 1865’ (Misc-MS-1413).