1890 – national or provincial jubilee?
The priority of provincial loyalties over national in colonial New Zealand was demonstrated by planning for the nation’s 50th jubilee in 1890. The provinces could not agree on a date. Was it, as Wellingtonians argued, 22 January, when the Aurora landed the New Zealand Company settlers at Petone? Or was it, as Aucklanders believed, 29 January, when the ship carrying Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson anchored in the Bay of Islands? No one suggested 6 February, the day the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, was first signed by the Crown and Māori. Russell, just across the bay from Waitangi, held a jubilee regatta – on 12 February. The governor, Lord Onslow, supported the Aucklanders and proclaimed 29 January a public holiday throughout the country. No one outside Auckland recognised this as anything other than ‘a bogus holiday’1.
Wellington made do with a slightly expanded Wellington Anniversary Day. There was a procession and a children’s sports day at the Basin Reserve to supplement the annual regatta. In Auckland, ambitions were greater. Alongside their annual regatta they held swimming sports, horticultural and poultry (‘chick’) shows, a procession, athletic sports, Māori canoe races and a jubilee ball.
In both cities the dominant theme was 50 years of progress. The processions showed off successful trades and professions. The large transparencies in Auckland compared the Māori in 1840 in native huts with ‘the Maori of present day dressed in height of fashion and looking almost too sweet for anything.’2
The Canterbury jubilee featured the dramatic decoration of the city streets with 20,000 yards of muslin in 11 colours designed by S. Hurst Seager. High Street featured white, pale green and salmon pink; Cashel Street was strongly patriotic with masses of red, white and blue; Colombo Street had pale blue, pale yellow, cream and white; and Armagh Street had red, green and white shading into pale blue, orange and white.
Provinces also held jubilees, where the theme was 50 years of provincial progess – Taranaki on 31 March 1891, Nelson on 1 February 1892, Otago on 23 March 1898, and Canterbury on 16 December 1900. In New Plymouth an agricultural show and industrial exhibition displayed Taranaki’s productivity, while the procession featured old settlers and veterans of the 1860 battle of Waireka. At Nelson, in addition to a procession, sports and fireworks, there was a pioneers’ banquet in the provincial hall, where the ‘old timers’ discussed ‘their doughty deeds in establishing the settlement here in the forties’.3 Otago hosted a jubilee industrial exhibition with 150 bays of the province’s products. Six hundred ‘old identities’ took part in the procession. Canterbury’s jubilee also featured an exhibition of local manufacturing and an old colonists’ luncheon followed by a garden party at Riccarton House, the home of the pioneering Deans family. The jubilee ode, sung by 270 voices at the opening of the exhibition, contrasted the past of Canterbury with the present.
‘A curious people’
The Evening Post newspaper commented on 2 January 1901, ‘ We are a curious people. Proud of the traditions of our race, our country, our Queen, and particularly of ourselves and our accomplishments. But oh, so matter-of-fact. We in Wellington – only a unit of the nation, true – allowed a century to pass out, and the birth of a new one to occur, without fuss or festivity, save in connection with an event of Imperial significance – the inauguration of the Universal Penny Postage.’4
Whether it began on 1 January 1900 or 1901, over which there was some disagreement, the new century brought little commemoration. New Year’s Day 1900 was quieter than normal, and in 1901 the newspapers recognised the significance but noted the lack of special activities. Only in Gisborne, where the mayor took the lead, was there anything special – a torchlight procession, music, fireworks and illuminations, a tableau of Britannia and a crowd of several thousand.
Many small anniversaries
For the next 40 years there were many small anniversaries – of churches and schools and clubs and townships – but few national ones. The jubilee of the nation’s Parliament in 1904 passed without note. The 50th anniversaries of battles during the New Zealand Wars sometimes brought a historical reminiscence in the local paper, but little more. There were organised gatherings in April 1914, when monuments were unveiled on the jubilees of battles at Orākau and Gate Pā.
Perhaps the outbreak of the First World War explains the absence of any recognition of the 75th anniversary of the colony in January–February 1915, but the 150th anniversary of James Cook’s landing in October 1919 was also ignored – except in Gisborne, where there was a ceremony at the memorial to Cook. Canterbury organised a pageant, led by a dray (cart) of pioneers, for their 75th anniversary in 1925; but in general the worship of New Zealand’s pioneers found expression in books and local museums rather than public occasions.