Saturday, 9 July 2016

And now for something completely different ! - Part 2

Apologies, but until now, real life has got in the way of posting the second part of my expedition to the Oamaru Steampunk Festival last Queen's Birthday weekend. Apart from the fun of exploring the historical Victorian quarter of Oamaru, while admiring the imagination of those who put together some incredible Steampunk costumes, my final day there also provided a bit of a lesson in New Zealand colonial history.

The ornate architecture of the limestone-facade Victorian buildings with their Etruscan columns along the main street of the town, as well as the warehouses near the port, remain proof of the wealth and opulence within Otago society during the colonial era of the 19th century. This wealth initially came through the Otago gold rushes of the 1860s, but was cemented through the development of pastoral agriculture based on sheep. There were a number of large sheep stations surrounding Oamaru, where the run-holders became rich on wool production, and later by the refrigerated export of sheep meat to Britain.

One such rich run-holder was Joseph Cowie Nichols (a.k.a. Cowie Nichols CBE), who in 1885 bought the 12,545 hectare Kuriheka Station inland from Maheno, just south of Oamaru. Although born in the colonies, like many New Zealanders of the landed-gentry class at the time, Nichols was sent to England for his formal education where he studied at Oxford.

On his return he settled into the life of a gentleman farmer and community leader, which saw him serve as an officer in the NZ Volunteer Force. By 1914 he was lieutenant-colonel in command of the 5th (Otago Hussars) Mounted Rifles. The badge that this regiment adopted and wore overseas during the First World War includes a shield of the Nichols family coat-of-arms in the centre. However, Nichols was considered too old for overseas service at the time and he remained in New Zealand in command of the Territorial troops of the Otago province.

After the war Nichols built a substantial memorial to the 83 'servants' from the Kuriheka estate who served overseas during the Great War, which included 21 who were either killed or died during the conflict. Nichols' own son (with the same name) was killed while serving as a rifleman in the Canterbury Infantry Regiment on the Western Front in October 1916 and is included on the memorial. The memorial is surrounded by a number of field artillery pieces from the colonial era and the First World, including captured German Krupp field guns and trench mortars. Somewhere along the way Nichols also acquired two 64-pounder rifled muzzle loading coastal defence guns that had previously been part of the Taiaroa Head defences. These guns have been placed in an open field at the entrance of the estate, which is open to the public.

Although located in the back-blocks on rural New Zealand, I almost felt that I could have been visiting a manor house estate in England or Scotland from the style of the buildings. These were all built from limestone blocks in the neo-baronial style, including a substantial barn that has Gothic windows. Very impressive and a statement of wealth and achievement, which I'm sure was the intention when first built.

We couldn't travel to Oamaru without a visit to this iconic location, only a 20 minute ride in the car from the seaside port town. Hence, the New Munster Steam Fusiliers took the photographic opportunity to record our visit for prosperity. I highly recommend a visiting Kuriheka if you get a chance.  
Major Reginald Ogilvie VC and his memsahib astride one of the 64 pounder RML guns at Kuriheka. 

Ogilvie of the New Munster Steam Fusiliers sighting the enemy target.

Major Sherlock-Brown adopting a martial pose.

Attempting to look like a pair of  colonial officers of the NZ Volunteers

Ogilvie looking for fuzzy wuzzies to shoot with the breech loading field gun behind, but I tried to tell him they only had a few drunken & rebellious gold miners to deal with in this neck of the woods. 

A captured WW1 German mortar in front of the estate's memorial
The memorial with captured German field guns and mortars. Nichols was an avid collector of all things military, including a collection of 624 military service medals - believed to be the largest private collection in NZ. 
One of the historic out-buildings of the estate

The New Munster Steam Fusiliers on their walk-about in the Victorian quarter of Oamaru

Ogilvie and Sherlock-Brown looking a bit sepia outside the old whisky distillery in the Victorian quarter 
Nothing like a whisky or two to put a bit of colour back into your life. I couldn't help myself from having a fiddle with Photoshop with this image. 

Normal wargaming service will now resume.
Until next time! 

1 comment:

  1. Jolly good post old chap. Lots more to explore around Oamaru next year.