News and Articles for Nov 2017

A Brief History of Christmas

Christmas is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus although there is no evidence he was born on that day. It was declared his birthday in 440 AD. In England Christmas was originally called Yule. The old Saxon word Yule meant mid-winter. However when the Saxons were converted to Christianity the word Yule came to mean Jesus’ birthday. The word Christmas (Christ mass) was not used until the 11th century.

For most of history Christmas was just one of many festivals celebrated throughout the year. Until the 19th century Christmas was not particularly important in England.

Most of the things that make up a ‘traditional’ English Christmas were actually invented (or imported into England from other countries) in the 19th century. That includes Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, paper decorations and, of course, Father Christmas or Santa Claus with his white beard and red costume.

During the 17th century and 18th century people continued to celebrate Christmas as they had done for centuries. For centuries it was traditional to burn a Yule log in the fireplace at Christmas. In the 19th century it was also common to light a large Yule candle.

Boxing Day was originally a day when alms-boxes in churches were opened and the money was distributed to the poor. Later ‘boxes’ were given to servants.

Our modern Christmas really began in the 19th century. Long before the 19th century people in England decorated their houses at Christmas with holly, ivy and mistletoe. In the 19th century people began to use coloured paper decorations.

For centuries it was common to give Christmas gifts to friends and relatives at Christmas. However hanging out stockings to be filled with presents was first recorded in parts of England in the early 19th century. It became common in the late 19th century.

Christmas cards were invented in the 19th century. The first one was designed in 1843 by John Horsley. Before 1840 it would not have been feasible for ordinary people to send cards because of the cost of postage. However Rowland Hill introduced the penny post in 1840. By the 1860s Christmas cards were very popular in England.

Christmas crackers were invented in 1847 by a confectioner named Tom Smith. While in Paris he saw sugar almonds sold wrapped in tissue paper and he invented the Christmas cracker. He added mottoes to the sweets (later these evolved into jokes). Smith added the ‘bang’ in 1860. Little gifts were also added to Christmas crackers.

Queen Victoria’s family with Christmas tree

Christmas trees were used in central Europe from the Middle Ages. By the 16th century they were decorated. By the 17th century tinsel was used. Other Christmas ornaments included paper flowers, candles, barley sugar, gingerbread and wax shapes. The first Christmas trees in England appeared in the early 19th century but they did not become popular till Queen Victoria married a German, Prince Albert. In 1848 they were shown in a picture in the Illustrated London News with a Christmas tree. As a result Christmas trees became very popular. Electric Christmas tree lights were invented in 1882 by Edward H. Johnson.

Father Christmas and Santa Claus were originally two different figures. In England Father Christmas was a man dressed in green (representing the return of Spring) who was supposed to visit families and feast with them at Christmas. (He did not bring gifts). However in the 19th century in England Father Christmas merged with the Dutch Santa Claus. He is supposed to be based on St Nicholas a Christian bishop who lived in Turkey in the 4th century AD. According to tradition St Nicholas gave generous gifts to the poor. St Nicholas had a feast day on 6 December. (In Poland Santa still brings gifts on 6 December). On that day it was traditional to give gifts or to give to charity to remember the saint’s generosity.

The Dutch took the tradition of ‘Sinterklaas’ to America. In time Santa Claus evolved into a figure who brings gifts to sleeping children at Christmas. The modern Santa Claus or Father Christmas was invented in 1862 by a German-American artist called Thomas Nast. In the late 1860s Santa Claus was imported into England.

Mince pies have been eaten at Christmas in England since the 16th century. Originally they were made of minced meat but in the 19th century the meat was replaced with dried fruit and spices.

Originally people ate a cake on Twelfth Night (6 January). In the late 19th century people began to eat the traditional Twelfth Night cake at Christmas. So a Victorian Christmas contained all the elements of a ‘traditional’ Christmas such as Santa Clause, Christmas trees, Christmas crackers, Christmas Cards, Christmas cake and pudding.

Today Christmas is still celebrated on 7 January in Ethiopia. The Russian Orthodox Church also celebrates Christmas on 7 January

Tim Lambert.

Rivendell Loss

On the evening of 21st March, 2017, one of the oldest and tallest trees at Rivendell was struck by lightning – much to the fright of the staff and students who were still on the grounds.

This tree, on the waterfront, was one of a pair of Marker Trees which grew on either side of the Watergate Wharf. The purpose of Marker Trees was to indicate the entry to an estate or facility and were in common use in the early days of the colony.

We are all saddened by the damage done to the beautiful tree, which was well over 100 years old and estimated to be about ten stories high. Debris was scattered along the front lawn and across the driveway. Unfortunately, due to the damage caused by the lightning the tree needed to be removed – another piece of our history gone.

Trial Marriages for a Year and a Day

Prior to the Reformation in the sixteenth century, when Scotland was a Catholic country rather than a Protestant one, trial marriages were very common. At annual fairs the unmarried of both sexes would choose a companion with whom to live a year and a day. This custom was known as hand-fasting, or hand-in-fist. If the parties remained pleased with each other at the expiry of the term of probation, they remained together for life; if not they separated, and were free to find another partner.

Priests were sent out from the various monasteries into the surrounding districts to look after all hand-fasted persons and bestow the nuptial benediction on those willing to receive it. If either of the parties insisted on a separation, and a child had been born during the year of trial, it was to be taken care of by the father only and ranked among his lawful children next after heirs.

Tradition tells that a desperate feud broke out between the clans Macdonald of Sleat, and Macleod of Dunvegan, on the Isle of Skye after one particular trial marriage hit the rocks. A Macdonald Chief decided he didn’t want to marry his Macleod lady which brought the retort from the Chief of Macleod: “If there is to be no wedding bonfire then there will be one to solemnize the divorce!” Accordingly, he burned and laid waste the lands of the Macdonalds. They retaliated with a vengeance and for months afterwards there was much spilling of blood and wrecking of homes.

In 1562, the Kirk-Session of Aberdeen decreed that all hand-fasted persons should be married. With the exception of the Highland districts, the time-honoured practice of living together for “a year and a day” ceased to exist shortly after the Reformation.

Resource: Strange old Scots Customs and Superstitions (Ref: 5776 SCT HIS)  Reprinted from Kintracer (Dec.2016),  quarterly Journal of Genealogy Sunshine Coast.

Back in the Day (1) . . . Everyday Life and How it was Lived a Hundred Years Ago

Here’s an idyllic, family scene, isn’t it? A little boy or a little girl crawling into his or her’s grandparents laps, cuddling them while the old folks whisper sweet things into their ears and tickle them and give them cuddles……eventually, that little boy or little girl asks: “Nanna…Papa…what was things like when you were my age?”  Grandparents smile, glad to know that their offspring’s offspring is fascinated with what they have to tell them.   So gramps, nanna…what were things like when you were a child?

But what was it like 100 years ago, back when people were celebrating the first decade of the 20th century? Here’s a few things that used to be, that were commonplace, but which have changed drastically or which have disappeared completely from daily life. How many do you know, or remember?

The Traditional Wet Shave These days when most of us shave, we think little of it. We turn on the razor, or we click a cartridge into our Mach 3 or our Gilette Fusion and scrape and buzz away like we’re trying to remove varnish from floorboards with a belt-sander. But things were very different back when grandpa was a child. How was it done without fancy, high-tech gizmoes like those electric buzz-saws we call ‘razors’ today?

Back in the old days, a man tackled this, usually daily task, with something called a straight-razor…A straight-razor (also called by the charming name of a ‘cut-throat’ razor) was the main shaving-tool from about the 18th century until the early 1900s. Straight-razors were kept literally ‘razor sharp’. They required considerable maintenance and a fair bit of skill to use. It used to be that grandpa or great-grandpa would hone and strop his razor at home in the bathroom to keep it sharp. Straight-razors had scoop-shaped blades so that as you shaved, the blade scooped up the shaving-soap and cut stubble as you shaved. Stropping and sharpening took up a fair bit of time. You sharpened the razor against a whetstone or a honing-stone and then you stropped it against a leather and canvas strop, to keep the edge sharp and even. Failure to sharpen and strop your straight-razor properly resulted in cuts or nasty razor-burn! Yeouch!

Shaving Brush, Razor, Strop and Soap

Along with the brush and the blade, you also had shaving-soap. Not cream, soap. You had a cake of soap and a shaving-brush… You used the brush to apply the soap to your face, moving it across your stubble in a circular motion to lather up, spread the soap around and hydrate the skin and lift up the stubble. The brush also scraped away any dead skin. Then, you shaved.

Of course, some people preferred using the new double-edged ‘safety razor’ that came out in 1901. Safety-razors were popular because they were…safer! And they didn’t require as much maintenance. King Camp Gilette, the guy who came up with the safety-razor, cooked up a business-deal with the US. Army. When soldiers headed off to war in 1917, they were all given safety-razors, which led to its widespread introduction into civilian life later on, replacing the straight-razor

Australia’s Emu War

Australia cannot lay claim to any great empires or epic conquests, but we do have one distinction that no other nation on Earth can boast: we are the only country in history to lose a war to birds.

In 1932 the farmers of Western Australia, fed up with the 20,000 emus that kept dropping in to their farms to eat all their crops, went to Defence Minister Sir George Pearce to demand he take action to safeguard the precious wheat of the Campion region. Pearce, a man who knew the value of a show of strength, decided that what the emus needed was a hefty dose of good old-fashioned military might.

And so Major GPW Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery was sent, along with two soldiers, two Lewis guns and 10,000 bullets, into the scrubland to show the emus just who was the more highly evolved species.

Almost immediately the expedition ran into trouble. The soldiers attempted to herd the emus into a suitable place in which to mow them down en masse, but the birds, well-trained in guerrilla tactics, continually split into small groups and ran off in different directions, making it damnably difficult for the guns to draw a bead on them. Also, the guns jammed.

Also, when the guns worked, and when an emu stood still long enough to shoot at, they proved resistant to bullets to an unsettling degree. Meredith wrote:  If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world. They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.

The soldiers retreated, weary and sick of the sight of feathers. Meredith’s official report noted, optimistically, that his men had suffered no casualties. The emus’ report noted that humans were slow-moving and stupid.

The House of Representatives debated the matter and questions were asked of the minister regarding whether medals were to be awarded for survivors of the campaign. The question of why, blessed as we are with a native animal that is essentially a cross between an armoured car and a velociraptor, our military has not taken advantage by training emus for combat duty in the ADF, remains unanswered to this day.

Reprinted from the "Heron Flyer", 11/11/17.
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Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift, 1914

These decorative brass tins were sent by Princess Mary to members of the British, Colonial and Indian Armed Forces for Christmas 1914. Over 426,000 of them were distributed to those serving on Christmas Day 1914. The tins were filled with various items including tobacco, confectionary, spices, pencils, a Christmas card and a picture of the princess.

The idea was the initiative of Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Princess Mary organised a public appeal which raised the funds to ensure that ‘every Sailor afloat and every Soldier at the front’ received a Christmas present. Due to the strong public support for the gift, which saw £162,591 12s 5d raised (over $325,000), the eligibility for the gift was widened to include every person ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’, about 2,620,019 servicemen and women.

The large number of people who were to receive the gift made it impossible to manufacture, supply and distribute the gifts by Christmas Day 1914. So recipients were divided into three classes:

Class A (received the gift on or near Christmas Day): comprised the Navy, including minesweepers and dockyard officials, and troops at the Front in France, the wounded in hospitals and men on furlough, prisoners and men interned (for whom the gift was reserved), members of the French Mission with the Expeditionary Force, nurses at the Front in France and the widows or parents of those who had been killed.
Class B: all British, Colonial and Indian troops serving outside the British Isles, who were not provided for in Class A.
Class C: all troops in the British Isles

Class B and C gifts were not sent out until January 1915, they contained a Happy New Year card. Having used or consumed the contents, servicemen and women then used the tins to carry other small items.

During World War I, Princess Mary visited hospitals and welfare organizations with her mother, assisting with projects to give comfort to British servicemen and assistance to their families.

Another object from our museum collections.

Physical Description
Rectangular tin with hinged lid. Lid is embossed with profile portrait of a young female (Princess Mary) in the centre surrounded by a wreath. The letter "M" is embossed on either side of the wreath in cursive script. A decorative border around the lid contains the words "Imperium Britannicum" at the top and "Christmas 1914" at the bottom. The corners and sides contain the names of Britain's allies between decorations of flags, ships and weapons.

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