Category Archives: heritage

Auckland, Burns and A’ That

In preparing a talk for the recent Robert Burns’ anniversary, I learned a few things about my Scottish born grandparents.

(Burns’ anniversay 25 January, Wikipedia; Guardian 24 Jan 2014 on Burns and Scottish independence).

My mother’s parents were born in Scotland: John Barr (1887-1971, born Glasgow) and Jessie Barr (née MacPherson 1889-1979, born Perthshire) came to live in Auckland, New Zealand in 1913 and 1914 respectively.  For the rest of their lives they remained very enthusiastic about Auckland, its heritage and its development, while also remaining strongly attached to Scottish culture, heritage and literature.

John (aka, Jack) and Jessie both worked in libraries in Scotland.  Jack started working in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow at 13 or 14 years old. Abe Cunningham was also a cadet boy at the Mitchell Library at the same time.  He later moved to Auckland and worked as a cataloguer at Auckland Public Library.

This photo was taken in 1906, in Glasgow in front of a statue donated to Glasgow by John Stewart Kennedy:

barr statue glasgow 3 cropped

Abe Cunningham and John Barr:
The Munro-John Barr Album

John Barr was chief librarian at Auckland Public Library (1913-1952).

John Barr authored various published books, including a couple of histories of Auckland:

The city of Auckland, 1840–1920 (1922) – includes a Maori history of the Auckland Isthmus, by George Grahame

The Ports of Auckland, New Zealand: A History of the Discovery and Development of the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours (1926)

Both books are an accurate historical record and are of their time: they are presented from a European, male perspective, with the main focus on British colonisation, settlement, and municipal development of the area.

John and Jessie had three daughters:  Catriona MacPherson (aka Mac – eldest); Sheila MacPherson (my mother) and Margaret Jean (youngest).  This family photo was taken outside their house in Manukau Road, Auckland – next to the original Epsom Library, sometime around the late 1920s or 1930s.

barrs2 grayscale cropped

Daughters back row: Sheila, Catriona (Mac), Margaret

Both John and Jessie were very active in the Auckland St Andrew’s Society, and both gave many talks or lectures on Scottish topics.  Jack’s specialism was Robert Burns, and Jessie’s main literary interest was Robert Louis Stephenson.  She also gave lectures on Kipling and James Barrie, and was a founding member of the New Zealand Penwomen’s League.

In a review of a John Barr song-lecture, he is reported to have said that Burn’s ‘Scots Wha Hae’ was “one of the greatest poems of liberty ever penned.” (New Zealand Herald 5 Sept 1919. p. 10).

In his typed version* of his address for the 169th Burns’ Anniversary (1928), Jack outlined Burns’ importance: he restored national pride to Scotland at a time when it was needed; Burns provided songs and poems of a quality lacking in other Scots works at that time; Burns’ nationalism was not a narrow patriotism but his humanitarian, liberal and egalitarian values gained international support.

With respect to Burns’ support of “universal brotherhood”, Jack quoted these lines from ‘Scots Wha Hae’:

By oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
         But they shall be free!

Following this, he wrote:

That was its commencement, but it rose to the sublime heights of universal freedom in his hopes that there would come a time when

Man to man the world o’er                                                                                     Would brothers be for a’ that.

The last two lines are from Burns’ song and poem, ‘Is There for Honest Poverty’, commonly known as ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’.

For Burns, poverty is honest: a man’s character and self-respect are his true worth, and not social class or the trappings of wealth; the wealthy can disguise their true worth with fine clothes; honesty and goodness are worth more than aristocratic titles.

This video uses Ian F Benzie‘s version of ‘A Man’s A Man for A’ that’, and various images related to Burns and the content of the song.

*The typed copy of John Barr’s speech is in the Douglas Munro collection: Douglas is grandson of John and Jessie Barr and son of Catriona Munro (née Barr).

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Auckland, biography, glasgow, heritage, history, jessie barr (nee macpherson), john barr, library, mitchell library

Edge of Tyne: border crossings in the industrial age

Now the whole river began to boom. Coal-based, this prosperity took in iron and later steel, shipbuilding, chemicals, light and heavy engineering.  This was the era of invention, and the Tyne was at the forefront.  From her banks came the first railways, the first electric lamp, the first big guns, the first Dreadnoughts, the first life boats, the most daring bridges … Now on both banks Tyneside filled with windmills and pits and factories.  The gaps between, and the long sweeps up the hillsides behind, were crammed with terrace rows of brick to house the thousands of workers who were streaming in from all over the kingdom to get richer than all but a few of them ever really did.  The salmon twitched in liquid poison and gave up the ghost.

[David Bean’s Tyneside: A Biography (1971), cited in Tyneside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead from Earliest Times, by Alistair Moffat & George Rosie, Mainstream Publishing: Edinburgh and London, 2005: pp. 281-2.]

This came a couple of pages after Moffat and Rosie began their chapter, entitled “Workshop of the World”, on Tyneside in the first decade of the 20th Century  (Moffat & Rosie: p. 279), with this:

It’s a venerable saying, but it’s worth repeating: in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not Queen Victoria and her son King Edward who ruled over Britain, it was Old King Coal.

The period between 1850 and 1905 was when part of my family history shifted from Scotland to Tyneside, prior to my great grandfather (James Sinclair) and my grandmother (Marion Margaret Skelton, née Sinclair) immigrating to New Zealand. Many Scots have a long history that shifts between the Scotland and the border territory north of Tyneside.  For many centuries, there was not a clear demarcation between the two countries.  Hadrians wall was built from along the banks of the River Tyne across to Bowness-on-Solway (east of Carlisle, on England’s north east coast).

Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.

“Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.” (Going Glenn blog)

Hadrian’s Wall was a defence built to help keep the borderland and Scottish clans out of England.  Some of my other ancestors originally lived and fought in that border territory (the Skeltons and the Nobles) at least as far back as the 16th Century. The Scottish clans ceased their attempts to annex Northumberland and Tyneside after their defeat by James IV at Flodden Field in 1513 (Moffat & Rosie, p. 153).  Following this, bandits (or “Border Reivers”) raided and terrorised others in the border territory and Scotland.  The Nobles were bandits that terrorised many families, including the Skeltons.

Later, in the 19th Century, with Scotland part of Britain, many Scots travelled to the Tyneside area to participate in the acceleration of industrialisation in the region.  My great great grandfather, John Sinclair (1826-1895), and his brother Robert Sinclair (1836-?) migrated to Tyneside in the mid 19th Century, where they began getting experience in the tobacco industry.  They opened a small tobacco shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1856.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Robert Sincalr Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

Robert Sinclair Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

The coal industry developed early in Tyneside because coal was relatively close to the earth’s surface and easily mined.  As industrialisation gathered steam, the ship building industry developed around the Tyne. This provided a context out of which associated industries and commercial activities developed. With the relatively quick rise in population, activities arose that supported urban living and city life: arts and education for instance.

Migration from places like Ireland and Scotland and other places contributed to religious diversity. The Anglican Church was dominant, with a significant amount of political/social “dissenters” in Presbyterian, and non-conformist churches such as Congregationalist and Methodist churches (Moffat & Rosie: p. 268).  Working classes tended to be associated with non-conformist churches such as the Primitive Methodists (A New England? Peace and War, 1886-1918,  G.R. Searle, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004: p. 104).

Industrial development, urban rural shifts, and the rise of the popular press in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (Searle p110-111), resulted in a shift from local towards more nationally focused politics.  From 1885 to the mid 90s, the (Gladstone) Liberal Party supported Home Rule for Ireland (Searle: pp. 119-169).  This was a signficiant issue which at times split Liberals.  The very active Temperance movement also was associated with the Liberal Party.

It was into this context that James Sinclair was born (1861) and married (1882) at a Primitive Methodist Church in North Shields, Tyneside.  This evangelical church was associated with the Temperance movement and working class culture.  It adopted the popular culture practices of “Chapel”, as opposed to the more classical style of the Anglican Church.  It is not surprising, then, that my grandmother, (born Marion Margaret Sinclair in 1883) was teetotal throughout her life, and advocated an abstemious lifestyle along with strict observance of Sunday as a religious day.  Nevertheless, perhaps reflecting the context of religious diversity on Tyneside where she grew up, she also supported middle and upper class culture in the form of music, literature and the arts.

The Newcastle band, Lindisfarne, achieved popular success in the 1970s, drawing on the Celtic culture that was, by then, an important part of the Newcastle heritage.

2 Comments

Filed under heritage, history, james sinclair, john sinclair, liberal party, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, temperance

Welcome

The stories of people and places are the result of a tangled web of interactions between people, places, and technologies. The living and writing of history is never a neat process.  It is a process of engagement with the chaos of life as it unfolds in the continuous present, and as technologies, landscapes, and human creations capture moments of that present.

I will be adding posts about the way some local places have changed over time, and about the ways in which changing technologies of communication have influenced people’s lives: the telegraph, the cinema, the printing press and more.

Leave a comment

Filed under communications, General, heritage, history, people, technology