Threshing Tuesday, 1896

Some good person wrote down the exact date on an old photo – which rather makes Perry Rice’s day.

This is just the sort of photograph a specialist photograph librarian wants to see.

It’s from an album which was donated to us recently though we were given copies of the photos some years ago.

As you will readily see, it has the date on the bottom of the paper. Now, having said that, I am going to have to check whether the digitising has only taken in the actual photograph or has extended beyond the print to specifically include the caption and date. And there again, I mention ‘the date’. Nothing could be more valuable in a photo than something which tells us the date.

So many people want photos from a particular period and it’s not so easy to guarantee the period. Had this photo no date and a customer requested an Edwardian agricultural scene I would have had no hesitation suggesting this photo is ‘circa Edwardian’. The clothing in 1906, among workers was little different if different at all to that of 1896. Farm workers were not and generally still are not, fashion conscious – not at work anyway.

And, the machines, as used in this scene, were around for a good few years. Some farmers did not change to new technology but having done so eventually, did not replace it with new equipment in a hurry. Stuff was built to last a hundred and more years ago and it was made to last by diligent maintenance and tenacious custody. Machines took on a personality of their own if some pastoral patter is to be believed. But all that notwithstanding, each thresher, each traction engine, just like each and every one of those men, behaved differently despite looking, to the uninitiated, exactly alike.

So, the date. How would we have arrived at a date for this photo? I can’t think how we could have narrowed it down to a span of less than five decades. But, we know the date – the exact date. Someone wrote it on the photo or in the album. Good on them!

The photo was taken on the Silverdale farm in 1896 (yes, as you can well see) and was obviously posed – you can see that by the fact the men are stood very still and facing the camera. The exception is the chap at the grain sacks – he had to concentrate. He had to watch what was happening except… the machine had stopped. There was no camera that I know of that had a fast enough shutter speed to get the belt wheels to look stopped if they were not. (Could they today?) The traction engine is not a large one and is most likely a Burrel, and Aveling Porter or a Fowler. They were the commonest engines in New Zealand I think. Traction engines were fired by coal or wood – most often coal was the fuel and probably the optimum fuel.

The thresher was a massive wooden structure with a simple but effective mechanism to separate the wheat from the chaff. The grain was sent off to a chute which emptied the valuable crop into sacks. The straw was then stacked or disposed of if not required by the farmer. As is the case nowadays, the threshing was often done by a contractor who owned the machines. He would tow the thresher from farm to farm with his traction engine rattling along at the alarming rate of about seven miles an hour.

Lunch would have been good too; freshly baked grain bread made that morning by the farmer’s wife, maybe cold roast mutton, cheese and a locally brewed ale. Who wouldn’t want to do the threshing?

Perry RiceStory: Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries.

Email Perry here.

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