This year, I've been writing monthly columns about The Treasury for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the May edition.
From The Treasury
In Grahamstown’s heyday, some of the hottest tickets in town were for shows at the Thames Academy of Music. Situated by Victoria Park and handy to the town’s wharves, trains and hotels, the Academy was a hit with the locals and drew scores of visitors from both around New Zealand and overseas. International performers who reached our shores often played a concert or gave a performance at the Academy, including the American Vaudeville Company in 1897.
One particular show in 1891 caused a sensation among residents of Thames. Fresh off the success of nine shows in Auckland, Messrs McMahon’s touring exhibition of Thomas Edison’s phonograph made its Thames debut at the Academy of Music, to a crowd so big that the police had to limit entry into the hall. The Thames Star, in a glowing review the following morning, called the phonograph display ‘the most wonderful and at the same time enjoyable entertainment that we at the Thames have had the opportunity of witnessing.’ The evening began with a lecture on how the phonograph worked and the life of its creator. Town residents spoke excitedly of the phonograph’s future uses – particularly the possibility of sending ‘voice letters’ through the post.
When the phonograph played, an enraptured audience listened to two cornet solos, a banjo player and a ‘delightful’ amateur tin whistle performance. The highlight of the night, however, was a recording from the Christchurch Salvation Army Band, which sounded so ‘charmingly realistic’ that the reporter from the Thames Star could imagine the band were just outside of the hall. Another highlight was a recording made on the spot by the mayor of Thames – his speech was immediately played back to the audience, demonstrating the authenticity of the sound produced by the phonograph.
The exhibition was so successful that an extra performance had to be added to meet demand, before the phonograph continued its tour of the country. ‘Those who fail to attend,’ wrote the Thames Star, ‘will miss a treat they will not be afforded of witnessing for, probably, years to come.’
The Treasury has information about performances past and present in both our Local Arts folder and Thames collection. We also have the Thames Star available on microfiche. We’re open from 11am to 3pm on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Researching costs $15 an hour per person for non-members and $5 for members, while non-researching Gold Card holders can pop in and read a book in our Reading Room for free. Be sure to check out our website and like us on Facebook.