Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the March edition.
‘A Momentous Year:’ Thames’ Golden Jubilee, Part 1.
An important meeting took place at St James' Hall in Grahamstown in April 1916. Prompted by a letter to the mayor asking what was being done to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Thames goldfields, the meeting was called to form a jubilee celebration committee. The anniversary itself was not until August 1917, so there was plenty of time to prepare - an exciting bright spot on the horizon for a country otherwise consumed by a world war. Thames was not, by 1916, the economic powerhouse it had once been, but its influence on the growth of Auckland made the jubilee nationally significant. News of the upcoming celebration quickly filtered through the nation's newspapers. The Auckland branch of the Old Thames Boys' Association quickly sprang into action, launching a letter-writing campaign to track down Thames pioneers now scattered across the world. The Old Thames Boys were an enthusiastic lot, enticing their fellow Aucklanders to the Coromandel with plans for a week-long jubilee carnival. 'But who will pay for it?' asked Thames' locals. Unimpressed letters to the editor of the Thames Star pointed out that 'the greatest war on earth is now in progress,' and Thames' inhabitants had already been hit in the pocket by wartime grocery prices and liberal donations to the patriotic fund. 'We, the British nation, have nothing to celebrate over,' wrote one correspondent. 'I fail to see how we can conscientiously invite our old associates of the early days of the field [to the jubilee festivities]... while at present I know of a great many who have their sons away fighting our cause,' wrote another. The jubilee committee enthusiastically continued its planning, despite concerns over costs and appropriateness. The next committee meeting proposed a 'jubilee celebration second to none yet witnessed in the Dominion,' including a mining and industrial exhibition, a ten-day carnival, a regatta, All Nations tug-of-war, Caledonian sports and fire brigade competitions. By early 1917, however, reality had dawned; these plans for the jubilee had been condensed into a four-day carnival to be held in Thames in summer, the February after the anniversary date. Meanwhile, the Old Thames Boys' Association planned a Thames pioneers' reunion at the Auckland Town Hall in August. In May, however, it seems the committee's initial enthusiasm was beginning to wane. Two separate letters to the editor pointed out that the jubilee was a little over eight weeks away, and the general public was none the wiser on what exactly was being planned. 'The talk of ten days of jollification and revelry seems to have died a natural death, but that is no reason why something befitting the occasion should not be arranged for August 1st,' wrote one person. At the next committee meeting, it was decided to hold a series of small events in Thames on August 1st, to complement the Old Boys’ event in Auckland and advertise the summer’s bigger celebrations. With mere weeks to go, August 1st was declared a public holiday and an array of church services, dinners and concerts were hastily thrown together to mark the date of the goldfield’s proclamation. But would these plans come together?