Monday, February 13, 2017

Roasting Von Tempsky

[Paul Janman, Ian Powell, and I are holding an exhibition about the Great South Road - or, as we increasingly call it, Ghost South Road - in the middle of this year, an exhibition which will include panel discussions and theatrical performances as well as art. Paul has set up a facebook group for the actors rehearsing for the exhibition; I left this message there last week.]
I commented here recently about theatrical performances that took place during the Waikato War. But there was an intriguing play that was performed for the first time at the beginning of the 1870s, and which presented, in a very dubious way, one of the most famous parts of the New Zealand Wars - the death of Gustavus Von Tempsky, the brilliant and brutal commander of the Forest Rangers, the colonial army's counter-insurgency unit, during the battle of Te Ngutu o te Manu in Taranaki.
Launcelot Booth was a Durham-born immigrant to the antipodes who became involved with Auckland's fledgling theatre scene soon after arriving in the city in 1870. In February 1871 a review of Booth's play Crime in the Clouds appeared in both the New Zealand Herald and the Daily Southern Cross. The anonymous reviewer explained that the play had attracted a large audience to Auckland's Theatre Royal. The reviewer praised Crime in the Clouds for 'providing some very good scenery', and was particularly impressed by the 'view of Fort Britomart and the North Shore'.
Later in the 1870s Booth would bring Crime in the Clouds to Christchurch, and a newspaper report suggests that in 1898, decades after he had left New Zealand for Australia, he was performing the play in Sydney.
The reviewer for the New Zealand Herald and the Daily Southern Cross promised to provide a 'synopsis' of Booth's play in a later article, but never obliged. His review does give us a rough idea of how the play unfolded. All but one of the play's acts were set in England. In the first act a passenger in a balloon is murdered high above Buckinghamshire; in the third act the action moved to Taranaki, and Booth portrayed the death of Von Tempsky, who was shot while hacking furiously at the undergrowth of the Taranaki bush during the rout of his men by the army of Titokowaru. Booth's play featured 'real Maoris' and a 'real war dance'.
Crime in the Clouds seems never to have been published. In 1888, though, the Hawkes Bay Herald published a memoir by someone named JF Graham, who had helped to run a theatre troupe in 1870s Christchurch. Graham's reminiscences are quite well written, if you can forgive his casual racism and the orotund prose style that was common in the nineteenth century, and they give a good deal of information about Crime in the Clouds. Graham explains how he and his colleagues created a 'large transparency' for Booth, and how they tried to simulate the flight of a balloon against it.
If Graham's memoir is to be believed, then Booth's portrayal of the death of Von Tempsky was ludicrously and luridly inaccurate. Graham says that a group of 'aboriginals' from Banks Peninsula were persuaded to take part in the play in return for whisky, and that they were obliged to tie the actor playing Von Tempsky up, and dangle him over a fire, as if they were about to cook him. According to Graham, the 'aboriginals' got too enthusiastic, and Von Tempsky got burnt. Here's a link to Graham's text.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

6 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

Interesting. How is the film and the book going re the Great South Road?

11:19 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Book's publication date is the 28th of October, Richard - that's the recently announced date for commemorating the Land Wars. Here's what Paul wrote about the events he wants to create around the show:

'As far as public events, I'm trying to jam it all into Saturday June 10th so that we can have a full day of it with as many people milling about as possible. We'll have an earlier opening at the start of course. Barton and crew should definitely be there. If it gets too big we can split it up but I plan to have as many documentary cameramen on the ground as possible on June 10th. I really like the idea of capturing a single day of events. Do you have contacts with the Drury 65th regiment recreationsists? I have this mad idea of getting them to arrive in a ute with dry ice pouring from it like Fellini's legionaries in contemporary Rome.'

Should be exciting!

11:50 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Well done Scott. Are you able to put me in touch with the Drury recreationists? Also, have you found any material on the Manurewa shooter?

4:40 pm  
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Saya Atas nama IBU SAFITRI ingin berbagi cerita kepada anda semua bahwa saya yg dulunya cuma seorang TKW di MALAYSIA jadi pembantu rumah tangga yg gajinya tidak mencukupi keluarga di kampun,jadi TKW itu sangat menderita dan di suatu hari saya duduk2 buka internet dan tidak di sengaja saya melihat komentar orang tentan AKI SOLEH dan katanya bisa membantu orang untuk memberikan nomor yg betul betul tembus dan kebetulan juga saya sering pasan nomor di MALAYSIA,akhirnya saya coba untuk menhubungi AKI SOLEH dan ALHAMDULILLAH beliau mau membantu saya untuk memberikan nomor,dan nomor yg diberikan AKI SOLEH 100% tembus Magnum (4D) <<< 9599 >>> saya menang togel (165,juta) meman betul2 terbukti tembus dan saya sangat bersyukur berkat bantuan AKI SOLEH kini saya bisa pulang ke INDONESIA untuk buka usaha sendiri,,munkin saya tidak bisa membalas budi baik AKI SOLEH sekali lagi makasih yaa AKI dan bagi teman2 yg menjadi TKW atau TKI seperti saya,bila butuh bantuan hubungi saja AKI SOLEH DI 082-313-336-747- insya ALLAH beliau akan membantu anda.Ini benar benar kisah nyata dari saya seorang TKW
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9:43 pm  
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12:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tongan professor says your tract a trivial piece of journalism full of errors. Threw it in the bin

7:34 am  

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