History of Thames Citizens’ Band


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2.a. Our Official beginning.

It is recorded that various ’scratch bands’ (musicians thrown together for special occasions) were used in the first few fast growing years of ’The Thames’ from 1867 [78]. What is now the Thames Citizens’ Band was first written about two years later as the Thames Naval Brigades’ attachment Fife & Drum Band; we were the “Thames Naval Brigade Band.” Our official documented beginning with that name, along Thames’ dusty roads, was leading the marching of Thames Naval Brigade on 8th October 1869. [02, 03, 04, 05, 80] Records show that by 1869 there were only two officially organised bands (or “music organizations”) in Thames: the Thames Naval Brigade Band and the Scottish Volunteers Pipe Band (the later disbanding in 1882). [20, 51, 52, 60] The Anglican’s Reverend Lush, along with a Mr Farrow, started the “Hauraki Choral Society” in January of 1870, as St Georges Church musical organization, which would later change its name in 1874 to “Thames Choral Society” as it is today (2012). The Reverend Lush also became an honorary member of the Thames Naval Brigade in 1874. [80, 154, 155, 172] [Pic 02]

PIC 02 – Thames Naval Band 1901

The Thames Naval Brigade Band was very popular in the town with their monthly parades through the town to the St George’s Church services for the Volunteers [52]. The annual Naval Brigade Ball (with the Brigade Band providing the music) and their various dances and concerts through the year were always a hit with the town’s people. Other regular parades through the town along with the many community functions and events the band made themselves available for and performed exemplary in. [15, 53, 54, 55, 59, 81] There were also the ’St George’s Naval Cadets,’ who were formed and named the same year the current St George’s Church, on the corner of Mary and Mackay Streets, was completed and opened in 1872. These were the cadets of the ’Thames Navals’ and the ties the ’Navals’ had with St Georges church Anglicans was clearly very strong. [01, 06, 15]


2.b. The Naval Brigade boasts, ’blokes,’ boats & guns.

The Thames Naval Brigade, at least 120 men strong, had shown themselves exemplary in all ways. Their unit was obviously efficient as they were requested to guard the house of the first Goldfield’s Civil Commissioner, Messr. James Mackay, in times of crisis [78, 80]. The Brigade raised the funds themselves and commissioned their own 30-man, 40-foot, twin-mast and jib-sail boat (with a man-o-war gig), equipped with oars, to protect the town and area from threatening German war boats in 1874. This was something in which the government and the defense ministry took particular interest. The ’Navals’ also completed building their new ’Naval Hall’ on Brown Street in Grahamstown that year around the corner from their friends ’Thames Scottish’ whose shed was on Beach Road on the edge of what was at the time a sandy sea shore. Once completed the Thames Navals invited their friends and founding unit the Auckland Naval Brigade to join them in exercises and Parading around their new Drill hall which was heartily accepted. Perhaps this also showed their independence from their original Auckland unit – something that would only grow. The following year the ’Navals’ added a gun shed on the wishes of the districts commanding officer and they decided to change their uniform to a navy blue colour. [08, 156, 157, 158, 177]

1874 was a good year for the Thames Navals in fact they were so liked a series of photos (taken by the famous Foy Brothers of Thames) was on display in shops along the main street of Grahamstown and enjoyed by the towns people for many weeks with comment being made in the Thames Star. [175, 176] These original photos have not been able to be located. That same year in their new boat, probably after a night patrol on the Firth of Thames, the Naval Brigade moored at the Coromandel township’s wharf and, while awaiting the next tide, marched through the town with their Fife & Drum Band at the crack of dawn (6:30am), waking up the town. A few thought the Germans had invaded but were happy and relieved to find they were being well looked after by the Brigade in their impressive new vessel and all-white uniforms. Perhaps this was, in the ’Navals’ mind, the last chance to parade their white uniforms before changing to the navy blue colour. They drew a big crowd, and before they left that morning on the next high tide, at 11:00am, the Captain made an apology to the local parson for not being able to stay for the service and incase he had taken away any of his congregation – it being a Sunday morning. [10] The Navals would lead the Volunteers in ’paying it forward’ as can be seen in the generous presentation they organized with the combined Thames Volunteers for retiring District Drill Instructor Sergeant Major John Grant. They gave him money and a wonderful calligraphically ornate certificate in 1876. [192] See pictured. [Pic 03] Perhaps it was no surprise that by 1878, the Naval Brigade had grown so big, had purchased its own impressive boat and some equally impressive guns they had to create a special detachment called the Thames Naval Artillery just to look after their weaponry. [16]

PIC 03. Thames Volunteers Certificate of thanks to Sergeant Major John Grant 1876


The Thames Volunteer formations and their bands worked together quite often, which also hints at the “cross-pollination” that was rife between the smaller units at the time. The ’Thames Navals’ would often invite other units to march with them through the town to church or on other ceremonies; this was also reciprocated. [09, 13] The very large funeral in 1878 of Alfred Reddish, a local Warrant Officer who had started out as a member of the Naval Cadets and who drowned in the Thames River (Waihou River), is a testament to this good will and comradery among the Volunteers. The funeral procession of the Thames Naval Brigade, Thames Scottish and the No2 Haurakis, each with their own band, marched from Grahamstown all the way to the Shortland Cemetery, meeting the Rifle Rangers, No 3 Haurakis and the Naval Cadets at Shortland to march up the hill to the cemetery together. [12] [Pic 04]. This also illustrates why Micheal King’s popular and award winning history, “The Penguin History of New Zealand” (Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd 2003), holds Thames’ Miners and Diggers up as shining examples of the comradery and what it meant to be a good Kiwi “Bloke” - a healthy part of our national heritage. Governor George Grey turned the first sod for the Thames Railway in 1878 with the ’Thames Navals’ performing a song the Governor wanted to make the national Anthem at the time, “My Own New Zealand Home.” This Hymn especially significant having been composed by a Thames man Mr J. Grigg in 1875. [173]

PIC 04: Alfred Reddish Funeral 1878

There was also a healthy competition between the units particularly in their “Prize Firing.” The Naval Volunteers were some of the best ’crack’ shots winning the top “Champion” award 8 out of 10 years running from 1874 at the annual national firing competitions. These national competitions when held at ’The Thames’ were at the range in what is now called Totara, firing against the hill near what was the original entrance to the town off Maramarahi Road, once it was completed in 1876. [08, 17, 57, 157, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167] From 1886 many disbanded volunteer units around New Zealand (NZ) became “Rifle Associations” instead. The National competition also changed to a national Rifle Association “meeting” that anyone could participate in. This also meant it was no longer a government funded exercise and military units were discouraged from attending, but the Thames Naval Volunteers when they could afford to compete still won many of the top prizes right up to the turn of the century and the big NZ Military changes. [168, 169, 170, 171]


2.c. A big storm, National, Entertainment and Communication changes.

In July 1875 almost 8 years after the town began a big storm literally swept over the town of Thames. This was a sign of things to come. The waves washed a boat from the firth up against the new Drill Shed of the Thames Navals on Brown Street and damaged the Curtis wharf nearby at Grahamstown. [157] But the town kept rolling along, quite literally, a few years later constantly over the St Georges church hall floor boards in fact as it was opened for Roller Skating every night of the week from April 1877. This was a popular pass time for many years and a part of the increasing options for entertainment Thames people were enjoying. A number of times musicians from the Thames Navals performed as people glided around a big circle at the 3 Skating rinks that eventually opened around the town. The following month in 1877 also saw a Telegraph Cable installed into the NZ Press offices and international communications and ’cablegrams’ began to ’flood’ the Thames Star as a result. The world was becoming a smaller place. [14, 181, 182] In fact the next 20 years saw enormous change in the town of Thames as with the whole nation. The Telephone and electric light were both invented in the USA in 1877 (by Inventors Bell and Edison) and news of them swept across the world via telegram almost immediately. [184, 185] These new inventions were installed around New Zealand over the following 20 years and completely changed the way news and events were announced and organized. The Thames Star was full of people prophesying how this instrument of Communication would change the way musical and theatric events would be performed. [193] Thames finally got its Telephone exchange completed in 1892. [186, 187] Getting to and from these events was changing also with roads being pushed through the Coromandel’s mountainous ranges at a great rate the following year. [188] And entertaining forms of transport were becoming very popular with the Thames Cycling and Touring Club beginning their cycling trips around the Coromandel and Thames Valley annually from 1898. Some Thames Naval Band members joined in the fun by putting some instruments on bicycles and performed while cycling these roads around Thames [189, 190] Many ’norms’ were being shaken. The end of that year saw Napier and Gisborne almost destroyed by eight severe earthquakes in a 10 hour period. [191]


2.d. The Brigade’s growth, discipline & a cadet boat.

10 years after the formation of the Thames Naval Brigade Band it had grown big enough to be both a brass band and a drum & fife Band. On 19 July 1879, the Thames Evening Star lists Thames as having eight volunteer companies, two cadet companies, three brass bands and a drum & fife band for an estimated population of 10,000 (this not including the Scottish Company and Pipe Band). [17, 08] That same year the Thames Naval’s band dealt with their own in a respectful and disciplined way when some members were court martialled for “insubordination” – we can only speculate as to how many and what they did to deserve such a sentence. [58]

The Naval Cadets were very involved along with the adult Brigade in the volunteer movement protecting the peninsula. By 1882, they too had a launch of their own, named "Favourite." Their boat was 23 feet long by 6 feet 6 inches, with a cutter’s main and jib sails and equipped with 10 oars. It was made of kauri and painted white with “…a riband of navy blue around her gunwale, and her stern sheet backboard… decorated with an allegorical design, representing the twin sisters, Commerce and Navigation.” [19] This vessel was probably used when a crew of the Cadets sailed out from Thames at 7pm on 29 November 1882 to Auckland on an undisclosed “secret” mission. [18]


2.e. Government changes Volunteer movement.

The Defence Ministry and Government lacked control over the Volunteer movement in the early days so it was little wonder they began to change the rules in the early 1870’s. The first casualty of this time was the good friends of the ’Thames Navals’ the Scottish Volunteers and their fine Pipe & Brass Band in 1882. After some problems with drinking, finances and the common Scottish temper in the years leading up to it, the 1882 changes in Orders for the NZ Volunteer Forces over ’dress code’ soon saw them disband. [20, 51, 52, 81] In 1883 the Thames Naval Brigade, Cadets, Band and Artillery detachment reorganized into the Thames Naval Artillery & Band in keeping with the new orders for the NZ Volunteer Forces. [02, 22] All 3 Hauraki Rifle Volunteer units also combined into one company called the Hauraki Rifle Volunteers. Another high profile casualty of this time was the Hauraki Engineer Volunteers and their band, which after their disbanding at the end of 1883 had to go through a bitter court case the following year to decide who would get a share in the divided unit’s property and finances. This was a messy business and left a bad taste in the mouths of many Volunteers and Thames residents towards the Government of the time. This had been especially fuelled by the then Minister of Defence paying the Thames Volunteers for only one of the two months they had gone off to support him against Te Whiti at Parihaka (Taranaki) in late 1881. [81, 23, 24] In 1888 the Thames Rifle Ranger Volunteers also disbanded. [28, 29]

With the reorganisation of the volunteer forces and their bands by the beginning of the Boer War in 1898, Thames only had the Hauraki Rifles, now a Company in the No 2 Battalion “Haurakis” of Auckland District, the Hauraki Brass Band (formerly attached to the Hauraki Rifles), the Thames Naval Artillery and Band, and the Salvation Army Band (which had started with its ’revival’ marches in 1884). [27, 32, 33, 34] Thames had seen its big boom, it was well established as a town by now but the gold began receiving less return, it began taking more and more effort to get less and less of it out.


2.f. The glorious end of the Thames Scottish Volunteers and Band

In March of 1882 New Zealand had its first national Brass Band Competition at The Devonport Gardens on the Northshore of Auckland. The Thames Scottish Brass band, the only representatives of Thames, did the town and themselves proud by wining the first prize of a Golden Baton and a medal for each player. The following month of April saw the worst flood Thames had seen up to that time devastate the Scottish Drill shed on Beach Road on the edge of the Firth. This along with the changes to the Volunteer regulations saw the Thames Scottish Volunteers go from their greatest height of national acclaim to completely disbanded by August of the same year. A discontinued court case followed over them keeping their uniforms which the Scottish Volunteers won. The volunteers were in such disgust at their treatment by the Defence Ministry however many of them wore their uniforms into the Mines as a sign of disrespect. Feelings were so high members of the Thames Scottish Volunteers burnt an effigy of the then Minister of Defence the Hon. John Bryce after parading it on a horse behind their final march as a band through the towns main streets in 1882. You can imagine they were not forgotten for many years following this! However it did appear to make the Government distance itself from Thames around this time with official parties starting to avoid the town for a few years.1882 was a tough year for everybody in Thames especially the Volunteers. This was also commented on in a letter to the editor of the Thames Star published 23 May 1883. [20, 51, 52, 81, 22, 27]


2.g. Thames Navals favored more than Brass and in the Press

Over a decade after the difficult changes in the Volunteer regulations with the sour disbanding of many of their fellow volunteer units and comrades, not long after the vote was given to women in a world first for NZ, things changed for the better for the Thames Naval band especially in promotion. As a part of a top military unit for the time all the members were, of course, male. And although they were classed as a Brass band they played non-brass instruments as well. In a number of their concerts there were Clarinet solos, Tin Whistles, Pianos and Flutes. [180] With photography starting to come into its own and it increasingly being used within various publications. The former NZ Governor, Sir George Grey, showed his favor to the unit and its band by releasing a fine photo he had taken of them to be published nationally spread the full width of a broadsheet in the “Auckland Weekly News” (a new illustrated supplement to the NZ Herald) on 22 September 1898. [Pic 05] That same year the soon to be mayor of Thames and then editor of the Thames Star, also a Patron of the band, Messr. H.J. Greenslade, made sure the Thames Navals received favorable write-ups in the local publication as well as prominent involvement in civic ceremonies. [178, 179]

PIC 05: Thames Naval Brigade and band (1898 September NZ Herald - Auckland Weekly News)


2.h. Train stations, Victoria park and a new century challenge.

After the efforts of Sir George Grey and many hard working local body elected officials over the previous twenty years Thames finally got its railway in 1898 with the opening of two train stations; one at Shortland (near where the current Thames Citizens’ Band Hall is) and the main one in Grahamstown near where their original “Naval Drill hall” was. [Pic 06a & b] What soon became Victoria Park behind this Grahamstown train station was originally used as a horse manure “pile” and general dumping ground until 1899 when this time Thames’ mayor, Messr. H.J. Greenslade, secured it for its current intended use from the Thames Harbour Board. [94, 142, 143] However in 1900 the Thames Naval Artillery with their impressive boats and guns and length of service were also absorbed into the No 2 battalion, with its base in Paeroa, and they were renamed No 1 Company Thames Rifle Volunteers. A year later The Thames Navals deposited their colours at St George’s Church in 1901. [03,32, 83] This was the beginning of a very clear and important separation between the band and their military unit as the band continued to perform as the ’Thames Naval Band’ for another two years following. It was at this time the band was also recognized as an ”Institution” in the town after an excellent concert (which included some of the other Thames’ bands) but the “Thames Naval Band” showed their supremacy with Bandmaster Lawns’ own composition, arrangement and performance titled “Fantasia on Grandfathers Clock.” [144]

PIC 06a – Opening of Thames Railway pg4 (1898 December NZ Herald - Auckland Weekly News)
PIC 06b – Opening of Thames Railway (with Thames Naval Band members) pg5 (1898 December NZ Herald - Auckland Weekly News)

One of the challenges that came at the turn of the century was again with the advance of new technology. After its invention back in 1978 the Gramaphone never made it to Thames until a Mr Redwoods bought one into the town and provided it for functions in late 1900. The Thames Naval Band found themselves sharing a stage performance with it a number of times. [194, 195, 196, 197] One of the last known performances of the Thames Naval Band, under that name, (and without a Gramaphone) was recorded in the Thames Star, 15 November 1901. The Band played an “Open Air Concert” on the corner of Mary and Pollen Streets, performing the following: “With Sword and Lance” (a march), “Lurline” (a selection), “Wind and Wave” (a waltz), “Gems of Sullivan’s Operas” including: “Pinafore,” “Princess Ida,” “Iolanthe,” “Beauty Stone,” “Yeomen of the Guard,” “Gondoliers” (a selection), “Gems of Operatic Melody” (a selection) and “The Storm King” (a march). [62, 63] The previously mentioned Victoria Park, behind the main train station, was so named after the death of Queen Victoria that same year. [83]



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