In January 1890, Auckland and New Zealand both marked their 50th Jubilee with three days of festivities in Auckland. Henry Marsh, his son Harold, 14, and other Albertlanders took time off from their farms to join in the celebrations. Harold wrote to his sister … ‘We have met a good many Port Albert, or rather Wharehine, people in Auckland namely: Charlie Brookes, Claude and Eddie Brookes, Lawford and Stanley Armitage, Mr Baldock, Mr Luccas, Wilfred Hartnell, Gertie and Walter Cutforth, Mrs Stott etc.’
British warship HMS Orlando was in Auckland Harbour as part the Jubilee. Harold and his father joined other visitors on board and Harold later wrote .. ‘I had a good look round, asking the gunners a lot of questions about the guns. She has about 24 besides a lot of quick firing machine guns.’
That evening Harold and friend Wilfred Plummer went to the following show, advertised in the NZ Herald … ‘performing fleas, City Hall buildings, Queen Street. This novel and unique exhibition improves upon each return visit. Everybody should see them. The Tricks they have been Taught to Perform are simply incredible. Open from 2 to 5 and 7 to 10. Admission 6d.’ Harold’s letter didn’t say whether it was worth their 6d, but the 8 January Herald review was glowing: ‘The performing fleas continue to attract a large number of visitors at the City Hall buildings, drawn thither by the interesting and curious nature of the exhibition. Each of the little animals performs his work faithfully, and it is very amusing to see them drawing little carts, sawing wood, raising water, etc.’
The 50th Auckland Anniversary Regatta took place the next day. Henry and Harold caught a ferry to the North Shore but said they couldn’t see very much. According to the Herald, ‘the scene during the afternoon was a grand one, the harbour literally swarming with craft of all description.’ Ironclads, packets, whaleboats, scows, yachts, ferry-boats, dinghies and skiffs, all crowded with spectators or performers.
The second day of festivities featured a swimming carnival at Calliope Dock, waka races and Maori war dances at Takapuna Racecourse. Harold wrote … ‘the swimming was all right, but the war dance was a regular sell, because the crowd would press on them and so they gave it up in disgust. When we were going back again we got into such a crowd on the Devonport Wharf that I could scarcely keep hold of Pa’s coat sleeve, well the crowd was so thick on Devonport Wharf that one of the piles gave way and it let down several feet while we were on it but we got back to Auckland after being in the crowd about half an hour.’
Papers reported that between 20,000 and 30,000 people went across to Devonport with ferries running continually from daylight until midnight. At Takapuna, there was no enclosure for the Maori performers (some 300 of them) and little crowd control, so as Harold said, they gave up and left.
The waka races were disrupted because the harbour was crowded with vessels. Finally, in the afternoon, a course was prepared but there was some confusion and the four waka split into two separate races on different courses. Two had a great race on the proper mark and the other two, one manned by Kaipara men, raced along the foreshore. Papers Past has extensive newspaper coverage of all the events and activities including results of all the various races and competitions. Apart from a few hiccups, the whole Jubilee was a resounding success. It will be interesting to compare the 50th with the 175th celebrations this month.