This morning my research into the New Zealand Free Lance Paper was interrupted by British Gas’s smart new digital technology which required turning off our electricity power. Our smart meter was due an upgrade, mainly in order for me to access this device from my smart mobile phone. I have no wish ever to do this. Never mind, the procedure was required.
What has this to do with an ancient Antipodean journal?
The answer is provided by the story of my great uncle and aunt John and Holly Evans,
Further information came yesterday in the form of a comment from Sarah Birnie, an Australian seeking to add to her own story and perhaps benefit further from ours. As a descendent of Holly’s twin sister, Jackie’s degrees of cousinship chart suggests that Sarah and I are third cousins once or twice removed, depending on Sarah’s age.
This led me to ask my first cousin Yvonne, now living in Spain, for photographs I knew she had of Jack, Holly, and Betty.
One of these images, from the 20th February 1915 issue of the aforementioned New Zealand journal, shows a flyer advertising The Dental Riskits appearing at His Majesty’s Theatre. From the addresses of other advertisers on page 31 I believe this to be the one now termed St James Theatre, Wellington.
‘The Free Lance was one of New Zealand’s most popular weekly, pictorial newspapers. It was first published in Wellington in 1900 by Geddis and Blomfield as a spin-off from their successful Auckland weekly, the NZ Observer and Free Lance. The publishers split the title, with the Auckland paper becoming the NZ Observer and the Wellington paper taking the name Free Lance.
Despite its initial association with the Observer, the Free Lance soon developed as a separate publication with the Geddis family concentrating on the Free Lance and Blomfield the Observer. The editor James McRobert Geddis (1856-1935) later became sole proprietor and in 1920 the Geddis family formed a private company to run the paper. The Geddis family were involved with the management of the Free Lance until it was incorporated into the New Zealand Weekly News in 1960. Its demise left the Weekly News as the last pictorial weekly in New Zealand.
The Free Lance was a typical weekly; conservative and mainstream with much coverage given to royalty, New Zealand scenery, high society and sport. It was noted for its political cartoons. It carried the work of some of the country’s top cartoonists including John Gilmour, Gordon Minhinnick, Tom Ellis (Tom Glover), E.F. Hiscocks and Stuart Peterson. The Free Lance was fortunate to begin publishing at the same time as there was a flowering of local cartooning talent. The Free Lance not only benefited from this but also played a significant role in fostering this talent and pictorial journalism in general.’ (https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/free-lance).
As I have now learned, Holly, already having lost two children, died of the dreadful Spanish flu of 1918 – 1920. Following the devastation of World War I this killer wiped out 100,000,000 more lives across the globe. The great aunt I never knew was then aged 28 years and 9 months. The disease was contracted while performing at Rotherham in Yorkshire and she is buried at Harrogate cemetery.
Having lost a wife and two children, John
later married Betty, seen performing in the post highlighted above. Given that her husband suspended her from his teeth, their stage name was most apt. The views of Jack’s dentists are not recorded.
This afternoon we dined on the rest of Jackie’s tasty mixed grill casserole; creamy mashed potatoes; and crisp cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli, with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Saint-Chinian.