Dog-drowning, pea-stuffing and endurance piano-playing

Workers in the bush: a group at a loading bank in the King Country. - Otago Witness, 19.7.1911.

If you know me at all well, you’ll know I love a combination of old newspapers, New Zealand, history and funny stories. In the past I’ve often used New Zealand National Library‘s wonderful website, Papers Past, to browse old NZ newspapers, but the Otago Daily Times website cuts out the effort and posts interesting stories from one hundred years ago. You can find the index here, and subscribe to the RSS feed too.

As well as just being an interesting insight into Dunedin and its surrounds one hundred years ago, the stories are often quirky, amusing – or just plain silly. Sometimes it’s the stuffy, turn-of-the-century wording that raises a smirk, but other times it’s simply the outright bizarreness that amuses. None more so than the triple-whammy in this post from a couple of months ago, dated May 1911.

The missive begins, disarmingly, with:

A comedy, which was not without its serious side, was enacted in the harbour the other evening (says the Timaru Herald). A man had grown tired of his old retriever dog, and hit upon a novel way of getting rid of him.


He rowed to the harbour mouth in company with the dog, and there tipped the weighted animal out. The dog’s death-struggle was greater than the owner has reckoned upon, however, for he succeeded in paddling boatwards and sprang so suddenly into the fragile craft that the man lost his balance and was tipped into the water.


It was then that the funniest scene as viewed by a watchman and some wharf workers took place, the dripping dog squattingly carelessly in the boat and watching his master splutter and splash for a place of safety. Assistance was soon at hand, and the man, thoroughly exhausted, was rescued.


The dog was towed ashore and will now be disposed of by another method – anything but drowning.

Blimey. A comedy – not without its serious side – indeed. And I love that the dog was still put-down even after all that! If dog-drowning wasn’t enough, then how’s this for novel vegetable storage:

The Greymouth correspondent of the Lyttelton Times states that for about six years the 10-year-old daughter of Mr and Mrs J Stewart, of Kumara, has been suffering from deafness, and apparently was getting worse. Syringing and other treatments have been carried on without effect, but the other day Dr Phillips, by the aid of electric light, discovered a piece of foreign substance in each ear. The obstructions were removed and on examination proved to be peas. The peas had evidently been put in by the child when very young, and had lodged in her ears for the past six years.

Mmm. Mushy ear peas. And finally, after those two delightful tales, how about some record-breaking endurance piano-playing?

INVERCARGILL: James S Stirton, an endurance piano-player, finished a feat on Saturday night which, it is claimed, constitutes a world’s record for endurance piano-playing. Stirton, whose performance was supervised by a local committee, commenced playing at 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning, and by 11 o’clock on Saturday night he had been playing continuously for 86 hours.


He finished strongly at 5 minutes past 11, amidst great excitement on the part of some 600 people who had assembled in the hall. Stirton, though a little haggard looking, was apparently none the worse for his self-inflicted ordeal and was warmly cheered at the conclusion of a brisk address to his audience.

Wow. I should hope he was more than “warmly cheered” after playing for half a week non-stop. Mind you, it doesn’t specify whether the audience stayed for the duration, and I can’t imagine I’d manage more than a ‘warm cheer’ after that long a performance.

PS: I was going to subtitle this blog post with ‘An ODT, it’s true’ – but I realised it was such a cringingly awful, not to mention niche pun that I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. But, as much as I couldn’t bring myself to do so, I also couldn’t let it go unused entirely. So there you have it.