Marking time

Marking time in December 2011

Friday 23 December 2011

Christmas papers for the lighthouse

My Christmas ‘card’ this year includes this old image from the Illustrated London News. On the left is the bulk of a side-wheel paddle steamer with a man on deck shown in the act of throwing parcels towards three men in a rowing boat close by. Alas, one of the parcels has fallen short of the boat, and one of the men is reaching over the bow to pull it out of the water. From the title, and from the silhouette of a pile lighthouse in the background, we understand the three men are light keepers who have rowed out to meet the steamer to collect the Christmas mail and papers.

I have found several pictures like this, in popular Victorian magazines, that depict light keepers​—​strong, stoic men doing important but lonely work​—​in poignant scenes around Christ­mas time. I can imagine parents showing these pictures to their children, and reminding them how fortunate they were to be in a snug parlour with their family around them, and a dry copy of a Christmas magazine to read.

Christmas papers for the lighthouse, wood engraving of a drawing by W H Overend published in the Christmas supplement to the Illustrated London News, 23 December 1875.

I put ‘card’ in quotes, because I sent it out by email rather than by post. One of the recipients, a friend who works in the light­house business, forwarded it to a friend at Trinity House (the English lighthouse agency), asking which lighthouse was repres­ented in the engraving. So shortly after I sent out the card, I received the news that the lighthouse in the picture was probably a pile light in the Thames estuary​—​either Chapman Sands Light­house (built 1849) or Maplin Sands Lighthouse (built 1838). The expert also had a probable identification for the steamer​—​the Trinity House yacht Galatea (launched 1868).

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Saturday 10 December 2011

Begging for tea cosies

The Queensland Maritime Museum Association emailed its members today, with this charming request:

We are requesting donations of spare Tea Cosies you have at home that are no longer wanted, for use in the member’s mess room at the museum. One of our last remaining Tea Cosies has recently disappeared. Sunday desk volunteer Cassandra Madden has, so far, kindly knitted two re­place­ment ones. We are seeking donations to increase the num­ber available for members to use, to allow for the apparent inevitable attrition over time. There is no need to dispose of stained cosies, if that is what is happening, they can simply be cleaned or washed. If you can help us out, then please let us know, or just bring along a spare Tea Cosy that you no longer use at home.

This evokes the scene in the mess, where people break from their volunteer work of swabbing decks, chipping rust, and brushing paint on the fleet of old boats and other maritime artefacts. A couple of old brown china teapots, each in a hand-me-down knit­ted tea cosy sit comfortably on the table among the volunteers, who are mostly oldish blokes.

Photo of Pillivuyt Helene teapot

I prefer to drink tea freshly made in a white porcelain pot. No tea cosy for me, thank you. The household standby is Madura Pre­mium Blend which I drink, with milk, from a bone china mug.

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