November 2 1905

Billy’s Trip Home

The day after the All Blacks’ defeat of Surrey the 1905 team is the guest of New Zealanders in England, and it seems a good time was had by all. But Billy Stead, a boot maker, finds the lot of the English artisan does not compare with that of his New Zealand counterpart.


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“On Thursday November 2 we were once more back at the Manchester Hotel, London, back to the hum and bustle which seem to never alter in this pulse of the world. At 5.30pm the team were at the Alexandra Restaurant, Piccadilly, in response to an invitation extended to them by New Zealanders in England. The High Commissioner, Mr Reeves,1. occupied the chair, and a real tip-top dinner, a Ia Francaise, was thoroughly enjoyed by us all. Some idea of the immensity and capabilities of these London restaurants may be gathered from the fact that eight such dinners as ours were all going on at the same time at these rooms. No speeches were intended, but, as the chairman very happily remarked, our hosts felt so glad at our presence there and so proud of us, their countrymen, not only as footballers but as private citizens of New Zealand, that he felt he must say something of what was in the minds of all. His speech inspired us all, and, given impromptu as it was, had a vein of good humour running through it that seemed to bring out his points more clearly. He assured us that during ten years’ residence in his official capacity in London, at no time, not even excepting the Boer War, had the papers been so full of New Zealand or had so many inquiries been made at his office for handbooks on our country. He paid a high tribute to the foresight of the NZ Rugby Union, who, in the face of many difficulties, and at a great financial risk, had organized this tour, which, apart from football, was giving such publicity to Maoriland. Taken all in all, both from personal attentions received from Mr Reeves, and the respect in which his name is received throughout this land, I can assure you that in our High Commissioner we have a man eminently fitted for the important position and one who has plenty of tact in dealing with matters relating to our colony. We were afterwards driven as their guests to the Palace Theatre, and then to supper at our hotel, bringing to a close one of the most delightful evenings I have ever spent. At the palace we had the pleasure of seeing ourselves play in several of the matches by aid of the Cinematograph, as I dare say many of you will before we get back. Several gentlemen have very kindly placed their motor cars and drivers at our convenience while we are in London, and with such convenient means of transit we have been able to see many places which otherwise, on account of the tired feeling which comes over you after a day’s outing, catching trains, omnibuses etc, we would not have bothered about. A walk through the Smithfield meat markets, threequarters of a mile long, by a quarter wide, gives one a faint conception of the immensity of London, and wandering around, in and out, among the millions of carcasses of New Zealand and Argentine frozen mutton one is inclined to ponder, and wonder how we should get on without such a market, or indeed how the market (and of course I mean London) would get on without us. I do not attempt with my feeble ideas, to give you a panorama of London. Abler minds than mine have already done that. All I attempt is to give you my ideas in so far as they strike one who, colonially born, suddenly finds himself in the hub of the universe with its teeming millions of people.

Seated where I am, on the seventh floor of a huge hotel, high above, but still plainly in sight of, the congested traffic, and on a level with the millions of clusters of chimney pots, I continually find myself contrasting the strenuous struggle for existence here in London town, with the easy-going happy routine of life in Invercargill, and indeed, of all our colonial towns. Out and about early in the mornings, one misses the happy contented look of our eight o’clock workmen; there are no greetings, no cheery “Good mornings”; each one appears to be alone in London. Analyse their daily life and contrast it with our advanced sanitary conditions and eight hours’ system of labour with adequate pay, and you will, I think, see something of the reason for these pallid, pinched faces of the artisan class in London. Taken as a general rule, the London artisan is not within walking distance of his work. He may live ten to fifteen miles away, and has to have a workman’s ticket for some particular railway or tram as the case may be. He has to be at work at 6.30am, breakfast at 8, lunch at 12 and tea at 5.30, finishing at 7pm. By the time he has arrived home again and cleaned, is the man intellectually or physically fit to have any amusement or does his pay (usually 30s a week) give him any surplus to pay a visit to a theatre or any other form of amusement? You might say that from 5.3Oam till 8pm his trade is his master, controlling every action, requiring his concentrated thought, for should he break down or deteriorate in his work he is promptly put out. There are plenty to jump into his place. In business I should hazard the assumption that a man has to do twice the turnover with a corresponding increase in hard work and worry to get the profits of a similar tradesman in New Zealand.

Round about Smithfield market and Billingsgate market I noticed dozens of poor decrepit old women and emaciated children picking through the street sweepings for pieces of meat, fat and fish, and horrible though it is to relate, on my asking a policeman, he said: “Well, can’t you guess by ther look on ther (aices wot they wants it for?” I have also a suspicion that much of the orange peel that these scavengers gather from the streets finds its way into a jam jar.

I had the extreme pleasure of being shown through Scotland Yard by a detective acquaintance and also through their museum. While there, a famous pickpocket with a glass eye was brought in, who stoutly defied them to tind three sovereigns which he was accused of abstracting from a lady’s pocket. They found them, for on looking up records they found that at Birmingham he was noted for sometimes having two eyes, sometimes only one. On this occasion he took his glass eye out and put the money in the socket.

1.William Pember Reeves (1857-1932), writer, poet, politician, diplomat. Reeves was agent- general and later high commissioner for Ness Zealand in the United Kingdom from 1896 until 1908. One of the last poems by Reeves, who had also played rugby and cricket for Canterbury, was a tribute to the Invincible All Blacks of 1924-25, called ‘The Last of the Twenty-Eight”.”

 

Billy Stead.

From “Billy’s Trip Home” published 2005 by NZ Sports Hall of Fame p. 35 – 37.