Men in Aprons

I’ve hatched a cunning plan to get you all over the midweek hump, not just today but every week.  It involves a series of photographs of men wearing aprons, the story of a pioneer photographer and a 19th century movement to make every Wednesday a half-holiday.

First, as promised here are the men in aprons.

Lemuel Lyes Collection

Continue for more….

Lemuel Lyes Collection

Lemuel Lyes Collection

Lemuel Lyes Collection

Lemuel Lyes Collection

Lemuel Lyes Collection

Lemuel Lyes Collection

Lemuel Lyes Collection

In their own right these are an extraordinary set of photographs.  Bibles and aprons make me think of a Presbyterian tearoom but these apron-wearing men don’t really look like the sort that would spend the day making pikelets.  No there is something more mysterious going on, something perhaps from the pages of a Dan Brown novel.  But this story doesn’t start in Paris, London, Rome or Washington.  No, this story begins in Balclutha.

And like all good mysteries this story starts with a clue…. In this instance the first clue is a faded photographers stamp that is only just visible on the back of several of the photographs.

Can you figure out what the name is?  It took me a while, tweaking the contrast levels and tint and desperately trying to identify a legible name.  At first I thought it might be Earl Haden but with a closer look you can just make out the curves of a C and the gap in a G to reveal the photographers name, Carl Hagen.

There is a back-story here; I should give you the context.  As mentioned in other posts, I am a collector of ephemera, photographs and anything historical (and therefore cool).  I found this series of photographs in a large auction lot of antique carte de visits from the Otago region.  So in all likelihood Carl Hagen was based in Otago.

Sure enough, a bit of a search and Carl the photographer shows up.  I found him first on this fantastic website which appears to be run by another fan of early photography.  Further searching, this time using the Papers Past website and I found Carl’s earliest advertisement – in the Clutha Leader on 19th January 1877.

Mr Carl Hagen announces he is opening his photography studio behind the Clutha Leader office – opening on Monday 22nd Jan.

Price of Cartes de Visite:

15s per dozen

or 10s per half-dozen.

So he was operating in Balclutha in the late 1870’s, but how do the men in aprons fit into the picture?  By coincidence a public announcement immediately above Carl’s advertisment seemed to offer a potential lead…



I hereby recommend that Wednesday first be observed by the inhabitants of Balclutha as a half-holiday, on the occasion of the ODDFELLOWS’ PICNIC.


Can you imagine for a moment that the mayor of your town/city randomly decided to call a half-holiday next Wednesday because a secret society wanted to have a picnic?  HOW SERIOUSLY AWESOME IS THAT!

So are the apron-wearing men Oddfellows?  It seems unfair to call them odd just because they wear aprons, but to my untrained eye (fraternities aren’t my area of specialty) the regalia and symbols look Masonic.  If there are any experts out there then please correct me if I’m wrong, as there were a lot of fraternities in 19th century New Zealand.  There were Oddfellows, Masons, Foresters, Druids and various offshoots.  But if I had to guess then I’d think these dudes are Masonic.

But are they from Balclutha?  Well that is certainly a possibility, in which case the photographs would’ve been taken in 1877.  I know that because our poor old friend Carl Hagen lasted less than a year in business before going bankrupt.  But there are some other possibilities.  Perhaps Hagen had an earlier business elsewhere in the region.  Also he does pop up again a few years later – in the 1883 Mataura Ensign there is an advertisement for his portrait room in Gore.

It appears that in the late 1880’s Carl Hagen became involved in a plot to finish what the Balclutha Oddfellows started and turn every Wednesday into a half-holiday.  To us 21st century workaholics it sounds far-fetched but on one Friday Evening in March 1889 a crowd gathered in the Gore Town Hall to discuss that very possibility.

“Most of the business firms in the town were represented, and the audience also comprised a good many of the larrikin class who, as the evening wore on, became rather demonstrative”.

Common sense might dictate that if you are going to discuss the possibility of having a half-day holiday every week that a Friday night might not be the best time for such a discussion – especially if you want to avoid “demonstrations” by “the larrikin class”.  One can only imagine what it would’ve been like to be part of that debate.

“A great majority of the business firms had set their names down in favor of closing every Wednesday afternoon at 2 o’clock on a list which had been circulated in the town; and he (the Mayor) thought that if the business people of the place could come to a unanimous agreement to do this, business would not suffer and the afternoon’s relaxation would prove very acceptable”.

Our friend Carl Hagen is on that list of business owners and it appears that the motion was passed.  The first Wednesday half-holiday in Gore was scheduled for 27th March 1889.  I’m unsure how long the Gore half-day Wednesdays lasted for but I must say I’m a little envious that such a proposal was entertained at all.  To my surprise it seems that Gore wasn’t unique, similar proposals were also put forward in other towns.

I can’t for a moment imagine anyone taking the idea seriously in the twenty-first century.  Sadly any remnants of the Wednesday Half-Holiday movement have well and truly vanished and workers carry on struggling over the mid-week hump, oblivious to the dreams of their apron-wearing ancestors.

The photos – they are still a mystery.  They date to the late 1870’s or early 1880’s and I think they are South Island Freemasons but I don’t know their names or even for certain what lodge they were members of.  Please get in touch if you can help solve the mystery.

In the meantime I hope that you larrikins all have a fantastic Wednesday.

© Lemuel Lyes

12 replies »

    • Thanks for stopping by! Yes they are lovely photos, I haven’t seen too many of small-town Freemasons in this part of the world. Late last year I dropped a copy of the images off at the National Freemasonary Museum, I hope to find out more information and will post an update if I’m able to confirm the lodge they came from.

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