Ball Invitations and Dance Cards

1912 Ball Invitation

Wednesday July 24th 1912 was a fairly unremarkable day.  No liners collided with icebergs, no Archdukes were assassinated and no Kings were crowned.  But today does mark a special centenary that I thought I’d share with you.

It was one hundred years ago today that the Lyttelton Railway workers enjoyed their annual ball.  I know this because I have a double ticket.

Lemuel Lyes Collection

It is hard to believe that I’ve managed two and a half months of blogging about history and haven’t yet introduced one of my smaller but favourite ephemera obsessions.  I’ve been collecting ball tickets and dance cards for at least a decade and the pickings can be very slim.  It has taken that long to amass enough to warrant keeping them in their own album and that is one of the reasons they are among my most prized collections.

Is it appropriate for a Kiwi male to collect dance cards and ball invitations?  Probably not but that hasn’t stopped me yet.  They offer a rare personal glimpse into the social life of yesteryear and one thing I love about them is that in most instances it seems probable that any existing cards will be the only example of that one left in existence.  That is except for the Lyttelton Railway Annual Ball of 1912, I know this because I have two of them.

So what details of the event can we find out from the ticket?

The venue was the Lyttelton Oddfellow’s Hall.  This is certainly not unusual; many of my ball tickets are for events that were held in the halls of various fraternities.  As I mentioned in a post last week, back then those kinds of groups were widespread even in small town New Zealand.  Many community halls were built as memorials to those lost in the two world wars but those in 1912 had so far been spared such large-scale senseless sacrifice.  This hall was destroyed by fire in 1961 and so spared the fate of many other historical structures that were sadly lost in the devastating 2011 earthquake.

The printer was Rose & Hatton who I’ve confirmed were in business in Lyttelton then.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a link to the Oddfellows lodge as I’ve found reference for them doing some other work for events held there.

It seems a little unusual that a workplace would hold an annual ball on a Wednesday evening and advertise that dancing is to take place until 2am.  I do hope that the railway workers and their dates were allowed a bit of a sleep-in the next day!

The Honorary Secretary mentioned in the bottom right is A. Evenden.  It seems likely that this was Alfred Henry William Evenden who is listed in this 1916 list of Railway Workers fighting in the First World War.  He is also mentioned in this article on Papers Past as a Lieutenant in the No. 4 Company (Lyttelton) New Zealand Garrison Artillery at Fort Jervois.  I imagine that one hundred years ago he proudly surveyed the dance floor, watching the couples enjoying the occasion that he had arranged.

As a bit of an insight into what an annual ball of the time would be like I found this article on Papers Past which shares a few details about the very first Lyttelton Railway Annual Ball, in 1903.

Star , Issue 7835, 15 October 1903, Page 3
Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand

I imagine the ball that took place one hundred years ago would’ve been very similar to the one described above.  A letter from the Minister of Railways, plenty of dancing until the early hours, perhaps a song and an Irish jig or two and a room for misfits like yours truly to play cards in.  Doesn’t sound half bad for a Wednesday night out, even by today’s standards.

It was exactly one hundred years ago today that a ball was held for railway workers in the port of Lyttelton.  In just a few years many of those young men would enlist to fight in a war, in fifty years the dance floor would be lost to a fire and in just under a hundred years the whole town would be rocked like never before.  Such is history.

As for the two tickets in my possession… I’d love to be able to attend but in true fashion am a century too late.

© Lemuel Lyes

3 replies »

  1. That is such a cool thing to have. And ephemera brings history alive for us in so many ways.

    I was last in Lyttleton in 2009 – walked up through the cemetery (my wife and I often check out old cemeteries – great history), stood under the timeball tower. All gone now. A tragedy.

    • Thanks for stopping by! It really is sobering to see how quickly one place can change. Lyttelton is one of the places that helped fuel my interest in history and if anything I feel extremely fortunate to have known the “old Lyttelton” before the quake.

      I was there last Boxing Day and it was very sad to see how much has been lost. Where beautiful old buildings once stood there are now temporary shops operating out of shipping containers. I just hope that the rebuild can recapture some of the charm that the old Lyttelton had.

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