I recently visited Newcastle and Liverpool, two great northern English cities. There is much I could write about Liverpool in particular, and its fascinating history, but time is running out to write about such things before we return to New Zealand. Among the most interesting things about Liverpool are its many connections to the wider world through its role as a port city. So it is perhaps not entirely surprising to find signs there of Liverpool’s links, through trade and emigration, with New Zealand.
For a start, there is New Zealand House. It’s a fairly undistinguished building, and I can’t find out what its original purpose was, although in recent times it has apparently been used as the venue for a ‘trendy nightspot‘ patronised by celebrities and politicians.
Not too far from New Zealand House is the Cunard Building, one of the famous ‘Three Graces‘ (three spectacular, early twentieth-century buildings on the Liverpool waterfront). The Cunard Building was the headquarters of the Cunard Line, and to represent the company’s global operations, the outside of the building features the heads of different ‘races’ from around the world. And what should we find there but a head meant to represent Maori, complete with feather and chin moko (tattoo).
In the early twentieth century, the Cunard Line was in competition with the White Star Line, also based in Liverpool, particularly for the trans-Atlantic passenger market. The White Star Line is perhaps most famous today for being the company that owned the Titanic, and an excellent exhibition at the Liverpool Maritime Museum explores Liverpool’s connection with the Titanic story (including the competition between the Cunard and White Star lines), something I’d previously been unaware of.
As part of the exhibition, the museum has displayed an elaborate dinner service presented in 1885 to the founder and chairman of the White Star Line, Thomas Ismay, by the company’s shareholders. The dinner service was designed ‘to illustrate the progress of the art of navigation from earliest times, to the present day’. It includes what seems to be a figure of Captain Cook – and also a tiny Maori waka (canoe) and hoe (paddle). New Zealand finds its way into the most unexpected places!