Music, art and war

The many musical programmes in the Ashburton Museum’s archive would originally have been kept as a reminder of a concert attended, or perhaps for more personal reasons, such as a particular connection with a performer or an especially pleasant occasion.

Today our interest in these programmes goes far beyond the bare details of what was performed, when and by whom. Now, they are a record of vanished musical groups and their repertoire; a source of information for those seeking family links; or examples of the artistic ability of the printer and the art of typesetting — skills being lost to computers.

One item, an eight page programme booklet for the Ashburton Patriotic Troubadour, formed in 1915, holds particular interest as the centenary of the Great War — now known as the First World War — is being commemorated throughout New Zealand.

The programme’s black, red and white cover is a tribute to the skill of the local printers, Higgins Print.

1. The cover of the Ashburton Patriotic Troubadours souvenir programme from 1914..png

The cover illustration for this ‘Souvenir’ booklet, and a cartoon on an inside page, are by two men who were teachers at the Dunedin School of Art. They are now listed among New Zealand’s war artists, and their work is represented in libraries and galleries throughout the country.

The illustrations may have been specially drawn for the Troubadours or they possibly appeared in other formats. It would be interesting to learn whether the originals have survived and their whereabouts?


The troupe

John Brown, manager of the National Mortgage Company, and William Anderson, a saddler, established the troupe of nine experienced local performers.

They presented, in costume, a varied programme of vocal and instrumental items, along with patriotic addresses, at seven of the County’s outlying townships. The aim was to encourage recruitment and raise money for the Ashburton County war relief effort.

The performers were mostly from three families: David, Mary (an accompanist) and Irene Thomas; Robert and Agnes Hall; and Henry, Martha and Annie Stephenson. All had been making a contribution to the town’s musical entertainments for a number of years so their very presence would have guaranteed audiences an entertaining evening.

The sequence of items for the proposed series of concerts was generic. It meant that the format of proceedings was always the same, with some items performed on every occasion, while others could be varied.

The programme booklet included the words of familiar war-time songs – a clear invitation for the audience to sing along with the performer.

William Anderson, for example, sang ‘Keep the home fires burning’. With words by Lena Ford and composed by Ivor Novello, it was a hit of late 1914.

The Halls also preformed recruiting songs from 1914. Robert performed ‘Fall In’, a poem by Harold Begbie set to music by Frederic Cowen. Agnes sang ‘Your King and Country Want You’, using lyrics and music written by Paul Rubens for women to sing.

In addition, the souvenir programme carried patriotic messages from King George V and prominent New Zealanders. Most important of all, was a ‘pledge sheet’ for those who wished to make a specified monetary contribution to the War Relief Fund.

2. One of the illustrated verses poked fun at Kaiser Wilhelm II..jpg

The illustrations

The cover illustration, encouraging men to enlist, was drawn by Anderson’s father-in-law, Alfred H O’Keeffe (1858-1941). A well-established artist and publican in Dunedin, he had studied at the Académie Julian in Paris during the early 1890s.

The Troubadours first concert was held on 15 November, 1914, in Hinds. By that time, Anderson’s two sons Victor and Lawrence had both died at Gallipoli, lending poignancy and immediacy to the cover and to the messages exhorting ‘men to do their duty by King and country’.

Inside the programme a delightful cartoon by another Dunedin artist, Ernest H Thompson (1892-1971), illustrates verses poking fun at Kaiser Wilhelm II. The author and date of writing is unknown.

Thompson enlisted in November 1915 and became a well-known war cartoonist. At the end of the war he did not return to New Zealand but remained in Britain and continued with a career in art.

3. The picture accompanying the verse Humble Pie..png

By Margaret Bean



  1. The cover of the Ashburton Patriotic Troubadours souvenir programme from 1914.
  2. Ashburton Patriotic Troubadours programme.
  3. One of the illustrated verses poked fun at Kaiser Wilhelm
  4. The verse Humble Pie.


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