Dry Docks and Sunspots

People are always trying to predict and speculate on the future – it’s often more important to us than the present.

Whether we are thinking ahead at work, checking the weather, or making financial decisions, the future is always on our minds.

The distant future, too, is often the subject of much discussion and thought, as we wonder what our towns, cities, and society as a whole will be like in a few decades’ time.

Will humankind inevitably expend all its available resources and fall, or will we manage to keep our planet afloat?

Questions and predictions regarding the future of Ashburton, as well as the future of Earth altogether, were often published in the Ashburton Guardian and Herald last century and earlier, and some in particular are worth looking back at for novelty’s sake.

The Chicago of NZ?

Back in the late 1870s there were some who had grand visions for the town, as New Zealand showed no signs of staggering when it came to our seemingly exponential growth.

One very proud, almost comically hopeful piece of “odd gossip” from an early 1878 Ashburton Herald envisioned the future of Ashburton as being, of all things, a busy harbour city.

This article claimed that Ashburton “is, or is to be, the Chicago of New Zealand”, and goes on to speculate that if the engineer Sir John Coode were to provide the town with a harbour and dry docks, then “imagination cannot grasp our future.”

While this never came to pass, one piece that featured prominently in a March 1897 Guardian was titled “The Survival of the Fittest”.

It went into depth regarding the study of species, and posed some pretty poignant questions on extinction and conservation which still hold up today.

This piece laments on the declining numbers of elephants, rhinoceroses, bison, giraffes, zebras, and various other species, and the author of the article went on to state “their final extinction is but a question of time, unless steps be taken to prevent their indiscriminate slaughter by ivory hunters, or those who hunt in the interests of showmen.”

We often forget that such observations have been consistent throughout the last hundred and fifty years or so, and the author goes on to ask a question that many of us still ask today: “What, then, will we have left in a century or two hence?”

Planetary Panic

An article republished in the Guardian from the Dunedin Evening Star’s London correspondent in 1897 describes the claims of a Professor S. J. Corrigan from America, who believed that the end was nigh and that he had the science to prove it.

Corrigan believed that sunspot activity on the surface of the sun was due to the evolution of an entirely new planet, which would come to sit between that star and Mercury, and that there were already three new planets existing in that part of the solar system.

He claimed that if this new planet broke away from the sun, a massive explosion would occur which “will produce a great disturbance of the entire universe, but particularly of the earth, perhaps completely smashing it.”

It seems that Corrigan’s speculations had an impact on discussion around the town and they were not simply ignored, as an article published less than two weeks later references Corrigan’s new planet.

This later article, lamenting tough liquor and gambling laws, claims that people will bet and drink no matter what, and have since the beginning of recorded history, and “will continue to do so, we have no doubt, until Professor Corrigan’s planet puts an end to mundane affairs.”

The Year 2000

Sir Julius Vogel, New Zealand’s first Jewish premier, published a novel in 1889 entitled “Anno Domini 2000”, or “Woman’s destiny”, which envisioned a world in which women held the highest positions in government, and poverty was non-existent. Interestingly, this novel was published four years before women gained the right to vote in New Zealand.

A modern 2000 edition included a list of some of Vogel’s other predictions, compiled by academic Roger Robinson, and these included things such as the media’s interest in celebrity gossip becoming politically influential, an independent and rich Ireland, the prominence of hydroelectric power, the environmental impact of industrial technology, New Zealand’s leading role in Antarctic research, universal air travel in lightweight aluminium ‘air-cruisers’, and, most astonishingly, instant communication in the form of ‘hand telegraph’.

Keeping in mind the fact that Vogel thought of all of this before even the start of the twentieth century – before the Wright brothers’ first flight and all – it is clear that some predictions regarding the future can be bang on!

By Connor Lysaght

This article has been modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 10th of December 2019.

Captions

  1. An advert from a 1943 Guardian, predicting the domestic benefits that were to come after the second world war
  2. What the Council in the 1960s believed their civic center and surrounds may have looked like in the 21st century
  3. Sir Julius Vogel, c. 1870
  4. Burnett’s Transport Kenworth Transporter with a 72 ton turbine for a hydroelectric dam – just proof of one of Vogel’s predictions coming true.

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