Friday 19 July 2019

The more you have it - the more you want. Thames's season of madness.

It started rather modestly in March 1888.  St George’s Hall, Thames, was secured for the roller skating season.  At its opening the Virginia Rink, as it was called, was decorated with flags and a brass band played. The Virginia was the preserve of the Thames Rinking Club. Mr Keven’s, manager, had been to Auckland to purchase a large number of roller skates. Special sessions were offered for ladies. The Virginia Rink drew fair crowds of skaters and spectators, and there was an expectation that Saturday evenings would be busy.

Thames Star 14 May 1888

But there was something on the horizon that would totally eclipse the Virginia -  the Columbia Elite Skating Rink.

‘Rinking’, as roller skating was then known, was the latest craze in Auckland and now it swept into Thames.

In April negotiations took place between the proprietors of the Columbia Elite Skating Rink and Charles Curtis of the Pacific Hotel to convert the adjoining Academy of Music into a building suitable for rinking purposes.

Columbia Rinks were the brainchild of Mr Albert Newton Ridgley, an American speculator, who had established skating rinks across Australia where roller skating developed as a fashionable means of recreation.

Mr Ridgley extended his enterprise to New Zealand.  Each branch was grandly called the Columbia Elite Skating Rink and halls were secured all over the country.  One, called the Columbia Skating Palace in Wellington, was the centre of operations.  The energetic Mr Ridgley was described as being “possessed of a truly Yankee spirit”.

The Columbia rinks were not for just anyone – they were intended to be patronised by the elite of every city.

Columbia advertisements announced “Any respectable classes go there – enjoy themselves and yet not get acquainted with each other anymore than if they were skating on Lake Michigan.”

Mr Salmon was the proprietor.  Based in Auckland he made frequent visits to Thames to oversee the progress of the Columbia.   He was thoroughly experienced in the roller skating business both in the colonies and throughout America.

The very debonair Mr Robert Henry Beattie was to manage the Thames Columbia.  

Both Mr Beattie and Mr Salmon were accomplished skaters.

Mr Beattie rapidly adapted the Academy of Music to its new purpose.   The stage and flooring were torn up and to strengthen the new flooring a hundred loads of mullock were placed between the house blocks.  New joists were added.  The flooring was entirely new and double – a surface laid over the ordinary flooring, constructed of tongue and grooved and mitred planking.  The ‘surface’ represented a skating area 80 ft by 33 ft.

At the ends where skaters had to wheel around, the planks were arranged in a half circle so as to give good grip and prevent slipping.  The remaining 40ft of the building was utilised for offices, a skate room, and a ladies retiring room, while part of the lower floor was reserved for spectators. 

Mr Beattie declared that the Academy of Music would hardly be recognisable in its new garb.  This was the 11th Columbia rink built in New Zealand, and no accident had ever occurred in any of them.

‘Acme’ skates which are so popular in Auckland were to be used at the Thames rink.

Thames Star 14 May 1888

The Columbia Elite Skating Rink opened at Thames on 14 May ushering in ‘Rinking Mania’ and Thames’s season of madness.

The Columbia was breathtaking. The Academy of Music had been completely transformed.
In the main entrance were lighted portraits of Mr Salmon and Mr Beattie as well as six pictures of skating poses. 

The walls were bedecked with greenery, flags of all kinds were hanging in festoons from the ceiling, and carefree skaters circled the oval on a surface as smooth as ice. 

 In the skate room were 300 skates of varying sizes.  The ladies retiring room was carpeted and furnished with toilet requisites. Snuggeries were reserved for the gentlemen only to indulge in a sit down and a cigar.

To add zest and flair to the opening of the rink Mr Salmon had chartered the steamer Osprey to run to Thames bringing a number of sparkling people from Auckland.

Special invitations had been issued and there were upwards of 500 ladies and gentlemen present.  Long before the 8pm opening every seat was occupied and the gallery was crowded.

The rink was formally opened by Mayor A Brodie.  He said roller skating was one of the most healthy and exhilarating exercises that could be indulged in.

Mr Salmon gave an exhibition of his skill in fancy skating, going through a series of graceful gyrations with such ease as to elicit great applause.

Master Harrison demonstrated his wonderful proficiency in the art of roller skating, commencing with a burlesque exhibition.

The mishaps of beginners gave considerable amusement to onlookers.

Mr Beattie and Mr Salmon were most attentive to their patrons and the evening passed off as “merrily as the proverbial marriage bell.”

Despite the great attraction of the Columbia opening, the Virginia Skating Rink was also crowded that night.   There were an unusually large number of rinkists on the floor and the supply of skates didn’t meet demand. In consequence of the increased patronage Mr Keven contemplated improving the hall, and inviting tenders for planning the floor and effecting other necessary improvements.  The majority of the Thames Rinking Club members made excellent progress and their rinking was very graceful.

Columbia Rink ticket
Public Domain

During May the Auckland Columbia rinks best instructor, Mr Rix came to Thames to assist Mr Beattie.   Mr Beattie’s enterprising management of the Columbia rink proved a source of marvel to the Thames public.

Mr. Beattie and Mr Rix were noted for their uniform courtesy and readiness to lend a helping hand wherever needed.  It did not make the slightest difference whether the help be required by a pretty young lady or one of the sterner sex.  Mr Beattie and Mr Rix often had their hands full (literally) assisting the novices around. 

Mr A Wells, in charge of the skate room, was also praised for his obliging manner and the pains he took in selecting skates to suit the patrons of the rink.

A weekly series of novelties was planned – such as skipping rope on skates, a hoop race, a balloon race and eventually a football match on skates.

The Thames Star began a column titled ‘At The Rink’ detailing the  progress of patrons –

 “The skating of Mr F W Law, Pollen Street, was much admired for its easy graceful style.  

Mr R R McGregor, accompanied by two of his boys, were evidently enjoying themselves and are making capital progress.
Mr W Wilkes is becoming quite an enthusiastic rinker, and has made rapid progress since his debut on opening night.
Mr J Jordan is fast coming to the front as a proficient skater and his perseverance and pluck are indomitable.
It is wonderful to observe how the novices of only a week ago have progressed, while old hands fly round faster than ever.
Dr Williams and Mr Mair, who have only been on the floor a few times, were gliding along most joyously and smoothly. “

“Thames”, the captivated reporter noted, “seems to have gone rinking mad. Rinking is a very fascinating pastime.  The more you have it, the more you want.”

But it was the women’s clothes at the Columbia that grabbed the attention of the press  – piles of paragraphs described the hats, costumes, satin, ribbons, ornaments, trimming, feathers, lace, buttons, velvets, gloves, veiling’s, furs and tartans. 

The ‘Ladies Fashionable Evenings’ were a rich source of fashion fascinations.  ‘”Mrs Balydon wore a becoming grey costume braided with black, Mrs Purchas - a dark green dress , tall black hat with white feathers, Mrs Blair- a very appropriate brown costume with plush hat.”

 During Queen’s Birthday the Columbia Elite Rink was tested to its utmost capacity in supplying roller skates to the patrons who besieged the entrance fully half an hour before the advertised time of opening.  Mr Beattie, with his accustomed urbanity, and even more smiling than usual, came to their relief by granting them admission 15 minutes in advance of the usual time.

There were 159 ladies and gents gracefully gilding over the floor to the strains of seductive music.  All appeared proficient in the fascinating art, and bore testimony to the untiring efforts of Mr Beattie and his staff of instructors.

The view from the dress circle, at all times picturesque, was a stunning moving panorama.  The range of skating costumes harmoniously blended in an ever changing series of chameleon colours and brilliantly reflected the rays from the chandelier.

The reporter detailed over 40 women’s costumes which appeared to be becoming more extravagant and competitive amongst Thames’s ‘elite’.  Mrs Styak  swept past in a handsome cloak and white bonnet trimmed with claret plush, Mrs McGregor flaunted a rich dress of black silk and lace, a tall hat with long scarlet feathers, and Miss McWatters was very becoming in a dress of pale blue Nun’s veiling, richly trimmed with cream lace.

The weather was not favourable for holiday picnics and outdoor amusements and the Columbia rink was crowded at all sessions.   The ladies were the most enthusiastic rollerists, some attending three sessions and when the gong sounds for closing they wished for another hour.  The freedom of movement when roller skating was intoxicating to ladies otherwise trussed up in Victorian garb and rigid rules.

To the relief of many the Thames Star announced “Good news for rinkomaniacs! Fifty more pairs of skates were received by Mr Beattie today from Auckland.”

Meanwhile, the Virginia, Thames’s rink for the not-so-elite, soldiered on.  The Thames Rinking club had decided to close.   The proprietor of the Virginia found that owing to increasing attendance it would pay to better open St George’s Hall to the public and in the future the floor would be available to all five evenings a week and also Saturday afternoons. 
Superintendent  West of the Thames Fire Brigade was observed making rapid progress on the brass rollers and  Master C Keven at 10 years old was noted as an excellent rinkist  constantly  seen gliding along  at the Virginia.   Mr Joe Carter sailed along very nicely and Bandmaster Moyle promised to become a proficient rinkist.  Mr J Floyd moved on brass rollers very gracefully to the envy of others.

Back at the Columbia, by the end of May, the old gallery had been transformed into a dress circle, newly painted and papered, and furnished with fifty Austrian bent wood chairs.

The entertainments continued to dazzle. Mr Salmon gave an exhibition of fancy and trick skating, performing the many intricate movements possible on roller skates.  His performance was greatly admired.

A football game on skates was announced with the caution that it must not be confused with the game played in the open air.  There was to be no element of roughness, no pulling or tugging whatever – indeed football on skates was as refined a pastime as lawn tennis.

A large crowd assembled to watch the game.  Punctually at 9pm the floor was cleared and play commenced.  The skating was really excellent – even though the competitors were all more or less novices.  During the game excitement was at times intense, and the various scrums tremendously enjoyed by onlookers.

Rolling with the times Mr Whitehead, boot and shoe shop owner of Brown Street, displayed in his window two ladies boots specially intended for wearing at the rink.  They were mounted on skates and inspection was invited by all interested  gentlewomen.

Rinking, though, was not popular with everyone in Thames.  Its evils were decried from various pulpits and then the Thames Debating Society weighed in, scoffing at its frivolity  during the “much talked of Depression.”

“It is very refreshing and cheering to find that the so called hard-upness on this town is a myth.  How can people crowd continuously to, and pay for, pleasure of this kind if they were in straitened circumstances? . . . .  And then there are the elaborate toilets of the ladies – so rich, tasteful and wonderful are they that they are particularised in the public prints of Thames and Auckland.”    Rinking, the speaker fumed, also led to elopements.

In a Thames Star column called Passing Notes by Rambler the writer shot back  that rinking was “one of the most harmless and innocent pastimes and healthy with that, that can be imagined.  It has been, and is every day, indulged in by clergymen of every denomination, not only in New Zealand but in other parts of the world . . . the argument that has been used against it, as to some frequenting the rink who cannot afford it, is simply an interference and meddling with other people’s business.”

As for the publishing of the details of women’s costumes -  the gentleman of the Debating Association who alluded to the matter in very sarcastic terms,  must remember that “he is still, unfortunately for himself, a bachelor and may therefore by pardoned from speaking on a subject which he cannot have – or should not have – any experience.” 

All the condemnation in the world, Rambler announced, would never “have the slightest effect in preventing the fair sex from dressing in their most becoming costumes when appearing in public or the press from publishing them for the information and edification of their readers.”

Undeterred, the ladies of Thames skated on and in June Tuesdays as well as Thursdays were set aside as Ladies Fashionable evenings.  

“No healthier or merrier or jollier amusement can there be found during evenings like we are having now, than rinking,”  happily observed one.

Miss Mulvaney is a very pretty skater, graceful as well as efficient, she wore a navy blue costume with pale blue cuffs and a turban hat.

Mrs Kilgour occasionally patronises the Columbia; her costume last evening of black cashmere, velvet jacket and black velvet hat with yellow wings, was much admired.

Miss Bagnall is fast becoming a graceful rinkist, becomingly attired in brown and white and cardinal hat with wings.

Mrs Blair, who has become quite an adept at fancy skating, and is quite at home on rollers, wore a dark brown costume with black felt hat and white wings . . . .

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-18930805-58-1

As June spun on, so did the merriment  at the Columbia Elite. A grand gala night featuring Mr Dixon, an amateur fast skater, was well attended. Mr Beattie cleared the floor for Dixon punctually at 9pm.  Dixon demonstrated circling the rink with ease and then raced half a mile against time – namely 16 laps of the rink.  He accomplished the half mile in 2 minutes 20 seconds.  After this a polo match was played which afforded great amusement to spectators and players and after a ludicrous series of calisthenics resulted in a draw.

The popular Mr Beattie demonstrated his prowess outside of the rink as well when waiting for the steamer during gusty weather one night. When he saw a man lose his balance and fall towards the water, Mr Beattie grabbed him by the collar which gave way but a second grab under the arm saved him from falling further.  Mr Beattie was a professional swimmer and had already received three Humane Society medals for saving life.

Mr Beattie continued to bring style and culture to the Columbia. He engaged Hunter’s brass band consisting of cornet, double bass and piano which performed in the middle of the floor during the Ladies Fashionable evenings. 

 Although always charming and accommodating Mr Beattie did have his limits.   When approached by a number of ladies who asked that one evening in the week be reserved for them as a specially fashionable night, and from which the “common herd” would be strictly excluded, Mr Beattie at once firmly but courteously declined their request.

The ladies regal request sparked outrage at Thames.   Letters were fired off to the Thames Star, who published a sample of two, adding that  “We think the matter should now be allowed to drop."

One writer denounced the suggestion to exclude “the ‘common herd’ from attending the rink when aristocracy grace the boards with their presence. . . . These so-called ladies cannot lay claim to pride of birth, nor do I think they deserve their title in any sense of the word, as no true lady would make any distinction, nor think herself disgraced by mingling with the ‘common herd’, provided they were respectable and well conducted . . . Mr Beattie deserves the greatest credit for refusing such a request.”

Another wrote “I am sure it would have been a very good thing, as we could have found out in this way who the ‘elite of the Thames’ really are.  But as the manager has been so unkind as to refuse their request, perhaps, Mr Editor, you would publish their names, or enlighten us in some way so that we of the ‘common herd’ could keep out of their way and make room for them.”

There was a perceived slipping of standards at the Columbia - a young lady at the rink appeared to forget herself and called a lad “a little beast”  and an accidental jostle in the crowd caused an older lady to turn around and bark “You brute!” 

The evils of rinking were also being trumpeted in national newspapers.  In Dunedin instead of attending to her home duties and helping to keep the house in order, a young lady went to the rink night after night, and her poor mother suffered both in health and pocket.   A young gentleman skated himself into a shadow of his former self.  There were warnings, that owing to the construction of the roller skate, it was likely to produce bunchy and lose jointed knees and ankles, and consequently an ungraceful carriage.

Complaints of petty thieving from Columbia Elite’s were made across the country.  One gentleman had two hats stolen, while another lost a gold breast pin.

Even worse were reports from Melbourne where deaths caused by rinking included one female who fell down in a sitting position and the jar of her contact with the floor caused concussion of the spine.  Another female fell full length and a hairpin in her head dress penetrated her skull, reaching the brain and causing instantaneous death.

None of this deterred Thames rinkists where, in late June, the lively sight of 200 skaters on rollers testified to the continual popularity of the Columbia Rink. The costumes worn by the ladies reflected great credit on local dressmakers.  Mr Beattie flitted butterfly like from one end of the rink to the other rendering timely assistance to many of the ladies.

Two hundred and fifty children of all ages enjoyed also themselves at a rinking session.  Up to 8.30pm the youngsters monopolised the floor, after which it was given up to the older skaters who kept it up until 10pm with unabated zeal.

Mr Beattie , almost incoherent with enthusiasm, extolled the benefits of rinking in the Thames Star.

“So many muscles otherwise little used, exercising them fully and duly, and without violence, exercising them to the cheerful influence of music, exercising them in forms of grace and beauty. Rinking may be an important and valuable part of physical education, and as such should be spoken of and promoted by the powerful voice of the medical public - the balanced action of the opposing muscles, the active use of the different articulations, the extensive and varied action of the spinal muscles effected by rinking, and the degree to which the mental excitement produced by it enables the exercise to be made use of without undue fatigue, are strong reasons for so decided and favourable an opinion as to the propriety or otherwise of carrying the practise of rinking . . . "

R H Beattie 
R.A.O.B. (Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes)


Mrs T C Balydon, who is making satisfactory progress, wore a very becoming grey costume, with plush vest and black toque.
Mrs Hansen (a spectator) wore a pretty prune costume with bonnet to match, trimmed with plumes and ribbons.
Mrs Melhose, quite at home on skates, glided over the floor in a stylish prune velveteen costume with handsomely beaded cuffs and vest . . . .

‘A Lady Skater’ protested at the attention in the press being given to women’s costumes.

“On behalf of myself and several lady friends  . . . kindly refrain from publishing the articles of dress worn by us at the rink . . . . We skate for the pure enjoyment of the exercise, and not for the purpose of exhibiting our dress.  Apart from the indelicacy of being continuously held up to the public in this manner, it is becoming a perfect nuisance.”

Attention was diverted though by the appearance of Professor Wyman of New York, a celebrated stilt, toy wagon and fancy and trick skater.  The Professor was said to be ‘perfectly marvelous’ on skates and he didn’t disappoint.   His lightening performances were so quick that he hadn’t time to fall and his marvels were displayed to an astonished audience.  Mr Salmon and Mr Harris, managers of Columbia Rinks, also performed.  “Such a galaxy of talent in the rinking art . .  .” reported the Thames Star breathlessly.

Despite the depression, rinking at Thames remained as popular as ever.   Mr Beattie was regularly greeted with a full house, the ladies especially rolling up in good numbers.  Every night new faces were to be seen. 

 But change was afoot - in early July Mr Salmon began preparations to depart for Japan and the Thames Columbia Rink was put up for sale.

During July great anticipation built at the approach of a Grand Fancy Dress Skating Carnival at the Columbia. The ladies were absorbed in the design of unique and fitting costumes, and they, as well as the gentlemen, “puzzled their brains” to decide on a character to represent.

Thames Star 20 July 1888

The Carnival was an unqualified success and the venue filled to capacity.  The walls were elaborately decorated with ferns, roses, evergreens, floral adornments, flags and drapes.  Ferns and evergreens were also suspended from the ceiling, intermixed with camellias.   Across the rink, hanging from the rafters, were Chinese lanterns which heightened the effect of the brilliant light of the rink.

 Four pillars were erected to support the arches which formed the skating circuit.  Opposite the entrance was a picture of Queen Victoria holding out her hands to accept a pair of skates.

 All the decorations were sprinkled over by a preparation of Mr Beattie’s own invention which gave everything a glittering and fairy like appearance.

 As the many skaters glided gracefully over the smooth floor, the bright and sombre colours of the costumes blended with a kaleidoscopic effect stunning to observe.  Colours sparkled and flashed under the jets of the gas lighting.

Innumerable characters of history and fiction were represented - Dick Turpin, a Barber’s pole, Morning, a French Flag, a Viking and a Highland Lassie among them.

At 9pm a bell sounded to signal to cease skating and the Great Amazon March to begin.  Thirty couples took part and the effect as they skated up the rink in two columns, formed into fours, then eights, and then into stars was arresting.

Mr Beattie received the greatest praise for training this rather ‘awkward squad’ to master the various intricate evolutions.

Mr Salmon arrived from Auckland by steamer at 11pm and immediately afterwards the awards were made known.  At 11.15 rinking was brought to a close and as the skaters wended their way homthe night air rang with conversations highly complementary of the carnival. 

The evening was slightly marred by two or three gentlemen wearing anything but evening dress who mingled with the skaters, which was an infringement of the rules.  The absence of refreshments for the ladies which had been promised provided free caused comment and dissatisfaction. Refreshments were to have been provided for the ladies during the evening by Mrs Beattie in a room specially set apart for them.   Gentlemen could obtain tea, coffee and other refreshments in the usual refreshment room.

Prizes were presented the next evening.  They included a gold skate brooch set with diamonds, season tickets, pairs of skates, and gold skate scarf pin set with diamonds.

In early August Mr J Buchanan, a well known athlete, gave a gymnastic exhibition at the Columbia Rink.  The champion heavy weight dumb bell performer swung clubs while on skates, a very difficult feat.  His muscular powers were described as “decidedly abnormal”.

A tongue in cheek ‘Hints for Beginners’ of skating appeared in the Thames Advertiser.

Hold on to the backs of seats as you go.
Stand on one foot and slide the other along as far as it will go and farther.
Then sit down upon the floor and always do this in front of the first skater you can see who is coming along fast.
Then try the back fall, which is more graceful and always pleases the spectators.
If you feel like falling, grab at the nearest skater.  Grab at a lady in preference because ladies don’t swear.  A gentleman might, and as it is against the rules, he would have to be put out.
When you have gained confidence, swing your arms about freely to preserve your balance.
Try and keep among the crowd, there is more chance of being able to grab somebody if you want to.

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-19050527-39-1 

The “most BEAUTIFUL SIGHT” ever witnessed was promised by the Columbia Rink in August.  A Grand Juvenile Carnival was to be held for Thames children.   The rink would be decorated on the Continental principle for the “Little Folk”.

18 August 1888
Thames Star

Prior to the carnival, the rink was crowded on a Saturday afternoons by children practicing for what was  anticipated would be a red letter day for the juveniles of Thames, long to be remembered.

On the night several large fans of coloured paper and a tree elaborately decorated with all the flowers of the season greeted the children at the entrance.
The rink was festooned with garlands of various coloured papers and at the lower end, suspended from the roof, was a variety of evergreens through which were placed Chinese lanterns. 

The chairs had been raised for the children for the occasion.  Mr Curtis was in attendance in the refreshment room to serve tea, coffee and coca and sandwiches for the small charge of 3 pence.

There were about 100 girls and boys present, each one in a fancy dress costume.  Among the costumes one girl was most conspicuous, representing a visitor from beyond the realms of the sky.  Others depicted a Manchester factory girl, a witch, and a blue bell.

Among the boys a chimney sweep was so in character it prevented him from obtaining a partner for the night.    Others came dressed as a sailor, a Bengal Lancer and a Sandwich Islander.

Most of the children who had attended the rink had mastered the art of graceful balancing and skating on rollers.

During the evening Master Purcell, a Thames youngster trained by Mr Beattie, gave an excellent exhibition of fancy skating, and his efforts were loudly applauded. 

At the conclusion of the evening the Grand March commenced.  The youngsters first went round the rink in single file, then in couples, then in fours and the effect was of a never ending stream of colour.

The children enjoyed themselves immensely.

Thames youngsters seemed better behaved during the rinking season than one Papanui lad, aged 12, who stole some silver from a shop in order to be able to go to the rink.  He was ordered to be birched and sent to the Industrial school.  The judge remarked”rinking seems to be demoralising the whole community.”

The rinking season at Thames that had swept so many into a frenzy was now drawing to a close. 

 Perhaps realising the elite of Thames were worn out by months of skating and  had exhausted ideas for costume creations, a planned Masquerade Carnival changed the rules to allow women in evening dress on the floor and the wearing of masks optional.  Mr Beattie also offered to supply fancy dresses and masks for 10 shillings.
The rink was closed all day for decorating. Cooke’s band was to be in attendance and the rink kept open till 11pm.   

The Masquerade Carnival was not very successful, with only 15 to 20 people on the floor.  The rink was very tastefully decorated and skating continued up to 10pm.   Owing to the small attendance and to the lack of fancy costumes no prizes were awarded.  There were to have been special prizes for the ladies and gentlemen who wore the handsomest and most grotesque costumes.  Prizes for women included a silver tea and coffee service, a plush and satin photo frame; for the men - a black ebony walking stick and a plush and satin photo frame. 

In mid-September, Mr Beattie, in order to give his patrons an opportunity of enjoying rinking to the end announced free sessions. 

A final Grand Carnival and Ball, to be held on September 24th, was announced.  This was to be a benefit for the wonderful Mr Beattie who had so successfully conducted the rink and made himself popular in Thames.  He was deserving of some recognition in providing for the amusement of the general public. 

“All lovers of this healthful exercise should not lose the opportunity of availing themselves to this,” encouraged the Thames Star. Although a fancy dress carnival, “you may appear in any costume you please.” 

Rinking was to be carried out until 10pm after which the floor will be given up for dancing which will be continued until 2am, instead of midnight so lovers of the light fantastic could be afforded an opportunity of dancing on that excellent floor.

The first and only donkey ever to roller skate was to perform.  Judging by the number of tickets sold, there was little doubt there would be a good attendance. 

Thames Star 17 Sept 1888

The Carnival and Ball were postponed until the following Monday 1st October.  This was done at the request of several patrons of the rink so as not to clash with private engagements which would interfere with the success of the carnival. 

But Mr Beattie’s benefit was not very largely attended, no doubt owing to appalling weather.  He planned to take another benefit at the close of the season when it was hoped a greater number would be present.

On 2 October Mr Beattie prolonged the rinking season for two more weeks, announcing the Columbia was positively closing on October 13th.

A ‘Monster Benefit’ to Mr Beattie passed without comment.  Eyes were now turned towards Christmas and summer, and tenders were called for the whole of the properties of the Columbia Rink, including skates and the Austrian chairs.

Saturday 13 October was the last night of the skating season at the Columbia Elite.  There was a large gathering of patrons and skating was indulged in with spirit.   Mr Beattie was fondly farewelled and Thames’s wonderful season of madness came to a close. 

Two days later Mr Beattie left Thames on the ss Rotomahana enroute for Australia.

Although roller skating continued  in following years it gradually petered out and Thames never again saw those glorious, dizzy  rinking days of the season of 1888.

By 1902 the Academy of Music was in a ruinous condition and a danger to the community.  In May it was demolished.  It was intended to erect a temporary covering over the Academy of Music site and to utilise the floor as a skating rink.  The floor had been specially prepared for that purpose and its condition was as good as ever.

(A shorter version of this story originally appeared in the Grahamstown Gazette.)

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© Meghan Hawkes 2020

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