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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 9 (April 1, 1931)

The Tale of a Trunk

page 43

The Tale of a Trunk

Amusing Troubles of a Tourist.

The following story, written by an ex-railway official with an intimate knowledge of the facts, describes some amusing incidents associated with the alternating appearance, and disappearance in transit, of a large trunk which contained the belongings of an English tourist who visited New Zealand many years ago.

Leonard Mayne Bolton inherited from his father a small business in London. The business was of a personal character, and required his close attention during working hours. His leisure was spent with his mother, who was an invalid, and who, though not entirely confined to the house, was incapable of any exertion. Life for him ran in a narrow groove, and he became so habituated to the regular round that, when after some years his mother died, he had no inclination to change his mode of living.

With the years his assiduous devotion to his business brought increased income; the surplus, in excess of his simple needs, was placed in a safe investment against the days when he could work no more. Time passed almost unnoticed, and though he had latterly employed an assistant he was not conscious of any failure of personal capacity. He was, therefore, surprised when on reaching his office one morning he was seized with an attack of vertigo, and was unable to continue his work. He returned home, and sent for his friend, the local medical practitioner, who could find no evident cause of trouble, but advised him to consult a specialist. After a careful examination, the specialist stated that there was nothing organically wrong, but his constitution was exhausted by a long term of monotonous existence, without variety or recreation. He advised complete rest from present work, and a change of surroundings to awaken interest in matters other than business. Such rest and change as might be obtained by taking a long sea voyage would probably restore him to normal health.

First Stage of the Voyage.

On recovering from the shock of contemplating an entire change in his lifelong habits, Mr. Bolton found, on looking into his affairs, that he could well afford a trip, and he had confidence that his assistant could fill his place in his absence. He had hazy notions of geography, but was aware that the P. and O. Company ran steamers to distant countries. So he applied to the P. and O. Company for information. The Company suggested a voyage to Sydney and back, and advised him to consult a firm of outfitters regarding the requirements for the voyage. The outfitters sized up the would-be traveller and listed an outfit that comprised clothes, with the proper accompaniment of hats. caps, boots, sticks, and umbrellas, for all occasions and every variety of climate. After rejecting kits for yachting, polo, golf, fishing and shooting, there still remained a considerable wardrobe for which suitable and adequate packages were required. Now the firm had in stock one of those huge trunks, like a Noah's Ark on casters, known as a Saratoga. Though then popular in America, trunks of this kind were slow of sale in England. This appeared to be an opportunity for getting rid of the Saratoga on favourable terms, page 44 and the polite and informative salesman explained to Mr. Boltom the advantages of having his belongings in compact shape. He mentioned that the luggage would require less supervision when arriving by steamer or train, as his trunk would be conspicuous, and could hardly be overlooked, or removed surreptitiously by a luggage-thief. Accordingly the bulk of the wardrobe was packed in the trunk, and with a suitable dressing-case and a handy portmanteau for immediate requirements, each package, conspicuously marked with his initials, the traveller was equipped for his journey.

In The Sunny Bay of Islands. (Photo, M. Chapman.) Opua Station, the northern terminus of the New Zealand Railways.

In The Sunny Bay of Islands.
(Photo, M. Chapman.)
Opua Station, the northern terminus of the New Zealand Railways.

The voyage was quite enjoyable, even by an inexperienced traveller, until Australian waters were reached in midsummer, when strong northerly winds were encountered. From Cape Leeuwin, across the Australian Bight, rough seas and an oppressive atmosphere made conditions unpleasant. At Adelaide a “brick-fielder” was blowing, and the thermometer stood at about 100 deg. in the shade. The air was full of the red dust from the interior, and at Melbourne, the heat was still more intense.

A fellow passenger on the voyage from England was an enthusiastic resident of New Zealand, who had made the acquaintance of Mr. Bolton, and had told him of the wonders and beauty of his country. When Mr. Bolton was discouraged by the climatic conditions in Australia, he was easily persuaded by his acquaintance to visit New Zealand, and return to Australia when the summer was waning.

Arrival in New Zealand.

He transferred to the New Zealand steamer at Melbourne, landed at Bluff, and journeyed thence to Queenstown. There he found the conditions ideal for his rest cure. The mountain air was clear and invigorating, and the surrounding scenery aroused his latent powers of admiration. While idling in the pleasant shade of the trees on the lake front he made the acquantince of some old-time diggers, and heard from them of the Shot-over and Kawarau, the Cromwell Gorge, and the wonderful beaches of the Moly-neux, of the Dunstan and Gabriel's Gully, and the sluicing at the Bluespur and Waitahuna. He decided to make the trip by coach through this wonderful region, a course which involved lightening his luggage, so he arranged for the Lake Wakatipu Steam Navigation Company to take his trunk to Kingston, and thence consign it at goods rates to Dunedin.

The train was waiting on the wharf at Kingston when the steamer conveying the trunk arrived there, and the guard, surveying the luggage to be loaded on his train, directed that the big trunk be landed first, so that it could be stowed at the back end of his van out of the way of intermediate movements. He had it loaded before the mate, having attended to his duties on the steamer, came ashore and informed him that the trunk was booked at goods rates. The guard decided that one handling was enough at that stage, and that he would take the trunk through to Gore Junction. The train from Inver-cargill was well-filled when it arrived at Gore, and the Main Line guard looked askance at the big trunk. He said he could not do with that “Noah's Ark” in the van doorway all the way to Dunedin, but on learning that it was booked through the goods he advised the station clerk to keep it for the through truck next morning, and handed him back the waybill with a sigh of relief. But the Gore platform staff, page 45 who did not want the trunk on their hands, suggested that room might be made for it in a truck of theatrical luggage on the front of the train. Willing hands did a little restowing, and the trunk was got away in the truck. After the train had gone the clerk enquired for the trunk, and finding it had been despatched, enclosed the waybill, without comment, to Dunedin Goods. Next morning the cartage contractor at Dunedin carted the “quantity of theatrical luggage” (including the trunk) up to the theatre. The waybill, when it reached Dunedin, showed the truck as having been loaded in the van, but it was not at the passenger station. Enquiry at Gore resulted in tracing it to the theatre, and the contractor was directed to bring it back to the railway.

The Elusive Trunk.

The carter to whom the order was given was not the same man who had delivered the theatrical stuff, and as the trunk was not labelled “Goods” he took it to the passenger station. When he arrived there the train conveying to Port Chalmers the passengers for the then popular Sounds Excursion by the Union Steam Ship Company's “Waikare” was being despatched. How the mistake occurred was never admitted by the Dunedin staff, but in dealing with the large number of passengers with large quantities of luggage, Mr. Bolton's trunk was put aboard the “Waikare,” and was well away to sea before the Goods representative had ascertained its whereabouts.

When Mr. Bolton reached Dunedin a few days later, after a leisurely trip through the goldfields, he handed his receipt to an express company, with instructions to bring his trunk to his hotel. It was a very apologetic Claims Clerk who waited on him on behalf of the Railway, to explain that his trunk was believed to be on the “Waikare,” in the West Coast Sounds. The “Waikare” was not expected back for over a week, and there was no means of communicating with her. Mr. Bolton did not contemplate waiting in Dunedin, as he had arranged with his shipboard acquaintance to visit Mount Cook. He could not take his trunk with him on the coach, but he suggested that if the Railway Department would pay for such articles then in his trunk, which his friend suggested would be required for the trip, he would in the meantime be satisfied, assuming the trunk would be recovered. A provisional settlement was arranged, and when the “Waikare” returned the trunk was recovered and sent to Timaru, with careful instructions as to its safe custody till claimed by the owner. Mr. Bolton received his trunk on his return to Timaru from Mount Cook, and took it with him
Twenty-Five Years Ago. (Photo, W. W. Stewart.) The Staff at Mercer Station (Auckland Province), 1905.

Twenty-Five Years Ago.
(Photo, W. W. Stewart.)
The Staff at Mercer Station (Auckland Province), 1905.

to Christchurch. There arose the difficulty of stowing the trunk on a cab, but the obliging head porter at Christchurch station explained that for a small fee the Department would take charge of it, and on arrival at his hotel he could hand the cloakroom ticket to the hotel clerk, who would arrange for a carrier to bring the trunk to the hotel. Mr. Bolton acted on this advice.

Confusion Worse Confounded.

Staying in the hotel at the time was Mr. Lake Michigan Butler, an American gentleman who had injured his health owing to strenuous operations in connection with a business deal. Having brought the deal to a satisfactory conclusion he decided to take a trip to New Zealand to page 46 page 47 recuperate. He had some dealings in “petroleum ile,” otherwise kerosene (the need for gasoline not having then arisen), and hoped, in order to increase the interest of his visit, to negotiate some sales, and, if possible, to establish a regular supply. He had been as far south as Dunedin, then the principal business centre, and was returning homeward. He had been fairly successful, and on the day after Mr. Bolton's arrival was leaving Lyttelton by the express mail steamer “Takapuna,” for Onehunga, to join the San Francisco steamer at Auckland. Mr. Butler was accompanied by his wife, but as prior to their visit, they believed New Zealand to be one of the Cannibal Islands, though it seemed there was business to be done there, they had not brought an extensive wardrobe. They were leaving Christchurch by the 2.45 p.m. train, and had entrusted their luggage to the hotel porter to be taken to the station, and see that it was loaded into the truck for the steamer. Having satisfied Mr. Butler that his luggage was on the train, the hotel gorier obtained a lift on a returning express, and reached the hotel in a few minutes. His consternation on seeing, standing in the hall, a large American trunk with the initials L.M.B. painted conspicuously on the end, may be well imagined.

Hotel Porter's Mistake.

Joe, the hotel porter, was a smart and obliging young man, but inclined to jump to conclusions. When he saw the trunk he believed that it formed part of Mr. L. M. Butler's luggage, and that by some grave oversight it had been left behind. He saw that if he acted quickly he might still save the situation. He hailed a passing hansom cab, and explaining to the driver that there was half a sovereign in it, they caught the train, bundled the trunk into the front of the cab, and set off for station. Joe had to stand on the step and steady the trunk while they made a quick trip, and reached the station with about a minute to spare. Joe explained breathelessly to the porters, and they managed to get the trunk on the train as the starting bell rang. He made a dash for the carriage where Mr. Butler was seated, and hastily explained that his trunk had been left behind at the hotel, but he had got it aboard alright. Mr. Butler was already satisfied regarding his luggage. As the porter evidently believed he had rendered some service, Mr. Butler, anticipating that he would not have much further need for New Zealand currency, managed to find a half-crown in his pocket, and handed this to Joe as the train pulled out. There was no time for discussion. Joe was disappointed, and so was the cab driver, but they agreed to a division of a shilling each, and spent the sixpence on two glasses of beer to cheer them in their loss.

Detective Engages in Search.

When Joe again returned to the hotel he found that the disappearance of the trunk was causing great concern. He heard the trunk referred to as Mr. Bolton's trunk, and it dawned upon him that he had made a serious mistake. He pretended he had only just returned from the station. He believed, as there was no member of the hotel staff in sight when he had previously returned, that he had not been observed. He took the first opportunity of seeking the cabman, and, for a consideration, ensured his silence. On his next visit to the station he explained his dilemma to the porters concerned, and asked them to forget the incident of the trunk.

When Mr. Bolton returned to his hotel and had been informed of the loss, he recalled the maxim of his native city: “When in difficulty ask a policeman,” and he sought the police office. He gave particulars of the case, and stated that he was prepared to offer a substantial reward for the recovery of his property. The courteous police officer explained that it was no part of their business to search for lost luggage, nor could they accept any reward other than might be granted by their Department, but as a crime had apparently been committed they would seek the culprit, and in bringing him to justice might also recover the stolen property, when a contribution towards the expense of doing so would be acceptable. The case was accordingly assigned to Detective page 48 Benn. Now, Benn may, or may not, have been a great detective, but he knew something of railway work, and he also knew that a sovereign judiciously placed is a great assistance to failing memory.

The Final Discovery.

A reference to the rota at the railway station gave him the names of the staff on platform duty, and he sought out one of those working the train by which the trunk had arrived. As expected, this man was communicative. He remembered the big trunk arriving by the express from the south; it was stored in the cloakroom that night and had been taken away next day. He understood it belonged to an American gentleman who went away by the “Takapuna.” He was not on duty for the steamer train, as the shifts did not change till 3 p.m., but he happened to be at the station early that day and saw the trunk being loaded into the truck just before the train left. The early shift porters who had loaded the steamer van could not remember anything. There was always a rush at the steamer train, they said, and it took them all their time to get the luggage stowed. There were often numbers of large packages, like commercial travellers'
A Modern Railway Goods Shed. Interior of the Paddington Goods Station, G.W. Railway, London, England.

A Modern Railway Goods Shed.
Interior of the Paddington Goods Station, G.W. Railway, London, England.

sample cases, so that they could not recall any one in particular. A little further enquiry from a selected one of the porters concerned uncovered the cab driver, and the cab driver uncovered Joe. A telegram to Onehunga did the rest.

When Mr. Bolton was informed of the whereabouts of his trunk he preferred to take no further chances with this elusive package, and asked that it be held at Auckland till his arrival there on his way to Sydney. After listening to Joe's expressions of contrition, he asked that his lapse might be overlooked, as his original intention was good. The shipping reporter at Auckland scented a story, and interviewed Mr. Bolton, who gave him some particulars of his movements in New Zealand. He stated that he had enjoyed his visit thoroughly, and felt greatly improved in health. When he returned to London, however, he would be able to correct the views of the outfitters relative to Saratoga trunks. His experience was that a trunk of that description could easily be lost, and even a very inexpert luggage thief would apparently have no difficulty in getting away with it unobserved.