Establishing an early and accurate timeline
In July-August 1909 many New Zealanders reported seeing ‘small airships’. The phenomenon began in the southernmost part of the country, spread northwards, and was widely reported in local newspapers. Until now, UFO researchers have relied mainly on the later northern media sources, because these are easier to access. Their material omits important southern details and ignores important context. It includes undifferentiated misidentifications and hoaxes, so that details of the earliest, most authentic events are blurred – the UFO signal is drowned out by noise. This confusion is often used to discredit all Kelso Airship reports as a moral panic.
Therefore, establishing context and an accurate timeline for the first ‘airship’ sightings are key elements when evaluating the unusualness of these events.
Accessing early material:
Much original 1909 newspaper material is difficult to access. I left New Zealand for Australia in late 1978, but have since visited local archives in Timaru (where I grew up), Oamaru, Christchurch, Dunedin (notably the Hocken and McNab collections), Balclutha and Tapanui, over several decades, to track down more 1909 airship material.
Back in 1909, most New Zealand provincial towns with more than 2000 residents produced a local newspaper, as a daily or weekly. Many small towns had two papers. The four main cities had mass-circulation morning and evening dailies, as well as a series of smaller weekly papers. (“ The estimated populations of the four chief centres at the end of June  were Auckland 93,544; Wellington 73,667; Christchurch 76,709; Dunedin 61,279” – North Otago Times, 27 July 1909.)
There were some 60 North Island newspapers and 70 South Island newspapers in print. These fed mostly local catchments, servicing a total of one million European settlers and 80,000 indigenous Maori. (A table of the 1909 papers I know about is provided at the end of this article. So far, about 40 have been accessed by ufologists for their ‘airship’ content.)
Newspapers played an important socialising role in early New Zealand and provide a rich data source for the 1909 airships. (In this article I use their material fully whenever possible, to better convey social sensibilities of the period.) Many papers had Government Post & Telegraph Department offices nearby. They routinely swapped important local and overseas news by electric telegraph, mailed their issues to each other, and plundered one another’s copy. (A submarine cable linked New Zealand to Australia from 1876; Australia was linked by cable to Asia and Europe via Darwin and Java after 1872).
Many short-lived local newspapers were never properly archived and are now incomplete or entirely lost. For example, most records for the Ellesmere Guardian ended up in the Editor’s attic. After his death, incoming house buyers used old newspapers from the attic as painting drop-sheets, before realising they were unique and passing the residue on to the central Christchurch library. All 1909 issues of the Ellesmere Guardian have been lost to renovation.
For several decades now, the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) has coordinated a major project to conserve the country’s newspaper heritage. In recent years, it has placed many records on the internet, for anyone to access. UFO researchers can now download many 1909 airship articles from the ‘NLNZ Paperspast’ website (check these out on paperspast.natlib.govt.nz), which is updated as more material becomes available.
However, the present NLNZ Paperspast website still lacks material for many important airship sources that I know about – such as, the Clutha Free Press, Christchurch Evening News, Cromwell Argus, Geraldine Guardian, Gore Standard, Southern Cross, Southern Daily News, Tapanui Courier, Temuka Leader, and Timaru Post.
The Clutha Free Press archives I have managed to find are particularly fragmented. After a 25-year search, I have given up hope of sighting an original of the 13 July issue which began the 1909 wave – it has probably been extinct for decades. However, during peak interest in the Kelso airships, other newspapers reprinted sufficient portions of the article for me to recreate it (especially the Dunedin Otago Daily Times, 16 July; the New Plymouth Daily News, 22 July; the Timaru Post, 14 July), as follows:
1909 July 11 (Sunday, 2230hrs)
KAITANGATA, Otago, New Zealand (S46°17’, E169°51’)
(Clutha Free Press, Balclutha, New Zealand, Tuesday 13 July 1909)
STRANGE LIGHTS SEEN BY STIRLING RESIDENTS.
A resident of Stirling whose veracity we have always been accustomed to look upon as absolutely unimpeachable called upon us yesterday with the story ofa
strange light seen in the sky over the Wangaloa Hills [170m, S46°17’, E169°54’] on Sunday night [11 July, 1909].
He said he had been puzzling over the matter and consulting with a few familiars, and the only conclusion he could come to was that the light was that of an airship, probably being made the subject of an experimental cruise.
Between half-past 10 and 11 on the night stated, our informant and two other residents of Stirling were standing in the vicinity of the railway station [Stirling Railway Station, S46°15’, E169°47’] when they sighted the mysterious light.
“It first came into our view from the east,” said the narrator,” and we thought it was a meteor or a falling star, but the light grew in brilliance. It moved about the hills above Kaitangata [177m, S46°15’, E169°54’] sometimes swooping down from a height of apparently 2000ft [610m] to about 1000ft [305m] and even lower. Then it would turn and make away towards the sea, or would dip completely out of sight behind the hills. It seemed to move with as much ease, and even grace, as a bird on the wing.
The light carried was a strong and steady one, and whenever the ship, or whatever it was, turned, we thought we could see a dark, opaque body. Certainly we could see, without a doubt, the reflection of the light in the clouds. It was a white light with a reflector, just what would be used by an airship driven by an electric motor. When she was sideways on we thought we could see the reflection as of a black body above and below. It was a marvellously mystifying sight.
After watching it for a good half hour the ship moved off in an easterly direction, whence it had first come into view. I left my companions and made off home, and then a peculiar thing happened. I had been walking for ten minutes, and chanced to look skyward, and lo and behold! there was the mysterious light, high up in the sky and moving off inland in a westerly direction, towards the Blue Mountains [S45°55’, E169°22’], as it seemed to me.”
Further questioned on the matter, the informant said he believes some Dunedin man is at work on an airship, and it is quite possible he may have a workshop somewhere in the lonely Wangaloa hills, whose steep gullies are traversed only by sheep. The inventor may have come out on Saturday night with some friends for the purpose of a trial run.
“If that is the explanation,” concluded our informant, “the inventor has struck something that will knock Count Zeppelin and Wilbur Wright sideways, for as I gazed at that grand light sailing easily through space on Sunday night I involuntarily ejaculated, ‘My, what would I not give to be on that ship.’ It seemed to embody the very poetry of aerial motion.”
Some other readers may be able to throw some light on this mysterious occurrence.
(NOTE: My additional context comments are in italics, within square brackets.)
Intriguingly, a small, newspaper-publishing elite colluded to protect the identity of the well-known “unimpeachable source”. This has always suggested to me that HE was someone important, someone of high status within the community, who might be embarrassed by publicising such an ‘abnormal’ experience – in short, someone who is an excellent UFO witness. This omission has frustrated me for 30 years.
The prosperous Clutha river delta area (called Inch Clutha) includes Kaitangata, Stirling and Benhar. The area is flat, fertile farming land, and in 1909, it included coalmines, quarries, a dairy factory, brick and pipe works. It had excellent rail, telegraph and postal facilities, but roads were still primitive (petrol-driven cars were still a rarity).
After the 1861-64 gold rush, Otago was the wealthiest New Zealand province. Dunedin, while the smallest of the four main centres, was the richest, most important city. It was the hub of an excellent rail service network, with excellent port facilities at Port Chalmers.
All witnesses were likely part of a wealthy, literate, entrepreneurial European middle class.
Most UFO researchers do not mention how some newspapers did not embrace the local phenomenon, and refused to print any airship stories. Others, while ‘surrounded’ by the phenomenon, remained highly sceptical (these were usually small papers, with no field reporters, only “correspondents”). So, while trawling through the NLNZ Paperspast site recently to check my database, l came across one news item in the Bruce Herald (a sceptical paper with direct historical and business links to the Clutha Leader), which ‘outs’ the original Stirling source:
(Bruce Herald Milton, New Zealand, Thursday, 29 July 1909)
That “Air Ship.” WHAT IS IT?
……..While not denying that there is some mysterious lights [sic] to be seen at night, and some mysterious thing through the day except those who have seen the phenomenon, the majority are sceptical as to its being an airship.
One gentleman who heard the noise last evening saw an object with from four to five bright lights. The sound was similar to a fog horn. He was quite satisfied that it was not an airship whatever else it was. The lights were visible only for a brief period and then appeared to go out. He does not think the object disappeared behind the Akatore hills [S46°07’, E170°10rs’].
It is stated to us as a fact that the lights seen last evening in the direction of Akatore [S46°07’, E170°11’] were lights used by Messrs Hamilton on the traction engine, and the fog horn and noise heard was their traction engine itself. We have not been able to see Messrs Hamilton to ascertain the correctness or otherwise of this story. We give it as it was told to us,
On relating the foregoing to a gentleman who called on us he said that Messrs Hamilton had seen the lights as they were getting home with their engine shortly before 7 o’clock last night and blew the horn to attract attention.
It is reported that the mysterious airship has been seen in the Milburn district travelling from the Horse Shoe hills [S46°03, E170°02’] to the Gorge hills [S46°04’, E170°03’]. – (Milburn Correspondent.)
Professor Wragge’s “Voyage through the Universe” is alleged to have some connection with the airship theory. Those who attend his lecture this evening will be able perhaps to elucidate the mystery or connection of the two.
The first to see the alleged airship and notify the press of his discovery was, we understand, Mr John Boyd, of Stirling. The Kelso people were the next to see the vision.
We have heard of fire balloons being set adrift in the Clutha district, but whether these have anything to do with the “airship” theory is only speculation. The daylight vision at Tapanui is set down as a flight of black swans.
The “airship” has been seen at Oamaru, Dunedin, Milton, Kaitangata, Stirling, Kelso, and Orepuki. The same sorts of lights have been visible at Auckland.
In any case all is speculation. Some are sceptical as to an airship being about, and any theory that any foreign power is spying out the land by this is pure moonshine. There is nothing to hinder them to get about all over the country without let or hindrance.
Those troubled with “nerves” are getting food for speculation, while the more phlegmatic are hanging back till the mystery is solved.
Bryan Dickeson Copyright (c) 2015
Finding John Boyd and friends
Further web-searching of NLNZ Paperspast material reveals that in 1909 John Boyd was aged 32, born in Otago, in either 1876 or 1877. He was one of 11 children (7 sons and 4 daughters), to Edward Boyd and Jane Boyd (nee Haggart), both highly-respected Otago settlers. They arrived from Scotland in 1858, before the Otago Gold Rush of 1861-1864.
The Bruce Herald of 30 November 1916, includes an obituary for Mr Edward Boyd Senior, with background details on the Boyd family and its long commitment to and involvement with, the Presbyterian Church and the Benhar-Stirling communities.
An elder son (Eden Johnson Boyd, “E.J. Boyd”) was a Balclutha city councillor from 1885 (also very involved in local affairs generally) and Balclutha Mayor from 2011-2013. NLNZ Paperspast items include many reports about his community involvement with various local and provincial committees.
John Boyd was a younger son, literate, sociable, musical, and of above-average intelligence (a Clutha Leader item of 23 December 1887 reports he was second-equal in his Standard IV class). In an item in the Clutha Leader (8 March 1907), when in charge of his father’s herd of 40 cows near Benhar, John discusses the pros and cons of a new automated milking system. Articles in the 1909 Clutha Leader report John as a founding member and Secretary for the local ‘Glee Club’ – a social group organising musical entertainments, and of him chairing a session of the Benhar Debating Club.
The Clutha Leader (2 June 1911) reports John Boyd’s marriage (aged 34) to Florence Hilda Turner (“Hilda”, 30) on Wednesday 31 May 1911: “The bride graced a beautiful ivory silk voile dress, nicely braided with cream silk braid, and wore the orthodox orange blossoms, and embroidered veil, etc. etc.” This was a posh, civilised, and well-connected affair. So far, I do not have an obituary for John Boyd, but the media record endorses the view of John Boyd as an excellent, high-status, “absolutely unimpeachable” witness.
The “two other residents” who saw the Kaitangata UFO remain unknown. Such detail may still be held in local police archives, available through FOI requests. (Unfortunately, local researchers usually find accessing such records, difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.)
Keeping the Kaitangata ‘airship’ flying
John Boyd’s sighting would have been completely forgotten by now, if not for three further fortuitous developments:
- Journalistic input from the Otago Daily Times
- The ‘Kelso Airship’ sightings, and
- Louis Bleriot’s flight across the English Channel
- The Otago Daily Times investigates
The Dunedin metropolitan, the Otago Daily Times, maintained a solid network of reporters and contributors throughout Otago. It circulated throughout New Zealand and was probably the country’s most prestigious paper (copies of it are archived in the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia). The Times soon followed up on the Stirling incident. On Friday 16 July 1909 it reprinted most of the initial Clutha Free Press article, prefixed by:
“Ridicule and rigid cross-examination have failed to shake the theory that a light, supposed to belong to an airship, was hovering over the Wangaloa Hills, near Kaitangata, on Sunday night. The narrative of this extraordinary apparition was supplied to the Free Press (Balclutha) by several eye witnesses who are prepared to sign an affadavit to the truth of their statement…. The story has been received with some incredulity, but the kite and balloon theories advanced have been scouted as being as widely improbable as the airship. Seeing that the gentlemen who witnessed the phenomenon are of unimpeachable integrity, residents are at a loss what to make of it. ‘If it isn’t a hoax, or an airship, what is it?’ is a question being generally asked. ”
The Times material was soon circulated throughout Australasia through the United Press Association wire service, but created little interest at first – most newspapers ignored it. However, the Times recorded early airship reports in great detail and remains the main southern media source for most UFO researchers.
Further media reports were few at first – vague, and mostly gossip or hoaxes. The Clutha Leader (a rival to the Clutha Free Press) reported haughtily on Tuesday 27 July 1909, that:
“ …. Several in Balclutha [S46°14’, E169°44’] testify that they have seen a similar object to that already described, at night. An employee in this office saw a lighted object hovering apparently over Inch Clutha [island, S46°17’, E169°47’] one night last week, but he concluded it was a fire balloon sent up by someone as an “airship” joke. Others have seen partially illuminated objects floating in the air; people coming up by the late train from Owaka [S46°27’, E169°39’] on Saturday night [24 July 1909] speak of the airship they saw in the direction of lower Inch Clutha [S46°19’, E169°49’?], and several in Balclutha [S46°14’, E169°44’], saw the same thing, while people from Clinton [S46°12’, E169°22’] yesterday morning went one better and declared they not only saw the mysterious object but averred they heard the occupants talking.
… Mr. Smith [of Kaka Point, Point, S46°23’, E169°47’] did not jump to any conclusions. It was seen by people at the beach every night last week and “it will probably be seen again to-night,” said Mr. Smith yesterday. If it appears again within range, some of the beach boys are going to try to “prick the bubble” with a bullet.
- Kelso ‘takes off’: more local newspapers drawn into the debate:
Meanwhile, the Otago Daily Times told its readers on Monday 26 July 1909 that:
SUPPOSED AIRSHIP. SEEN AT KELSO
The mysterious “airship” has been seen again, this time in broad daylight. On Saturday Mr. Gibson, of Kelso [S45°54’, E169°13’], telephoned us stating that at noon on Friday [23 July 1909], the school children beheld in the air a strange machine, which they described as shaped like a boat, with what seemed like the figure of a man seated in it. The “airship” approached from the direction of the Blue Mountains [S45°55’, E169°22’], circled high over the school, and then disappeared in the direction whence it came. The phenomenon was also observed by Mrs. James Russell, of Kelso.
Our Kelso correspondent telegraphed as follows; – “There is not the slightest doubt that the airship was seen at Kelso yesterday at noon. I have eye witnesses to prove this. It is cigar or “boat” shaped and pointed at each end. Those who saw it had no idea of the probable height of it above them. It did not appear to be very long in build, but was very broad. The children who saw it say that it had a pontoon-shaped part above the boat and a short pole or mast, in the centre. It flew over and past the school ground, turned round, and went back the way it came. It was flying along very easily, and had no trouble in turning. It came from the direction of the Blue Mountains and over the wooded hill [The Wooded Hill] above Kelso, and seemed to make back direct to the mountains again. It was seen by at least five persons, and their statements are all in accord.”
This daylight account, which mentions an aviator, was circulated throughout New Zealand by the UPA wire service. It created great public interest and launched the “Kelso Airships” as a media phenomenon. The Clutha Leader (27 July 1909), reported the Kelso sighting as:
The “Airship” is now reported to have been seen at Kelso [S45°54’, E169°14’] in broad daylight, at mid-day on Saturday [actually Friday 23 July]. It was seen by at least five persons. The school children beheld in the air a strange machine which they described as shaped like a boat with what seemed like a figure of a man seated in it.
The “airship” approached from the direction of the Blue Mountains [S45°55’, E169°22’], circled high over the school and then disappeared in the direction whence it came. It is cigar or boat shaped and is pointed at each end. The children who saw it say that it had a pontoon shaped part above the boat and a short pole or mast in the centre. “Several in Balclutha testify that they have seen a similar object to that already described, at night, [etc, etc. as above] …..
The same Clutha Leader article, reported the earlier Kaka Point events in some detail:
On Saturday night [24 July, 1909] some half-a-dozen boys were playing on the beach at Kaka Point [S46°23’, E169°47’] near Mr. Bates and saw a huge illuminated object moving about in the air. It appeared as if it were going to alight at Kaka Point. The light from it was distinctly reflected on the roof of Dr Fitzgerald’s cottage. The boys thought it was being attracted by their lantern and ran away and left it on the beach. The “airship” then glided round the rocks at the old pilot station and nearly came in contact with them. It shortly afterwards disappeared. The boys said it was as big as a house.
[Other newspaper reports indicated this airship headed towards the Blue Mountains]
On Sunday night [25 July 1909] the mysterious object again made its appearance at the beach, and was seen by Mr. George Smith and Mr. Poulter about 8.30. Mr. Smith viewed it through a very powerful night glass. It was apparently over Mr. Aitkenhead’s house when he first saw it, but it glided high in the air and sailed north in the direction of Kaitangata [S46°17’, E169°51’], sweeping west and east and finally disappearing. About half past 10 Mr. Smith was called out by Mr. Poulter to see the airship, which had again made its appearance. This time it headed out to sea and eventually disappeared over the horizon or into the sea. As seen through the glass, Mr. Smith said it appeared to be a fair-sized, dark superstructure with a powerful head-light and two smaller ones at the sides. It might convey the impression of being under control, and likewise of moving fast. Mr. Smith did not jump to any conclusions. It was seen by people at the beach every night last week and “it will probably be seen again to-night,” said Mr. Smith yesterday. If it appears again within range, some of the beach boys are going to try to “prick the bubble” with a bullet.
A number of residents of Invercargill [S46°25’, E168°22’], says last night’s Star, were astonished shortly after 11 o’clock on Saturday night [24 July 1909] to see a strange light hovering in a cloudless sky at an altitude of about 2000 to 3000 feet. It resembled something like a fire balloon. It was travelling northwards with an up and down, wave-like motion.
We should not be surprised to see a few “airships” in the vicinity of Balclutha one of these nights.”
Later reports indicate the first airship probably spent some days ‘camping’ near Mt Wendon [S45°49’, E169°00’], slightly northwest of the Blue Mountains. So the Kaka Point events indicate there may have been two ‘airships’ – the situation becomes more complicated: Kaka Point is 14km south of Kaitangata and 5km south of the Clutha River mouth. Kelso is 62km northwest of Kaitangata and west of the Blue Mountains (further inland), while Invercargill is 120km to the southwest. The “airship” (or “airships”) phenomenon seems to be moving outwards from the Inch Clutha region, in a wave.
Newspaper media speculation and ‘discussion’ became more intense: The Christchurch Evening News (27 July 1909), stated:
“It is about time some enterprising southern journalist made a trip to the Blue Mountains and investigated the airship rumours. As in the case of the Mount Kembla tiger [Australia], which was strongly suspected of being a bull, we are not hopeful of any very sensational revelations. It must be remembered that it is a prohibition district, and if the investigators should by any chance discover a still or other contrivance for the manufacture of stimulants, of the ‘chain lightning’ order, it would be unnecessary to enquire further why the inhabitants see trailing stars at night time and curious objects bobbing about in the clouds by day. They should really take more water with the local decoction.* It may be exhilarating; but it is fair to destroy the piece [sic] of mind of the whole country by such alarming reports from an ordinarily peaceful and remote country district. Besides, if the people of Kelso are not careful, they will soon be seeing far more unpleasant things than phantom airships.”
[* a reference to the alcohol prohibition movement in New Zealand at this time. Hallucinations from imbibing moonshine in ‘dry’ areas were a common suggestion for airship sightings.]
- Louis Bleriot and “Aerialitis”
Just when it seemed the New Zealand “airship” craze was about to fade away, it gained new energy from the other side of the world, when:
At 4:15 a.m. on Sunday 25 July 1909, watched by an excited crowd, French aviator Louis Blériot made a short trial flight. Then, on a signal that the sun had risen, he took off across the English Channel from Hesbaraque, four miles from Calais, in brilliant sunshine. He flew at approximately 45mph (72km/h) at an altitude of about 250ft (76m), without a compass. The French naval destroyer Escopette (Musket) initially acted as an escort, but Blériot soon overtook her and flew on alone until he sighted the English coast on his left, as a grey line.
Blériot had to adjust his course westwards, and followed the coastline a mile offshore, until he spotted Charles Fontaine, a correspondent for Le Matin waving a French flag to signal where he should land — a patch of gently-sloping meadow near Dover Castle. Blériot flew through a dip in the cliffs, circled to lose height, and cut his engine to make a “pancake” landing, behind the castle. His plane was slightly damaged, but Blériot was unhurt. It had taken the 20 horsepower monoplane 36.5 minutes to fly the Channel.
Blériot won a generous Daily Mail prize of £1,000 and a trophy; news of the event was cabled around the world and the aviator became an international celebrity!
The Otago Daily Times reported Blériot’s triumph on 27 July 1909, just one day afterwards (New Zealand time is 12 hours ahead of GMT/Paris time) — the public began to take an increasing interest in all forms of aerial activity.
From this point, northern newspapers snidely referred to bouts of aerialitis “down south” – as a kind of “aviation fever”, whenever reporting such matters.
The Kelso Airship up close
Meanwhile, the Otago Daily Times began to a more serious look at the possibility of a local aviator, working in secret:
Otago Daily Times, Tuesday 27 July 1909
THE SUPPOSED AIRSHIP SEEN AGAIN AT KELSO (From Our Own Correspondent)
KELSO, July 26: This thing was again seen at about half-past 6 o’clock on Saturday night [24 July] here by several other persons about five or six miles on the opposite side of Kelso [S45°54’, E169°13’] from the Blue Mountains [S45°55’, E169°22’], in a north-westerly direction. [This location equates to Crossans Corner, S45°55’, E169°09’; Mt. Wendon lies to the northwest.] The strong light on it first drew these people’s attention to it, but after a time the light went out, and they could then see some smaller lights, which remained in view for some five or ten minutes. As these lights were well above the hills, which are in that direction, and were not stationary, but moved along all the time, these people are fully satisfied now of the existence of this flying machine, more especially after seeing the strong light flash out and disappear again.
It was also seen by a lady [Mrs. Ferguson] on Friday [23 July] who lives about six miles from here in a southerly direction [This location equates to Glenkenich, S45°58’, E169°14’], and who called her mother out of the house and showed it to her. They could not think at the time what such a thing sailing about in the air could mean, but this same lady saw it again on Saturday night [24 July], about 9 o’clock, flying over Kelso as she was driving in to meet the late train, and, being better prepared for such a such a thing after seeing it the night before, she is positive that it was an airship. Saturday night here was beautifully clear and moonlight [sic], and this lady knew nothing at that time about the people seeing it earlier in the evening. At this time (9 o’clock on Saturday night) it was apparently returning from a cruise round and returning to the Blue Mountains, as it was going in that direction when it was last seen by her.
One boy who saw the ship on Friday [23 July] at noon was naturally in a state of great excitement when he reached home, and told his parents about seeing the airship. His father could hardly credit the boy’s story, and, to test him, told him to sketch what he had seen [this was George McDuff, who saw his airship on Saturday 24 July!]. The boy did this, and they compared the sketch with a picture in the Windsor Magazine, and, as the sketch compared very well with the picture, the father was convinced that the boy had really seen what could be nothing else but an airship.
(Note: References to a mast and an aviator being seen on the airship have now gone!
As a general rule from the 1909 airship sightings, whenever ‘bodies’ are reported, close investigation reveals none were really seen.)
The Otago Daily Times sent its Special Reporter to Kelso to investigate these incidents directly. His first report, is extensive and conveys a sense of astonishment:
Otago Daily Times, Thursday 29 July 1909.
THE KELSO AIRSHIP. CUMULATIVE EVIDENCE.SOMETHING — BUT WHAT!
(FROM OUR SPECIAL REPORTER.)
KELSO, July 28: A busy afternoon’s investigation utterly dispels any supposition that the reports about the airship are entirely mythical. There is far too much evidence for the belief to be easily dispelled. Naturally, speculation has gone to an extreme, but after careful sifting, certain facts remain undoubted definite facts.
Immediately upon arrival here I went to the most available man – the stationmaster (Mr. Gibson) – who placed me in the hands of Mr. A. McKinnon, manager of Messrs Wright Stephenson, and Co.’s office [the local Stock and Station agency]. With great consideration, Mr. McKinnon placed his time at my disposal, and conducted me to those people most able to give reliable evidence. A daylight view of the phenomenon being admittedly of highest value, resort was first made to the schoolhouse in search of those children who saw the ship on Friday at noon. All those scholars who saw the ship were interrogated singly and independently, and were asked to draw an impression of what they had seen. The drawings were done separately, and with no reference whatever from one to another. The result was six drawings, the degree of resemblance and unanimity of which was nothing short of dumbfounding to all sceptics. Special interrogation of the boys revealed the fact that none had drawn the diagram before, nor had they been interested in airships prior to witnessing this one. One boy, in addition to drawing a side view, was able to draw a diagram of the vessel from beneath as the airship passed over his head, and this showed two sails [possibly more like fins or wings] on each side. Another boy produced a peculiar-looking object, which was somewhat puzzling at first, but which ultimately seemed to resolve itself into one wing seen from an angle with a revolving propellor at the rear.
The salient facts of the boys’ testimony may be condensed as follows:– It may be said first, as an explanation of why no men saw the vessel, that it was dinner hour, when everyone was inside. One woman – Mrs. Russell, — however, saw it, and her evidence confirms the school children’s story.
Thomas Jenkins gave a very clear account of the whole incident. He saw the vessel first at 12 o’clock as he was going home from school [at the northern end of Kelso]. It had come over the hill on the east side of the school, which is very close to the hill [called “The Wooded Hill”, although all tree cover there had long been milled, S45°54’, E169°14’], and sailed across the plain to the gorge on the other side [Pomahaka River Gorge, S45°51’, E169°08’]. He watched it all the time, and saw it altogether about 10 minutes. When it got over near the gorge, about seven miles away, it seemed to come lower and appeared to enter the gorge, being below the level of the hills [less than 300m above sea level?]. It remained stationary for a few minutes, and then turned and came back. In returning it rose higher, and sailed away towards the Blue Mountains. As it passed over [overhead at Kelso, S45°54’, E169°13’] he saw that it had supports on each side (this was the boy who drew the picture from beneath), but these sails [fins, wings?] did not move. There was a wheel at the rear revolving very rapidly [a propeller?]. There was a box beneath the body of the ship, but he could not see any man in it. The vessel was entirely black in colour.
Thomas McDonald saw the vessel twice — as he was going and coming from school. The first time he saw it he thought it was a bird, but he saw it better the second time. It came from the Blue Mountains, and took two turns over the township. After he had been home he saw it as it was going back. It would be about 10 or 11 minutes from the time he first saw it till the last time. He distinctly saw a propellor at the rear whirling very fast.
Alice Falconer was coming back to school when she saw it just going over the hill towards the Blue Mountains. It looked small, and was very high in the air. She told her teacher and others about it. When she saw it, it was going very fast, and did not take long to get out of sight.
Cyril Falconer was with other boys on the school ground when the airship passed over. A big wheel [propeller?] was revolving at the rear. He saw this reversed, and the vessel suddenly turned. He was in sight of Mrs. Russel, but was not with her. (His description of the sharp turn agrees thoroughly with Mrs. Russell’s statement.) This boy drew an angular picture which appeared to represent the ship as it was turning, with a wheel [propeller] at the back. Other children saw it, but these gave the clearest accounts.
Mrs. Russell, evidently the only adult who saw the phenomenon, said she was going down towards the station [heading southwards] about 12 o’clock when she saw a streak of blackness shoot over the hill on the left and apparently come straight towards her. Then it suddenly turned and swerved away over some trees out of her sight. She was very frightened when she saw it, as she had been ill. In appearance it was just like a boat. It was black in colour. She saw it for just a few minutes. It was travelling very fast at first, but when it turned it came lower and went somewhat slower. She did not notice any wheel at the rear or any sails, but was very flustered, as she thought the end of the world had come. On being asked if she could make a drawing, Mrs. Russell drew a sketch resembling a long boat, with sharp angular bows and a tapering stern. She did not notice any mast. It must have been, she thought, within 300 or 400 yards of her when it turned.
George McDuff saw the vessel at dusk on Saturday [24 July], and drew a more detailed sketch than the others. He was nearing his home about 5 p.m. when he saw the vessel going north. It was not travelling very fast.
THE MYSTERIOUS LIGHTS.
The evidence as to the mysterious lights is much more abundant than that concerning an actual sight of the airship in daylight. The earliest sight of the lights in Kelso was obtained by Miss Mary Guinan a fortnight ago. The first recorded sight of the light was obtained at Stirling [Sunday 11 July] prior to the 13th inst. [Tuesday], on which date the Clutha Free Press published the news. It was seen on the night of the 14th [Wednesday] by Miss Guinan as she was on her way to a friend’s house. It was then in the southwest quarter of the sky and travelled in the direction of the Blue Mountains, getting more and more dim until gradually it went out. She thought at first that it was a star, but when, a couple of days later, she saw news of the supposed airship at Kaitangata she at once concluded that it was this she had seen. On Saturday night [24 July], she saw the light again about 9.30. It was moving along rising and falling. She watched it, and after a time it flashed brilliantly, like a meteor. It seemed to make the sky round about paler.
Alfred Guinan saw the light on the same occasion [Saturday 24 July]. It was flashing as though the ship were turning round in circles. It was in sight for about half an hour, and would go over by the hill and come back into about the same place. His elder brother saw it with him.
Three members of another family saw the light about 6.30, but none of these witnesses was available. To these observers a flashlight and smaller lights were visible.
A boy named R. Russell saw the lights from about 9 o’clock till 9.30. The light from the ship sometimes shone on the hills, making them visible. He said he was able to see a dark shape, and he drew a long cigar-shaped sketch in proof of his statement.
The most important and trustworthy evidence was given by Mrs. Ferguson. She saw the light one night prior to Saturday night in the direction of Waipahi [southwards, S46°08’, E169°14’]. It looked like a meteor and disappeared behind the trees. On Saturday night a little before 9 o’clock as she was driving into Kelso [S45°54’, E169°13’] she saw the light above the Blue Mountains. This disappeared above Tapanui [immediately west of the Blue Mountains, S45°57’, E169°16’]. The light was very strong, and dazzled her eyes, so that she could not see at first on looking down how to guide her horse. It was of a reddish colour. On returning from Kelso she again saw the light, and stood on the Tapanui Hill [on Wooded Hill Road, S45°55’, E169°15’] watching it for some time. Her mother, whom she had gone to meet at Kelso, returned home on Sunday night, and said she had seen the light on Saturday night at Waipahi.
All the witnesses so far had heard no noise of machinery from the airship.
Mrs. Mayo, however, has heard sounds which she assumes come from an airship. When she was in bed on Friday [23 July] at 11.30 p.m. there gradually came to her ear a dull rolling whirring noise. It seemed like a motor or threshing mill. She listened intently, as the noise puzzled her. Gradually it became clear that the noise was not on the ground. It drew nearer – a rolling noise like a drum a long way off; not a tap, tap, but a dull roll mixed with which was a squeaking or piercing sound. She got frightened, jumped out of bed, and went on to the verandah. A great vibrating noise came from the roof. The sound approached from the southward, passed close overhead, and died away to the north in the direction of the mountains. She looked out as well as she could, but could see nothing, and she went back to bed. In the morning the horses in the paddock next door seemed frightened, and marks showed that they had been galloping round. Mrs. Mayo was the only person who heard this noise, but her house is away from the township.
Two other families were awakened on the same night, but they cannot say definitely what woke them. One man says that he and his wife woke suddenly, as though aroused by a noise like a door slamming suddenly, but it was a still night, and he knew that no door would slam like that. A woman in another house lying in the direction which the ship would take from Mrs. Mayo’s house to the mountains, was awakened at the same time by a noise, the cause of which she does not know.
A BRIEF REVIEW.
Everything so far mentioned has been absolute fact. Naturally objections are urged against the theory of an airship. An alleged explanation of the black airship seen by the school children is that it was a large flock of black swans flying close together. No explanation is, however, proffered of the whirling propellor, or as to why the flock should indulge in two complete circles above the township, go over to the gorge, stay there for a time, and return whence it came. Nor is it suggested that a flock of swans would find it necessary to generate electricity as they fly and provide a headlight for night manoeuvres. This theory does not find much favour, and the majority firmly believe in “something mysterious.” Some suggest that a local invention is being perfected, but the difficulty is how have the building operations been carried out with such secrecy. In reviewing the manoeuvres of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night and the subsequent disappearance, it must be remembered that those nights were calm, while since then some wind and low clouds and mist have prevailed. Last night a watch was maintained here till midnight, but with no result. The weather tonight is dull and cloudy, but watchers are on the alert.
Regarding the different places at which the light was seen on Saturday night it seems possible that only one ship is concerned. It was last seen in this district about 9.30 by Mrs. Ferguson from Tapanui Hill, travelling eastwards and southwards.
At 10.5 some railway men at Owaka [S46°27’, E169°39’] saw it approaching Kaitangata [S46°17’, E169°51’]. The airline is about 40 miles, but allowing a good visual margin of, say, five miles each way, that would make some 30 miles to be travelled in a little under an hour from the Catlins district. It disappeared seawards.
The lights of the airship were seen tonight [Wednesday 28 July] by at least 11 people. The Rev. Thomas Paulin, Presbyterian minister, his wife, and children [in Kelso] saw it about 6.45. Mr. Paulin describes it as something like a very brilliant star, greatly magnified. It was travelling very fast towards Mount Wendon [S45°49’, E169°00’], and was well above the skyline, but at last it seemed to travel downwards. The light then became more and more dim, and went completely out. In addition to the bright light there was a smaller light, as though it was at the end of the vessel. Its manner of disappearance was not that of any star, as it faded and did not disappear suddenly.
Mr. McKinnon saw the vessel at the same time from a different position in the town. It was dim at first, but seemed to be coming towards him, and became much brighter by fits and starts. It came from the north-west direction [from Mount Wendon?]. As it came nearer both he and his family could discern a big black body behind the light. This oscillated from side to side as though affected by air currents. They thought it would pass overhead, but the light grew dim all at once, and then gradually faded away. The dark body could not be seen when the light went out. Mr. McKinnon did not see any smaller light. A man driving along the road, as well as several other people, also saw it.
Otago Daily Times, Saturday 31 July 1909