A New Zealander’s view of Glasgow in 1921

The Baton arrives in New Zealand today (27.11.2013), and with so many historic connections with that country, it has been hard to select just one. However, it’s not often you get to hear a New Zealander’s perspective of Glasgow in 1921, so here it is.

Ivan Lorin George Sutherland, born in Masterton, New Zealand, was mentioned in a previous blog for being the first overseas student to gain a PhD at Glasgow in 1924. He became a Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch and a leading expert on the Maori people. However, he could have been considered to be an expert on the Glasgow people in the eyes of his own family when he travelled the 12 thousand miles on a scholarship to Glasgow in 1921, via the Panama Canal.

Ivan Lorin George Sutherland. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-018914-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22899048

Ivan Lorin George Sutherland. S P Andrew Ltd Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-018914-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22899048

Ivan wrote home on a regular basis while he was in the UK, from 1921 to 1923, providing a rare and fascinating view of Glasgow and its citizens in the 1920s through New Zealand eyes. The original letters and postcards are held in the Archives of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, but thanks to Ivan’s daughter, the University Archives holds a copy of his transcribed Glasgow correspondence (UGC141).

Ivan’s first impresion of Scotland during his ten hour train journey was complementary “I liked the Scottish scenery better than the English – perhaps because it is more like the N.Z. scenery.  All the cottages are of stone and whitewashed – they look very picturesque.”  His first view of the industrial city of Glasgow was, however, not so favourable, “The smokiness started again as we got near Glasgow – we passed huge steel works and factories of all kinds: scores more of smoke stacks: the sun was quite red- like it is when there has been a bush fire.”  On leaving central Station, he commented, “The very first thing that struck me was this:  to see almost all the men – young and old in big round bowler hats … they are almost universally worn and very funny they look on young men.  There are very few soft felts and caps and worn only by the ‘wukkers’.”  The University on first sight was “rather overwhelming – huge building- very imposing.” (Vol 1.Letter 14, 30 Sep 1921)

Ivan’s descriptions of Glasgow included hunting for lodgings (which had beds disguised as cupboards), tenements, tram travel, prices, sermons, internal and external lectures, Edinburgh, smoking habits, food, clothes, mail times and routes, plays, and customs. He settled in the aptly named Sutherland Street at No 9 with a Mrs Forbes, in what he explained was an expensive part of town –“Hillhead is the ‘Kelburn’ of Glasgow – very good quarters.”  (Vol.1 Letter 15, 3October 1921).

His thoughts overall:

“Altogether life in Glasgow is a grim business – but a great experience.”  (Vol.1 Letter 22, 15 November 1921)

I am sure that New Zealand and international perspectives of Glasgow will be different almost 100 years on! For more information on our historic connections with New Zealand, check out International Story page here.


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