Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Foxton's "perfect young giants": Wilfred and Ruby Westwood

The Westwoods, c. 1908

Updated 3 March 2014

On spotting this card on TradeMe, I was intrigued. Years ago, I had an interest in the side show performers of the 19th and 20th century. That two of these performers were New Zealanders inspired me to buy the card.

Sideshow exhibits have long been a staple of this country’s A&P shows. The one held at Wanganui Racecourse on Thursday 22 November 1900 was no exception. The Sash & Door band performed; those who correctly guessed the weight of a bullock stood to win a £13 Singer sewing machine; and Max Kresseig of Wellington visited, “patentee of the well known ice-chest”, showing two of his patented products to the admiring crowds. But there was another exhibit there making a debut showing, the start of a career which spanned at least four countries and the same number of decades. In a furnished marquee on the racecourse, Thomas Westwood introduced his children: three-year-old Wilfred weighing 7 stone, and his older sister Ruby (seven years), nearly 4 ½ feet in height, and weighing 13 stone 5lb. The other five Westwood children were all normal sizes and weights for their age; Thomas and his wife Sarah were certainly not out of the ordinary, either. Perhaps this intrigued the showgoers that late spring in 1900 as much as the sight of larger-than-normal children looking back at them.

The Westwoods were not the first such extraordinary children to be seen by curious audiences in New Zealand. Brisbane-born William Abernethy, “the original and world renowned Australian Giant Youth,” aka the “Australia Fat Boy,” achieved a height of 4' 10¼'' by the time he was 9 years old, and measured 16'' around the arm, 49'' around the waist, 34'' around the thigh and 20.5'' around the knee. The Colonist, reporting in 1858 on one of his Australian appearances described him as bearing “all the appearance of being in good health, and manages to walk and move about without the least difficulty.” After an English tour in 1860, he arrived in New Zealand in 1864 at the age of 15 years, standing 5' 8'' and weighing a whopping 25 stone. After that, he returned to Australia, and relative obscurity, living until 1904 having “lost flesh” as the newspapers put it, dropping his weight to 15 stone.

Following on from Abernethy, the Snell family in the late 1880s to early 1890s may have served as something of a model for the later appearances by the Westwoods. Billed as “the Australian Juvenile Giant Family”, “the Bunyip Giant Family”, and “the Gippsland Giants,” the Snells offered the amazed Australasian public not just one extraordinary child, but three from their total brood of five. Apparently approached by a Melbourne waxworks entrepreneur in 1886 who offered to take the children on tour, their father William decided to make the exhibiting of his children a family concern instead. Clara (b.1873), Tom (b.1879) and Anna (b.1881) journeyed with the rest of their family to England in 1888 where they were examined by doctors who testified as to the children’s general robust health. “Mr and Mrs Snell are about middle height, and of ordinary dimensions, rather inclining to be slight. Miss Clara who is intelligent and well-informed, lifts two cwt of flour with ease. The three children have been subjects of interest to the Australian medical profession. Several private exhibitions of them to medical practitioners and students alone, in various parts of the southern colonies, have been given.” [Bush Advocate, 14 August 1888].

They then returned to this region where they toured New Zealand, and the various country and town shows, from 1889-1890. At 15 years old, Clara weighed 28 stone, 5lbs; Tom (10) was 14 stone, 12 lbs; and Anna (8) was 12 stone 2 lbs.

As soon as Tom turned 21, he left the family sideshow business, lost most of his weight, and died in 1949 aged 72. His sisters Clara and Anna never quite lost their weight, though they both married and lived relatively normal lives. They predeceased their brother, Clara dying in 1914, and Anna in 1930. [“The Legendary Giants of Gippsland”]

These “giant” children appear to have suddenly started their otherwise normal growth patterns early, possibly as the result of medical conditions such as that of precocious puberty, rather than a form of true giantism. Their height never seemed to exceed that of slightly above average once they reached their early 20s – but their weight ballooned. The combination, up to the early teens, of taller-than-normal children with greater strength and overall size, had Victorian and Edwardian New Zealanders wondering.

The Westwood's story began as so many other New Zealand immigrant stories begin. In October 1864, Edward and Elizabeth Westwood arrived on the Columbus in Auckland. By 1869, Edward Westwood was working at Grahamstown, now part of Thames township. His son Thomas, born just before the family left Staffordshire, found his own niche in Foxton.

There, he worked at the Manawatu Cash Store, run by Christian Honore, by 1890. Three years before that, in Feilding, he married Sarah Lisette Bly.

The couple were to have seven children. The oldest, John William (Jack) , was born in 1887. Next came George Edward Bertram (Bert)  in 1889, Elizabeth Eva in 1891, Thomas Henry in 1892, Ruby May in 1893, Wilfred Edgar in 1897 and Loyis Lisette in 1900.

Thomas Westwood senior took over Honore's store in Foxton, operating it in partnership with Phillip Hennessey from 1894 until their partnership dissolved in the middle of 1899. From October to November 1900, Westwood was part of an auctioneering business. He became a Foxton Borough Councillor in October 1894, appointed Circuit Steward for the Manawatu Primitive Methodist Church in June 1898.

Then, in late 1900, the story of the Westwood family changed.

According to one report (Otago Witness 19 December 1900), a year or so before representatives from the Fitzgerald Brothers Circus made a "managerial offer" of £1000, plus expenses, to take two of the Westwood children to show at the 1900 Paris Exposition. The two who had apparently caught the eyes of the experienced circus showmen were Ruby (aged 6 in 1899) and Wilfred (aged just 2 years then).

Otago Witness 19 December 1900

These two remarkable children were born at Foxton (Manawatu district, N.I.), 104 miles from Wellington. The boy, Wilfrid, is three years of age, 7st in weight, chest measurement of 40in, and calf 14in. In Foxton he is known to everyone as Dick Seddon. The girl, Ruby, is seven years of age, 4ft 5½ in height, and a fortnight back, when a Witness representative visited them at Hawera, topped the scale at 13st 5lb. The children display extraordinary intelligence for their age, are perfect in every degree, the picture of good health never having had a day's illness. There is nothing out of the ordinary about their parents, who are both natives of England. The father, Mr Thomas Westwood, is 37 years of age, 5ft 7in in height, and weighs 13st while the mother is 33, and weighs but 6st 4lb. Mr and Mrs Westwood have resided for 25 years in Foxton, where seven years ago the former was principal of a firm who were agents for the Otago Witness. Mr Westwood is an ex-councillor of the Foxton borough, where he was also an aspirant for mayoral honours against the present popular town clerk, Mr Alf Fraser. Amongst managerial offers was one of £1000 and expenses from Messrs Fitzgerald Bros., of circus fame, to take the children to the Paris Exhibition. Dunedin people will have an opportunity of seeing these remarkable children early next month.

(OW 19.12.1900) 

Whether the circus story is true or not -- something was obviously decided within the family, gifted as they were with two children who stood out from the crowd and could lead to profits from the crowds who were bound to want to look at them for themselves, and marvel.

Thomas Westwood proceeded to sell the family chattels and prepared to hit the road, displaying the Giant Children of Foxton.

The children, who are to be on view at the Wanganui Show, were born in Foxton, in the County of Manawatu, and are said to be more than usually intelligent. Ruby is seven years of age, and heavier than her father, and Wilfred is a bright little fellow of three years, and heavier than his mother. The family are starting on a world-wide tour, and this will be the only opportunity of seeing them. The father refused an offer of £1000 to visit the Paris Exhibition about 12 months since. Ruby is younger and heavier, than the biggest girl in the world according to the Strand Magazine of last year. The children are both heavier than the Australian Giants that visited New Zealand (a) few years ago. The parents are well known and respected residents of Foxton. Their name is Westwood.

(Wanganui Chronicle 19.11.1900)
By the side of the main entrance gate was a large marquee, in which were exhibited the two largest children in the world … Judging by the large numbers visiting the tent. Mr Westwood should be well satisfied with the patronage bestowed. 

(Wanganui Herald 22.11.1900)

Fat Children.—" One half the world do not know how the other half live." Mr Billens informs us he photographed the two fat children to the order of their father, Mr Westwood, after the Palmerston Show. Since that time Mr Billens has received orders from Mr Westwood for one thousand cabinets. Eight hundred have already been delivered and most of them sold. The other two hundred go on in a few days to the Christchurch Exhibition. 
(Manawatu Herald 11.12.1900) 

GIANTS. Mr T. Westwood, proud parent of the two abnormally fat children known as the New Zealand Giants, has just returned from a successful visit to Southern towns. Good business was done with the children everywhere they were exhibited. At Dunedin, Mr Westwood attended with the children by invitation, before the Medical Conference. The children were examined by several doctors and pronounced perfectly healthy, while their growth was described as quite natural. Mr Westwood intends leaving for Australia with the children at an early date. 

(Manawatu Herald 15.2.1901)

Sometime around March 1901, the Westwoods reached Australia, starting a family involvement with the Australian sideshows which would last nearly three decades.

Yesterday afternoon, at the invitation of Mr. W. Lamour, a number of medical, gentlemen and press representatives visited 121, Bathurst street, where two giant children, recent arrivals from New Zealand, were on view, says the Sydney 'Daily Telegraph' of Tuesday. The youngsters are claimed to be the largest children for their age in the world, and they certainly look it. The eldest (Ruby) is only 7 years of age, and boasts the fact of being almost twice as heavy as her mother, turn the scale at exactly 13 st., while her brother (Wilfred), a festive young fellow of three years of age, ''tips-the beam'' at 7 st. Both children are physically very healthy, and have capital appetites, for fruit especially. They are natives of Foxton, in the North Island, and were exhibited for the first time in Christchurch. The parents, Mr. and Mrs. Westwood, are hardly of average size; indeed, although Mr. Westwood was once alderman of Foxton, he apparently had not the same qualification for the position in respect of girth that his infant son can boast of. 

(The Adelaide Register, 5.4.1901)

By August, though, they had returned to their native shores.

Auckland Weekly News 22 August 1901, ref AWNS-19010822-12-2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, 
Auckland Library

Next Friday evening there will be a novel exhibition, when two most wonderful children will be shown by their parents—Wilfrid, a boy of four years of age, weighs 8st, being one stone heavier than his mother, chest measurement 35½ inches and 3ft 9½ in high, a modern young Sandow; Ruby, 8 years of age, weighs 15st—3st heavier than her father, chest measurement 47in and 4ft 6½ in high, They are the children of Mr Thomas Westwood, who when a boy lived in Grahamstown with his parents, but left here some years ago, and has since resided in Foxton, the West coast of this Island, where these wonderful children were born. In the cities of Dunedin and Sydney the Medical Association at a conference examined the children, and declared them to be perfectly healthy, but of stupendous growth. They are not ordinary fat children, but perfect young giants, being fairly active for their great size, and of remarkable intelligence for their age. The children are described as being two pleasant faced children of tremendous growth. The parents are now returning home from Sydney, but are visiting the Thames to see their friends and renew acquaintances of years ago. The exhibition opens on Friday night. 

(Thames Star 21 August 1901)

Auckland Weekly News 22 August 1901, ref AWNS-19010822-12-3, Sir George Grey Special Collections, 
Auckland Library

For a while, the family settled down and returned to Foxton, with Thomas Westwood becoming Mayor of the borough in October 1903. But two years later, they were back on the road.

(Christchurch) Star 8 December 1906

The famous Westwood family, from Foxton, arrived in Gisborne this morning and will give an exhibition at the Theatre Royal this evening. The family include Wilfred, aged eight years, and weighing 16st 5lb; Ruby, aged eight years, 15st 10lb, the father and mother, and another son. Wilfred is claimed to be not only the biggest boy in the world, but the largest child who has ever lived to that age. The children are said to be exceedingly active for their weight. The parents are of ordinary stature and physique, as are also their other seven children.

(Poverty Bay Herald 21.10.1905)

On Saturday morning Ruby Westwood one of the giant children who has been on exhibition at Nelson during the past week, had a narrow escape from drowning. She was bathing in the Maitai River when she overbalanced herself, and failed to regain her feet. The timely arrival of her father who pulled her out saved her from her perilous position.

(Marlborough Express 7 February 1906)

Are the two Westwood little children of Foxton going to be shown at the Christchurch Exhibition? Why? Well, little Ray is thirteen years of age and weighs 16st 4lb, and little Wilfred is nine years old and weighs 18st 6lb. Both ride bicycles. Sheer cruelty I call it.

(NZ Free Lance 29.9.1906)

Nevertheless, the children did indeed get some of the limelight at Christchurch's 1906 Exhibition.

THE GIANT FAMILY. The two New Zealand giant children, Ruby and Wilfred Westwood, who are housed near "The Pike" at the Exhibition, continue to attract the attention and wonder of visitors. Despite the fact that they are the largest children in the world, they are wonderfully active and intelligent. Though nineteen stone, Wilfred rides a bicycle and Ruby plays the piano. The other members of the family, who are normal in size, are also present, and the contrast between sisters and brothers is the amazement of visitors from all parts of the world.

 (Press 20.12.1906)

In 1907, the Westwoods travelled to England, and became a sensation both there, and in a Parisian magazine called L'Illustration. The four images below come from the 27 July 1907 edition.

Ruby and Wilfred with their mother

A game of football.

NEW ZEALAND CHILDREN ARE WONDER OF ENGLAND Special Cable to The Herald. BIRMINGHAM, Aug. 24.— Ruby and Wilfred Westwood, two children who have just arrived from New Zealand to visit relatives in Birmingham, are perhaps the heaviest youngsters In the world. Ruby, although only 13 years old. Is five feet two Inches tall and weighs 245 pounds. Wilfred is 11 years old and weighs 254 pounds. He is an inch taller than his sister. His weight is greater than the combined weight of both his parents. In spite of their extraordinary size the children are in excellent health, and their mother says that neither has been ill even for a day. They play with children of their own age, and, while not marvels of agility, they seem to get along well enough.

(Los Angeles Herald, 25.8.1907)

Wilfred standing in the doorway of a "marchand de bonbons", or a confectioner.

Wilfred and Ruby playing with children of their own age.
According to a number of London papers (writes a London correspondent) New Zealand has, put up another record, for that colony is credited with possessing the "biggest children in the world." These two children are now in England on a visit. They are accompanied by their parents, and the whole family are now at Wednesbury, the native town of Mr Westwood. Portraits of these children, Ruby West wood, aged 13, and Wilfrid "Westwood, aged 11, are given in nearly all the London newspapers, some of the pictures showing these two playing with children of their own age, but of normal proportions. The girl is credited with a weight of 17st 7lb, and the boy with 20st 4lb. The former is 5ft 2½in in height, and the latter 6ft 3in. 

(Marlborough Express 31.8.1907) 

The family travelled around England and even visited Dublin. The Westwood family history describes them using a caravan, and exhibiting the children at circuses.

Then, in March 1910, the family headed for Canada, then America.

[Advertisement for Spring Carnival & Fair, El Centro 10 to 15 April 1911]. “The Westwood Twins, only 15 years old, weighing 911 pounds, come direct from Fonbour, New Zealand. Don’t miss seeing them.”

(Imperial Valley Press – California, USA – 1 April 1911)

The family history relates that Thomas Westwood was said to have bought a section in either San Francisco or near Hollywood, and made a children's film -- which wasn't successful. Soon after, he became bankrupt.

Tragedy struck in 1912 with the death of Ruby.
News reached Auckland by the San Francisco mail of the death of Ruby Westwood. She and her brother Wilfred were the two biggest children ever born in New Zealand, perhaps the biggest in the world. At the age of eight, Ruby weighed 14st. She grew proportionately, and at the time of her death, when she was about 19, she weighed over 20st. Her brother Wilfred is several years younger, and now weighs about 30 stone. These two ''giants" were born in Foxton, and resided up to the time of the Christchurch Exhibition, in Auckland. Since that time they have been travelling at Home and in America. The cause of death was blood-poisoning, contracted by a thorn in the finger by picking flowers. Nothing serious was anticipated from the scratch, but shortly afterwards it was found necessary to amputate the finger. This was of no avail as the poison spread and the unfortunate girl died within an hour of being admitted into the San Francisco Hospital.

(Thames Star 22.11.1912)

Now, what happened to the family from 1912 until 1917 isn't all that clear. The family history says that there is information handed down that the surviving children left Thomas and Sarah behind in the States, returning home to New Zealand in 1915. The parents eventually followed after working off the bad debts, but they were penniless.

However, Wilfred seems to have re-invented himself -- as the "Wonder Boy" glass blower. The legend around him from advertisements in later newspapers and promotional reports is that he learned how to do show glass blowing in the States, worked with Barnum & Bailey and Foley-Burk circuses, and even exhibited at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco. How much is truth and how much is side-show hokum, is anyone's guess until more information comes to light. But, he did journey around both New Zealand and across to Australia with his act.

Hawera & Normanby Times 30 June 1917

An industrial novelty will be at the show this year, namely, an exhibition of fancy glass blowing by Master Westwood, a young New Zealander lately returned from America. This will be his first appearance in New Zealand. Visitors should see this new art. Master Wilfred is only 17 years of age, and weighs 23 stone. A visit to this show should be well worth while. Location, side-show section.

(Hawera & Normanby Times 30.6.1917)

It is announced that a novelty to be seen at the Show this year will be a massive youth who, although only 17 years old, weighs 26st 8lb. He has just landed from America where, it is announced, he appeared at all the principal State Fairs and also at the San Francisco Exhibition. He is an expert fancy glass blower, and will spin, weave or blow any article that is possible to make from glass. The location will be in the side show section opposite the Ferris wheel.

(Brisbane Courier, 11.8.1917)

The call of our sailors and soldiers was heartily responded to last evening at Albert-square. The competitions were largely patronised and afforded much excitement and amusement. The side shows provided an unending source of interest. The novelty glass-blower, a youth of 17 years of age, but a man of 30st. in weight, besides being of abnormal growth, is a master of the glass-blower's art.

(Brisbane Courier, 17.8.1917)

Wairarapa Daily Times 18 February 1918

Evidently one of the best shows that have ever visited Masterton is ''The Wonder Boy” (glass blower and manufacturer), who will be showing both show days at the Solway grounds. This boy has just arrived from the Dannevirke show, and was viewed there by many thousands of satisfied patrons, and was pronounced by the press and public of that town to be the most marvellous boy of the present time. He was able to blow, spin and weave glass before the eyes of the people, proving this to be no fake side-show, but a clever and educative exhibition. This show is doubly interesting in the fact of the boy's abnormal size, he being 26 stone 8lbs. and his age only 17 years. He is a New Zealander, born in Foxton, of which town his father was Mayor a few years ago. The "Wonder Boy” left New Zealand at the age of seven, went to America, and there learnt the art of glass-blowing, and on his return 2 years ago toured New Zealand until a couple of months ago, when he was engaged by that eminent doctor of Auckland, Dr De Clive Lowe, blowing medical glasses. Owing to the severe eyestrain of such delicate work, he had to give it up, and is now on a tour of the world again. This show will be the "Wonder Boy's" last appearance in New Zealand, as he leaves in a couple of weeks for America, via Australia. This is certainly a show that everybody who attends the grounds should visit and should take the children, as it will be a real education for them.

(Wairarapa Daily Times 18 February 1918)

Quite a new departure in the show business o the show ground this year will be the glass manufacturing exhibition given by "The Wonder Boy Glass Manufacturer” as advertised in another column. The boy is able to spin, weave, blow and manufacture glassware from raw glass tubing. The demonstration is quite different from the usual sideshow. It is an exhibition that should appeal to school teachers for the education of their pupils from the practical point of view, and is also a valuable object lesson for adults. The boy is particularly interesting. He is a New Zealander, having been born at Foxton, and is said to be the largest boy on earth. He is eighteen years of age, and weighs 27 stone 8lb, a truly excellent specimen of a New Zealander. At the age of six his father had him taken to America. He was educated in the art of glass manufacturing, which, owing to his abnormal size, was the only calling suited for him. After nine years' tuition he returned last year to Auckland, and was specially engaged by the eminent physician, Dr. De Clive Lowe, in manufacturing glass medical instruments; but owing to severe eye-strain resulting from such intricate work he was forced to give the work up, and is now touring the agricultural shows of New Zealand before he returns to America in a few months' time. The people of Nelson are urged not to miss this opportunity of viewing the glass manufacturing exhibition.

(Colonist 17.2.1919)

The Wonder Boy will appear at the Hawera Winter Show this year for the last time, as he is leaving shortly for America, and those who have not had the opportunity of seeing his demonstrations of fancy glass work should not fail to do so. The feature of his show this time will be spinning glass. Have you ever seen glass finer than the hair of your head? This is made on a spinning wheel which revolves at the rate of 1000 per minute. This spun glass can be used for book markers, and every lady is to be presented free of charge with one of these souvenirs. Since the last visit of the Wonder Boy to Hawera he has been engaged in making medical glass instruments for the eminent physician of Auckland, Dr De Clive Lowe. His exhibition is a truly novel one, and should not be missed by one and all. The show is well worth a visit.

(Hawera & Normanby Times 30.6.1919)

A new departure in the Hawera Show this year will be the glass manufacturing exhibition given by the "Wonder Boy" glass manufacturer, as advertised. The boy is able to spin, weave, blow, and manufacture glassware from raw glass tubing. The demonstration is quite different from the usual side show. It is an exhibition that should appeal to school teachers for the education of their pupils from the practical point of view. One of the features of his exhibition will be spinning glass. This is made on a spinning wheel which revolves at the rate of 1000 revolutions per minute. This spun glass can be used for book markers. The boy was educated in the art of glass manufacturing for America. The people of Hawera should not miss the opportunity of viewing the glass manufacturing exhibition. A prize of £1 is for the boy or girl who writes the best essay on the "Glass Blowing."

(Hawera & Normanby Times 6.7.1920)

From 1924, Wilfred joined forces with his oldest brother Jack to form Westwood Brothers Enterprises.

Auckland Star 23 October 1924

the glass blowers, are old friends. They have been showing here the last six years. They told me the Rockhampton people have always treated them well. They did not treat me too well last year, as the boy caught me with a lung tester. He is on drinks he will not do it this time. They are in their old stand, and right next Bradley's snakes. They will be found under the sign "Wonder Boy Glass Blower.” 
 (Morning Bulletin – Rockhampton, QLD – 25.6.1924)
I had a chat with the Westwood glass blower boys; they told me Rockhampton had treated them better than ever. I remarked that they would be in for a rest, but there is no rest in their business, as they are constantly making up stock. 
(Morning Bulletin – Rockhampton, QLD – 30.6.1924) 

The Wonder Boy Glass Blower is the name borne for years by Wilfred E. Westwood, whose birth place was Foxton, N.Z. Mr Westwood has appeared throughout the world in his unique exhibitions of glass-blowing, For several years he was with the Barnum-Bailey and Foley-Burk circus in America, but he returned to Australia giving exhibitions of his art at principal shows. The Wonder Boy will demonstrate practically everything that can be made of glass from the raw material to the finished article. Souvenirs that will be seen made will be beautiful birds of paradise, large vases, kangaroos, sailing ships with outspreading sails, wine glasses, animals and blowing glass to a thickness of two-tenth thousandths of an inch. A large model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the latest achievement of the Wonder Boy. This bridge con(sists?) of one hundred and fifty miles of (?) glass and took him nine weeks to build. It is a most unique piece of (?) in the history of glass-blowing … 

(Townsville Daily Bulletin, 6.7.1925)

The new firm took in an added attraction in 1925: Australian Mae Kingsley, said to be the only female exhibition glass blower in the world.

Evening Post 16 July 1927

The "Wonder Girl Glass Blower" is the name which is given to Miss Mae Kingsley on account of her knowledge and natural aptitude in the art of glass blowing. Westwood Bros. Enterprises have secured the services of Miss Kingsley for a limited tour of Australia, and she will be seen at the forthcoming Royal National Show in unique exhibitions of her art, in conjunction with the Wonder Boy Glass Blower. It is just six years since Miss Kingsley left her home in Sydney to commence her studies in technical glass blowing most of her time being spent in the laboratories of Belgian and French glass manufacturers.

(Brisbane Courier 6.8.1925)

Glass Blowing-Girl's Unique Art. One of the most educational exhibitions to be seen at the Royal National Show this week is the demonstration of glass blowing, given by Miss Mae Kingsley, who is claimed to be the world's only girl glass blower. Miss Kingsley is a perfect artist in spinning and blowing ornamental glass work; who will make animals and birds, ships, bulbs, glasses, vases, &c. while you wait. With her spinning wheel she will spin glass like the finest silk, which can be made into neck ties, watch chains, &c. While this is going on Mr. W. E. Westwood will give an interesting history of the origination of glass, which dates back as far as 2000 years B.C., and in some respects is a lost art. The large model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which contains over 150 miles of spun glass, and is the work of this talented Australian girl, will be on exhibition in her large marquee at the Show. Visitors should see Australia's little marvel at work.

(Brisbane Courier, 11.8.1926)

The Westwood Bros. claim for this interesting lady, that she is the only lady glass blower in the world. This may be so, but the fact remains she is the cleverest at the business we have had here, not even excluding Will. Westwood himself. Among all the beautiful articles she makes, zoological, botanical, and others, the glass dress takes pride of place. When one thinks of the fine work in the making, it is wonderful. The glass is spun as fine as a silken thread. It is made from glass rods, heated and drawn out on a wheel revolving rapidly. The colouring is done by using different metallic oxides; chromium gives a green shade; manganese shades from pink to purple; copper from reds to blacks; other oxides give blues, black, and ruby colours. It is over 4000 years since the Phoenicians first discovered how to make glass. All down through the years glass-blowing has not lost its interest. In its most perfect state the operation can be seen at Wellwood Bros. tent in the Show Grounds. Talking to the bronze haired little lady, she said:-"The dress I have just completed seems to me it was all a day dream, but after such tedious and tiresome work, I am pleased to know my day dream was not a myth."

(Morning Bulletin – Rockhampton, QLD – 23.6.1927)

More than ordinary interest will be taken in the unique exhibition of glass blowing presented by Westwood Bros. at the Royal National Show this year. It is astounding to see perfect models of kangaroos, walking sticks, birds of paradise, snakes, ships, ornamental vases, native animals and birds take shape as if by magic from the end of a blow under the delicate touch of this talented Australian artist. Some astounding achievements have been made by the glass blowers since their last visit to Brisbane -- among them is the beautiful ladies evening dress made entirely of glass by Miss Mae Kingsley, and the working models of steam engines which is another astounding achievement. The glass dress and steam engines, which will be in full operation, will be on exhibition in conjunction with this astounding demonstration. Visitors should make it a point of seeing this talented Australian artist at work.

(Brisbane Courier, 9.8.1927)

GIRL GLASS BLOWER. Miss Mae Kingsley, the girl glass blower, will appear at the Hobart regatta next Tuesday. She takes the molten glass from her specially constructed furnace, and blows It into all sorts of articles, such as birds of paradise, old-Dutch smoking pipes, and glass hair. Miss Kingsley is assisted by Mr. W. E. Westwood, and as each article is made the manufacture will be explained.

(The Mercury – Hobart, Tas – 28.1.1928)

Miss May Kingsley, who astounded visitors to last year's Royal National Show with her marvellous exhibitions of glass blowing, has returned to Brisbane for this year's Show. Referred to as the Wonder Girl Glass Blower, Miss Kingsley and party have just returned from a tour of Africa, where they travelled thousands of miles by motor caravan, and gave countless demonstrations of their art. They are making another tour of the Commonwealth prior to departure for England, via South America. Miss Kingsley, who is assisted in her demonstrations by Mr. W. Westwood, an accomplished artist, will interest her audiences with the manufacture of all manner of glass novelties and the processes will be explained at full length.

(Brisbane Courier, 6.8.1932)

By 1934, though, Wilfred was on his own again. I haven't found any further reports as yet about his exhibitions beyond that year.

One well worthy of the patronage of all sections of the community is the Wonder Glass Blower, Mr. W. Westwood, Mr. Westwood, who has not visited the Cairns show ground for two years, and who only recently returned from South America, gives the lie direct to those who contend that the manipulation of glass cannot be made interesting. He shows in a series of dexterous movements just how easy - or apparently easy - it is to weave glass tubes into perfect simile of swans, kangaroos, sailing ships and every other imaginable shape. His display is not only interesting it is definitely instructive and enlightening, as he shows by his remarks as he works that he is familiar with the whole history of glass since it was first discovered over 2000 years ago. 
(Cairns Post 19.7.1934) 

Wilfred Westwood, the Wonder Boy, died 28 September 1939 in Auckland as the result of a motor accident. He was living in Sandringham at the time, and died intestate. He is buried at Waikaraka Cemetery.  

I'm sure there'll be updates as more information comes in.

Source (aside from Papers Past, Trove, and  the California Newspaper Digital Collection): the  Westwood Family History, by Lynley Lessels Yates.


  1. Loved this post, I'll look forward to updates as you find them!

  2. New Zealand, punching above its weight as usual, pun not originally intended but hey...

  3. A fascinating addition to the history of glassmaking in New Zealand. I'd love to know a bit more about how it was done. Most probably flame working, manipulating glass rods in a flame, rather than batching molten glass - they would unlikely to be able to do that in a Show setting. But I wonder what the fuel was? Laboratory glassmakers would have used coal gas, but would that have been reticulated at the sites they were exhibiting at, I wonder? Thanks for an intriguing post.

    1. Wilfred Westwood was my great Uncle and I was told he learnt glass blowing in America. I am unsure of the method but he definitely did his glass blowing in show settings travelling around New Zealand in a van.

    2. Thanks, Patrice. Always great getting additional info!

  4. Ah, lovely article, thank you. I bought the first postcard a while back and also tracked down pieces of the tale of the Westwoods, with the vague idea of writing it up - but now I don't need to! Filling in a bit more on the life of Wilfred E, he was an entertainment impresario touring in Africa for a while, enjoying many fabulous sights - at least, that's what he told an Australian newspaper http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/24909146/1822069?zoomLevel=3

  5. Thanks for that. Always good to get extra info (even if there's a possibility of it being just showman's talk!) Cheers!

  6. Hi this was really interesting! I am related to Ruby & Wilfred through their Mother's family.

  7. I loved this story ... thank you Timespanner ohhh hahahaha ... I've just realised how old this post is that I'm responding to lol

  8. A brilliant read ... loved it lol .. thanx Timespanner

  9. we too are related to them, at a recent family reunion we saw articles about them. . I can't help cringing at their lives, imagine that today!

  10. Currently the subject of correspondence 0n newzealandgroups.io
    Ray Rob via groups.io
    9:17 AM (1 hour ago)
    to newzealand


    Mrs. Francis Cooke, late of Southacre, Norfolk, has just passed away at
    Oxwick , at the advanced aged of 96 years. She claimed to have 283
    descendants, four of whom belong to the fifth generation. The old lady has
    been residing with Mrs. Grief, one of her daughters, at Oxwick, for the
    past 19 years. She has two other daughters living in the same county, one
    in Lancashire, and one in New Zealand, also three sons living in New
    Zealand, South Wales and Saffron Walden. Her husband, who was a gamekeeper
    for many years in the employ of the late Mr. Andrew Fountaine of Norford
    Hall, died about 35 years ago. Miss Fountaine, a daughter of his employer,
    kindly allowed the old lady pension of 5s. weekly for nearly 34 years, up
    to the time she came in for the old age pension. The venerable lady was
    grandmother to Mrs. Westwood, of the Westwood Family, from New Zealand, who
    paid a visit to England last year, with five of the family. One of the sons
    named Wilfred, aged 12 years weighed 21st. 6lbs., and a daughter named Ruby
    weighed 17 and a half stone. Last summer the family was exhibited in
    various towns
    - Yarmouth Independent - Saturday 19 March 1910