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A group of students relax before taking their met office themed float on the 1946 capping procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

A group of students relax before taking their met office-themed float on the 1946 capping procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

As we have just completed a series of December graduation ceremonies, it seems a good time to remember one of the graduation customs no longer with us: the capping procession. This carnivalesque event, involving political satire, cross-dressing and crazy musicians, had its beginnings in 1899 when a group of students drove through Dunedin in a horse-drawn vehicle playing “mixed instruments” during capping week. It gradually evolved into an event with multiple floats parading through the streets, watched by large crowds. Participants begged donations from spectators for their chosen charities. Groups from various faculties and residential colleges put considerable effort into creating their floats.

"Paddy's Band of Angels", featuring the notoriously balding cabinet minister Paddy Webb, perform for a large crowd at the 1946 capping procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

“Paddy’s Band of Angels”, featuring the notoriously balding cabinet minister Paddy Webb, perform for a large crowd at the 1946 capping procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

The School of Mines "SS War Bride" float from the 1946 procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

The School of Mines “SS War Bride” float from the 1946 procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

I am grateful to Arthur Campbell, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, for sharing these wonderful snapshots of the capping “procesh” of the 1940s, during his Otago student years. Capping celebrations were suspended from 1942 to 1945 thanks to the war, so the 1946 procession was a great occasion. In this period, capping floats often reflected current events and political controversies; later they were more centred on the university and student life.

A "tram" from a late 1940s procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

A “tram” from a late 1940s procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

The “Grand National Orchestra” prepares to take part in a late-1940s procession. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

Procesh flourished through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. By the late 1980s students were starting to lose interest in the event and public tolerance of the procession declined due to the “excessive” behaviour of some participants. Its demise was perhaps inevitable as the number of graduation ceremonies increased and capping became a less important annual event; orientation took over as the major student festival.

A dental student float from the late 1940s. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

A dental student float from the late 1940s. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

After a recess through the 1990s, the procession was reinstated by OUSA in 2000, but did not survive as the major event which students and public had once enjoyed. Do you have any memories to share of capping processions?

Procesh was generally a well-lubricated event. This late-1940s trio were on a float seeking "heftier handles for Highlanders". Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

Procesh was generally a well-lubricated event. This late-1940s trio were on a float seeking “heftier handles for Highlanders”. Photograph courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

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