A young lady is lured aboard a luxury yacht, to be confronted by a man who is head over heels in love with her, but whom she loathes.
“Hilda,” said Lord Reginald, bowing low, “forgive me. All is fair in love and war. My life without you is misery.”
“Do you think, my Lord,” said the girl, very pale but still courageous, “that this course you have adopted is one that will commend you to my liking?”
“I will teach you to love me. You cannot remain unresponsive to the intense affection I bear you.”
“True love, Lord Reginald, is not steeped in selfishness; it has regard for the happiness of its object. Do you think you can make me happy by tearing me from my friends by an artifice like this?”
“I have a clergyman in the cabin yonder. Marry me at once, and your friends shall come on board and congratulate you as Lady Paramatta.”
“That I will never be. I would prefer to face death.”
True to her word, the woman jumps overboard from the speeding yacht, where she is spotted by an aircraft that is in hot pursuit. The flying machine manages to land on the water and fly her to safety, despite being badly damaged by gunfire from the yacht.
It is scenes such as these which make Julius Vogel’s Anno Domini 2000; Or, Woman’s Destiny a curious mix of Nostradamus, Indiana Jones, and Mills and Boon. Vogel’s anticipations of the future are scattered through a Victorian romance novel whose heroine is an intelligent, beautiful, talented young New Zealander by the name of Hilda Richmond Fitzherbert. The villain is Lord Reginald Paramatta, a dastardly Australian who eventually gets his comeuppance in a pistol duel.
Vogel wrote the novel in 1889 as part prediction, part promotion and part vicarious realisation of many of the ideas he had advanced as a politician and been unable to achieve in the real world. One of his most striking prognostications concerned the role of women—an area in which Vogel the politician had been a campaigner. From the 1860s he had argued for higher education for girls, and in 1887 he had introduced an unsuccessful Women’s Suffrage Bill into the New Zealand parliament.
In Vogel’s fictional Y2K, men and women “take part in the affairs of the world on terms of equality, each member of either sex enjoying the position to which he or she is entitled by reason of his or her qualifications.” Women take leading roles in areas such as science, business and particularly politics, in a world in which every 18-year-old man and woman is eligible to vote and stand for election.
Women hold the most powerful political positions in that world. The president of the United States is a woman, and an Irish woman is prime minister of a federated British Empire.
Our heroine achieves high office, too, becoming M.P. for Dunedin before the age of 20 and being elected to the federal parliament at the age of 22, where she is appointed Secretary of State for Home Affairs. There is only one place in which women do not have equality with men by the year 2000. Preferential succession is still given to male heirs to the throne.
By 2020, however, even this lingering disability is removed.
That women would ever hold equal rights with men and the top political positions seemed pure fantasy when the book was first published in 1889—just as it is accepted as pure reality today for people living in a country that has a female governor-general, chief justice, prime minister, leader of the opposition and attorney-general. Women did not have the vote, let alone the right to stand for political office when Vogel predicted female prime ministers and presidents.
In New Zealand, women were not allowed to vote until 1893, nor to stand for election until 1919, and it was not until 1933 that the first woman was elected to the New Zealand parliament. Eighteen-year-olds were not able to vote until 1975.
Time may prove Vogel equally adroit in his prediction about the state of succession in the year 2020—assuming the monarchy survives another two decades.
Vogel was less telling with the second major item on his crystal-ball wish-list—that of “forming the dominions of Great Britain into a powerful and beneficent empire.” Again, this was an area in which the politician took a strong interest: he was a fervent promoter of imperial federation.
Vogel rightly predicted a lesser role for Britain within the then British Empire, but not that it would occur through the Empire evolving into a Commonwealth of independent states. Vogel has Britain and its dominions consolidated into a federated Empire called United Britain. The King of England (Albert Edward) is crowned Emperor of United Britain (and eventually marries our Kiwi heroine Hilda). Each country sends representatives to a federal parliament which meets at different times in different parts of the world.
The “Irish question” is settled when Ireland gains self-government, the population exodus is reversed and Ireland goes on to become the most prosperous country in the world. As an interesting aside, Vogel has some Australians plotting for Australia to become a separate Empire—foreshadowing the rise of the Australian republican movement.
Vogel’s third major area of concern was also close to his political heart: “to relieve the misery under which a large portion of mankind languishes on account of extreme poverty and destitution.” In the world according to Vogel, poverty is eliminated after international finance houses agree to increase the money supply, raise the prices of products and labour and introduce a social security system for the aged, infirm and helpless—funded from income tax and death duties. This prediction was made at a time when there was not even an old age pension in New Zealand—it was not introduced until 1898, and a comprehensive social security system was not put in place until the 1930s.
As well as pushing these three main political issues—women’s rights, imperial federation and the fight against poverty—Vogel used Anno Domini 2000 to make an extraordinary array of predictions that time has turned from fancy to fact. Sixteen years before the Wright Brothers and Richard Pearse first flew, Vogel wrote of fast global travel in aluminium “long-distance air-cruisers” that can take off and set down on land and water. Atomic-powered machines on board drive “quickly revolving fans working in the directions that were found to be suitable to the progress of the vessel.” The writing is vague enough to embrace jet aircraft and helicopters.
Before the advent of computers and email, Vogel foresaw instant which is used to produce a strong light “or under certain conditions a very powerful offensive and defensive weapon.”
Closer to home, mere brute force is superseded by power-and laboursaving devices that are brought to even the humblest of houses. The waves, tides and winds store up power which is converted into electricity or compressed air, “and either of these aids to laboursaving could be carried from house to house as easily as water.” Electricity replaces coal and gas as provider of light and heat. Most houses are artificially cooled in the summer. Cities boast multistorey buildings “with constant self-acting elevators.”
Several predictions focused on particular parts of New Zealand and foreshadowed the increasing importance of tourism, fishing and horticulture to the New Zealand economy. By Vogel’s year 2000, more than a million overseas visitors flock annually to New Zealand for the curative power of the waters at Rotomahana, Te Aroha and Waiwera in the North Island and Hanmer Plains (Hanmer Springs) and several other localities in the Middle (South) Island. Rotomahana is a city of hotels of all sizes, some capable of accommodating several thousand visitors. The health resort of Te Aroha is an even larger city at the centre of an extensive and rich mining district. (Vogel had regularly bathed in the hot pools at Waiwera in an attempt to regain the full use of his gout-affected legs.)
A personal interest also underlined another prediction—that by 2000 Stewart Island would have a fishing industry “of immense extend and value,” including huge factories for tinning fresh fish. Vogel had tried unsuccessfully in 1885 to start such an enterprise on Stewart Island, where a much more modest fishing industry would eventually be established.
Much more impressive is Vogel’s prognosis for the central North Island’s Volcanic Plateau. He wrote of large areas of supposedly useless pumice-stone land being turned to profitable use. Vogel imagines this happening after artesian wells are bored to supply water to more than a quarter of a million acres (617,000 hectares) of pumice-land, which is drenched with a mixture of “soil, clay and fertilising agents capable of being held in water by suspension.”
The land is found suitable for subtropical fruits and grapes, and vast fruit-canning works are established and “a special effervescent wine known as Bullerite” produced. This was written several decades before large tracts of the Volcanic Plateau were brought into productive use by changing soil chemistry through the addition of cobalt to the topsoil, which remedied the wasting “bush sickness” stock suffered due to a deficiency of the trace element.
Equally impressive is Vogel’s prospect for the Kawarau River in Central Otago. Vogel wrote of a fortune being spent on the recovery of rich gold deposits from the bed of the Molyneux [Clutha] River, which drains Lake Whakatip [Wakatipu]. (Confusingly, this part of the Clutha system is now called the Kawarau River.) Under the Vogel scheme, the bed of the Mataura River, which begins near the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, is deepened, and an outlet cut to it from the lake. At the same time, the natural outlet from the lake into the Kawarau River is closed by a dam with gates, and the downstream tributaries are diverted into channels cut alongside the river.
This engineering feat lays bare 80 km of river bed between Lake Wakatipu and the Dunstan [Cromwell]. Thousands of people come to watch as the river recedes. Five hundred boxes, each holding five thousand ounces of fine gold, are shovelled from one part of the river alone, without exhausting the deposit.
Vogel had a long-time interest in the subject. As early as 1864 he had written editorials on the possibility, and in 1886 he had taken shares in a trust to undertake such a scheme, although it came to nought.
A fortune was later spent trying to recover gold from the Kawarau River, in a scheme remarkably similar to that proposed by Vogel. The Kawarau Gold Mining Company was formed, and in 1924 a workforce of up to 200 men began building a dam with sluice gates at Kawarau Falls at the Lake Wakatipu outlet. One fine August day in 1926, thousands of people from as far away as Australia crowded the Frankton Flat, much as Vogel had described, to watch the gates temporarily close for the first time, in the belief that they would see at least some gold that day.
They were disappointed. The problem was not with the dam—it worked brilliantly. The problem was with a deviation from Vogel’s scheme. Water from the Shotover River, which entered the Kawarau downstream from the dam, flowed back to form a large lake in the riverbed. This was something Vogel had foreseen in proposing that channels be cut to divert the downstream tributaries. Furthermore, rock bars running from side to side of the Kawarau formed natural locks, with the water from the Shotover and other tributaries trickling from one lock to the other. Worse still, it soon became clear that the exposed shallow reaches of the river had already been worked during low river levels in the 1860s.
Very little gold was won from the Kawarau River when the gates were closed in 1926, and fewer than 80 ounces was recovered when the dam was activated for two months the following year. Of this, the aptly named Vogel’s Vision claim, operating at the Roaring Meg, produced more than half. It was a similar story when the river was briefly blocked on a couple of occasions during the 1930s depression. All was not lost, however. The open-gate dam has given 75 years of sterling service as a bridge on the highway between Queenstown and Kingston.
Amid these uncannily accurate predictions in Anno Domini 2000, there are the quirky and the bizarre. For example, a world war is narrowly averted in 1915—the year after the outbreak of World War One in the real world. Similarly, in the year 2000, United States troops cross into Canada on the pretext of a dispute about fisheries. Britain invades and defeats the United States. New York and the New England states vote to become part of Canada, of which New York becomes the capital.
Furthermore, alongside a perceptive prediction that “to New Zealand mainly belonged the credit of Antarctic research” is an absurd amount of soothsaying about Stewart Island and beyond. The island is portrayed not just with its fish processing, but with an industry based on “sorting and preparing for the market the stores of ivory brought from near the Antarctic Pole, the remnants of prehistoric animals which in the regions of eternal cold had been preserved intact for countless ages.” These tusks are traded by a race of many thousands of Antarctic “Esquimaux” who speak a language similar to Maori, whose faces and bodies are covered with a thick growth of short, curly hair, and who are discovered living on a large island with a pleasant climate near the South Pole.
Despite its fabulous anomalies, Anno Domini 2000 stands as a remarkable work. In his introduction to a commemorative edition, published late last year, professor of English at Victoria University Roger Robinson writes that Vogel’s 2000 came nearer the mark that most other futuristic imaginings have proved to be, including George Orwell’s 1984.
“Overall,” writes Robinson, “Vogel emerges as a utopian prophet of rare percipience.”