Month: February 2014

Images of a Museum Collection – Part I

In this first part of a two-part series, Collections Assistant Kathy Greensides talks about part of her role as Museum Photographer and the kinds of things she does on a daily basis.  Tune in next week for Part II…

As museum photographer I am often asked what kind of things do I photograph? As well as photographing exhibitions for security records, exhibition openings and staff members for our website, one of the things I love about my job is to photograph collection items, new acquisitions that have been accepted for the collection and also back cataloguing of items accepted in the past but not photographed. Every object we accept must be catalogued in detail and having a photograph to add to the collection record gives anyone looking for an object a detailed image.

I thought I would write about some of the things I get to work with on a day to day basis. I never know from one day to the next what I will be photographing, and what follows is a small selection of some of my favourite images.

We recently dismantled some large bird dioramas to make way for our up and coming moa exhibition opening this year. There were over 100 birds to photograph so this presented somewhat of a challenge, one of them being getting them to sit upright so I could get a good image!

BIRDS

Wilson's Bird of Paradise

Wilson’s Bird of Paradise

Southern royal albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

Eastern curlew

Eastern Curlew

 

 

 

 

 

 

NUMISMATICS

Another large collection we have is our collection of numismatics (coins and paper money) some date back to Roman times and even earlier. We are lucky to have a volunteer who is a specialises in numismatics and  is currently cataloguing our collection. As we move towards being a cashless society these small treasures will become increasingly scarce. Below are images of three particularly beautiful and rare coins.

Henry IV groat – c.1412 – 1413

Henry IV groat – c.1412 – 1413

Byzantine gold coin – 9th century Turkey featuring the Emperor Basil and his son Constantine on the obverse.

Byzantine gold coin – 9th century Turkey, featuring the Emperor Basil and his son Constantine on the obverse.

Byzantine coin reverse features Christ, his right hand raised in benediction and his left hand holding a book of gospels.

Byzantine coin reverse features Christ, his right hand raised in benediction and his left hand holding a book of gospels.

Small silver Roman coin featuring Antonius Pius c.138 AD – 161AD

Small silver Roman coin featuring Antonius Pius c.138 AD – 161AD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TEXTILES

The textiles department houses a vast range of objects including carpets, tapa cloths, dresses, uniforms, flags, shoes, samplers, hats, bags, quilts, the list is endless.

Hartnell dressBritish designer Sir Norman Hartnell clothed three generations of Britain’s royalty. He is best known for the intricate and lavishly decorated gowns he created for Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Queen Mary. This 1930’s dress is of light gold satin-backed crepe with narrow shoulder straps and a “V” neck at both front and back. There are four wide horizontal alternating crepe and satin bands from bust to knee. The left side has a placket opening. The centre back has a pleated satin insertion which drops down to become part of a full sunray panel from knee to ankle.

Rangitikei Rifles jacketRangitikei Mounted Rifles Bandsman’s jacket; red with navy blue stand-up collar and cuffs; fringed epaulettes with white braid decorated with red crowns; same braid on collar, cuffs, down sleeves and back seams.

 

 

German Samoa flagThe flag of German Samoa features three bands of black, white and red, from top to bottom. The German eagle surmounted by a crown is set at centre. This flag was taken by New Zealand Armed Forces in Samoa in August 1914.

Wedding dress

This full-length sapphire-blue silk wedding gown is lined in natural fine cotton. It has a piped stand-up collar of matching cotton sateen. The bodice has a centre-front opening with 26 metal hooks and thread loops. It also has dart shaping from hip to bust, with whalebone inserted between waist and bust line.

 

CorsetThe B.G. Celebrated Corset, worn in about 1895, has fourteen pairs of baleen or “whale bone” stays. This fully-boned corset is made from grey-banded  twill weave cotton with ecru Broderie Anglaise trim and finished with decorative  top stitching. Five metal  loops and studs at the centre front closure, called the busk  board,  fasten the corset around the wearer. Nineteen pairs of metal eyelets at the centre back are the anchors for lacing the corset tightly to create a fashionable hour-glass figure.This is the original meaning of “straight-laced’’. Each half is constructed of six shaped panels. The whale bone reinforcing is sewn on the outside.

ARMAMENTS 

We are also lucky to have a volunteer that is cataloguing our armaments collection which includes guns, knives and swords. He is also cataloguing medals and militaria.

Imperial Service OrderImperial Service Order – badge and case. The Imperial Service Order was instituted in 1902 to recognise long and meritorious service by senior civil servants. Gold centre piece with royal insignia, surrounded by 7-pointed star, topped with crown and suspended by red ribbon with blue centre running vertically down middle. Wood case with purple velvet lining.

Blunderbus

Blunderbus, 11 bore, 0.700 caliber, single barrel, muzzle loading, flintock action. Brass barrel with folding bayonet. London and Birmingham proof marks, black powder G.M. inventor. Known as a “Coaching Blunderbus” and used to protect stagecoaches, no military significance.  The blunderbuss was a flintlock weapon used by travellers and farmers in defence of property. Its usual ammunition was lead balls, if the balls were in short supply, stones or nails could be used. The short, flared barrel made it very inaccurate and unwieldy, giving the weapon a shotgun-type effect which could hit many targets at once or none at all. They were used from the 17th to the 19th century. The name blunderbuss comes from the Dutch donder bus which can be translated as ‘thunder-pipe’.

Gun cleaning kitGun cleaning spare part kit for a Bren Mg MK1 303 machine gun.  Kit comprised a khaki canvas roll up kit, shoulder strap attached comprising 4 pouches, 3 with buckled flaps, one as pocket, with the centre third closing with 2 external buckles, and contained: 2m length twine with brass end for cleaning barrel, a metal canister containing brush attached to lid, a metal  spanner, a metal container containing wire mesh 6×3.5cm, alum keys on ring, and 1 large spring 8 x 1cm, 2 small springs, 3 unidentified metal objects.

 

Check back in next week for more Images of a Museum Collection, but if you can’t wait until then take a look at the collections uploaded to our website.

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One Fish, Two fish … Five Fish, New Fish!

Five whitebait may not seem like much of a catch, but the Museum was very pleased to get them.

Horizons Regional Council looking for fishes in the Tutaeika. Photo: Damien Wood.

Horizons Regional Council looking for fishes in the Tutaeika. Photo: Damien Wood.

Perhaps a proper whitebait net would have helped, instead of two aquarium dip nets, but we were trying to catch adult whitebait, or īnanga, for the Museum’s new aquarium. The word “whitebait” actually refers to the juveniles of not one but five different species of native fish; young īnanga are the most common of those five. Adult īnanga are attractive little fishes about the size of your finger. Their scientific name Galaxias maculatus (maculatus means spotted) describes their leopard-like spots, and they have an iridescent greenish stripe. In the aquarium they hover in the filter current in a tidy shoal.

Native fishes are mostly nocturnal, so at 11 pm on Saturday night the Curator of Natural History was wading up the muddy Tutaeika Stream in Aramoho, being eaten by mosquitoes, peering into the water with a powerful head lamp. The Tutaeika has a history with local hapu as a food-gathering site, but in the daytime it doesn’t look like much: it emerges from a culvert, flows like a drainage ditch through open fields with no shelter, and runs for a short distance behind backyards and Aramoho School, fringed with weeds, before emptying into the Whanganui River. But at night I counted at least four species of fish—īnanga, a middle-sized eel, banded kokopu, and common bully. A recent fish survey by Horizons found koura (freshwater crayfish) there too, and the introduced pest fish Gambusia—impressive diversity for a neglected suburban stream.

Adult īnanga ('Galaxias maculatus') Credit: Whanganui Regional Museum

Adult īnanga (‘Galaxias maculatus’) Credit: Whanganui Regional Museum

Each year, the whitebait that escape the nets head upriver to sheltered streams to feed and grow over summer. By autumn, after eating voraciously, īnanga are the size of the adults in our aquarium, and head downriver to spawn. They lay eggs around the base of grass and reeds in the estuary, and most then die. The young īnanga head out to sea for the winter after they hatch, and return in spring as whitebait. So most īnanga live for only a year—the ones in our aquarium won’t be spawning, so will live for two or three years.

The Whanganui Regional Museum’s new native fish aquarium. Credit: Whanganui Regional Museum

The Whanganui Regional Museum’s new native fish aquarium. Credit: Whanganui Regional Museum

We set up our aquarium to mimic the streams around suburban Whanganui: the fish are natives, but the lush greenery is all invasive weeds, plants originally imported by fishkeeping hobbyists and now choking our waterways. It’s sitting in the museum atrium, and seems popular—green swaying plants and darting fish are almost hypnotic.

Part of the job of a museum is to document and preserve the natural history of its area, so in 100 years locals and scientists can see what’s been lost or gained. Our job is also to raise awareness of treasures that would otherwise be overlooked; treasures that might be in your backyard, especially if you live in Aramoho.

Mike Dickison is the Curator of Natural History at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Rhine of the Antipodes

The houseboat  'Makere' moored at Marae Kōwhai on the Whanganui River.

The houseboat ‘Makere’ moored at Marae Kōwhai on the Whanganui River.

The Whanganui River has always enchanted those who have travelled its winding waters. Tangata whenua (people of the land) hold the river sacred and express their relationship with it in the saying: Ko te Maunga, Ko te Moana, Ko au te Awa, Ko te Awa, ko au; From the Mountain, To the Sea, I am the River, And the River is me. The later years of the nineteenth century opened up the Whanganui River to the rest of the world. Travelling for pleasure was fashionable and increasingly affordable. Tourists had explored and gloried in the long, winding Rhine that moves through the heart of Germany, with its towering precipices and picturesque castles. They had gasped at the Pyramids in Egypt and seen the Greek Parthenon. Now they started looking for other marvels.New Zealand with all its natural curiosities and exotic locations, such as the Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua, drew tourists from overseas in their thousands. The Whanganui River was marketed as the antipodes of the Rhine in Europe, its direct opposite on the other side of the world. New Zealanders also came from near and far to bask in its beauty, to picnic, to meander by canoe and to enjoy a pictorial paradise not seen by many before.

William Salt, his sister and a small party rowed down the river from Taumarunui, circa 1910.

William Salt, his sister and a small party rowed down the river from Taumarunui, circa 1910.

Visitors left a legacy of photographs and paintings to lure many more to Whanganui.  The photographs record a brief moment in history, but capture the magnificence and timelessness of the river.  North of Pīpīriki, ladders of vines that made Māori cliff top settlements accessible from the river were an exciting and awe inspiring subject for a photograph. Arawhata, the name of the area, actually means ladder. Variations on what was known as The Ladder Scene were created many times by different photographers and became a standard shot for publications and postcards.

The Drop Scene, taken early 20th century by FJ Denton

The Drop Scene, taken early 20th century by FJ Denton

Also upriver from Pīpīriki, voyagers come across what is known as The Drop Scene. There are several stories about how this place got its name. One is that the dramatic scenery looks like a theatre backdrop. Another is that as you look upriver through the gorge, an optical illusion gives the impression that the river is dropping away in front of you.

Alexander Hatrick, an astute and energetic businessman, built up a fleet of riverboats that were used for local freight and passenger transport and also for tourist travel.  He set up two hotels to support his river transport business and created a commercial kingdom on the Whanganui River.  In the busiest years Hatrick’s fleet was composed of 19 vessels, including paddle steamers and motorised canoes. The journey up the Whanganui River could be made in a pleasant three days. Hatrick linked up with Thomas Cook Travel, putting this region on the world map of scenic wonderland tours.

The Great Auk – the original penguin

Skeleton of a Great Auk

Skeleton of a Great Auk

If you visit the new House of Bones exhibition at the Museum can see, amongst all the skeletons, a middle-sized bird sitting upright on a pedestal. At first glance it looks like a penguin. Which is true and false – it’s the original penguin, the Great Auk.

Today, what we call penguins only live south of the equator. But in the North Atlantic, “penguin” (from the Latin pinguis, or fat) originally referred to this huge flightless seabird which nested in large breeding colonies on offshore islands near Scotland, Iceland, and Newfoundland. When explorers first visited the southern oceans, the flightless seabirds there looked so similar they called them penguins as well.

 

 

Lithograph of Great Auk from John Gould’s 1837 publication The Birds of Europe. Eleven years later the bird was extinct

Lithograph of Great Auk from John Gould’s 1837 publication The Birds of Europe. Eleven years later the bird was extinct

Great Auks had no fear of humans, and so were easy pickings for hungry sailors. Slaughtered in their thousands for flesh, fat, feathers, and eggs, not much thought was given to their conservation. In prehistoric times they’d lived on the Atlantic coasts of Europe and Canada. Rare in the 18th century, by 1838 ornithologists were warning they were in danger of extinction. By the 1840s Great Auks could be found on just one island, off the coast of Iceland. Three specimen hunters went there in 1844, and located the last nesting pair. Two men strangled the parents, and the third, perhaps wanting to do the job throroughly, smashed their egg with his boot. That was the end of the line for the species, though a single lonely bird was sighted in the North Atlantic in 1852. Today, all we have left are some eggs, skins, and 24 mounted skeletons, one of which is in Whanganui.

Detail from skeleton of a Great Auk

Detail from skeleton of a Great Auk

When I was doing my PhD research in the USA, I visited Harvard’s famous Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, Massachussetts, and was surprised to see a moa skeleton on display. How did it get there? It turns out it came from Whanganui. The town had a treasure-trove of moa bones nearby, and the Museum in its early days was keen to acquire specimens from around the world, so traded one of its extra moa with Harvard, one extinct bird for another. So the skeleton in House of Bones is one of the few old-school penguins in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mike Dickison is the Curator of Natural History at the Whanganui Regional Museum

Settler Stories

In the nineteenth century the carte de visite photograph was very popular; affordable to the public, cheap to make, and of a standard size they were produced in great numbers and traded amongst friends and family members like calling cards.  The Whanganui Regional Museum has a significant number of these little photographs in our collection and has been embarking on some research into the sitters to try and find out a little more about them.  Here are a handful of some of Whanganui’s early residents.

Charles Thoren Aamodt

Charles Thoren Aamodt

Charles Thoren Aamodt was born in 1859 in Wilson Street, Whanganui.  He left Whanganui for Wellington in 1877 to take a position at Messrs Buckley & Co.  Upon leaving was presented with a ring from his comrades in the Wanganui Rifles, of which he was a long-standing member and an excellent shot.  He married Mary Josephine McKeegan on 28th April 1882 in Wellington and they have five children together: Leah Mary 1892, died aged 4 weeks; Elizabeth May 1895; Charles Herman 1896; Mary 1898, died aged 14 months; William 1900.  Charles passed away on 8th July 1917 at his residence on Jessie Street in Wellington.

George Stephen Bridge

George Stephen Bridge

George Stephen Bridge was born on Regent Street in London, England, on 21st December 1840.  He arrived in New Zealand aboard the ‘Hastings’ in 1859 and settled in Waverley where he worked as a farmer and Justice of the Peace.  He was a member of the Education Board for 26 years, Chairman of the First Patea County Council in 1878, Chairman of the First Waitotara Highway Board in 1879, member of the School Committee in 1882, and Church Office Bearer in Waverley from 1887-1905.  In 1897 he settled in Whanganui in Plymouth Street, and served as an Elder in St Pauls Church, Treasurer of the Wanganui Prohibition League, member of the Orphanage Committee, Director of the Library Committee, and member of the Borough Council in 1901.  In February 1865 George married Catherine McWilliam, daughter of Thomas McWilliam of Netherdale Farm in the Matarawa Valley.  They had the following children: Thomas Andrew born 1866; George James born 1867; William Wilkinson born 1869, died 1869 aged one month; William Wilkinson born 1872; Charles Harry born 1873; Francis David born 1888, died 1893 aged five years; Catherine died in 1901 aged 54 years, and George died in 1906 aged 65 years.

Duncan Blair

Duncan Blair

Duncan Blair was born in Scotland in 1833 and arrived in New Zealand in 1870, where he settled in Whanganui and became a farmer at Rapanui in Kai Iwi, Wanganui.  He was a pedigree Lincoln sheep breeder and was at one time president of the Kaierau Football Club.  In 1869 he married Agnes Barries who was born in Massachusettes, USA, and together they had the following children: Agnes (born in America, unknown date) married William Aiken April 1891; Jack Alexander (no birth date), married Ada Cutfield in 1911; Duncan born 1873, married Suzanne Gadra; Isabella Bell born 1876, married Peter Johnstone; Elizabeth born 1878, married Archibald William E. Montgomery; Florence (Flora) Lilian born 1879, married Gilbert Moyle; Edith born 1880, married Matthew Henry William Galpin in 1906; Maggie (Madge) Paterson born 1881, married Jack Callaghan.

George Henry Armstrong

George Henry Armstrong

George Henry Armstrong was born in 1852, the son of John Armstrong, a coach builder.  George owned a drapery business in Victoria Avenue, Whanganui.  On 6th June 1877 he married Mary Ann Sigley, a dressmaker, and they had one son, Norman Graham born in 1878, who went on to become a teacher and solicitor.  George died on 22nd October 1881 after an illness, aged 29 years, at Rose Hill in Waverley.