Month: April 2014

Diorama leads to Masters


Kyle Dalton’s first view of the museum’s diorama of the Rutland Stockade that once stood on Queen’s Park hill was a crucial moment.  He can, in fact, trace his lifelong interest in military history back to that time.
Part of that interest led him to learn about the Rutland Stockade itself; “At 60 by 30 metres it was the largest stockade in New Zealand,” he says.  “At the time it was built it was one of eight in the country and four of those were here [in Wanganui].”
Kyle arrived in Wanganui from Marton in 1997. He was a policeman and had, before that, transferred from Auckland to Marton in 1991. From 1994 he had been coming over to Wanganui as part of 5 Battalion, the next stage of his career.
“I left the police, started a couple of security businesses; bought and sold, bought and sold them and then joined the army in `94.  One day when I was over here I came in [to the museum] and saw the diorama.”
His curiosity piqued, Kyle visited Queens Park to see where it was. Of course there are no obvious signs of its former location but it got him interested.
The stockade stood for 40 years, dominating the town with more than just its rudimentary architecture. Building on it started in 1846 and finished in April 1847.
“Conveniently, the timber was supplied by the very Maori who later attacked it,” says Kyle. “They were paid £500 for it.”
So what was in the stockade?  “There was very little. There were the two main buildings of American design; that’s why they overhang. The diorama had capping on the fence but originally they were sharpened stakes.”
Sharpened – not because pointy wood deterred people from trying to climb over, but because a sharpened stake sheds water and inhibits premature rot: trivia courtesy of Kyle Dalton.
As a matter of interest, there are two lines of bricks in the path leading from the Queens Park car parking area that overlooks Ridgway St up to the cenotaph. In 2002 when the walkway was being installed, workers uncovered two old stockade fences; one in corrugated iron from when it was used as a prison, and one in wood from its days as a stockade. Those brick lines mark the locations where the fences still stand, rotting beneath the soil.

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson's Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson’s Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

When it was in use as a stockade, it was never used as living quarters.  “The officers had their own quarters where Andersons is now [on the corner of Victoria Ave and Ridgway St], which was next door to the military hospital. The soldiers would camp out in tents on the flat ground now adjacent to the Davis Library,” says Kyle.
The stockade would have been manned around the clock by a skeleton crew.  The bulk of the units left in 1869, with the final soldier leaving in 1870. By 1872 it was a prison, but the untreated timbered structure, by then 20 years old, was starting to show signs of age.  “Members of the town council wanted to preserve it. They saw it as a significant feature of Wanganui, but it came down to cost … the issue was raised as late as 1883 when a large part of it came down. It was taken down in stages,” says Kyle. By 1888 it was gone, with some of the wood ending up in the local Masonic Lodge as furniture.
That view of the diorama, produced by the museum’s exhibition people some time in the 1970s, has led Kyle through further education to the point where he is now studying for his Masters degree.  “An examination of the role of the military in the development of Wanganui,” is his subject. At the centre of it, though long gone physically, stands the Rutland Stockade.

Article original published in Wanganui Midweek on December 19, 2012; reproduced with permission.

Easter Celebrations

We recently celebrated Easter. Of primary importance in the Christian calendar, Easter has become an annual event for many others as well, with celebratory eggs and chocolate rabbits being handed out and many looking forward to a long weekend.

Easter is the Christian festival of the resurrection of Jesus, celebrated at a similar time to Jewish Passover. Early records indicate Easter has been celebrated from at least the middle of the 2nd century. The rites and rituals around Easter differ between Christian cultures and denominations, but observance usually starts around 40 days before Easter Sunday and continues for 7-50 days afterwards. These times are accompanied by different traditions including fasting or feasting, special services and robes worn by the clergy, and periods of quiet contemplation or joyous celebration.

A chasuble, an embroidered robe from St Marys Catholic Church in Whanganui, worn by a priest during the liturgy of Eastertide, covering Easter and the 50 days after.

So where do eggs come in? Several denominations forbade the eating of eggs in the lead-up to Easter, but as chickens do not stop laying at this time, a household’s egg store would be quite full by the end of it. The eggs were often hard-boiled or preserved and turned into a celebratory feast when the fasting was over, as they had to be eaten before going bad.

Painted Ostrich eggs

Painted Ostrich eggs

Eggshells have been decorated for thousands of years, and eggs have been commonly used as a symbol of life, fertility and rebirth. Early Christians used eggs to symbolise the tomb of Jesus and subsequent resurrection, and often dyed them red to symbolise the blood spilt during crucifixion. The Christian Church adopted the custom and now eggs are widely associated with Easter, although the traditional decorated hen’s egg is now more likely to be chocolate or plastic accompanied by sweets or toys.

So what do rabbits have to do with it? Rabbits and hares are a common symbol in medieval church art; at that time these animals were believed to be hermaphrodites and their ability to reproduce on their own aligned them with the Virgin Mary. They are also good breeders and thus another symbol of fertility.

The Easter Bunny?

The Easter Rabbit first appeared in Georg Franck von Franckenau’s De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) in 1632, where he talks of the German tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter Eggs for children. The Easter Bunny originated amongst German Lutherans and was the judge of a child’s character, deciding if they had been good or bad and leaving them eggs, sweets or toys the night before Easter Sunday.

An Easter Greeting card, c1909

An Easter Greeting card, c1909

If you want to avoid eggs and rabbits, why not just send an Easter card? These became popular in the late 19th century as a way to send an Easter greeting to a far-flung loved one rather than try to send them an egg through the post. And today there are websites dedicated to sending still or animated Easter e-cards at little or no charge.

Heads Up!

What we wear on our heads is fundamental to how we present ourselves. Headwear has many functions and can be a symbol of rank, profession or religion, a protective covering, for modesty, for ceremony, as a fashion item, to keep hair under control or disguise the lack of it under wraps!  These hats, helmets and headdresses are a part of the Museum’s encyclopedic collection donated by people in the Whanganui community and reflect ancestry, work experiences, travel exploits, interests and the influence of the outside world on our lives over the past 150 years.

1922.7.1Mourning Hat, Korea; late 19th century
In Korea mourning clothes are an important indicator of society’s respect. Traditional mourning clothes included a wide sleeve coat with a cord tie. Men wore a conical hat, such as this one, made of tightly plaited sennit, while women wore hemp rope around their heads like a crown. Personal ornamentation was forbidden and hair was worn loose. The eldest son was expected to mourn the most for the loss of a parent: two years for a mother and three for a father. During this period he had to refrain from meeting people, arguing, drinking alcohol or fathering children.

1960.126.1Fez, Egypt; 1914-1918
Sultan Mahmud II introduced this style of headwear to the Ottoman Empire’s dress code in 1826. The red felt cone-shaped cap originated in Fez, Morocco. The shape was designed so that Muslim men could press their heads to the ground when praying. A red fez with blue tassel was the standard headdress of the Turkish Army from the 1840s until 1910. From the late 19th century it was widely adopted as the headdress of locally recruited “native” soldiers in the various colonial forces of the world. This hat was brought to New Zealand as a World War I souvenir.

1967.154.14Busby, Great Britain; 19th century
The busby hat is synonymous with the British Hussars, Yeomanry and Horse Artillery regiments but originated in Hungary. It should not be confused with the much taller bearskin cap worn as part of the ceremonial uniform of several regiments of the British army. On the original hat, a cloth bag was attached from the hat to the right shoulder as a protection against sabre cuts. It later became merely decorative and was shortened for convenience.

TE.729Headdress, Tahiti/Society Islands; 1897
This headdress is part of a processional costume. It is made from strips of pandanus with decorative hibiscus fibre rosettes attached. A tapa poncho decorated with similar rosettes completed the costume. Together they may have been worn for the Feast of Flowers given in honour of the visit of the New Zealand steam ship Waikare to Tahiti in 1897. This costume was collected by a passenger on board the Union Steam Ship Company’s Waikare on this voyage.

TH.514Cap, West Africa; late 19th century
This cowrie shell and glass trade bead cap probably originates from West Africa, in the area of modern Nigeria. Ancient forms of this style of cap were made of coral beads, were rather opulent and were associated with royalty. The bronze effigies or busts of royal women from the Kingdom of Benin are depicted wearing variants of this style of headwear. Cowrie shells were a form of monetary exchange in Africa and the Pacific but they were also viewed as symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth.

2003.4.1Shushut, Northwest Pakistan; 1980s
A shushut is part of the traditional dress of Kalash women from the isolated valleys of Northwest Pakistan. It is every-day wear for all women and girls. The headdress of hand woven and embroidered wool is decorated with buttons, metal medallions, plastic beads and cowrie shells. While the wool is from the fleece of local sheep, woven dyed and embroidered by the women themselves, the decorative ornaments are traded with Peshawar traders for locally grown walnuts.

Rock-a-bye, baby

Contrary to the popular nursery rhyme, a tree top isn’t the best place to put a child to sleep, especially as we head into Autumn with the wind increasing in speed and decreasing in temperature. Cot, crib, or cradle, there are much warmer (and safer) places to send bubs into dreamland. The Whanganui Regional Museum holds several examples of infant beds in the collection, some dating back to the mid-1840s, and although the overall structure of baby beds haven’t changed much over time the stories are in the finer details.

1980.60.1Bassinets and cradles have been in use for almost as long as we have been having babies. The small beds were initially designed to give baby a safe sleeping space, either in a larger bed or located next to the parents’ bed for ease of access during the night. These were usually small with fairly high sides to give the baby a comforting feeling of being in a cocoon, and often had a frame below to allow for gentle rocking to help settle the child.

The Museum holds a beautiful cradle in the collection made by Mr Kennington, a bridge builder in Whanganui in the late 19th century, who wasn’t happy with a simple rocking cradle for his children and instead made one in the shape of a boat—complete with a rope and pulley system which allowed the boat to swing freely.


Cradles were used from child to child, and one cradle in the collection is engraved with the names and birth-dates of each child who used it: “”Marjorie born October 1st, 1892. Dorothy born January 12th, 1894. Rowena born November 25th, 1897””. These inscriptions are just part of the detail of this richly engraved cot, which features fine geometric patterns and scenes form from nursery rhymes.


1995.44.51But not all bassinets are this detailed; one commonly used by hospitals consists of a simple wire mesh basket placed on tall legs which allowed the new mother to view her new baby easily from her own hospital bed.


One child’s bed in the collection arrived about 1840 with a family emigrating from England. This is a great example of a ‘cot’ which is commonplace now but only became commonly used in the 19th century. Prior to this, children would often go straight from a bassinet or cradle to a low-lying trundle or toddler bed. The intermediary cot became popular as a way to ensure the safety of toddlers who were capable of standing on their own, as the high sides prevented them from falling out of bed or from getting out when they should be sleeping. The iron frame was important as it was reputed 1965.15.1to deter bed bugs, lice, and moths, but little thought was given to the lead paint that was often applied. The height of the cot shows an interesting insight into popular thought of the time, as it was intended to keep the toddler in the safe pocket of air away from both the toxic fumes believed to settle at floor level and the explosive vapours believed to hover near the ceiling. Although science has dispelled this fear, parents still find the height of cots easier on the back.

Sandi Black is the Archivist at the Whanganui Regional Museum.