Month: May 2014

A Who’s Who of Who Mattered

Liz Hamblyn looks through the museum's copy of Wanganui New Zealand Who's Who.

Liz Hamblyn looks through the museum’s copy of Wanganui New Zealand Who’s Who.

The Whanganui Regional Museum is a seemingly never-ending source of local treasures, one of which was unearthed by front-of-house staff member Liz Hamblyn. It’s a book, printed and published in 1915 by the Wanganui Chronicle, entitled Wanganui New Zealand Who’s Who.
Published just four years after Wanganui Coronation Souvenir 1911, and following a similar format, Who’s Who is a rich depository of Wanganui pictorial and textual biography and snippets of contemporary information and interesting historical trivia.
It’s a fascinating historical document that is almost impossible to obtain. For an overview of the important male population of the time there is nothing superior.
“It’s got everybody,” says Liz. “It’s got Mr Sigley, master plumber, borough councillor, director of public museum … vice-president of the Wanganui branch of the Political Reform League. These chaps were busy!” And there, in glorious monochrome, is a photographic portrait of the illustrious gentleman; splendid, hirsute and unsmiling, as studio poses were then.
The names read like a street index of modern Wanganui, so many of these chaps gave their name to a piece of bitumen or some feature when the town was still establishing itself. “There’s Mr Spriggens,” noted Liz, referring to the chap who gave us the Grand Hotel and the name for a prominent sporting park.
There are photographs of the newly-built Wanganui Collegiate School in Liverpool St and a portrait of AA Willis nearby. We looked at ‘Photographs of Merit: portraits by FJ Denton’, who was a photographer of note at the time.
Being 1915, with the Great War in full swing, there’s a strong military presence and photographs of men in uniform fill many a glossy page.
I noted there seemed to be no women included in the publication but Liz searched and found a few, including CM Cruickshank, MA, MSc, principal of Wanganui Girl’s College; and Miss Elizabeth Dunn, Divisional Surgeon of St John’s Ambulance Brigade.
“It reflects an era, a time,” says Liz, when asked why she chose this book as her ‘Vaults’ subject. “And you know these people; you read about them.” Not only that, but many of us are descended from them. That makes this book a valuable family album of sorts. Liz reeled off name after famous name – Polson, Porritt, Poynter, Purnell … The book also features photographs of landmark buildings, many of which remain.

The book begins with a long, glowing, wordy introduction that reads a lot like an advertisement, enticing the traveller to visit, the citizen to stay and anyone else to set up shop and house here: “Wanganui, already one of the most important towns in New Zealand, is destined to rank outside the four cities as the foremost port in the Dominion. It has been most favourably endowed by nature and the people of the town and district being alive to the magnitude of its potential so nothing can stop its progress.”
The introduction then goes on to give the depth of water at the port, suggesting that even ocean liners could berth at Castlecliff. The text lists the industries and businesses that made the town prosper and makes much of Wanganui’s natural beauty and the existence of a beautifying society to enhance what nature provided. The population at the time, as noted in the book, was more than 13,000.
This reporter would like to know what happened to the 45,000 volumes which comprised the Cosmopolitan Club library, as mentioned in the book.
Just before publication, the publishers, the Wanganui Chronicle, sent a letter to the Borough Council asking if arrangements could be made, similar to those made for the Wanganui Souvenir, when the council purchased 2000 copies for distribution on ocean liners “trading between the Mother Country and New Zealand” and for the principal libraries of the world. There is no newspaper record of that having taken place for the Who’s Who.
One thing Liz did point out was the appearance of the odd “rare, interior shot”. The outside of buildings is a common photographic subject, but seldom do we see the inside.
Mostly, the book consists of miniature portraits of people with their name and occupation listed beneath. “If you read the old newspapers,” says Liz, “you’ll see these names on committees.”

A reader could spend hours poring over the portraits and pictures, making discoveries on every page. If it ever makes its way on to the book stands in facsimile form, I’m sure it would be guaranteed a substantial market.

Article originally appeared in the Wanganui Midweek on 30th January 2013, and reproduced with publishers permission.

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A House with a History – Hutchison’s Folly, Villa Maria

George Hutchison was born in Scotland in 1846 and came to New Zealand when he was 20.  He would later become a Member of Parliament but began his career practising law in Wanganui and Wellington.  In 1874 he married Agnes Barbour Hogg, daughter of the Wanganui Reverend David Hogg, and soon thereafter commissioned the building of a house for his new family.  Construction began in 1875 and the building was completed the next year.

North elevation; detail from the building plan

North elevation; detail from the building plan

The Italian villa was built at a time when good quality timber was plentiful and reasonably cheap.  It was large covering an area about 70ft square, and the two-storeyed structure with a two-storeyed tower atop was built of heart rimu.  It stood on Wicksteed St between Cameron St and Guyton, St where St Mary’s Catholic Church now stands, and the height made the building a visible landmark on the townscape.

A view looking across central Whanganui with Hutchison's Folly to the left of the Church steeple, c1888

A view looking across central Whanganui with Hutchison’s Folly to the left of the Church steeple, c1888

It was commonly referred to as ‘Hutchison’s Folly’; possibly a response from the locals who didn’t appreciate a wealthy English lawyer imposing his Victorian mansion on the centre of their town.  Nonetheless, they could not help admiring the building.

The house had a concrete verandah with a cast iron rail and heavy wood balustrade around three sides of the building.  These were fairly standard features for big homesteads of the time, but the second-floor balcony around three sides of the house, accessed by French doors and with views of the town, river, and Mt Ruapehu showed a little more luxury than was usually experienced.

Hutchison spared no expense on the lush interior: parquet floors (with both English and New Zealand timbers), plaster doorframes and detailed capitals stained to match the wood, a large wine cellar, crystal chandeliers, ornate tinted plastered roses on the ceilings, fireplaces with marble surrounds and tinted glazed hearth tiles are noted features of the house.  It was also practical, with a large indoor-water tank fed by the roof and internal lead pipes to take the water where it was needed.

Plan for the parquet floor; detail from the original building plans

Plan for the parquet floor; detail from the original building plans

It is not known exactly how much the building cost at the time; however a retrospective estimate made in 1944 stated it would not have been less than £10,000 using materials at that time – equating to more than $800,000 in 2014.

The family resided there only 13 years before relocating to South Africa where Hutchison had been serving military staff duty and decided to move his law practice there.  The house was rented to Dr Saunders of Wanganui until he passed away.  In 1898 it was sold to the Catholic Church when it was renamed Villa Maria and became the temporary accommodation for the boarders of Sacred Heart Convent until 1911.

Villa Maria Catholic School, shortly after being sold by George Hutchison

Villa Maria Catholic School, shortly after being sold by George Hutchison

The building had other uses; the second floor (base of the tower) was converted into a music room for the students of the convent, and the remaining rooms were used as headquarters by other institutions including St Vincent de Paul and the Maori Missioner.

An unknown gathering outside Villa Maria.

An unknown gathering outside Villa Maria.

The house became a primary school from 1927 until it relocated to another building on the same block in 1934, then after some alterations Villa Maria became St Augustine’s Secondary School opening in 1944.

Until then the building had remained much the same, but a lot of change was carried out over the next few years to accommodate the needs of the school, until it relocated to new premises in 1967.  From then Villa Maria continued its service as the headquarters for various organisations and societies run through the Catholic Church.

Villa Maria shortly before demolition in 1974, with the tower already removed.

Villa Maria shortly before demolition in 1974, with the tower already removed.

Villa Maria was demolished in 1974 and the new St Mary’s Catholic Church opened in 1976.

Snow, Glorious Snow

MN-059Winter is coming. Although not snowing yet the change of seasons is becoming much more noticeable, so search out your skis, prepare your polyprops, and get ready to head to the hills.

Skiing is a great New Zealand pastime for many, and although it has only been enjoyed as a recreational sport for a relatively short time, skiing has been a mode of practical transport for much longer. A ski has been found in Russia dating to 6300–5000 BC. Norway has been home to a plethora of ski-related artefacts including carvings, cave paintings, and skis dating 5000–3200 BC. Other skis have been found in Sweden and Greenland, but not all evidence is restricted to the Scandinavian lands; a mosaic in Sicily dated to the 4th century AD shows a man wearing skis, possibly to take advantage of the slopes on nearby Mount Etna.

Skiing was initially used as a form of transportation, proving an easier way for people to travel over the white stuff rather than try to battle their way through it. Early Norse Mythology describes gods and goddesses hunting on skis. Other writings include descriptions of kings sending tax collectors on their rounds on skis (950 AD), the legal prohibition of skiers disturbing moose on private land (1274 AD), and records of the Dutch Army using ski warfare with their speed and travel distance compared to that of light cavalry (13th century AD).

W-SW-009For a long time, skis were made of wood and were designed for stability rather than speed. They were simple affairs: long, narrow planks of wood, sometimes bound in fur or horse hide, with the tip slightly curved up and strappings used to tie them on to the skier’s feet. The intention was to have the user glide over the snow rather than sink into it.

Skiing only gained in popularity as a recreational sport from the mid-19th century and the design of skis began to change to accommodate new demand. It was discovered that a cambered ski, arched up in the centre, helped to diffuse the weight of the skier. This allowed the ski to become thinner and lighter than the previous solid planks of wood, which not only made skiing faster and easier to manoeuvre but also helped to absorb shocks and make the ride smoother. This was soon followed by the addition of a sidecut where the ski is tapered in at the centre, allowing the ski to flex more and making turning even easier and quicker.

Leather and rubber ski boots, early 20th century.

Leather and rubber ski boots, early 20th century.

Wooden skis with metal boot holders, early 20th century

Wooden skis with metal boot holders, early 20th century

Bamboo ski poles, early 20th century.

Bamboo ski poles, early 20th century.

 

Innovations moved quickly after that: layers of different woods and materials, laminations, steel edgings, plastic bases, and developments in glues and wax all evolved in the first half of the twentieth century, and eventually skis of aluminium and fibreglass culminated in the skis we are more familiar with today.

The design of ski poles has largely stayed the same. In the early days of ski hunting, only one pole was used for balance and thrust while the other pole was sharpened and used as a spear. Now both poles are more commonly used to aid with balance, assist thrust, and provide a pivot point when turning. The early simple sticks were replaced by bamboo, then steel or aluminium in the 20th century. Now carbon fibre and composite materials are a popular choice.

A Unique Race. Bicycles fitted with a pair of small skis in lieu of wheels enabling competitors to gather great pace. There were four heats and two semi-finals in this race. The winner C. Beattie on extreme right. Photograph by Tesla Studios, unknown date.

A Unique Race. Bicycles fitted with a pair of small skis in lieu of wheels enabling competitors to gather great pace. There were four heats and two semi-finals in this race. The winner C. Beattie on extreme right.
Photograph by Tesla Studios, unknown date.

Paraphernalia confined to the Past

SMOKIN': Kathy Greensides displays the array of smoking utensils at the museum

SMOKIN’: Kathy Greensides displays the array of smoking utensils at the museum

Once again, the intrepid Midweek reporter delves into the dark underbelly of the Whanganui Regional Museum, this time with Kathy Greensides, collections assistant and photographer. There, on an archival table, she had arranged a collection of archaic smoking paraphernalia.
“I’ve pulled out a bunch of smoking related items, which are interesting,” she says, “old tobacco tins, matches, lighters, opium pipes … interesting pipes, and this tobacco tin that George V sent out to all his troops at the request of Princess Mary.” She asked that all soldiers and sailors serving in the war (World War 1) receive a Christmas gift from their sovereign. The gift consisted of the tin, tobacco, confectionery, spices, pencils, a picture of the Princess Mary, a Christmas card and a message from the King: “The Queen and I wish you Godspeed and a safe return to your homes and dear ones. A grateful Mother Country is proud of your splendid services characterised by unsurpassed devotion and courage.”
Three intricately carved pipes are part of the haul Kathy brought out; one, in the form of a Biblical prophet; one, a carved skull; the other a fully carved Maori head. Seeing these items, some now obsolete, brought home the fact that smoking utensils of any kind will, one day, belong only in a museum, and smoking as a concept will be relegated to an unfortunate past. People of the future will marvel at the whole idea of setting leaves on fire and inhaling the smoke.
So, why did Kathy choose these items for her Vaults story? “It’s dying out; you don’t see these things any more, so when I saw them it sparked my interest. And in looking into the history of the [soldiers’] tin, I thought it was kind of touching.” Kathy is not now, nor has ever been a smoker, so for her this was a peek into a foreign lifestyle.
Among the smoking treasures is a Vesta match tin with matches still inside. Although there was a piece of abrasive material attached to the tin, it was generally accepted that these wax matches would strike on almost any surface (including facial stubble).
The opium pipes are of bamboo, but are missing some of their smaller pieces such as the ceramic bowls in which the drug was placed to burn.
Little is known of the provenance of these items, but they are intrinsically interesting. The tobacco tins, designed to be displayed with their creative pictures and slogans, promoting the superior lifestyle of the smoker and suggesting success, good looks, wealth … all can be yours if you smoke this brand of tobacco. Words like “cool” and “satisfying” were standard in tobacco advertising, the very notion of which has already been put into a box labelled “obsolete”.
Interesting that this legacy of Sir Walter Raleigh lasted as long as it has, but its future belongs in a place like the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Original article by Paul Brooks appeared in ‘The Wangnaui Midweek’ on 13th February 2013.  Reproduced with permission from the author.

Monuments and Memorials

The Whanganui district has over 25 monuments and memorials dedicated to those who have served in the military services and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of our country.

PR-007 Moutoa Memorial

Moutoa Memorial in around 1866 facing north-west

New Zealand’s first war memorial stands in Moutoa Gardens/Pākaitore. The Moutoa Memorial, a weeping woman as the personification of grief, commemorates the fifteen kūpapa and one European who were killed at Moutoa Island, 80 kilometres up the Whanganui River, on 14 May 1864.

The Superintendent of Wellington Province, Dr Isaac Featherston, unveiled the memorial on 26 December 1865. Some 500 to 600 Māori, representing iwi from Whanganui to Wellington, and many Pākehā attended the ceremony. Unlike many later war memorials, it was not made to order, and was in fact purchased from Huxley & Parker of Melbourne by Featherston during a visit to Australia in early 1865.

The Moutoa Flag features a Union Jack, a crown surrounded by laurel leaves and the word “Moutoa” with a Māori and a European hand clasped in friendship. The original flag was subscribed for and made by the women of Whanganui, Rangitīkei and Manawatū to their own design, and gifted to local iwi. The sewing group was led by Mrs Logan, the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Abraham Logan, the commander of the imperial troops based in Whanganui.

Queens Park School with the entrance gates, which still stand today

Queens Park School with the entrance gates, which still stand today

There are also other obvious memorials. The Queens Park School Gates are a memorial to pupils from the school that died while serving during World War I. The Queens Park School Roll of Honour is located in the entrance to the Wanganui District Library in Queens Park.

Model of the proposed Durie Hill Tower with pointed top

Model of the proposed Durie Hill Tower with pointed top

Proposed plan for a Wanganui District Soldiers’ Memorial, incorporating a hall of memories

Proposed plan for a Wanganui District Soldiers’ Memorial, incorporating a hall of memories

The Durie Hill Tower just after completion

The Durie Hill Tower just after completion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Durie Hill Tower was built as a war memorial to commemorate more than 500 servicemen from Whanganui who died in World War I. There was some disagreement about where to build the memorial. Some wanted a cenotaph in Queens Park while others wanted a lookout tower on Durie Hill. In the end both were built. The Wanganui Borough Council built the Cenotaph and the Wanganui County memorial was the tower. There were several plans for the Durie Hill Tower. One showed the tower with a point at the top and a perpetual light while another included a hall of memories. A lack of funding meant that a simplified version of the tower was eventually built. The Durie Hill Tower was unveiled on Anzac Day 1925.

The Wanganui Drill Hall April 1954

The Wanganui Drill Hall April 1954

The Whanganui Cenotaph in around 1924 with a group of people inspecting the wreaths laid for the Dawn Service

The Whanganui Cenotaph in around 1924 with a group of people inspecting the wreaths laid for the Dawn Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1936 Whanganui was the first city in New Zealand to hold a Dawn Service. The Wanganui Chronicle tells us that over 100 former servicemen gathered before dawn outside the Drill Hall in Maria Place. Once formed up they marched to the Cenotaph in Queens Park where Padre W H Austin conducted the service before Bugler Alex Bogle played Reveille. As the sun began to rise the men placed poppies on the Cenotaph before marching back to the Drill Hall and then returning home.

Kyle Dalton is the External Relations Officer at Whanganui