Month: October 2014

Ghostly gifs

W-TB-029 croppedEvery year around this time, we get asked if we have any photographs of ghosts or ghostly figures.  Unfortunately we don’t have anything quite as spooky as that; the only partially-human figures creeping in our collection are the blurry silhouettes created when people moved during the 30-second exposure time required in early photography.

However, Kevin Weir has been using standard photographs to create eerie gifs.  Inspiration for our own holdings, maybe?

Check them out here and be inspired for Halloween…

Made to be buried

Made to be buried

This week museum technician Dale Hudson chose a pair of ancient Egyptian ushabti.  To reach this exhibit – and exhibit it is, being on display on the mezzanine floor – we passed through various interesting colours. In association with the Sarjeant Gallery, the museum has built an exhibition around colour schemes, where the only qualification an artifact/item needs is its colour. For example, there’s a black room – with such things as an old typewriter and a scary-looking dental X-ray unit. They’re black, so they qualify.

It was in the blue room where we found the two small statuettes known as ushabti.  They go under various names, but ushabti will do. They were a mass produced funerary statuette, made to be buried with the dead to be employed as servants in the afterlife.

Dale says these things were around from about 1900BCE until the Ptolemaic period, about 2000 years later.  “They were usually inscribed with Chapter Six of the Egyptian Book of the Dead,” he says, referring to an ancient best seller.

The two in the Whanganui Regional Museum are typical ushabti, carved to look like a mummified body but just a few centimetres in height. They are a generic shape, representing no particular gender nor any particular person.  They are often portrayed holding a hoe or a gardening implement, useful tools for the gardens in the afterlife. These ones are quite worn and may or may not have originally had such accoutrements.

So why did Dale choose the ushabti?  “I just like working in a museum; it’s like you think there must be tons of history but there are not many of the older artifacts that we know anything about. But with these there is a bit of a story behind them.”

Our two blue ushabti originally came from a tomb in upper Egypt.  “The dead were often buried with hundreds of these things,” says Dale.


Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in June 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

Postcards from World War I

World War I is on a lot of minds at present.  Museum staff have been busy going through the collection and have discovered a range of amazing items from that war, including postcards which have been sent home to loved ones from soldiers at training or on active service.  These offer a great insight into the life of soldiers and into some of the situations they encountered.

Featherston fancy-work

Training was the first step, where recruits were taught the basics of what they would be doing overseas. Soldiers would often take reminders of home with them, like photographs or trinkets, but sometimes a bigger message was required to remind them what they were fighting for. Little is known about the author or recipient of this card but it portrays the artistic side of life in the training camp in Featherston.

1802.3798.2 a


Hut 139, Featherston M.C. 1.12.16. This is a photo of a bit of fancy-work in front of our hut on the left-hand side from the door. Archie.



Camp Life, The Camp Barber

The light-hearted joviality and excitement of a new adventure continued and many postcards of the time made light of several facets of army life. This postcard was written to Mr Glenny of the Ben Nevis Hotel in Turakina, the author is unknown. The message is simple and lets the image speak for itself. Apparently having a trim was a real event.

1802.3775 a


Not a bad snapshot is it.




Suez, The Docks

The excitement carried through, and optimism was predominant in the early stages of service. This postcard of the docks of the Suez Canal was sent from Henry Eliot Blennerhassett (known to his family as Boy) to his sister Ada in Wanganui, and talks of some of the positive aspects of being overseas. Henry survived the war and returned to Wanganui to live out his life.

1802.3435.1Cairo 19-2-16.This is about the only PC of Suez I could get. It is not bad but it does not give you much of an idea because you have not got the colours. This is a great show and I would like to be staying longer but you have to be ready for anything at this game. Thank you for the letter.  Love from Boy.



Main Entrance, Woodcote Park

After a while the realities of war set in and a longing for home became stronger. This postcard was sent to a friend by J C Reid. He was on sick leave at the time, and a common theme for soldiers in this position was a great appreciation of England and time away from the front. Nothing compared to home though.

1802.34388-11-15. Dear Friend, A Merry Xmas & Happy new year to you all. I left my job in Gallipoli on Sept 13th and at present am in Convl’nt [Convalescent] Camp recovering from an attack of Gastritis. The camp is in Lord Rosebury’s estate, and at present is the home of about 3000 men. I have been told that the whole [“experience has been” crossed out] of erecting buildings was bound by Lord R. The people of England are making a great fuss of us and I am sure we would not be treated better in NZ. Still NZ would be good enough for me and I will not be sorry when this present trouble is over. Thanks for your many letters, will write home by next mail. Regards to all, J C Read.


2010.52.7aErnest Jack Lloyd as John Bull

And when the War to End All Wars finally ended, the celebration postcards began. This card was a memento of peace celebrations and features a portrait of a young Ernest Jack Lloyd dressed up as John Bull, the personification of Great Britain. The Lloyd family was from Fordell and Ernest had relatives who fought in the war, so the long-awaited celebrations of peace were very important to the family.  Although this card has no message written on the reverse, it illustrates the patriotic sentiment and great celebration at the final completion of the war.

Bob Cade’s Sword

Bob Cade's sword II

Museum volunteer Mick, collection manager Trish Nugent-Lyne and I were deep beneath the museum, surrounded by guns and pointy things in the armoury. This is Mick’s second stint as a volunteer and he’s working on edged weapons.  “Anything with a sharp edge … cuts people up, that sort of thing,” he says. Mick likes to get graphic.

We were looking at a sword that once belonged to John Robert Cade, a Wanganui man who fought in WW1.  “It’s an 1897 pattern, British sword, which was a general issue to officers in the infantry regiments,” says Mick. “This particular one has the cipher of Edward VII … which means it was after 1901. They still issue them today; not for killing people anymore because they’re not very effective against machine guns or missiles, but purely as decoration on the uniform.”

The Whanganui Regional Museum holds his war diaries, trench maps, officer’s notes and photos as well as his sword, all items donated by his wife in 1975.

A little bit about the sword’s original owner:

Mr Cade – known as Bob – joined the army in 1900 as a Territorial in Pahiatua. He came to Wanganui in 1902 and joined the Wanganui Guards. He was employed by the Public Works Department as a draughtsman but continued in the military part-time after completing his war service. He held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel when he retired from the Territorials in 1933.  He married Ada Maud Dickson at St Paul’s church in Wanganui on June 28, 1911 and a baby boy was born on September 1, 1912. They called him Thomas. A daughter was born later.

Mr Cade’s war started in 1916 when he left New Zealand as a Captain. On August 23, 1918 he was granted the temporary rank of Major and that same year he was mentioned in dispatches by Field Marshall Douglas Haig. He was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the field”.

In 1919 Mr Cade was stationed in Germany and on January 17 he dined with the Prince of Wales – the man who would later become Edward VIII. The memory of this occasion is preserved in Cade’s diary, as well as a diagram showing the place settings. At the table there was a Major Richardson, Lord Claud Hamilton, Captain Riddiford, General Johnston, Viscount Broome, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson and others. Major Cade describes how he was introduced to the Prince by General Russell. He mentions that he bumped into the Prince again the following day and they had a brief conversation.

At the close of WW1 he was absorbed into the 7th Wellington Regiment with the full rank of Major.  He died in Wanganui in 1962.

This sword was presented to Lieutenant Cade by the Wanganui Guards in 1906. It is stamped with the name Hobson and Sons, but Mick says that could be the name of the retailer of uniforms and accoutrements, rather than the maker.

Bob Cade's sword IThe sword and scabbard are designed to be worn by the officer with his dress uniform, but it looked to me like it would be a serious inconvenience. Edges have been rounded and curled to prevent snagging and wear on the uniform; there’s an odd ‘guitar-shaped’ piece of steel added to the sharp end of the scabbard – it’s called a ‘drag’ and is there to take the wear of the sword scraping on the ground. You would not want to be a small man wearing a sword, unless they made short swords for the ducks-disease afflicted.

Trish pointed out that the swords were a type of men’s jewellery, worn purely for show.  “The higher the rank, the fancier the sword,” says Mick.

Mick was born in 1942, suffering the bombs and bullets of Adolf in his home town of Guildford in Surrey. His interest in things military therefore stems from his childhood in the blackout. He says he saw his father for the first time when he was four years old. His dad had finally returned from the Africa campaign in 1946.

Mick’s been in New Zealand since 1962 when he joined the Hawera Star in the printing department. While there he started as a volunteer firefighter. After six years in printing he took up the calling and became a full time firefighter, serving in Hawera, New Plymouth and Wanganui.  He’s still in the job, but leaves the firefighting to the younger chaps. He’s Brigade Secretary and also works as trauma counsellor.

Mick says he chose the sword because of its local interest and there may still be Wanganui people who remember Bob Cade or his family.  The diaries and stories of what he went through in WW1 made it all especially interesting.


Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in July 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

Whanganui River Week

Check out the events happening during Whanganui River Week!  This community event to uphold the health and well-being of the Awa has now been going for six years and there is a great line-up of public events and school programmes ; from an online Whanganui River digital photo contest with amazing prizes,  to night-time native fish-spotting there are activities on offer for all ages.

We welcome you to join us in celebrating and learning about our beautiful awa.

Whanganui River Week poster copy

Stories from bird bones



Most of us associate kea with holidays in the Southern Alps. When you stop the car at Arthur’s Pass a few of these parrots will normally arrive to fearlessly beg for food. Cars and food are so strongly associated in their minds that they’ll tear the rubber trim off your vehicle in the hope that snacks might be found somewhere inside. Kea are remarkable birds, intelligent and inquisitive, and are famous among ornithologists for being the world’s only alpine parrot.

To a palaeontologist, though, kea aren’t alpine parrots at all. Fossil kea bones, many just a few hundred years old, have been found in lowland sites thoughout Canterbury and Otago right down to the coastline, showing the birds were living in coastal forest before humans arrive. Even today, kea live year-round in forest in parts of the West Coast. And new research has identified kea bones from swamps and sand dunes in Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa, so it seems likely that were living in North Island forests as well.

Kea, Kākā, and Chatham Kākā  skulls

Kea, Kākā, and Chatham Kākā skulls

So where did all the kea go? They were probably wiped out by the first human settlers and the rats that accompanied them around 700 years ago, disappearing from the North Island and most of the South Island. The only reason kea aren’t extinct is that the Southern Alps are inhospitable to both rats and humans. But the upside is that kea could likely be reintroduced to North Island forests where there’s sufficient predator control—good news for mainland islands like Zealandia and Bushy Park.



Kea are not the only case where fossil bones tell us where a species used to live. Huia at the time of European settlement were restricted to the south-eastern North Island, mostly in the Tararua, Ruahine, and Rimutaka ranges. But their bones have been found right up to Northland, and they were probably found throughout the island before human hunting made them rare (and, by about the 1920s, made them extinct).

Takahē were once found throughout the South Island. Thought to be extinct by the 20th century, they were famously rediscovered in an Fiordland valley in 1948. Their northern cousin, the moho or mohoau, is known only from fossil bones from all over the North Island, although a single live bird was caught in the Tararuas in 1894. Both takahē and moho were the giant flightless descendants of pukeko, and both were driven almost to extinction in pre-European times; it’s just a fluke that the South Island takahē managed to survive while their relatives went extinct. Like the kea, takahē persisted in an inhospitable environment, but they much prefer living in lowland forests, given how well they do on offshore islands and mainland sanctuaries.

Chatham Kākā

Chatham Kākā

Fossils not only shed light on living species; they sometimes reveal brand new ones. For years, palaeontologists had been turning up bones of kākā in the Chatham Islands, except these kākā had unusually long beaks; almost as long as a kea’s. After comparing bones, they realised the Chatham kākā was a completely separate species: a ground-dwelling version of the mainland kākā, wiped out soon after humans arrived in the Chathams. The Chatham Islands turn out to been like mainland New Zealand in miniature, full of species found nowhere else. The islands had their own species of pigeon, robin, fernbird, penguin, bellbird, swan, coot, and other flightless rails; most of these are now extinct or endangered, a few, like the Black Robin, were rescued in the nick of time.



It’s remarkable that we’re still making discoveries about some of our most well-known native birds, from such inconspicuous things as tiny fossils. Only a handful of scientists are doing this work, and it’s not well-supported—some of our palaeontologists have had to move to Australia to get funding. It’s taken years for conservation workers to incorporate fossil evidence into decisions about which species should be translocated where. But it’s important that institutions like museums keep doing it: a large part of the prehistory of New Zealand is a story told by little bones.


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

Waka Hourua – Sailing into the Future

Polynesian Māori expertly traversed vast tracts of ocean to settle remote islands in the paradise of the Pacific centuries before Galileo and the rest of the world’s great astronomers, philosophers, geographers and explorers stopped believing the world was flat. How did they do this?

Waka hourua (double hull sailing canoes) are still being sailed today, using ancient knowledge passed down through the generations, and have been adapted over the years to what you now see in the prestigious America’s Cup Race. For your introduction to this most fascinating topic, lifestyle and sport watch Te Tēpu on Sunday 19th October 2014 at 9.30 pm on the Te Reo Channel, or you can also catch it on this link:

You may recognise our own Whanganui Regional Museum staff member Āwhina Twomey as one of the panel members being interviewed. Having only started traditional sailing in 2010, Āwhina iterates she is the voice of a novice and also provides a female perspective to this panel. She is privileged to be seated beside tohunga (experts) of the waka hourua society, Hekenukumai Puhipi (Busby), Hoturoa Kerr and Turanga Kerr.


You can book your class in now with Kaiwhakaako Āwhina Twomey (Māori Educator) to learn about waka hourua arrival in Aotearoa, return journeys and trading. Hear of her trials and tribulations whilst sailing aboard waka hourua from Hawai’i to San Francisco, and also from Rarotonga to Aotearoa.

Supported by stunning snapshots and snippets of a soon-to-be released documentary, you will see how the past fuses with the present, to take us into the future. Learn about and become part of the worldwide circumnavigation happening now!

Avid interest in aviation

Avid interest in aviation

Museum digitisation technician, Hilary Ackroyd, talks about a World War II flying helmet, goggles and attachments.  This piece of equipment, made of black leather, lined and sporting ear phones, belonged to Garth Satherleigh, a pilot in either the RNZAF or the NZ Fleet Air Arm. He was trained as a pilot in Canada and wore this flying helmet throughout the war.  He gave it to Richard Stone in 1949, when Richard was learning to fly in Wanganui. Richard Stone donated it to the museum.

The goggles are made of perspex and have air vents to prevent fogging, says Hilary. The nose guard between the lenses is made of leather. Domes on the helmet are where an oxygen mask and microphone would have been attached. Tubes are attached to the headphones as part of the intercom system.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about Garth Satherleigh, especially his war record, then we’d know where this helmet and goggles have been.

So why did Hilary choose this item?  “My granddad was really interested in airplanes – he was a fanatic,” says Hilary. “He made model planes and won so many awards, and I was brought up around model airplanes.”

Hilary seems to have inherited the aviation passion along with a wooden propeller and a few plastic models.  She says her father and a cousin share the interest.

The digitisation process involved scanning photos from the museum collection, a mammoth task that will lead to researchers being able to find source material through the internet and order photographs online.


Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in September 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

Whanganui in the Seventies

1. Wanganui City BridgeThe decade got off to a good start with the new Wanganui City Bridge nearing completion. For years the old Town Bridge had served the city well but by the end of the sixties increasing traffic flows made it hazardous. During the opening ceremony on 14 December 1970, an RNZAF fly-over enthralled the crowd of 5,000, all standing on the bridge for the first time. Messages of congratulations came from around the world, and 19 traffic officers, aided by police and Legion of Frontiersmen, kept everything under control.

2. Jerusalem CommuneIt is March 1971 and in a commune at Hiruhārama, or Jerusalem, by the Whanganui River, are followers of the famous poet and guru James K Baxter, on the porch of one of the settlement’s old houses.

3. BaxterThe iconic image of Baxter could well have been one of the last ever taken. He died in Auckland less than a year later on 25 October 1972. His body was returned to the place he loved and his grave can be found today on a hill above the church at Jerusalem.

4. Rob Muldoon1972 was election year and the Deputy Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, came to Wanganui to campaign. He was met with strong local support and a thin line of protesters. A bomb hoax caused some alarm but was largely ignored. Later a youth was arrested and charged with misuse of a telephone. Here Mr Muldoon and the local national candidate, W G Tolhurst, are surrounded by police and well-wishers on the stairs of the Concert Chamber in the War Memorial Hall. In spite of Wanganui’s enthusiasm, success was not to go National’s way in 1972. After the election the Kirk Labour Government took the reins of power.

5. Gillian WeirIn September 1973 world-famous organist Gillian Weir was back in Wanganui to give a concert as part of a New Zealand tour. The Wanganui Chronicle wrote, “Miss Weir took up organ playing in 1957 when Christ Church needed an organist. She won a scholarship to study piano and organ at the Royal College of Music in London, and since then her rise has been meteoric …  Miss Weir said that it was nice to be back in town.”

6. Durie Hill TowerLater that year, the Durie Hill Memorial Tower was fitted with a $3,000 aluminium safety cage as a deterrent to dare-devil youngsters who got their kicks from walking around the parapet. It was also deemed an anti-suicide measure.

7. Castlecliff MoleStormy weather! In this image of 28 January 1976 a local contractor unloads hundred of tonnes of rock to hold back the sea at the mouth of the Whanganui River. The sand spit was under threat and a breach would have meant disaster for the Castlecliff port.

8. Flood in StreetsThe same storm caused flooding throughout the region. For some, though, it was business as usual. Here an Anzac Parade resident waves goodbye to his wife and children as he sets off for just another day at the office.

9. Holly LodgeAlthough unemployment was on the rise in 1976, Norman Garrett and his wife Alza were optimistic. They spent about $250,000 on expanding Holly Lodge and winery. “Imagine this as a wedding reception room”, Mr Garrett told one Chronicle reporter, pointing to the glass house. “Sparkling glass, varnished wooden crates and purple grapes and green leaves overhead.” Here Mr Garrett tests the acidity of a Holly Lodge red wine.

10. Woollen MillsIn November 1977 the Wanganui Woollen Mills installed a compact new gas boiler, seen here on the right. It replaced the old coal-fed units that dated back to the 1920s. The boiler provided steam for the dye house and the piece washing plant.  It was also used for heating and drying. By the following year national unemployment was at a peak of 23,000. But the Woollen Mills managed to keep producing.

11. Peter SnellIn August 1978 Peter Snell returned to Wanganui and the scene of his triumphal race sixteen years earlier. That historic race had attracted a crowd of 15,000, and Peter Snell did not disappoint. He broke the world record for the four minute mile, and beat the other six competitors by 5.6 seconds. This event gave Cooks Gardens and Wanganui a special place in sporting history.

12. Wanganui Stadium MuralThis magnificent mural was hoisted into place in the Wanganui Sports Stadium In August 1979. It was designed by James Kirkwood and six art students from Wanganui High helped him paint it. It provided a colourful backdrop for Wanganui’s athletes and was a reminder of the diversity of the city, with its excellence in sport, the arts and culture and heritage. 12

Solve the riddle of a bizarre bike

Solve riddle of bizarre bike I

We were down in the depths of the museum’s vaults, where cars once parked and hoodlums once lurked, now a storeroom for an eclectic collection of artifacts and odds and ends. For example, there is a prop from River Queen, a genuine Hamilton jet…complete with boat, a couple of horse-drawn gigs (minus horses) among other things. But the thing we came to look at was parked against a big, wooden box. It was a bike!

But no ordinary bike, as the photos show. Instead of a tyre in the normal sense, either pneumatic or solid rubber, there is a series of short springs spaced around the outside of the wheel rim, covered with a metal strip to which is screwed a leather belt. The question is…why?

The museum doesn’t know anything about this machine and its interesting wheels except that it was found to be in the collection in 1992. That’s it. No other documentation. But that’s why Neil chose it as his contribution to From The Vaults. It’s a riddle.

The general theory as to why it exists at all goes back to the days after The Great War (1914-18). The Germans loved their bicycles but the huge rubber shortage at the time meant there were no materials to make traditional tyres. So some bright spark came up with the spring idea. I have seen photos of similar bicycles so they must have been manufactured in some numbers. This particular model, and how it ended up here, is a mystery. There are a couple of decals on the frame; one says ‘Gordon Udy’ and the other says ‘Royal Model Deluxe’. There is a headlight, an early Lucas model fitted to the frame on a sprung bracket.  The sprung saddle is canvas covered and bears the name of its manufacturer – Wittkop. The Wittkop factory of Germany still exists and is, to this day, making bicycle saddles.  Neil says his research tells him these bikes were ‘not much good on asphalt but okay on gravel’.

Finding the bicycle and musing over its origins is just another day on the job for Neil Phillips.  He is an import, having been born in Sheffield and raised in Dundee. His dad is a surgeon, who brought his family out to Hawke’s Bay when Neil was nine. Neil has a degree in history from Otago University and got into exhibition work through a voluntary stint at Otago Museum. That turned into a job and a few years later, in 2001, he ended up in Wanganui at the Whanganui Regional Museum. He is married to Margie and they have two children, Maisy and Barnaby.

He loves his job.  “It’s one of those jobs where you’re constantly confronted by new problems,” he says. He does a lot of design work, “working with people who treat material creatively”, pulling objects together to tell a story.  Like the story that a certain bicycle has to tell.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in March 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

Neil Phillips is no longer working at the Whanganui Regional Museum but has moved on to other institutions.