Month: November 2014

Christmas on the Front

100 years ago, the approach to Christmas brought a mix of emotions as the preparation for celebrations was overshadowed by the largest war the world had seen.  Those at home and at the front prayed to have the war over in time to be reunited with their loved ones for the festive season but it looked dim.  Instead, a lot of people went about their preparations wondering if their loved ones were safe, and in some cases knowing they weren’t.

The Royal Naval Division Christmas Card

The Royal Naval Division Christmas Card

Families sent festive care packages to their soldiers; the standard socks, photographs, and letters containing news and gossip were accompanied by cakes, chocolate, and other small mementos that were easily sent across the world.  These small tokens helped to boost the morale of the soldiers, as well as include them in the festive season.  The soldiers themselves were not able to return the gifts at the time but many sent Christmas Cards to their families with much anticipated news of their health and wellbeing at the front.

One of the Christmas Tins organised by Princess Mary

One of the Christmas Tins organised by Princess Mary

To help with boosting morale 17-year old Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, organised a public appeal to raise the funds and provide servicemen with a Christmas gift.  The appeal was a great success and £162,591 ($23,978,672 today) was raised, resulting in 2,620,019 gifts.  The presents comprised of a small brass tin featuring a profile image of the Princess with a wreath and decorative border and ‘Christmas 1914’ stamped underneath.  The contents of the tin varied but could include small gifts of tobacco, a pipe, a lighter, cigarettes, sweets or chocolate, bullet pencils, writing paper, spices, and a Christmas Card and picture of the Princess herself.  Over 400,000 of the tins were distributed around Christmas Day to those serving at or near the front, with the remainder being given out in early 1915 with a ‘Victorious New Year’ card.  The tins were held for soldiers in hospital or prisoners of war and for the parents or widows of killed servicemen, although these took a lot longer to be delivered.

On the western front the traditional Christmas message of peace, even if formally a few years away yet, was spontaneously observed with informal ceasefires and comradery among adversaries.  During December 1914, British and German troops exchanged seasonal greetings and sang carols across the trenches to each other, and some even put up conifer trees on the edges of the trenches to simulate Christmas trees.  On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the soldiers from both sides walked across no-mans-land to greet the enemy and exchange tokens from their Christmas packages, followed by a friendly game of football or two.  The officers, knowing such fraternisation was against military law, turned a blind eye and let the soldiers have their fun.  When the voluntary ceasefire ended at midnight the soldiers went back to being enemies.

A newspaper article from the Wanganui Chronicle 4 January 1915, describing the informal Christmas Truce

A newspaper article from the Wanganui Chronicle 4 January 1915, describing the informal Christmas Truce

This truce was not widespread and some areas continued to fight, but the reports of the truce certainly made the event one of the most memorable scenes of humanity in the war.  There were attempts in the following years to recreate the Christmas Truce but the increasing bloodiness and use of poison gases removed the willingness to fraternise with the enemy.

But due to the nature of warfare not all soldiers had the opportunity to play football at Christmas time, although the nurses looking after them did their best to mark the day with as much celebration as could be mustered.  The photographs here of the Mount Felix Hospital at Walton-on-Thames show the ward decked with holly and ivy and festive banners on the walls, and even crackers being pulled.

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Whanganui Live!

Whanganui

In case you missed it on Saturday morning, the Director and the Curator of Natural History were interviewed by Kim Hill on Radio Live.  Kim Hill hosts the regular Saturday Morning programme and on 15th November visited Whanganui to air her show live from the Royal Opera house.  This was part if the ‘Smart21’ initiative which focuses on regional centres.

Listen to the interview with Dr Eric Dorfman, Director of the Whanganui Regional Museum, here as he talks about the job, his professional history, and the wonderful town he now lives in.

And listen to Mike Dickison, Curator of Natural History, here as he discusses the Museum’s amazing collection of Moa bones and taonga, the illicit trade of bones around the world, and his Wiki Wednesday project.

Young gun and the old Colt

Young gun and the old Colt I

Whanganui Regional Museum digitisation officer Regan Davis looks very comfortable with an antique sidearm. There’s a certain something in his demeanour that suggests his choice of Vault item was no accident. He has chosen a .36 calibre 1862 model Navy Colt, made in New York and famous throughout the West.

“It is unknown how it came to the museum,” says Regan, “but it was found in the collection in 1959.” He says it’s a ‘cap and ball’, six-shot revolver, using paper cartridges, the forerunner of the metal bullet.  “With a velocity of 1000 feet per second,” he says, “it’s comparable to the modern .38 pistol in power.” He says the 1862 model was used during the American Civil War and some of the famous users of the Navy were Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday, Ned Kelly and Robert E Lee.

Regan made this easy by producing pages of research he had conducted into Samuel Colt and the development of the revolver. Regan is a self-professed fan of the old Western films and the actors who starred in them – Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Lee Van Cleef – their characters all appeal to the 19-year-old who says The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is his favourite movie. Eastwood uses a .45 model Navy Colt in the film, hence the appeal of this particular exhibit. The story of the gun and the evolution of the revolver is especially interesting.

Young gun and the old Colt IISamuel Colt decided early in his life that he would become an inventor and, against all the odds, came up with the ‘impossible gun’, one that could fire a number of times before reloading.  It was while he was on a sea voyage, learning the seaman’s trade at the age of 18, that he observed how the captain would use the ship’s wheel. Regardless of which way the wheel was spun, each stroke always came in direct line with a clutch that could be set to hold it … so the revolver was conceived. During the voyage, he made a wooden model of the ‘impossible gun’. His father, Christopher, a textile manufacturer, financed the production of two pistols of Samuel’s design. Unfortunately, believing the idea to be folly, Christopher hired poorly trained and cheap mechanics. One of the guns burst upon firing and the other did not fire at all.

History shows that despite many obstacles and government red tape, Samuel Colt eventually succeeded and his revolvers became the standard handgun. Having taken out a patent on the invention in 1832, Colt was able to build a factory at Hartford, constantly expanding it to keep up with demand.

Samuel Colt died in 1862 at the age of 48.  The gun that Regan chose is incomplete and no longer functional, but it still looks impressive and in reasonably good condition.

 

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in Juy 2011.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

 

Happy Birthday Mr Drew!

1802.2525Today the Whanganui Regional Museum celebrates the birthday of its founder. Samuel Henry Drew was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, on 17 November 1844. The Drews migrated to Tasmania in the early 1850s and then to Nelson in 1860. Samuel established a successful jewellery and watch-making business in Whanganui in 1864, which continued to be run by his descendants until the 1990s. The Drew building is still standing in Victoria Avenue.
Drew married Catherine Beatson in Nelson in 1872 and the couple came back to Whanganui where they raised their eight children. He had a wide range of interests including music and sport. He was a member of the Philharmonic Society, the conductor of the Wanganui Liedertafel (the Male Choir) and president of the Wanganui Orchestral Club, and also belonged to the Wanganui Rowing Club. His greatest passion, however, was the study of natural history.

'Caught Napping' by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

‘Caught Napping’ by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

Samuel Drew collected natural history specimens and Māori artefacts, eventually establishing his own museum in his home in 1880. His family helped to collect and classify his specimens of molluscs, birds, beetles, fossils and other fauna. His collecting activities extended as far as Kāpiti Island where he became something of an authority on the local birds and fish.

Drew devoted his spare time to his private collection, furnishing specimens for collections throughout New Zealand. He published articles on natural history in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute and was made a fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1897. Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as Andreas Reischek who, on two visits in 1886 and 1888, helped to classify his collections. Reischek also trained Drew’s son, Henry, as a taxidermist.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

The private collection eventually began crowding out Drew’s family home and he realized he would need to find larger premises to house his museum if he wished to continue collecting. He also recognized the importance of his collection and the considerable public interest in it. For these reasons he offered the collection to the town to form the nucleus of a public museum.

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Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Drew’s collection was purchased in 1892 for a nominal sum, and through his efforts a new purpose-built museum was erected in Wicksteed Avenue, now Drews Avenue, to which his collection was transferred. He was appointed Honorary Curator of the new Wanganui Public Museum and continued to collect, using his expertise to mount natural history specimens and organise displays.

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Samuel Drew died from a sudden heart attack at his business premises on 18 December 1901 at the age of 57 years. The Whanganui Regional Museum is a lasting reminder of the enterprise, expertise and dedication of this extraordinary individual. Whanganui will remain indebted to this man for the contribution he made to recording and collecting the cultural and natural heritage of this region, as well as founding an institution of national and international renown.

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

He was always ready to devote his very limited leisure to the advancement of musical and scientific matters in Wanganui, and has left in the Wanganui Museum a fitting monument which will serve to preserve his memory and demonstrate what even one earnest and capable worker can do, when his heart is in his work … (From the Wanganui Herald 18 December 1901)

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The Museum’s Board voted to create a permanent memorial in tribute to Samuel Drew. One of the trustees, Mr Empson suggested a marble bust of Drew and said, “There is no place fitter for a bust than the Museum, and no bust fitter for the place.”

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Billy Connell’s War begins

 

Director Eric Dorfman welcomes the audience

Director Eric Dorfman welcomes the audience

Mayor Annette Main opens the exhibition

Mayor Annette Main opens the exhibition

Last Friday saw the opening of our exhibition for the centenary of the first world war, Billy Connell’s War – Whanganui in World War I.  There was a great turn-out with 100 people in attendance and the show was well received.  A welcome by the Director Eric Dorfman was followed by a speech and formal opening by Mayor Annette Main before the crowd moved into the exhibition space for the karakia by our local kaumātua and a preview of the show.

Kirsty Ross delivers her speech, accompanied by some images of soldiers

Kirsty Ross delivers her speech, accompanied by some images of soldiers

Guests were then given a brown paper bag afternoon tea (cheese or corned beef sandwiches, fruit cake and an Anzac biscuit) and Kirtsy Ross, Curator of 20th Century History at Te Papa, regaled the audience with a talk on her research into New Zealand’s first world war experience and the intricacies (and humours!) of passing on such a legacy.

 

 

Guests view some of Billy's photographa

Guests view some of Billy’s photographa

Guests view some of the artifacts on display

Guests view some of the artifacts on display

Guests collect their afternoon tea

Guests collect their afternoon tea

 

 

The exhibition tells the story of Billy Connell, a local man who enlisted and served in the first world war.  Billy Connell was born in Palmerston North in 1993, the son of William and Naomi Connell. William was a carpenter in Palmerston North and later in Marton. By 1911 Naomi Connell had separated from her husband and was living in Durie Terrace in Wanganui, later moving to May Street.  On 5 August 1914 New Zealand declared war on Germany in support of Great Britain Billy Connell enlisted and went off to war with the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  He had a camera in his kitbag and took photographs while on service, often illegally. Servicemen were not permitted to take photographs or write about campaigns or battles in case information fell into the hands of the enemy. His images tell the story of an ordinary serviceman during extraordinary times. The photographs were arranged into seven albums. Billy’s sister Mrs Amelia McCullum donated them to the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1966.

BCW box logo

Billy Connell’s War is open until September 2016 so come in and follow Billy’s journey through the war.  The Museum is free entry.

The legacy of Ann Evans

The legacy of Ann Evans

Rebekah Clements is a museum studies student at Victoria University. “As part of our course we do a five week placement over the mid-year break, and I was lucky enough to come here. While I’m here I’m working on developing the concept for an exhibition called Good Nature, which is opening in February next year.  It’s an opportunity to see how a regional museum works. It’s been really good,” she says.

For this story Rebekah has chosen a tapestry created by Ann Evans in 1916 … in her 84th year.  The description of the work is as follows: Tapestry in coloured wools of a large arrangement of flowers in a small vase. Made in 1916 by Mrs Ann Evans, one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses during the Crimean War of 1854. Tapestry was a prize in an Art Union raffle to be drawn on September 21st, 1916, with proceeds in aid of the Wounded Soldiers’ Fund.

In addition, the museum is in possession of the winning raffle ticket. The winner of the raffle, Mr J Hancock of Duncan St, Wanganui East, donated the tapestry to the museum in 1955 with an accompanying letter, pasted to the back of the tapestry’s frame: I would like to present this wool work picture to the Wanganui Museum. As you will see by the card, it was worked by a nurse who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War 1854.  My grandfather, Mr R Lacey, also served in the Crimean War …  During World War I this picture, which was finished by Mrs A Evans of Hawera … was presented to the Hawera Patriotic Committee to raise funds for the wounded soldiers.  I was living at Stratford in that year. As I had worked in Hawera and knew Mrs Evans I bought a ticket. As a railway man, trains go by numbers and the ticket I bought was No 502, which corresponded with the train I was going to shunt.

Ann Clive came from Manchester, England, in 1863 and, after marrying former schoolmaster Thomas Evans, settled in Wanganui.  “She had the most extraordinary life,” says Rebekah.  She was, in fact, the inspiration for the character Sarah O’Brien in the film The River Queen.

“In the River Queen the fictional character is kidnapped and goes up the river to treat a sick Maori chief,” says Rebekah. “She’s blindfolded as she’s taken up the river and, apparently, that is based on fact; that’s actually what happened to Ann Evans. She was blindfolded and taken up the river to treat Titokowaru, a resistance leader. While she was with him for six or seven weeks, gifts were sent to her family until she was blindfolded and returned home.  Obviously, The River Queen is not biographical but she was more of an inspiration for the story.”

So why did Rebekah choose this item?  Having worked at the museum for only a short time, she says her knowledge of the museum’s collection is limited. Rebekah asked museum archivist, Sandi Black, “What is a cool thing that I can talk about?”  She says, “Sandi pointed me in the direction of this [the tapestry]. It’s just such a fantastic story and because of the film …  I think the object itself is quite beautiful,” she says, “and I didn’t expect it to be so big. It’s a considerable piece of work.”

The intricacies of the tapestry reveal a remarkable skill, undiminished when Mrs Evans created the work at the age of 84, and the work is still in very good condition.  “I think she was inspired by Florence Nightingale, in that she wanted to come out here and open a hospital, but it didn’t happen,” says Rebekah.

 

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in June 2011.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

 

This work is currently on display in ‘Billy Connell’s War: Whanganui in  World War I’, showing until mid-2016.

Christmas Parades

Disney float

On Saturday 22 November at 2.00 pm Mainstreet Wanganui will be holding the annual Whanganui Christmas parade down Victoria Avenue. The parade has become one of the biggest annual events held in Whanganui. This year the parade will be followed by a family orientated concert in Moutoa Gardens/Pakaitore.

BS.209Santa or Christmas parades are now a regular part of our Christmas traditions and take place throughout New Zealand in November or December each year.  Santa Clause made his commercial debut in New Zealand in 1894 at Wellington’s DIC Store on Lambton Quay.  The other main centres soon picked up on the idea and by the early 1900s most had their own parades. Christmas parades were originally established by department stores to announce the arrival of in-store Santas with the clear aim of drawing customers directly into their stores and increasing their sales.

Christmas Ad Wanganui Herald 9 Dec 1909In 1909 George Kersley’s Wanganui store “The Economic’ advertised the appearance of Mother and Father Christmas who arrived in Whanganui by motor car.  Particular department stores came to dominate parades held in the main centers – Farmers in Auckland, James Smith’s in Wellington and Hays in Christchurch.  Here in Whanganui some of the Christmas decorations that will be used in the parade later this month have come from DIC.  The reindeer date back to 1951.

By the late 1980s Christmas parades were becoming far too expensive for individual department stores to run.  Whanganui’s Christmas parade had been run by Streetwise for nearly two decades before the organisation of the parade was handed to Mainstreet.