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.