Month: April 2015

Mr Nixon’s tiger trophy

Mr Nixon's tiger trophy

Museum Visitor Experience Creator, Clare McNamara, chooses a tiger skin rug as her item to talk about.  So why would a professed animal lover and caregiver to two black female kittens – Tuff Titty and one whose name keeps changing (Wonder Woman/My Little Pony/Witch) but answers to anything really – choose a once majestic feline which ended its days as a floor covering?  “It’s the Year of the Tiger … and there are more tigers in captivity in the US than there are in the wild in the whole world,” says Clare.

The World Wildlife Fund also says that three sub-species of tiger have become extinct since 1940 and a fourth one, the South China tiger, hasn’t been seen in the wild in 25 years.  “We are moving to a stage where we might be living in a world without them,” says Clare.  And here we were, looking at a tiger skin on the floor of the museum.

Clare says it’s a female Bengal tiger, shot in 1930, and further research suggests it was dispatched by a chap called Arthur Challoner Nixon in India. Nixon, who was a member of the locally famous Sedgebrook Nixons, bagged another big cat during his long sojourn in the sub-continent. He also bagged a wife and married her in India before bringing her home to Wanganui.

Richard Bourne, chairman of the Wanganui Collegiate School Museum Trust, delved a little deeper and says that Arthur attended Wanganui Collegiate School from 1905-1908.  He was also a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers during the Great War and served both at sea and in Mesopotamia.  After the war he became manager of the Delhi Electric Supply and Traction Company, based in India. In 1926 he married Ella, daughter of W Plumley and they had two sons. Arthur Nixon was awarded the OBE in 1946.

That information does not tell us much more about the tiger skin but it does give it a human perspective. Times have certainly changed. Killing a tiger now is an occasion for shame; then, it was a masculine rite of passage for those who could afford the trip and the accoutrements. Big game hunters were heroes, of sorts, pitting themselves – and a high-powered rifle – against regal beasts in foreign lands.  Values were different in the closing stages of the British Empire and while we have been taught to abhor the senseless killing of endangered species we would be wrong to impose today’s standards on yesterday’s inhabitants. Besides, in 1930 when Mr Nixon shot his tiger, they were probably neither endangered nor desirable.

Here endeth the lesson.

The hide is in remarkably good condition, considering its age, and the head once received the best attention from a skilled taxidermist. The face is frozen in a permanent snarl and looks incredibly life-like. There is some minor damage to the edges of the ears but, otherwise, it seems to have weathered the past 80 years quite well. The museum received the skin in 1969, the year Arthur Nixon died.

So there we were, gazing on this splendid trophy skin, feeling a little sad that its life ended the way it did and yet admiring the beauty of the beast and the skill of those who were able to preserve it so well. Even the claws are still intact, fearsome utensils that they are.

Clare, who has obviously done some homework, says the markings on a tiger’s head are the same as the Chinese written character for king. That’s either coincidence or a pictograph which didn’t evolve further. One wonders.  I also learned that the tiger’s stripes create a skin-cooling mechanism as well as providing convenient camouflage.

The museum visitor experience creator did profess some admiration for the tiger skin rug and seemed to suggest her cats would one day look rather good, similarly tanned and presented.

Clare says Mr Nixon’s tiger will be on display, “sometime in the not too distant future.”

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

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Discovering new species

When a new species of plant or animal is discovered it’s a big news story, but the secret amongst biologists is that it’s actually easy to find a new species. It’s hard to convey to people just how many species remain to be discovered, and how few people there are left looking for them.

Undiscovered jumpers: There are over 50 species of cave wētā, or tokoriro, in New Zealand, which, despite their name, live mostly in the forest. So many new species are being discovered that there is a backlog waiting for the few entomologists who study wētā to find the time to describe and name them. Creative Commons BY-NC, Jon Sullivan / Flickr

Undiscovered jumpers: There are over 50 species of cave wētā, or tokoriro, in New Zealand, which, despite their name, live mostly in the forest. So many new species are being discovered that there is a backlog waiting for the few entomologists who study wētā to find the time to describe and name them.
Creative Commons BY-NC, Jon Sullivan / Flickr

There are probably undescribed species living in your backyard. Entomologist Willy Kuschel spent 15 years collecting beetles in the Auckland suburb of Lynfield. He found 982 species of beetle, far more than anyone would have suspected could be living 10 kilometres from the central city. Amazingly, 150 of those beetles were new to science. Nobody had noticed them because nobody had looked.

There are probably species to be discovered in Springvale and Aramoho, but if I wanted to find one I’d start at Bushy Park, one of the last remnants of lowland forest in this part of the country. Bushy Park has never had biologists do a comprehensive survey of its insects, snails, and spiders, so we have no idea what’s there. Collecting a scoop of leaf litter from the forest floor and picking through it might well reveal species surviving there and nowhere else.

The stick that moves: A new species of stick insect found only on the Poor Knights Islands was recently named Clitarchus rakauwhakanekeneke, in conjunction with local iwi Ngāti Kuri. Its Māori name means “the stick that moves”. Thomas Buckley / Landcare Research

The stick that moves: A new species of stick insect found only on the Poor Knights Islands was recently named Clitarchus rakauwhakanekeneke, in conjunction with local iwi Ngāti Kuri. Its Māori name means “the stick that moves”.
Thomas Buckley / Landcare Research

The scientists who do this sort of survey and name new species are called taxonomists and their work is the foundation of all conservation policy and ecological research; you have to be able to list and name the living things in an area before you can measure how they’re doing or develop a management plan. Taxonomic research has always been the mainstay of museums, which have large comparative collections. But museums all over the world have been cutting back, and New Zealand is no exception.

 

When I was a lad I was mad keen on lizards, and conventional wisdom was that we had a dozen or so species in New Zealand. Since we started looking closely at lizards and their DNA, it turns out there are actually about 100 species, but there are only a handful of scientists able to formally describe them and give them names. The most recent field guide to native lizards has to refer to fairly-widespread species with labels like “Genus B species 1”, because we don’t have enough taxonomists.

Thambotricha vates, a Latin name that translates as “wonder-haired prophet”, has been found by entomologists for the first time since 1996. This elusive moth has only been seen 15 times since it was described and named in 1922. Creative Commons BY-NC, XXXXXXXXXXX / Flickr

Thambotricha vates, a Latin name that translates as “wonder-haired prophet”, has been found by entomologists for the first time since 1996. This elusive moth has only been seen 15 times since it was described and named in 1922.
Creative Commons BY-NC, XXXXXXXXXXX / Flickr

Even after a species is described, we don’t know necessarily know anything about it. Recently a small moth, Thambotricha vates, was caught by Landcare entomologist Robert Hoare. It had last been seen in 1996 and only 15 specimens had been collected by scientists since it was first described in 1922. Because it’s found from Nelson to Katikati, it probably isn’t rare; we just don’t know its habitat. Although the media treated this rediscovery as a big story, it isn’t all that exceptional. There are over 1,700 species of moths in New Zealand, and some of our 10,000 insect species have almost certainly been seen just once, by the entomologist who described them.

 

In NZ there are many species of native earthworms, some of them gigantic. In all the gardens, parks, and farmland of NZ the earthworms are just a few introduced European species. Unfortunately we know very little about native earthworms; many have been found from deep in the subsoil, living in a single patch of native bush. Thirty species occur only on a single small island each, but 102 species are listed as “data deficient”. They could be widespread, or on the verge of extinction – we don’t know. And there are surely native earthworms still unknown to scientists, which might go extinct before they’ve even discovered.

A new species washed up on the beach: George Shepherd, Curator at the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1933, measuring the skull of the beaked whale that was eventually named Tasmacetus shepherdi in his honour. Whanganui Regional Museum Collection 1805.296.2

A new species washed up on the beach: George Shepherd, Curator at the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1933, measuring the skull of the beaked whale that was eventually named Tasmacetus shepherdi in his honour.
Whanganui Regional Museum Collection 1805.296.2

Not all new species are moths and worms. There are still discoveries to be made in the deep sea, even of large marine mammals. The Whanganui Regional Museum still has the skeleton of a beaked whale that washed up on the beach near Hāwera in 1933, and was collected by George Shepherd, the Curator at the time. He recognised it was unusual, and sure enough it turned out to be a new species. Shepherd’s beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi) lives in deep water far from shore, in cold southern seas, so live animals have been seen only a handful of times. Most of what we know about them comes from stranded specimens.

 

New techniques can also help discover species that were hiding in plain sight. When the DNA of kiwi populations all over New Zealand was compared, the birds around Ōkarito on the West Coast turned out to be very different from other brown kiwi. Collectors in the 19th century had noticed this, and used the name rowi to distinguish them from other kiwi. The DNA evidence was enough to establish them as a new species, Apteryx rowi, numbering just a few hundred birds in one patch of forest. They now have their own captive breeding program.

Saving a subspecies: The Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) has North Island and South Island subspecies that can interbreed. The North Island form, or Maui dolphin, is in danger of extinction, but saving it shouldn’t be as high a priority as all the other actual endangered species in New Zealand. Creative Commons BY-NC, Earthrace Conservation / Flickr

Saving a subspecies: The Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) has North Island and South Island subspecies that can interbreed. The North Island form, or Maui dolphin, is in danger of extinction, but saving it shouldn’t be as high a priority as all the other actual endangered species in New Zealand.
Creative Commons BY-NC, Earthrace Conservation / Flickr

Without the attention of taxonomists the rowi might have quietly gone extinct while we were distracted by showier things like Maui dolphins (which are not actually a distinct species, just the Hector’s dolphins that happen to live in the North Island). The worst scenario is discovering much later, from museum specimens, that something collected a century ago is both a distinct species and no longer to be found in the wild. How many species have we already lost, species that we’ll never know about, because we didn’t notice them in time?

 

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

Local Defence during World War II

In the 1940s Wanganui was a city boasting a busy port that dated from the 1800s, and a sizeable airport which had opened in 1931. New Zealand was physically many miles from the theatres of war in Europe, but the threat of Japanese invasion brought the realities of war much closer to home.

Wanganui airport, south coast and Landguard Bluff Battery from the observation post

Wanganui airport, south coast and Landguard Bluff Battery from the observation post

By June 1940 Wanganui Airport was one of sixteen landing fields and four defence aerodromes in New Zealand, along with two RNZAF stations in Fiji and one in Tonga, which the Air Force had committed to defend. The Air Force, however, had few means of active local defence. Eventually it was agreed that the Air Force would defend its aerodromes up to the perimeter, and the Army beyond that. The Army was also responsible for defence works for landing grounds. The Public Works Department assisted with technical and on-site design and construction tasks.

By March 1941 the Director of Works for aerodrome defence called for a list of landing grounds within 30 kilometres of the coast, including at Wanganui. But by October it was decided that the port in Wanganui did not require fixed defences after all, being vulnerable only to small raiding force attacks for which an independent local infantry company already existed.

A cylindrical type pillbox at Castlecliff

A cylindrical type pillbox at Castlecliff

In February 1942 the situation had changed again as a result of the Pacific crisis, and defence of the local port became more urgent. Wanganui was allocated a US 155mm field gun, although senior defence officials decreed that the port could be adequately defended by a beach defence battery with light field guns alone. In any case, the US gun did not eventuate because by 1942 these weapons were in limited supply.

Construction of local coastal defence infrastructure finally got underway in 1942. A secret report from March of that year indicates that while the New Zealand Home Guard numbered around 11,000 personnel, only 800 rifles were available, so the structures were more to boost morale than to provide real defence should an enemy attack eventuate.

SS Port Bowen being unloaded from the port side after being beached (W-S-W-154)

SS Port Bowen being unloaded from the port side after being beached (W-S-W-154)

Twenty-eight gun emplacements, or pillboxes, were planned for Wanganui, although only around 15 were actually built. The project was delayed because metal baffles for the loopholes had to be cut at Eastown Railway workshops from plate salvaged from the SS Port Bowen, which had grounded at Castlecliff in 1929. The ship also provided steel for an anti-tank barrier at Lyall Bay in Wellington.

The term “pillbox” dates back to 1917 when it was first used for structures used by the Germans during World War I. Ten pillboxes are still visible locally: at Mōwhanau Beach, between Castlecliff Beach and the river mouth, and along the south coast. All are arrowhead types apart from one round design near Morgan Street. Two additional defence structures, including a gun battery, are also still visible at Landguard Bluff. All were sited so their fields of fire overlapped.

An arrowhead-type pillbox at Castlecliff

An arrowhead-type pillbox at Castlecliff

New Zealand pillboxes varied from a box design in the north to the familiar arrowhead (T49) design locally and a cylindrical design further south (although two cylindrical pillboxes were built locally). Arrowhead pillboxes had a central firing area with wings either side for living quarters. The cylindrical design was developed by Humes Pipes of Christchurch to support, and to benefit from, the war effort.

Construction of the Wanganui Battery at Landguard Bluff began in June 1942 and was completed later that year at a cost of £3950. A 5-inch US Navy type BL MkVIII gun on a MkXV mount was installed on the reinforced pad at the front of the facility. Camouflage works were completed the following summer.

A Barr and Stroud 3m FT29 rangefinder was installed for aircraft observation. Barr and Stroud was a Scottish optical engineering firm (in the late 1950s they built Scotland’s first computer).

The interior of an arrow-head type pillbox

The interior of an arrow-head type pillbox

The Wanganui Battery was manned between 1942 and October 1943 by one army regular for every three Home Guards, and later, by a skeleton crew. By November 1944 the gun was dismounted and returned to store and the Battery was abandoned.

By March 1943 Wanganui had spent £50,000 on defence, including obstruction of the airfield by driving posts into the runway and laying barbed wire to secure local beaches.

Fifty-four roadblocks in the form of large concrete blocks were installed locally, along with 120 road or rail blocks throughout the wider district, including at Gentle Annie, Whangaehu Rail Bridge, Ūpokongaro, and the Aramoho railway bridge.

A Type J anti-tank ditch was constructed from the river north through Castlecliff. It had silted up by early 1943 and required re-excavating and the installation of double weirs to prevent further erosion.

The main principle of local defence was to hold the enemy off until the last round was fired, and the last man was down. Fortunately, our resolve was never put to the test.

For further reading see Defending New Zealand by Peter Cooke.

Making Poppies

With Poppy Week commencing, we are taking the time to remember the brave ANZACs who risked life and limb to fight.  Ahead of ANZAC Day on Saturday, we are hoping to turn the lawn in front of the Museum into a miniature Flanders Field and cover it with red poppies.  Want to give us a hand?

All materials will be provided. just bring your enthusiasm and ANZAC spirit, make a poppy, and leave it with us – we’ll put them out on Friday ahead of the dawn service on Saturday.

Lest we forget.

ANZAC poppy making image

Memories of Clifton House School

Clifton House School was one of the smallest schools in Whanganui. Located near the corner of Victoria Avenue and Dublin Street, it opened during World War I and remained operational for less than 20 years. The following is the edited transcript of a speech made by Nancy Hales at the 1992 reunion of Clifton House School pupils:

… I want to set the scene of my own early years when in 1918 [when] I started school in Miss Ashcroft’s little two rooms in Upper Avenue. My memory pictures a pretty blue carpet and Mrs Ashcroft playing Shall we Gather at the River for us to sing.

Suddenly all was changed. School closed and the word EPIDEMIC meant that Stewart-Karitane home opposite became an Emergency Hospital. Carts sprayed disinfectant in the streets and killed our hedge. The Bank Manager urged his staff and family to cut raw onions to good effect as more of them fell ill with this plague.

Unfortunately Miss Ashcroft, with many others, became a victim. When all possible chance of a germ reaching me had ended, I was sent to Clifton House School – no blue carpet but my old friend Shall we Gather at the River and I met at morning assembly.

We talk of Clifton House as a small school but it was not so little. In 1919 there were 60 pupils, and in 1920 there were 80 children.

Clifton House School, undated; the uniform now includes blazers

Clifton House School, undated; the uniform now includes blazers

Miss Currie had opened her school during World War I in a house owned by her family who all gave her help and support. It was known as Miss Currie’s but as it grew and prospered she felt it should have a proper name so she asked her pupils for suggestions. At that time they were learning to recite a poem about Clifton College, a public school in England, and they thought Clifton would be a good name.  So Clifton House it was known. Black & white check frocks for uniform, green headbands with a silver CHS badge. The checks gradually changed to grey.

Staff and Students of Clifton House School, 1925; girls wear a mix of grey and checked uniforms

Staff and Students of Clifton House School, 1925; girls wear a mix of grey and checked uniforms

As the school grew, the music mistress Miss Russell and her aunt Miss Holman lived across the road in a two-storey house complete with a turret. They arranged to board country girls from Monday to Friday. The turret became Miss Currie’s domain. So Clifton Lodge was founded and used until Miss Russell was married to Judy, Alison and Lesley Burnett’s uncle. What excitement!!  The Misses Stanford then had the girls in their own home.

Again I bring a personal piece. I was no scholar – my report tells me “I was a quiet and good little pupil”. I was just so thrilled when Miss Lance announced she was taking six girls for a picnic to Castlecliff – not the tops of the form but the best behaved! Off by tram, down to the sand hills until suddenly the heavens opened and we sought refuge in a large concrete culvert lying near, where we played “I spy” and ate the goodies Miss Lance had provided. It was the nicest picnic I’ve ever been to and it comes to mind as a warm glow when people speak of the highlights of their lives.

Tram terminus at Castlecliff

Tram terminus at Castlecliff

Once we practised marching in patterns for hours and singing God Bless the Prince of Wales making ourselves into the rays of a rising sun – I was expecting full Royal regalia but this pleasant smiling man just waved a straw hat – (I wonder how he could have waved a crown?) and after he passed I sat down in a patch of wet tar in my new raincoat! That was one of the low points.

Civic Reception at Cook's Gardens for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, 1927

Civic Reception at Cook’s Gardens for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, 1927

Back to school. For sport, in season, there was hopscotch, skipping and a basketball ring in the gravel playground until Miss Currie had a volley board erected to improve our tennis. For most of us this meant five or six hits before the ball sailed over the fence into Miss Spillane’s garden, from where it could not be retrieved until a senior rescued the lot after school. Soon it was arranged for the school to use part of the Technical College grounds twice a week, for tennis, rounders and netball, the highlight, of course, being the netball [and] School v Fathers with the A team resplendent with green shoulder sashes over the uniform. The Fathers always lost as they forgot the rules but made amends for their sins with a huge feast afterwards.

Daily visits to Victoria Avenue School Baths provided a flurry of water wings and poles with slings on to lure the beginners into the art of swimming. The older girls progressed well with lifesaving while other swam lengths for their certificates.  remember swimming the 72 lengths (a mile) for the drink of hot cocoa at the finish.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was read aloud by pupils in the queue waiting for help with their sewing from Miss Craig who had a “mean thumb” to slide down a seam to find any weaknesses. I even produce my year’s sewing (show apron). I can’t imagine how I managed to escape with it unfinished. You will all remember the panic at end of year for garments to be completed. I feel that even a few days’ work could finish this apron – just 70 years late.

The weekly gramophone sessions were held to help our Musical Appreciation but I have memories of girls asking to leave the room and returning with a mouth full of water to see how long they could keep it there. We were allowed to bring special records from home for all to enjoy. Betty Montgomerie bought Yes, we have no Bananas.  Miss Currie said not a word as the record played but gradually became right[eous] with eyes aglow while we sucked in our breath in horror. Miss Currie had piercing eyes and needed nothing else for discipline – she would open the door to a noisy classroom, gaze at each child in turn, then depart leaving us all quiet mice for the session.

We all had Barnado boxes and Margaret and two friends thought up a bazaar which they ran themselves and divided the spoils into three lots to put in their own boxes.  What a sensation at the box-opening party, but this success meant that the School ran a school bazaar each year afterwards for a charity.

A group of Girl Guides in uniform in the 1920s

A group of Girl Guides in uniform in the 1920s

In 1926 Lady Marjorie Dalrymple, headmistress of Woodford House, introduced Girl Guiding to a packed His Majesty’s Theatre and 25 of us became an active Clifton House Girl Guide Company, among the many formed at that time. Miss Merewether & Betty Hutton were our leaders – a good company with fun and service in a movement that still holds my interest. Our first Public Outing was to be part of the Guard of Honour to the Duke and Duchess of York while the rest of the school joined in others making the White Rose of York in the centre of Cook’s Gardens.

Formal proceedings of the visit of Duke and Duchess of York, with children in formation at Cook's Gardens, 1927

Formal proceedings of the visit of Duke and Duchess of York, with children in formation at Cook’s Gardens, 1927

Also in 1926 we felt we should produce our own School Magazine so Bugg Justin organised a council to raise the £60 to print it. Alas, alack! A burglar stole the money so a new programme and performance was necessary before we could manage this effort (show magazine).

The school prospered and older girls stayed or passed Proficiency, Intermediate & Public Service, indeed a few to Matriculation. I was 16 before I left for boarding school for two final years and was happy to find that I could fit so easily into the subjects and standards there.

The Depression years came with lower numbers and suddenly in 1935 Miss Currie felt it was time for a change and left for England to help Archdeacon Creed-Meredith with parish work among the less fortunate.

So ends the story of Clifton House School. I remember with gratitude my years there. The fact that so many of you have come here nearly 60 years after, to honour Miss Amy Currie and her school, is indeed a wonderful tribute.

 

Grace for Clifton House School Reunion 1992, from Judy Burnett (Davies)

Loving heavenly Father, we give you thanks for Miss Currie’s School, for friendships made and for happy childhood memories.

We thank you Lord for the teaching we received there, for the principles of love and service and the opening of our minds to the interest and wonder of your world.

We pray for those unable to come, especially the sick, and we remember with sadness those who have died.

We ask you to bless this day and we give thanks for this they creature of food before us now.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The selfie stick strikes again

Here’s another article about damage to museum collections, this time from Te Papa Tongarewa.

It is an unfortunate reality that at times, things get damaged.  We do the absolute best we can, of course we do, but sometimes unpreventable events occur.  Visitors with selfie sticks or a slippery shoe; guests with bad intentions and a secreted craft knife or pen; clumsy staff and the forces of nature.  Behind the scenes the same rules apply but occasionally things get bumped, damaged, or accidentally dripped on.

All the Museum sector can do is reassure you all that we take the best care we can of our collection.  When a leak is found, we remove the artifacts under threat and fix the leak before replacing the items into storage.  We try to place things on display where they are out of harms way and are not likely to be hit, bumped, tripped over or on, or otherwise put in danger.  And when something is involved in an incident we remove it, stabilise it, and have a professional asses and repair it.  And, in all, there are very few instances when items are damaged, and even fewer when they are damaged irreparably.

If you are interested in more information on security and care of collections the Canadian Conservation Institute has some excellent information and guidelines.  And if you have something in your own collections that has suffered some damage, check out your local museum or the New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials for professional help.

The Panoramic Photographer

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

The Panoramic Photographer – R P Moore Studio

From 1923 until 1931 the R P Moore studio operated from 80 Manners Street in Wellington and specialised in commissioned panoramic views of up to 200 degrees. R P Moore was, first and foremost, a commercial photographer. His undoubted success in business was not only the result of his ability to sell, but also due to the quality of the product. Sixty to seventy years later, many of his prints hang, still treasured, in the institutions, businesses and houses for which they were made.

The studio’s photographers traversed New Zealand on commissions from the Government Tourist Department. Before travelling to specific areas, they contacted the more established local firms, institutions and individual property owners, making their services known and thus securing further commissions.

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

The Camera and Negatives

The camera used by the Moore photographers was the most technologically superior available, the No. 10 Cirkut camera made by Graflex Inc., New York. By means of a clockwork motor, the camera traversed a circular track that gave a range of up to 360 degrees (although the Moore studio rarely exceeded 200 degrees). As the camera moved from one side to the other, taking up to a minute, the mechanism simultaneously unrolled the film, each exposure being the full height of the negative but only about 8mm wide. The photographer could only determine the direction and scope of the camera’s path. There was no viewfinder and the required exposure had to be guessed. The equipment included a tripod that could be extended up to almost five metres and which came with its own ladder.

The negatives, averaging a metre in width, generated seamless images of great clarity.  Because the extent of these views replicated the act of looking, the panorama prints were very saleable objects

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

R P Moore

Robert Percy Moore was born in Christchurch in 1881. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but he seems to have begun his photographic career in Australia. During World War I he was working in Queensland specialising in postcard views.

His earliest-known panoramas date from around 1919 when he had a studio in Sydney.  After eight years in Wellington from 1923 to 1931, he returned to Australia. He was back in New Zealand by 1936, because, from that year until 1941, he was based in Rotorua working in partnership with James Thompson at the Panora Studio. In 1941 he returned to Australia, and he died in Sydney seven years later.

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

The Panorama

We are so used to having pictures of landscapes around us it is hard to realise that such representations have been around for only the last 400 years. Until then landscape was used only as a background to stories about gods and goddesses or Christian stories. Pictures of landscape alone originated in 16th century Holland. The actual word “landscape”, as Simon Schama says in his recent book Landscape and Memory, “entered the English language, along with herring and bleached linen, as a Dutch import at the end of the sixteenth century.” Our experience of the landscape is of a big space, and consequently, over the past 400 years, landscape pictures have tried to get past the confines of the frame. It is the difference between looking at a view through a window and standing outside looking at the view.

By the beginning of the 18th century this had developed into a type of landscape picture known as “the view”. The aim was to show an actual place, in a way that created a sense of being there, by suggesting light and space. As the 18th century progressed “the view” picture developed into the panorama. This wider view had several origins. For instance, some of the earliest English examples were made by surveyors, and this practical charting of a real landscape is still part of the urge to make panoramas.

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

The panorama form developed further in the 19th century and became increasingly “photographic”. Although the processes of photography were not publicly announced until 1839, the earliest of them were discovered in the mid-1820s, and the first photographers automatically imitated the picture-making of the contemporary painters. From that time the panorama featured strongly in the history of photography right through to the end of the 1920s, and the work of the R P Moore studio represents a pinnacle of its achievement.  Since the mid-1980s, with a resurgence of interest in 19th century photographic forms and processes, the panorama has experienced a real revival.

By Peter Ireland

Peter Ireland is an artist and an independent curator with a special interest in photography

Easter has been and gone…

…and we have survived.  Thankfully the Easter Bunny has changed a lot from these early rabbits!  Hetty the Hen was on full form and treated all the visiting children (and adults) to a delicious egg.  The atrium of the Museum was full of children colouring in and making collage eggs.  And that is just the start of the school holidays here!

Holiday Activities will continue with Children’s movies, making butterflies and bugs, drawing moa and mystery boney beasts, knot tying, harakeke putiputi (flax flowers), and more!  Check out the full programme here, then come on down and join in the fun.  Also, Margie will be restocking the harvest table with kamokamo and parsley so you can take away some delicious fresh vegetables too.