Month: September 2018

King Penguin: a Royal Line in Trouble

New Zealand was once home to a gigantic species of penguin, as tall as an adult male human. Like many megafauna species of the planet, this species is now extinct and exists only as fossil remains held in museums.

Two other very large penguins, the Emperor penguin and the King penguin, live in huge colonies around the southern seas. They were so numerous that it appeared there was no risk of them following New Zealand’s fossil Giant penguin into extinction. This, however, may no longer be true of the King penguin. The once numerous bird may be already be an endangered species. The end of the current century, according to scientific research, might signal the end of this royal branch of penguins through the effects of climate change on ocean currents and sub-Antarctic habitats.

1. King penguin with egg

Taxidermied King penguin with egg. Ref: 1802.1688

King penguins live and breed between latitudes of 45 and 55 degrees south, on sub-Antarctic islands and northern parts of Antarctica. The most numerous colony, with about half of the global population of King penguins, has historically been the Crozet Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean. In 1982 the King penguin population of these islands was estimated, through aerial survey, to be around two million individuals. Recent analysis of satellite images taken over the last thirty-five years indicates that the population has plummeted by 90% to around 200,000 birds, with just 60,000 breeding pairs. While this is still a very large number, such a rapid decline is concerning. So what has changed?

Researchers suggest the causes may be overcrowding and the resultant competition for resources; disease such as avian cholera; or the possible arrival of invasive pest species. A non-migratory species, such as the King penguin, relies on the continued health of its sub-Antarctic habitat for survival. King penguins leave their young and swim south to forage for fish and squid along the polar front, where cold, deep water meets more temperate sea.

2. King penguin egg

King penguin egg. Ref: 1802.5822

The research team suspects that climate change could be contributing to the decline, as it has with colonies of penguins in parts of Antarctica. In 1997, a strong El Niño weather event warmed the southern Indian Ocean and temporarily pushed fish and squid, normally eaten by King penguins, further south, beyond their foraging range. The result was population decline for all King penguin colonies in that region. Although El Niño events are cyclical, they can be amplified by global warming. The researchers have concluded that based on current climate change predictions the Crozet Islands, once home to half the world’s population of King penguins will become uninhabitable for these penguins by the mid-century.

With nowhere else to go, the Crozet Islands population of King penguins will be in serious trouble. It would be such a shame if one of the world’s most iconic and loved penguins exists only as taxidermied specimens in natural history museums.

 

Margie Beautrais is the Educator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Advertisements

Ladies Home Journal

The Ladies Home Journal had humble beginnings as an advice column in the men’s magazine Tribune and Farmer. This magazine was owned by Cyrus Curtis. His wife, Louisa Knapp, wrote a column named “Women at Home”. The column was so popular that Knapp expanded it to include hints and tips on domestic and private matters and launched it as a two-page supplement on 16 February 1883.

The supplement grew in popularity and in 1884 began independent publication as The Ladies Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper, but was shortened to the Ladies Home Journal soon after. There were 20,000 subscribers at the launch.

1. LHJ Jun 1918

 The Ladies Home Journal June 1918. Ref: 1802.5077

Edward Bok took over as editor in 1889 and introduced several features which helped to build the magazine’s success. He wrote the first edition of the “Ruth Ashmore Advice Column” offering advice and hints to women and girls on personal and household matters. The column received so many letters asking for advice that an independent journalist was hired to take it over; Isobel Mallon wrote under the nom de plume until her death in 1898.

Bok also introduced a low fee for subscribers and balanced the production costs by selling advertising space in the publication. Bok, however, had a strict code which filtered the advertisements and weeded out fraudulent claims, and he refused to advertise patent medicines.

Bok sought popular content from national and international writers. He included both fiction and non-fiction, publishing stories and book samples from prominent and upcoming authors alongside articles on architecture, fine arts, domestic life, recipes and health.

In 1903 Ladies Home Journal became the first American magazine with one million subscribers and proved to be a social influencer. Not satisfied with just refusing patent medicines advertisements, Bok and his writers embarked on a muck-raking campaign against them. This campaign was so effective that it helped to bring about the Federal Food and Drugs Act in 1906, ensuring the regulation of the ingredients, manufacture and advertising of consumables.

 

2. LHJ Oct 1918

 The Ladies Home Journal October 1918. Ref: 1802.5076

During the war years the American Government took out advertising space and published articles aimed at homemakers, with the intention of keeping up morale at home and continue public support for the war effort. With one of the highest circulation bases they had a large local and international audience.

In 1946 Ladies Home Journal adopted the slogan “Never underestimate the power of a woman”, which would prove to be a portentous statement. Members of the feminist movement targeted the magazine in 1970 when 100 women staged an 11-hour sit-in at the publishers’ offices. They protested the way the predominantly male staff wrote articles aimed at what feminists saw was the “mythological happy homemaker”. They demanded more female staff, improved conditions and salaries for female employees, and a change to more relevant and liberal content.

Ladies Home Journal remained one of the most popular women’s magazines but tastes were beginning to change. When the Meredith Corporation bought it in 1986, subscribers had dropped by over two million in the preceding 20 years.

As digital media increased, subscriptions decreased. In 2012 there was a major revamp of the publication, but increasing use of social media and digital forums meant a physical magazine became too costly to produce. After 131 years the last monthly edition was published in July 2014. Today, the Ladies Home Journal is only published quarterly, but retains an online presence.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Snakes and Ladders

It is highly likely that at some point in our young lives, most of us have played some version of the humble game of Snakes and Ladders. There is evidence that Snakes and Ladders goes back thousands of years, and the relatively simple design of the game has ensured its survival. But its origins involve much more than mere child’s play. It has been a potent teaching tool that has been used for centuries, arguably even millennia, as a way to embody and reinforce religious teachings and cultural values.

1. Pixie snakes & ladders 1930s

 Snakes and Ladders game, 1930s. Ref: 1984.13.11

Surviving forms of this board game suggest that the game originated in ancient India, invented by Hindu spiritual teachers. The moral of the original game reflected Hinduism consciousness around everyday life, in that a person can attain salvation through performing righteous good deeds, whereas the evil ones, which are the snakes, take rebirth in lower forms of life.

Centuries ago the game had titles which, roughly translated, mean the “Game of Self Knowledge”, the “Ladder to Salvation” or “Steps to the Highest Place”, which indicate the weight of the morality it was originally designed to convey.

The original boards were adorned with elaborate illustrations of religious phrases, figures or architecture, flora, fauna, and symbols of spiritual planes. Rows of squares are sometimes arranged by levels of enlightenment, simultaneously reflecting concepts like karmic paths, chakras, or other conceptions about ascending levels of the spiritual realm. Children in ancient India were taught the game as part of their spiritual education in order to know the effects of good versus bad. The ladders represented values such as kindness, faith and humility. The snakes represented bad omens, bad luck, anger and other negative traits.

3. Snakes & ladders instructions 1950s

Snakes & ladders instructions, 1950s. Ref: 2010.6.8

Over centuries the game travelled and evolved and its basic design concept served as a durable framework for many cultures to adapt it to their own moral and spiritual beliefs.

When the game made its way to Victorian England in the late nineteenth century, the Indian symbolism was replaced by English virtues and vices which better reflected Victorian doctrines of morality. Squares of grace and success were accessible by ladders of thrift, generosity, penitence, obedience and industry. They were offset by snakes of indulgence, pride, disobedience and indolence causing one to end up in illness, disgrace and poverty.

While the Indian version of the game had snakes outnumbering ladders, the English counterpart contained each in the same amount, assuring players of the ideal that for every sin one commits, there exists another chance at redemption.  The phrase “back to square one” either originates in the game of Snakes and Ladders, or, at least, was influenced by it.

Scanned Image

 Noddy Snakes and Ladders game, 1950s. Ref: 2010.6.6

Modern adaptations of the game are much less overt in the messages they try to impart, and have comic drawings and simple moral lessons, if any. But even today in playing, we always get a tiny taste of experiencing the course of fate, because implicit in the game is an unchanging duality of up against down, good against evil and the consequences attached to virtues and vices. The game of Snakes and Ladders captures the eternal truth that for every ladder you hope to climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner, and for every snake a ladder will compensate.

Rachael Garland worked as the events coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Marvellous Miniatures

In the Victorian period an obsession with all things miniature became a form of entertainment. Men would generally collect natural history items such as fossils and taxidermied or preserved specimens, and display them in a cabinet of curiosities. Women’s tastes seemed to be domestic, or at least that’s what was available to them. Dolls’ houses were crafted and there was no shortage of furniture, books and dolls to fill them. Craftsmen would often produce miniature versions of their own products to demonstrate their skills; these were exquisitely made and very costly.

1. Library in Queen Mary's Dolls' House

 The library with leather bound books in Queen Mary’s dolls’ house.  The Royal Collection Trust.

The ultimate example of domestic miniature collecting is Queen Mary’s dolls’ house at Winsor Castle. Built in 1924, it was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, the most eminent English architect of the time, who commissioned renowned artists and craftsmen to contribute examples of their works. Electric lifts, lights, running water and a flushable toilet, complete with miniature toilet paper, are included. The wine cellar contains tiny glass bottles filled with wines and spirits. The library is filled with leather-bound miniature books by 170 famous authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A A Milne, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling. The walls are adorned throughout with paintings by notable artists.

Dolls’ houses became all the rage with the rich, and there was an immense demand for furniture and dolls with which to fill them. After World War II, doll’s houses and their contents started being massed produced, and consequently, much more affordable for more people.

There is an assortment of miniature objects in the collection of the Whanganui Regional Museum. We can find miniature teapots, pots and pans, furniture, miniature sewing machines and even a miniature suit of armour.

3. Dolls and eggs

 Four half egg shells and two baby dolls. Ref: TH.3706

Amongst the tiniest is a pair of Lilliputian wooden dolls, each nesting inside a tiny wooden egg. One is painted green and the other yellow, both with the inscription, “the smallest doll in the world’’, barely discernible on the outside in gold. They were produced in Germany and Austria for the British market in the early 1900s and were often given to children as an Easter gift. They were known as “penny dolls’’, as this is what they were reportedly sold for in Britain at the time.

The eggs are 3.2 centimetres high. The dolls are just 1.3 centimetres tall and have moveable, jointed arms and legs. They are joined to the body by small wooden pegs which are locked together, so that if one arm or leg is moved, the other does likewise. Both are painted with rather stern looks on their faces.

2. Baby doll from an egg

 One of the baby dolls that nestles in a miniature egg. Ref: TH.3076a

Because of their fragility and the fact that they were cheap, once broken they were often discarded, so we are fortunate to have an intact pair in the collection.

It seems the appetite for miniatures never disappears. A quick look on the Internet reveals a renewed interest in miniature dolls. Dolls, with names such as Lalaloopsy, Cupcake and Polly Pockets, are very popular and come with small houses and accessories. Even boys are accommodated with Lego and transformers. Will these be filling the shelves of museums a hundred years from now?

 

Kathy Greensides is the Collection Assistant at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Green Sea Turtle

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!

Who for such dainties would not stoop?

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

[From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865]

 

One turtle not protected by its briny environment was a Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas, also known as the Green Turtle, Black Turtle, or Pacific Green Turtle, whose shell is in the Whanganui Regional Museum collection, donated by Tom Shout in 1954.

1. Green Sea Turtle carapace

The shell of the Green Sea Turtle that ended up as soup at Bellamy’s. Ref: 1954.103

The turtle shell had been given to Tom Shout’s father in around 1910 by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward. Ward had been presented with a live turtle on a return voyage from London, possibly in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Still alive when it arrived in Wellington, Sir Joseph donated it to the kitchen in the parliamentary restaurant, Bellamy’s, to be turned into soup. Shout’s father was the chef at Bellamy’s at the time.

Green Sea Turtles are named for the green color of the fat under their carapace or shell, a vital ingredient for making turtle soup. Turtle soup was a fashionable and popular repast for Edwardian gentlemen, and very suitable fare for Bellamy’s, New Zealand’s premier restaurant at the time.

2. Green Sea Turtle skull & jawbone

Skull and jawbone of a Green Sea Turtle. Some skin scales still adhere to the bone. Ref: 1802.3523

Green Turtle soup was not, however, limited to diners at Bellamy’s. It was, for decades tinned and sold throughout the world. One of the most famous brands was the American product by Campbell, launched in the 1920s and lasting in popularity into the 1950s when it began a slide into obscurity and was discontinued in the 1960s.

 

A passion for Green Turtle soup had emerged in England in the mid-18th century. Considered a great delicacy, it needed to be made from freshly slaughtered turtles that had to be shipped from warmer climes in great tubs of water. It became, inevitably, more and more expensive, so a substitute was invented to address popular demand. Mock turtle soup often incorporated meats such as brains or calf’s head to mimic the texture of true turtle meat. Many consumers thought that these animal body parts also tasted very like turtle. Tinned mock turtle soup sustained many a British subject throughout World War II when rationing was at its most severe.

3. Turtle illustration by John Tenniel

The gryphon and the mock turtle, an illustration by John Tenniel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Sourced under Creative Commons.

The Green Sea Turtle’s range extends throughout tropical and subtropical seas around the world, with two different populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Adults can grow up to 91 cm in length and weigh up to 180 kg. They migrate long distances, sometimes thousands of kilometres from their feeding sites, to breed on the beaches where they hatched. They can lay more than 100 eggs in every nest.

Today many species of sea turtle are endangered, with surreptitious culinary demand possibly contributing to their population decrease, as well as markets in turtle skins, tanned to make leather bags and wallets. While it is illegal to hunt sea turtles in most countries, they continue to be caught worldwide.

Since 2004 the Green Sea Turtle has been listed as Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Conservation initiatives centre on nesting sites and include eco-tourism and environmental action plans.

 

Libby Sharpe is the senior curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Taxidermy

The word taxidermy is derived from the ancient Greek roots táksis (arrangement) and derma (skin), and loosely translates to “arrangement of skin”. It refers to the art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of dead animals for exhibition in a lifelike state. Taxidermy takes on a number of forms and purposes, including hunting trophies and natural history museum displays, and sometimes to memorialise loved pets. It is used as a method of preserving specimens for research and recording, and for display, including those that are extinct and threatened, in the form of study skins and life-size mounts. It is practiced primarily on vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish and reptiles) but can also be applied to larger insects and arachnids (spiders).

The earliest known taxidermists were the ancient Egyptians who developed a form of animal preservation through the use of injections, spices, oils, and other embalming tools and methods. The modern form of taxidermy greatly differs from the taxidermy of antiquity, as taxidermists now produce lifelike mounts by accurately modelling the anatomy of animal specimens as they might appear in their natural habitat.

2. Drew's museum

 Drew’s taxidermied specimens in the Wanganui Public Museum that opened in 1895 and was situated in Drews Avenue.  Photograph by AD Willis. Ref: 1802.3375

In the Victorian era, taxidermy became very popular and fashionable, with many seeking curiosities for their cabinets in an exciting age of discovery. With the surge of international exploration, there was a growing community of natural history observers, or naturalists, who became intent on discovering fascinating new species abroad.

When new species of mammals, fowl and fish were still being discovered, naturalists looked for ways of preserving them for classification. Famed British explorer Captain James Cook was one of the early supporters of taxidermy for his newly discovered species. Charles Darwin was another early practitioner of taxidermy. He had some specimens from the Galapagos Islands taxidermied in situ; they later helped support his scientific theory of evolution.

In the early 20th century taxidermy came into its own and became a respected art form. Wealthy aristocrats would fill their homes with mounted animals from all over the world. As big game hunting became more popular, so did the practice of displaying wild animals. Early taxidermy mounts were stuffed with sawdust and rags without regard for actual anatomy, so the models were often disfigured. In fact, some mounts from those days skewed how people imagined such creatures for years. The long-extinct dodo is a prime example of creative taxidermy misleading actuality. Over time, taxidermists developed techniques to more accurately represent anatomy.

The Whanganui Regional Museum collection houses many taxidermied specimens, including rare and now extinct species such as huia, koreke (New Zealand quail) and whēkau (laughing owl). There are many trophy heads and even an extinct Tasmanian tiger.

1. Tasmanian tiger

Taxidermied and mounted specimen of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus, first acquired by Samuel Drew for a private museum at his home. Ref: 1805.61

The taxidermy collection started with an avid local naturalist and collector, Samuel Drew. He collected and classified many natural history specimens, certainly enough to establish a small museum at his home in 1880. He was a significant collector of molluscs, birds, and beetles, and maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists. He exchanged specimens with Julius von Haast, a German geologist, later director of the Canterbury Museum. He met with and corresponded with taxidermist Andreas Reischek, who helped him classify some of his specimens. Reischek also trained Drew’s son, Henry, in taxidermy. Drew’s private collection eventually became too large for his family home and became the foundation of the Whanganui Regional Museum collection that we all enjoy today.

 

Rachael Garland is the Events Coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.