Month: November 2018

The Governor Grey

A new schooner, called the Governor Grey, has been built at Wanganui, and is intended for coasting. [New Zealander 20 March 1847]

The Governor Grey was built for Merchant Mariners Taylor and Watt of Petre (the official name of the town of Whanganui at the time) by a Mr Walker and launched on 4 January 1847. The Reverend Richard Taylor recorded in his journal of the day, “The new vessel was launched. It is about 30 tons and was first named the Harvest Home but as everybody laughed at the name the owners substituted that of Governor Grey.” The launch was reported to be attended by most of the citizens of the town of Whanganui who cheered her into the water. Apparently, these worthy citizens had requested the name change, and thus she was christened in honour of the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, who had been appointed to his post in 1845.

2. Taylor & Watt premises on Taupo Quay

Taylor & Watt premises on Taupo Quay.  Photograph thought to be by WJ Harding, 1860s.  Ref: W/S/TW/18

Thomas Ballardie Taylor and William Hogg Watt had arrived in Whanganui in 1841 and begun trading immediately. They built a store on the beach (now Taupō Quay) and then a jetty for their ships. The company built up a significant business in Whanganui, often acting as “bankers” to settlers all along the coast.

The new schooner replaced the Catherine Johnstone, known locally and affectionately as the Kitty J, a single masted cutter of only 10 tons, built in 1841. The cutter had traded between Taranaki, Wellington and Nelson, and occasionally Sydney, until the Taylor and Watt cargoes grew too big for her holds to carry. After the launch of the Governor Grey, Captain Taylor took on command at sea while Watt ran the business ashore. Business increased and the small vessel had plenty of profitable voyages.

Rigged with two masts and about 30 tons in weight, the Governor Grey was only 44 feet long and a mere 12 feet wide. Never-the-less, she managed to transport her fair share of goods and passengers between Whanganui and Wellington, sometimes venturing further to Nelson. In a November 1854 issue of New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, a report records her carrying “1010 feet timber, 220 bags potatoes, 18 kits maize, 1 beer engine, 1 bundle bedding, 10 barrels 3 cases bottles.”  She was also advertised as a regular packet, to sail between Whanganui and Wellington once a month, with “superior accommodations for a few Passengers”.

1. Watercolour of Governor Grey

Watercolour painting of The Governor Grey.  Artist Charles Heaphy, late 1840s.  Ref: 1910.2.1

Artist and draftsman Charles Heaphy painted the Governor Grey in watercolours in the late 1840s. In the painting, the schooner is at sea, with Mana Island immediately behind her. It is probably an exact rendition of her rig. Three small figures can just be made out, two aft and one fore.

The Governor Grey was wrecked on the Whanganui River bar in a gale in November 1854. While much of her cargo was recovered, the heavy swell prevented the schooner from being saved and she was completely wrecked.

 

Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Advertisements

Snapshot of Whanganui, past and present

September 2018 marks two years since Whanganui Regional Museum closed for the Whakahoutanga project, consisting of seismic strengthening and comprehensive interior renewal.

2. Post Office 1939

Model of the Wanganui Central Post Office at 62 Ridgway Street, photographed before construction was completed. Photograph by F H Bethwaite, 1939. WRM Ref: 2005.56.75

During that time the Museum has operated in temporary premises at 62 Ridgway Street. Long-time residents will remember the building as the former Wanganui Central Post Office, designed by Whanganui architect Robert Talboys, and built in 1939. The old Post and Telegraph Office on the corner of Ridgway Street and Victoria Avenue was no longer large enough to house the national telegraph activities and the local postal needs of the growing city. The project was also part of the then Labour government’s programme of public works to stimulate economic activity. No longer used for its original purpose, the building is occupied by a range of tenants.

For the final three months in this temporary location, the Museum has an exhibition of a fascinating range of Whanganui street scenes. In 1939 and 2007 two photographers from different times, different generations and using different camera technology, photographed the central business area of Whanganui. The photographs are an important record of the development of the Whanganui townscape. The 1939 photographs were taken by local business man Frank Haddow Bethwaite. The same locations were photographed in 2007 by local photographer Beverley Sinclair. The two sets of images are juxtaposed in the exhibition SNAP! Exploring the changing face of Whanganui.

1. Alexander Museum 1939

The Alexander Museum.  Photograph by F H Bethwaite, 1939. WRM Ref: 2005.56.55

Whanganui is well known for its heritage buildings, many having been built of unreinforced masonry during the reasonably prosperous 1920s, before the Napier earthquake prompted an architectural rethink of building design and materials. The more recent earthquakes in Canterbury and Kaikōura prompted a further “shake-up” of building standards. The cost of seismically strengthening a large building such as the Museum is much less costly than a complete rebuild. For some owners of private buildings, however, the economic viability of retaining earthquake-prone masonry buildings might not be realistic.

3. Whanganui Regional Museum 2007

 The Whanganui Regional Museum. Photograph by Beverley Sinclair, 2007. WRM Ref: 2008.45.55

Many grand old buildings photographed in 1939 have long since disappeared. Others remain, but like the former Post Office, have outlived their original purpose and are now used for something else. The Museum is a great example of an old 1928 masonry building that, with the 1968 extension and contemporary seismic strengthening, is still fit for purpose. In January 2019, the Museum on Watt Street will reopen and visitors can safely enjoy a completed refurbished interior that retains the character of both eras.

 

Margie Beautrais is the Educator and Team Leader of Education and Life-Long learning at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Jack Allen – A King Country Character

In the early 20th century, many swagmen wandered the country from farm to farm earning their keep as they went, and living a simple life. Jack Allen was one such wanderer.

3-jack-allen-fighting-pose.jpg

Jack Allen in fighting stance, ready to take on a friend for a fee. Ref: P-I-003

 

Jack didn’t often speak about his early life and a rumour he was Steve Hart from the Ned Kelley Gang, in hiding, was never confirmed or denied. He was born in Victoria, Australia, and arrived in New Zealand around 1886 with his parents. They settled on freshly felled land at Tokirima, near Taumarunui, and lived in a tent for several years.

Jack was tall and stocky with uncut white hair and a beard to match. He usually wore denim dungarees rolled half way up his calves and a cotton shirt. He carried a leather bag which contained his money and essentials. His wife had run away with another man and he swore he would not wear a coat or socks until she was found and her new beau had been dealt with. Neither event occurred.

He was not fond of washing, claiming bathing made him ill. Jack’s feet were particularly notable; he was rarely seen wearing shoes and his bare feet were as tough as rawhide. He climbed Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont) barefoot, although did remark afterwards that he probably left it a little late in his life to properly enjoy the experience.

2. Jack Allen

 Jack Allen wearing his usual shirt and dungarees, this time with doctor-ordered shoes. Ref: P-I-002

In his later years, a man who remembered him from childhood ran into Jack on a train and was surprised to see him wearing leather shoes. Jack replied by saying, “It’s the Doctor, dammim, said I was getting old, dammim, and ordered me – ORDERED me, if you please, to wear shoes. What does he know? Nothing, but I wear them to please him. Maybe the roads are a bit rough, but he didn’t order socks. I have not come down to that yet.”

Jack was a gentleman towards women, a friend towards men, and was always kind to children despite their initial trepidation. He was known to wear flowers in his hair and had even trained some small birds to land on his head when he whistled. He was never known to drink or smoke and was a talented concertina musician.

In Australia Jack earned fame by droving a flock of geese from Melbourne to Sydney on foot. He earned a living in New Zealand by travelling between Taumarunui and Whanganui, shooting rabbits, selling fish, picking fruit and selling it at the local train stations. Jack was offered a bed and meals where he worked but would usually sleep on the floor with a single blanket and would take his meals in the doorway rather than at the table.  He regaled his hosts with tricks such as balancing a broom on his toes while spinning in circles and was an entertaining story teller.

1. Sketch of Jack Allen

 Sketch of Jack Allen. Ref: 1965.43.1

Jack always insisted on paying his own way and earned extra money through local competitions. He was a crack shot with a rifle and rarely missed his target. He also swung an axe with expertise.  He was a common sight at country galas and often took away the prize money. He was always eager to complete a dare or a fight a colleague for money.

A hard nomadic life eventually caught up with Jack and he was found in the Taumarunui Railway Station, suffering from pneumonia. He was put into a taxi which he told the driver would be “Jack Allen’s last ride”, and sent to the local hospital where he died on 19 April 1937, aged 86 years.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.