Month: May 2019

Butterflies and Moths

In New Zealand there are 22 species of butterfly and over 1,700 species of moth. Eleven of these 22 butterfly species are found only in New Zealand. Some of the others originally came from overseas and are now resident here. Others occasionally arrive here, usually from Australia, on wind currents. Towns on New Zealand’s west coast, such as Whanganui, are often host to these wind-blown species.

World-wide, there are about 17,500 species of butterfly and around 160,000 species of moth. They form a significant portion of world fauna. Butterflies and moths are from the insect order called Lepidoptera. The name comes from the Greek words lepido which means “scale” and pteron which means “wing”. The scales on Lepidoptera wings give them their colours and patterns.

2. Tiger moth

These moths have spots and stripes on their wings and are from the family Arctiidae. The caterpillars of tiger moths are often covered in tufts of hair and are known as woolly bears. WRM ref: TA.418

Like other insects, Lepidoptera have three body parts (the head, thorax and abdomen) and the adults have two pairs of wings (one pair of forewings and one pair of hindwings). They also have a pair of feelers (antennae) on their head and six legs joined to their thorax. We can tell species of Lepidoptera apart by the patterns on their wings, wing shape and leg shape.

There are several basic differences between moths and butterflies. Moth antennae are usually feathery or pointed and butterfly antennae are usually clubbed. Moths tend to fly at night and butterflies tend to fly during the day. Moths usually rest with their wings flat and butterflies rest with their wings closed upward. Moth abdomens are usually plump and butterfly abdomens are usually slender.

There are four stages in a Lepidoptera life cycle. Egg, caterpillar (larva), cocoon (pupa) and adult moth. Caterpillars look different to adult moths. While they eat and grow, they will shed their skin (moult) several times. Eventually, the caterpillar will build a cocoon around itself. While inside its cocoon the caterpillar will undergo metamorphosis and emerge from the cocoon as a moth or butterfly.

There are advantages in being a Lepidoptera. Larval insects which are different to the adults can occupy different niches from the adults. This avoids competition for resources between the young and adults of a species. In addition, winged insects can travel greater distances than similar insects which do not have wings. This allows them to access the resources of more distant areas and increases their feeding and breeding ranges.

Collecting insects, especially butterflies, was a popular hobby from the late eighteenth century to the mid twentieth century, and is still enjoyed by many people today. As we learn more about the relationships between living things, we are discovering the unique role each plant and animal plays in its ecosystem and the wider natural world. The removal of one species from the ecosystem will have an effect on the remaining species. Because of this, many naturalists now collect photographs of plants and animals, including butterflies and moths, rather than collecting actual specimens of a species.

1. Butterfly collection

These butterflies are part of a much larger collection of Lepidoptera gathered by a member of the Edwards family of Whanganui. WRM ref: 1948.29.11

Lepidoptera have a strong presence within cultural history and art, providing a wealth of colour, shape and activity to our surroundings. They have often been used to decorate both every-day and special objects. References to Lepidoptera in poetry, fables, fairy tales, dance and theatre abound. Butterflies often seem to be the the goodies while moths are sometimes depicted as baddies or just plain foolish.

Metamorphosis has always been the greatest symbol of change for poets and artists. Imagine that you could be a caterpillar one moment and a butterfly the next. Louie Schwartzberg, 2014.

Moth: I gave you my life.  Flame: I allowed you to kiss me.  Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927).

 

Libby Sharpe is the senior curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Daguerreotypes – the first photographs

In the 21st century, most of us have mobile phones, and most of those phones come equipped with a pretty good camera. We can take a photograph, add a filter, crop and edit, then share it with the world within seconds. Photography has not always been so easy and readily available.

After centuries of painstaking carving and painting to capture a likeness, in 1822, French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was the first person to make a mechanical image. He used a process called photo etching to create a permanent image on a metal plate, and was then able to use the plate to create copies of the image etched onto it.

2. Unknown child

Undated daguerreotype of an unidentified child. WRM ref: 1960.145.2

He worked with Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre to further the process before passing away in 1833, but Daguerre continued with the work. He finalised the process in 1837. In 1838 he took the first photograph of a person, by accident, while he was attempting to make a daguerreotype of a street scene in Paris. Moving pedestrians and carriages are too blurry to see, but one man who was having his boots cleaned on the street corner, stayed still long enough to be captured.

In exchange for a pension from the government he allowed France to present his method as a gift to the world. Daguerreotypes were very time-consuming and intricate to make. A plate of copper was coated with silver and polished to a mirror-shine, then exposed to halogen fumes to create a layer of light-sensitive silver halide which would bear the image. Initially, exposure could take up to 70 minutes, but was refined down to only a few seconds on a bright day.

The latent image was revealed by exposing the plate to mercury fumes.  Although known to be dangerous, very little protection was taken when handling the mercury and there were reports of inattentive daguerreotypists developing mercury poisoning from it.

The plate was toned with gold chloride before being rinsed and dried, and the daguerreotypist could add colour washes to clothing and skin or gold tints to jewellery. The plate was then sealed behind a layer of glass and bound in a brass mat, before being housed in a wooden case covered with leather and padded with velvet or satin.

3. Unknown man

Undated daguerreotype of an unidentified man. WRM ref: 1802.8612

The resulting image could be seen as a positive or a negative, and had a high-shine finish, made easier to view by the padding in the case. It was a single-use image and it was not possible to make copies without creating a whole new daguerreotype. It was also quite expensive. In 1882, an advertisement for the process in the newspaper, The New Zealander, stated the daguerreotypist could take a photo in only five seconds; he charged between 10 shillings and two guineas, equivalent to $60 – $260 today.

1. Mrs J Allison

Daguerreotype of Mrs Allison, relative of Dr James Allison. WRM ref: 1975.43.19

Although it was expensive, the daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process. Its peak popularity was from the early 1840s to the mid-1860s. The Whanganui Regional Museum holds six in the collection, only one of which is named. This is Mrs J Allison, a relative of Dr James Allison who arrived in Whanganui from Glasgow in 1840.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

The School on the Hill

Queens Park School was known as the school on the hill because of its situation on Pukenamu, or Queens Park. Its proud motto was, Esse Quam Videri (To be is better than to seem to be).

1. Queens Park School Banner

Queen’s Park School banner, 1921. WRM ref: 1802.1719

The first school on Queens Park seems to have started in 1875. Then Girls High School was built on the site in 1879, opening in 1880. The term “High School” was used at the time to differentiate “Infant” schools from schools that taught older children, possibly from Standard 3 (Year 5) upward. In 1901 Girls High became a District High School for girls, combining some classes with classes from the Boys School. The early records of the school were destroyed by fire in 1905 which means there are not many details of those formative years.

The local Education Board started looking at the possibility of building a primary school in 1904. The fire of 1905 that burnt two classrooms in the Wanganui District Girls High School seems to have been the impetus for change. The Girls and Boys District High Schools were merged into the Wanganui District High School. Later in 1905, the old school was renamed Queens Park School and taught pupils up to Standard 6 (Year 8), both boys and girls. New single-seat desks were introduced that year too – Queens Park was the first school in New Zealand to have them! The School was noted for its strong Cadet group that started in 1906 and the talented Band, formed in 1916.

By the end of World War I, many Queens Park School boys had served and been wounded. A Queens Park School Roll of Honour lists 24 names of Old Boys who were killed while on active war service.

3. Queens Park School 1939

Queens Park School with Memorial Gates. Photo by FH Bethwaite, 1939. WRM ref 2005.56.32

A fire in 1917 destroyed many of the wooden school buildings. In 1920 a new brick building opened, and the pupils marched from their temporary home in the Methodist Church Hall, up the hill to the new school.

In 1926 Queens Park School pupils raised funds to build the Memorial Gates, in honour of past pupils who gave their lives in the War of 1914 – 1918. These gates still stand on their original site, the only visible reminder of the school on the hill.

From 1933 only pupils from Primer 1 to Standard 4 attended the school. Standards 5 and 6 pupils were sent to the newly established Wanganui Intermediate School, only the third intermediate school in New Zealand at the time. Queens Park School closed in 1972 and was demolished in 1977. A centenary was held in 1979, and surplus funds from the event were donated to repair and restore the Memorial Gates.

2. Queens Park School 75th Jubilee Plaque

Queens Park School 75th Jubilee Plaque. WRM ref 1984.8.3

 

Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.