The first Telegram in Whanganui

In the Museum collection is the first telegram to be received in Whanganui.  Received at 3.40 pm on 3 November 1869, the telegram was addressed to the settlers of Wanganui and the district and was sent by then Premier William Fox. The message reads, “I congratulate you on the completion of the telegraph. May it strengthen the Bonds of Union + promote the prosperity of the Colony.”

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The telegram sent to Wanganui by Premier William Fox on 3 November 1869 (ref: 1802.5812)

The first government-owned telegraph line in New Zealand was established between Christchurch and Lyttelton in 1862, and the first lines in the North Island appeared two years later. Initially the North Island line was for military use only, to assist with the land wars of the time. By 1866 it had been purchased by the provincial government and incorporated with the wider public telegraph system.

The telegram, or electric telegraph, was revolutionary for its time. Previous attempts at communication were slow and cumbersome, limited to the speed a human could travel on foot, horse, or boat. The invention of the electric telegraph, however, hugely altered the face of global society and economy.

From the first days of electricity in the 18th century people have been finding ways to use it to improve our lives; communications benefited greatly. Various attempts had been made to use electrical currents to send messages but none were very successful until 1837 when William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone started experimenting. They devised a machine on which a series of needles was attached to a board, each of which could turn clockwise or anticlockwise, depending on the electromagnetic charge it received. The operator would choose the direction of the current and the needles would turn to point to corresponding letters on the diamond-shaped board.

This system was gradually refined and simplified until only one needle was required. Numerals were then added to the repertoire. This format was closely followed by Morse code with its familiar dots and dashes, and some telegraph machines were developed with printing capabilities so the message was automatically printed for later deciphering and delivery. Improved communication methods removed the message from the object carrying it and enabled it to move much faster, requiring only someone on the receiving end to transcribe it and ensure its delivery.

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Steve Veitch dressed in his uniform for delivering telegrams (ref: P-CH-006)

Almost instant communication saw the rapid growth of business and organisations, which in turn encouraged society to embrace telegrams for a more personal use. To keep costs down, the message had to be short and to the point – the average telegram was less than 15 words – and required the language to be free of any local or regional colloquialisms which could be misinterpreted.

The speed with which information could travel the globe changed the face of news reporting. Many newspapers began bearing the title of “Telegraph” indicating they received their news timely and accurately. Misinformation still got through, however; the New York Sun and Honolulu Evening Bulletin published on 15 April 1912 both reported receiving telegrams stating all passengers aboard the Titanic had been saved.

Sign Language

By Sandi Black

This year saw the celebration of 10 years of New Zealand Sign Language as an official language of our country.  This is a great achievement, considering sign language’s shaky past in New Zealand.

NZSL is closely related to British and Australian SL, and began here with the arrival of deaf immigrants. Like a lot of imports, it developed its own variety to reflect our culture and lifestyle. The first school for the deaf opened 1880 in Sumner, Christchurch, and was followed by other branches in Auckland and Feilding.  Sign language, however, was not initially permitted in classrooms and deaf students received the message it was not an appropriate way to communicate. This didn’t stop children and adults from covertly using and creating signs.

A century later in 1979 the Australasian Signed English Language was adopted as part of a new approach of Total Communication in Deaf Education. A more positive point of view developed and in the mid-1980s local sign language was thoroughly researched, documented and named NZSL. It has been adopted for use in deaf education since 1993 and was legally recognised as an official language of NZ in 2006.

But what about other methods of assisted hearing? The Whanganui Regional Museum has two very different hearing aids in the collection. One is the familiar moulded earpiece with an amplifier and battery pack. It dates from 1950s-1960s and was used in the tutorial department at Wanganui Hospital.

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The other is significantly older. It is an ear trumpet made by James Woolley & Sons Ltd in the late 19th century. The brass mechanism consists of a sound-capturing bowl which directs the sound through the extendable funnel and into the Bakelite earpiece.

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These are just two examples of hearing aids that have been used in the past. Before the more discrete and streamlined models we are used to today, hearing assistance devices were large and bulky, often dysfunctional and bringing attention to the user’s deafness, rather than normalising the condition. Some unusual examples are:

  • Acoustic fans made of metal and held behind the ear to direct sound in or fitted with a trumpet on one side
  • Bone conduction fan whose end was placed against the user’s teeth to allow the sound vibration to travel through the bone to the ear
  • Acoustic chairs either fitted with sound catching trumpets next to the sitter’s ears or with hollows in the arms which funnelled sound to a tube at the back, inserted into the ear
  • Water Canteen Receptor designed for use on horseback; while it looked like a water canteen, the grillwork top caught sound and transported it to the ear through a rubber tube
  • Beard Receptacle was a curved metal tube with a sound vent at the front which sat on the upper chest, hidden under the beard (or a scarf for women), leading to a long tube which led up to rubber ear pieces
  • Vase Receptacle for fruit or flowers with six sound receptors covered with grillwork, that collected sound and funnelled it into ear pieces
  • Acoustic Cane with a handle designed as a hollow sound collector and fitted with a moveable ear piece for use in either ear; the cane was lifted to rest on a man’s shoulder with the sound collector aimed towards the speaker and an ear piece in the ear. Women could use a parasol or umbrella with similarly concealed devices.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Aaaaaaannnnd We’re Back!

It’s been a long time since this was updated and we apologise – we’ve missed you too!  But we are back now so keep checking in to see the latest in updates, research, and interesting stories that we will continue to share with you.

There have been some pretty big changes of late…   The main body of the museum building on Watt Street has been closed to allow for important earthquake strengthening work to be undertaken.

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The original Alexander Museum building, opened in 1928

Bdsc_0046_01ut we still want to share our local stories with the public so we are excited to announce that our temporary home on Ridgway Street is now open. An all new exhibition, Te Matapihi – looking into the Museum, joins the Museum Shop and Gallery in the old Post Office building. Entry is free and there are a range of things to check out including the vintage games table, the taxidermy reading cubby, the Museum Explorer, and much more.

Te Matapihi tells the history of the Museum: Drew’s museum 1895-1928; then the new building in Queens Park 1928-1968; and the extension and addition of the Maori Court 1968-2016.

 

While the new show is telling our story, we will be preparing the next chapter at the Watt Street site.  The builders will be working away upstairs on a major earthquake strengthening project, while the collection staff will be downstairs working on a collection storage refit and upgrade.

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Exciting times are ahead!  Keep checking back here for updates, as well as the usual articles and features we will continue to share.

Dictionaries

What could be more fascinating than a book about words?  Those heavy tomes with their columns of spellings, definitions, etymologies, and if you’re lucky a little picture to go with it.

OK so maybe dictionaries aren’t everyone’s idea of a good read, but some of them can be quite interesting.

Traditionally a dictionary is an alphabetical list of words used in a particular language.  They give pronunciation guides and all the information listed above, and provide the opportunity to exponentially augment one’s vocabulary.

The earliest known dictionaries come from the Akkadian Empire discovered in Ebla – now Syria – and dating to 2300BCE.  The earliest English dictionaries were essentially glossaries of French or Latin words with the definitions in English.  This is where the word ‘dictionary’ derives, from the 1220 publication of John of Garland’s Dictionarius intended to assist with Latin diction.

Samuel Johnson, an English lexicographer and sufferer of Tourette Syndrome, wrote A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.  Although English dictionaries had been published earlier they were limited and far from definitive, but Johnson’s was credited as the first noteworthy and reliable dictionary produced.  This dictionary was used for the next 150 years until the Oxford University Press began publishing their own in 1884.

But what started as a serious endeavour has, as human nature tends to at times, turned into an opportunity to laugh and ‘alternative’ dictionaries are now commonly available.

Some list words that were once commonplace and are now no longer used.  For example, Groak: to silently stare at someone as they are eating in the hopes they will give you some of their food.

Some are completely fictitious, such as Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Liff which attributes definitions to place names in England.  For example, Cromarty: the brittle sludge which clings to the top of ketchup bottles.

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Bryce’s Smallest English Dictionary and carry case

And of course the token tiny dictionary, a much-condensed version printed in miniscule text and often mounted in handy keyrings.  The image here is of Bryce’s Smallest English Dictionary which measures just 26x19mm and comes with a handy carry case.

Not to mention the annual contest of what words will be allowed in.  This year the Oxford English Dictionary permitted Twerk: a dance performed to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low squatting stance.

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An excerpt from the Cockney Rhyming Slang dictionary

The Museum’s edition of the dictionary of Cockney Rhyming Slang would be very useful if you’re planning a New Year’s trip abroad.  We hope you enjoy reading this linen draper. Did Santa bring you army rocks, or did you get a macaroni?  Take it easy on the Brian O’Linn and Jack O’Dandy this New Years.

 

By Sandi Black, Archivist

Delight in the Museum

Check out this blog on the joys and mysteries of working with a Museum’s Natural History Collection.

What's In John's Freezer?

I have an impression that there is a large disparity between how the public views museums and how scientists who use museums view them. Presumably there are survey data on public attitudes, but surely the common impression is that museums mainly exist to exhibit cool stuff and educate/entertain the public. Yet, furthermore, I bet that many members of the public don’t really understand the nature of museum collections (how and why they are curated and studied) or what those collections even look like. As a researcher who tends to do heavily specimen-oriented and often museum-based research, I thought I’d take the opportunity to describe my experience at one museum collection recently. This visit was fairly representative of what it’s like, as a scientist, to visit a museum with the purpose of using its collection for research, rather than mingling with the public to oggle the exhibits — although I did a little…

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Frivolous confection on show

Pat Cush

Pat Cush

Pat Cush is an artist, and, in this reporter’s opinion, a very good one. He also works as a volunteer at the Whanganui Regional Museum, labouring for the love of it alongside exhibition officer, Dale Hudson.

For this story, Pat chose an object put on display only recently; a rococo porcelain basket which was a bequest to the museum from the estate of the late Esther Constance Harris. As an aside, that dear lady was a much loved choir mistress at St Luke’s Church in Castlecliff for many years, giving this reporter’s very much younger self a good grounding in soprano vocals until the onset of hairy legs and mixed octaves.

The frivolous confection

The frivolous confection

The porcelain basket features typical aspects of the late baroque style with exuberant representations of shells, forget-me-nots and the ubiquitous cherub. According to the museum provenance, the piece comes out of a Coburg factory, dated late 19th century, in the style of the famously elaborate Dresden ornamental chinaware.

So why did Pat choose this object for this Vaults story?  “Partly because I like it,” he says, “out of the new objects it’s my favourite.”

Pat’s interest in the porcelain basket is explained by some rather perverse reasoning … but it seems to make sense. “I think it’s a ridiculous art form and I like it because of that. It’s impractical and unnecessary, it’s absolutely camp … it’s madness … it’s a reaction to the austerity that came before it.   It’s just the most bizarre thing to look at,” he says.

“I’m not looking at it as an historical artefact, I’m looking at it as an arty object … and look at it! There’s so much to see, you can’t get bored with it. It is aesthetically pleasing for me, not because it’s ridiculous and camp, but because it’s just interesting.  Essentially it is a fun object and you can either like it or not like it,” says Pat.

They were considered ‘relics of paradise’ by those who enjoyed them more than a century ago.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek newspaper in May 2015.  Reproduced her with permission of the publishers.

Pūoro Karetao – Musical Puppet Show

Karetao

Nau mai ki te Whare Tāpere! We are fortunate to be able to bring you James Webster and his team, who will have you mesmerised throughout their stage production. Let them introduce you to karetao (puppets) which are also pūoro (instruments). A true tohunga (expert), James has carefully carved the exquisite cast, and when these pūoro karetao sing – you don’t want to miss it.

In June our Pūoro Karetao show was postponed due to the flood. We are pleased to announce that we have secured another date with James Webster to showcase these wonderful taonga, next Monday Aug 10th in our Davis Theatre.

The two school sessions at 10.30-11.30am and 1-2pm are almost booked out, so reply now to awhinat@wrm.org.nz to secure a seat for your students and enquire about the school rates.

There is ONLY evening show from 6.30 – 7.30pm. Ring 349 1110 or email info@wrm.org.nz now to find out more.

Japanese gentlemen’s fashion accessories

Japanese gentlemen's fashion accessories I

Kathy Greensides, collections assistant, has come up with a selection of Japanese netsuke.  The word is pronounced net-skeh (or something like it) and they are small carved ‘toggles’ used to attach a bag or container to the (male) wearer’s obi or sash. The bag or container would be the Japanese version of the sporran, the traditional male garments not being equipped with pockets.

The first netsuke date from the 17th century and evolved from being purely practical to becoming quite decorative. Kathy says she has seen a lot of them on Antiques Roadshow, many made of ivory. Of those chosen by Kathy, two are made of wood, four of ivory, and all sculpted elaborately. “I was going through the ethnology collection and I came across them. As I said, just because I’d been watching Antiques Roadshow … they’re really valuable and quite intricately carved. Some of them were worth thousands of pounds, especially if they’ve got a signature on them.  I just thought they were really beautiful objects, and the detail … I’m a very detailed person; I like doing cross stitch and very tiny work so when I saw this I thought … it’s my kind of thing.”

A netsuke in carved ivory mask form

A netsuke in carved ivory mask form

The two hardwood specimens are preserved beautifully and have a patina, which speaks of many years of use. Their carved faces shine, giving them a ‘mask’ look. Of course, they do not always depict faces but can be of many different designs, as illustrated by the ivory versions.

An internet search revealed that there is an International Netsuke Society, based in the US. It has a website and the FAQ section is especially illuminating if readers are interested.

The age and provenance of these particular specimens is unknown, but one of the ivory pieces bears writing, possibly the signature of the artist. All we know is that the museum has them, they were probably made in Japan … and that is about it. Perhaps a Midweek reader can shed more light on these netsuke?

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in January 2011, and reproduced wit permission of the publishers.

The Rutland Stockade

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By Karen Wrigglesworth

The earliest colonial settlers arrived in Whanganui in1841 but land disputes meant that many who had paid the New Zealand Company prior to leaving Britain had to wait more than six years to take up the land promised to them. In 1845 there were some 200 Europeans in Whanganui, and around 60 dwellings. By comparison, the Māori population along the Whanganui River was approximately 4,000, mostly in good relationships with the newcomers, but not with the New Zealand Company.

By late 1846 local unrest led Governor Grey to establish a military post at Whanganui. In December officers and 180 men from the 58th Rutlandshire Regiment, four Royal Artillery gunners with two 12-pounder guns, and two Royal Engineers sailed from Wellington aboard the frigate HMS Calliope and the Government brig Victoria. They also brought a small gunboat with a brass swivel gun. The troops set about fortifying the new town.

Rutland Stockade was constructed on what is now generally known as Queens Park (Pukenamu or Sandfly Hill) above the Repertory Theatre, and at that time, near the northern end of the town. It is thought to have been the largest stockade erected in New Zealand at a cost of £3,500.

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Taken from Shakespeare’s Cliff looking towards the Rutland Stockade and Market Place, later Moutoa Gardens, 1870s (B-ST-029)

The stockade measured 55 by 30 metres and included two strong wooden blockhouses, one at each end of the enclosed space. Palisading consisted of rough timbers and whole trees (some more than 25 centimetres thick) set closely together, sunk over a metre into the sandy soil and standing two and a half metres high. They were braced by two inner horizontal rails. The tops of the logs were sharpened, to shed water and prevent decay, and for security. Loopholes for musket fire were cut all around, and the two 12-pounder guns landed by Calliope were mounted at each end of the stockade.

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Looking towards the corner of Drews Avenue and Ridgway Street with the Rutland Stockade on the hill behind, 1880s (B-ST-004)

Both blockhouses had upper floors that projected almost a metre beyond the lower storeys. They were the first defensive structures with overhanging upper storeys to be built in the North Island.  During the subsequent wars of the 1860s most frontier blockhouses were modelled on the Rutland blockhouse design. The larger blockhouse, designed to accommodate 80 soldiers, consisted of two buildings. The larger, 24 by 12 metres, was set at right angles to the smaller, six by six metres. The smaller blockhouse had a ground floor area of 12 by six metres and was occupied by 20 soldiers.

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Above Rutland Stockade with a view inside the fence and Shakespeare Cliff visible on the far side of the Whanganui River, 1870s (B-ST-016)

The lower walls of the blockhouses were three metres high and built from thick timbers lined inside with two and a half centimetre boards. The main uprights were almost two metres apart and 30 centimetres square, with intervening spaces filled in with horizontal planks. Smaller bullet-proof scantlings (timber pieces) were used in the upper storey, which also had a six centimetre-thick floor. The projecting part of the upper floor could be raised on hinges between each girder for musketry fire. Both storeys were had loopholes with horizontal slits, 1.2 metres long  and 15 centimetres wide, filled in with glass and shuttered outside. Māori called the large blockhouse the “peep house”, while Whanganui residents nicknamed it the “Acropolis”.

There was considerable difficulty in obtaining timber supplies for the large blockhouse, as most timber was upstream and on the opposite side of the river. In the end Māori supplied most of the timber, cutting and towing huge rafts of timber from 16 kilometres upriver (probably near Kaiwhaikī) to sell to the garrisons.

Rutland Stockade was completed by April 1847 and was garrisoned by the 58th Rutlandshire Regiment. The stockade saw action when Māori made a first determined attack on Whanganui in May. The attackers were repulsed by, but the situation was considered so serious that another stockade was erected at Patupuhou (or Patupuwhao) near where the bell tower now stands at Cooks Gardens. York Stockade was simpler in construction than Rutland Stockade, and consisted of barracks and a flat area surrounded by a high fence. It was completed by July 1847 and occupied by a detachment of officers and men from the 65th Yorkshire Regiment. York Stockade was never attacked but troops stationed there did take part in the Battle of St Johns Wood (which happened near where Collegiate now stands, on 19 July 1847).

Parade of 18th Royal Irish Regiment (2nd Battalion) and its goat mascot in front of the Rutland Stockade, January 1870, Photographer: W H Harding (M-G-40)

Parade of 18th Royal Irish Regiment (2nd Battalion) and its goat mascot in front of the Rutland Stockade, January 1870, Photographer: W H Harding (M-G-40)

Other early Whanganui defences included a Lower Stockade, which encompassed the Commercial Hotel and was built in 1846 on land now occupied by Trafalgar Square. There was also a fortified area known as the Lower Works on the corner of Ridgway and Watt Streets, below the Savage Club buildings.

York Stockade taken from Rutland Stockade with the spire of Christ Church visible, late 1860s (B-ST-021)

York Stockade taken from Rutland Stockade with the spire of Christ Church visible, late 1860s (B-ST-021)

Rutland and York Stockades were garrisoned by British Imperial soldiers until the late 1860s. Both were later used by the Armed Constabulary. Rutland Stockade was demolished in 1887.

About the author: Karen Wrigglesworth is a Whanganui engineer and writer, and a research volunteer at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Carnegie Models of Whanganui Regional Museum

Our director, Eric Dorfman, will soon be leaving to take up a position at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Check out his latest thoughts and the links between the two institutions.

Eric Dorfman

Andrew Carnegie Andrew Carnegie

As I prepare to leave New Zealand I am, not surprisingly, thinking about Andrew Carnegie and his contribution to uplifting an understanding and appreciation of culture in the United States and further afield.  In 1911 he established Carnegie Corporation of New York to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.” Carnegie Corporation has helped establish or endowed a variety of institutions, including twenty-five hundred Carnegie libraries in the United States and abroad (including a smattering across New Zealand). I’ve heard that discussion was had back in the day for a Carnegie library in Whanganui, but it never went ahead. However, Carnegie Corporation nevertheless had an influence here through Whanganui Regional Museum, by way of a series of display models of Maori life, which the Corporation funded.

In 1995 Michelle Horwood, at that time Curator at the Museum, published the following about these models.

The Carnegie…

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