Archives Collection

Thomas William Downes

Thomas William Downes was a Whanganui historian, ethnologist and writer with an immense love and respect for the Whanganui River, the people and wildlife, past and present, who lived within its valley. As a writer, he attempted to record as much as he could about the history of the Whanganui River, believing it would otherwise be lost.

2. Downes

T.W. Downes, circa 1910.  Unknown photographer. Ref: P/J/37

Born in Wellington, Downes moved to Bulls with his family in about 1874. He showed early interest in history and never lost his enthusiasm, although he made his living by other means. In 1910 he published a paper, “Early history of the Rangitikei and notes on the Ngati Apa” in the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. This article reflected his work and interests while he was growing up in Bulls.

Downes had moved to Whanganui in 1898 with his wife Margaret. In 1921 he was appointed Supervisor of River Works and Ranger for Domain Lands for the Wanganui River Trust. His annual salary was £100. It is said that Downes knew the full length of the river better than any other European. He travelled up and down the river repeatedly, made friends and paid attention to the oral histories of tangata whenua. He documented a version of the early history of the Whanganui district in his book, Old Whanganui, published in 1915. He used the “h” in the Whanganui of the title, believing it to be the correct spelling of Whanganui dialect.

1. Expedition

 Thomas Downes on an expedition to inspect Wanganui River Trust works. Photographer: F J Denton, 1908
T W Downes is in the centre of the photograph with his feet dangling in the water.  Standing behind him is George Marriner, the Curator of the Wanganui Museum. On the far right is photographer Frank Denton, who took this image using a remote cable fitting so he could be in the photograph. The men were voyaging in a motorised canoe, the Stewart, owned by the Wanganui River Trust. Ref: UWR/S/219

This major work was followed in 1921 by his History and Guide to the Wanganui River. This publication, surprisingly, did not employ the “h”. A final book, River Ripplets, was published much later on in 1993.

Downes was also a busy and gifted artist. He painted many scenes from history, using his knowledge and imagination. One that survives is in the Museum collection, a large oil painting titled Retaruke Reach, Wanganui River, a work of large proportions and undisguised romanticism. He created illustrations for his own and other’s books and was in great demand for painting and lettering illuminated addresses, often presented to people of civic importance as a token of respect and thanks.

3. Illuminated address

 Illuminated Address to James Crichton Esq. In 1904 this illuminated address was created by T W Downes as a tribute to James Crichton “In appreciation of your sterling worth as a Citizen …” Ref: 2017.26

Downes was elected to the Wanganui Museum Board of Trustees in 1910. He served for two periods, from 1910 to 1918 and from 1923 until his death in 1938. While on the Board he facilitated the purchase of a number of taonga Māori and was responsible for negotiations involved in the lending or gifting of many treasures from the region. He also made personal gifts to the Museum of Pacific Island artefacts that he had purchased at auction, photographs and archives.

A modest, quiet and unassuming man, Downes dedicated forty years of his life to the recording and preservation of Whanganui heritage. He was still employed as the supervisor of the Whanganui River Trust when he died in Whanganui on 6 August 1938.

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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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.

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.

Solid as a Rock

Recently there has been considerable interest and debate over the future of the substantial brick and masonry building at 1 Victoria Avenue in central Whanganui. The decision to prevent its demolition has been hailed by heritage campaigners as an important step in the preservation of the remaining elements of Whanganui’s Victorian and Edwardian streetscapes.

Aside from its widely discussed architectural merits, the Avenue building has important links to the commercial history of the city courtesy of its builder and original owner James Thain.  He started his trading days a few blocks away in a building which is just as well known, although with a different role these days.

2 Paperweight

 A rectangular glass paperweight, manufactured for James Thain & Co., Wanganui. Ref: 2010.51.204.

In 1888 Thain and his business partner William Clapham bought a small-scale hardware operation in St Hill St which they rapidly developed into a highly successful enterprise with customers all around the region. The company sold a wide range of ironmongery and hardware, including building supplies, household goods, firearms and domestic grocery items. They were agents for famous brands such as Cooper’s Sheep Dipping Powder and Shacklock Ranges – household names in their day and for years afterwards.

As they expanded to service an area from Foxton to New Plymouth and up the main trunk line, it was important for the store to be sited very near the wharf and bulk storage depots and within easy haulage distance of the railway station. The original Thain’s Warehouse was designed by Alfred Atkins and built by local contractor Nicholas Meuli on reclaimed river bank land on Taupō Quay, near the foot of Victoria Avenue.

The Wanganui Chronicle of 12 December 1895 hailed the opening of one of “the most imposing mercantile buildings in Wanganui… of an exceptionally striking appearance”.  The article contained a remarkably detailed description of the building’s design, construction and contents. The reporter describes the shell-patterned pediment, panelled pilasters, cornices, parapet with pedestals and gold lettering. Another paragraph or two is devoted to the wooden floor, “solid as a rock” to bear the weight of “a large stock of cement, horse shoes, fencing wires, oils, felt, ridging and bulk packages of hardware”. At the rear there was a long storeroom for “an immense quantity of bar, sheet, corrugated and plate iron, steel in bars and sheets, gas and water pipes etc.” alongside an iron-clad kerosene store.

1 James Thain & Co

A view from across the river showing the James Thain and Co. building where the i-Site is now located. Ref: WR-TR-098.

As business continued to boom, Thain needed more space. His modest retail premises on the prime corner site at the bottom of Victoria Avenue provided the answer. In 1908, he commissioned his favourite builder, Nicholas Meuli, to erect a new, three-storey emporium to a design by local architect T H James. The shop quickly became a Whanganui landmark universally known as Thain’s Corner.

These days the Taupō Quay site is occupied by the Whanganui Visitor Information Centre, rebuilt by the District Council in 2009, incorporating many components of the original structure, including columns, beams and floors.

Images and objects from Thain’s shop will feature in the opening exhibition at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

 

Frank Start is the Director at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Henry, Son of Drew

Henry George Drew was born in 1875, the son of Catherine (nee Beatson) and Samuel Drew. His father Samuel is still a well-known figure in Whanganui, not just as the founder of the Whanganui Regional Museum, but as a scholar, a musician, a philanthropist, a creative jeweller and a successful businessman.

2. Henry Drew

Portrait of Henry Drew.  Source: Public Domain.

Henry is somewhat overshadowed by his father’s reputation, but never-the-less deserves recognition for his own substantial contribution, both to the family jewellery business and to the world of museums.

He attended Wanganui Collegiate School from 1885-1887 and then moved to Wellington to train as a jeweller, and returned to Whanganui to join his father in the family jewellery business. He was renowned as a creative and adept craftsman. The Drew premises still stands on the south side of the Bridge Block at 19 Victoria Avenue. Henry was responsible for rebuilding this shop in 1909, the previous shop being pulled down to accommodate the new. He later moved his business premises further up Victoria Avenue to Perrett’s Buildings, where it remained until the 1950s.

1. Tankard engraved by H Drew

 Engraved by jeweller Henry Drew, this silver tankard has dates, place names and descriptive images of battlefields of North Africa and Italy in World War II where New Zealand contingents fought. Ref: 2003.54.2

Like his father, Henry had a passion for natural history. Samuel Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as the Austrian collector and taxidermist, Andreas Reischek who, on two visits in 1886 and 1888, helped to classify his collections. At the age of 11 young Henry received lessons in taxidermy from Reischek and developed into a highly skilled taxidermist and a recognised collector of New Zealand birds, butterflies and moths.

In 1901, after the death of his father, Henry Drew was appointed Honorary Curator of the Museum. Following the appointment of a paid Curator, George Marriner in 1908, Henry was elected as a trustee and served from 1908 to 1912. In 1916 he was again appointed Honorary Curator, a position he held for three years.

In a 1916 letter to Amy Castle, an entomologist at the Dominion Museum (now Te Papa), he commented, “I have just been appointed Curator of Wang. Public Museum, and therefore my private collection must be reluctantly placed on one side. My duties at the Museum will take up all my spare time.”

Henry has been described as the best taxidermist produced by New Zealand. He mounted exhibits for many different museums around the country. He was especially noted for his ability to mount bird specimens in a natural way. A case of native birds, titled Morepork Under Siege, was mounted by him while Honorary Curator and was on display at the Museum for many years. It depicts a sleepy Ruru, or Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae), being besieged during the day by small birds that include Riroriro (Grey warbler), Tauhou (Silvereye), Miromiro (North Island Tomtit) and Piwaiwaka (Fantail). Still in the Museum collection, the diorama demonstrates the sort of natural poses that Drew was attempting to perfect.

20181005_151756_Richtone(HDR)

A close-up view of Henry Drew’s Morepork Under Siege, showing the birds in natural poses. Ref: 1916.66

In 1924 he produced a collection of 350 birds for display at the Wembley Exhibition in England. This included eleven blue penguins which were kept at his home for a few weeks by his two children before being killed and mounted for display. He also mounted a large brown bear that came to Whanganui in a travelling circus.

Henry Drew retired from the family jewellery business in 1949, leaving his son Frank in charge.

 

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum

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.

Wanganui Technical College

The development of Wanganui Technical College mirrored the changing awareness of the curriculum needs of secondary education in early New Zealand.

New Zealand district high schools tended towards the conservative academic curriculum of British secondary schools. The need for art, technical and industrial skills led to the opening of Wanganui Technical School in 1892, widely known as the School of Art, one of the first four in the country.

The Wanganui District High School building on Victoria Avenue was dismantled to make way for the Technical School. In 1896 the buildings were extended to create space for classes in clay modeling, needle work, woodcarving and carpentry. In 1899 literature, languages, mathematics and experimental science were added.

1. Wanganui Technical College 1911

The newly built Wanganui Technical College on Ingestre Street, 1911.  The second storey was removed in 1929 after the Murchison earthquake.
Ref: 1965.127.2 Photographer: Frank Denton

In 1910 the wooden Technical School building was demolished and a new school was built in Ingestre Street. Renamed Wanganui Technical College, it opened in September 1911. Pupils from the Technical School transferred to the new College.

The Technical College was divided into five departments: high school, commercial, engineering, agriculture and art. At first there were more evening and weekend classes than day classes. From 1912 to 1922, evening classes were compulsory for young people under the age of seventeen who were not attending school. By 1914 the day school had 70 pupils in the general course, 66 in commercial, eight in agriculture, 34 in domestic and none in the art course. There were 792 enrolments in the evening school.

2. Workshop class 1920s

Group of Wanganui Technical College pupils in a car workshop class, 1920s.
Ref: SCS/TC/9 Photographer: Frank Denton

Subjects offered included plane and solid geometry, machine construction and applied mechanics and building construction, a number of art and design subjects, shorthand, arithmetic, and architecture. Also offered were the academic subjects of French and Latin for those pupils intent on matriculation in order to attend university or sitting public service exams.

The commercial department was an exemplar in preparing pupils for work success. In 1915 the Government junior typist exam required 80 words per minute in shorthand and 32 words per minute in typing. A typist with this qualification could expect to earn £66 per annum. A pass in the senior exam meant an increase in salary to £96 pa.

Subjects studied in the agriculture department included, botany, zoology, dairying, farm blacksmithing and gardening. Subjects studied in the domestic course included millinery, hygiene, physiology and applied art. In 1918 a sixth form for boys was opened for those wishing to study for further exams such as accountancy professionals.

3. College Council 1933

Wanganui Technical College Council Group, 1933.
Ref: SCS/TC/8 Photographer: Unknown

In 1933 the recently closed Central Infants School buildings and grounds were handed over to cater for the growing Technical College roll. By 1957 the roll was closed to girls; the last girls finished at Technical College in 1962. Later, two large woodwork shops and two new classrooms were added. In the 1960s a major rebuilding programme began. By 1961 work had started on a new gymnasium and plans had been approved for a building to accommodate one thousand students. Wanganui Technical College was renamed Wanganui Boys College in 1964.

In 1994 the school became co-educational again and was renamed Wanganui City College.

 

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Dr Kater’s Voyage

The following extracts are from a journal kept by Dr William Henry Kater during his voyage to New Zealand aboard the ship Sir Charles Forbes, which departed London in May 1842. He was engaged as Surgeon Superintendent on board what was the first ship to sail from London to Nelson direct. His original spelling and punctuation have been kept intact.

2. Accommodation on board

 Plan of the accommodation aboard the Sir Charles Forbes on a previous voyage in 1839

1 May. Set off from London at 8a.m. to Gravesend by Steam boat where the Ship was lying. Having had but three days notice I had very little time to prepare.  Before going on board I met on the Pier at Gravesend Mr. Somes the Governer of the Company to whom I am indebted for my appointment. He was very kind in his advice and wishes.

17 May. At sunset this evening the funeral of the child that died yesterday took place.  I have often witnessed a funeral on shore but unless a soldier’s I never saw one equalled in sadness and impressiveness to one at sea … the pure feeling of the hearts break out when the souls prison is launched into the unfathomable ocean, fit emblem of eternity.

27 May. Saw the first flying fish today thought it a gull at first.

1 June. Surrounded by an immense shoal of porpoises, tried to shoot some but did not succeed.

8 June. Hurrah!  At four this morning we crossed the Equinoctial line and find ourselves in the Southern Hemisphere in the Ethiopia Ocean.

22 June. We had an addition this morning to our Mess on board. Mrs. Chamberlain having been confined and given birth to a daughter.

25 June. One cannot sleep in peace for the rascally outfitter did not send the hammock I purchased and I was obliged to use the wooden ledge called “a bunk” from which an occasional heavy lurch will transfer me to the floor where I must industriously pick myself up again.

20 July. Standing this day upon the poop musing upon the mutability of mortal affairs and gazing upon the deep a huge black mass met my view and before I could call to ask anyone what it could be I perceived the unwieldy bulk of a large whale apparently about 50 feet long and about as many feet from the ship, whilst with others looking on and wondering, the creature I suppose saw the ship for it suddenly spouted high in the air and turning up his fluke disappeared. The water he spouted was brought by the wind upon the quarter deck and covered us all with a cloud of spray, wetting us through.

30 July. Myself rather tired and sleepy having been up these two nights in attendance upon the most impatient patient that I ever had.

11 August. An overheard conversation between a husband and wife from Somerset:-

Wife. “Job dost thee love I?”

Husband. “What dost think?”

Wife.    “Noa but dost thee?”

Husband. “Love thee I could gnaw thee like mutton”

20 August. Before daybreak this morning word was passed to the Captain’s cabin “Land right ahead”, few but those who have been at sea know the thrilling interest that such a sound awakes after four months confinement in about 30 yards by eight.  As soon as the sound reached below the clarinet player seized his instrument threw his legs out of the bunk and struck up “Happy Land”. It remains yet to be proved whether he is a false prophet.

1. Nelson Examiner 27 August 1842

 Immigration Office Report on the passengers aboard the Sir Charles Forbes, taken from the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 27 August 1842

Dr Kater did not have long to live. He was drowned in Nelson Harbour in September 1843 when the flat bottom punt he was in capsized. Two boys who were with him at the time were saved, one by swimming ashore and the other by clinging to the punt.

The Bumpy Road to Wedded Bliss

Some fields of science have been around for millennia – there have been mathematicians ever since humans ran out of fingers and toes to count on. Others are more recent. Phrenology, the study of an assumed relationship between the size and shape of the human skull and individual or racial characteristics, is unusual in having a precise start date. It was announced to the world of medicine in 1796 by the German doctor Franz Joseph Gall.

In the following two centuries Gall’s ideas were elaborated on by a large number of followers, including criminologists, anthropologists and self-declared racists. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a devotee and his creation Sherlock Holmes relied on phrenological principles to deduce from the height and curve of his forehead that his nemesis Professor Moriarty was a criminal mastermind.

L0002360 Photograph: `Phrenology', a ceramic head

 A model of Fowler’s Phrenology, showing the layout of bumps and what they indicate. Source: Public Domain.

It is hard to find a practising phrenologist these days, but the discipline was once highly thought of in Whanganui. The Chronicle reported in 1879 on an examination of the prophet Te Whiti by one Professor Frazer, an eminent phrenologist. “The organs of memory are full,” he declared, “and the eye indicates plenty of language. His strong point, and the one most likely to influence, is his combination of spirituality, veneration and hope… The portion of the brain in which these organs are located is not only large, but active.”

1-os-fowler.jpg

A portrait of Professor O S Fowler, Phrenologist and Lecturer. Source: Public Domain.

Once phrenological credentials were established, other opportunities beckoned. Orson Fowler, declared by a pamphlet in the Whanganui Regional Museum to be “acknowledged by all classes as the most distinguished exponent now living of the science of phrenology”, evidently felt qualified to extend his wisdom to “the mutual relations of the sexes”. The flyer promotes his 1870 book Sexual Science which examines “that great code of natural laws by which the Almighty requires the sexes to be governed in their mutual relations”. Knowledge of these laws, it contends, is “of the highest importance, and it is the general ignorance of them among all classes which swells the list of diseases and misery in the world”.

3 Fowler's Great Work

Headline of the flyer advertising O S Fowler’s Great Work. Ref: 1802.8272

The book is described as “pure and elevated in tone; eloquent in its denunciations of vice and forcible in its warnings against the secret sins which are practised with impunity in every community.” As you might expect, it provides practical advice, including “how to make a right choice of husband or wife; to judge a man or woman’s sexual condition by visible signs; to keep wives healthy and avoid sickly wives; to keep a husband faithful and avoid discord; to avoid the evils attending pregnancy; to manage children; to recognise the signs of self-abuse and cure it; and to raise healthy and vigorous girls fit to be wives and mothers”. It also offers useful information on how to promote the growth of the female bust.

Unfortunately the Museum does not hold a copy of Sexual Science, originally on sale at AD Willis bookshop for 25 shillings. Modern readers will have to make do with Eat, Pray, Love.

 

Frank Stark is Director of the Whanganui Regional Museum.