Archives Collection

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.

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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.

Is handwriting a lost art?

Writing may arguably be one of the most important inventions of humankind. For centuries writing was a means for humans to record history, ideas and discoveries, and to communicate with each other.

Thought to have originated in Mesopotamia around 3,200 BC, writing has undergone a mass of technological development to get where it is today. Handwriting has been evident in many forms: inscribing with tools on stone, leaf, wood, wax, papyrus and parchment and in more recent times, on paper.

These days, people handwrite less and less. The arrival of the printing press in the mid-15th century meant multiples of transcriptions and books became easier to produce. Then the typewriter eliminated the need for composing everything by hand. In recent years the rapid development of computers and smartphones all but do away with the need to write by hand; instead we use texting, emailing and instant messaging. And that’s a pity.

1. Contract 1577

 Commercial contract dated 22 August 1577, written in fine black ink on high quality heavy parchment with three red wax seals attached on hanging strips. Written in English, the signatories are Laurence Robynson, Thomas Bell and Matthew Walker.
Ref: 1959.197.2

The Whanganui Regional Museum archives hold numerous examples of handwritten text, some as early as the 16th century, in the form of legal documents, mortgage papers, manuscripts, indentures, patents, diaries, letters, business records, cash books, autographs and personal papers. In delving into the pages of these beautifully kept records we can appreciate the art, skill and importance of hand-written text. Future generations are unlikely to stock museums with our dull digital printouts.

Why is the art of handwriting so important? Firstly, learning to write by hand is a vital component of literacy. There is evidence to suggest that more information is retained and expressed when putting pen to paper. Handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. Learning how to shape and link letters improves reading comprehension. Researchers have ascertained that students who hand-write their notes indeed learn more. Writing a word out, letter by letter, is a self-conscious process that requires a certain processing of information, which provides a deeper connection to thoughts than is acquired by using a keyboard. Handwriting can also increase creativity and improve memory.

2. Stewart journal 1843

 Excerpt from the field journal of Whanganui surveyor and engineer, J T Stewart, 1843.
Ref: 1805.388

Secondly, someone’s handwriting gives clues to their personality that cannot be assessed in digital text. The unique style and slope of individual letters, a flowing cursive and the expressive quality of an individually written word is something that we stand to lose. There is warmth and personality attached to a handwritten letter or note, a postcard sent home or daily diary entries.

Other than the ubiquitous handwritten shopping list, scrawled reminder note or obligatory form filling, how many of us use handwriting on a daily basis? When did any of us last write a handwritten letter to someone? Texts, emails and other forms of technical communication have taken over and caused us to neglect our penmanship. Technology has diluted our collective handwriting ability and there is a real possibility that the skill of hand-writing is dying out.

3. Oldknow letter 1789

This letter was written by H Oldknow from her school in Nottingham to her mother, in 1789. It starts with “Hon.d Madam” and ends, touchingly, with “I am / Madam / your most dutiful / and obedient Daughter”. Ref: 1966.22.1

Handwriting is unique. It has a tremendous expressive power, and more than that, handwritten text can be incredibly gorgeous. The physical act of writing takes time and can communicate that the writer cares about the content of the communication, and in turn the person intended to receive it. There is something special about sending or receiving a precious hand-written note or letter.

Pick up a pen. And write something.

Rachael Garland is the Events Coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Physiognomy – it’s written on your face

A small paper booklet held in the Museum’s archives offers an intriguing look into how some people once attempted to learn more about themselves. The title of the booklet is a mouthful: Physiognomical Chart of Character, with Illustrations of Temperaments, Facial Angles and Types of Faces, and Definitions of Mental Faculties, Together with the Explanation of Their Facial Indications. In short, the booklet covers the basics of physiognomy.

1. Physiognomical Chart

 Physiognomical Chart of Character given to Fred Allen in 1882. Ref: 2011.13.62

Physiognomy refers to the once popular practice of assessing someone’s personality based on their outward appearance. It was believed that a person’s inner character was revealed through their physical traits and could be read by deciphering the size, shape and placement of facial features on the head. Today it is known as pseudoscience and generally regarded as just a bit of fun.

Face-reading was an everyday practice in Ancient Greece and was common through to the middle ages, even earning a mention in an addition to The Canterbury Tales when a character is called out as a thief with the line, “I knowe wele by thy fisnamy, thy kynd it were to stele”.

It was dismissed by Leonardo da Vinci as having no scientific foundation, although he did believe the lines and creases on a person’s face could indicate their character, but it continued to be taught at English universities until King Henry VIII outlawed it as a vagabond’s crafty game.

Physiognomy began to increase in popularity again from the 17th century and peaked 200 years later, becoming a common subject in novels and artworks of the time. With doctors and philosophers giving it their professional backing, the police even used it to profile the appearance of criminals and warned officers to be aware of people with pointed heads, heavy jaws, receding brows and scant beards, as they were more likely to commit crimes.

New Zealand was not left out of this fad and several physiognomists journeyed here to offer lectures and consultations, including Oswald E Hugo who visited Whanganui in November 1882. His talks were attended by small but enthusiastic crowds.  Frederick Hanson Allen was one attendee, aged 18 at the time, and he received the booklet which contains the hand-written results of his consultation with Hugo.

2. Frederick Hanson Allen

 Frederick Hanson Allen in the 1880s. Ref: 2011.13.26

Fred received a low 4/10 for “memory of dates” but a high 8/10 for “memory of events”. He scored an average 6/10 for “love of life” but the high score of 8.5/10 for “sensual proclivities” came with a recommendation for restraint.

Fred was warned to “not give any thought to the other sex for several years to come”, but Hugo listed the set of features he should look for in a future bride which would indicate she had the right personality to balance his own. “ … dark hair and eyes with arched eyebrows and concave lashes, forehead full in the middle, nose straight or short, face short and broad, slim figure and rather tall, conical head”.

Fred took Hugo’s advice to wait, and was 29 when he married Ethel Elizabeth Barns in 1894, although we don’t know what she looked like.

Physiognomy fell out of favour by the early 20th century as science and technology advanced, although some programmers use physiognomical analysis in developing facial recognition software today.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Sling Camp and the Bulford Kiwi

The Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire is famous for a ring of standing stones, but the area is noted for another stone feature with an antipodean connection – the Bulford Kiwi.  How did our country’s national bird end up carved on the side of a hill in south England?

A military camp was established on the Salisbury Plain in 1897 near the town of Bulford for which it was named.  In 1903 an annexe was built to provide more accommodation. Named Sling Plantation Camp after the nearby woods, it was usually known as Sling Camp.

1. Table Runner

 A pink cotton needlework souvenir table runner, made in Sling Camp during World War I.  Ref: 2015.49

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I the camp housed many New Zealand troops and became known colloquially as ANZAC Camp. The ANZACs were soon joined by Canadian soldiers and civilians, and together they worked on building huts.  It has been estimated that if these completed huts were placed end to end the line would have measured six miles long.

Sling Camp was officially named the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade Reserve Camp and included four sections: Auckland, Wellington, Otago, and Canterbury. It was the chief New Zealand training camp throughout the war, serving to both prepare reinforcements and rehabilitate casualties. Senior personnel were tough on discipline and training, but also provided huts that were warmed in winter, good food, libraries and billiard rooms. A nearby cinema also provided entertainment.

The camp also housed 14 New Zealand conscientious objectors, including Archibald Baxter (father of James Keir Baxter) and his two brothers, who were sent to England to be made an example of.

In 1918 an estimated 4,300 men lived in Sling Camp. This count was greatly reduced after Spanish Influenza took hold and resulted in high casualties.

After the war ended the camp became a repatriation centre where 4,600 ANZACs waited for their turn to come home. Troop ships were in short supply and the soldiers were getting restless, so the officers introduced a series of enforced marches. The troops requested relaxed discipline; after all, the war was over. When their request was denied they rioted, looting the mess and stealing alcohol from the officers.

The riot was calmed and the men were promised there would be no consequences for their actions; however, the ringleaders were arrested and, ironically, promptly shipped back to New Zealand.

2. Postcard of kiwi & camp

 Postcard of the newly carved kiwi above Sling Camp.
Unknown artist, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18041333

The remaining men were put to work carving a large kiwi into the chalk on Beacon Hill behind the camp. The kiwi was designed by Sergeant Major P C Blenkarne, based on a sketch of a taxidermied kiwi held at the British Museum. Sergeant Major V T Low surveyed the area and extended the design of the kiwi, which covers an area of 1.5 acres.

In the 1920s the original buildings of Sling Camp were torn down and replaced. The Kiwi Polish Company took over maintenance of the chalk kiwi and paid local villagers to take care of it, more from its status as a memorial than for any advertising benefit. During World War II it was covered to prevent German planes using it as a navigation point. The Boy Scouts removed the leaf mould cover once the war was over. In the 1950s Blenkarne arranged for the British Army to maintain the kiwi, and in 2017 it received protection as a scheduled monument.

3. Photo of kiwi in 2013

 A view of the Bulford Kiwi, August 2013.
Photograph by Jonathanjosh1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Sisters of St Joseph: Catholic Education in Whanganui

The Sisters of St Joseph are an Australasian order founded by Mother Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods in 1873. Mother Mary was canonised in Rome in 2010.

A distinctive habit was worn by the Sisters, unchanged until the late 1960s. The habit was a sign of their consecration to God, and served to identify their unity as a group. The distinctive blue monogram distinguished their Order. Today Sisters do not wear the habit but show a symbol of their consecration with a silver ring and a lapel pin or a pendant.

4. Sisters of St Joseph

Sisters of St Joseph – Sisters Madeleine and Bernadette Murphy, 1934.  Ref: Tesla Studios 26000

The Sisters arrived in the town of Whanganui in 1880. They immediately set up a school for girls in Victoria Avenue which they named Sacred Heart Convent. It was a mixture of primary and secondary pupils, many of the older children being boarders from surrounding rural districts. Their mission was to provide education for the children of the poor. St Joseph’s Convent School, also in Victoria Avenue, had been running since 1858 staffed by lay teachers. The Sisters also took over teaching duties there. It closed in the 1940s.

As the town of Whanganui grew, so did the need for more schools. The Sisters taught in Catholic primary education and in a secondary girls’ college, working extremely hard, and for the most part, with scant resources. But what came out of their work and persistence was a wide-reaching and comprehensive Catholic school system. It provided a first class education for every Catholic child in the district, regardless of wealth, race and social status. Those not able to afford the very modest fees were never turned away. Between 1880 and 1904 seven new schools were opened.

2. Sacred Heart Convent

Sacred Heart Convent, 1912.  Ref: SCH/Misc/40

Alongside reading, writing and arithmetic, the Sisters also taught and nurtured the tenets and practice of the Catholic faith. This is what gave their schools their distinctive character. Icons or statues featured in every school as part of the traditional Catholic devotion. A crucifix, as a symbolic representation of Christ was present in every classroom. A small container of holy water was usually placed just inside the door of every classroom.

The Sisters were always busy. Religious Sisters were not permitted by the Government to attend Teacher Training Colleges so the Sisters of St Joseph gained their Teaching Certificates by studying through the New Zealand Correspondence School. The exclusion continued until the 1970s.

Sisters taught full-time, prepared and marked lessons, cleaned their own classrooms and the convent and they taught music to private pupils. The Sisters also tended to their daily devotions and played an important role in parish work and pastoral visiting, attending retreats and contributing to community life. Despite their commitments, they were always encouraged by their Order to be creative, to extend their talents and to find some time for hobbies and recreation.

1. Villa Maria

Villa Maria Boarding House and School, once known as Hutchinson’s Folly, c1900. Ref: 1962.90.12

Villa Maria opened in Cameron Terrace in 1898 to accommodate Catholic boarders of all ages and for use as classrooms for primary pupils. The building, called locally Hutchinson’s Folly for its former owner, had plenty of rooms and extensive grounds for pupils to play in. The “Villa kids”, as they were known, moved to a new site in Guyton Street in 1944 and their little school was renamed St Monica’s. It closed in 1963.

Holy Infancy School opened in 1899 in Aramoho with 40 pupils and grew quickly with the expansion of the suburb. The school was also known as Sister Rita’s School as she worked there for 40 years and was a well-known and much loved character. In 1966 Holy Infancy was renamed St Joseph’s. In 1970 it became an Intermediate School for girls, finally closing in 1979.

In 1911 a foundation stone was laid by His Grace Bishop Francis Redwood for a new school in Oakland Avenue on St John’s Hill. In 1912 the new Sacred Heart Convent and School were opened by the Bishop. The building was 188 feet long, 100 feet wide, three stories high, and had 300 windows. Heart of matai was used for the floors in the four classrooms and the six piano rooms. The convent was lit by gas and was on town water supply. It also had tanks to store 3,000 gallons of rain water. There were balconies at the front and back which, in addition to affording the best views of Whanganui, doubled as fire escapes. By 1948 the school catered for secondary school girls only. In 1982 it was demolished.

The merging of St Augustine’s Boys College and Sacred Heart Girls College became Cullinane College in 1981. It is situated in Peat Street and continues today.

The distance from town made it difficult for pupils in Castlecliff to attend a Catholic school. When St Vincent’s School opened there in 1918, the Sisters travelled from town to school by tram until the 1930s when they were taken by car. A falling roll saw St Vincent’s amalgamate with St Anthony’s in Gonville in 1947.

3. Sacred Heart Dancing Girls

Sacred Heart Convent Dancing Girls, 1931.  Ref: Tesla Studios 23804

St Mary’s School has a long history of relocating. In 1919 the school was located at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ingestre Street. In 1927 St Mary’s moved to Hurworth, the site of an old Anglican boys’ school in Grey Street. In 1964 the school was off again, this time to the former Marist Brothers School in Wicksteed Street. Finally, in 1988, a newly built school named St Mary’s opened in Aramoho on the former Holy Infancy site and still continues.

St Anthony’s School opened in Gonville in 1925. At first the new school building was used for Mass on Sundays. In 1930 a nearby house was purchased and converted into classrooms. A crisis in resourcing led to the Catholic schools of New Zealand whilst retaining their special character, being integrated into the national education system, supported by government. In the ensuing reorganisation, St Anthony’s was moved to Marcellin School in 1982.

A new school opened on the old Marist Brothers site at Totara Street. Marcellin School drew in the intermediate pupils from the newly closed St Joseph’s in Aramoho, as well as the St Anthony’s pupils. It is still operating today.

St Anne’s School in Wanganui East first operated from a house on the corner of Kawakawa and Nixon Streets. It opened in 1942 with just seven juniors and two young nuns. A new school was built in Raine Street in 1976. The school is still going strong today.

The Sisters of St Joseph finished teaching in Whanganui in 1988. During the course of 108 years the Sisters were involved in 10 primary schools, three of which remain today to carry forward the Catholic tradition so ably laid by the Sisters.

Now the Sisters of St Joseph’s family of schools is staffed by lay principals and staffs. The world of the Catholic nun has changed and the Sisters turn their considerable talents and experience to other forms of education. They continue to give support in their community wherever it is needed.

 

Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum and Helen Doyle is a Sister of St Joseph.

St Mary’s Church in Ūpokongaro

St Mary’s Anglican Church in Ūpokongaro makes an impression on most people passing through that small settlement, 12 km north of Whanganui. Its distinctive steeple seems a bit wonky. But it’s not – apparently it’s due to the effect of a three sided spire set on top of a four-sided tower.

The church was designed by Whanganui architect Edward Morgan and built in 1877 by local builder John Randal. The building and the section cost £344, local residents raising their share of the money through subscriptions and a successful concert at John Kennedy’s store. The Bishop of Wellington, Octavius Hadfield, consecrated St Mary’s on 20 July 1879.

2. St Mary's Church 1958

 St Mary’s Church, Ūpokongaro, 1958. Ref: 1800.755

Four stained glass panels link to the Montgomerie Family, stalwart St Mary’s parishioners. Depicting the evangelists, they were designed by Francis Philip Barraud and manufactured by Barraud, Lavers and Westlake of London in 1892. Two were installed to commemorate Captain Alexander Montgomerie, a founding member of St Mary’s and a lay reader during its early years, who died in 1890. The other two commemorate his brother Archibald W Montgomerie, who died at Mākirikiri in 1877. The Montgomerie Family is commemorated in other memorials in St Mary’s.

Young Archibald Montgomery also died in 1877. Aged only 23 and on his way home to Whanganui from a trip abroad, he was drowned in the Avalanche disaster off Portland Bill in the English Channel. The Avalanche collided with the Forest, a Nova Scotian clipper, and sank immediately. Of the 94 people who lost their lives, 21 were Whanganui residents.

Henry and Frances Montgomery, young Archibald’s parents, commissioned stained glass windows from an unidentified English firm in 1879 as a memorial to their son. The centre panel depicts the Ascension and the left panel features the storm on the Sea of Galilee with Christ walking to the rescue over the waves. The right panel illustrates St Peter trying, unsuccessfully, to walk on the waves.

The church was extended in 1892 when the chancel and the vestry were built. The bell, cast in London in 1896, still rings out today. The church has been re-roofed several times and the steeple repaired in 1953, requiring another major fundraising effort by local residents and a successful Wanganui Savage Club concert. Otherwise the building today is much the same as it was in 1901 when the interior was first lined.

The Owen family also made an important contribution to St Mary’s during its 25 years. Hayward Arthur Owen was appointed churchwarden in 1876 and kept his accounts in this book, including those for the building of the church in 1877 and the chancel extension in 1892. The book shows, in the 1881/1882 year, when Thomas Stephens was paid for the temporary vestry and Robert Hughes for painting the church and the fence.  A contribution was made to the purchase of the first parish register and the church benefitted from the proceeds of two entertainments, one in the new “Court House Theatre” in Ūpokongaro.  The overdraft, however, was still more than £92.

Philip Macdonald, St Mary’s treasurer from 1950 to 1969, was a local farmer with a love of architecture. His design for the church lychgate was later used by Whanganui architect Don Wilson to prepare plans for a memorial to Annie Eliza Cowper, formerly of Kukuta. Her son, Charles Robert Cowper, left a generous bequest to St Mary’s that enabled the lychgate to be built in 1958.

St Mary’s Sunday School was held in a room behind the church from 1904 to the early 1970s.  1938 was an important year in the history of St Mary’s. A local committee was formed in September to “inspire greater interest in church matters throughout the district”. Jessie Woon was appointed honorary secretary. Her report for that year noted that the committee had encouraged 20 local families to subscribe, had a successful shop day at McGruer’s in town and a dance in the Ūpokongaro Hall. The Church and schoolroom were both re-piled. Jessie, however, was worried about the birds having access to the church roof. The original leadlight windows in the nave were replaced in 1968.

St Mary’s is registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as a Category 1 historic place. In Whanganui, it is the oldest church still on its original site.

1. St Mary's Church in matchsticks

 Model of St Mary’s Church, Ūpokongaro, made of matchsticks. Ref: 1968.60

In its collection, the Museum has a remarkable matchstick model of St Mary’s made by Jack Higgins, who lived in Ūpokongaro for over 70 years. As a hobby in his later life, he made matchstick models of local buildings in the area. His model of St Mary’s is very accurate, down to the precise alignment of the spire.

 

Fiona Hall was Acting Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum from 2002 to 2003. She curated an exhibition titled The Church by the River, and this article is based on her text.

The Raetihi Inferno

Recently we saw the 100 year anniversary of the Raetihi Fire. It started with a customary scrub burn-off which gale-force winds fanned into a devastating inferno that transformed the landscape, and memories, of the local people.

Doris Wallace remembered the events of 19 March 1918. She woke to a strange stillness and a dark sky and thought she could smell smoke. She recalled that the wind was so strong she was afraid to let go of her son’s hand in case he was whipped away from her. Her husband Bert returned from gathering rams and told her “Raetihi was burning”. Around 10.00pm the night before, a red glow had been seen on the horizon, and that glow had evolved into a massive fire stretching from Mangoihe to Makaranui, about 26 kilometres wide, burning everything in its path.

1. Letter exerpt

Letter from Charlotte Barron to Annie Montgomerie. Charlotte was looking after Annie’s property while she was in the UK with her sons during the war. This part of the letter reads, “You would read in ‘Auckland Weekly’ the account of that awful fire, we had doors blown in and windows blown out and the house was in an awful mess, leaves and twigs everywhere, the fire would have been through here too only for the rain coming when it did, that hill of Fernie’s (over from Brass’s flat) was blazing and the sparks had set fire to some of the trees on this side of the river so that the fire had only to get into this bit of bush on the track in front of the house and the whole thing would have gone, I cannot describe to you how awful it was we had got that basket of silver out of the sitting room and clothes and a few other things and were preparing to go to the shearers where when down came the rain”.  Ref: 2017.35

The autumn had been long and dry with little rainfall, and fighting the fire was very difficult. Some families had been evacuated, while others had tried to get out on their own, but the smoke was so thick that they were driven back into their homes. The Wallaces decided to stay at home on their farm, their young son lying on the floor so he could breathe better. While the phone lines still worked, neighbouring farms rang each other intermittently to see how they were faring.

At midday the smoke was so thick it nearly blocked out the sun. Bulls School was closed because of the smoke covering the town, and even Wellington was affected by a smoke pall forcing motor car drivers to put on their lights.

Like many families in the region, the Wallaces started to patrol their house and douse the many sparks that tried to take hold. Then finally, relief. The wind changed direction and the rain began to fall. Despite the rain, the fire continued to flare up throughout the night so that, according to Doris Wallace, “the hills twinkled with a myriad of lights and darkness was shot with showers of golden flowers”.

Doris also remembered trying to make a simple cup of tea to settle everyone after the awful events. The water in the tanks, however, was smokier than a ham, and the river was full of dead fish and ash. She put out milk pans to collect rainwater over night, but found her son swimming in them the next morning!

Stories about the fire are filled with near misses and close calls. The very heavily pregnant Mrs Sopp was at home with her two children when the fire hit their property.  They escaped the house and had to crawl along the fence line to get away from the flames and smoke. Dr Crawford of Whanganui sent his Model T Ford up to the farm to rescue the family.

2. Bags of potatoes

 Bags of potatoes harvested from the Kowhai Park gardens, ready to send to Raetihi as a gift after the fire. Ref: 1802.3160.

Another man ran from his house holding his baby but slipped into a culvert and three feet of water. He somehow managed to hold the baby above the water, and his wife was able to rescue them both.

The devastation was huge. Thousands of acres of farmland were destroyed and nearly sixty homes and businesses were burnt. The Akersten family became the only human casualties. They were found in their house dead, the mother and the father shielding their baby in a vain attempt to shelter it. While most cattle sought refuge in the river, thousands of sheep perished in their paddocks and were found piled against fences or hiding under logs, and many of those that survived were so badly burnt that they had to be destroyed. The smell affected the area for weeks.

Government loans helped to alleviate the suffering, and allowed for crops to be replanted and new stock purchased. Families lived with friends and relatives or in tents until their homes could be rebuilt, which was difficult as much of the milled timber had been destroyed in the fire.

But the optimistic spirit of the region persisted. When government and local authorities visited, the women insisted on making them lunch while the men showed them areas where the grass was already beginning to grow again.

(Ref: The Generation Gap: Unimportant People and the Parapara. Wallace, Doris; 1973)

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Whanganui – forgotten capital of the Arts and Crafts Movement

With a number of cultural festivals and events unfolding over summer, this time of year is especially busy for Whanganui. The town has long stood out as a magnet for arts and culture, drawing creative people in from far and wide. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a major centre of New Zealand’s Arts and Crafts Movement.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts Movement was overturning the cluttered look we associate with the Victorian era. A response to urbanisation and mass-production in Britain, it was a design approach which recalled the pre-industrial world. It embraced hand crafting, simplicity, and nature-inspired patterns.

In 1892 Whanganui became the fourth city in the country to establish a formal arts school. This was the Wanganui Technical School (which eventually merged into the Wanganui Technical College). At this point, design training was an important part of most trades. The Wanganui Technical School taught both boys and girls – woodwork and metalwork were popular for girls and allowed for a career in the design world. Staff had Government funding to travel to all surrounding settlements in the Whanganui region and teach regular classes – art and design was equally accessible in rural areas.

3. Art class at Wanganui Technical School

 Art class at Wanganui Technical School. Auckland Weekly News, 15 August 1901.

While work was sent back to England for marking under a British syllabus, students were encouraged to incorporate native plants into art nouveau designs, and Māori carving and weaving was brought in for exhibition, appreciation and study. New Zealand materials like pāua shell and pounamu were inlaid into finely crafted domestic objects, such as picture frames and mantelpieces. The Movement evolved into a unique New Zealand form.

Edith Collier is the most well-known ex-student of the Wanganui Technical School, but her sister Dorothy was also an accomplished artist. A hammered pewter clock made by her is in the Museum collection, and it is a fine example of the art nouveau look that was emerging in the 1900s.

1. Dorothy Collier clock

Clock with pewter body made by Dorothy Collier. Ref: 2007.52

The Wanganui Art Society was founded in 1898, and a local Arts and Crafts Society appeared in 1901. These groups provided plenty of opportunity for locals to hone their artistic talents, holding regular competitions and exhibitions. For those Arts and Crafts enthusiasts with money to spend, Whanganui also had New Zealand’s first Liberty of London outlet store – one of the most luxurious department stores ever.

2. Liberty Shop

 The Victoria Avenue Liberty shop. From Wanganui Coronation Souvenir 1911.

Opened in 1905 by Mrs Martin, customers could buy “art furniture”, “art needlework”, William Morris fabric, and Tudric pewter ware. Some artists frowned upon Liberty’s as it was suspected that items on sale were mass-produced. The shop was eventually taken over by the Alcorn family; Margaret and Mary Alcorn had one Liberty outlet in Wellington, and a cousin ran another in Christchurch.

4. Liberty Advertisement

 Liberty Advertisement from the Wanganui Chronicle 3 July 1907, page 3.

The Arts and Crafts Movement remained popular in New Zealand right into the 1950s, long after it had faded from popularity elsewhere. A number of local houses were built which carry a distinct cottage look typical of the style. Durie Hill was planned by prominent architect Samuel Hurst Seager according to Arts and Crafts ideals. The state houses of the 1930s-1950s are a further legacy of the Movement. All in all, Whanganui is a forgotten capital of the home-grown Arts and Crafts Movement and deserving of greater appreciation.

 

Scott Flutey is a student of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. He is working as a summer intern at Whanganui Regional Museum.

 

Margaret Bullock – Whanganui Suffragist

The Women’s Franchise League (later renamed the Wanganui Women’s Political League) led the campaign in Whanganui for votes for women. Margaret Bullock was the Wanganui League founder, vice president, president and committee member until 1900. Born in Auckland, Bullock moved to Whanganui in 1877.

Widowed with five sons, she worked as a reporter and assistant editor on the Wanganui Chronicle, owned by her brother Gilbert Carson. She also worked as a special parliamentary correspondent for several colonial newspapers. In later life she supported herself by writing a novel, short stories and government tourist guides. As a journalist and parliamentary correspondent, however, she gained a credible place within a predominantly male profession. She also played a pivotal role in the nineteenth century women’s movement at both local and national levels.

Margaret Bullock believed women had the same mental ability as men, but lacked men’s knowledge of methods, public affairs, political questions and the world’s needs. Her particular passions were removing what she termed “women’s disabilities” and promoting economic independence for women.

Through her work as a parliamentary journalist, she acquired knowledge of the parliamentary system. With this knowledge she was able to help the passing of the Electoral Act 1893 when she warned leading New Zealand suffragist Kate Sheppard of possible obstruction. Bullock sent Sheppard a telegram that read, “Electoral Bill returned House for strangulation ostensibly amendment wire Parliament instantly.”

1. Telegram to Sheppard

 Facsimile of a telegraph from Margaret Bullock to Suffragist Kate Sheppard. Ref: 1805.417

The Act specified that every person aged 21 years and over (who qualified and was registered) was entitled to vote. The Act declared that the definition of the word “person” included women. After the 1893 election Margaret Bullock visited every household in Whanganui, signing up hundreds of women on the electoral roll.

In December 1899 local printer and publisher A D Willis began his second term as the Member to the House of Representatives for Wanganui; he held the seat until 1905. He had previously been elected for a term in 1893 following the death of his friend, the previous MHR John Ballance, but was defeated in 1896. Bullock was Chairwoman of the Ladies Committee that helped return Willis to Parliament, ironically, as her brother Gilbert Carson lost in his attempt to enter Parliament.

2. Election memento 1899

 Memento of the Wanganui Election 1899. Ref: 1932.6.4

She was prominent in the National Council of Women executive, appointed to the Standing Orders Committee in 1897 and elected vice-president in 1900. She was appointed an official visitor to the female department of Wanganui Prison in 1896. Margaret also worked on behalf of the elderly residents of the Jubilee Home in Whanganui, publicising their poor living conditions.

Margaret Bullock had a strong political and social justice impetus. But she also had many other talents. She wrote short stories for British and New Zealand magazines, often signing herself as “Madge”. She wrote her only novel Utu: a story of love, hate, and revenge under the name Tua-o-rangi. She wrote stories for children, which were printed and published by the firm of A D Willis, her old political friend. She was also an accomplished artist and exhibited her paintings at the Auckland Art Society under the name Maggie Bullock, often using Māori sitters as subjects.

3. Book of Wanganui River

 The Wanganui River – Sketch and Story by Margaret Bullock, late 19th century.  Ref: 1953.108.2

Margaret Bullock was plagued with continual ill-health after she settled in Whanganui. She was diagnosed with cancer and died on 17 June 1903 soon after an operation.

 

Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum