Collection

A Wedding in 1861

The earliest dated wedding dress in the Whanganui Regional Museum collection was donated in 1968. As with many past donations to the Museum, the information provided at the time was very limited. Apart from the donor’s name and address, the only other information provided on the receipt was a very rudimentary description of the dress: “One wedding frock (blue checked) worn in 1861”. No information was given as to where the dress had come from, who had made or worn it, or what journey it had gone through to make it into the Museum’s collection.

Although little of the dress’s history or provenance was communicated, there is no doubt that it was a treasured and well cared for item of clothing. The dress is in very good condition, considering it is over 150 years old and would have gone through several generations. It shows very little wear and only a little fading.

1968.13.1

The 1861 wedding dress. Ref: 1968.13.1

From looking at the style of the dress the date given on the receipt seemed very plausible. The high neckline, dropped shoulders, narrow boned waist, very full bell-shaped skirt, under which numerous petticoats or a crinoline would have been worn, and the pagoda sleeves all fit the style of the early 1860s. The construction, a mix of machine and hand-sewing, fit in with the technology that was available. The fabric, a silk taffeta lined with a brown Holland cloth, also supported the theory that the date given could well be correct.

So who was the woman that had worn this dress to her wedding in 1861? Finding the answer to this question involved many hours of trekking through ancestry sites, reviewing birth, death and marriage certificates, looking through electoral rolls and passenger lists to find the one branch of the donor’s family that had a wedding in 1861.

Where did the dress start its journey? The answer was in Gibraltar where, in 1861, 26 year old Olivia Costa married a 30 year old Scottish-born, British soldier named William Wallace. Olivia was born in Gibraltar, the daughter of Thomas Costa, a Master Mariner, and a woman whose name is unfortunately not recorded. As a Master Mariner Costa could easily have purchased the fabric for the dress at any of the trading ports through Europe.

William and Olivia had two children, William Thomas in 1862 and Annie Theresa in 1864. By the time their daughter was born (Annie is the grandmother of the donor of the dress) they are recorded as living in Canada West, America. At an unknown time they must have shifted to Tyrone in Northern Ireland because when they migrated to New Zealand in 1876, their nationality is recorded as Tyrone. They left for New Zealand on 26 June 1876 from the port of Glasgow and arrived in New Zealand on 23 September 1876 at the port of Otago. The family lived at Blueskin Bay, Waitati, north of Dunedin, where they settled into a life of farming. A relative of the Wallace’s who was a contemporary of Olivia, recorded in their family history that she was a “dark fascinating woman who was a good cook”. Olivia, William and William Thomas are all buried in the Waitati Cemetery.

Annie married James Sutherland, a farmer from Canterbury and they had two sons. The elder, Robert Alexander Wallace Sutherland, married Dorothy Agnes Ashwell of Whanganui whose family was associated with the setting up of Virginia Lake. Robert and Dorothy had a daughter who, while living in Whanganui in 1968, came into the Museum and donated the wedding dress of which we now know so much more.

 

Trish Nugent-Lyne is the Collection Manager at Whanganui Regional Museum

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Quilts

A quilt is a bed covering, typically made of padding enclosed between layers of fabric stitched into place. It is usually decorative, but its primary purpose is for warmth. Not all quilts, however, are created equal. At the Whanganui Regional Museum there are several quilts in the textile collection, from the utilitarian to the richly embellished, and some in-between. A quilt reflects its creator: her financial circumstances, design and needlework talents and the availability of resources.

1. Salt bag quilt

 Salt bag and wool wisp quilt of the 1930s. WRM ref: 2007.73.1

One of the simplest in the collection, showing the maker’s thrifty use of what she had on-hand, is a modest, rustic, single quilt made from cotton salt bags filled with wisps of sheep fleece, materials readily available at no cost. The names of the salt companies are still readable on some of the bags. This was made around the 1930s, during the Depression era. Although it is simple, it would have been very warm.

2. Woven wool pieces quilt

 Woven woollen fabrics patchwork quilt. WRM ref: TH.568

A patchwork quilt is made of small pieces of cloth in different designs, colours and textures, sewn together. One example in the collection is a double quilt comprising rectangles of woven woollen fabrics sewn in a random pattern. The squares are whip-stitched by hand, and each seam is then embroidered in feather stitch in wools of various colours. This quilt has no backing, obviously intentional, as all edges have been finished; binding is usually the last step in completing a quilt.

A third quilt is made entirely of plain and flowered cotton scraps pieced in a traditional “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” hexagonal pattern, backed with cotton printed with small blue flowers. It was made by Ann Jackson of Market Harborough, Leicester, England. This quilt was later lined and brought to New Zealand by Ann Jackson’s great granddaughter. “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” was one of the most popular patterns of the 1830s-1840s, as it not only displayed design talent, but also because the large number of pieces demonstrated the skill of the needle worker. This quilt has over 300 individual pieces, all whip-stitched together by hand and would have taken months to create.

3. English method quilt

 Patchwork quilt made using the English paper method. WRM ref: 1970.3

A more opulent 19th century quilt used pieces of silk, velvet, taffeta and corduroy in an elongated hexagon pattern called the “Cathedral Window”. It was made using the English paper method, where fabrics are tacked onto paper shapes to stabilise them, before being sewn together. Once the piece has been finished the paper is removed.

This quilt is unfinished and has no backing, which enables us to see the piecing method and how it was assembled. The tacking and backing papers are still in place. Examination of the papers reveals that the sewer used old handwritten letters, a leaflet from a piano and organ tuner and a paper label from a shop in Liverpool, England, called Bon Marché. Founded in 1878, Bon Marché was modelled on its famous namesake in Paris and featured French fashions, perfumes and accessories, so it is possible this quilt had its beginnings in Liverpool.

One of the outcomes from researching the quilts in this article is that there is little or no specific information about their owners, when they were made or who they were made for. In the museums of today, when items are assessed for inclusion in the collection, staff collect as much information about them as possible, and keep this data on permanent record. Imagine the stories these quilts could tell if they could only speak!

 

Kathy Greensides is Collection Assistant 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

Snakes and Ladders

It is highly likely that at some point in our young lives, most of us have played some version of the humble game of Snakes and Ladders. There is evidence that Snakes and Ladders goes back thousands of years, and the relatively simple design of the game has ensured its survival. But its origins involve much more than mere child’s play. It has been a potent teaching tool that has been used for centuries, arguably even millennia, as a way to embody and reinforce religious teachings and cultural values.

1. Pixie snakes & ladders 1930s

 Snakes and Ladders game, 1930s. Ref: 1984.13.11

Surviving forms of this board game suggest that the game originated in ancient India, invented by Hindu spiritual teachers. The moral of the original game reflected Hinduism consciousness around everyday life, in that a person can attain salvation through performing righteous good deeds, whereas the evil ones, which are the snakes, take rebirth in lower forms of life.

Centuries ago the game had titles which, roughly translated, mean the “Game of Self Knowledge”, the “Ladder to Salvation” or “Steps to the Highest Place”, which indicate the weight of the morality it was originally designed to convey.

The original boards were adorned with elaborate illustrations of religious phrases, figures or architecture, flora, fauna, and symbols of spiritual planes. Rows of squares are sometimes arranged by levels of enlightenment, simultaneously reflecting concepts like karmic paths, chakras, or other conceptions about ascending levels of the spiritual realm. Children in ancient India were taught the game as part of their spiritual education in order to know the effects of good versus bad. The ladders represented values such as kindness, faith and humility. The snakes represented bad omens, bad luck, anger and other negative traits.

3. Snakes & ladders instructions 1950s

Snakes & ladders instructions, 1950s. Ref: 2010.6.8

Over centuries the game travelled and evolved and its basic design concept served as a durable framework for many cultures to adapt it to their own moral and spiritual beliefs.

When the game made its way to Victorian England in the late nineteenth century, the Indian symbolism was replaced by English virtues and vices which better reflected Victorian doctrines of morality. Squares of grace and success were accessible by ladders of thrift, generosity, penitence, obedience and industry. They were offset by snakes of indulgence, pride, disobedience and indolence causing one to end up in illness, disgrace and poverty.

While the Indian version of the game had snakes outnumbering ladders, the English counterpart contained each in the same amount, assuring players of the ideal that for every sin one commits, there exists another chance at redemption.  The phrase “back to square one” either originates in the game of Snakes and Ladders, or, at least, was influenced by it.

Scanned Image

 Noddy Snakes and Ladders game, 1950s. Ref: 2010.6.6

Modern adaptations of the game are much less overt in the messages they try to impart, and have comic drawings and simple moral lessons, if any. But even today in playing, we always get a tiny taste of experiencing the course of fate, because implicit in the game is an unchanging duality of up against down, good against evil and the consequences attached to virtues and vices. The game of Snakes and Ladders captures the eternal truth that for every ladder you hope to climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner, and for every snake a ladder will compensate.

Rachael Garland worked as the events coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Marvellous Miniatures

In the Victorian period an obsession with all things miniature became a form of entertainment. Men would generally collect natural history items such as fossils and taxidermied or preserved specimens, and display them in a cabinet of curiosities. Women’s tastes seemed to be domestic, or at least that’s what was available to them. Dolls’ houses were crafted and there was no shortage of furniture, books and dolls to fill them. Craftsmen would often produce miniature versions of their own products to demonstrate their skills; these were exquisitely made and very costly.

1. Library in Queen Mary's Dolls' House

 The library with leather bound books in Queen Mary’s dolls’ house.  The Royal Collection Trust.

The ultimate example of domestic miniature collecting is Queen Mary’s dolls’ house at Winsor Castle. Built in 1924, it was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, the most eminent English architect of the time, who commissioned renowned artists and craftsmen to contribute examples of their works. Electric lifts, lights, running water and a flushable toilet, complete with miniature toilet paper, are included. The wine cellar contains tiny glass bottles filled with wines and spirits. The library is filled with leather-bound miniature books by 170 famous authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A A Milne, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling. The walls are adorned throughout with paintings by notable artists.

Dolls’ houses became all the rage with the rich, and there was an immense demand for furniture and dolls with which to fill them. After World War II, doll’s houses and their contents started being massed produced, and consequently, much more affordable for more people.

There is an assortment of miniature objects in the collection of the Whanganui Regional Museum. We can find miniature teapots, pots and pans, furniture, miniature sewing machines and even a miniature suit of armour.

3. Dolls and eggs

 Four half egg shells and two baby dolls. Ref: TH.3706

Amongst the tiniest is a pair of Lilliputian wooden dolls, each nesting inside a tiny wooden egg. One is painted green and the other yellow, both with the inscription, “the smallest doll in the world’’, barely discernible on the outside in gold. They were produced in Germany and Austria for the British market in the early 1900s and were often given to children as an Easter gift. They were known as “penny dolls’’, as this is what they were reportedly sold for in Britain at the time.

The eggs are 3.2 centimetres high. The dolls are just 1.3 centimetres tall and have moveable, jointed arms and legs. They are joined to the body by small wooden pegs which are locked together, so that if one arm or leg is moved, the other does likewise. Both are painted with rather stern looks on their faces.

2. Baby doll from an egg

 One of the baby dolls that nestles in a miniature egg. Ref: TH.3076a

Because of their fragility and the fact that they were cheap, once broken they were often discarded, so we are fortunate to have an intact pair in the collection.

It seems the appetite for miniatures never disappears. A quick look on the Internet reveals a renewed interest in miniature dolls. Dolls, with names such as Lalaloopsy, Cupcake and Polly Pockets, are very popular and come with small houses and accessories. Even boys are accommodated with Lego and transformers. Will these be filling the shelves of museums a hundred years from now?

 

Kathy Greensides is the Collection Assistant at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Green Sea Turtle

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!

Who for such dainties would not stoop?

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

[From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865]

 

One turtle not protected by its briny environment was a Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas, also known as the Green Turtle, Black Turtle, or Pacific Green Turtle, whose shell is in the Whanganui Regional Museum collection, donated by Tom Shout in 1954.

1. Green Sea Turtle carapace

The shell of the Green Sea Turtle that ended up as soup at Bellamy’s. Ref: 1954.103

The turtle shell had been given to Tom Shout’s father in around 1910 by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward. Ward had been presented with a live turtle on a return voyage from London, possibly in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Still alive when it arrived in Wellington, Sir Joseph donated it to the kitchen in the parliamentary restaurant, Bellamy’s, to be turned into soup. Shout’s father was the chef at Bellamy’s at the time.

Green Sea Turtles are named for the green color of the fat under their carapace or shell, a vital ingredient for making turtle soup. Turtle soup was a fashionable and popular repast for Edwardian gentlemen, and very suitable fare for Bellamy’s, New Zealand’s premier restaurant at the time.

2. Green Sea Turtle skull & jawbone

Skull and jawbone of a Green Sea Turtle. Some skin scales still adhere to the bone. Ref: 1802.3523

Green Turtle soup was not, however, limited to diners at Bellamy’s. It was, for decades tinned and sold throughout the world. One of the most famous brands was the American product by Campbell, launched in the 1920s and lasting in popularity into the 1950s when it began a slide into obscurity and was discontinued in the 1960s.

 

A passion for Green Turtle soup had emerged in England in the mid-18th century. Considered a great delicacy, it needed to be made from freshly slaughtered turtles that had to be shipped from warmer climes in great tubs of water. It became, inevitably, more and more expensive, so a substitute was invented to address popular demand. Mock turtle soup often incorporated meats such as brains or calf’s head to mimic the texture of true turtle meat. Many consumers thought that these animal body parts also tasted very like turtle. Tinned mock turtle soup sustained many a British subject throughout World War II when rationing was at its most severe.

3. Turtle illustration by John Tenniel

The gryphon and the mock turtle, an illustration by John Tenniel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Sourced under Creative Commons.

The Green Sea Turtle’s range extends throughout tropical and subtropical seas around the world, with two different populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Adults can grow up to 91 cm in length and weigh up to 180 kg. They migrate long distances, sometimes thousands of kilometres from their feeding sites, to breed on the beaches where they hatched. They can lay more than 100 eggs in every nest.

Today many species of sea turtle are endangered, with surreptitious culinary demand possibly contributing to their population decrease, as well as markets in turtle skins, tanned to make leather bags and wallets. While it is illegal to hunt sea turtles in most countries, they continue to be caught worldwide.

Since 2004 the Green Sea Turtle has been listed as Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Conservation initiatives centre on nesting sites and include eco-tourism and environmental action plans.

 

Libby Sharpe is the senior curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Taxidermy

The word taxidermy is derived from the ancient Greek roots táksis (arrangement) and derma (skin), and loosely translates to “arrangement of skin”. It refers to the art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of dead animals for exhibition in a lifelike state. Taxidermy takes on a number of forms and purposes, including hunting trophies and natural history museum displays, and sometimes to memorialise loved pets. It is used as a method of preserving specimens for research and recording, and for display, including those that are extinct and threatened, in the form of study skins and life-size mounts. It is practiced primarily on vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish and reptiles) but can also be applied to larger insects and arachnids (spiders).

The earliest known taxidermists were the ancient Egyptians who developed a form of animal preservation through the use of injections, spices, oils, and other embalming tools and methods. The modern form of taxidermy greatly differs from the taxidermy of antiquity, as taxidermists now produce lifelike mounts by accurately modelling the anatomy of animal specimens as they might appear in their natural habitat.

2. Drew's museum

 Drew’s taxidermied specimens in the Wanganui Public Museum that opened in 1895 and was situated in Drews Avenue.  Photograph by AD Willis. Ref: 1802.3375

In the Victorian era, taxidermy became very popular and fashionable, with many seeking curiosities for their cabinets in an exciting age of discovery. With the surge of international exploration, there was a growing community of natural history observers, or naturalists, who became intent on discovering fascinating new species abroad.

When new species of mammals, fowl and fish were still being discovered, naturalists looked for ways of preserving them for classification. Famed British explorer Captain James Cook was one of the early supporters of taxidermy for his newly discovered species. Charles Darwin was another early practitioner of taxidermy. He had some specimens from the Galapagos Islands taxidermied in situ; they later helped support his scientific theory of evolution.

In the early 20th century taxidermy came into its own and became a respected art form. Wealthy aristocrats would fill their homes with mounted animals from all over the world. As big game hunting became more popular, so did the practice of displaying wild animals. Early taxidermy mounts were stuffed with sawdust and rags without regard for actual anatomy, so the models were often disfigured. In fact, some mounts from those days skewed how people imagined such creatures for years. The long-extinct dodo is a prime example of creative taxidermy misleading actuality. Over time, taxidermists developed techniques to more accurately represent anatomy.

The Whanganui Regional Museum collection houses many taxidermied specimens, including rare and now extinct species such as huia, koreke (New Zealand quail) and whēkau (laughing owl). There are many trophy heads and even an extinct Tasmanian tiger.

1. Tasmanian tiger

Taxidermied and mounted specimen of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus, first acquired by Samuel Drew for a private museum at his home. Ref: 1805.61

The taxidermy collection started with an avid local naturalist and collector, Samuel Drew. He collected and classified many natural history specimens, certainly enough to establish a small museum at his home in 1880. He was a significant collector of molluscs, birds, and beetles, and maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists. He exchanged specimens with Julius von Haast, a German geologist, later director of the Canterbury Museum. He met with and corresponded with taxidermist Andreas Reischek, who helped him classify some of his specimens. Reischek also trained Drew’s son, Henry, in taxidermy. Drew’s private collection eventually became too large for his family home and became the foundation of the Whanganui Regional Museum collection that we all enjoy today.

 

Rachael Garland is the Events Coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Shock Treatment

When people hear the term electrotherapy they often think of the treatment of writer Janet Frame or of archaic solutions for hysterical women or those deemed to be “unfortunates” who couldn’t be controlled. But electrotherapy has a much gentler side and has been used as a treatment to relieve pain since Ancient Rome.

In 63AD Scribonius Largus, court physician to Claudius Caesar, wrote that his pain was relieved when he accidentally stood on an electric fish at the sea shore. He went on to promote placing a black torpedo (electric ray) on the area where a patient was experiencing pain to induce numbness and relieve the pain. It became a standard treatment for headaches and migraines, and was also sometimes used for epilepsy and other neurological conditions.

1. Gray & Sons

 Joseph Gray & Son’s Patent Magneto Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases. Ref: 1955.61

More concentrated study into electricity-based therapies developed in the 17th and 18th centuries and various contraptions were created to assist with the delivery of the treatments, but the fish was still used. Benjamin Franklin even had two sessions of electric fish therapy in the mid-18th century. His sessions improved the pain he was experiencing but also resulted in minor amnesia, which lead him to recommend electric therapy trials on melancholic and “mad” patients who were not responding to other more conventional medicines of the time.

The first recorded modern electrotherapy treatment was given to a patient in 1743. The process was first used to treat mental illness in 1823-1824. At the time, electricity was being utilised in a wide variety of experiments, including the failed attempts at reanimation of deceased criminals.

2. Burdick

 Burdick Corporation’s Short Wave Diathermy Machine. Ref: 1995.44.599

But macabre experiments aside, electrotherapy was becoming increasingly common in the treatment of pain and other maladies, and hospitals began purchasing electrotherapy machines to use on their patients.

From the mid-19th century the focus was shifted to providing more localised treatment, rather than large shocks that affected the whole body. In 1856 Guillaume Duchenne discovered that an alternating current was better than a direct current as it provided better and more consistent results, and was gentler on the skin as it didn’t cause blisters.

Electrotherapy works by interfering with pain signals as they are transmitted to the brain, slowing them down and disrupting them. It also helps to speed up the healing of damaged tissue by causing the muscles to contract, which relaxes muscle spasms and helps to prevent atrophy.

3. Overbeck

 Ediswan’s Overbeck Rejuvenator Electrotherapy Machine. Ref: 1986.36

It is still commonly used today in the form of TENS machines and Interferential Treatment. TENS works by attaching sticky pad electrodes to the affected area and sending electrical signals across the skin. Low frequencies increase the production of endorphins, which naturally relieve pain, and high frequencies stimulate non-pain nerve fibres which send signals to the brain and stop the pain messages from getting through. Interferential Treatment is when two currents are passed through the skin and cross each other, the interference of which is similar to having low frequency stimulation deep under the skin.

Electrotherapy has also been used in the treatment of various cancers since the 1950s. It is still used to treat some mental illness, but now it is applied to the patient under anaesthetic.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum

The Mokoia Meteorite – An Amazing Space Rock

NASA recently announced that organic molecules have been found on Mars, delighting space enthusiasts, but they neglected to add that extraterrestrial molecules can also be found in Whanganui.

Every living thing on Earth is made of organic molecules and their presence points to the possible existence of living cells. While it is unlikely that sophisticated aliens will be found on Mars, any type of primitive life, even fossilised, increases the possibility of discovering more complex life elsewhere in space.

Organic matter from space is rare but it has occasionally turned up within meteorites, debris left over from the formation of the solar system more than 5,000 million years ago. Meteorites contain varying quantities of rock and metal. Captured by Earth’s gravity, they fall through the atmosphere, turning into fireballs and exploding before impact.

Mokoia Meterorite

Fragments of the Mokoia Meteorite. Ref: 1805.357

The Mokoia Meteorite in the Whanganui Regional Museum collection is actually two parts of a much larger rock of carbonaceous chondrite, the rarest of all meteor types. Carbonaceous chondrite is mainly composed of carbon: the atom that defines organic molecules.

The fragments fell at Mokoia, about 30 km north of Whanganui, on 26 November 1908. In the middle of an ordinary November day a flash caused witnesses to look up at a bright ball of light rushing overhead trailing a silvery tail. Whanganui witnesses spoke of the delay between the light and the subsequent loud explosion, described as a “cannonade”, heard from North Taranaki to Hawke’s Bay. The main body of the meteor was seen falling into the sea off Castlecliff Beach in Whanganui.

There were determined efforts to locate the extra-terrestrial visitor, but only a twist of fate preserved it for meteorite hunter W Syme. If it had embedded itself in the ground he could easily have missed it; however, it struck a tree near Mokoia and was still smouldering days later when he reached it.

The meteorite was passed to the Museum and it was only later that analysis revealed how rare and amazing the space rock is. The supernova star explosions that enriched our region of the galaxy and eventually gave rise to our solar system, threw out plenty of carbon and lumps of it still float about until they hit a planet like ours.

It is possible that NASA’s organic carbon molecules arrived on Mars the same way as the carbon in our meteorite. Mars has probably also been dusted with this primordial material over the years.

Some theorists suggest that carbon-rich meteorites may have contributed to the beginning of life on Earth. Consequently, scientists from around the world have requested and received small pieces of the Mokoia Meteorite. The resultant scientific papers record that it also contains amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. They aren’t in the proportions made by life on Earth but their presence is significant and amazing. We are extremely fortunate to have this very rare piece of space rock here in Whanganui.

 

Margie Beautrais is the Educator at Whanganui Regional Museum.