Wanganui Chronicle Features

The Williams Barrel Organ

The Williams Organ was manufactured in 1829 by a church and organ-builder, Mr A Buckingham, of London. The organ was sent from England by Reverend E G Marsh in November 1829 as a gift to his nephews, the Reverends Henry and William Williams who were stationed at the Church Missionary Society Māori Mission at Paihia. Arriving in New Zealand in August 1830, it was the first barrel organ brought into the country. Apparently it caused some powerful reactions in listeners, with Reverend Henry Williams’ wife Marianne writing in September 1830, “All the females as well as the males met in the chapel to hear the new organ the first week it arrived, and I was glad the overpowering sensations which its full and melodious sounds produce and all the recollections it aroused were a little moderated before the Sabbath”.

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The Williams Barrel Organ (Whanganui Regional Museum collection reference:1898.156)

Barrel organs are mechanical instruments constructed using a system of bellows and one or more layers of pipes, housed in a decorative wooden case. Unlike a traditional pipe organ they are not played by an organist. Instead, the barrel organ is performed by a person turning a crank. The pieces of music are encoded onto wooden barrels, which cause notes to sound as would a keyboard in a regular pipe organ.

In 1898 the organ was given to Edward’s son, the Reverend Alfred O Williams, who was at that time visiting the Bay of Islands with Samuel Drew, the Wanganui Public Museum’s founder. Together they brought the organ back to Whanganui. The Reverend Alfred Williams was later a member of the Museum Board of Trustees.

During this time the organ had become damaged so Drew repaired it, and he was known to crank it regularly at the Museum. Its first playing at the Museum after being repaired was in the dead of the night on Good Friday 1898, with Drew stating “… the tunes seemed ghostlike and weird. It seemed as tho’ the organ had died years ago and yet was speaking its music to me, and me alone…”. Some of the older residents in Whanganui may remember paying an extra penny to hear the organ being played when the Museum was still at what is now the Savage Club building.

In 1937 further renovations were carried out on the organ and for five years after that a recital was held at the Museum each Good Friday.

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Detail of inner workings of a barrel organ in Pisek during town celebration “Dotkni se Písku” in 2011, Czech Republic (Photographer: Petr Brož)

In 1995 after the barrel organ’s condition was assessed it was discovered that necessary repairs to the case and mechanism would cost in the region of $12,000. A fundraising campaign began, which many Museum supporters contributed to. A concert series was held and a grant of $10,000 was obtained from the Turanga Trust (a Williams family trust) in Napier.

The barrel organ was most recently played as part of the Museum’s closing weekend gala on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 September 2016.

Riah King-Wall is the Programmes Officer at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Seashore Critters

The beach may be a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Windy, hot, dry, barren and occasionally flooded by seawater, it’s a hostile environment for small animals. And yet there are some species that manage to make the beach their home. I spent a day at Mōwhanau recently with children from Brunswick School, turning over driftwood and logs and looking for interesting critters.

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A common beach sandhopper (Bellorchestia quoyana), when examined closely, reveals its crustacean nature.

Photo: Crispychipp / Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA

Sandhoppers are the most abundant denizen of the beach. Under every piece of driftwood or seaweed is a multitude, which spring away or scurry down burrows when disturbed. These little creatures, properly known as amphipods, are actually crustaceans, not insects. They are cousins to crabs, crayfish and even the slaters in your garden. Like all crustaceans, they breathe through gills which they have to keep moist. Most of the roughly 10,000 species live in the sea, but amphipods can be found in any damp environment. Some Southern Hemisphere hoppers even live far from the coast in forest leaf litter.

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A log, like this one found on Mōwhanau Beach, is like a tiny oasis, providing shelter and food for a whole community of invertebrates
Photo: Whanganui Regional Museum

 

On the beach amphipods burrow down to damp sand during the day and come out at night to feed on anything the tide has washed up. Close up, they resemble tiny humpbacked shrimps, ranging in colour from dark grey to pinkish-orange, and have powerful hind legs for jumping. Sandhoppers are an important part of the beach ecosystem, not just as food for larger animals, but as scavengers that break down seaweed and carry those nutrients as deep as 30 cm into the sand.

Another creature found under beach logs is the native seashore earwig (Anisolabis littorea). These are flightless, and much larger than the introduced European earwigs in your garden. Their Māori name, matā, is also the word for obsidian – black volcanic glass – because they’re similarly shiny and black.

Seashore earwigs are omnivores, feeding on seaweed or catching amphipods with their nippers. Unlike most insects, they take good care of their young; after mating, the female drives off the male and guards her clutch of eggs and helpless babies. Once the baby earwigs get large enough to fend for themselves, all bets are off. They can flee the nest, eat each other, or eat their mum (and she’ll happily snack on them if they try). Female matā have long straight nippers while males have curved asymmetrical ones.

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The native seashore earwig or matā (Anisolabis littorea) is a beautiful glossy black creature found under beach debris all around Aotearoa
Photo: Lisa Bennett / NatureWatchNZ CC-BY-NC, with permission

Although they look fearsome, curving their pincers over their back like a scorpion, I’ve handled earwigs for years and never been nipped. The kids from Brunswick School were initially cautious, but when I showed them how you can gently let a big coastal earwig crawl from hand to hand, they all wanted to try.

The “ooh yuck!” response when presented with a creepy-crawly is not innate in children, but learned from their parents, peers and authority figures. There are native invertebrate species going extinct right now. Voters don’t care because bugs are “yucky”. Museums like Te Papa and Puke Ariki are putting on insect exhibitions to help fight this perception. If we adults are frightened of harmless little insects, it’s not the insect’s fault. We need to get over our irrational fears, model good behaviour for kids, and, on our next visit the beach, turn over some logs with them and see what we find.

 

Dr Mike Dickison is Curator of Natural History at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Hot Cross Buns

One a penny, two a penny … They may cost a bit more today, but hot cross buns are still eaten as part of many people’s Easter season celebrations. Although supermarkets often have had them on the shelves months before, these treats are traditionally eaten on Good Friday.

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The traditional poem “Hot Cross Buns” and illustration as appeared in The Old, Old Nursery Rhymes, 1907 (ref:1995.56.4

From a Christian perspective, the buns are eaten to celebrate the end of Lent – the 40 days before Easter that are traditionally a time of fasting or observing other forms of restricted behaviour. The cross on the top is meant to signify the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and the spices represent those used in the embalming processes of the time.

One story of the significance of buns at Easter goes back to a monk from St Albans in England, Father Thomas Rocliffe. In 1361 he made spiced buns marked with a cross for distribution to the poor on Good Friday.

Another goes back even further to the Saxon goddess of light, Ēostre or Ostara, who later gave her name to the Christian Easter. She was celebrated during spring by baking and eating spiced buns which had a cross marked on top to represent the four seasons of the year.

From these mixed origins, the buns became increasingly popular. When Christianity became the dominant religion in the British Isles, the buns were banned, possibly because the Church feared the magical powers of the buns. What powers could a bun have? Well, some people believed the humble hot cross bun was more than just a food. They were believed to ward off evil spirits and they would protect a ship from wrecking if they were carried aboard for the voyage. If they were hung in the kitchen they would prevent any fires from occurring, and would also ensure any bread baked in that kitchen would turn out perfectly.

Some believed if you shared a hot cross bun with a friend it guaranteed your friendship for the following year. And others kept them for medicinal purposes, believing that they would cure a patient of illness. It was also thought that if they were baked on Good Friday they would not spoil or grow mould.

The buns became so popular that Queen Elizabeth I passed a law declaring they could only be sold on Good Friday, at Christmas or for a funeral. To get around this law, people started making them at home and it became too hard to police.

1. Chronicle piece

This article from the Wanganui Chronicle newspaper on 23 April 1892 shows one minister’s displeasure at his congregation eating hot cross buns at the wrong time (ref:1998.41.348)

Soon these buns were welcomed back in the shops and today there are a large variety of hot cross buns available – traditional spicy and fruity, fruitless, chocolate, caramel, apple and cinnamon; and if you make them yourself you can put whatever you like in them.

The oldest known hot cross bun is over 200 years old. A couple in Essex, England, own this bun, accompanied by a letter stating it was made on Good Friday in 1807.  Rather than having the cross on the top made from  flour and water mix, it has been impressed with a blade, and there appears to be considerably less fruit than in today’s varieties. Although it is rock hard, it hasn’t gone mouldy, so maybe there is truth to some of the legends.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

First Encounter of War – SMS Emden

About 8,000 men and 4,000 horses, which made up the Main Body and 1st Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, embarked from Wellington in October 1914, sailing in a convoy via Australia to Europe to join the war. Ten troopships had been requisitioned by the NZ government from shipping companies to accommodate men and horses on this momentous voyage. The NZEF anchored in Hobart, Tasmania, for two days and the men went ashore for marching exercises. They re-embarked and sailed to Albany, Western Australia, on 28 October where they were joined by 28 Australian troopships and escort vessels and about 22,000 men and 3,500 horses.

The combined ANZAC fleet of 38 troopships and escorts, carrying 30,000 soldiers and 7,500 horses left Albany on 1 November 1915. Their destination was no longer Europe.

Turkey had declared war against the Allies only the day before, and the Expeditionary Force was diverted to Egypt. On that leg of the voyage, the convoy encountered war for the first time when sailing to Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. While the convoy was at sea, the Imperial German navy cruiser, SMS Emden, captained by Karl von Müller, had raided the Cocos Islands, also known as the Keeling Islands, in the Indian Ocean, in order to destroy British operations that were stationed there.

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Emden, beached on North Keeling Island, November 1914. (SLV, Public Domain)

The Emden was pursued and attacked by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney. She was badly damaged and run aground by von Müller to avoid sinking with all hands aboard. More than a third of her crew was killed and most of her surviving crewmen were taken prisoner. Captain von Müller escaped with a small crew in a commandeered schooner and managed to sail back to Germany.

The wounded German prisoners were sent to Australia while the uninjured were taken on board HMAS Sydney to Colombo and transferred to ships in the convoy. The prisoners were interned in Malta after their voyage north and finally repatriated to Germany in 1920.

The ship’s ensign somehow found its way into the hands of New Zealand soldiers. A series of holes in the linen, apparently made by shrapnel, are visible. The simple cotton ensign is composed of a white field with a red cross and a yellow crown at the centre of the cross. It was donated to the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1957.

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The ensign of the SMS Emden (WRM ref:1957.15)

Also in the Museum collection is a badly stained and dog-eared mimeographed issue of The Arrower, the newspaper of the NZEF aboard HMNZ Transport No.10 Arawa. The magazine records the Emden event in great detail alongside current events, the voyage schedule and poetry. Apparently, this copy of the Arrower was later sunk in a submarine and rescued and acquired by Captain Morgan of the first NZ Expeditionary Force, who donated it to the Museum in 1935. “A.H.W.” puts the Emden event into verse.

Sydney and Emden

Here’s to the Sydney cruiser,

That put the Emden out,

She beat the German bruiser,

With a good Australian clout,

No more the German pirate,

Will sink our helpless ships,

She took the count for the full amount,

When the Sydney came to grips.

 

The Germans wanted something soft,

So to the Cocos went,

The wireless saw him from aloft,

So “S.O.S.” was sent,

The Sydney quickly took the hint,

And turned her nose about,

In an hour or two the news came through,

The Emden’s down and out.

 

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

 

The first Telegram in Whanganui

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign Language

By Sandi Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Dictionaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bryce’s Smallest English Dictionary and carry case

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

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

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An excerpt from the Cockney Rhyming Slang dictionary

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

 

By Sandi Black, Archivist

The Rutland Stockade

B-ST-011

By Karen Wrigglesworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The River Rises Again

Looking up Victoria Avenue with the Post Office tower in the centre.  Unknown photographer, 1904 (W-F-053)

Looking up Victoria Avenue with the Post Office tower in the centre. Unknown photographer, 1904 (W-F-053)

As Whanganui recovers from the largest flood in recorded history, we are again reminded of the immense and untameable power of the mighty awa. There have been several events in the recorded past when the river has burst its banks and invaded the township, and even more before recorded history.

The first flood of note occurred in 1891 when rain fell continuously from Thursday 12 February until midday the following day. The river rose rapidly and was reported to have smelled of sulphur and carried a variety of detritus including timber, trees, waka, household furniture, grain and even sheep.

Whanganui River looking from Durie Hill towards Moutoa Gardens. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-018)

Whanganui River looking from Durie Hill towards Moutoa Gardens. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-018)

By 10.00am on Friday 13 February, the river water had invaded the boat sheds on Taupō Quay.  Hotels, which stored their wares in the cellar, and shop owners, had to remove their stock by boat to prevent loss. A growing crowd of residents gathered to watch the salvage work and the swelling river, and even observed some unlucky people attempting to get to their houses by boat, only to be capsized. By 2.00pm the river was only six inches from the town wharf and four feet below the deck of the Town Bridge.

Many boats and waka were washed out to sea, but the rowing clubs emptied their sheds to limit the loss. The Wanganui Harbour Board lost a dredge and a punt, and the steam launch Moutoa also came adrift, although it was later rescued at Pipiriki.

Flood water from Paul's Corner, Yarrows Fish Shop and Restaurant, Steam Packet Hotel, Prince of Wales Hotel, A Mason's Store. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-011)

Flood water from Paul’s Corner, Yarrows Fish Shop and Restaurant, Steam Packet Hotel, Prince of Wales Hotel, A Mason’s Store. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-011)

Residents recalled the earlier floods they had witnessed in 1858, 1864, and 1875, and Māori remembered earlier ones still, but this one was agreed to be the largest in living memory.

By 11.00pm on Saturday night Taupō Quay was dry, but the roaring river had left behind a lot of mud and a huge amount of clean-up work. The flood damaged the roads in the town, closed several rural roads, caused damage to the river bank, washed away sections of the railway and left others underwater, lifted telegraph poles and disrupted communications, and left parts of the Whangaehu Valley waist-deep in places.

Thirteen years later in 1904, the rain again fell for several days, and the unseasonable warmth of the rain melted the early snow upstream. The Whanganui River began to swell, and by 9.30pm on Wednesday 25 May, the water was on the road by the rowing sheds on Taupō Quay. An hour later the roads between the Metropolitan Hotel and Moutoa Gardens were submerged and people were canoeing in the flood waters.

Looking towards the Victoria Avenue and Taupō Quay intersection, James Thain & Co to the right Photographer: Unknown, 1904 (W-F-055)

Looking towards the Victoria Avenue and Taupō Quay intersection, James Thain & Co to the right
Photographer: Unknown, 1904 (W-F-055)

Despite the late hour, a crowd gathered to watch the drama unfold. Observers on the Town Bridge could feel it vibrating with the force of the water flowing beneath, and the police were called in to dissuade loiterers, for fear the bridge would be washed away and take them with it.

By dawn the next day the river was over a foot above the 1891 flood lines and almost three times its usual width. The massive and powerful flow washed some riverside houses away, invaded many more, and left streets underwater.

Flood waters near the Union Bank of Australia Co. Ltd on Victoria Avenue Photographer: Possibly W H T Partington, 1904 (W-F-063a)

Flood waters near the Union Bank of Australia Co. Ltd on Victoria Avenue
Photographer: Possibly W H T Partington, 1904 (W-F-063a)

Those who owned carts and boats made the most of the situation by charging a nominal fee to ferry passengers to the best spots to witness the flood, although those not licensed to carry passengers were later fined by the police. This was a time when amateur photography was really starting to take off, so those with portable cameras took the opportunity to capture the event. Water began to subside at 11.30am on Sunday morning, again leaving a huge amount of mud and silt behind.

On Friday 23 and Saturday 24 February 1940 the rain fell heavily in the back country causing the river to flood again. The hardest hit areas in the town included Taupō Quay, Wanganui East, Aramoho, and Pūtiki. In Anzac Parade the water was up to three feet deep, covering gardens and entering houses and drowning the rides in Kōwhai Park. Residents were given plenty of warning to evacuate their houses and try to salvage what they could before the waters hit.

Spectators watching rowers outside the rowing clubs on Taupō Quay. Photographer: C F Newham & Co, 1940 (W-F-080)

Spectators watching rowers outside the rowing clubs on Taupō Quay. Photographer: C F Newham & Co, 1940 (W-F-080)

The Wanganui–Wellington road was blocked at Whangaehu, and the Parapara and Pipirīkī roads were blocked by slips. Rural bridges were swept away and witnesses recalled the Whangaehu Valley looking like an inland lake.  A dredge broke free near Wanganui East and smashed into the Dublin Street Bridge, then passed under the Town Bridge before crashing into the Imlay Wharf. And at the peak of the flood at midday on Saturday, the waters on Taupō Quay were over two feet deep; however, damage to stock and premises was not as bad as first feared.

Then on Saturday 10 March 1990, 30 hours of solid rain caused the river to burst its banks again. Kōwhai Park and Anzac Parade went underwater and Civil Defence evacuated many residents. Some tried to protect their houses with sandbags but the waters flowed over them, and the flow was strong enough to rearrange the furniture in several homes. Although high enough to submerge Corliss Island, the river only just managed to touch the road behind the old Chronicle buildings on Taupō Quay, sparing the business district from too much damage.

A car is stranded in flood waters. Photographer: Unknown, 1940 (W-F-134)

A car is stranded in flood waters. Photographer: Unknown, 1940 (W-F-134)

Part of the job of the Whanganui Regional Museum is documenting our community. In 100 years, people will want to know what the great flood of 2015 was like. We have archival photos of the flooding in 1904 and 1940, but many of the photos and videos created over the last 10 days might end up being lost or deleted or locked away in Facebook. We would like to add some to our digital collection.

If you have photos or videos of the flood that you would like to donate to the Museum for future generations, email them to the Archivist on sandib@wrm.org.nz. Remember to include in the email:

  1. Date, time and place it was taken, as best you can remember
  2. The (full) names of anyone shown
  3. What is important or significant about the photo/video; imagine you’re explaining it to your grandkids.

Sandi will contact you with any paperwork required, and the images will be accessioned into the Museum’s database with you noted as the donor. Help us record this event for posterity.

Wanganui Woollen Mills

Aerial shot of Wanganui Woollen Mills circa 1990

Aerial shot of Wanganui Woollen Mills circa 1990

By Trish Nugent-Lyne, Collection Manager

The Wanganui Woollen Mills was a major feature in the Whanganui and New Zealand business landscape, being at one stage the second largest woollen mill in New Zealand.  Located in Kelvin Street, Aramoho it is now known as SaveMart, a clothing recycling company.

Spinning frame in operation circa 1960s -70s.

Spinning frame in operation circa 1960s -70s.

The Wanganui Woollen Mills started its life in the early 1920s when Whanganui was on the crest of an economic wave and many inhabitants had the drive to create new industries. Mr R D McDonald of Hawick, Scotland, was invited to Wanganui to advise on the feasibility of operating a mill here. Wanganui was thought to be an ideal location for a mill because it was central to a large wool growing area, was a growing distribution centre, and had a potential workforce.

 

A public company was formed at a meeting of business and commercial men, farmers, and investors in March 1920 with a nominal capital of £200,000 in shares raised.  Land was purchased in Aramoho in 1922 and Mr T. H. Battle was commissioned as architect. Eight tenders were received to build the woollen mill, and the award was given to Mr A.G. Bignell in June 1923 for his tender of £25,825. Bignell later became one of the directors of the company.

There was a delay between the forming of the company and the onset of construction which caused some anxiety among shareholders, and some called for the company to go into liquidation before it had even started.  However, by the time machinery was actually purchased from the United Kingdom the costs had subsided and a substantial saving was made. The directors naturally took the credit for delaying the purchase until the market showed such favourable signs.

Official opening of the Wanganui Woollen Mills 12 September 1924

Official opening of the Wanganui Woollen Mills 12 September 1924

The first manager to be appointed, Mr J B Porteous, was from Scotland, as was much of the machinery and several employees. Wanganui Woollen Mills was officially opened by the Governor-General Lord Jellico, Mayor Mr Hope Gibbons, and Chairman of Directors Mr W. J. Polson on 12 September 1924, with a large crowd of locals and other dignitaries gathered to mark the occasion.  It was the twelfth woollen mill to be built in New Zealand  but as it was the first to be driven by electricity it was certainly the most advanced.

Display of Wanganui Woollen Mills products in the D.I.C. windows for the Wanganui Industries Week, 25 February to 2 March 1946.

Display of Wanganui Woollen Mills products in the D.I.C. windows for the Wanganui Industries Week, 25 February to 2 March 1946.

Herbert Holroyd came to manage Wanganui Woollen Mills in the mid-1920s, from his previous position as manager of the Napier Woollen Mills. During the hardship of the early depression years the Mills almost went out of business but in 1931 it was purchased by National Woollen Mills, of which Holroyd was a major shareholder, and became a private company. The Holroyd family was to have a leading role in the Mills with three generations of the Holroyd family managing it.

As well as the familiar blankets, the Mills also produced fabrics for men’s and women’s fashion clothing, including Scottish tweeds with very distinct Whanganui names such as Aramoho, Putiki, and Virginia.  In the mid-1930s the Mills bought out Haydens, a Wellington based clothing company, and moved its operation to the Wanganui plant, adding sports coats, work trousers, skirts and school wear to the production range.

Advertising photographs of the Mills line of Sportswear, samples of which were taken to the U.S.A. in September 1979 by the Managing Director David Holroyd.

Advertising photographs of the Mills line of Sportswear, samples of which were taken to the U.S.A. in September 1979 by the Managing Director David Holroyd.

The Mills continued to expand their range and popularity.  During World War II the Mills went into 24 hour operation producing fabric for uniforms, blankets and other essentials for the war effort.  By the end of the 1950s the Mills started moving away from fashion wear and began to focus more on work garments and sportswear. In the 1980s upholstery fabrics were added to the repertoire and became its leading export product. By 1984 Wanganui Woollen Mills was producing 1,000,000 square metres of cloth making it the second largest woollen mill in New Zealand.

However that economic high was not to last and the effect of aged plant, skyrocketing wool prices, the opening up of the domestic market to cheap foreign goods, as well as the competition provided by the improvement of synthetic fabrics all led to its demise in 1995 when it went into liquidation and was sold with the loss of 110 jobs.