Brunswick School

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.

1. hopper

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.

2. log

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.

3. earwig

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.


Early School Memories

Education has been an important feature of the Whanganui region since its earliest beginnings. For Māori most learning was done within the whanau, but there were also schools of special learning. With the arrival of Christian missionaries English-style schools were set up. Because of the importance the local community placed on learning, Whanganui became the education centre of the central North Island.

The school logbook was used by the head teacher to record the activities of each day. Attendance records, punishments, problems and the weather were constantly commented on. The quotes used here come from the Brunswick School and Kai Iwi School logbooks, dated between 1880 and 1915.

The School

Yesterday the School was used for election purposes and when I opened the school in the morning I found things had been left upside down generally. I insisted upon the Returning Officer, who came along at the time, putting things as they were found. I really think, when the school is used for any purpose outside school work it should be left as found especially as I am responsible for the care taken of the school and its furniture. The Returning Officer seemed to think that it was the teacher’s place to put things straight.

 Found on opening the school that the seat of a long desk had been broken during last night’s church service: reported matter.

Throughout today the ponies in school grounds having been quarrelling and squealing at 3.20 pm one of them kicked the school porch breaking one of the boards.

Gonville School Staff in about 1915. Back row: Miss D Martin, Mr W Williams, Miss K McCormick, Miss S T Andrews, Miss M S Tuffin, Mr C H Bowater, Miss M Curham. Front row: Mr H Wood, Mr S H Gould

Gonville School Staff in about 1915. Back row: Miss D Martin, Mr W Williams, Miss K McCormick, Miss S T Andrews, Miss M S Tuffin, Mr C H Bowater, Miss M Curham. Front row: Mr H Wood, Mr S H Gould


Attendance was often irregular for a variety of reasons.

Robert absent for week. Doctor suspects scarlet fever symptoms.

Weather wet. Attendance very bad only 2 girls present.

Attendance this week has been very poor owing to harvesting in the district.

Fine weather this week.  Elder boys kept at home to assist with ploughing and planting.

Race day: only 19 scholars in attendance.

Harvest Festival put together by Central Infants School pupils, who colloquially referred to themselves as the Sinful Infants, 1921

Harvest Festival put together by Central Infants School pupils, who colloquially referred to themselves as the Sinful Infants, 1921


Monthly exam. P2 Work needing most attention Arithmetic, Geography & Drawing.

Have adopted a new plan for the drawing lessons and am trying figures of birds and animals to be copied from B.B. These at any rate, are more interesting to the children than the conventional figures they are so tired of. Took a pig and a rooster this week and, for first attempts, got some very good work.

Arithmetic in Standard V is rather weak. In St II it seems to be very fair; but very foolish mistakes are sometimes made. Recitation throughout the school is now very good. There sometimes seems to be some of the old carelessness left even yet, but it does not often crop up.

Queens Park School newly built in 1920

Queens Park School newly built in 1920


Planting and maintaining a good school garden was considered useful training and had special resonance in rural areas.

Garden Tools: 5 Spades, 5 Digging forks, 5 Dutch hoes, 5 Garden rakes, 6 Hand forks

The following seeds were planted today: 1 pkt cabbage (Enfields Market.2oz S. Ammonia), 1 Row onions (Giant Rocca 1oz Super Phos), 1 Row onions, (Giant Rocca 1oz Sul. Ammonia), 1 Row Potatoes (British Green ½lb Nitrate Soda), 1 British Green (½lb Blood), 1 Row Beet, (¼lb S. Ammonia), 3 Rows Purple Top. (3oz Blood), 3 Rows Purple Top (3oz Superphosphate).

The weather continues fine and favours the gardening.

Observed Arbour Day when 50 hedge-plants were planted along the road-side.

St Johns Infant School, Primer III class, 1915

St Johns Infant School, Primer III class, 1915

The Teacher

Taking lessons seemed to be only a small part of the teacher’s job.

Received note from Mr. B objecting to his son remaining after school to take part with others in sweeping the school. Answered that school cleaning was in the hands of the Committee … It was decided that the Committee cannot force a child to take part in sweeping if its parents object.

Lunches have been missed from school porch this week. Boys suspected one of the Primers as the culprit. Have been informed that the thefts were committed by a certain stray dog which took bag, lunch etc.

Pupils and staff of Raumai School, 1920.

Pupils and staff of Raumai School, 1920.


Children were physically punished for many different reasons.

Five boys stayed at dinner-hour in paddock (to which they are allowed to go to play cricket) 15 minutes after time. Caned them according to age and size. Lost time to be made up at Playtime tomorrow.

I have found it necessary to cane all pupils in 2nd Standard for not learning the Spelling lesson with meanings.

Caned John for carelessness in Arithmetic … after caning him I observed that he managed to get the whole perfectly correct without being shown a single sum.

Caned David (6) for stealing an apple from the school porch.

Brunswick School, 1922

Brunswick School, 1922


Without modern medicines children were often absent, sometimes for quite long periods.

Found on one child tiny white nits adhering to the hair: reported matter to the Chairman suggesting that notices to parents should be sent direct from Committee as such a notice coming from a teacher would entail endless disputes with parents.

Four pupils are at home with Influenza, while a new epidemic is now visiting us in the shape of sore throats accompanied by troublesome swellings. Am seriously contemplating interviewing the Chairman re closing the school for a week.

Kaitoke School pupils with teacher and school dog, 1902

Kaitoke School pupils with teacher and school dog, 1902


Important occasions were often celebrated with a holiday.

Tomorrow is a general holiday for all schools on account of Election Day.

School closed Nov. 18th Wanganui Agricultural & Pastoral Show – People’s Day.

The Committee at its monthly meeting last evening decided to forego the usual annual picnic and ask the pupils to make the proceeds as a present to the Belgium Relief Fund …