St John’s Hill

Location, Location, Location


From the Museum collection, we present a selection of land sale posters printed during the boom years of Whanganui. These posters illustrate the suburban development that was a feature of Whanganui from the 1890s to the 1920s.


In the late nineteenth century Whanganui was a flourishing town with a growing population and excellent prospects in commerce, education, building and the finer things in life.  Prosperity created a demand for land on which to build houses and businesses. Landowners sold property to meet demand and turn a profit while auctioneers and estate agents provided a needed service and received a comfortable income.


The tramways, the Castlecliff Railway and the building of the Dublin Street Bridge during the early 1900s provided easy access between town and suburb. The Wanganui Borough Council boundaries were extended throughout the first two and a half decades of the twentieth century to include suburbs that had grown haphazardly beyond the original town boundaries. The ever-increasing population in these new residential areas led to Whanganui being granted city status in 1924, when the population reached 24,740.


As the stories of local subdivisions show, place names tell a lot about the people of the time, their personal histories and associations, what they treasured and whom they loved.



1802.605.2.Hair Estate, 8 August 1891

After the death of William Hair in 1853, his property Virginia Farm was gradually sold off.  Governor Sir George Grey was among those who wanted to buy the Lake and some of the surrounding land to build a home on. In 1874, however, Hair’s widow, Jane Hair, sold Virginia Lake to the Borough Council for £500 for the town water supply. One of the first roads established in the area was Krull’s Lane (also shown on the 1903 poster as Krull’s Road).  This led to the home of Ferdinand Krull, former German Consul for New Zealand and partner in Freeman R Jackson and Co.  A burst of partriotism during World War I provoked the Council to change the German name of Krull to Oakland Avenue.


1802.605.1St John’s Hill, around 1903

The development and growth of public transport made outer suburbs such as St John’s Hill increasingly desirable. The sale of the Alexander Estate was followed by that of the Parkes family land, sold by Frank Parkes. He was the grandson of Samuel Parkes, who had bought 100 acres on the hill in 1841 and named it after his family’s London suburban home. In 1903 the first steps were taken to improve the appearance of the overgrown Virginia Lake, with a proposition for the creation of botanical gardens.


1802.605.5Walker Estate, Aramoho, date unknown

John Walker was the first proprietor of the Aramoho Hotel (established in 1866 in the Roberts Avenue area) and a keen supporter of horse racing. When his estate was sold, land developers hoped to attract buyers with promises of imminent borough status and amenities such as piped water and gas that such status would bring. Ultimately, Aramoho failed to become an independent borough and in 1910 it was absorbed into the town borough.


1802.605.8Township of Durie Vale, date unknown

In the area originally known as Purua Major David Stark Durie, Resident Magistrate during the 1850s and 60s, named his valley property Durie Vale. The homestead he built in the valley was given the name of Glen Durie. With the success of local rower William Webb in the World Sculling race in 1907, the Council named the only developed road in the area Webb Road. After the subdivision of the land by Whanganui businessmen John George Sharpe and William Bassett, the name of Durie Vale was restored for the winding road along the edge of the valley.


1802.605.9Durie Hill Garden Suburb, around 1919

Despite designer Samuel Hurst Seager’s grandiose plans, the Garden Suburb never quite eventuated. This Christchurch architect proposed a radical departure from the ordered lines of previous suburbs, with curving streets and areas reserved for gardens, orchards and bowling greens. Instead The Shrubbery became Tower Crescent, after the completion of the Memorial Tower in 1925, and The Rosary became Windsor Place, after resident Leslie Nott, a staunch Mason, objected to the name and requested the Council change it to a good British one. Only the East and West Ways survive.


1802.605.6Georgetti Estate, 28 January 1911

In 1896 Augustine Georgetti purchased 244 acres of Major John Nixon’s Sedgebrook Estate for £20 per acre. Georgetti named the area Bastia Hill after his birthplace, Bastia, the largest town on the island of Corsica. Like many of the early large estates, the Georgetti lands were gradually broken up and subdivided by succeeding generations of the family with the pressure of eager buyers wanting to build just outside the town boundaries to escape rate levies.


Letters from the Front

With centenary commemorations of the First World War underway and continuing for the next five years, more and more stories are emerging; stories of love, stories of loss, and they all help us to remember the effect of the war on everyone at the front and at home.  The Museum was lucky to have recently been donated a collection of archives and images from the Wilson and MacKinnon families in Whanganui that tell yet another wartime story.

2014.61.2 a Arthur Wilson served as a Private in the 24th Reinforcements F Company of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  He was trained at Featherston Military Camp before relocating to Trentham and finally embarking for England on 16th April 1917.  Like many soldiers he wrote regular letters home, including to his sister Mag (Margaret) Wilson who lived at Alton Villa on St John’s Hill in Wanganui, and several of these letters are included in the collection.

2014.61.30Mag was a suit maker during the war, and Arthur made comment in his letters that she would be running out of clients based on the number of troops he witnessed coming into camp.  Once overseas, Arthur tells Mag about his continued weapons training and the conditions both in camp and at the front.  He comments on the ton of mud that stuck to his boots while serving in the trenches in France, and that his feet were never warm.  A highlight for him, despite the circumstances, was being in isolation with measles which took him away from the action during November 1917.

In March 1918 Arthur wrote about another break from the front: “We are away behind the line just now, & it is just alright to be there. Four of us are doing guard work in a small village just now. I can hear those guns roaring away, I simply hate the sound, & I don’t want to be any closer to them but I suppose we will soon be up near them again.”

2014.61.41Another common theme in Arthur’s letters is his love of his hometown Wanganui, and he often expresses the desire to return to the quiet town and live out his life in peace.  However, Arthur did not come home again; he was killed in action on 24th August 1918 at Bapaume, France, aged 35 years.  He is buried at the Grevillers British Cemetery at Pas-de-Calais.

2014.61.22Throughout the letters, Arthur refers to his friend who was also Mag’s sweetheart.  Duncan “Mack” MacKinnon was from Edinburgh, Scotland, but enlisted in the 10th Reinforcements New Zealand Engineers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  Mack embarked to Suez, Egypt, on 4th March 1916, but this collection includes only one of his letters, which he wrote to Mag on 28th May 1918.  He thanks her for the portrait she sent but writes that he is awaiting “the other one”, stating he wished he could be there to take it himself but it would require them having the house to themselves to do so rather than risking it by ‘their tree’ or round by the lake.  There is no mention if this photograph was created or received.

Mack survived the war.  He sent a telegram to Mag in February 1920 saying he had been demobilised and would return home, but he didn’t make it back to New Zealand until May.  They wasted no time and were married before the year had finished.