Wanganui Chronicle

When the Mystery Airship Came to Town

At the start of the twentieth century, flying was the latest in a number of new technologies to capture public imagination. The American Wright Brothers are recognised as first to invent and fly a heavier-than-air craft in 1903, although Canterbury’s Richard Pearse is said by some to have beaten the Wrights at taking to the air. In Europe, German Count Zeppelin’s airships were flying from 1900.

Between June and August of 1909, a wave of mysterious aircraft sightings were reported in New Zealand. Beginning in Southland and travelling up the country, making stops both urban and rural areas, the craft was described as egg or cigar-shaped, equipped with lights and an undercarriage, and flew completely silently. Reflecting concerns of the time, hundreds of onlookers and the media speculated the machine and its crew may have been local inventors, Martians, or German intelligence-gatherers.

In a July report, children and adults at Kelso School in Otago saw the craft with crew in broad daylight one Friday lunchtime, and it was also seen the next day. Scientific explanations (fire balloons, flocks of birds) failed to quell what was becoming a frenzy. The Reverend P W Fairclough’s letter calling for calm was published nationally. “The airship craze is getting beyond a joke. There is a danger of our level-headed community becoming a laughing-stock not only to New Zealand, but to Australia and even to the greater world beyond… I hope this extraordinary popular delusion will speedily sink”. In Whanganui, the Chronicle took a dismissive tone, noting “there is nothing convincing to report”. But within weeks, the airship arrived in local skies.

On the evening of 3 August, “two wild-eyed youths dashed into the Chronicle office” reporting a “huge airship” passing over Mosston. Another eyewitness on the Town Bridge reported seeing an airship fly down river from Aramoho towards Castlecliff: “It was flying at a height of about two hundred feet and I could distinctly see its two large wings, which made a hissing sound … Sir, seeing is believing”. Two members of the telephone exchange had watched lights travel over Durie Hill the night before, and Feilding residents also saw them.


Charlie Baker’s letter regarding his sighting of the airship.  Wanganui Chronicle, 13 August 1909, p.7.


On Wednesday 11 August at 3.25am, Charlie Baker of Taylorville was “waiting for a lady friend coming from a party” when he saw a well-lit airship travel towards town from Maxwell, stop over Durie Hill and return the same way. Travelling to where he thought the airship stopped, he found no trace of its visit, aside from a milkman who saw it as well, but concluded, “I am quite satisfied now there is something in these strange sights after all”.

Letter 2

Airship Fever took hold of a lot of people, including the young, as outlined in this news snippet.  Wanganui Chronicle, 6 August 1909, p.4.

Suddenly, in mid-August, sightings in New Zealand ceased. From September 1909, the mystery airships moved to Australia, and a large wave of sightings in Britain was reported in 1913 amidst fear and rumours of war with Germany. There were also sightings in Canada and South Africa.

New Zealanders struggled to explain the phenomenon in 1909, and an explanation has never been found. The likeliest is that most people saw nothing at all, and were influenced by current events and the exaggerated reports of others. The timing of the sightings is interesting; they took place only months after a rare meteorite landed off the coast of Castlecliff, and less than a year after the massive impact event in Tunguska, Siberia. In a period when humans were taking to the skies – and the skies were coming to humans – airship visitors from parts unknown were not as far-fetched as we might think!

Airship visit Christmas 1914

An airship of the kind spotted by Whanganui residents delivers Christmas presents to a New Zealand house. Auckland Weekly News, 17 December 1914.


Scott Flutey is a Collection Assistant at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Margaret Bullock – Whanganui Suffragist

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

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

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

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

1. Telegram to Sheppard

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

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

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

2. Election memento 1899

 Memento of the Wanganui Election 1899. Ref: 1932.6.4

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

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

3. Book of Wanganui River

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

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


Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum

Hōne Heke and the Flagpole

Getting close and personal with taonga (treasures) that speak of people and nations is one of the many things that make working at the Whanganui Regional Museum special. It would be easy to write a sexy piece about something elaborate or breath-taking, but I have chosen a very unassuming chunk of a painted wooden pole.

1. Flagpole

“Part of a flagpole”; one, in fact, cut down by Hone Heke. Ref: TH.1321

The label simply reads “TH.1231. Part of a flagpole”. Some pretty intense research, however, has revealed an amazing story. This 50cm length of flagpole is an important part of Aotearoa history; it is a section of the fourth flagstaff that the legendary Hōne Heke chopped down.

At school we were taught about this “troublemaker”, the flagpole-felling rebel who was finally subdued by Governor George Grey. But there is more to Hōne Heke than meets the eye.

Hōne Wiremu Heke Pōkai was a great rangatira (chief) and war strategist from Ngā Puhi, who was the first to sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi. After Māori leaders of The United Tribes signed the Declaration of Independence on 28 October 1835 and declared their sovereignty, Hōne gifted a flagstaff to Kororāreka (Russell) so that the United Tribes flag could be flown.

In 1836 King William IV sanctioned The United Tribes Declaration and the flag, making it our nation’s first official flag. Used until 1902, this flag featured on the medals presented to soldiers who served in the South African War (1899–1902).

2. First NZ flag

 The first NZ flag, sanctioned by King William IV in 1836 and used until 1900, was chosen by Māori of the United Tribes who signed the Declaration of Independence on 28 October 1835.
Source:, the website of Manatū Taonga-Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Licensed by Manatū Taonga-Ministry for Culture and Heritage for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 3.0 New Zealand License.

After the signing of the Tiriti o Waitangi, Governor Hobson had the United Tribes flag removed from the flagstaff and flew the British flag there. Hōne Heke saw this as a rejection of the equal status of Māori with the government. He wished to show his objection without hurting or alarming settlers so cut his flagstaff down on 8 July 1844, and wrote to the new Governor Fitzroy on 19 June:

 Friend Governor… I am thinking of leaving off my rude conduct towards the Europeans. Now I say that I will prepare another pole … in order to put an end to our present quarrel. … The pole that was cut down belonged to me, I made it for the native flag, and it was never paid for by the Europeans.

The flagstaff was replaced and the British flag re-flown, increasing Māori disquiet. Hōne cut down replacement flagstaffs on 10 January and 18 January 1845. A military presence was established in Kororāreka in February and Governor Fitzroy posted a £100 reward for the arrest of Hōne Heke. It is rumoured that Heke responded by offering a £100 reward for the governor’s head!

On 30 December 1897 the Wanganui Chronicle published a letter by Samuel Drew, our Museum founder, stating that James J Clendon Esq, RM, sent him the piece of flagpole and “vouched” its authenticity. Clendon was a ship owner and captain before settling in Pēwhairangi (Bay of Islands) in 1832. A successful merchant, farmer, JP, Police Magistrate, and eventually Magistrate of the Court, he collected the pole whilst holding the position of Police Magistrate. The article reads:

… the last chopping down of this staff that was the starting point of that Hone Heke war which proved so disastrous to our troops. …  He considered that while the British flag was floating there the Pakeha would acquire Maori land and with it a power that would oust the Maori, much in the same way as the white people were doing in Van Dieman’s Land and Australia …

Drew continued:

… to prevent any more chopping iron plates were fastened round its base, and a block house built round it so that the staff came through the centre of the roof. This time it was left unmolested until March 11th, 1845, when in the first grey of the morning an attack was made. … The strong iron casing on the flagstaff did not protect it for the Maoris quickly dug below the iron and soon chopped it through. Here it fell and lay on the ground for many years. … Our soldiers were afterwards sent several times to chastise Heke. He was a noble old warrior and fought well, and was never beaten, but our troops suffered severely in the assaults on their strong pahs.

This plain, humble piece of wood is the essence of our nation’s history.


Āwhina Twomey is Kaitiaki Taonga Māori and Kaiwhakaako at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Prince Edward in Wanganui for one day in 1920

Invitation to a supper party held at the Sarjeant Gallery in honour of the Prince of Wales. Notice the date is for 30 April, the date originally scheduled for HRH’s visit to Wanganui. (1968.89.10)

Invitation to a supper party held at the Sarjeant Gallery in honour of the Prince of Wales. Notice the date is for 30 April, the date originally scheduled for HRH’s visit to Wanganui.

A recent article in the Wanganui Chronicle develops a most interesting discussion of the formidable succession of royal visitors to Wanganui in past years.

Mayor Charles Mackay receives HRH the Prince of Wales in a public ceremony in Cooks Gardens on 4 May 1920. (RO.V.74)

Mayor Charles Mackay receives HRH the Prince of Wales in a public ceremony in Cooks Gardens on 4 May 1920. (RO.V.74)

Yet most surprisingly, the article omits all mention of HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII. On 4 May 1920, the Chronicle was not to be misled and devotes an entire page to the Prince’s visit to Wanganui. Perhaps the most striking column discusses a Citizens’ Loyal Address to the Prince, edited by the distinguished historian, T W Downes, and illustrated by twelve watercolour sketches of scenes in and about Wanganui by artists of the calibre of Charles Duncan Hay-Campbell.


The souvenir programme from the Wanganui RSA Reception and Concert to HRH the Prince of Wales. (2011.94)

The souvenir programme from the Wanganui RSA Reception and Concert to HRH the Prince of Wales. (2011.94)

Since no trace of this brilliant illustrated address has been discovered to date, I have been writing to possible libraries and art galleries in the UK in order to discover its present whereabouts. The most likely reply was sent to me in 2009 by Brigadier John Smedley,  Private Secretary to the Earl and Countess of Wessex: “I am sorry to say that no trace of the Loyal Address has been found in the Royal Archives or elsewhere although extensive searches have been undertaken. I understand that the moves and disruption during the Second World War resulted in many losses, and it is sad that the Wanganui Address is among them.”

HRH inspecting troops at the official welcome held at Cooks Gardens in Wanganui. Afterwards the Prince presented medals to a number of returned servicemen. (1970.23.2)

HRH inspecting troops at the official welcome held at Cooks Gardens in Wanganui. Afterwards the Prince presented medals to a number of returned servicemen. (1970.23.2)

Yet there has been some compensation in the fact that a collection of the intensely revealing letters written by the Prince to his mistress at the time, Freda Dudley Ward, has been recently purchased by the Alexander Turnbull Library. These letters were usually dashed off late at night and with utter frankness by Prince Edward, and reveal his spontaneous and at times peevish responses to the carefully planned events of the royal tour.

Thus, on 4 May, the Prince writes from the Imperial Hotel, Wanganui (at 1.00 am): “such a pompous address beloved, but it’s really a miserable hole;  no electric light & the hotel boilers elected to burst before dinner so no baths & a vewy nasty dinner!!  But we are all pretty peeved tonight as we’ve really had a desperately twying day…”.

The Imperial Hotel, Victoria Avenue in Wanganui, of which the Prince of Wales complained bitterly. (B-H-059)

The Imperial Hotel, Victoria Avenue in Wanganui, of which the Prince of Wales complained bitterly. (B-H-059)

A useful image of the Imperial Hotel, Victoria Avenue, survives in this photo by Frank Denton, dated 1913. Two motor cars flank the hotel. (Could they be a pair of Willys-Overland Roadsters in the 1910 model?)  Whatever the case, the hotel was already showing signs of decay and the Prince would have been conscious of this when he addressed the assembled crowd from the first floor balcony.

Saucer from the Imperial Hotel, Wanganui, taken by a waitress who served the monarch. (2011.94)

Saucer from the Imperial Hotel, Wanganui, taken by a waitress who served HRH. (2011.94)

Next day the Prince and his entourage moved on by car to Palmerston North, where HRH presented his own message to the ”Children of New Zealand”. A finely coloured leaflet was circulated among the children gathered at Palmerston North, and this survives in a number of libraries. He wanted them all to bear in mind that they should “never do or say a dishonest thing” and “always remember other people’s interests when pursuing your own” and “play for the side and play the game.”

Precepts 2 and 3 may seem ironic in the light of Edward’s later life and abdication.

Perhaps a more apt and indeed lyrical summation in 1990 in Philip Zeigler’s official biography, King Edward VIII is “Edward’s character was evanescent, bewildering, rippling and swirling like a mountain stream which is whipped by the wind and broken by the boulders in its path”!


By Ian Laurenson

Ian Laurenson was formerly Senior Lecturer in English at Monash University, Australia. He is now living in retirement, writing about a collection of annotated postcards from World War I. He contributes to the Museum’s research programme.

Pressing Business

Proofing press

Some of the items we feature in From the Vaults are stored somewhere in the giant labyrinth beneath the museum, catalogued and carefully kept in temperature-controlled conditions until needed for display or research. Others are presented proudly behind glass, under lights or on models as part of a current or ongoing museum exhibition. Seldom do we find something that is in use, still doing the same job it was designed to do more than a century ago.
The museum is in possession of an ancient proofing press, once part of the Wanganui Chronicle plant and equipment, and now a working exhibit in the Whanganui Regional Museum tactile collection. When it was in daily use as a newspaper tool, printing staff would use it to print each page for proofing purposes, enabling a practised eye to be cast over the newsprint before going to press.
Museum educator, Margie Beautrais uses the machine as an educational tool at the museum. “We have the wooden poster type,” she says, “which is very old and very precious, and we feel really lucky to be allowed to use these with kids.”
The wooden type comes in many sizes and is stored in their original type drawers, also sourced from the Chronicle. Unfortunately, the museum does not possess a full complement of any particular font.
Included among the carved wooden letters is an array of logos and graphic art, once used in newspaper advertising. Margie has arranged all the letters in sizes so posters can be created with differing font styles of the same size. It works well and the posters look great.
“It’s all good learning for kids,” she says. “They find out that this stuff is called ‘furniture’ (wooden blocks used for line spacing) and these things are called ‘quoins’ (metal wedges) and they have to learn the writing goes backwards.”
Margie showed me some of the old Chronicle art she has used to create themed posters. There are ads and logos for long gone Wanganui companies, pictures of riverboats, Christmas art, the Wanganui District Council crest – all stamped in metal and glued to wooden blocks.
“Every child gets a tray, they get to choose a picture and they have to think of a word to go with it. It’s really good for supporting literacy,” she says. “I do a demo for them and they help me find the letters, working in pairs or by themselves.”
Margie holds up a mirror for the children to check their work before they move over to the press to ink it up and print a copy. The posters are then hung to dry and given to the school the following day.
When the proof press was given to the museum it went straight to the education programme, where it has been retained. “The value of it as an educational tool is high,” says Margie. “It’s not getting damaged. It’s fairly robust.”
To see it used as it was intended in a museum context is refreshing. “It’s old and it’s cool and it’s still being used,” she says. “I would love more schools to come and do this programme. It doesn’t get used as often as I would like. I’d like to run this programme every week.”
Teachers interested in any of the educational programmes on offer are urged to contact the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek on 2nd May 2 2012. Reproduced with permission from the publishers.

A Who’s Who of Who Mattered

Liz Hamblyn looks through the museum's copy of Wanganui New Zealand Who's Who.

Liz Hamblyn looks through the museum’s copy of Wanganui New Zealand Who’s Who.

The Whanganui Regional Museum is a seemingly never-ending source of local treasures, one of which was unearthed by front-of-house staff member Liz Hamblyn. It’s a book, printed and published in 1915 by the Wanganui Chronicle, entitled Wanganui New Zealand Who’s Who.
Published just four years after Wanganui Coronation Souvenir 1911, and following a similar format, Who’s Who is a rich depository of Wanganui pictorial and textual biography and snippets of contemporary information and interesting historical trivia.
It’s a fascinating historical document that is almost impossible to obtain. For an overview of the important male population of the time there is nothing superior.
“It’s got everybody,” says Liz. “It’s got Mr Sigley, master plumber, borough councillor, director of public museum … vice-president of the Wanganui branch of the Political Reform League. These chaps were busy!” And there, in glorious monochrome, is a photographic portrait of the illustrious gentleman; splendid, hirsute and unsmiling, as studio poses were then.
The names read like a street index of modern Wanganui, so many of these chaps gave their name to a piece of bitumen or some feature when the town was still establishing itself. “There’s Mr Spriggens,” noted Liz, referring to the chap who gave us the Grand Hotel and the name for a prominent sporting park.
There are photographs of the newly-built Wanganui Collegiate School in Liverpool St and a portrait of AA Willis nearby. We looked at ‘Photographs of Merit: portraits by FJ Denton’, who was a photographer of note at the time.
Being 1915, with the Great War in full swing, there’s a strong military presence and photographs of men in uniform fill many a glossy page.
I noted there seemed to be no women included in the publication but Liz searched and found a few, including CM Cruickshank, MA, MSc, principal of Wanganui Girl’s College; and Miss Elizabeth Dunn, Divisional Surgeon of St John’s Ambulance Brigade.
“It reflects an era, a time,” says Liz, when asked why she chose this book as her ‘Vaults’ subject. “And you know these people; you read about them.” Not only that, but many of us are descended from them. That makes this book a valuable family album of sorts. Liz reeled off name after famous name – Polson, Porritt, Poynter, Purnell … The book also features photographs of landmark buildings, many of which remain.

The book begins with a long, glowing, wordy introduction that reads a lot like an advertisement, enticing the traveller to visit, the citizen to stay and anyone else to set up shop and house here: “Wanganui, already one of the most important towns in New Zealand, is destined to rank outside the four cities as the foremost port in the Dominion. It has been most favourably endowed by nature and the people of the town and district being alive to the magnitude of its potential so nothing can stop its progress.”
The introduction then goes on to give the depth of water at the port, suggesting that even ocean liners could berth at Castlecliff. The text lists the industries and businesses that made the town prosper and makes much of Wanganui’s natural beauty and the existence of a beautifying society to enhance what nature provided. The population at the time, as noted in the book, was more than 13,000.
This reporter would like to know what happened to the 45,000 volumes which comprised the Cosmopolitan Club library, as mentioned in the book.
Just before publication, the publishers, the Wanganui Chronicle, sent a letter to the Borough Council asking if arrangements could be made, similar to those made for the Wanganui Souvenir, when the council purchased 2000 copies for distribution on ocean liners “trading between the Mother Country and New Zealand” and for the principal libraries of the world. There is no newspaper record of that having taken place for the Who’s Who.
One thing Liz did point out was the appearance of the odd “rare, interior shot”. The outside of buildings is a common photographic subject, but seldom do we see the inside.
Mostly, the book consists of miniature portraits of people with their name and occupation listed beneath. “If you read the old newspapers,” says Liz, “you’ll see these names on committees.”

A reader could spend hours poring over the portraits and pictures, making discoveries on every page. If it ever makes its way on to the book stands in facsimile form, I’m sure it would be guaranteed a substantial market.

Article originally appeared in the Wanganui Midweek on 30th January 2013, and reproduced with publishers permission.