Whanganui Regional Museum

Happy Birthday Mr Drew!

1802.2525Today the Whanganui Regional Museum celebrates the birthday of its founder. Samuel Henry Drew was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, on 17 November 1844. The Drews migrated to Tasmania in the early 1850s and then to Nelson in 1860. Samuel established a successful jewellery and watch-making business in Whanganui in 1864, which continued to be run by his descendants until the 1990s. The Drew building is still standing in Victoria Avenue.
Drew married Catherine Beatson in Nelson in 1872 and the couple came back to Whanganui where they raised their eight children. He had a wide range of interests including music and sport. He was a member of the Philharmonic Society, the conductor of the Wanganui Liedertafel (the Male Choir) and president of the Wanganui Orchestral Club, and also belonged to the Wanganui Rowing Club. His greatest passion, however, was the study of natural history.

'Caught Napping' by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

‘Caught Napping’ by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

Samuel Drew collected natural history specimens and Māori artefacts, eventually establishing his own museum in his home in 1880. His family helped to collect and classify his specimens of molluscs, birds, beetles, fossils and other fauna. His collecting activities extended as far as Kāpiti Island where he became something of an authority on the local birds and fish.

Drew devoted his spare time to his private collection, furnishing specimens for collections throughout New Zealand. He published articles on natural history in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute and was made a fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1897. Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as Andreas Reischek who, on two visits in 1886 and 1888, helped to classify his collections. Reischek also trained Drew’s son, Henry, as a taxidermist.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

The private collection eventually began crowding out Drew’s family home and he realized he would need to find larger premises to house his museum if he wished to continue collecting. He also recognized the importance of his collection and the considerable public interest in it. For these reasons he offered the collection to the town to form the nucleus of a public museum.

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Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Drew’s collection was purchased in 1892 for a nominal sum, and through his efforts a new purpose-built museum was erected in Wicksteed Avenue, now Drews Avenue, to which his collection was transferred. He was appointed Honorary Curator of the new Wanganui Public Museum and continued to collect, using his expertise to mount natural history specimens and organise displays.

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Samuel Drew died from a sudden heart attack at his business premises on 18 December 1901 at the age of 57 years. The Whanganui Regional Museum is a lasting reminder of the enterprise, expertise and dedication of this extraordinary individual. Whanganui will remain indebted to this man for the contribution he made to recording and collecting the cultural and natural heritage of this region, as well as founding an institution of national and international renown.

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

He was always ready to devote his very limited leisure to the advancement of musical and scientific matters in Wanganui, and has left in the Wanganui Museum a fitting monument which will serve to preserve his memory and demonstrate what even one earnest and capable worker can do, when his heart is in his work … (From the Wanganui Herald 18 December 1901)

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The Museum’s Board voted to create a permanent memorial in tribute to Samuel Drew. One of the trustees, Mr Empson suggested a marble bust of Drew and said, “There is no place fitter for a bust than the Museum, and no bust fitter for the place.”

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Mystery Sidesaddle

Sidesaddle

Sandi Black, archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum, has always been intrigued by a sidesaddle in the collection. “It’s one of our mystery objects.” This is an especially large example of a sidesaddle, others in the museum’s collection being much smaller.
The design of this saddle dates from at least the 1830s when the second pommel, the leaping head or leaping horn, was added to sidesaddles to give further support and allow the rider to travel at greater speed. “The leaping horn is adjustable,” says Sandi, and demonstrates how it could turn on its base. On the right side of the saddle is a small pocket – a ladies’ handbag, as Sandi describes it. The saddle is well padded and looks comfortable.
In Britain, at least, some women still ride sidesaddle on the hunt, using saddles much the same as this old example. Although they no longer wear the long gowns of yesteryear, their modesty is protected by an “apron” worn over riding breeches.
The leather on the museum’s saddle is tooled, patterned and stitched, a sign of superior status. Someone of means owned and used the saddle.
“I love it,” says Sandi, “I think it’s beautiful. The amount of work that’s gone into it is amazing. It’s another everyday item of the past that we look at now and say, ‘Wow, that’s strange.’ And I was a lover of horses in my youth. I’ve never ridden sidesaddle but always thought it would be interesting.”
Sidesaddles are generally custom made for the rider and horse combination, where exact measurements are crucial for comfort and stability.
“This one has seen better days,” says Sandi, and it’s obvious the padding – horsehair, oddly enough – is seeking to escape through the worn leather. The stirrups are also missing and rust has got a firm grip on anything metal.
The sidesaddle fell out of fashion early in the 20th century as it became socially acceptable for women to ride astride in split skirts. The 1970s saw it revived in certain traditional and ceremonial settings, the British fox hunt being one.
Some women of note, regardless of social convention, refused to ride sidesaddle; Marie Antoinette and Catherine the Great being celebrated examples.

 

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek on 5th June 2013. Reproduced with permission from the publishers.

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.

Time Travel…

Tooth of the Carcharodon megolodon, a giant shark, over 1 million years. Found near Pipiriki

Tooth of the Carcharodon megolodon, a giant shark, over 1 million years. Found near Pipiriki

An assignment with the geology collection in the Whanganui Regional Museum has given local teacher Keith Beautrais a walk through time that goes back even beyond the formation of our planet.

The Mokoia Meteorite, dated at over 4.5 billion years

The Mokoia Meteorite, dated at over 4.5 billion years

Ichthyosaur teeth from the Mesozoic period 252-66 million years

Ichthyosaur teeth from the Mesozoic period 252-66 million years

“This has already been a mind-expanding experience; to work with an amazing collection, and with scientists engaged in cutting-edge research”, Keith commented.

 

 

As part of a science-teacher fellowship run by the Royal Society of New Zealand the Wanganui Intermediate specialist has been sorting through the Museum’s collection of rocks and fossils, discovering just how much material there is.

Three lumbar vertebrae of a Dolphin, likely over 3.5 million years

Three lumbar vertebrae of a Dolphin, likely over 3.5 million years

Ammonite, relative of the Nautilus

Ammonite, relative of the Nautilus

Some of the specimens are 100-year-old rock samples acquired as teaching tools. Others are local fossils collected by palaeontologists or amateur rock hounds. Some have data on where and when they were collected, and most importantly, which rock stratum they came from; others have no label at all and will take some detective work to identify. Keith will be helping to register, photograph and rehouse the very best of our specimens in archival boxes while he is at the Musuem and will, no doubt, uncover some overlooked treasures too.

Phialopecten triphooki, ancestor of the scallop, 3 million years

Phialopecten triphooki, ancestor of the scallop, 3 million years

Because the Museum was without a curator of natural history for many decades, it has relied on sharp-eyed members of the public for specimens. If someone finds an interesting fossil, it is important to note down not just the time and place, but its exact location, even getting the latitude and longitude from Google Maps, including where exactly on the cliff face or stream bed it was found. A photo or sketch can also help. In 50 years’ time, after all, someone might want to find the exact spot and look for more. The all-important label needs to go in a plastic bag with the fossil; if they become separated, the specimen loses all its data and most of its value to researchers.

Teeth of a Pilot Whale, from Kakatahi

Teeth of a Pilot Whale, from Kakatahi

Well over a century of collection and donation has amassed a geology collection that can help young and old appreciate the deep time in evidence around us. Geologists call most of our local fossils “young” because three million years is only 5% of the time since dinosaurs died out. One thing these silent witnesses to our turbulent past remind us of is that, from the perspective of a million years ago, our daily priorities seem very short-term.

Dolphin skull from the Pliocene 5-2.5 million years, collected near Hawera

Dolphin skull from the Pliocene 5-2.5 million years, collected near Hawera

Mike Dickison, Curator of Natural History

With help from Keith Beautrais

Seaworthy – Ships as Art

St Kilda

‘St Kilda’ by JC Ferry

Why have so many artists painted so many ships? The art galleries and museums of the world are filled with maritime paintings of billowing sails and storm-crested waves and wind-blown smoke stacks.
Life on board ship in the nineteenth century was not easy. Poor food, short commons, harsh enforcement of sea law, wet, cold, back-breaking work, poor pay, no social security, chronic health problems, danger, loneliness, pain … The romanticism of maritime art was not a feature of the sailor’s life but the ships and the seas where they lived and worked epitomised the yen for adventure. Maritime artists captured form and movement in paint, glorifying the vessels and shrugging off the hardships.

'Catherine Johnstone' by JA Gilfillan

‘Catherine Johnstone’ by JA Gilfillan

This selection of watercolour paintings is of ships that sailed to and from Whanganui and focuses on the days of sail and early steam, the 1840s to the 1900s. They capture the essence of shipping at that time. These maritime paintings are not just lovely images; they also give us an historical perspective. Paintings can exist for many hundreds of years. Think of the Michelangelos of Italy or the Rembrandts of the Netherlands. They are still available for the world to see and they still illustrate historical experience wherever they are shown; likewise these shipping paintings from Whanganui.

'Governor Gray' by Charles Heaphy

‘Governor Gray’ by Charles Heaphy

The Port of Wanganui
Shipping activity supported the development of the town of Whanganui. Its importance was appreciated by its population and idealised by the artists who left us this visual record.
The development of the town of Whanganui was due largely to the Port. The wharves were situated seven kilometres up the Whanganui River by the growing town. In 1855 Whanganui was created a Port of Entry with powers of custom and excise.

'Alexa' by unknown artist

‘Alexa’ by unknown artist

The waters were awash with ships. Whanganui surveyor G F Allen once recalled that in the 1860s, 65 ships were counted between Market Place and Castlecliff.
Plans were drawn up in the 1860s for Port improvements. In the next two decades a Harbour Board was set up. Significant work was done to deepen entry into the town wharves and two moles and a wharf were built at Castlecliff to open up shipping near the mouth of the river. Railways to and from the wharf sites were built, facilitating hugely improved internal transportation. The installation of a railroad linking with Wellington in 1886 did not suppress Wanganui shipping trade as it was still much cheaper to transport cargo and passengers by ship.
By the 1890s refrigeration had added value to the Port. Between 1908 and 1929, trade through the Port more than doubled and other industries such as woollen mills and phosphate works were established because of good port facilities.

'SS Wanganui' by William Goodwin

‘SS Wanganui’ by William Goodwin

Conserving our maritime art
Paintings need to be cared for. Sunlight, dirt, mould, insects, human carelessness and sheer wear and tear all take their toll. Museums and galleries reduce potential damage by providing optimal storage, handling, exhibition and security conditions for their paintings. Sometimes, however, paints, papers and mounts used may cause chemical or physical changes that result in damage.

Watercolour of 'Stormbird' by W Forster

‘Stormbird’ by W Forster

The painting of the Stormbird was in trouble. It had been glued onto a thick pine board that had dried out over the decades and almost split in two. The glue had discoloured the paper and was affecting the image. Painting Conservator Louise Newdick of Wellington carefully, millimeter by millimeter, removed the painting from the board with the help of a mild chemical solution, cleaned off the glue, repaired some small tears and stabilised it to prevent further deterioration. It was then remounted and framed for exhibition, and later, storage.

Miss Polly had a Dolly

Creepy, cool, or curious, dolls have been around for thousands of years. The Whanganui Regional Museum has over 300 dolls in the collection and here are a few samples.
StruwwelpeterOne doll represents a 19th century moral lesson for children. The handmade fabric Struwwelpeter is dressed in a green tunic with a pointed hat and resembles a mischievous imp. “Shaggy Peter” originated in 1845 as the main character in a book by Dr Heinrich Hoffman, a German psychiatrist. Struwwelpeter’s main aim in life is to scare small children into good behaviour through a series of violent moral tales, vividly illustrated. The original book illustrations show Struwwelpeter as a much more solid and rounded figure than the elf-like creature here, but the family who donated him to the Museum certainly remember him by his Shaggy Peter name.
Simon and Halbig dollAnother doll was given to the donor in 1908 when she was eight years old, living in Whanganui. The doll is dressed in a pale blue voile frock and leather shoes with white socks. She was made by Simon and Halbig of Grafenhain, Thuringia, in Germany, who made dolls from the 1870s until the 1920s and specialised in doll heads. These character heads can be found on top of the bodies of many other large German, French and American-made dolls.
German dollA doll made in Germany features the original clothing and a heart-warming back story. She was made in 1909 and has large brunette ringlets with a lace ribbon around the band of her head, a painted porcelain face with rolling eyes, and a body with jointed hips, knees, elbows and shoulders. The doll was won in a raffle in 1912 by a Mr Livingstone, a recent immigrant from Scotland. He bought the ticket from a Kimbolton School fundraiser while waiting on his family to join him. When his wife and daughter arrived, three year old Mary became the new owner of the doll. The doll came complete with clothes hand-made by senior students of the school, including undergarments, petticoats and a dress of broderie anglaise.
Celluloid baby dollCelluloid was a very popular material for dolls. In production from 1869 the pre-plastic material was celebrated, as it did not peel or flake and was cheaper to manufacture than the more traditional china. It could, however, fade in sunlight or crack if the celluloid was too thick. Never-the-less, it was still hardy. One celluloid doll in the collection takes the form of a large baby and is dressed in layers of wool and cotton clothing. It was made during the 1920s or 1930s, towards the end of the popularity of celluloid.
Christopher RobinA more contemporary doll looks a little different to the character we may be more familiar with today, but is a figure of Christopher Robin holding a teddy bear depicting Winnie the Pooh. The doll was made in the 1960s and has moveable joints. He is a “sleeping doll”, meaning the eyes close when he is laid down. He wears a brown velvet hat, light cream shirt, brown velvet pants, socks and brown plastic shoes. Christopher Robin was based upon the son of A A Milne who wrote the children’s classics, Winnie the Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928).

Sandi Black is the Archivist at the Whanganui Regional Museum. She has a background in anthropology and history.

Reviving the Moa

Recently Labour MP Trevor Mallard, in a breakfast meeting with Wainuiomata business owners, suggested moa might roam the hills again in 50 or 100 years. He was widely mocked by politicians and pundits, but could he be onto something? How difficult would it be to resurrect the moa?
Ever since Jurassic Park brought back dinosaurs the idea of de-extinction has gripped our imagination, but the science has yet to live up to the hype. Geneticists have cloned a few animals and moved DNA around in the lab, but no species has returned from the dead yet. To revive an extinct animal, we need at least three things: all of its DNA, some way of getting that DNA into a living egg, and a mother for the egg that could incubate it or bring it to term.

In the early days on moa DNA research, chunks of bone were drilled out of museum specimens, ground up, and the DNA extracted. This revolutionised our understanding of the moa family tree, but the only a tiny percentage of the genome was recovered, and it was heavily contaminated with the DNA of microbes and even people who’d handled the bones.

In the early days on moa DNA research, chunks of bone were drilled out of museum specimens, ground up, and the DNA extracted. This revolutionised our understanding of the moa family tree, but the only a tiny percentage of the genome was recovered, and it was heavily contaminated with the DNA of microbes and even people who’d handled the bones.

The first step might be the easiest with moa. The DNA we’ve recovered from moa bones and eggs is in tiny fragments, most of it is missing, and it’s contaminated by microbes, but technological advances over the last 20 years have made us better at figuring out where the fragments might fit together. We haven’t figured out the entire moa genome yet, though we’re getting closer; it’s been successfully done for Neanderthals and mammoths. This is all on computers but we don’t know how to assemble the actual fragments like a giant jigsaw yet. Even if we did, building chromosomes out of the DNA would be very tricky. Nevertheless, these problems are ones we may well solve.

 

Recently researchers have discovered that moa DNA is preserved much better on eggshell than in bones; the pores of eggs protect it from the elements and contamination by bacteria. DNA from the inside of the shell is of both male and female chicks, but from the outside is only from males.

Recently researchers have discovered that moa DNA is preserved much better on eggshell than in bones; the pores of eggs protect it from the elements and contamination by bacteria. DNA from the inside of the shell is of both male and female chicks, but from the outside is only from males.

The second step is harder. A mammal’s egg can be extracted, its DNA replaced, and the egg coaxed into dividing again until it’s stable enough to implant back into the womb; this is how cloning works. The problem with bird eggs is they have a hard shell, and puncturing this, taking out an embryo, and reintroducing it after it’s been dividing for many generations is in the Too Hard basket at the moment. We can’t even clone chickens yet with a multi-billion-dollar poultry industry backing researchers. Extinct mammals, therefore, are likely to be revived well before we get around to birds.

 

 

Uncovered in 1931 during gravel excavation near Tokomaru, this egg of Anomalopteryx didiformis, the Little Bush Moa, is one of the six most-complete moa eggs in the world. Because it’s almost the same size as an ostrich’s, it represents the largest moa species we would be able to hatch from the egg of a living bird.

This egg of Anomalopteryx didiformis, the Little Bush Moa, is almost the same size as an ostrich’s egg and represents the largest moa species we would be able to hatch from the egg of a living bird.

A final problem with resurrecting moa is which egg would we use? Giant moa had eggs 24 cm long, much bigger than even an ostrich (the largest egg available), so there’s no living species that could hatch a giant moa chick. Some of the small moa species had ostrich-sized eggs (there is one in the Whanganui Regional Museum) but there’s a second problem: ostriches are only distant relatives of moa, no more closely related than horses are to cows. Transplanting the DNA of one into the embryo of the other is an insurmountable problem, at least at the moment.
So reviving moa would be very difficult, but there are other candidates that seem much more likely. Mammoths, for example, will almost certainly be resurrected before moa are. Mammoth cells have been snap-frozen in relatively good condition, so scientists have been able to sequence their genome. They have close living relatives; woolly mammoths are actually more closely related to Indian elephants than African elephants are. And the technology for cloning mammals is far more advanced than for birds. So in theory it’s certainly possible that one day an elephant will give birth to a mammoth calf.

 
But when? It might be 50 years before mammoth cloning is a reality, and moa would take even longer. By then, what state will the Siberian tundra be in? Will the mammoths have to live out their lives in zoos? There are big ethical questions about bringing back an animal with no habitat, at great expense, when other species are dying out for want of conservation dollars.
New Zealand forests, by contrast, evolved to deal with moa browsing. We could even see moa as an essential part of our forest ecology, missing for centuries, replaced by destructive mammals like deer and pigs. Luckily, we’ve spent decades perfecting ways to wipe out introduced pests and restore damaged forests; in 50 years, if we put our minds to it, we could have prime moa habitat ready to go when the technology catches up. Perhaps our grandchildren will get to see moa in the bush again.
 
Dr Mike Dickison is the Curator of Natural History at Whanganui Regional Museum and did his PhD research on the evolution of giant flightless birds.

The Tōtarapuka Duncans

Tōtarapuka, the Duncan Family estate in East Wanganui

Tōtarapuka, the Duncan Family estate in East Wanganui

During the 1840s many Scottish families chose emigration to start a new life. This is the story of one of those families.

Andrew Duncan

Andrew Duncan

Andrew Duncan, his wife Margaret and their two young sons arrived in Wellington in 1840 with other New Zealand Company migrants. A year later they completed the difficult journey by foot along the coast to Whanganui. Their first home was a raupo-thatched hut on the site of Tōtarapuka pā, near the Whanganui River in Wanganui East.
Duncan purchased 105 acres from local Māori and began farming. He increased his land holdings during the next 10 years both in Wanganui East and on Durie Hill. He built a large family estate situated on the East Bank of the Whanganui River, just north of where Wanganui Girls’ College is sited. He named his home Tōtarapuka after the original Māori settlement located in the area. The house was built from local pit-sawn heart tōtara, with front doors and window joinery of oak brought out from England. It comprised 24 rooms and a large stables, as well as a gardener’s and coachmen’s cottages.
Tōtarapuka is remembered for its hospitality; the family entertained on a lavish scale. During the 19th and early 20th centuries it was a coach stop for the horse-drawn passenger carriages that travelled to other districts. A fire in 1925 destroyed one wing of the original house. Today it forms a part of the Acacia Park Motel in Anzac Parade.
Andrew Duncan’s son John followed in his father’s farming footsteps, while his brother, young Andrew, trained as a barrister. They went on to purchase part of the Otairi block in the Rangitīkei in 1881. This farm is still run by the family today. One of John’s sons, Thomas, established the Duncan Hospital on Durie Hill in 1953.

Elizabeth Duncan née Boyd

Elizabeth Duncan née Boyd

Margaret Duncan died in 1872 and Andrew senior remarried, to Elizabeth Boyd, with whom he had four more children, Eliza, Charles, Isabel and Christina. These children were to inherit the Wanganui East and Durie Hill farms.
Andrew Duncan planted 13 acres of garden around Tōtarapuku homestead. The property was subdivided in 1917. Duncan, Boydfield and Young Streets were all named after this family, while Helmore Street is named for the Duncans’ Christchurch solicitors.
Isabel Duncan grew up at Tōtarapuka. She was sent “home” as a young woman to finish her education, travelling first in America then in England. Like her father she was a passionate gardener and further developed the gardens at Tōtarapuka. Her daughter Josephine once said “I’ve never known her cook … she’d work in the garden from five o’clock in the morning until five at night.”

Isabel Mackay, née Duncan

Isabel Mackay, née Duncan

Isabel married Charles Mackay in 1904 and they had four children: Elizabeth, Duncan, Sheillah and Josephine. Duncan died as a young child.
Mackay was born in Nelson in1875 and had established his own law firm in Wanganui in 1902. He was Mayor of Wanganui from 1906 to 1913 and again from 1915 to 1920 and was responsible for much of the growth and development of the city during this period. This energetic career was overshadowed by an event in 1920 when he was charged with attempted murder after shooting and seriously wounding Walter D’Arcy Cresswell and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. It was later alleged that Mackay had made homosexual advances to Cresswell, who then attempted to extract a letter of confession and resignation from the Mayor.

Mayor Charles Mackay

Mayor Charles Mackay

The sensational nature of Mackay’s disgrace in 1920 all but expunged from local history a career of considerable public service. Following Mackay’s release from prison in 1926 he became a journalist in England and Europe. He was shot dead in Berlin by a policeman in 1929.
Isabel divorced Charles in 1920 and reverted to her maiden name of Duncan; her daughters also became Duncans. From then on Isabel spent the New Zealand winters in California with her mother’s family. Her daughter Elizabeth moved to New York where she married George Packer-Berry in 1925 and had a daughter, Carolyn. Elizabeth died from pneumonia a year later, shortly after her 21st birthday.

Young Duncan Mackay, who died at an early age

Young Duncan Mackay, who died at an early age

Josephine was the youngest Duncan child. Born in 1917, she lived at Tōtarapuka until the property was sold in 1972. Jo Duncan had a governess until she was 13, when she went to Miss Curry’s school in Victoria Avenue. Although she wanted to continue studying her mother wouldn’t let her as she believed girls should stay at home. Her mother did encourage her to play golf and she became very accomplished. “Then before I was absolutely ruined the war came along”, she said.

Jo Duncan drove ambulances in the Whanganui region from 1939. During World War II she joined the Women’s War Service Auxiliary, trained at Trentham, was posted to Egypt then served on the hospital ship Oranje.
On her return to Wanganui she took over managing a 500 acre family farm at Rangiwahia, near Mangaweka until 1971. She gained a reputation for being one of the first women to attend and bid for her own stock at the Feilding stock sales.

Josephine and Sheillah Duncan

Josephine and Sheillah Duncan

Jo Duncan was a member of the Russell Grace golf team and played in tournaments throughout the country until she retired in the 1960s. For ten years from 1977 she was a voluntary co-ordinator at the Wanganui Women’s Emergency Refuge.
Josephine Duncan bequeathed her personal effects to the Whanganui Regional Museum. Her bequest includes many items of furniture brought to New Zealand by her family throughout the 19th century, as well as ceramics, jewelry, decorative arts, textiles, photographs, books and paintings. All of these items form a part of the legacy the Duncan family left to Whanganui.

Rock-a-bye, baby

Contrary to the popular nursery rhyme, a tree top isn’t the best place to put a child to sleep, especially as we head into Autumn with the wind increasing in speed and decreasing in temperature. Cot, crib, or cradle, there are much warmer (and safer) places to send bubs into dreamland. The Whanganui Regional Museum holds several examples of infant beds in the collection, some dating back to the mid-1840s, and although the overall structure of baby beds haven’t changed much over time the stories are in the finer details.

1980.60.1Bassinets and cradles have been in use for almost as long as we have been having babies. The small beds were initially designed to give baby a safe sleeping space, either in a larger bed or located next to the parents’ bed for ease of access during the night. These were usually small with fairly high sides to give the baby a comforting feeling of being in a cocoon, and often had a frame below to allow for gentle rocking to help settle the child.

The Museum holds a beautiful cradle in the collection made by Mr Kennington, a bridge builder in Whanganui in the late 19th century, who wasn’t happy with a simple rocking cradle for his children and instead made one in the shape of a boat—complete with a rope and pulley system which allowed the boat to swing freely.

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Cradles were used from child to child, and one cradle in the collection is engraved with the names and birth-dates of each child who used it: “”Marjorie born October 1st, 1892. Dorothy born January 12th, 1894. Rowena born November 25th, 1897””. These inscriptions are just part of the detail of this richly engraved cot, which features fine geometric patterns and scenes form from nursery rhymes.

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1995.44.51But not all bassinets are this detailed; one commonly used by hospitals consists of a simple wire mesh basket placed on tall legs which allowed the new mother to view her new baby easily from her own hospital bed.

 

One child’s bed in the collection arrived about 1840 with a family emigrating from England. This is a great example of a ‘cot’ which is commonplace now but only became commonly used in the 19th century. Prior to this, children would often go straight from a bassinet or cradle to a low-lying trundle or toddler bed. The intermediary cot became popular as a way to ensure the safety of toddlers who were capable of standing on their own, as the high sides prevented them from falling out of bed or from getting out when they should be sleeping. The iron frame was important as it was reputed 1965.15.1to deter bed bugs, lice, and moths, but little thought was given to the lead paint that was often applied. The height of the cot shows an interesting insight into popular thought of the time, as it was intended to keep the toddler in the safe pocket of air away from both the toxic fumes believed to settle at floor level and the explosive vapours believed to hover near the ceiling. Although science has dispelled this fear, parents still find the height of cots easier on the back.

Sandi Black is the Archivist at the Whanganui Regional Museum.