Let’s talk about Wellington’s unsightly and smelly past

By Sofia Roberts, Museums Wellington intern

At Nairn Street Cottage the outhouse is located at the back of the garden – next to the coop of heritage chickens. Beside the toilet is a rangiora plant – also known as ‘bushman’s friend’. The wide flat leaves served many purposes including makeshift toilet paper. In 1858 when the Wallis family started living in the Cottage they probably would have had a long drop-like toilet with a can in it – this would have used both on its own and to empty chamber pots into. This waste (politely referred to as ‘nightsoil’) would have then been collected and disposed of.

pIC 1
Nairn Street Cottage garden including outhouse. Photo credit:

But it’s this last point – disposal – that brings us to the major problem faced by nineteenth century Wellington. Waste disposal wasn’t done for free, and many Wellingtonians preferred simply dumping the waste themselves. In his recent book ‘A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888 – 1903’, Redmer Yska describes the gully that ran behind Tinakori Road (now the motorway) and how it was a favoured spot for refuse dumping.

Katherine herself described how the ‘strong stench of fennel and decayed refuse streamed from the gully’. There was sewage that ran through Te Aro with the idea that the waste would move through the city and down into the harbour. However when it rained the waste was washed throughout the city – often there was little movement so the waste sat stagnant.

In 1889 there was a court led investigation into the water quality in CBD Wellington. The Evening Post reported on this writing about the ‘exceedingly offensive’ drains running through Dixon Street and Taranaki Place [sic] that drained sewage from private properties. This was affecting the water quality from Polhill Stream: ‘the water commenced to foul about 1863, and it became worse every year. Two years before that year the pollution became perceptible.’

This problem of ill-disposed sewage began to cause serious problems as it infected the water supply and caused disease. Wellington City Council cites ‘sewage soaked backyards’ as causing 77 deaths in 1890 – from cholera, typhoid, polio and dysentery.

Pic 2
Plan illustrating some of the bad features of the current drainage of Newtown, 1885.

Yska describes the Hector family in Hill Street in Thorndon attempting to cope with the foul water by ‘fixing a piece of flannel over the mouth of the kitchen tap, removing it every evening when it contained a teaspoon of filth that gave off a terrible stench as it decomposed.’ The father and son of the household caught typhoid and two members of the neighbouring household died of it.

According to Te Ara, an 1870 study showed that none of the water collected from wells or tanks in crowded parts of the city was safe to drink and all town streams were too polluted to use.

Pic 3
Typhoid is spread by contaminated food or water such as the sewage polluted well in this drawing.

In 1879 there were 75 deaths in Wellington from typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles and cholera – mostly in the central Te Aro area. Unfortunately for the Wallis family at Nairn Street Cottage,  baby Amy Mabel was one of these – dying of (probably typhoid) on Christmas Eve 1878.

Pic 4
Broad Street cholera outbreak map
Pic 5
Map of cholera outbreak in 1892 Wellington. The large dots are for 1892 and the smaller dots for an outbreak during the previous two years.

This was hardly a problem unique to Wellington – communities in England were having the same struggle of sewage polluted water and related deaths. In 1854 London had a similar cholera outbreak in Soho. This saw 616 people die and three quarters of the residents of the area flee.

This outbreak led to medical advancements by a physician named John Snow who tracked the outbreak to a well which was later found to have been infected with fecal matter. The incident was one of many that led to a shift from miasma theory (air particles causing disease) to germ theory (germs causing disease).

Unfortunately both the Broad Street and Te Aro disease outbreaks were slow to change the status quo. Despite the Broad Street pump being replaced, leading to a decline in deaths, John Snow’s theories were dismissed immediately afterwards. Likewise, despite Wellingtonians being victims to cholera and typhoid, they were reluctant to change the sewage system once they learnt the cost – the equivalent of $31 million. However , in 1874 the development of cast iron pipes and flushing toilets started.

But Wellington still had to wait for safe and hygienic disposal of its waste – it wasn’t until 1899 that the first public sewerage system was completed. This saw the construction of:

  • a sewerage network in the areas around the harbour
  • a sea outfall at Moa Point
  • a sewerage tunnel through Mount Victoria
  • overflows created by transforming some existing timber stormwater culverts into brick or concrete.

Reporting back soon after, the Resident Engineer highlighted the substantial decrease in sewage-related diseases being treated at Wellington Hospital since the introduction of the new sewerage scheme. How lucky we are that we no longer have to drink water contaminated by sewage!

Pic 6



Take a fresh look at Nairn Street Cottage

By Nik Bullard, History Communicator

Nairn Street Cottage has recently re-opened its ground floor with a fresh, new look. The static, Colonial style has been replaced by a more interactive, engaging journey-through-time experience within this domestic setting. So what does this mean?

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Photo credit: Alex Efimoff

Three generations of the Wallis family lived in the Cottage. Firstly, William and Catherine Wallis who emigrated from England to Wellington in 1857. William built the house around 1860. In 1911 their daughter Clara lost her money and grand house in Mt Victoria when her husband went bankrupt and she moved back in with her four children. Her daughter Winifred was still living in the Cottage in the 1970s until the Council took it over and turned it into the Colonial Cottage Museum in 1980.

The fact that three generations of Wallis’ occupied the Cottage meant that I was able to show changes through time within the house.

The four key family members have each been given their own room and a fuller story – Catherine’s domestic life is set in the 1860s nursery, William’s prospering building and entrepreneurial career is set in the 1870s master bedroom, Clara has the progressive 1920s era set in the parlour and Winifred has the burgeoning women’s rights, all-the-mod-cons era of the 1970s.


The parlour before and after (now set in the 1920s). Photo credits: Museums Wellington

This strong (mainly female) family story line has enabled me to talk about the huge social changes that happened for women over that time. We can span time and look at social change through Catherine, a full-time housewife birthing and looking after children and the house, through to Clara who signed the Suffrage petition in 1893 (and soon after had the vote, and other legislated rights) through to Winifred, a full time professional woman working for Wellington City Council who remained unmarried and had no children. The Women’s Rights movement was in full swing by the 1970s – we don’t know how Winifred felt about this but her life and times were affected by it nonetheless.

Pro-choice activists march through Wellington streets on International Women’s Day, 8 March 1978.

Alongside social change for women, in the house we talk about and show the massive technological and communication changes that occurred. So basically from a hand written letter, to the telegram to a crank handle then rotary dial telephone. And visitors get to see the change from candle power and hard manual domestic labour for women through to the introduction of electricity and gas – walk into a room and switch on a light, a heater, the stove or an electrical appliance. It would have been like magic to Catherine!

I managed to find content for the 1920s radio – children’s presenter Aunt Gwen, Clive Drummond reading the weather and Alfred Hill music. The 1970s television features the Hugo and Kelly KFC advertisement (1975), an excerpt from It’s in the Bag (1974) and the documentary, Into Antiquity: A memory of the Māori moko (1972). Both old and young visitors are enjoying the radio and television!


We also position Māori far more strongly as we talk about what was happening for them in Wellington over that period. From the loss of land in the 1860s to Māori women in parliament and Dame Whina Cooper’s ‘Not one more acre!’ historic land march in 1975.

After marching the length of the North Island, Whina Cooper spoke in Māori in front of Parliament

Sarah Maxey, the talented graphic designer for Museums Wellington, painstakingly reproduced the original wallpaper in the nursery. She deciphered the repeat pattern from the original faded and damaged paper, drew and hand-painted each element in layers (apparently there were 28 separate drawings!), and then scanned each layer and collaged them together in Photoshop. It was then printed and pasted onto the two bare walls. This is an extraordinary feature in the nursery and has transformed that room.

Reproduced wallpaper in the nursery  Photo credit: Museums Wellington

Hannah Zwartz has worked wonders in the historic garden and it is looking fantastic! She has now developed up a 1920s and a 1970s garden bed to be viewed outside those respective rooms.

Hannah Zwartz in the garden. Photo credit: Alex Efimoff

I’m thrilled that we’re the first historic house museum in New Zealand to show changes through time – technologically, socially, politically and horticulturally!

NAIRN STREET COTTAGE | opening hours:
Every Sat and Sun from 12-4pm with tours on the hour 1-3pm.

Summer opening hours:
5 January – 31 March 2019. 7 days from 12-4pm with tours on the hour 1-3pm.
Admission charges apply.

A Fresh Story
Come to Nairn Street Cottage to celebrate and explore the new interior fit-out! Uncover fresh stories of Wellington from 1857 to the late 1970s through four members of the Wallis family: Catherine, William, Clara and Win. The project team will be on hand to introduce the changes and talk about their process. You are encouraged to share stories of the family, area and Wellington over a cup of tea. Part of Wellington Heritage Week 2018.


Winter Mus(eum)ings

By Brent Fafeita, Curator History

Winter is coming…no wait, it’s here…no, it’s gone. Hmm, what season are we in again?

This is our new norm. Climate change is now so prevalent in our world that instead of devising solutions to stop it, we’re devising means to live with it. The irony of facing such a crisis of our own making is not lost here. We are at the beginning of Earth’s new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – where human activity is the dominant influence on the planet’s climate and environment. Humanity is changing the world, but this change is reciprocally changing humanity.

1 Climatestate
What are the true cost of living in the Anthropocene?

Throughout history, museums have strived to be ahead of, or at least be on par with change. But like any living thing, the museum is intrinsically linked to its ecosystem and thus susceptible to any direct and indirect influence on that ecosystem. Ignoring environmental factors is detrimental. Change, whether natural, social, technological, economic or political, is increasingly enacting consequential change on the museum.

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The eco-friendly California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. Wikipedia – California_Academy_of_Sciences_pano.jpg 

Prior to the present ‘climate’, the museum’s primary climatic concern focused on a common challenge – the planet’s rotating seasons, or more specifically what the environmental differences between summer and winter meant for museum operation. Naturally, peak operation aligned with peak visitation, and visitation tended to peak in summer months. Subsequently the winter ‘downturn’ had wide-ranging implications for museum activities and this is still so for many museums today.

In response, many museums have adapted to overcome such downturn. Those that have thrived have targeted other audiences such as schools to fill the void, or focused more on venue hire, extensive public programming and/or outreach. Others concentrate on project-work or temporarily cease operation. Some have even amalgamated with other organisations or have taken on new roles. And with increased avenues online, some have abandoned a physical construct all together. New-age ‘museum-like’ entities online are enviously free of seasonal influence.

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IJC Museum, Japanese Art Museum in the Cloud.

The challenge still remains however for many on what to do during winter. Onsite, offsite, outreach, online – which is the way forward? Thanks to Climate Change the more stable and planning-friendly climatic conditions and weather systems of yesteryear appear long gone. Strategic planning must now factor in visitation impact from fluctuating and unpredictable weather systems, extreme weather events and increasing temperatures. There is no longer a guarantee of sunny days in summer, in fact quite the opposite – an anticipation of summer storms. Further, extreme summer temperatures can actually detract visitation. Planning for these fluctuations is the modern challenge.

It’s central to human evolution to alter ourselves and our environment (both knowingly and inadvertently) in the fight for species survival. We can’t then gripe when the manufactured environmental change we’ve created comes back to challenge us. Likewise, we can’t blame visitors for the erratic fluctuations in visitation, engagement or revenue. Neither can we blame Climate Change for the challenges ahead. We can only blame humanity in general. Better yet, let’s forgo blame and just get on with what humanity is biologically primed to do – change.

4 Gizmodo

Antarctic Huts – Frozen in time?

Tamsin at Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, 1999 . Photo: Tamsin Falconer

By Tamsin Falconer, Project Manager

Prior to working in museums I had the privilege of working for Victoria University’s world-leading Antarctic Research Centre.  As part of my job I went to Antarctica to support climate change research.  And on days off, I was lucky to be able to visit three of the most famous historic huts.  The huts are known as Scott’s Discovery Hut, Scott’s Terra Nova Hut and Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut, after the leaders and ships of the expeditions that built them.

In one of his poems, Bill Manhire reflects on the profound banality that we find in extraordinary places, by lifting the comments from the visitors’ book at Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds.  Anyone who has browsed a visitors’ book will immediately recognise the comments as universal.

for Chris Cochran

Cool! Wow! Beautiful! Awesome!
Like going back in time.
Amazing! Historic! Finally
I am truly blessed.

Wow! History! Fantastic!
Wonderfully kept.
Shackleton’s the man!
Like going back in time.

Wow! Cool! Historic! Yo!
Awesome! Privileged. Unreal!
And Thank you, God. And Happy
Birthday, Dad. And Thailand.

©Bill Manhire

One of the most interesting features of the huts for museum people is that they have no physical interpretation whatsoever.  No labels, no intro panels, no fire exit signage, no modern lighting – nothing.  They’re the ultimate immersive environment.  As the poem suggests, many visitors comment that they feel as though the original inhabitants have only just walked out, not that they left a hundred years ago.

Interior of Scott’s Discovery Hut at Hut Point. Photo: Tamsin Falconer

Most museums and historic places would feel the need to provide context and history, which we refer to as interpretation.  But these huts are different.

So, given that there is no physical interpretation, how do visitors know what they’re looking at?  One thing is that Antarctica (and the huts in particular) don’t get incidental visitors, everyone is an intentional visitor who knows where they’re going and some (or a lot) of the history of the places they’re going to.  The stories are not quite universal, but they’re part of the common oral history of Antarctica.  Secondly, a guide is compulsory, so you get verbal information.  Though I have to say that the guides were mainly tasked with ensuring we cleaned the grit off our boots and didn’t sit on the bunks or help ourselves to a can of historic kippers.

Tamsin at Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, 1999. Photo: Tamsin Falconer

And the huts are immersive – the smell of the seal and lamb carcases in the summer when they get a bit above freezing – the soot on everything – sketches and photos on the walls beside the bunks – the stuffed penguin on the laboratory bench.  The custodians, the Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) – have put immense amounts of effort into stabilising the buildings and the artefacts to ensure they don’t degrade.

Tamsin in Scott’s Discovery Hut at Hut Point. Photo: Tamsin Falconer

I feel totally privileged to have been there and experienced that.  It was transporting.

But it’s also a kind of historical erasure.  By presenting the huts as though the inhabitants just left, the history of the intervening century is gone.  When they were first rediscovered in the 1950s – they were jammed full of ice and the contents had to be chipped out of the ice.  This happens when a building is left untended.  Early visitors used the bunks – I’ve met someone who had slept in Shackleton’s hut when he was a young student.  And as I mentioned, the AHT conservators have done vast amounts of work preserving things so that they don’t look preserved.  It’s the kind of thankless task where your best work is unnoticeable!

So that’s got me thinking.  When does history finish and preservation and interpretation start?

Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, 1999. Photo: Tamsin Falconer


Women’s suffrage, women’s war – written by Jane Tolerton, guest writer

Featured image:
Jane Tolerton holding a photo of the NZ Volunteer Sisterhood before the first group left Wellington for Egypt in October 1915. Hatless in the middle is Ettie Rout, the one woman associated with NZ in WWI whose name is well known. Photo: Bev Short

The cover of the 1979 reprint of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand by Patricia Sargison has a drawing of women marching in the streets, carrying ‘Votes for Women’ placards.

What’s wrong with that drawing?

Nothing, if you are talking about London 20 years after we got the vote. But New Zealand women did not march in the streets to lobby for the vote, or chain themselves to railings, as is commonly said.

The cover is an example of the way New Zealand borrows British suffrage imagery when portraying our suffrage movement. Another example was the first image in a documentary on the New Zealand Herald website for Suffrage Day 2017 – a woman wearing a hobble skirt being arrested by two policemen: London bobbies!

The hobble skirt, tight at the ankles, is the shape worn by the figure on the pedestrian crossing lights near Parliament that is a nod to Kate Sheppard, who ran the Women’s Christian Temperance Union campaign. But she did not wear hobble skirts while doing so – 20 years before the style became popular.

Why do we want to represent our suffragists of the 1890s as 1910s British suffragettes? Because they’re more dangerous, edgy and exciting?

In fact, New Zealand has a better story to tell than the British one that includes the suffragettes. In our story, women organise and sign petitions, hold meetings, write cogent arguments, persuade politicians – and are first in the world to get the vote. New Zealand men feature as being open-minded enough to listen to such arguments and be convinced by them. In fact, a number of prominent men, including three prime ministers, were convinced before most women were.

The suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union in Britain used the motto ‘Deeds not Words’. A New Zealand woman, Frances Parker (calling herself Janet Arthur) was arrested for trying to blow up the Scottish birthplace of poet Robert Burns. She was force fed in prison and released when she was very weak.

Frances Parker
Frances Parker. Source: Fanny_Parker,_suffragette_1914.jpg

Frances Parker’s uncle was Lord Kitchener, who was appointed Secretary of State for War when the First World War broke out, just weeks after her release.

Emmeline Pankhurst called a halt to the violent Women’s Social and Political Union campaign after war began. Many British women saw war work as a way of showing they were vote-worthy citizens.

Our history books say during World War One, women here knitted and fund-raised, but a significant number joined the war effort like British women did. There were New Zealand nurses in: the first British Red Cross group to go to Belgium; the first French Flag Nursing Corps group to work for the French government; and the first two units organised to go to Serbia by aristocratic British women.

Anne Leahy
Annie Leahy. Image courtesy of Wendy Leahy.

About 550 nurses served overseas in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service. At least as many other women also worked overseas: as ambulance drivers in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force; as members of British women’s army, navy and air force auxiliary services; as land girls, munitions workers and civil servants. At least 25 women doctors worked overseas; one was the first woman doctor to work in a British military medical unit and two headed all-women field hospital units in the Salonika Campaign.

Dr Mary Blair
Dr Mary Blair in Salonika. Image courtesy of Maryanne Blair

For 100 years there was no book that aimed to tell the story of New Zealand women who played an active role in the war effort – until the publication of Make Her Praises Heard Afar in November 2017.

These women in war have been unattractive to New Zealand while the suffragists, and even law-breaking suffragettes, have been vaunted. Te Papa spent $40,000 to buy Frances Parker’s suffragette medal. Kate Fulton (aunt of Wellington actor Kate Harcourt, nee Fulton) was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French for driving her ambulance through shellfire in 1918 to rescue wounded soldiers. But the way New Zealand sees women’s suffrage and our women’s war effort, Fulton’s humanitarian bravery is in second place to Parker’s criminal bravery.

Kate Sheppard said we must be ourselves at all costs. She said she was sick of people talking about the women’s sphere – the domestic sphere, of course. Women just wanted to be just natural, she said.

The women who went to war were being themselves; they were being natural.

But how can we be ourselves if we think we come from British suffragettes instead of New Zealand suffragists?

Let’s be ourselves: New Zealand women with a legacy of law-abiding campaigning for the vote and a record of humanitarian effort in World War One.

These are virtues in our world, in which we deplore terrorist actions and welcome women in the peaceful democratic process – to the point of having a prime minister giving birth in office.

About the writer

Jane Tolerton, of Wellington, is the author of Make Her Praises Heard Afar: New Zealand women overseas in World War One. Published by Booklovers Press, available from bookshops and Potton & Burton.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Museums Wellington.

Suffrage 125 events at Wellington Museum

After Hours: Big Girls at Flux
Thursday 19 July, 6:30pm / Entry by koha

Big Girls on Parade: Shine A Light On Your RIGHTS
Saturday 11 August, 6pm / Free

In Conversation: Feminisms with Dr Hera Cook
Thursday 23 August / Entry by koha

In Conversation: #MeToo with Dr Hera Cook
Thursday 30 August / Entry by koha 

For more info on these events visit the Museums Wellington website.




International Museum Day – Hyperconnected museums: new approaches, new publics

By Raukura Hoerara-Smith, Assistant Curator Māori

Raukura Hoerara-Smith wearing VR headgear at the Far From Frozen Exhibition at Space Place at Carter Observatory last year. Photo: Museums Wellington

It’s International Museum Day and this year the International Council of Museums
(ICOM) is encouraging museums to find new approaches and new audiences by exploring, strengthening and creating connections. The day aims to raise awareness that museums engage in cultural diversity and can bring about mutual understanding.

How can museums grab the public’s interest despite the one-click option that’s available online? How can museums integrate information technologies to suit the experience of the customer better? The challenge for most museums is to seek new ways to engage with the public and to promote curiosity.

Photo: International Council of Museums

Exhibition design in museums today means not only looking at the purpose of the museum but also to integrate different resources and explore new engagements in the preservation, study and exhibition of artefacts, documents and stories of the modern world.

The vast development of new technologies can be applied in many ways. Through the use of the latest information technologies and accumulated knowledge, museums have become more accessible to visitors and the general public alike. With personal digital electronic devices, visitors can view images and text from websites and social media accounts. Interactive technology has dramatically enhanced some exhibitions and access to collections is more available as they become digitalised objects.

In the past, museums and heritage attractions were one of the leading providers of information and content. However this has changed with increased access to digital media. The sector needs to change focus on the experience of visiting, rather than just the content of the display. What counts now is the whole visit.

Wellington Museum. Photo: Alex Efimoff

I think most visitors go to museums for the experience or for engagement. However, the objects on display make up a tiny slice of a museum’s collection and these are mostly inaccessible as they’re in storage. Museums must consider the visitor’s intention – whether it is for research or looking for an experience. The other side of it is creating and providing that information online where it is more widely accessible. These efforts can be such an overwhelming job, barely chipping away at the staggering amount of data and objects in collections – photographing them and transcribing object data etc.

As digitisation grows faster and cheaper, however, more institutions will start to invest more time in it and innovative ways of working are allowing institutions to think bigger – but it is a very time-consuming process. Although I believe it will improve the knowledge we have of the world around us. The difficult task will be to figure out the most appropriate way to implement these in our systems to save the museum time and money.



Personally, I consider real objects in museums to be an essential way for communities to get together face-to-face to engage more and enhance communications. As an example, here at Museums Wellington, we have a dedicated exhibition hub, named Flux, which is aimed at encouraging a younger audience to take control of a space and display an exhibition or host an event. This will hopefully encourage a younger audience to return to explore our museum more fully at another time.

Photo: Bradley Garner Creative

Museums are an inherent part of our local communities so they are also committed to following current trends. To enhance the public’s understanding of, and connection with, museums they have to develop new approaches in interpreting their exhibits and explore new opportunities through social media to enrich the audience’s viewing experience. These new approaches will enable audiences to communicate with the exhibits and with each other. However, not all these new connections are due to technology.

Museums Wellington strives to maintain its relevance in society but it also makes an effort to organise cooperative projects focusing on the local community and different social groups to engage with new audiences and to ultimately strengthen local communities.


Behind the scenes – to create, install and display an exhibition

By Raukura Hoerara-Smith – Assistant Curator Māori 

At the start of this year, I was assigned my very first exhibition – to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the TEV Wahine disaster. I was lucky enough to experience almost every step in the development process and the opening of this temporary exhibition.

Overall, it is not about providing information that visitors passively absorb but more around encouraging visitors to engage, to look closer at an object and to give our visitors a better experience that enhances their perception and value of Wellington’s history.

Phase one –  A purpose to remember

How do museums make a difference within society? How do they support the public’s understanding of the world as well as of themselves? We live in an increasingly competitive world where every museum is competing for audiences and resources.

Today, museums are among the more successful leisure venues in the world, but it is not a given that museums will always be popular and successful.

A commemoration of the Wahine disaster 50 years on gives our audience a purpose for remembering the history of Wellington Harbour. Here at Wellington Museum, we are the primary caretaker of the Wahine collection. This temporary exhibition has provided the opportunity to focus on individual objects within the Museum’s collection. We have collected an extensive range of items donated to the museum, so it is only right that we display them respectfully.

Martin Cahill 1
The Day After (1997) – Martin Cahill. Photo: Museums Wellington

The Wahine disaster affected many lives and from this came a sense of empathy and understanding about how this event still influences society today.

This exhibition brings together works from our Collection along with loans from different artists, making this an incredible opportunity to come together and remember this significant event.

Phase two – Researching

Armed with inspiration, I started my research on Vernon, our collection database. I was searching for relevant artwork that had some provenance to the TEV Wahine. I found approximately 30 artworks.

The most challenging part was then trying to contact the artist for further information. It came to be that the majority of the artists had since passed away. Although, in the end, I did manage to track down two artists who are currently living in Wellington. In order to respectfully represent them and their work, I needed to sit down and ask them about their personal connections with the Wahine.

The first artist was a survivor, Kay McCormick, who painted self-portraits of herself. One was shortly after the event and contrasted with another piece that she created years after. She created one self-portrait to express her pain and suffering and another to capture a sense of calmness by connecting herself back to the sea.

Kay McCormick 3
Tortured (1968) and Wahine (2008) – Kay McCormick. Photo: Museums Wellington

The second artist, Martin Cahill, a Wellington maritime artist, shared some of his collections as well as reflected on the importance of maritime art. Martin’s love for the ocean was a constant source of inspiration – from his voyages to his interest in ship models.

Wahine 2 Martin Cahill
Wahine II Off Queens Wharf (1997) – Martin Cahill. Photo: Museums Wellington

Phase three – Sorting out the artwork

Once finalised, all artworks were removed from storage and examined. Condition reporting helps to manage the state of objects when they are on loan. This also helps to plan exhibitions by showing which objects are in a stable condition and which need further treatment. After the loan requests are approved, there is the additional process of designing the exhibition and creating text and supplementary materials.

Phase four – Creating labels

Photo: Raukura Hoerara-Smith

Having the opportunity to tell the stories about the Wahine helps to demonstrate how different accounts can be used effectively to engage with visitors emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, the learning outcomes from these narratives can contribute to the experience of the visitor by creating historical awareness and understandings that encourage curiosity.

Labels are essential to guide visitors through spaces that provide both general background and specific details such as dates and titles.

Working with Renée Feith, a graphic designer, we came up with the overall look of the label design. What type of colours would be represented? What kind of font suited best? All these minor details enhance the development of the story.

Phase five – Installing the exhibition

A lot more goes into installing an exhibition than just putting the artworks in the cases and on to the wall. Measuring out the layout gives an overlook of the setup from a designers perspective.

Our in-house exhibition technician, Matt Henry, installed the artwork and ensured the framing, lighting and case displays were sufficient.

In addition to the artwork, we displayed artbooks created by students from St. Mary’s College, Wellington. Alongside this was also a unique collection of stamps and a limited edition coin issued by New Zealand Post.

People looking at exhibit
Photo: Wahine 50th Charitable Trust

Phase six – Monitoring the exhibition

Visitor feedback is useful and can be used to make improvements for future exhibitions. It was great to hear the input received from the survivors and rescuers on Wahine day. It was a delight to talk to people who had traveled from afar and had a desire to spend time at our Museum. Connecting people and engaging in conversation helps connect communities.

We appreciated their stories, their responses, and their interest in the commemoration of the TEV Wahine.

My reflections on curating the exhibition

I enjoyed talking to Kay and Martin as they took me on a journey back to 1968. It profoundly altered their lives in unexpected ways but I thank them both for taking the time to revisit and share with me both their extraordinary experiences.

Personally, I never really knew much about the disaster until now. I was born in the 1990s so having this opportunity was a great way to expand my perception of maritime disasters and I am grateful for being the storyteller of those memories.

So next time you’re faced with something that’s unexpected, unwanted and uncertain; consider articulating your emotions through conversation, music, art, writing or even taking the time to surround yourself in nature.

Life is beautifully chaotic, a gift that is truly unpredictable.

If you haven’t been in to view the exhibition, please feel free to come in and take a look around. This exhibition will be coming down at the end of May –  we do however have a permanent display on the opposite side of Level One.

people looking at exhibit 2
Photo: Wahine 50th Charitable Trust

Wellington Museum is about to rock

By Tom Etuata, Communications Co-ordinator Museums Wellington


Over the month of May Wellington Museum will be celebrating some of the gems of Kiwi music history with a unique exhibition and concert series for NZ Music Month. The temporary exhibition called ‘Burning up Years: Aotearoa Music History’ is a collaboration with Audio Culture showcasing the Wellington music scene from 1960 to  1978 –  displaying rare vinyl, posters, album art, NZ made music equipment and music videos.  The Friday concert series will be held every Friday in May at Wellington Museum  – with the added attraction of re-uniting some of New Zealand’s musical acts from the early 70s to not so long ago, spanning genres of blues, psychedelic rock, post-punk to hip-hop.

poster poser
Exhibition poster

The exhibition will display a number of rare Kiwi music objects and items as Museums Wellington Events Programmer and the curator of the exhibition Benjamin James elaborates;

“For the exhibition the stage will be set up like it would have been between the years 1960 – 1978. We have a rare Commodore six-string guitar dating from the late 1950s with four-way push-button tone selector and Milton vibrato from Jon McLeary who played for the Spines.  As well as gear from The Ghost of Tapeman which includes a vintage Sonic ss stack and TR100, we have other historical music gear from old brands such as Jansen, Holden, Wasp, Concord, Fountain as well… the list goes on. There will also be rare LPs sought after by collectors, and a listening post where you can listen to bands from the era.”

Music website Audio Culture will provide the historical content of the exhibition – giving interesting insights and stories of particular New Zealand musicians who were popular in their day.

Burning up years
Album cover of Burning Up Years  by Human Instinct (1969)

One of these interesting Kiwi musicians was part of the band that makes up the title theme of the exhibition. Burning Up Years is the title of an album that was recorded in 1969 by the band Human Instinct. Their band line-up had one very important but forgotten Kiwi musician – a guitarist by the name of Billy Te Kahika, otherwise known as ‘Billy TK’.

Billy TK today.  Photo: Paul Moss

Called ‘TK’ because the Pakeha school teachers couldn’t pronounce his last name properly, Billy Te Kahika was a force of rock music energy – with his wild guitar playing, long beard, hat and dark sunglasses, he was dubbed by many at the time to be the ‘the Māori Hendrix ’ in the late 1960s and early 70s. After a few years playing for Human Instinct, he left and formed a band called The Powerhouse in Wellington – playing with members which fitted ‘more like a family than a rock group’- trading rock, blues, R&B and soul riffs at the Lucifer Club in Wellington on Vivian St (which is now a venue where heavy rock bands play called Valhalla).

The young Billy TK.  Photo from the Audio Culture website

It also was a time when the Parihaka and Nambassa movements influenced his playing – changing his sound sonically from a Hendrix-like psychedelic edge to a more progressive, meditative sound that was more closer to that of another great rock guitarist, Carlos Santana.

A formidable band in their own right, Billy TK & Powerhouse played in the first NZ Music Festival in Ngaruawahia, performing after famous heavy metal group Black Sabbath in 1973. Their one and only album was recorded live at the Wellington St James Theatre in 1975.

Billy TK Powerhouse
Album cover of Billy T.K.’s Powerhouse (1975)

Today, Billy is still busy playing and recording albums and will re-unite with his old band the Powerhouse to perform at Wellington Museum on 25 May. It will be the first time the band has played since the mid-1990s.

Another musician who’ll be playing at Wellington Museum and returning to his Wellington roots will be King Kapisi who’ll be performing on 18 May.

King Kapisi (Bill Urale), a Wellington local now living in Auckland is a popular Kiwi hip-hop artist who had the hit song ‘Screems from Da Old Plantation‘ from the album ‘Savage Thoughts’ in 1999. He will perform that whole album with special guests Tha Feelstyle, MC’S and DJ Raw.

savage thoughts album
Album cover of Savage Thoughts (1999)

Post-punk will be revisited on 11 May with rare performances from alternative music pioneers Peter Jefferies (Nocturnal Projections, This Kind of Punishment) and Chris Matthews (The Headless Chickens, Children’s Hour) with blues band Rhythm Hawks rounding out the night.

This unique exhibition and concert series is not to be missed.

Album cover of ‘Electricity’ by Peter Jefferies (1994) Source:

The exhibition ‘Burning up Years: Aotearoa Music History’ runs over the month of May and the concert series will run every Friday of May at Wellington Museum over NZ Music Month:

Friday 4 May

Burning Up Years Opening Night
DJ’s Boss Dude (Death Ray Records), Ms Juliet and TV DiSKO (Radio Active), Eclectica will be playing old vinyl of kiwi-classics, 8.30pm/ Wellington Museum / Free entry

Friday 11 May

Peter Jefferies (Nocturnal Projections and This Kind Of Punishment), Chris Matthews (The Headless Chickens and Children’s hour), Rhythm Hawks (Blues), 8.30pm / Wellington Museum

Friday 18 May

King Kapisi performs Savage Thoughts in its entirety. With guests  DJ Raw, MC’s, Tha Feelstyle and Teremoana Rapley,  8.30pm / Wellington Museum

Friday 25 May

Billy TK and Powerhouse, 8.30pm /Wellington Museum

Visit the Museums Wellington website for tickets & information:



Small Things Tell Big Stories

New Zealand Archaeology Week – 28 April to 6 May 2018

Written by guest writers Kathryn Hurren (Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga) and Mary O’Keeffe (Heritage Solutions)

Kathyrn Hurren
Kathyrn Hurren. Photo: Alison Dangerfield
Mary O'Keeffe
Mary O’Keeffe at a pile of the torpedo wharf, Mahanga Bay, Wellington. Photo: Rex Johnson

This blog has been written as part of the New Zealand Archaeological Association National Archaeology Week which will take place from 28 April to 6 May 2018. As such we would like to thank Wellington Museum for being part of the event.

Archaeology is the study of people via their material cultural remains. Many people associate archaeology with large scale excavations, Indiana Jones and grand structures such as pyramids, ancient cities, Stonehenge or civilisations such as the Mayans, Aztecs, Greeks or Romans.

While looking further afield we forget that we have our own history of settlement in New Zealand and our own very distinct archaeological record.  New Zealand was the last landmass to be settled in the world and the types of archaeological sites found here are nowhere else in the world. We are a young country but one with a unique archaeological record.  We have Maori archaeological sites tracing the change from Polynesian people to Maori, war sites (New Zealand wars, World War I and II), industrial sites, shipwreck sites, as well as Chinese and European sites.

We also forget that it is the little things found at a site which can tell us extraordinary things about our history as well as the people who lived here. Food rubbish or any rubbish for that matter can tell us a lot about people such as what they were eating, what they were throwing out and possibly why they were throwing things out, socio and economic class and a lot more.

In this blog we would like to highlight how small things can tell big stories.  Below are three very distinct items – a musket ball, a midden site, and two maple leaves.  You may not think much about these items but to an archaeologist they provide important information, make us question what we know about our history and tell us stories about the people who once lived here.

Photo: Mary O’Keeffe

This is a small stone object.  It’s a flint from a musket – a musket is a very early type of rifle, and the flint was used to create a spark to light the charge. This flint was found lying on a sand dune on the Kāpiti Coast, north of the Waikanae River.  We can’t be sure of its origin, but we can make a few guesses.

There was a large and important battle on the Kāpiti Coast in October 1839, fought between Te Ati Awa and Ngāti Raukawa.  It was fought in the dunes beside and inland from the river, and was known as the ‘running battle’, as the combatants ran up and down through the dunes.  Each side had muskets.

It’s possible that this flint was dropped by someone running hard along the dune – perhaps he was chasing someone?  Perhaps he was running for his life?  I wonder how he felt when he realised he’d dropped his flint.

Photo: Mary O’Keeffe

This patch of shells is an archaeological site known as a midden.  It was recorded on the Kāpiti Coast. At first glance it doesn’t look much – it’s basically someone’s rubbish. But this ‘rubbish’ can tell a big story…

It can tell us about the environment at the time that people ate this meal.  What kinds of species were they eating?  Are they the same as the species found on the Kāpiti Coast today?  If they’re not, then why not? Is this typical of archaeological sites found on the Kāpiti Coast?  How does the archaeology of the Kāpiti Coast compare with other regional coastlines around New Zealand?


Photo: Wellington City Council


These are two maple leaves and they’re a long way from home.  They’re from Nova Scotia in Canada, but they were found in a shipwreck in the middle of Wellington city.

The Inconstant was launched in Nova Scotia in 1848, but crashed on the coast in Wellington in 1849.  The ship was rescued, towed to the shoreline beside Lambton Quay and operated by John Plimmer as a floating warehouse.  This was before the 1855 earthquake, when the beach was just the other side of Lambton Quay, so the boat was floating in the shallow water. The big earthquake left the boat high and dry, she was partially dismantled and then swallowed up by reclamations.  Buildings were constructed over the top of her.

She was rediscovered in 1996 when the historic buildings over her were being refurbished. The keel of the boat was investigated by archaeologists, and the maple leaves were found right down by her keel. They saw daylight again almost 150 years after they’d left Canada.

Without looking at the small things we can miss the wider picture of how people lived, where they went, what they did and we can imagine what they must have thought and felt.

Please visit for a full list of events and to see what is happening around New Zealand as part of New Zealand Archaeology Week 2018.

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