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.

Plimmer’s Ark at the Old Bank Arcade – What are you doing there??

By Eleisha Fisk, Visitor Services Host

Elisha 2

When I first heard that there was a ship buried in the Old Bank Arcade I almost didn’t believe my ears. After all, how on earth does a ship find itself landlocked underneath a major city? After some digging I slowly learnt the origins of this well-known Wellington landmark and I will re-tell it for you.

John Plimmer, nicknamed the ‘Father of Wellington’, was the owner of this ship; however, he was not the first. In fact, this ship started its journey half way around the world in the Bras D’or shipping yards of Nova Scotia. It was originally a three-mast sailing ship known as the barque, Inconstant.

Model of barque ship, Inconstant. Photo: Museums Wellington

In 1849, only a year after she was built, the Inconstant sailed from Australia to Peru carrying a cargo of tea and animal skins. In need of fresh water she entered Wellingtons harbour to resupply for the rest of her journey across the great Pacific Ocean. However, the Inconstant was fated to never leave Wellington’s infamous harbour, which has claimed many ships both in our recent history and more distant past. The Inconstant hit rocks at Pencarrow head, at the entrance of Wellington harbour. The Royal Navy pitched in and hauled the ship off the rocks at Pencarrow and towed her into the harbour where she was beached at Te Aro.

turnbull library
Mantell, Walter Baldock Durrant (Hon),”Inconstant”, now “Noah’s Ark”, Feb 24 [1850?] Ref: C-103-011-2. Alexander Turnbull Library. /records/22431046

A ship builder called William McKenzie bought the ship at an auction. Shortly after, he sold it to John Plimmer for ₤80. Once Plimmer took ownership the plan was set to move her to the foreshore in front of Lambton Quay, across from what are now known as Plimmers steps, which conveniently led to his house. In order to get the ship from Te Aro to Lambton Quay empty oil barrels and large casks known as hogsheads were strapped to the ships hulls to re-float her. At high tide, with the help of 40 men and a lot of rope, the Inconstant was dragged along the coast to her final resting place. Many locals who saw the commotion were said to have jumped in to help along the way – one can imagine it would have been quite a sight to see.

Once the ship was in position, the first major changes began. Plimmer had the bilges filled with spoil, levelled the ship by cutting away the upper works of the bow section, and erected a building with a pitched roof on the midsection of the hull. It was this building that would give rise to the ship’s new nickname. That night, across the road in Barrett’s Hotel they celebrated their success and christened the vessel ‘Plimmers Noah’s Ark’ after the well-known Christian story. The lower part of the ship formed a basement and a small bridge provided access from the Ark to Lambton Quay. The ship, or what was left of it, would now serve as a wharf, business offices, immigration, and bonded warehouse.

Holmes, William Howard. Wellington, from the beach, Clay Point, April, 1854. Ref: D-018-003-a. Alexander Turnbull Library. /records/22354723

And it worked well, until the largest earthquake in New Zealand’s history hit Wellington in 1855. The 8.2 magnitude earthquake was so big it lifted the harbour’s foreshore by at least one metre and dislodged the Ark, causing it to tip over. The water surrounding the vessel was now too shallow to act as a jetty where immigrants and cargo could unload. It continued to be used as a warehouse and offices, though, as the years passed the city grew and began to reclaim land from the sea. Eventually the city reached the Ark and she became landlocked. The structure on the old ship that had earnt her the nickname ‘Plimmer’s Ark’ was demolished, her ribs were cut down to ground level, and she was buried as the city gave way to progress.

Little, K M. Photograph of John Plimmer standing on the remains of Noah’s Ark. Ref: PAColl-3398. Alexander Turnbull Library. /records/23094291

In 1899 excavations for the new Bank of New Zealand head office uncovered the remainder of the ship and sections of her timbers were turned into three chairs. One of which was given to Alexander Turnbull, and can be found even today in the Turnbull Library. The second was given to the Department of Education, and later gifted to the national museum, Te Papa, where it currently sits in their archives. And the third went to the head office of the Bank of New Zealand where it likely stays until this day. And the remainder you may ask? It was buried once again and would stay that way for almost 100 years.

plimmers 2
Archaeologists Susan Forbes and Mary O’Keefe sift through mud looking for artefacts in the basement of Wellington’s old Bank of New Zealand building in 1997. Alexander Turnbull Library, Dominion Post Collection (PAColl-7327) Reference: EP/1997/1994 Photograph by Jo Head

During renovations to the Old Bank Arcade in the late 1990s, the Inconstant was re-discovered and excavated. Thanks to being buried under the city the timbers of the old ship were preserved from any serious deterioration. A display was set in the bottom of the Old Bank Arcade to house the timbers in their final resting place and this is how it has remained – a hidden surprise under Wellington’s inner city. You can view the timbers, along with other remains, and read further stories there.

Plimmers Ark, today.  Photo: Museums Wellington

It’s curious how we find ways to repurpose pieces of history. I wonder what George Old, the ship’s builder, would think about the fate of his vessel and all the extensive changes it underwent after leaving his hands in 1848. One thing is for sure however, the future of the Inconstant/Plimmer’s Ark looks bright, and remains assured.

Interesting questions I am asked about my work. And my replies.

By Rachel Ingram, Head of Learning and Programmes


Q: You work at Museums Wellington – you mean Te Papa?
(Smiling to self and considering getting a tee-shirt)
No, Te Papa is the national museum, we are a group of smaller museums who share the stories of Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

Q: Did you follow a university pathway into your role?
A: (with gratitude to the senior management team at Museums Wellington)
No not at all, although I loved museums (and vividly recall my first wide-eyed experience as a little country kid visiting the great hall in Buckle St) I didn’t realise that there could be a career in them for me. I didn’t attend university and have arrived here through a teaching background.

Q: Can you give six key words that sum up your values?
A: (Smiling apologetically because there are 8)
inclusion relationships relevance accessibility community whanau diversity ownership

Q: And a sentence around that?
A: (you must be kidding, a sentence?)
Relationships, inclusion, diversity and access are key to everything we do – empowering communities to take ownership is critical to museums being relevant and making the move from stakeholders to whanau partnerships. (phew!)

Q: Can you identify key moments in the development of your thinking?
A: (deep breath, this is really important)
Working with the Wellington Polish Community around the 70th anniversary of the Polish Children arriving in Wellington. This was where I saw the power and richness achieved when a community programmes and exhibits their own stories. It was a moving, generous and joyful week and during it I understood the difference between programming for and programming with/by. This has informed my thinking ever since, for which I am very grateful.

Q: Who or what have influenced your practice? Top three?
A: (nervous smile – there will be at least 4)

1: FLUX, the co-operative of 18-30 year olds who run the community space at Wellington Museum. They support individuals and groups to schedule programmes and exhibitions for the space. This is making the museum relevant to an age group who are not traditionally museum goers. I have great admiration for the co-op’s dedication and commitment.

2: Arts Access Aotearoa, who have supported us to embed accessibility and a more inclusive approach across our museums.

3A: My colleagues, I work alongside exceptional colleagues whose creativity, knowledge and capacity to learn and push further is inspiring.

3B: FIHRM (Federation of International Human Rights Museums), who have informed my thinking around the role of the 21st century museum, particularly regarding contested histories and contemporary issues.

Q: It sounds a lovely job?
(genuinely and with a lurch of the heart)

It is. It really is.



The Wahine – could this tragedy happen again?

The 50th anniversary of the TEV Wahine disaster

Guest blog by Captain Mike Pryce, Wellington Regional Harbour Master (1989-2017)

Mike Pryce
Captain Mike Pryce

With the fiftieth anniversary of this tragic event occurring on 10th April 2018, it is understood that various commemorative activities have been planned to coincide with this.

Wahine II at Queens Wharf by Martin Cahill
Wahine II at Queen’s Wharf (1997) by Martin Cahill. Museum collection

The various detailed enquiry reports show that the primary cause of the tragedy was severe weather conditions and ‘wrong place, wrong time’, but there were other factors.  One question that is frequently asked is: ‘Could it happen again, and would authorities be better prepared now than they were back then?’ An interesting question!

Wahine Weather maps
Wahine Weather Maps (2008) by David Ellis. Museum collection

One of the key points mentioned in the enquiry was the critical period when the severe weather and radar breakdown made it impossible for those on board to know their exact position in the harbour entrance.

Binnacle cover
Binnacle cover from the Wahine. Museum collection. [A binnacle displays and protects the fragile navigational instruments]

One could perhaps ponder on the options available today, with vastly-increased use and reliability of electronic aids to navigation.  Ships have two radar sets today, with a large and a small scanner size.  With improved mechanical reliability, it would be hoped that both did not become inoperative at the same time.  Modern electronic equipment fitted to ferries and shore helps to ensure that their voyages are safe and well-monitored.

Greater Wellington Regional Council’s (the harbour authority) Beacon Hill Communications Station (Wellington Harbour Radio) opened a new building in December 2010, fully-equipped with the latest electronic gadgets.  The experienced station operators are able to check positions of all vessels by radar and AIS (Automated Identification System – similar to monitoring aircraft transponders, but from ship) and liaise closely with CentrePort Wellington.  A wave-rider buoy stationed off Baring Head (at the eastern harbour entrance) provides swell-height and swell-direction information, and an electronic in-harbour weather monitoring system provides wind-speed and direction information at various locations inside the harbour.  A webcam at Beacon Hill enables the sea and weather conditions at the harbour entrance to be viewed ‘live’ so that nobody is in any doubt about the weather conditions prevailing.

Beacon Hill Signal Station
Beacon Hill signal station (Wellington Harbour Radio) ttp://

Similar sophisticated electronic equipment and data-recorders are fitted to all the ferries, helping to make their routine voyages safer, and enabling various operational departments ashore to know exactly where the ferry is, when it will arrive, and when sailings might need to be cancelled.  Adherence to the NZ Port & Harbour Safety Code enables all information to be carefully considered when ferry sailings are decided.

It is a far-cry from ‘the olden days’ of bad weather when the ferries disappeared from sight into the spume of Cook Strait.

SS manuka
SS Manuka (1911) by Frank Barnes. Museum collection

A special Wahine exhibition ‘One Tragedy – A Range of Responses’ is on display in the Museum.

Featured Image: Wahine Wreck (1976) by MR Jackson. Museum collection


For Flux Sake

By Richard Latty, Visitor Services Host – Wellington Museum

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past year, Flux is a co-operatively run dynamic, living and thinking space that opened in Wellington Museum last March. It is run through a co-op of volunteers who curate the exhibitions on display, program the workshops and assist with any other community events that might be held in the space.

Wellington is a city full of art and culture, but we had noticed the lack of spaces for Wellington young creatives. So the Wellington Museum management team decided to do something about this, launching Flux at the end of March 2017 as a space for 18-30 year old creatives to:

  • share stories through exhibitions
  • stage performance, events and public programmes
  • create content and experiences that are relevant to you
  • explore ideas and perspectives
  • build community relationships

The kaupapa of Flux in based on inclusion for all people involved. We want it to be a safe space where all people feel comfortable and welcome. We aim to showcase this through the variety of exhibitions, programs, events and programmes we host in the space. Another key aspect of the kaupapa of Flux is connecting with different communities who feel a connection to Te Whanganui a Tara and building on these relationships. We do this while ensuring we keep Flux sustainable so future generations can continue to enjoy the planet as we do today.

In the Midst exhibition. April 2017. Artwork by Jonathan Waters. Photo: Bena Jackson    

Flux is run through a co-op of volunteers who strive to meet once a month. The co-op is made up of a variety of people who work in Wellington Museum along with fellow young Wellington creatives. During our monthly meeting we get together and talk about what is going well, what is going not so well, and choose the submissions we will be accepting. We would like to be able to meet on a more regular basis but because we all either study or work full time already, it can be hard to pin everyone down.

Dog Life Drawing. April 2017. Photo: Bena Jackson

During the nearly 12 months that Flux has been in existence we have hosted a number of varying exhibitions, events, programmes and workshops. These range from a dog life drawing workshop to In the Midst, an exhibition from a variety of young people at different stages of mental health. In 2017 we had 9 exhibitions and we hope to match this in 2018. Add to this a number of workshops, theatre performances and gigs and this group of volunteers has their work cut out for them.

The Flux co-op decided to have a break over the summer months after a very busy 2017. We are slowly starting to creep into 2018 with a number of very cool events coming up in the next few months.

Discharge is Rotten to the Core. March 2018. Photo: Lucy Fulford

April proves to be a very exciting time for Flux with the Play by Play Games Festival transforming Flux into any gamer’s dream. You will get the chance to have a go at playing the video games that have made it to the final of the 2018 Play by Play Games Festival, not to mention having a go at some Virtual Reality Gaming. This will be running from the 16th of April for one week so don’t miss out.

Play by Play Games Festival Exhibition will be in Flux from April 16-21. Come down and bring out your inner gamer.

We are currently looking for exhibitions, workshops, gigs, whatever you want to put on display, for the next couple of months. If you are interested in putting something on in Flux don’t be afraid to contact us on We see ourselves as being here to facilitate your needs and we will do everything in our power to do so.

Finally, the co-op are always looking for fresh ideas so if you are interested in joining or coming along to a meeting to see what we do, flick us an email- or find us on facebook at to find out more about us or what we have coming up.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Museums Wellington and Experience Wellington on behalf of the co-op. Involving myself in Flux has been, and will continue to be, a learning curve and I hope that others are willing to come join us on the journey.

Ngā Mihi

Rico on behalf of the Flux co-op



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