This week ten high school students from all around New Zealand took part in “Hands-On History” – part of the larger “Hands-On” programme that this year includes the Humanities Division and has drawn nearly 400 young people to Dunedin for a week of intensive learning and fun.
The History group have been based at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, led by Dr Jane McCabe of the Department of History and Art History. The students have been learning about the ways that objects – the everyday and the extraordinary – help us to understand the connections between local and global histories.
Working in pairs, the students’ task over the week was to research and write about an object on display at Toitu, thinking about the role of the object in the gallery and locating information about the object – initially at Toitu, and then at the Hocken Collections with the expert assistance of Katherine Milburn. We also enjoyed an excellent introduction to the Central Library collections at the University of Otago with librarian Charlotte Brown.
The following pieces have been written by the students about these objects. As visitors to Dunedin, they have picked up lots of local history, as well as bringing a different perspective to Toitu’s collections. They have come up with some excellent insights!
A piece of the “Endeavour”: Encounters Gallery
In the Encounters Gallery, one of the first displays slightly hidden away in the corner has a rectangular piece of wood with copper tin attached to it by large flathead nails. This object was recovered from the wreck of an abandoned vessel, the Endeavour, more commonly known as New Zealand’s first recorded shipwreck.
The object displayed has obvious signs of wear and tear such as a slightly eroded wooden surface and rusting copper which has been bent out of shape. The object has clearly been cut into shape as there are no jagged edges. The physical appearance of the artefact communicates its age and conditions that the ship was subjected to through its long life. The placement of the object in the museum is significant because it is one of the earliest pieces dating back to the early 1790s and therefore it provides a link with some of the earliest European settlers.
The Endeavour, not to be confused with Captain Cook’s famous ship, was used to carry cattle and supplies, particularly sealing supplies. (Sealing is important in Otago’s history because the first European settlers that came to Otago were sealers, whalers and traders.) In 1795, the ship left Sydney for Norfolk Island, but after encountering a harsh storm on the journey on the Tasman Sea it ended up in Dusky Sound sometime between 5-12 October. The exact date is unknown as no diary was kept for that week. In Dusky Sound the vessel struck a rock. The ship was then declared unseaworthy by the captain, William Wright Bampton, and was stripped and abandoned. There were approximately 244 people onboard, including 45 stowaways. They all survived, but 36 were left in the area, living in the mountains for 18 months before returning to Sydney in 1797.
The shipwreck remained in Dusky Sound and scavengers continued to take pieces of wreck right into the twentieth century. Various pieces have ended up in museums around the South Island, where, as at Toitu, the artefacts are treasured and recognised as an important part of our history.
Stephanie Scobie and Jaymie Karena-Fryer
Gaelic Society Targe: New Edinburgh Gallery
This ceremonial shield was created for the Gaelic Society of New Zealand in 1881, as a symbol of their mission to defend the Gaelic language. The targe is constructed mostly of wood and leather, with a metal spike extending from the centre. It is embossed with Scottish thistles and the emblem of the Scottish national flag – the St Andrew’s Cross. The targe also has an inscription stating “Comunn Gharhealach, N.Z. 1881 Far Am Faigheadh Coigreach Baigh”, giving the date it was created as well as the society’s aim: “Far Shelter Foreigners’ Hospitality”. The targe, although created here in Dunedin, embodied the historic Scottish craftsmanship which arrived with the Scottish settlers.
The Gaelic Society was formed in Dunedin in 1881 to unite Scottish people. Its formation was met with unexpected success with over 400 Scots willing to become members. Traditionally the targe was used by clansmen in close combat as a shield, and also as stabbing tool. However, for the Society the targe was used for ceremonial purposes to show their commitment and determination to perpetuate the Gaelic language, literature, history, tradition of the Scottish highland, and to cultivate Highland music and dancing.
Over the years the Gaelic Society’s numbers declined. In 1976 the Society’s numbers were at only 65, and at 2006 it was officially dissolved. The targe found its way into the Toitu collection sometime before the 1990s. Its provenance is unknown. It is possible that it became redundant within the Society, but now it has become a prominent part of the New Edinburgh gallery at Toitu telling the story of original Scottish settlers.
Angeline Rolston and Kirby Rogers
Crinoline Cage: Material Culture Gallery
Would you ever consider wearing a cage if it was part of a fashion trend?
The crinoline cage is a popular bell-shaped petticoat that was widely worn under women’s skirts in the early 1840s through to the late 1860s. The once fashionable underskirt was first patented in the USA by W.S. Thompson in 1858 and was worn beneath women’s skirts to support the heaviness and fullness of their clothing, and to create a bell-shaped figure for the women of the Victorian era. The aim of the crinoline cage was also to decrease the size of the waist which was a huge trend in the 1800s.
In its “naked glory”, the crinoline cage was made of vertical bonds of tape with rows of either steel, whalebone or cane, and a pleated flounce. Thompson’s prize medal skirt has metal bands covered with tape held in place with tapes, eyelets and dates from the late 1850s to the early 1860s. The shape of the crinoline cage changed following their introduction. By 1865 they were much flatter at the front, but longer and more protruding at the back.
The crinoline cage was a vital component to women’s social status, and a worldwide fashion icon. The crinoline cage was widely worn in the UK and would have been imported into New Zealand; because of this very few survived. With this particular crinoline cage, the provenance is unknown.
Wherever they were worn, this “liberating device” (because it reduced the weight of petticoats) caused many accidents and were often quite hazardous. Their wearers were susceptible to being engulfed by fire – draughts from chimneys could attract the wide skirt and the air within fuelled with flames. Women were determined to wear then even though they were a hazard. Likewise, in Dunedin, renown for its muddy streets, this fashion was not a very practical way of dressing, yet because of social status and popularity women continued to wear Victorian outfits.
Visitors to Toitu can go back in time and experience Victorian costume by wearing a modern version of a crinoline cage, complete with full Victorian dress. Studying this object has made us aware of how trends have dramatically changed over time, and how strongly social status affected women’s desire – and determination – to follow fashion.
Kenya Akuhata-Brown and Keanalei Sapolu
Opium pipe: Dark Side of Dunedin Gallery
This opium pipe is located in a dark and hidden gallery that shows what life in “Devil’s Half Acre” (a central city slum in early Dunedin) was like; whereas just outside this gallery are shiny objects of the elite. This dark side is brought to life by sound effects in the gallery – bottles breaking, people fighting, and so on. This forms a contrast that shows how more wealthy Europeans had a totally different lifestyle than immigrants like Chinese.
The first twelve Chinese came to Otago from Victoria (Australia) to look for gold; they were invited by the Otago Provincial council. While they came here originally to earn money for their families in China, many ended up staying in Otago for the rest of their lives. When the gold ran out they moved towards the city which led to more encounters with local European society, and discrimination. Many Chinese used opium, which itself was a result of the British actions in China. When they came to New Zealand some Chinese brought this habit with them. But others developed this habit after coming to New Zealand due to many reasons such as loneliness and discrimination.
Because they used opium regularly others refused to accept them in society, and that led to more discrimination, so it became a neverending cycle. Opium was prohibited in 1901. But that was not the end of the problem; this meant that many Chinese had withdrawal symptoms which prevented them from working and functioning property. So this pipe is a symbol of that hardship, and this is why it is important to have it in the Otago Settlers Museum. It also helps us to think about what happens when people bring customs from their home country to a very different social context.
Prabhjot Kaur and Cindya Zhou
Radio valve: Technology Gallery
Radio is an internationally recognised form of communication and entertainment that now is just one of many kinds of media. The instant availability of the latest music or the latest news makes it hard to imagine what life was like without radio.
The valve is quite large – about the size of a water bottle – an intricate assembly of glass, metal and wire. It is a very fragile object, safely on display within a glass cabinet in the Technology gallery at Toitu. These valves were invented in France and used during the First World War, and were brought into New Zealand when some soldiers smuggled them into their jackets when returning from war.
In 1922, Dunedin’s Ralph Slade was able to receive radio signals from the USA, the first to do so in New Zealand. But this is not the only technological breakthrough Slade was to be a part of, no, he informed Frank Bell how to modify his radio set, which played a vital role in enabling the first round the world two-way radio contact between Frank Bell and a Mr Cecil Goyder in London on 18 October 1924.
The radio valve was one of many achievements for Frank Bell, who continued to break records in the distance for sending radio transmissions. So we can see that Dunedin was globally connected a century ago through advancements in this technology.
Stevie Courtney and Eniselika Ali
A couple of days ago my five year old niece asked me if it was winter – an easy mistake to make in the unsettled early weeks of Dunedin summer. When I corrected her, she replied confidently, “but it’s going to snow at Christmas – it always snows at Christmas!”
It’s not surprising that children in this part of the world might get confused about the impending arrival of the snowy scenes that surround us at this time of year. But what may be surprising to learn, is that the transfer of Christmas traditions from the old world to the new was a slow and uneven process. As Dr Ali Clarke pointed out in her recent Global Dunedin lecture, religious festivals provide a window into cultural encounters in New Zealand – not just between British settlers and tangata whenua, but amongst the new settlers too. Dunedin, with its mixed population of Scots and English, is an excellent location to note the marked difference in their observance of Christmas.
This reflected changes after the Reformation in England, when Protestants trimmed festivals. The Anglican calendar centred on events in the life of Jesus, while Presbyterians did away with all festivals, focusing instead on the week and the significance of the Sabbath. So in England, Christmas was an important holiday; while in Scotland, it was an ordinary working day. The Scots shifted their main celebrations to New Year, which was not a holiday in England.
In early Dunedin, the large number of Scots arriving from 1848 continued this tradition of working on Christmas Day. In the town, Anglican influence was soon felt, however, and it became a business holiday. But farmers of Scottish origin continued to ignore Christmas until the turn of the century. As the Scots did begin to embrace this celebration, it was more about food and family than religion. Throughout the colony, new traditions developed to celebrate a summer yuletide. Strawberries and cream joined Christmas pudding as a favourite dessert, and harvesting home grown vegetables (such as potatoes and peas) in time for the big day became an important part of festive preparations.
But what about the children? Did Santa’s sleigh jingle all the way to New Zealand? In 1891, Kate McCosh Clark, a former resident of Auckland then living in Britain, wrote A Southern Cross Fairy Tale. The story was for colonial children, “to whom snow at Christmas is unknown”, as well as youngsters in the “older land” who wanted to know what Christmas was like for their kin on the other side of the world. McCosh Clark set the scene with poetic descriptions of the local environment:
“It’s Christmas Eve and the long soft shadows of a summer night are quickly falling… No sound of joyous bells is borne upon the air… only the Bell-bird’s chimes from the bush, and the distant cow-bell’s tinkle mid the shadowy Manuka clumps.”
As the story went, the two children of the house were woken by a voice at midnight, exclaiming, “Wake up little ones!” There stood “a lad with a smiling face” and a bag of gifts.
Hal asked, “Are you a fairy?”
“No”, the lad proclaimed, “I am only Santa Claus”.
“Why, I thought Santa Claus was an old man”, said Hal.
“So I am, in the Old World”, replied he, “but here, in the New World, I am young like it.”
Hal, understandably, had immediate concerns about this proposition. Where were the reindeer, and the sleigh? How would his stocking be filled with gifts? In lieu of these traditions, the youthful Santa treated them to an enchanted tour of natural wonders, singing glow worms, gnomes and fairies, tuis and tuataras.
As it turned out, colonial children were to have their exotic new world and be visited by Santa Claus. In Dunedin from the turn of the century, children could visit magic caves and grottos in department stores like DIC, and in the arrival of Santa we might see the origins of the Santa parade. Direct from the South Pole, Santa emerged from the railway station and made his way through the town.
So when you are visiting Pixie Town, enjoying a Christmas barbeque, or queuing at the market for strawberries – take a moment to reflect on the way that our English, Scottish, and other cultural heritage has affected the way we celebrate (or not!) our mid-summer Christmas. Happy holidays!
Ali Clarke, Holiday Seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in nineteenth century New Zealand. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007.
“Important Notice”, Evening Star, 17 December 1904, p.6
Kate McCosh Clark, A Southern Cross Fairy Tale, UK, 1891. Accessed at http://www.childrenslibrary.org/
“A Southern Cross Fairy Tale”, Auckland Star, 19 December 1890, p.3
See Ali Clarke’s Toitu lecture at her blog: http://clarkesquill.com/
Why might this box of ‘Lopchu’ tea – found in a Dunedin kitchen cupboard a few months ago – cause a historian of the Kalimpong scheme to get very excited?
In the last blog we learnt about a Presbyterian scheme that arranged for the resettlement of adolescent Anglo-Indians in Dunedin in the early 20th century. Those migrants all grew up in a residential school in Kalimpong, in Northeast India.
But where were they originally from?
Exploring the life story of one of those migrants allows us to understand the larger drivers of the Kalimpong scheme, and the extraordinary trajectories of families caught up in the expansion of the British Empire and development of the tea industry.
George Langmore’s childhood was typical of the ‘Kalimpong Kids’ who were sent to Dunedin. Born on a tea plantation in Darjeeling to a British tea planter and a Nepali tea worker, for the first few years of his life George occupied the privileged but relatively free life of the planter’s child on a large estate – living in the bungalow, cared for by his mother and an ayah (Indian nanny), mixing with the various ethnic groups who worked on the plantation, and likely picking up several languages along the way.
As idyllic as it may sound to us today, this kind of childhood would have caused considerable concern to his father. Interacting with local workers, speaking local languages, roaming around the crops and ‘jungle’, and befriending children on the plantation – these were all seen as a threat to British children’s racial status. While it is tempting to be critical of the tea planters’ actions in sending their children away from the plantation, the letters written by these men to staff of the Homes have revealed their affection for their children and difficulty in parting with them.
George was sent to the Homes in Kalimpong in 1903, when he was eight years old, and there he stayed until his arrival in Dunedin with a small group in 1911. Like all of the boys from Kalimpong he was placed on a local farm. George later secured work as an attendant at Seacliff, an asylum north of Dunedin, a position he held for more than twenty years. In 1918 George married Ellen Percy. He took Ellen to India in 1927, where they visited Kalimpong and the tea estate where he was born.
George and Ellen had two daughters, and settled in Musselburgh. In 1937 John Graham, founder of the Homes, visited New Zealand with the aim of meeting again all of his graduates living there. For his week in Dunedin he stayed with George, who took him around the city to find the various graduates living here.
Graham wrote in his diary that George ‘must have done well’, noting two features of the Langmore home that attested to George’s global heritage: the fine carpets in the house were from Glasgow, and there was a sign on the gate that said ‘Lopchu Villa’. Lopchu was the name of his father’s tea estate in Darjeeling.
In their later years, many Kalimpong emigrants were reluctant to talk about their Indian heritage. But they have left clues that descendants have followed, often all the way back to Kalimpong and the tea plantations of Assam and Darjeeling.
George Langmore was relatively open about his connections to India. His descendants remember his love of cooking Indian food, and his unwillingness to settle for an ordinary cup of tea – he sourced tea (and pickles!) from India, mixing together a blend of different teas to get a ‘good cuppa’.
Beneath these quiet connections to their places of birth, the Kalimpong emigrants have held close their stories of separation from their imperial families. Archival research has enabled many descendants to reconnect with relatives in Britain, but there is little chance of tracing the maternal line of these tea plantation families.
Diary of John Graham, 1937, Kalimpong Papers, National Library of Scotland.
Iris McFarlane, Daughters of the Empire. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Roy Moxham, Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2003.
Special thanks to the Langmore family for providing photographs and biographical details for George Langmore.
How much do we really know about our multi-cultural origins?
As access to digital technologies and international travel to all parts of the globe continues to expand, researchers are uncovering pockets of unexpected cultural diversity in Dunedin’s early history.
A good example is the Presbyterian scheme that arranged for the resettlement of Anglo-Indian adolescents from Kalimpong to Dunedin in the early 20th century.
These migrants were the children of British tea planters and local women workers in Assam in northeast India. By the late 19th century, interracial mixing in British India was regarded as socially unacceptable. The isolation of Assam plantations meant that planters could continue to cohabit with local women, but what was to become of their children? Sending them ‘home’ (to Britain) for an education was out of the question.
The connection to Dunedin began with a Presbyterian Scot, Dr John Graham. Graham was a missionary in Kalimpong, a hillstation in the Darjeeling district. On his visits to planters, he often noticed mixed-race children being ushered into the back of their bungalows. In 1900, he secured a large area of land above the township of Kalimpong, and opened St Andrew’s Colonial Homes. His grand vision was to raise and educate tea planters’ children at the Homes and send them to the settler colonies when they reached working age.
Graham saw this as a solution that worked for the greater imperial good: settler colonies could help to resolve the Anglo-Indian ‘problem’ in India, and in return they received robust workers to fill labour shortages in lower status jobs like farm work and domestic service. It is easy to forget how strongly New Zealand and India were connected within the framework of the British Empire.
An article in the St Andrew’s Colonial Homes magazine, in January 1908, announced the departure of the first two graduates of the scheme from Kalimpong to Dunedin:
BEGINNING LIFE’S BATTLE
Our big boys are beginning to leave us and take their places in the world. Two fine lads sailed in the beginning of December to become COLONISTS in New Zealand… Miss Ponder of Waitahuna, Dunedin, is kindly arranging for their settlement.
The Reverend James Ponder and his sister were stationed at Waitahuna. Like Graham, James Ponder was a Scot, educated at Edinburgh University and experienced in overseas missionary work. His brother worked with Graham in Kalimpong. Ponder’s location, in a thriving rural community in South Otago, meant he was ideally placed to assist the Homes scheme by finding placements for the boys with local Presbyterian farming families.
In 1909 Graham visited Dunedin, to check on the first four male emigrants and to bring with him the first young woman to be placed in a Dunedin household. He met local Presbyterian reformers like Rutherford Waddell, and in an interview with the Otago Witness spoke enthusiastically about the development of the young colony. “Dunedin seems very homelike to me’, he stated. “As a Scot I delight to hear the good old accent.”
Graham returned to Kalimpong much encouraged, and set about regularly sending small groups to Dunedin. Between 1908 and 1920, 59 Kalimpong graduates landed at Port Chalmers and settled locally. In 1920, the scheme shifted northwards. Another 71 migrants landed in Wellington before the New Zealand government stopped granting permits to groups from Kalimpong in 1938.
This story of migration from Kalimpong connects Dunedin to the wider imperial and global circuit of missionaries and the development of the tea industry. The question of the migrants’ integration into the social fabric of Dunedin – and subsequent silence about their Indian heritage – will be addressed in the next blog through the story of one Kalimpong family.
Jane McCabe, “Kalimpong Kids: The Lives and Labours of Anglo-Indian Adolescents Resettled in New Zealand between 1908 and 1938”. PhD dissertation, University of Otago, 2014.
James R. Minto, Graham of Kalimpong, Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1974.
“The Land of the Sahib”, Otago Witness, 1 September 1909.