Out of the box: the Blackie family collection

Thursday, January 11th, 2018 | David Murray | 4 Comments

Post researched and written by Ali Clarke, Hocken Collections Assistant

An undated photograph of the Blackie family farmhouse near Kaitangata. The farm was named Pendreich. MS-4443/149.

In the Blackie family farmhouse, beside the Matau branch of the Clutha River, near Kaitangata, was a large table. Into a drawer in that table went all sorts of pieces of paper, from tickets and receipts to letters and notebooks. Over more than a century and three generations, the oldest items were pushed to the back of the drawer as new items were added; a collection of fascinating items detailing the life of the farm, the family and the district accumulated.

Those papers form one part of a wonderful collection of Blackie family papers and photographs, donated to the Hocken by Judith Robinson over the past few years. We have recently completed full arrangement and description of the collection, which is now listed on our online catalogue, Hākena (reference ARC-0329).

The Blackie family, originally from Dundee, began its connection with Otago in 1848, when James Blackie arrived in Dunedin on the ‘Philip Laing’ as first school master of the Otago Free Church colony. He started a school in Dunedin, but became ill with tuberculosis; he went to Sydney late in 1850 and died there early in 1851. He had bought land for a farm near Kaitangata and, after various legal complications, his brother Davidson Blackie, plus wife Margaret Pandrich and four children, migrated to take up the land, arriving at Kaitangata in 1860. Three generations of Blackies ran the farm, while some family members branched out. Davidson Blackie’s son James was an early student of the University of Otago and the first graduate of the local Theological Hall – he served as a Presbyterian minister in Cromwell and Lumsden and large surrounding districts until his early death. His widow, Jeanetta Blackie, was first principal of the Presbyterian Women’s Training Institute (later known as Deaconess College), and one of his daughters, Agnes Blackie, was a long-serving physics lecturer at the university. Davidson’s son Alexander worked on the family farm, talking a couple of years off in the late 1870s for an extensive world tour. Alexander’s daughter Nell was a physical education teacher and inspector, while his daughter Rhoda completed a home science degree and had a long career at Southland Technical College. Nell and Rhoda both retired back to the farm, where they lived with their brother Davidson and sister Pansie. Another part of the family was in North Otago. Margaret Blackie (Rev. James and Alexander’s sister) married William Dewar; they farmed near Maheno and had a large family. Two of their sons, Alexander and Davidson, were killed in World War I.

The collection is wonderfully rich and it is only possible to highlight a few of its treasures here. There are many letters between family members and friends in New Zealand and Scotland, and also cousins in the USA, describing life in those places. There is an unusually full set of papers relating to Davidson and Margaret Blackie and children’s migration from Dundee to Otago, including their tickets, and some older items they brought with them (music, old family ledgers, school books). There are many accounts and receipts for farms and households. The papers of individual family members vary according to their work and interests. Among the items relating to the University of Otago are Rev. James Blackie’s 1870s student notebooks, Rhoda Blackie’s 1910s home science essays and Agnes Blackie’s reminiscences of her life as a student and then lecturer of physics from the 1910s to the 1950s. There are many items relating to World War I, including letters from various family members and friends on active service. A large collection of photographs ranges from 1840s and 1850s daguerreotypes to twentieth century studio portraits and informal snapshots.

We are very grateful to Judith Robinson, whose late husband Keith Robinson was a grandson of Rev. James and Jeanetta Blackie, for the donation of this collection.

Among the oldest items in the collection are these three manuscript books of music. One is named Alex Laing; there are dates in the 1810s next to some tunes. They include many traditional Scottish tunes – below is a close-up of another page from the one named Alex Laing. At first we wondered if they were for the bagpipes, but now suspect they may be for the violin. We welcome any further thoughts on that! MS-4456/180.

A receipt for two heifers, purchased by James Blackie in Dunedin in 1849, and another for two cows, a calf and a chestnut mare, which John Salmond was to take charge of for Blackie the following year. The ailing Blackie travelled to Sydney, but died there a few months later. MS-4456/126.

This is one of several letters written by Rev. Thomas Burns, religious leader of the Otago colony, to the Blackie family in Scotland about the estate of James Blackie. There is also a power of attorney for Burns to manage the estate. MS-4456/125.

A ticket for the Blackie family’s voyage from Liverpool to Auckland in 1859. They travelled from Dundee to Glasgow by train, then by steamer to Liverpool, on the ‘Shooting Star’ to Auckland, then by coastal ship to Dunedin. MS-4456/184.

During his trip to Australia, North America, Asia and Europe in 1878-1879, Alexander Blackie kept a journal. This page shows his impressions of Gallipoli: ‘This is not a large place by any means but from the amount of interest & remarks made about it both during the Crimean & Turko Russian War it is evidently a place of considerable Importance Possibly from its situation on the straits & the difficulty of forcing a passage it it once was in the hands of Russia’. MS-4456/111.

The first page of James Blackie’s notebook for zoology lectures at the University of Otago in 1879. MS-4465/006.

Some receipts relating to Rev. James Blackie’s death and funeral, 1897. He had travelled to Dunedin for medical treatment. MS-4443/082.

While there are many World War I letters in the collection, this is something rarer: letters from the South African War. James McDonald was a ploughman for the Blackies. He headed to war as a bugler with New Zealand’s 5th contingent to South Africa, writing home to his employer, Alexander Blackie. MS-4456/074.

Davidson Blackie was one of several family members to serve in World War I – these are his identification tags. He was ‘a reluctant soldier’, noted Judith Robinson; ‘When we cleared out the house in 1982/3 after cousin Rhoda died, we found his army pack, just as he left it on returning home – dirty sox, half used (cake) toothpaste etc., programmes for shipboard concerts etc’. MS-4462/047.

Perhaps the oldest photograph in the collection is this daguerrotype, dating from around the 1840s or 1850s. It is thought to be of Alexander Blackie (1788-1874), father of James and Davidson Blackie, and his second wife, Mary Henderson. MS-4443/217.

Another 1840s-1850s daguerrotype, of an unidentified man, has a beautiful case. MS-4443/212.

Agnes Blackie with her first car, ‘Matilda’, purchased in 1930. MS-4443/126.

Lel, Father Christmas, and ‘The Sun’s Babies’

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017 | David Murray | 2 Comments

Post researched and written by David Murray, Archivist

One of the cutest Christmas messages in the Hocken Collections is found on a postcard in the papers of Dunedin poet and editor Charles Brasch.

The front of the postcard shows the picturesque St John’s Anglican Church, Waikouaiti. The message on the reverse reads:

Mr Father Christmas

Dec 3rd

Dear Farther Christmas.
please will you give me these things
the “Suns Babys” and a doll.
love from Lesley Brasch
adress is 99 London St.

Lesley Brasch, known in her family as ‘Lel’, was Charles’s younger sister. Their father was the lawyer Hyam Brasch, and their mother Helene (née Fels) was related to the Hallensteins, a prominent Jewish family associated with the New Zealand Clothing Company and other businesses.

Born in 1911, Lel lived with her parents and brother at ‘Bankton’. Originally the home of Rev. Thomas Burns, and later of Sir Robert Stout, its address was 99 London Street when the postcard was used. The property was later subdivided and other houses have since been built in front of it. Its address is now 4 Stoutgate.

Lesley with her brother Charles at ‘Manono’, London Street, the property of their grandparents, Willi and Sara Fels. Bankton was a little further up the street, on the opposite side. E.A. Phillips photographer. Ref: Hocken Collections MS-0996-012/100.

We don’t know what year Lel wrote her request, but it was when she was a little girl in the 1910s.  She addressed it to Father Christmas at the D.I.C., or to give it its complete mouthful of a name, the Drapery and General Importing Company of New Zealand Limited. Her own great-grandfather, Bendix Hallenstein, established the business some thirty years or so before.

The Dunedin department store was a logical place to send a message to the jolly red-suited man. From 1902 children could visit him every afternoon before Christmas, and in the 1910s the company advertised: ‘Father Christmas is at Home at the D.I.C.’. In 1917, the store advertised ’20 big busy departments full of Xmas gifts’, and a Toyland for Children. It invited parents to bring their children to see Father Christmas in his quaint old chimney corner. Admission was sixpence and children were given a present. Seventy years later children still visited the D.I.C. to see Santa. Its later attractions included Pixie Town, now on display at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. The D.I.C.’s Dunedin store closed in 1991, after the company was taken over by Arthur Barnett.

Advertisement from the Otago Daily Times, 15 December 1917 p.2. Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand: https://goo.gl/nCBBvo.

Lel asked Father Christmas for a popular and particularly beautiful children’s book, The Sun’s Babies by Edith Howes. Even at a young age the Braschs were supporting New Zealand writers! Born in London in 1872, Howes came to New Zealand with her family when still an infant, and became known as a teacher, writer, and educationalist. She lived in a variety of places around the country, including Ashburton, Wanganui, Makarewa, Gore, Wellington, and Christchurch. In later life she lived in Dunedin, where she died in 1954.

The Sun’s Babies, published in 1910, is set in a mythical fairy world. It includes stories and poems about plants, animals and fairies in the different seasons of the year, incorporating life lessons. The first of Howes’s children’s books, it met with both critical acclaim and popular success. Hocken holds three editions of the book, including Cassell & Co’s original 1910 edition and the 1913 edition shown here. The illustrations are by the English artist Frank Watkins (1863-1929).

Howes, Edith. The Sun’s Babies. London: Cassell and Company, 1913. Hocken Publications, Bliss YO How.s.

Illustration by Frank Watkins from The Sun’s Babies. The caption reads: ‘When she saw Tinyboy she hid her face shyly in her curls’.

Did Lesley get her book and doll? We don’t know but like to think so. Perhaps the answer awaits discovery in the Brasch papers,

There are thousands of postcards in the papers and they are less studied than many other parts of the collection. This particular card can be found in the item: ‘Envelope labelled “Loose postcards” including postcards from family and de Beer, Fels, Hallenstein and Brasch families’ (Charles Brasch papers, Hocken Archives, Uare Taoka o Hākena, MS-0996-012/521).

Merry Christmas from the Hocken Collections.


IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY…Commemorating the Ngāi Tahu Treaty settlement

Monday, November 20th, 2017 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post researched and written by Scott Campbell, Collections Assistant

Otago Daily Times, 22 November 1997, p3. “Ngai Tahu claims manager Anake Goodall points out the dotted line to Ngai Tahu chief negotiator Sir Tipene O’Regan, while Prime Minister Jim Bolger looks on. Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi negotiations Doug Graham adds his signature beside them.” The event happened at Kaikōura

On 21 November 1997, representatives of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the Crown gathered at Takahanga Marae in Kaikōura to sign the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement. A copy of the Deed of Settlement occupies a good foot of shelf space in the Hocken’s publications stack. What was it all about? Why is the settlement significant? How can one learn more about it?

The signing of the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement marked a milestone in the evolution of the relationship between Ngāi Tahu[1] and the Crown. For many years the Crown, in its relationship with Ngāi Tahu, had failed to uphold the standards required of a partner to the Treaty of Waitangi. Finally, as its representatives inked their names on the Deed, the Crown was making a commitment to doing something to make up for that.

Today is a day for New Zealanders to acknowledge Ngāi Tahu whānui past, present and future. The anniversary of the signing of the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement provides an opportunity to remember the painful past, to pay tribute to the hard work and sacrifices made by generations of Ngāi Tahu to reach a settlement, and to celebrate the successes of Ngāi Tahu over the last 20 years. And even though the historical Treaty claims of Ngāi Tahu have been settled, the Treaty partnership and the responsibilities that go with it remain as important today as ever. Through reflection on the past, this anniversary also provides us with an opportunity to think about the mahi we can do to continue strengthening the Treaty partnership over the next twenty year period and beyond.

The Ngāi Tahu Treaty settlement – what is it, and why is it significant?

The signing of the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement concluded negotiations between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the Crown for the settlement of all Ngāi Tahu historical Treaty of Waitangi claims. The Ngāi Tahu claims against the Crown – known as Te Kerēme to Ngāi Tahu whānui – spanned a time period reaching all the way back to the 1840s. Te Kerēme concerned the devastating cultural, economic and environmental impacts that stemmed from the Crown’s purchasing of almost all of the land held by Ngāi Tahu whānui prior to 1840 – some 34.5 million acres, covering much of the South Island – without honouring the promises it made to Ngāi Tahu when negotiating the purchases.

The Deed of Settlement recorded the agreements made between the Crown and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu during settlement negotiations. As part of the settlement, the Crown would make a formal apology to Ngāi Tahu whānui for its historical actions that breached the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles. The text of the Crown’s apology, recorded in the Deed in te reo Māori and English, acknowledged that the Crown “acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in its dealings with Ngāi Tahu in the purchases of Ngāi Tahu land.” The apology text went on to express the Crown’s profound regret and unreserved apology “to all members of Ngāi Tahu Whānui for the suffering and hardship caused to Ngāi Tahu, and for the harmful effects which resulted to the welfare, economy and development of Ngāi Tahu as a tribe.”[2]

The Deed of Settlement also detailed a redress package that the Crown agreed to provide to Ngāi Tahu “in recognition of the mana of Ngāi Tahu and to discharge the Crown’s obligations to Ngāi Tahu in respect of the Ngāi Tahu Claims.” [3] The package, valued at $170 million, included transfer of Crown properties and forestry assets to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, vesting of significant sites in Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and provisions relating to mahinga kai. As part of the settlement, the Crown recognised the original name of New Zealand’s highest mountain, agreed to officially rename it Aoraki/Mount Cook, and agreed to return Aoraki maunga to Ngāi Tahu. Ngāi Tahu would then gift the maunga to the people of New Zealand while retaining an active and ongoing role in the management of the area.[4]

On 29 September 1998, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. The Act enshrined in law the agreements recorded in the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement and activated the settlement redress package. On 29 November 1998, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley delivered the Crown apology to Ngāi Tahu gathered at Ōnuku Marae on Banks Peninsula.

More than a decade earlier, Tipene O’Regan had addressed the Waitangi Tribunal on the traditional history and identity of Ngāi Tahu whānui. For generations of Ngāi Tahu, colonisation had more or less wiped their iwi off the map and out of the consciousness of most New Zealanders. Ngāi Tahu had suffered a perception that they were, in O’Regan’s words, “something less than Maori, as culturally impoverished.”[5] Amongst other things, the Ngāi Tahu settlement is significant for its contribution to turning that perception around.

After the settlement was finalised, Ngāi Tahu – in the words of some commentators – was “the whale that awoke”.[6] Today Ngāi Tahu are well-known as tangata whenua across most of Te Waipounamu. Ngāi Tahu institutions are strong, the iwi is empowered to exercise its kaitiaki responsibilities over the natural environment in a variety of ways, and Ngāi Tahutanga is flourishing. Ngāi Tahu commercial activities in farming, property, seafood and tourism are also booming. Last week Ngāi Tahu announced a net profit of $126.8 million for the year ending June 2017, and iwi Kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai told Radio New Zealand that the iwi’s net worth had reached $1.36 billion.[7]

As well as the significances for Ngāi Tahu whānui, the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement has served as an influential model for subsequent Treaty settlements. Following on from the Ngāi Tahu Deed and several other major agreements signed in the 1990s (the largest being the 1992 Fisheries Settlement and 1995 Waikato Raupatu Settlement), individual iwi and the Crown have completed a steadily increasing number of deals in the twenty-first century. As at 17 August 2017, the Crown had signed 85 deeds of settlement with different iwi.[8]

Understanding the Ngāi Tahu claims and settlement

The Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement was the product of lengthy direct negotiations between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the Crown. But the history of Te Kerēme is much much longer. Here at the Hocken Collections we are privileged to care for a wealth of material that illuminates Ngāi Tahu history and culture. Through He Kī Taurangi, the Memorandum of Understanding between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the University of Otago, we maintain a special relationship with Ngāi Tahu. For an overview of Ngāi Tahu material at the Hocken you can download our reference guide to Kāi Tahu Sources at the Hocken Collections. The collections contain many sources that can help us to understand Te Kerēme and its history, to understand the settlement itself, and to contextualise and critique the settlement.

Jumping straight to the more recent history of Te Kerēme, it is important to understand that the settlement negotiations followed an extensive period of Waitangi Tribunal inquiries into Ngāi Tahu grievances. The Waitangi Tribunal began investigating Te Kerēme in the late-1980s and presented its findings and recommendations in several substantial reports published in the early-1990s.

A selection of resources on the Ngāi Tahu settlement at the Hocken Collections

In addition to the Waitangi Tribunal’s published reports, the Hocken holds two large archival collections of evidence presented to the Tribunal by the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board and the Crown. With a combined total of more than 700 items, these are rich collections.  As well as legal submissions they contain whakapapa, traditional histories, maps, plans and research reports on a wide variety of topics. Did you know the Crown promised to reserve land for Ngāi Tahu on Princes Street as a place to land waka? What ever happened to that? Only one way to find out…

Hocken’s published collections contain the Tribunal’s reports, the Deed of Settlement, and further items that provide insights into the settlement negotiations and the significance of the settlement itself. In addition to government briefings, iwi consultation documents and other publications directly related to the settlement negotiations, we hold many books, theses, journals and newspapers that address and analyse the Ngāi Tahu settlement and the wider processes of claims inquiries and negotiated settlements. “Are Treaty of Waitangi settlements achieving justice?” you might be asking yourself. If so, you will be glad to know that we hold a PhD thesis with a particular focus on the Ngāi Tahu settlement that addresses that very question.

Hocken’s collection of New Zealand election ephemera is another important resource for researchers seeking to understand the ways in which Treaty of Waitangi claims and settlements were represented in the wider political discussion at the time of the Ngāi Tahu settlement. Hocken Collections Assistants recently completed a project to list all items in the Hocken election ephemera collection, a collection that encompasses electioneering material dating from the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the present. The project team was struck by the frequency with which Treaty of Waitangi issues featured in electioneering material received from a broad range of candidates and parties, particularly from the 1996 and 1999 general elections. These items help paint a picture of both the importance and the controversy that was attached to deals like the Ngāi Tahu settlement at a time when Treaty settlements were a new frontier in the New Zealand political landscape.

Want to learn more? Come in and see us at the Hocken Collections. We are open Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 5pm.

For those of you that cannot visit the Hocken Collections in person, you can learn a little more about Te Kerēme and the Ngāi Tahu Treaty settlement by visiting these websites:

For more information about historical Treaty of Waitangi claims and Treaty of Waitangi settlements, check out the websites of the Waitangi Tribunal and the Office of Treaty Settlements.

[1] “Ngāi Tahu” is used in this post for consistency with the iwi name used in the documents generated by the Waitangi Tribunal and Treaty settlement processes. However, “Kāi Tahu” is commonly used in the regions south of the Waitaki River.

[2] You can read the full text of the Crown’s apology to Ngāi Tahu (as it appeared in the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998) in te reo Māori here, and in English here.

[3] Parties Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Her Majesty the Queen in right of New Zealand: Deed of Settlement, (Wellington: Office of the Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, 1997), section 2.3.1.

[4] “Aoraki,” Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu website: http://ngaitahu.iwi.nz/ngai-tahu/the-settlement/settlement-offer/aoraki/ (accessed 20 November 2017).

[5] “Brief of evidence: Tipene O’Regan: Ka korero o mua o Kaitahu whanui,” (Wai 27, #A27).

[6] Ann Parsonson, “Ngāi Tahu – The Whale That Awoke: From Claim to Settlement (1960-1998),” in John Cookson and Graeme Dunstall (eds), Southern Capital – Christchurch – Towards a City Biography 1850-2000, (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2000), p. 272.

[7] “Ngāi Tahu announces $1.26m annual profit,” Radio New Zealand website, 15 November 2017: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/343912/ngai-tahu-announces-126-point-8m-annual-profit (accessed 17 November 2017).

[8] “Deed of Settlement signed with Ngāti Hei,” Beehive.govt.nz website, 17 August 2017: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/deed-settlement-signed-ng%C4%81ti-hei (accessed 17 November 2017).


Matariki and Puaka

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post researched and prepared by Jacinta Beckwith, Kaitiaki Mātauranga Māori.

We are getting ready for Māori New Year with a little foyer display celebrating Matariki. Down south we also celebrate Puaka (known as Puanga up north).

Matariki atua ka eke mai i te rangi e roa, e

Whāngainga iho ki te mata o te tau e roa, e.

Matariki rising in the broad heavens

Nourish those below with the first fruits.

For Māori, naturally occurring events were traditionally used as markers to indicate the end of one season and the beginning of the next. These markers included migration patterns of birds and fish, the flowering of plants and the movements of stars across the sky. Matariki is a star cluster that disappears below the horizon in April and whose reappearance in the pre-dawn sky around late May – early June marks the beginning of a new phase of life. In recent years, there has been increasing focus across Aotearoa on Māori New Year, usually celebrated in June and commonly referred to as Matariki.

Māori names for the star cluster are Matariki, Tupua-nuku, Tupua-rangi, Ururangi, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī and Waitā. With revitalisation of Māori astronomy, recent research on Matariki suggests the cluster includes two more stars: Pohutakawa and Hiwa-i-te-rangi. Some iwi celebrate a different cluster of stars called Puanga or Puaka. Mōriori considered Puaka as the three poles that held up a whata (food storage platform). Different iwi have their own traditions and some of these have been recorded in accounts collected by Beattie and Shortland, in letters and in the Māori-language newspapers, providing insight into how Māori viewed Matariki, Puaka, and the significance of this time for agriculture. Te Wehi’s letter to the Editor of Te Waka o Niu Tirani acknowledges the marking of seasons by the stars which guided the planting of kūmara (sweet potato). John White’s letter to the Editor of Te Wananga details oral traditions relating to kūmara and cultivation. Te Paki o Matariki, the official newspaper of the Kīngitanga (Māori King Movement) used images of the seven stars in its masthead.

Matariki is strongly associated with the celebration of harvest, especially kūmara crops which would have been gathered and stored in specially prepared pits to ensure a year round supply. Pātaka kai (storage houses), like those illustrated by Sir William Fox, were filled with food. There was a close connection between the stars and food supplies, the visual appearance of the stars at rising were a portent of weather to come. The brighter the stars in their pre-dawn rise, the more favourable the season ahead and planting would begin in September. If the stars were hazy and closely bunched together, a cold winter was in store and planting held off until October.

Beattie, James Herries. 1920. List of vegetable foods in Record of interviews with Maori in Canterbury, Section 15. Hocken Archives Collection, MS-0181/004.

Matariki is a time for coming together in celebration, to reflect on the past and plan for the year ahead. We gift food, share stories, remember whakapapa (genealogy) and our ancestors who have passed on. It is also a time to reaffirm principles and protocols that teach us how to live in balance with the natural world.


Williams, Jim. 2013. Puaka and Matariki: The Māori New Year. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 122(1), pp. 7-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.15286/jps.122.1.7-20

Rerekura, Sam. 2014. Puanga: Star of the Māori New Year. Auckland: Sam Rerekura, Te Whare Wānanga o Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu.

Mead, Sidney M. & Neil Grove. 2001. Ngā Pēpeha a Ngā Tīpuna: the sayings of the ancestors. Wellington, N.Z.: Victoria University Press.



  1. Te Wehi. 1874. Ki a te Kai Tuhi o Te Waka Maori. Te Waka Maori o Niu Tirani. 10:19, pp. 239-240. Māori-language newspaper published by the government. Hocken Published Collections, Williams 367.
  1. Beattie, James Herries. 1920. Record of interviews with Maori in Canterbury, Section 15 – Vegetable Foods. Hocken Archives Collection, MS-0181/004.
  1. Shortland, Edward. 1850-1855. Information passed from C. Brown to W. Martin which lists some Māori names of stars in Volume containing notes on Maori language, customs and traditional history. Hocken Archives Collection, MS-0096.
  1. Beattie, James Herries. 1920. Record of interviews with Maori in Canterbury, Section 21 – Meteorology & Astronomy. Hocken Archives Collection, MS-0181/004.
  1. Leach, Helen. 1984. 1,000 years of gardening in New Zealand. Wellington, N.Z.: Reed. Hocken Published Collections.
  1. Spooner, Judy & Maraea Aranui. 1992. The Maori kai cookbook. Havelock North, N.Z.: Kahungunu Publications. Hocken Published Collections.
  1. Maori Women’s Welfare League. 1976. Recipe calendar 1977. Wellington, N.Z.: Maori Women’s Welfare League Inc. Hocken Published Collections.


Te Paki o Matariki. 1894. Māori-language newspaper published by the Kīngitanga (Māori King Movement). Hocken Published Collections, Variae 18.


Fox, Sir William. Rakawakaputa, P. Cooper Plains, 1848-1851. Reproduction. Watercolour, pen & ink on paper: 175 x 250mm. Dr T. M. Hocken’s Collection. Hocken Pictures Collection. View online: http://otago.ourheritage.ac.nz/items/show/4486

Fox, Sir William. Pitoni, 1850. Reproduction. Watercolour on paper: 170 x 250mm. Dr T. M. Hocken’s Collection. Hocken Pictures Collection. View online: http://otago.ourheritage.ac.nz/items/show/4490


International Archives Day 2017

Friday, June 9th, 2017 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Today (9 June) is International Archives Day. Created in 2008 to raise awareness of the importance of archives, and of what archivists do, the date was chosen to commemorate the establishment of the International Council of Archives (ICA) on 9 June 1948.

Archives and archivists across the world use the day as an opportunity to promote what they do, and to promote the use of archives.

I thought I would take the opportunity to write about an interesting archival volume I looked at recently. This volume encapsulates for me what is so interesting about working with archives and how researching the stories documented in archival items can lead us down many different narrative pathways.

The volume originally caught my attention on the Hākena catalogue because the name in the title was clearly unusual and to my eye looked just wrong! A spelling mistake maybe? Making sure the description of archives is correct or as correct as it can be is one of my responsibilities here so I decided to have a look at it.

Port Moeraki day book, Misc-MS-1513, Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hakena

The title was “[Tubinanini], Robert George : Port Moeraki Day Book (1858 – 1873)”. The titles of archival collections are constructed with the name of the creator of the collection first, and then a brief descriptive title. This is in accordance with the standards set by the ICA.

So in this case the archivist had (not unreasonably) taken the most obvious name that they could find on the volume, and decided to use that as the creator portion of the title. They had enclosed this portion in square brackets to show that they were unsure of the correct spelling and that this was their interpretation of the hand writing.

It is a tall 19th century volume bound in white velum, looking a bit like Harry Potter might have doodled in it with some odd notes and diagrams in one section. Some pages have been cut out towards the end of the volume.

The front of the volume, note how carefully the words Day Book have been drawn, along with the image of waves at sea.

It clearly started life in October 1858 as a day book (sometimes called a cashbook) – a book that records financial transactions in date order. The front of the volume seemed to have been labelled in a couple of different hands and at different times. The words included “Trigonometry”, “Day Book”, “Robert Geo. Tubmanini” (my reading of the problem name), “Port Moeraki”, what looks like the initials “B. F.” and a doodle of waves. Perhaps the doodler spent a lot of time at sea?

“Tubman” with the letters “ini” seemingly added later in darker ink.

Despite being acquired in 1974 the volume was not catalogued until 1998 when it was added to the online catalogue Hakena, things have changed since then and it is a lot easier to quickly research names and places by a quick “googling”.

I started with the name Robert George Tubinanini – the reason I have noticed the record on Hākena in the first place.

My googling quickly told me that a Robert George Tubman was the Head Master of the Moeraki School between 1890-1895 and that he died serving in the Boer War. There is a nice biography of Robert available from the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand website, that includes a photo of his family’s gravestone in Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery. http://www.cemeteries.org.nz/stories/tubmanrobert181012.pdf

Robert Tubman’s trigonometry notes?

It seems likely that he is the Robert Geo. Tubmanini named on the cover of the volume and that the  Harry Potter doodles are his trigonometry notes. What is not clear is why his name has the extra “ini” on the end (another idle doodle perhaps?) and why he had the day book and used it as a notebook.

Typical entries in the volume, note Hertstel shipping 3 boat loads of timber for [North Otago?]

Back to the daybook portion of the volume. This is a particularly detailed example of a day book, and list transactions in date order, with the person’s surname, the goods purchased, shipped or received and the cost. I noticed that there were regular entries under particular names, clearly the store was a key institution in this community. Some names were European but there many Maori names as well. A keen researcher of Moeraki history is sure to find much of interest.

The luxuries of life in the Moeraki in 1857

The names Wi Te Pa, Pokuku, Riruha, Pita, Hokopa, Rawiri, Ohua, Karauria all appear regularly but there are many others. European names include McGlashan, Haberfield, Hastie, Hopkinson, Adam, Thomas, Mason, Tom and more.

Several entries under local Maori names

One name that stood out was Hertslet, it is unusual and cropped up almost daily. This time I headed straight to Papers Past, the National Library website which has revolutionised access to the myriad information contained in early NZ newspapers. I found that Henry Charles Hertslet regularly advertised the services of his store at Moeraki as well as other business ventures. He was also a Justice of the Peace for a time. An entry in the Otago and Southland volume of the 1904 Cyclopedia of NZ which revealed that Hertslet had a background in the “Public Records Department London” in the early 19th century before migrating to NZ. This was a nice serendipity as the Public Records Department is now known as the Public Records Office, and is the national archives of the UK. I guess you could say he had worked as an archivist, like me!

From what I found online, Mr Hertslet clearly had a long and varied career as an early settler in several parts of NZ but is mainly associated with Oamaru, Moeraki and Naseby. According to C.W.S. Moore’s book, Northern Approaches, and Gavin McLean’s Moeraki 150 years of Net and Plough Share H.C. Hertslet was landing agent for Moeraki from 1851, and later purchased a schooner, Queen, to run a service between Moeraki and Oamaru employing Maori from Moeraki to man the boats.

Wages paid to Fitzgerald in 1867

At the back of the book are further dated lists of payments but these appears to be wages paid to a number of workers including Fitzgerald, Frederick Cockerill and Joe. Thompson. The work done was activities like delivering firewood, ploughing, harrowing and draying.

To sum up, this volume is a record of the transactions of the Moeraki store kept by either Mr Hertslet himself or one of his employees, sometime later it came into the hands of Robert Tubman, who seems to have taken advantage of some blank pages to write up his trigonometry notes. Later again it was acquired by the Hampden Historical Society which donated this volume to the Hocken along with around 40 others when the Society was wound up in 1974. In archivists jargon it has multiple provenance, it was created and used by more than one creator but is all the richer a source of history for that. It leads us to several narratives – the lives of Henry Charles Hertslet, and Robert Tubman, and to the broader social and economic history of Moeraki in the mid 19th century. Family historians may be interested to find references to the day to day dealings of their ancestors.

Xpressway: Records of a Dunedin independent record label (1988-1993). Hocken Archives, 94-156.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 | Anna Blackman | 2 Comments

To celebrate Music Month in 2017, here’s a brief look at a collection of papers relating to a local Dunedin label.

Post by Amanda Mills, Hocken Liaison Librarian, Curator Music and AV

Various Xpressway tapes. Hocken Music and AV collections

Xpressway Records began life as a cassette-only label in late 1987/early 1988, run out of Bruce Russell‘s home in Port Chalmers. Russell – archivist, writer, musician (in A Handful of Dust, and The Dead C) – began Xpressway Records with help from fellow musicians Peter Gutteridge, Alastair Galbraith and Peter Jefferies following Flying Nun’s 50% acquired by Mushroom Records. Russell worked for Flying Nun in their Christchurch offices for a time in the 1980s, and saw the label was moving away from its original ideals with the merger. The acquisition by a major label meant attention was focused on more commercial Flying Nun acts, and many were let go from the label.

Russell was disillusioned by these decisions, and when artists like Jefferies and Galbraith were released from their Flying Nun contracts, he decided to in his words “show [Flying Nun] a thing or two,” as their music was just as valuable as the label’s more commercial counterparts. To give these artists and their music a home, he began Xpressway Records. In Russell’s opinion, “we should make the music available to those people that want to hear it, and if those people are a scattering of people all over the world in tiny niches within other national markets … fine… it’s just what we’ve got to do” (Russell, 2000).

Various official Xpressway releases. Hocken Music and AV collections

Xpressway started as a cassette-only record label, but expanded to include vinyl and CD releases. Overall, there were over 20 Xpressway releases, with other recordings licensed from the label. Artists on the label included

  • Peter Jefferies
  • Sferic Experiment
  • The Terminals
  • Alastair Galbraith
  • Victor Dimisich Band
  • Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive Stereos
  • Peter Gutteridge

As well as these artists with material licensed from Xpressway to other labels

  • DoubleHappys
  • Sandra Bell

Mock-up of the back cover of the Terminals’ single Do the Void. Xpressway: Records of a Dunedin independent record label (1988-1993). Hocken Archives, 94-156

In 1993, Russell wrapped up the label, and, in 1994, gave Hocken the Xpressway archives. Russell also included other items in the donation: over 100 posters of local artists, and over 50 cassettes of live recordings of acts associated (mostly) with Flying Nun or Xpressway.

Xpressway Pile-Up press release and cassette cover. Xpressway: Records of a Dunedin independent record label (1988-1993). Hocken Archives, 94-156

The archival papers are rich in content, and include

  • Media files, drafts and correspondence
  • Newsletters
  • Financial records including receipt books and IRD records
  • Artist release files and profiles
  • Xpressway album release files
  • Correspondence with artists, other record labels and distributors
  • Mail order correspondence, both national and international

Mail-order Correspondence. Xpressway: Records of a Dunedin independent record label (1988-1993). Hocken Archives, 94-156

Correspondence between Russell and musicians reveals the frustrations, irritants, and (in some cases) jealousies between different parties. While this is in the guise of official correspondence between artist and the label, it is often personal in nature reflecting the close knit nature of the Xpressway music community. It is also interesting to note that hand-written, typed, or faxed messages are on any blank surface: the backs of photographs, envelopes, flyers, aerograms (remember those?), newsletters from Russell’s’ place of employment – it is all used.

Correspondence between Flying Nun and Xpressway Records. Xpressway: Records of a Dunedin independent record label (1988-1993). Hocken Archives, 94-156

Much interesting material is contained in the folder relating to Flying Nun, with business correspondence again revealing the frustrations and everyday realities of supply and distribution between labels, especially those relating to finances. The letters and faxes between Russell and Flying Nun staff running the label day-to-day in Auckland are friendly and informal; they relate personal and industry stories and reveal common frustrations with business, distribution, and (quite often), the musicians. Other folders also contain interesting – and often hilarious – exchanges between the label and correspondent.

‘Look Blue Go Purple + W.S.S.O.E.S’ poster. Hocken Posters collection.

Along with the papers are the posters and cassettes that Russell donated. The posters relate to gigs and album releases, and highlight local bands and artists (many on or associated with Xpressway), and many are hard to find. The tapes capture mostly live performances and some radio shows by local artists, but also artists from around New Zealand, in many different venues around the country. Some are recording sessions, or demos of material that may not have been released, and we are aware that these are possibly the master tapes for a number of recordings.

Various Xpressway tapes. Hocken Music and AV collections

Complementing the Xpressway papers, the Hocken also holds copies of officially released music from Xpressway:

  • Compilations Xpressway Pileup, Killing Capitalism with Kindness, and Making Loser’s Happy
  • Peter Gutteridge’s Pure
  • Peter Jeffries’ Last Great Challenge in a Dull World,
  • Plagal Grind’s self-titled EP,
  • Albums and singles by Alastair Galbraith

Hocken has also recently acquired the Xway Vision VHS video of Xpressway (and associated labels) musicians performing in 1991.

The Xpressway papers and recordings are used by students and other researchers, with material frequently published on the artists, the label, and the wider scene. The popularity of the label, and the music that emerged from it will only increase the intrinsic value of this collection. The Xpressway papers (and associated recordings) are a fascinating look at how an independent record label is run in a small music community, where artists often performed in each other’s bands, or on each other’s recordings.


Williams, M. (2000). Magic Kiwis – Bruce Russell. Perfect Sound Forever. March. Retrieved from http://www.furious.com/perfect/deadc.html


New Zealand Archaeology Week 2017

Monday, April 3rd, 2017 | Anna Blackman | 2 Comments

Post prepared by Jacinta Beckwith, Kaitiaki Mātauranga Māori 

Each of us is an epitome of the past, a compendium of evidence from which the labours of the comparative anatomist have reconstructed the wonderful story of human evolution. We are ourselves the past in the present.                                                           

H.D. Skinner, The Past and the Present

This year’s inaugural New Zealand Archaeology Week (1-7 April) offers an opportune moment to highlight some of the Hocken’s archaeology-related taonga. Examples include the Otago Anthropological Society Records (1960-1983), Anthropology Departmental Seminar flyers (most dating to 1997), and a wide variety of archaeological reports, notebooks, diaries, letters and photographs including papers of David Teviotdale, Peter Gathercole and Atholl Anderson. More recently, our collections have been enhanced by the ongoing contribution of local archaeologists such as Drs Jill Hamel and Peter Petchey who regularly submit their archaeological reports, for which we remain deeply grateful.

One of our largest collections relating to the world of archaeology and anthropology are the Papers of Henry Devenish Skinner (1886-1978). At 3.14 linear metres in size, this collection comprises folders full of handwritten research and lecture notes, letters, photographs, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings pertaining primarily to Skinner’s archaeological, anthropological and ethnological work with the Otago Museum and the University of Otago, and also to his school days and military service. It includes personal correspondence detailing the collection of Māori artefacts, letters with Elsdon Best, S. Percy Smith, Willi Fels, and other notable anthropologists and collectors. Skinner’s papers also include a significant series of subject files relating to not only Māori and Pacific archaeology but also to that of Africa, Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

H.D. Skinner is fondly remembered as the founding father of New Zealand Anthropology. He is particularly known for his development of the Otago Museum, for his pioneering work on the archaeology of the Māori and for his comparative studies of Polynesian archaeology and material culture. He was the first Lecturer of Anthropology in Australasia, appointed Lecturer in Ethnology at the University of Otago in 1919 (where he lectured until 1952). He was appointed assistant curator of the Otago Museum in 1919, later becoming Director of the Museum from 1937 until 1957. Skinner was also Librarian of the Hocken from 1919 until 1928. Much of the collection expansion in the Otago Museum, and the importance placed on the collection and display of Māori and Polynesian artefacts can be attributed to him. He also expanded the Hocken’s collections, most notably in New Zealand paintings and drawings.

Skinner’s research on the Moriori represents a milestone in the history of Polynesian ethnology as the first systematic account of material culture of a Polynesian people. He set new standards in description, classification and analysis, and he demonstrated how ethnological research could contribute to important historical conclusions. Professor Atholl Anderson, Honorary Fellow of Otago’s Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, describes Skinner’s analyses of Māori material culture as prescribing the method and objectives of the discipline for over 50 years and his teaching as inspirational for several generations of archaeologists, especially in southern New Zealand.


Anderson, A. Henry Devenish Skinner, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Volume 4, 1998

Skinner, H.D. The Past and the Present – Popular Lecture, in Skinner, Henry Devenish Papers, Hocken Archives Collection, MS 1219/071

Wells, M. Cultural appreciation or inventing identity? H.D. Skinner & the Otago Museum. BA (Hons) thesis, Otago, 2014



Anthropology Department Seminar flyers from the late nineties. Hocken Ephemera Collection


  1. Skinner, H. D. 1923. The Morioris of Chatham Islands. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bernice P. Bishop Museum. Hocken Published Collection
  2. Letters from Elsdon Best and S. Percy Smith to H.D. Skinner, and envelope addressed to Corporal H.D. Skinner containing further letters and clippings relating to Moriori in ‘Letters, extracts, notes, etc. relating to Morioris’, Skinner, Henry Devenish Papers, Hocken Archives Collection, MS-1219/169
  3. Letter from J Renwick (1925) to H.D. Skinner in ‘Technology and Art of the [Moriori of the Chathams]’, Skinner, Henry Devenish Papers, Hocken Archives Collection, MS-1219/160
  4. Photos of Chatham Island artefacts in ‘Moriori Photos’ (n.d.), Skinner, Henry Devenish Papers, Hocken Archives Collection, MS-1219/168. Stone patu, bone fishhooks, blubber cutter, stone adzes and postcard map of Chatham Islands.
  5. Syllabus of Evening Lectures on Ethnology 1919 & University of Otago Teaching of Anthropology (n.d.) in ‘Anthropology at Otago University’, Skinner, Henry Devenish Papers, Hocken Archives Collection, MS-1219/022


  1. Freeman, D. & W. R. Geddes, 1959. Anthropology of the South Seas: essays presented to H. D. Skinner. New Plymouth, N.Z.: T. Avery. Hocken Published Collection
  2. Dr Henry Devenish Skinner at the Otago Museum (1951). D. S. Marshall photograph, Hocken Photographs Collection, Box-030-013
  3. Dr Henry Devenish Skinner and others get aboard the ‘Ngahere’ for Chatham Islands (1924). The others are identified as Robin Sutcliffe Allan, John Marwick, George Howes, Maxwell Young and Dr Northcroft. Photographer unknown, Hocken Photographs Collection, Box-030-014


  1. The Dunedin Causeway – archaeological investigations at the Wall Street mall site, Dunedin, archaeological site 144/469 (2010). Petchey, Peter: Archaeological survey reports and related papers, Hocken Archives Collection, MS-3415/001
  2. Beyond the Swamp – The Archaeology of the Farmers Trading Company Site, Dunedin (2004). Petchey, Peter: Archaeological survey reports and related papers, Hocken Archives MS-2082
  3. A smithy and a biscuit factory in Moray Place, Dunedin… report to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (2004). Hamel, Jill, Dr: Archaeological reports, Hocken Archives MS-2073
  4. Otago Peninsula roading improvements – Macandrew Bay and Ohinetu sea walls, report to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (2010). Hamel, Jill, Dr: Archaeological reports, Hocken Archives MS-4174/001
  5. Album of photographs accompanying Otago Peninsula roading improvements – Macandrew Bay and Ohinetu sea walls report (2010). Hamel, Jill, Dr: Archaeological reports, Hocken Archives MS-4174/002


The real housewives of Dunedin: the Dunedin Housewives’ Union Dunedin Housewives’ Association : Records (1930 – 1977) AG-002

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post prepared by Kari Wilson-Allan, Hocken Collections Assistant, Researcher Services

Today being International Women’s Day, it seems fitting to delve into the history of some Dunedin women – our own real housewives.

Established in late 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression, the Dunedin Housewives’ Union, headed up by the dynamo Mrs Alice Herbert, aimed to become a ‘real live and effective power in this part of the Dominion’. Meetings were held fortnightly, initially in the Dunedin Trades Hall, with a 2/6 annual membership fee.

First page, Minute Book (1930 – 1941) AG-002-01

Subjects under discussion revolved around, among other things, the quality and cost of foodstuffs, fuel, schoolbooks, and housing. Meat was ‘the foundation of the usual daily dinner’ and therefore ‘of utmost importance to the housewife’. That available in Dunedin was the ‘dearest in the Dominion’.  Milk and bread also drew attention; calls for the pasteurisation of milk and the packaging of bread appeared in local newspapers, along with requests for a municipal milk supply as a means to cut distribution costs.

Media coverage of riots in Dunedin, Otago Witness, 12 January 1932, p.20.

Fundraising events were common features in the women’s calendars. They organised bazaars, jumble sales, hat-trimming competitions, guess-the-weight-of-the-ham competitions (ham kindly supplied by Wolfenden and Russell), even baby shows.  A ‘hot pea and hot dog stall’ in 1931 was the cause of ‘much meriment [sic] ’.

As well as supporting the community with events like the 1933 party for the old-age pensioners at Talboys’ Home (lollies donated by Wardell’s Grocery), which was intended to ‘bring a little brightness into their drab lives’, the women looked after their own.  One member was gifted cocoa as she was ‘in great need of additional nourishment’.

The employment and unemployment of women concerned the Union.  It was recognised that often young women would be hired for a short period of time and then dismissed, leading to insecurity.  Compounding the problem was the higher costs of living in the South Island, where food and clothing were dearer.  The importation of foreign goods also raised their ire.

Temptations to housewives, Minute Book (1930 – 1941) AG-002-01, p.144

Housing conditions were decried; condemned buildings were at times tenanted. Washing facilities were in short supply, women needed to be recruited as inspectors, and to have a larger role in the City Council over all.

Housewives’ concerns, Minute Book (1930 – 1941) AG-002-01, p.125

Meetings often featured speakers or debates.  One such debate in 1933 on the subject of birth control proved to be ‘very interesting’, and at its conclusion, members shared their personal opinions, which were both ‘amusing and instructive’.

A selection of speakers’ subjects in the Union’s first decade, Notes on the history of the Association, AG-002-13


Who were the women of the Union?  This is not an easy question to answer.  Members of the Executive of the first year included a Mrs. Seddon, a Mrs. Anderson and a Mrs. Allen.  Without their first initials, finding the correct woman in electoral rolls has proved to be a minefield.  Sometimes the addition of a husband’s initial was a vital clue.

The members certainly had adequate time to contribute to their cause, to pay their annual dues and rent their premises.  Based on this and a number of other clues, I surmise that they were certainly not the poorest of the poor at that time.  They had education behind them, and political contacts.

Alice Herbert’s husband was the Secretary for the Dunedin Drivers’ and Storemens’ Union, and he, along with Alice, was heavily involved in the Labour Party.  In 1934, Alice tendered her resignation for the president’s role, based on her other commitments, but this was refused pending a determination of how time-consuming her other political activities would prove to be.  That the Union did not accept her resignation seems a signifier of her great influence and energy.

Women around New Zealand came to hear of the Dunedin Union, and made contact, wanting to establish similar groups of their own.  Unions formed in Invercargill, Waimate and Napier and elsewhere, eventually growing a network around the country.  Affiliations with the National Council of Women developed, and by the 1950s, the name Union was dropped for the less combative sounding Association.

It would be unfair of me to allude to ‘real housewives’ without supplying some element of drama.  The minutes do indicate certain conflicts of interest, perceived insults and tempestuous resignations, but to focus on these would belittle the valuable contributions made to the community.  Certainly as membership grew, challenges arose.  Rules were established, and prospective members needed to be introduced by current members to be admitted.  By June 1934 there was concern that ‘misrepresentation’ could arise as a consequence of ‘business [of the Union] being discussed outside the organization’, and in October of that year it was declared that ‘loyalty to our union must be shown.’

Minute Book (1930 – 1941) AG-002-01, p.164


Curiosity piqued by this first minute book?  Come in and explore them further.  The minute books stretch from 1930 through to 1974, are unrestricted, and contain myriad avenues for investigation.


Sketching a past : Susan Downing, Sister Mary Genevieve

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post researched and written by Debbie Gale – Archivist

The exciting discovery of an accomplished watercolour sketchbook within the archives of the Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand held by the Hocken, was first assumed to be the work of a pupil at one of the Dominican Schools.  Instead, it has been found on closer examination to be that of one of its Sisters, Mary Genevieve.

Front page & Text knitted

Hocken Collections, Natural history work book, Susan Downing, Upton Hall. Records of the Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand. AG-264-A-019/002. To see detailed image, right click, open in new tab and zoom in.

The first ten Dominican Sisters arrived in Dunedin from Sion Hill Convent in Dublin in 1871, accompanying Bishop Moran.   Under the conditions of the agreement, those chosen to move to New Zealand needed to be qualified to teach in both ‘A High School’ and ‘A Poor School’.  Sister Mary Genevieve’s maternal aunt, Charlotte (professed as Sister Catherine Hughes in 1857), was part of this first contingent.  Indicative that the Sion Hill community sent some of its outstanding members to New Zealand, Sister Catherine had studied under a pupil of Chopin and was a highly gifted musician.  She was sister-in-law to Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Irish Nationalist, journalist, poet and Australian Politician (8th Premier of Victoria 1871-1872).  Duffy married her sister Susan Hughes in 1846[1].

The High School, opened very shortly after the Sisters’ arrival in 1871, accepted pupils from all over Dunedin for pianoforte lessons, singing, harp lessons, painting, flower making, art, needlework and languages such as French, Italian, German and Spanish[2].

By 1971, the number of Irish sisters who came out to New Zealand had risen to 80.  Like the first contingent, most were from privileged backgrounds, daughters of wealthy landowners who had received an education.  Dunedin’s successful immigrants sent their daughters to the Dominican Sisters for two reasons – to receive a good Catholic education and to acquire the ‘accomplishments’ (cultural studies of music and art and modern languages)[3].

Susan Downing appeared to fit the mould of a Dominican Sister perfectly.  She had an educated, upper class background and she was accomplished in the arts.  These attributes are evidenced both through her beautiful sketchbook, and from information held by the Dominican Sisters themselves.

By accessing genealogy resources, making enquiries about Downing from the Dominican Sisters’ Archive and following up on clues in the sketchbook, we can piece together some of Susan’s early life in England.

England Census 1861:

Six-year-old Susan J. Downing is listed in the Downing household in the Parish of Birkenhead.  Her estimated birth year is 1855 and her birthplace is listed as Birkenhead, England.  She appears in the England and Wales birth index as Susan Jane Downing.

Father Samuel was born in Ireland about 1820, he was a physician, surgeon and general practitioner.  Mother Marianne was also born in Ireland about 1819. The family appears to be prosperous, with the household consisting of five siblings and two household staff whose occupations are listed as ‘domestic servants’.

England Census 1871:

There are two entries for Susan. She is listed within her household census, and also as a scholar at Upton Hall.

Upton Hall, then a Catholic convent school in Wirral, Cheshire, lies about 10kms away from Birkenhead. It was ‘designed to produce accomplished young ladies’.  This is where Susan would have begun her sketchbook, in 1876, at the age of 21.

Illustrations knitted

Hocken Collections, Natural history work book, Susan Downing, Upton Hall. Records of the Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand. AG-264-A-019/002. To see detailed image, right click, open in new tab and zoom in.

The Downing household now has three domestic staff whose occupations are listed as ‘groom (domestic servant)’, ‘cook’ and ‘housemaid’.  Their immediate neighbours are an attorney and broker. William, the eldest son, is a merchant’s apprentice and two further sons a medical student and scholar.

No record of Susan is found in the 1881 or 1891 England census returns so we may assume that she had left England by this time. Susan’s personal record held by the Dominican Sisters indicates that she had been educated in Holland, France and in Dublin at the Dominican College, Sion Hill and arrived in Dunedin directly from Dublin in 1892.

Sadly, no Irish census information for these years survives as the original returns were pulped during the First World War, probably because of the paper shortage.  She left Upton Hall at some point after 1876 and moved to Dublin, but without the Irish census returns it is difficult to pin dates down.

Moving to the other side of the globe:

Downing passenger list

Archives New Zealand Passenger lists from 1892 show that Susan made the long voyage to New Zealand at the age 37, by herself, on the ‘S.S. Kaikoura’.

The journey was not without incident. Both the Otago Daily Times (15 July 1892) and Hobart Mercury (11 July 1892) reported on the ‘Kaikoura’ embarking passengers of a ship wrecked on its voyage to Melbourne, as well as the terrible weather conditions encountered by its passengers:

On the 6th June at Cape Verde, Africa, the ‘Kaikoura’ embarked passengers of the liner ‘Port Douglas’, which had been wrecked on the voyage to Melbourne. The passengers also encountered ‘terrific seas’ and ‘rain, hail and sleet were frequent…traversing the Southern Ocean’. However, ‘The usual concert balls etc., were organised to enliven the monotony…they were entered into heartily by all on board’.  I wonder, did convent girl Susan join in these proceedings?

Received into the Dominican Sisters on 15th January 1893, Susan took the name Sister Mary Genevieve and was professed on 8 November 1894. Dunedin electoral rolls of 1893 and 1896 list her teaching at St Dominic’s Priory on Dowling Street. Records show she eventually reached the rank of sub prioress in 1910.  Her death is given as 19 September 1923 aged 69.

For all that we can piece together the recorded fragments of Sister Mary Genevieve’s early life; there are a few questions that will remain unanswered:

What made Susan decide to move to the opposite side of the world, on her own, at 37 years of age? It seems likely that she decided to follow in her Aunt Charlotte’s footsteps and join her as a Dominican Sister, but what was her spur? Her parents would have been in their 70s at this point, maybe they had died and she wanted a fresh start?

According to her death notice, her forte was music, and information from the Dominican’s own records describes her as an ‘excellent linguist, speaking and reading several tongues’.   There appears to be no mention of her artistic gifts, however, and her sketchbook remains sadly unfinished.  Did she simply decide to discontinue her art once she arrived in New Zealand, or maybe she was just too busy with her teaching and religious duties?  This seems a shame, when we consider how evidently she was once attached to her sketchbook, so lovingly crafted and cherished, a travelling companion on her long journey overseas.

[1] McCarthy, 19-20

[2] Collins, 78

[3] Collins, 81-82


Collins, Jenny.  Hidden lives : The teaching and religious lives of eight Dominican sisters, 1931-1961: A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Education at Massey University, Palmerston North. 2001

McCarthy, Mary Augustine. Star in the South : The centennial history of the New Zealand Dominican Sisters. Dunedin St Dominic’s Priory, 1970

New Zealand Dominican Sisters Archives

Rombouts. Michael : Death notices in the New Zealand Tablet May 1873 to Apr 1996. Dunedin N.Z. : M.J.Rombouts 2000

Rombouts. Michael : Catholic death notices in the Otago Daily Times 1861-1950. Dunedin N.Z. : M.J.Rombouts 1998

Upton Hall School Census 1871. (Retrieved August 2015 ‘http://history.uptonhallschool.co.uk’)

Upton Hall School website (Retrieved August 2015, ‘http://www.uptonhallschool.co.uk/’)

England census returns (Retrieved August 2015. ‘Ancestry’)

England and Wales birth index (Retrieved October 2015 ‘Ancestry’)

New Zealand Tablet, 1923

New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger lists 1839-1973 (Retrieved August 2015. ‘familysearch.org’)

The Mercury, Hobart 11 July 1892 (Retrieved September 2015. ‘Trove’ http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/13295915)

Otago Daily Times, 15 July 1892 (Retrieved August 2015. ‘Papers Past’)

New Zealand Electoral Rolls, 1893, 1896


Sticky Problems in the Archives

Monday, March 7th, 2016 | Anna Blackman | No Comments


Sellotape 4

Post researched and written by Debbie Gale, Arrangement and Description Archivist.

Since its introduction in the 1930s, sellotape has been popular for attaching and mending paper and other material.  It is a common sight in archives to see first-hand just how much harm this ‘quick fix’ can do in the long term.

This family heirloom below, the memoirs of Catherine Hester Ralfe dated 1896 (our reference 87-072), is testament to just how damaging the irreversible effects of sellotape can be:

Sellotape 1

As is apparent, rips and tears on the first page have been repaired with sticky tape and its lasting effects are neither successful nor aesthetic.  It is a perfect example of how the compounds comprising sellotape and paper have interacted with each other over time.

Sellotape is comprised of a clear film on top, called the carrier, which is traditionally cellophane. Cellophane is regenerated cellulose. The bottom layer, the sticky part, is traditionally rubber-based adhesive, made so that it bonds with what it touches when pressure is applied.

The rubber adhesive is a long polymer chain, just like the cellulose that makes up paper. Over time, as the paper and the adhesive stay stuck together the two types of polymers will begin to interact and attach to each other in a process called ‘cross-linking’.

As this process continues, the adhesive mass will yellow, get very sticky and oily, and more difficult to remove from the paper.  In this oily condition the adhesive mass can penetrate the paper entirely and move into adjacent sheets. This staining is almost always impossible to remove:

Sellotape 2

Later on the tape also becomes less effective as an adhesive and eventually the carrier falls off:

Sellotape 3

It is clear from the photocopy of these memoirs produced in the 1970s, that the sticky tape repair work had been undertaken before that time.  It is interesting to note just how the condition of the original memoirs has continued to deteriorate since then.  It was in a far better condition in the 1970s than it is in the present day.

Sellotape 5

However tempting it may be, don’t try repairs to your valuable family papers using sticky tape.  If you are interested in getting repair work undertaken by a qualified conservator, a list of contacts can be found in the Directory of New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Material


Ergener, Sibel (2012) Sellotape: Why it’s bad to put on paper, and removal [online].[Accessed 10th February 2016].

Smith, Merrily A. et al. (1983) Pressure-Sensitive Tape and Techniques for its Removal from Paper [online].  [Accessed 11th February 2016]