Exploring the world of Wairarapa's history

Miriam Street



Miriam Street was named by the developer Tom Wrigley in the mid-1880s, after his daughter Miriam, born in 1879.  The family moved around a lot but ended up in Auckland, where Miriam became a well-regarded singer.  In 1900 she married Abel Rowe, described as New Zealand’s best tenor, the couple performing in New Zealand and Australia before divorcing in 1924.  Miriam remarried Clyde Ryland and died in Auckland in 1970.


Chasing Winetta


Working on a community archive, you find yourself stumbling over all sorts of odd stories hidden in the papers of local families.

Among the places that such records are discovered are old photograph albums.

Many families kept collections of small card-sized photographs (the technical name is cartes-de-visite) which featured family and friends but also contained images of prominent people, and those who would today be called celebrities.

The cards from one local farming family’s album were produced mostly in Wellington and Wanganui, but many other New Zealand towns also appear.   There was also a smattering of cards from overseas – Australia, the Unites States, and Great Britain.

Many of the photographs had annotations, indicating who the subjects were, and we have fun finding out more about the people portrayed and the photographers.

In the album was an image taken by Napoleon Sarony, America’s most famous photographer of celebrities. Canadian born, his studio in Union Square, New York, attracted the likes of Nikola Tesla and Oscar Wilde.

A name was recorded on the reverse of the image in our album – Winetta Montague, a name we were not familiar with, but it turned out to be the stage name of a “Boston stage actress”.  She was born Laleah Burpee Bigelow in 1851.  At a young age she married Boston merchant Arnold Taylor but fell in love with the famed actor Walter Montgomery. The two wed bigamously on both counts, and following a tempestuous scene several days after they wed, Walter dies of gunshot wounds, apparently self-inflicted.

Winetta returned to the stage, sometimes playing Hamlet in Montgomery’s clothes. After a series of discreditable adventures, she died of pneumonia, in great poverty, at New York, in 1877.


Evidence of a shocking crime!

Wairarapa Archive staffer Neil Frances has recently been processing a huge collection of Wairarapa Post and Telegraph files. In one file, about the installation of a public phone-box at Kuripuni, Masterton, there was a small envelope attached to the correspondence. It contained a damaged metal eye which held the telephone microphone, vandalised in March 1936.

In the attached letter, the Masterton postmaster asked the local Police sergeant to keep the phone-box under ‘suitable observation’ to catch the criminals.

Leaving for the front

Leaving for the front

Leaving for the front

The troops leaving for the front re-enactment in 2014 – photograph courtesy Geoff Walker


As part of Wairarapa’s commemorations of the centenary of World War One, a re-enactment of the first troops leaving for camp was held on `13 August 2014, a century after the troops left for Awapuni Camp.   Hundreds of Mastertonians turned out to see the contingent of Masterton schoolboys dressed in military uniforms march to the town square in front of the Town hall.  There they were addressed by actors representing the local M.P., the town’s mayor, his wife (ably played by our current  Mayor Lyn Patterson) and were then blessed by Anglican and Catholic priests.  The contingent maerch up Perry Street, accompanied by hundred of spectators and the local pipe band.  At the station they were farewelled for a short journey to Mauriceville.

Our sdtaf member Neil Frances has played a large part in researching for this and other World War One commemorative events, and was interviewed for television, radio and the press.

I great parade and a fitting tribute to the first of our soldiers to leave.

OMG Txt in 1920s lol

Legal document


Tired of trying to decipher the messages that young people use when  communicating?  Think that  usage of the English language is slipping and we are going to end up with a nation of semi-literate people?  THink this is new?

The above is from a partnership  document prepared by a Greytown legal firm in the 1920s. Maybe things are not so bad after all.

Yarning in barns

Yarns in barns



Every two years the Wairarapa region hosts a writers and readers festival with the suitably rural title of ‘Yarns in Barns’.  Most of the events are held in libraries, shops and halls, but each festival features one occasion whern yards are literally told in a barn – or to be more exact, in an old wool shed.  Jamie and Marilyn Strang allow  festival goers t congregate in the shed on the ‘Glenside’ property at Gladstone, and each festival a crowd gathers to be fed hot chocolate and and tales tall and true – although not always both.

The Wairarapa Archive has played a strong role in the special event, with staff taking part for the last four festivals, but this year two staff members were part of the afternoon.  District Archivist Gareth Winter chaired a panel of authors who have written recently on aspects of war history.  Jo Elworthy’s spoke of her father’s memoir, ‘Greece, Crete, Stalag , Dachau’ which was recently published, while Glyn Harper, Professor of War Studies at Massey University, read amusing tales from soldiers’ letters.

Philippa Werry was also on the panel, and spoke out her work on some children’s books relating to World War One, one on the significance of Anzac Day, the other the story of three young men who went off to war together.

The panel was rounded off by Neil Frances, the Wairarapa Archive’s resident military historian, who spoke on some of the lighter aspects of his work on Featherston Military Training Camp, including the response of some of the recruits to the amount of swearing their fellow soldiers indulged in.

Dear Tyrant

FIVE YEARS' WORK: Barrie Allom told the crowd at the launch of his book, Dear Tyrant, at Aratoi, that they should value their heritage. PHOTO/VOMLE SPRINGFORD.

This Sunday we successfully launched our latest publication, local author Barrie Allom’s book ‘Dear Tyrant – An extraordinary colonial life.’  

Barrie Allom tells the story of his great-grandfather, Albert Allom, and his varied career as a survey cadet in early Wellington, a leaseholder in Wairarapa in the 1840s, a colonial administrator in the West Indies, a mine and farming estate manager on Great Barrier Island, aregistrar of mines at Thames and Ohinemuri, an entrepreneur in Tasmania, and as a public figure in Auckland.   The story is laced with human insight, humour and tragedy, and is interspersed with narrative from Albert Allom’s own hand.

‘Dear Tyrant’ – so named from the way Allom’s wife Eliza’s term of address –  is an interesting read for anyone interested in the establishment of the colony of New Zealand.