Exploring the world of Wairarapa's history

The point of it all


Last year the archive’s staff member delivered 38 speeches and presentations, at groups ranging from the local CWI right through an academic conference on World War One.  It is an integral part of returning our records and the information contained within them, back to the community.

Recently though we did something we have not done before.

Shortly after opening in the afternoon, we were visited by a man wanting a handout on Christmas Bay, just south of Deliverance Cove at Castlepoint, and visible from the track that leads to Castle Rock.  We explained that there was no such publication, and asked what he was trying to find out.  He seemed to have a lot of questions, which we answered as well as we could.

He then explained he was a teacher from the Lower Hutt Rudolph Steiner School, and the pupils were having lunch in the park before heading out for a camp at Castlepoint, and would I mend going over and talking to the kids.

It felt a little like an impromptu speech at Toastmasters, but I went over and talked to the pupils and their parents, about Masterton, the park and Castlepoint.

Today in the mail, some lovely handmade bookmarks, and a nice thank-you card from the school.


Why are we here?


The Wairarapa Archive will shortly be publishing a book on an interesting early pakeha settler by one of his descendants.

Albert Allom was a  friend of the Wakefield family and arrived in New Zealand as a survey cadet for the New Zealand Company. Along with other survey cadets, he decided to try his hand at being a grazier, and leased land from Wairarapa Maori near Wairarapa Moana.  He and a fellow cadet, John Tully (later to marry a daughter of William Mein Smith) called  the run ‘Tauanui’.  After they gave the lease up it was run by Peter Hume – his descendants still farm parts of it.

During his time at Tauanaui, Allom had a run in with the local chief Ngairo Takatakaputea, also known as Ngairo Rakaihikuroa, and we were keen to use a copy of his portrait as an illustration in the book. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery holds a copy of a Lindauer portrait of Ngairo, so the author wrote to them asking for a digital copy (it has been digitised as it is displayed on their website) and for permission to publish the image in the upcoming book.  They said we could use the image and asked for a fee in excess of $100.

The Pitt River Museum in Oxford hold a similar painting and when asked, were happy to provide a copy for publication, royalty free.  The director commented that he found it sad we needed to go half way around the world to obtain a copy, a sadness I also feel.

It raises a fundamental question.  What is the purpose of a public cultural institution?

Our answer is simple – we are here to get information out.  Not in, but out.  Why are we gathering cultural items if not to make them available to the public, with as few impediments as possible?

Jim at launch

This Sunday saw the successful launch of the Wairarapa Archive’s 23rd publication – ‘On the Edge – Wairarapa’s Coastal Communities.

Local historian/tramper/photographer and ex Head of History at Wairarapa College, Jim Graydon, has spent a lot of time in the archive as he researched the stories of the coastal settlements scattered along the Wairarapa coastline.  He also walked along the coast, from the Mataikona River around to Turakirae Heads, photographing as he went, and talking to the residents he encountered.

The end result is an insightful look at the way pakeha settlements have arisen along the coastline, from the older settlements associated with sheep stations and river mouths (Castlepoint and Lake Ferry), through to Basil Bodle’s dream of an American style beach resort in the 1950s (Riversdale) to more recent subdivisions (Flat Point, Whatarangi).  Along the way he looks at the impact of both recreational and commercial fishing on the coast, paying particular attention to Ngawi, and also investigates the differing architectural styles in vogue, from the ramshackled baches of Ocean Beach to the most opulent houses at the resort subdivisions.

An exhibition of some of Jim’s photographs was also opened in the foyer at Aratoi, the first sales being almost simultaneous with the book sales.

Times-Age photographs

New TA pix

As newspapers downsize their operations there has been a trend for their photographic collections to be sold to international collectors.

In Masterton the trend has been bucked with the recent transfer of nearly 1,000,000 photographs and negatives from the Wairarapa Times-Age to the Wairarapa Archive.

The newspaper, which was form in 1938 following the amalgamation of the towns two dailies, is housed in a wonderful Art Deco building, styled on the now-demolished Miami Herald building.  The newspaper printing has been outsourced and the building sold to a local property developer, the newspaper leasing back part of the space.  As part of that process the newspaper’s photographs needed to find a new home and the Wairarapa Archive was the logical place for the, given the close association between the newspaper and the archive.

Masterton District Archivist  Gareth Winter is excited to have such an extensive collection of photographs added to the Archive’s collection.

“These photographs represent a unique look at a slice of Wairarapa history for the past fifty years.  Through these images we have a window into the way our region has developed.”

It will take a long time to process these photographs but they are currently stored in chronological order and can easily be scanned and reproduced for clients.

Descent from Disaster

Influenza Pandemic - Judy Bailey on Location 2


Several years ago the Wairarapa Archive was approached by Auckland film-maker Screentime for some background information for a documentary series about New Zealand disasters. It was to be titled ‘Descent from Disaster’ and was to be focussed on six significant New Zealand disasters, including plane and train crashes, ship wrecks, mine explosions, the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake and the 1918 influenza epidemic.  It was Wairarapa’s experience in the latter that they were interested.

Of the six disasters, the 1918 epidemic killed by far the greatest number. The epidemic, which seems to have originated in the United States in early 1918, spread around the globe.  Estimates of the death vary wildly, but it seems that at least 25 million people lost their lives, far more World War One.

Director Bryn Evans was making the episode based on the influenza epidemic.  He found that events in Wairarapa were representative of the epidemic, and discovered that Wairarapa Archive held records which would help his research.  He talked to archivist Gareth Winter about events in Masterton and to Neil Frances about the effects of influenza at Featherston Military Camp. Eventually, having thoroughly searched the holdings of memories and photographs at Wairarapa Archive, Bryn came up with a filming schedule, concentrating on F.P. Welch’s work as a volunteer nurse, and the effects of the epidemic at Featherston Camp.

The film crew, with interviewer and narrator Judy Bailey, spent time at the Wairarapa Archive, perusing old records and newspapers, and then spent further time in the Masterton Club, looking at the plush surroundings that briefly served as an influenza hospital.

The first recorded cases of influenza in New Zealand were in Auckland in early October, although after the pandemic has passed, many people blaming the returning troopship Niagara which also carried the Prime Minister Massey.  However, the ship docked in Auckland three days after three days after the first New Zealand deaths.

The first recorded outbreak in Wairarapa was at the Featherston Military Camp, where large groups of young men, statistically the most prone group, were assembled.  In early November the local newspapers were stating that the flu had struck the camp and 299 men had been hospitalised.   The camp housed thousands of soldiers in training and the disease spread very quickly.   By the middle of the month over 2000 men were being treated in the hospital and 22 had already died.  The first Masterton deaths were reported on the newspapers of 13 November.   Mastertonians had gathered in the streets to celebrate the end of World War One, little realising that some of them were already infected with the disease.   Some of the crowd collapsed at the ceremonies held in Masterton Park and were rushed to Masterton Hospital.

At the height of the Wairarapa pandemic the Masterton and Greytown hospitals were swamped with patients and nurses and doctors had contracted the disease meaning  volunteer nurses and helpers were called for.   Temporary hospitals were set up in many buildings through Wairarapa – in schools, clubs, and in the Masterton Borough Council Chambers.   All schools were closed down until the following year and most businesses were instructed to remain shut.

Among those who were pressed into service as volunteer nurses was the local businessman F.P. Welch, who left a good record of Masterton during the epidemic in his dairy, now stored in the Wairarapa Archive.  He writes of his many nights of service at the Masterton Club and the nearby Services Club, where he tried valiantly to help save the lives of those stricken with the flu.  Ironically, Welch’s diaries, which span over forty years, usually record his own struggles with chest infections, but he somehow missed out on a dose of the 1918 influenza.

The film crew gained a valuable insight into the way the influenza epidemic affected a small but representative rural community and the country’s biggest military camp, while archive staff had a look at film-making – which seemed to require much sitting around and waiting but, for a day at least, was a novelty.

Men with fibre



Archivist Gareth Winter has a long-term interest in the Ruamahanga River.  A couple of summers ago he walked the length of the river, from the headwaters high in the Tararua Range, down to the outlet at Lake Onoke.

One of the interesting sites on the hike was ‘Mahaki’ farm, just south of Martinborough, where an extensive flax growing industry flourished in the first half of the 20th century.  The Wairarapa Archive had little documentation of the growing and processing exploits on ‘Mahaki’  until recently, when the granddaughter of farm hand Fred Small presented us with a set of over 30 photographs.  It shows the entire process, from raising the young flax plants, right through to loading the finished product onto a ship in Wellington.   A remarkable addition to our collection.

EMBARKATION: The scene at Masterton Railway Station on August 13, 1914, as the first Wairarapa volunteers left for training prior to going to war.PHOTO/SUPPLIED

EMBARKATION: The scene at Masterton Railway Station on August 13, 1914, as the first Wairarapa volunteers left for training prior to going to war.

As the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I looms, a group of Wairarapa people have banded together to plan for its centenary and events that unfolded over the duration of the war.
Led by war historian Neil Frances and Masterton RSA president Bob Hill, the group called WW100 Wairarapa involves the RSA, Wairarapa Archive, Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa district councils, Anzac Hall Society, Featherston Heritage Museum and Red Cross.
It will span the major events of the entire war that lasted from August 1914 until early November 1918 and is not designed to shut out others who may want to commemorate events.A search for locally collected war souvenirs and records is planned for early next year and several groups are looking at musical and dramatic depictions of the war.  Mr Frances said World War I inspired lots of music, drama and literature “much of which is virtually unknown now”.The planned recognition of the war dubbed “the war to end all wars” will extend to the centenary of the Soldiers’ Club in Masterton, now Wairarapa Services and Citizens Club, in August 2018 and beyond to the Armistice and the influenza epidemic that followed.
Mr Frances said there were almost 600 names on Wairarapa memorials with some names appearing more than once.  Wairarapa Archive and Carterton District Council are working on identifying and obtaining service records for those commemorated on the memorials.

ex http://www.times-age.co.nz/news/centenary-to-span-major-events/1904037/