Come along to the Khandallah Library this Thursday evening (7th November) from 6pm where we will be celebrating the heritage of the greater Onslow area with the rededication of a memorial scroll in honour of F.L (‘Fanny Louise’) Irvine-Smith.
Born in 1878, Irvine-Smith was a pioneering educationalist who lectured at the Wellington Teachers College and had a notable role in first introducing Māoritanga and NZ History to the primary school curriculum. She is best known for her work as a historian and her book The Streets of my City. First published in 1948, her book presented Wellington’s past through a tour of its streets and how they had been named. It was a radical departure from the dry, pedestrian works of local history which had been published to that time and it went on to be re-printed multiple times. However, we remember her for her extraordinary efforts over many years to establish the Khandallah Library. A strong believer in the importance of libraries to the social health of a community, she lobbied the council and walked the streets of the suburb to gather nearly 1300 signatures on a petition supporting the library’s establishment.
As well as unveiling the memorial scroll we are going to take the opportunity to launch a digitised collection of a historic local magazine, The Ngaio and Khandallah Review and its follow-up publication, The Social Review which were published in the early-mid 1930s. Drawn from the collection of the Onslow Historical Society, we worked collaboratively with the society to allow these extremely rare copies to be made available to the general public for the first time on our digital heritage platform, Wellington City Recollect. They offer a fascinating insight into the local community 85 years ago and will become an invaluable source of local history and genealogical information. Once launched, the digitised magazines will be fully key-word searchable.
Come along to the Khandallah Library on Thursday evening from 6pm to share your memories of the library and the greater area. Light refreshments will be served. There is no need to R.S.V.P but space will be limited.
Completed in 1904, the Levin House was one of the most extravagant houses ever constructed in Wellington to that time.
It was built at 72 Hobson Street in Thorndon for Robert Lionel Levin, the son of the wealthy businessman and philanthropist William Hort Levin for whom the Horowhenua township of Levin is named. W.H. Levin was also regarded as the ‘founder’ of Wellington City Libraries through his large donation of funds which enabled the city’s first municipal library to be constructed in the early 1890s.
Following his father’s death in 1893, Robert Levin decided against taking a partnership in the family firm of Levin & Co (he went sheep farming in the Manawatu) but used a proportion of his considerable inheritance to construct this house which soon became the talk of the town. It was designed by the notable architect John Sydney Swan who was also responsible for St Gerard’s Church and Monastery, the Backbencher Pub, The Erskine Chapel, the Iko Iko building in Cuba Mall and many others.
The house featured central heating, 100 volt DC electric lighting (230 volt AC mains power did not arrive in Wellington until the mid 1920s) and a “telephonette” intercom system which allowed servants to be summoned from any room. Located on two acres of land, rather than facing the street which was the norm at the time, the architect orientated the house away from the road so that it received all-day sun and had views out over Wellington Harbour. It was built before the major reclamation that created the railyards and Aotea Quay had taken place so the shoreline would have been substantially closer to the house than it is today.
By the early 1970s the house had fallen into disrepair and ownership of the property had long since passed from the Levin family. It was purchased by the Australian Government and then demolished in 1975 to become the site of the Australian High Commission.
Click here to see the house on our Recollect page which also includes a link to a digitised copy of the vintage NZ architecture magazine Progress which published a glowing review of the house in 1906.
Ever since Kupe first followed the wheke a Muturangi (a giant squid) to Te Moana-a-Raukawa (Cook Strait), the history of Wellington and the people who have lived here has been told, researched and retold. Wellington Heritage Week 22nd to 28th October is an opportunity to experience Wellington’s people, places and stories. Check out the Wellington Heritage week program here.
If you would like to do some of your own research into your Wellington people, places and stories then here at the library we have many resources to help you in your research. A great starting point is our Heritage and Local History page, with tips and links to help you get started.
Local Māori History Resources
On the Te Whanganui-a-Tara resources page you’ll find digitised resources, including: Māori deeds of land purchases, a list of Māori tribes and chiefs circa 1878, and many more resources. Check out these resources on the local Te Whanganui-a-tara Māori history available here.
We have the 4 volumes of Ngā Tūpuna o te Whanganui-a-Tara in our collection. These 4 volumes were a collaboration between Wellington City Council and Wellington Tenths Trust and our Māori subject specialist Ann Reweti was part of the writing and editing team.
“Short biographies and some portraits of Māori associated with the sale of Port Nicolson land in the 1840s.” (Catalogue)
Wellington City Recollect Database
Have you visited the Wellington City Recollect website yet? You will find a database of heritage photos, books, maps and related ephemera reflecting the Capital’s past. The database is administered by Wellington City Libraries and our local historian specialist Gabor Toth recommends having a look at some of the great new additions to this database. The latest project is the ongoing digitisation of Wellington school jubilee and centenary publications. These school publications are a great source of Wellington heritage information and you can see the ones that have been digitised so far, click on the Publications tab here.
Wellington City Recollect is a great place to spend some time during Wellington Heritage Week. Wellington City Libraries are very proud of our role in Wellington local history and some of the great things you can find on Recollect are postcards like the one below of Wellington Public Library C.1925 or browse thru the souvenir opening guide produced for the 1940 opening to find out about the library building that now houses the City Gallery here.
Exploring Early Colonial Life in Wellington in books
The following three books are good examples of how you can gain an interesting perspective of colonial life in Wellington from our collections. As for most colonists this new life started with the journey by ship to Wellington. The first book “No simple passage” tells of such a journey on board the “London” in 1842. The life and sights of Wellington in 1859 are the topic of the second book “An indescribable beauty” told with letters sent back home. Finally in the third book Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington from 1888 -1903 is detailed in Wellington’s own Redmer Yska’s “A strange beautiful excitement”. (For some background information into the research of this third book, check out the story on Wellington City Recollect here
An indescribable beauty : letters home to Germany from Wellington, New Zealand, 1859 & 1862 / Krull, Friedrich
“This unique book is a small but priceless addition to the historical record of early New Zealand, published to recognise New Zealand’s guest of honour status at Frankfurt Book Fair 2012.On January 27, 1859, an adventurous young German arrived in Wellington after a four-month voyage on a Swedish ship. With great alacrity we helped the sailors weigh anchor, and with what suspense did H and I stand on the foredeck to get the first view of the town which was to become our new home, Friedrich Krull writes. After we entered through the narrow straits a beautiful harbour lay before us, surrounded by high hills, and behind it more hills ascending to the snowline. In the east we saw Wellington itself, stretching along the coast for a mile. We were amazed: we had not expected the place to be so big.’So began the first of many letters Krull would write at the behest of the German naturalist and historian Ernst Boll – published in English translation in this outstanding book.” (Catalogue)
A strange beautiful excitement : Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington, 1888-1903 / Yska, Redmer
“How does a city make a writer? Described by Fiona Kidman as a ‘ravishing, immersing read’, A Strange Beautiful Excitement is a ‘wild ride’ through the Wellington of Katherine Mansfield’s childhood. From the grubby, wind-blasted streets of Thorndon to the hushed green valley of Karori, author Redmer Yska, himself raised in Karori, retraces Mansfield’s old ground: the sights, sounds and smells of the rickety colonial capital, as experienced by the budding writer” (Catalogue)
You can now listen to interviews with Ruth Gotlieb on our website, detailing her fascinating life; growing up in Ireland and emigrating to Australia then New Zealand. The oral histories include an in-depth discussion of her 27 year career serving as a councillor and board member, with the Wellington City Council, the Wellington Regional Council, the Wellington Harbour Board and the Capital & Coast District Health Board.
Ruth Gotlieb’s honours include having the library in Kilbirnie renamed Ruth Gotlieb Library, being awarded a Queen’s Service Order in 1995, and named Wellingtonian of the year in 2010. Ruth has contributed many hours volunteering with numerous organisations and as Justice of the Peace, and continues to do so to this day.
Check out our new Heritage Films page for a selection of films from Wellington City Archives we have digitised.
The films were made to document council activities and at the time were only shown to a small audience. These short videos are an insight into some of Wellington’s history and include scenes from the opening of Khandallah Library in 1953, the Queen’s visit in 1954, the “Festival Of Wellington” in 1959 and a five minute film from 1947 about Wellington’s milk supply.
Alongside the videos on the Heritage films page you’ll find information on the Festival Of Wellington, publicity materials and photos. We’ve also added the films to our WCL YouTube channel – check it out for storytimes and other videos we have created. We’d love your feedback!
Stretching for 15 kilometres from Makara in the south to Tawa in the north, Ohariu Valley is a rural district on Wellington’s urban doorstep. Feeling that the social history of the area deserved to be more widely known, Wellington City Libraries have captured some of the memories of current and former valley dwellers in this oral history project.