The 80s called and they’ve given their magazine back

Wellington City Magazine on Recollect

Wellington City Libraries is bringing the past back to the future with the popular 1980s Wellington City Magazine now accessible online.

Not only will it showcase the big hair, shoulder pads and jazzercize of the era in the capital, but also the cool cats, clubs and cafes, and feature articles and columns from many still well-known contributors.

Wellington City Magazine on Recollect

Wellington City Magazine offers a fascinating insight into Wellington’s culture in the mid-1980s during a time of considerable societal and economic change, says Wellington City Libraries Local Historian Gabor Toth.

“Its first edition was printed at the very end of Robert Muldoon’s final term as the National Government’s Prime Minister in 1984, and came to an end after 27 issues following the share market crash in 1987.

“Published by Henry Newrick, the magazine had an enormous variety of feature articles and regular columns. Its advertising content reflected a boom in the local economy as financial regulatory controls were dropped, the share market rose to new heights and a new generation of high-earning workers, investors and entrepreneurs opened their wallets. The magazine was also highly innovative in its graphic design, page layout and high-quality photograph reproduction.

“The first five issues were called Wellington Cosmo to reflect the fact that Wellington was seen as being a particularly ‘cosmopolitan’ city, a legal threat to change the title as it violated the international Cosmopolitan Magazine trademark, and a failed appeal and injunction, saw it change its title to Wellington City Magazine.

“The magazine had three editors; Lloyd Jones, John Saker and Malcolm McSporran and attracted many talented writers and journalists who often had significant literary, academic or business backgrounds – including David Burton, Ian Wedde, Simon Morris, Lorraine Mexted, Tony Simpson and Bill Gosden.

“The magazine also took on causes, and was one of the first outlets to raise the profile of the St James Theatre when it was threatened with demolition.”

This was a labour of love for Gabor, hand scanning every page and photoshopping the gutter out of the double page spreads, says Manager of Libraries & Community Spaces, Laurinda Thomas.

“Everyone, young and old, is going to get a kick out of these magazines – it’s like a time machine, and everyone can just go online and get transported there.

“So many of the restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas, galleries have been replaced with new ones, but some things that haven’t changed are the political, arts and cultural scene – and the Green Parrot!”

Go to wellington.recollect.co.nz and click on the ‘Collections’ button to see all 27 issues, and keep an eye on Wellington City Council and Libraries social media channels for some 1980s nostalgia to coincide with the launch.

Kaiārahi Kohikohinga – Māori reference collection is now available

Our Māori reference collection, one of the country’s best collections of Māori books, can now be requested. These can be identified in the catalogue as held at the Offsite Maori Collection, with a location of heritagequeries@wcc.govt.nz.

Please use this email address heritagequeries@wcc.govt.nz to make your request and one of our team will retrieve it for you. Don’t forget to let us know your library card number and which branch you would like to view the book at. You will receive two emails, one confirming the request, and the second when the book has arrived at the branch. This is a free request service.

Most books will be available for you to consult for three weeks at the library branch. If you don’t need the books for three weeks, just let the staff in the branch library know and they will return the book for you.

If you need to renew the item for a further 3 weeks, make a request through the same email heritagequeries@wcc.govt.nz and the library team will check if there is another customer waiting.

Further details about the collection.

From the Rare Book Collection: Queen Victoria’s signed copy of her published journals

Only a few British monarchs have ever written books. As a young king, Henry VIII published an attack on the Protestant reformer Martin Luther many years before his own split with the Catholic church.

Eight decades later, James IV of Scotland (later to become James I of the newly formed United Kingdom) wrote a variety of works including an epic poem, a treatise against tobacco and a study of witchcraft and demonology which was later used by William Shakespeare as one of his main sources for Macbeth. However, only one monarch has ever published what essentially is an autobiography during their life; Queen Victoria and her book Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands.

Queen Victoria’s book in the library’s Rare Book Collection

Queen Victoria reigned for nearly 64 years following her coronation in 1837.  In 1842 when she was aged 23, she and Prince Albert travelled to Scotland for a holiday shortly after marrying. Their experiences on that trip made a lasting impression on them both and she soon became the first monarch since Charles I to have a home in Scotland. Victoria and Albert returned in 1844 and again three years later. In 1848 Albert acquired a lease on Balmoral Castle and its associated estate of 17,400 acres in the Deeside region, about 80 km west of Aberdeen and then purchased it using his own inherited wealth in 1852. In due course this isolated area was to become Victoria’s spiritual home and she returned there with her family almost every year for the rest of her life. These retreats allowed the royal couple to cast off much of the rigid formality of court protocol and to gain some sense of what it might be like to live a ‘normal’ life. Victoria and her family would roam the hills and explore the wild mountain streams as they chose. Continue reading “From the Rare Book Collection: Queen Victoria’s signed copy of her published journals”

The 1951 Waterfront Dispute: 151 days that shook New Zealand

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the longest and one of the most polarising labour disputes in New Zealand’s history. Now digitised on Wellington City Recollect is a selection of what were then illegally printed pamphlets and newsletters from one of the main players in the dispute, the Wellington Waterside Workers’ Union.

An illegal flyer printed to be handed out to the public to explain the position of the Wellington Waterside Workers’ Union. Emergency regulations meant any coverage of their views by news media was banned by the government.

Though it is now passing from living memory, the 1951 Waterfront Dispute remains one of the most contentious industrial conflicts from our past. Lasting 151 days, it was the longest serious industrial action ever taken in New Zealand and involved more people than any other strike in our history with over 22,000 members of the Waterside Workers’ Union and other sympathetic labour groups involved. It was a deeply divisive and polarising event with different sides accusing each other of being ‘communists’ or ‘fascists’ respectively with many of the attacks becoming increasingly personal and vindictive. Even the name and nature of the event was in dispute with the Government, port authorities and shipping companies calling it a ‘strike’ and the waterside workers calling it a ‘lock-out’. This distinction remained a contentious issue among some historians and political scientists for decades after the event.

Continue reading “The 1951 Waterfront Dispute: 151 days that shook New Zealand”

The Enigma of Mary Garden

In the 1920s the societal norms shattered in the First World War, combined with a booming economy, led to the emergence of a new generation of emancipated young women – the ‘flappers’.

 

They wore hemlines above the ankle, cut and ‘bobbed’ their hair, listened to jazz and generally rebelled against the path that society expected young women to follow. They smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, took lovers rather than husbands, sought employment and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behaviour. For more than a decade, one woman was looked up to by this new generation in Wellington, someone who ‘had it all’; a fashion designer, businesswoman and property developer who lived and worked under the pseudonym Mary Garden

She was born in Hobart in Tasmania in January 1893 as Ruby Russell and likely grew up on a farm not far from that city. However, Ruby had bigger ambitions; training as a dressmaker, she went on to develop her craft at the luxurious ‘Farmers & Co’ department store in central Sydney (unconnected to the NZ retail chain of the same name).

Continue reading “The Enigma of Mary Garden”

Dining out in Wellington in the early 1990s

Newly digitised on our Recollect site, the Sheridan Restaurant Guide from 1993 is another snap-shot of our eating-out habits and a startling contrast to the Menu Guide published a decade earlier.

Unlike the Menu Guide which was sold as a one-off product (the incentive to purchase being the number of discount coupons it contained) the Sheridan Guide was printed twice a year and given away as a ‘freebie’ via magazine racks in hotel lobbies, tourist sites and on inner-city streets. A majority of restaurants in the early 1980s were either ‘steak & chips’ family affairs or expensive French-based fine-dining establishments with only a small number of ‘ethnic’ restaurants. Ten years on and the Thai, Indian and Cambodian restaurants which earlier would have been regarded as extraordinarily exotic were now becoming mainstream.

The high interest in ‘ethnic cuisine’ (particularly from Asia) which began in the early 1990s was not lost on conventional restaurateurs; the menu of Dada (formerly located at 9 Edward street, later to became the location of ESC and latterly Meow) is a good example of this with salmon sushi, Tom Yum soup and Rogan Josh sitting happily alongside venison Denver leg and char-grilled lamb medallions. Fine-dining restaurants began to lose their stuffiness during this period; starched tablecloths, carpeted floors and silver service gave way to the ‘smart casualness’ which continues to  dominate this sector of the restaurant trade to this day.

Typical of this style was Brasserie Flip located on the first floor of the former RSA building in upper Ghuznee Street. Not only was this an unusual location away from Wellington’s traditional restaurant ‘strips’, the interior design came to exemplify many similar restaurants; former commercial office fitouts and wall linings were ripped out to expose the raw interior of the building and a ‘post industrial’ look created. However, some new restaurants did still go ‘all out’ with highly original (and expensive) interior fitouts. The Opera Restaurant and Bar (better known simply as ‘Opera’) was one such establishment which featured sculpted devils & angels hanging on walls and a ‘floating’ staircase to access the upper level. Operatic recordings were piped through the high-quality sound system during the day and into the early evening which later gave way to the pounding beats of contemporary dance music. ‘Opera’ was among the pioneering establishments that transformed Courtenay Place in the early 1990s, taking advantage of the relaxation in regulations which previously made liquor licenses for restaurants and bars (particularly for any establishment wanting to serve alcohol after 10pm) difficult and expensive to obtain. Correspondingly, this change in regulations also saw a decline in BYO restaurants as the profit that could be made on alcohol sales (if a liquor license could be obtained) were substantial.

Only two restaurants featured in the Menu Guide from 1982 were also covered in Sheridan guide; the Mexican Cantina and Greta Point Tavern. The ‘Mex’ was already in decline by this point having lost the monopoly it once had on serving nachos and tacos. It was sold by its proprietor Jenny Burns (1929-2002) to new owners but stuttered on for another couple of years before finally closing its doors in the mid-1990s. However, with its menu virtually unchanged, comparing its 1982 prices with its 1993 prices is an interesting exercise which illustrates the impact of inflation during this period. The Greta Point Tavern continued with its ‘family’ orientated menu through to the early 2000s. It closed to make way for a housing development but survives in a manner after being  a dramatically transformed in 2002 when the entire building was lifted onto a barge and relocated to the inner-harbour waterfront where it  became Foxglove. Meanwhile, only three of the restaurants featured in the 1993 Sheridan guide have survived to the present day (2021),  The Tug Boat (though it has had many changes of owners, name variations and menus, it has remained floating at its berth next to Freyberg Pool on Oriental Bay ever since), the politically themed Back Bencher and the iconic Boulcott Street Bistro which reaches its 30th birthday this year.

When you can’t think of what to get your Mum for Christmas…in 1905

Decades before sending wall calendars to friends and relatives as Christmas presents became popular, local newspapers across New Zealand did a roaring trade in special ‘annual’ and ‘Christmas’ editions which would be published shortly before the festive season.

Photographers would be sent out to capture the local region in all its glory and the resulting pictorial publications would be sent across the country or overseas to those back ‘home’ as gifts. Though it would be another 20 years before printing technology reached the point where photographs were appearing in newspapers, they could be reproduced on semi-gloss paper and published as magazines where longer lead-in times allowed lithographers to create excellent quality images not yet possible in a daily newsprint publication.

Wellington’s main local newspaper, The Evening Post, regularly published these special editions from around the turn of last century and they proved to be popular gift items. Helping sales in this regard was the sheer novelty of seeing images of local features reproduced in this manner; until then photographs were regarded as  expensive, hand-made items which were printed in studios in limited numbers to be framed and hung on walls.  Now digitised on Wellington City Recollect is the Evening Post’s annual from 1905 (you can also click on the images on this page to enlarge them to full size). Available in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it was originally sold through bookshops, newsagents or directly from the Evening Post at a cost of 1 shilling (about $9 in 2020 terms).

The Evening Post, 18 October 1905, page 2

Lavishly illustrated, the ‘Post’ was proud of the fact that it contained nearly 150 photographs whereas similar Christmas editions produced by other newspapers might contain as few as 12. Much was made of our ‘new’ buildings such as the Town Hall and the Newtown Library (the first branch library in NZ) which were included to show how progressive the city was at the time.  There’s also a startling number of photographs of water-supply lakes & dams, including the Karori Reservoir (today the site of Zealandia), images of which seem almost obligatory in pictorial Wellington publications from this period. Their appearance was likely to be as much about promoting the city’s safe drinking water supply as it was their (dubious) scenic qualities. This was a time when the city was doing all it could to shake off its reputation from 15 years earlier when it was called the “worst drained city in the colony” and typhoid outbreaks were common. 

What is probably the most interesting page appears towards the end of the publication as part of an advertising feature. Inserted by the Government’s Department for Tourism and Health Resorts, this one-page advertisement targets those overseas who may have been sent a copy of the annual by friends or relatives in New Zealand.  It extols the scenic virtues of New Zealand with much made of the hunting & fishing opportunities and similar recreational pursuits which were often restricted to the upper classes back in the UK. It  promotes the country not only to tourists but also to potential migrants and highlights the world-leading progressive policies of the Liberal Government which was at its height at the time. This publication and similar magazines can now be read on Wellington City Recollect where you can also download individual pages at full resolution.

You can’t beat Wellington on a good day…in 1924

A remarkable photograph captures our city basking in the sun on a calm summer’s day nearly a century ago.

Click on the photo twice to enlarge it to full size or see this link to view it at full resolution.

This photo appeared in 1928 in one of the first significant local history books to be published, Early Wellington by Louis Ward. Photographed from the slopes of Te Ahumairangi (Tinakori Hill) the image was credited to the Government Publicity Office, an early marketing department that operated as a branch of Internal Affairs to promote New Zealand to tourists and potential migrants. Ward included it as one of the last illustrations in his hefty 500+ page volume to show what the city looked like ‘today’ for his then-readers and the extent of reclamation that had occurred to that point. Much of his original research material was deposited with the Central Library after he completed his work so it’s possible that this is the actual photo which was reproduced in the book.  However, photo-lithographic techniques were still quite basic in the 1920s and printers weren’t yet able to reproduce the fine details of photographs and illustrations on a commercial scale so it appears as a somewhat unremarkable picture at the end of the book. On the other hand, the original print is crisp, clear and incredibly detailed indicating that it could be a contact print taken from a glass-plate negative. The large size of plate negatives coupled with their very slow film speed and the fine grain of vintage photographic paper meant that incredible detail can be captured. However, it is often only when images like this are digitally scanned that one can truly appreciate the level of historic visual information they contain.

What makes the photo so striking is just how developed Wellington appears to be in a photograph taken some 96 years ago. The 1920s were a period of tremendous economic growth as the country shrugged off the privations of World War I and moved into the ‘Jazz Age’. Wellington’s population grew rapidly as migrants from the UK continued to arrive in increasing numbers while rural labourers shifted to the city seeking new work opportunities. Technology made huge advances over this period; regular radio broadcasts began and radio and gramophone shops were soon dotted across the inner-city.  Horses & carts which were commonplace on the city’s streets in 1920 were starting to become a rarity by 1925.  The electricity network was revolutionised when Wellington abandoned the old 110 volt system it had been using since the late 1880s and adopted its current 230 volt AC system. Previously used mostly only for lighting, electric power was now a serious alternative to steam driven machinery in factories and a viable replacement for coal to heat homes, offices and for providing hot water.

The Braemar apartments under construction at 32 The Terrace

Though the photograph is dated 1928 in Ward’s book, it was almost certainly taken four years earlier with visual clues present in the form of two construction sites. The first is Braemar, a distinctive building next to St Andrew’s on The Terrace which appears in the photo surrounded with scaffolding as it nears completion. Begun in 1924 as a property development on former Presbyterian church land, it opened in early 1925 as one of the first examples of an inner-city apartment building in Wellington.

Druids’ Chambers under construction in Woodward Street

The second is the Druids’ Chambers where the steel girders which make up the internal  frame of the building can be seen  being assembled on the corner of Woodward Street and Lambton Quay. Work on this began in 1924 and it opened as an office building for the financial and benevolent services branch of the masonic Order of Druids in June 1925.  Remarkably, both of these buildings survive to this day.  Another pair of buildings shown in the image which are still standing are the Old Government Buildings (the birthplace of the ‘modern’ civil service in NZ and once the largest wooden building in the world) and Shed 21 which appears above it. The exterior appearance of these is largely unchanged but between them lies Waterloo Quay where railyards can be seen extending further south than they do today while the blurred shapes of motor vehicles can be seen moving on the road. However, the lack of traffic or pedestrians on other roads indicates that the photo was probably taken in the mid-late afternoon during a weekend or possibly during the summer holiday period.

In the centre-right foreground south of the Bolton Street Cemetery, a new residential subdivision is being formed. This is the Easdale St / Kinross St area which was developed from land once owned by the infamous former Chief Justice James Prendergast who had died in 1921.  After basic roads had been installed, sections were sold off to members of a new generation of middle-class professionals who employed some of the country’s best architects to design their dream homes. Meanwhile in the lower-left corner, Bowen Street ends abruptly just past the Congregational Church on the corner of The Terrace which is today the site of the Reserve Bank.

One central building that really stands out in the photo because of its deep-set verandas is the Hotel Arcadia.  Located on the corner of Lambton Quay and Stout Street opposite the Public Trust Building, it opened in late 1905 having been constructed to an ornate design that wouldn’t have looked out of place in central Paris. It promoted itself as being Wellington’s finest hotel and featured plush dining and function rooms which were regularly used for balls, formal dinners and receptions for visiting dignitaries. Despite its grandeur, the hotel barely lasted 30 years after it was purchased by the Department of Internal Affairs in late 1938 and demolished the following year to clear the site for the construction of the State Fire Insurance Building, one of the first early-modernist buildings to be constructed in Wellington. This photo and many more like it can be seen on our Recollect site here.

 

When Post Office Square was the centre of town

He roamed from Post Office Square to the wharves, where black mysterious little waves suck under sea-rotted, weed-twined piles, from the wharves back again to various haunts of publicans and sinners.

Passport to Hell, by Robin Hyde (1936)

Many an overseas tourist has headed to Post Office Square on Customhouse Quay hoping (as the name might suggest) to buy a stamp to send a postcard back home…only to find themselves walking around in circles in a state of confusion. It’s been well over a decade since the last actual post office near the ‘square’ ceased operating, a small Postshop which was located in a retail tenancy on the corner of Grey Street. However, for generations of Wellingtonians, Post Office Square and the General Post Office next to it (or the GPO as it was commonly called) was regarded as the centre of town.  It was a place for protest meetings, receptions for visiting royals and where crowds of people would gather on New Year’s Eve to hear the bells in the GPO clock tower chime midnight.

Indicated with an arrow is the first Post Office building on the site in Grey Street. The buildings in the foreground are fronting onto Lambton Quay.

Though a post office had operated in various buildings across Wellington since 1840 (often connected with the functions of the Magistrate’s Court), the first near the square that would take its name was a small building erected in the late 1850s in Grey Street. It operated for only three years before being replaced with a larger building fronting Customhouse Quay which was to become Wellington’s first true GPO. Its location was selected by the Provincial Government because of its proximity to Queens Wharf which was then under construction. The area soon became the city’s principal transport and communications hub in an era before rail links had been established and shipping was the way people and goods moved across the country.

The first GPO with its time ball, c. 1870 as seen from Queens Wharf

The  distinguishing feature of this GPO was the time ball located on its roof. This was raised up a sliding pole just before midday (excluding Sundays) and then dropped at 12-noon precisely. Its main purpose was to allow ships in the harbour to synchronise their marine chronometers (extremely accurate on-board clocks) which were vital to calculate longitude when navigating the oceans. The signal to drop the ball came over telegraph wires which ran up to an observatory located at the top of the Bolton Street Cemetery. Celestial observations were carried out regularly on clear evenings and these were used to set NZ’s official standard time which was kept on a series of precision pendulum clocks.

A rapidly growing population and the advent of a telegram service saw the Post and Telegraph  (‘P&T’) Department outgrow this building and it was replaced after 20 years with what was then one of the largest buildings in Wellington. Opening in 1884, it was barely three years old before it was almost completely destroyed by fire in late April 1887. Its rapidly constructed replacement which opened at the end of the following year appears at a glance to be an identical twin to the earlier building but featured many structural and layout improvements.

Post Office Square in the 1920s with the 1888 GPO on the right. The pedestrian-only section of the square was reduced in size in 1911 in an effort to improve traffic flows.
The 1912 GPO with its main entrance fronting on to Featherston Street

Further technological developments (namely the widespread introduction of the telephone) and the P&T Department being given the responsibility for the administration and distribution of the old age pension, saw the construction of yet another building, a ‘new’ GPO which fronted on to Featherston Street. This massive building adjoined the 1888 structure so that the P&T Department now covered the entire block. Opening in 1912, this imposing granite-clad building featured the latest in earthquake-resistant engineering, a large internal public office naturally lit with a huge stained-glass skylight, a pneumatic tube  ‘Lamson’ system for transporting documents & cash throughout the building, over 1500 private ‘P.O’ boxes and dozens of phone and telegraph operators. By the 1960s, the former 1888 GPO was still standing but was a shadow of its former self with many of its distinguishing features such as the clock tower having been removed.

In the early 1970s, the Post Office decided that it once again needed a new GPO better suited to the modern age.  Sadly,  despite not being particularly earthquake prone, the 1912 GPO and its older sister from 1888 were both demolished in 1974, reflecting an era when anything ‘modern’ was seen as exciting and little regard was given to the heritage value of such buildings. The site was excavated and foundations were poured for the new GPO. However, the project stuttered for many years, in part because of the NZ Post Office’s poor financial situation as they lost money on their mail service and were slow to adopt many of the efficient new communication technologies which were commonplace overseas. After a large building was constructed for the Post Office further down Customhouse Quay next to the Waterloo Hotel, the project to construct a replacement GPO next to Post Office Square was abandoned. The site was left as an empty pit for over a decade, often filling with a couple of feet of stagnant water during the winter months.

In 1988, work finally re-started on the site with a major new building being constructed on the foundations which had been poured over ten years earlier.  The resulting IBM building and the Park Royal Hotel (since renamed the ANZ and the Hotel Intercontinental) added a splash of mirrored-glass glamour to the inner-city when they opened in 1990. Only the name of the neighbouring square gives an indication of the institution which dominated the site for over a century and which employed thousands of people over that time.

You can read more about the history of Wellington’s Post Office in this souvenir booklet published to mark the opening of the fourth GPO building in 1912 which is now digitised on Wellington City Recollect  

The 1912 GPO on the left as photographed in 1950 from the Featherston St / Panama St intersection and the same view in 2020 below

Heritage Talk: The History of the Wellington Urban Motorway

The main motorway trench being excavated through the former Bolton Street Cemetery, photographed in the late-afternoon during the summer of 1972. Image from Recollect

The relationship between a city and its motorways can be a complex one — and Wellington is no exception!

The same was true in 1965, when the imminent construction of the Wellington Urban Motorway was the defining issue of the local election. And for good reason: the motorway was — and still is — one of the largest and most complex works of infrastructure development in Wellington’s history, with hundreds of houses demolished and over 3600 graves disinterred from the Bolton Street Cemetery to make way for it.

The northern portal of the Terrace Tunnel under construction, 1975. Image from Recollect

Decades later, transport through Wellington is still a vitally important issue. But what can be learnt from this earlier attempt to ease congestion?

Join Wellington City Libraries’ Local and New Zealand History Specialist Gábor Tóth at 12pm on Thursday 29 October at Te Awe Library for a special talk on the history of the Wellington Urban Motorway project — including a powerful set of images taken at the time.

Heritage Talk on Facebook  

We look forward to seeing you there!

The Cuba Street Memories Project is moving!

After more than a decade, our Cuba Street Memories Project is moving to a new platform. Launched in 2009, this was the first interactive online heritage platform created by Wellington City Libraries.

For the first time it allowed us easily display heritage items from our collection online as well as enabling people to share their memories of Wellington’s most vibrant and best loved inner-city streets. 
Based on a platform called ‘Kete’, the system was developed by local Wellington firm Katipo Communications working in collaboration with the Horowhenua Library Trust and was highly innovative in its use of cloud-based storage long before the practice had become commonplace. However, with a limited number of features by today’s standards, we have decided to shift the Cuba Street Memories Project over to our main heritage platform, Wellington City Recollect. In coming weeks all the material will be transferred over to a new ‘collection’ page on Recollect. This will enable items to be displayed in a much more intuitive manner, articles will now be fully searchable by keyword but users will still be able to comment and contribute their memories using the ‘Recollections’ function of Recollect. We’ll let you know when the transfer is completed and the new collection page has gone ‘live’.

Edit: The data has now been transferred and the collection can now be viewed at its new home here.

From the Rare Book Collection : Terentius Comico Carmine

Selected from our Rare Book Collection is this beautiful 1503 illustrated edition of Terentius Comico Carmine, a collection of comedies by the Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer


Publius Terentius Afer (better known simply as ‘Terence’) was born into slavery in North Africa around 185 BC and was sold as a child to a Roman senator who took him back to Italy. His owner educated him and became so impressed with his wit and intelligence that he granted him his freedom.  Terence went on to write six plays based on the Greek Attic style of comedy, all of which survive to the present day. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, his plays survived as hand-written manuscripts which were preserved in monasteries for hundreds of years through the Dark Ages and into Medieval period. Following Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press in the mid 15th century, Terence’s works were among the first plays to be printed in Europe. This copy was published by Johann Grüninger in Strasbourg at the very start of the 16th Century. Though today part of France, at the time the city was principally German speaking and was the centre of the early European printing industry.  

The protestant religious reformer Martin Luther became a great admirer of Terence and frequently mentioned his insights into human nature in his own writing. One famous Terence quote which has inspired many is Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, or,  “I am human, so nothing human is alien to me”. Luther also suggested that his plays could be useful for teaching morals and ethics to youth. What makes this somewhat surprising is that Luther was known for his socially conservative views but Terence’s work is often bawdy with no shortage of risqué content.  His work Hecyra (aka The Mother in Law) of which three pages are shown here, is a good example of this. The play follows a young man who falls in love with a prostitute and includes drunken debauchery,  sex, domestic violence, and a farcical case of mistaken identity which wouldn’t be out of place in a Christmas pantomime…. but everything works out happily in the end.

Amusingly, the first two attempted performances of the play during the Classical period both ended somewhat disastrously. The first was in 165 BC when shortly before it was supposed to begin, a rumor spread that a tightrope-walker and boxers were about to perform and the theatre was suddenly swamped by people expecting to see circus acts. The second in 160 BC was cancelled after the theater was again overrun, this time by drunk gladiator supporters. It was finally performed successfully on its third attempt later the same year. Another curiosity is that it was long thought that a musical phrase which accompanies a single line of the text in Hecyra was the only remaining written description of the entire body of ancient Roman music. However, its authenticity is now disputed and it may have had 10th Century origins. 

Terence’s newfound popularity during the Renaissance followed the spread of the reformation to England and his work had a notable influence on Shakespeare nearly a century after the publication of this edition. One intriguing thought is the possibility that another copy of this edition could have ended up in Shakespeare’s own library. This now-500+ year old volume came into our collection after being  gifted to the institution shortly after the municipal library was founded in 1893. At some point the volume was rebound in vellum, a hard-wearing cream-colored covering made from calf skin which (unlike leather), does not go through a tanning process but is stretched and dried without significant chemical treatment. With the Central Library currently closed, the book is being carefully stored in a custom-made acid-free enclosure in a temperature and humidity controlled room at the Wellington City Archives.

Dining out in Wellington during the era of shrimp cocktails and deep-fried camembert

Today Wellingtonians are spoilt  for choice when it comes to dining out in the city with a huge range of different cuisines to try and restaurants which cover every  budget. But what was the restaurant scene like nearly 40 years ago? This booklet now on Wellington City Recollect gives you some idea as to what going out for dinner in Wellington was like in the early-mid 1980s.

Menu for ‘Camelot’

Called The Menu Guide,  it was published in late 1982 by Henry Newrick and his firm Newrick Associates Ltd. Its cover price of $4.95 was relatively high for the time (approximately $18 in 2020 terms) but the booklet also included a set of discount coupons for diners to use at a selection of restaurants, one of the first times that a hospitality discount coupon scheme had been used in Wellington. A full and complete listing of almost every restaurant operating at the time was included in the introduction but establishments could pay to have a larger advertisement placed in the main body of the booklet in the form of a menu and it is these which offer a fascinating insight into our dining-out past.

Menu for ‘Bacchus’

This was at a time when traditional ‘family’ and ‘fine dining’ establishments started to be joined by new ‘ethnic’ restaurants as Wellingtonians’ culinary tastes expanded. Most of the fine dining restaurants were of course, French, while family restaurants all shared the common dominant theme of steak and chips.

Although the prices listed appear ridiculously low by today’s standards, how do they compare when inflation adjusted? The menu for Camelot, a popular family restaurant in Brandon Street which sported a ‘Ye Olde King Arthur’ theme, indicates that average prices were probably a bit higher than today; their $9.70 T-bone steak served with a mushroom sauce would be hitting $34 in 2020. Meanwhile, Des Britten’s legendary The Coachman offered grilled prawns at the eye-watering equivalent of $63. The Bacchus restaurant seemed to take the approach that if you needed to know their prices, you probably couldn’t afford to eat there (suffice to say that deep pockets were needed).

Though new ethnic cuisine restaurants were starting to appear, choice was still limited. Chinese restaurants serving a ‘Kiwi-fied’ version of Chinese food had been part of the city’s dining scene for generations, but these were now joined by Greek and Indian restaurants reflecting the long-standing presence of these ethnic communities in Wellington. South-east Asian eateries were virtually non-existent (the long-standing Indonesian restaurant Toko Baru being one of the few exceptions), middle-eastern restaurants were yet to be seen and it would be another decade before the doner kebab made its first appearance.

Menu for the ‘Mexican Cantina’

However, one new ethnic restaurant is included which really shook up the local scene; the Mexican Cantina in Edward Street. This gave many Wellingtonians their first taste of guacamole and nachos at a time when it wasn’t yet possible to buy corn chips or taco shells at the supermarket.  The ‘Mex’ took the approach of keeping their prices low, the food simple (though exotic to most taste-buds) and packing customers in. Popular with students, waiting crowds would often be spilling out the door while chugging on their B.Y.O supplies (alcohol licences were difficult and expensive to obtain for most restaurants). With no reservation system in place, groups would have to write their details on a blackboard and wait until their listing got to the top at which point their name would be yelled out over the noise of diners indicating their table was ready.

Possibly influenced by the success of the ‘Mex’, Manuel’s  — which operated out of the Broderick Inn in Johnsonville — also adopted a Mexican theme, but amusingly kept their menu as ‘family’ orientated as possible with not a pinch of cumin, dollop of sour cream or a kidney bean to be seen…

Menu for ‘Manuel’s Family Restaurant’

When ‘Herbert Gardens’ was actually the Herberts’ garden

Many Wellingtonians will be familiar with Herbert Gardens, a striking mid-century modernist apartment building located at 186 The Terrace, next to the top end of Boulcott Street leading to the motorway on-ramp.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Biggs, Power and Clark in the early 1960s and built between 1963 and 1965.

Herbert Gardens (c. 1980), photo by Charles Fearnley

One can only imagine the impact the building had when it opened; at the time of construction the Terrace was still dotted from end to end with wooden colonial villas and only two modern office buildings (Shell House and Massey House) had been completed.   This was also an era when the inner-city population was in rapid decline as people moved out to the suburbs, shops were closed on weekends, ‘six o’clock closing’ was still in force and Wellington’s first and only so-called ‘supermarket’ was little more than a medium-sized grocery store on Willis Street.  With that in mind, the development firm of Winchester Developments Ltd took on a degree of risk in believing that there would be enough people interested in European-style apartment living at a time when inner-city culture and atmosphere was anything but ‘vibrant’. The name the developers decided to give to their venture commemorated the former owners of the large house which once existed on the site and (as the name suggests) their well-known and much-loved garden. 

Bowen Hospital, c. 1970. Photo by Charles Fearnley

Dr William E Herbert was born in central Otago in 1872. He studied at both Otago University and the famous medical school at Edinburgh University before settling in Wellington where he established a small private practice as well as working at Wellington Hospital. After a visit to the United States where he was impressed with what he saw as a much more efficient way of delivering health care, he formed a business partnership with Dr Henry Hardwick-Smith and in 1912 they established what was then Wellington’s first ‘modern’ private hospital in Bowen Street. Though the hospital buildings were demolished in the early 1970s for the construction of the Treasury headquarters, the original name of the institution continues to live on after Bowen Hospital became a charitable trust and relocated to Crofton Downs.  It was during the 1920s that William and his wife Florence moved into the large mansion at 186 The Terrace which had been owned by her parents, her father being the wealthy businessman and hotelier, Hamilton Gilmer. Likely built in the 1880s, it was located at the front of a one-acre section with the back of the land parcel dropping down into a natural valley where the Kumutoto river flowed and which later became known as Herbert Gully.  They set about landscaping and planting the section behind the house and transforming it into what was regarded as one of the finest private gardens in inner-Wellington. The Herberts had long been involved with charity and philanthropic causes, raising large sums of money to build Wellington’s children’s hospital and to purchase some of NZ’s first radiotherapy machines used for treating cancer, so it followed that they would use and showcase their garden for charitable purposes. 

In early 1934, The Social Review reported such an event; a garden party raising funds for Wellington Free Kindergarten.  Highlights included a fashion show featuring new work by the local clothing designer Mary Garden, a performance by a dance group and a display of “relaxation exercises  demonstrated in a reclining position”.  Though her husband died unexpectedly in 1933, ‘Florrie’ Herbert remained living in the house, outliving her husband by almost 30 years until her death in 1961. Soon after the mansion was demolished and planning and construction of the apartment building began.

The northern portal of the Terrace Tunnel under construction, 1975, just a few meters south of where the gardens were once located.

Photos from this period in the late 1960s  show the original gardens still existing and though they were in a state of disrepair, they would have provided a quiet outdoor area for the apartment building’s early residents. However, it was to be a short-lived peace; almost exactly the same time as the building was completed, the final route of the Wellington Urban Motorway was confirmed. Most of what remained of the gardens were compulsorily acquired by the National Roads Board and in the mid 1970s they were dug out to create the section of the motorway which leads to the northern portal of the Terrace Tunnel. However, now clad in regenerating native bush, a small section of the original garden remains for residents of the apartments to enjoy to this day.

2ZB and the ‘Golden Age’ of Radio

This souvenir publication, now on Wellington City Recollect, offers a nostalgic look at the ‘Golden Age’ of radio in Wellington. It was printed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of 2ZB which began in April 1937. Broadcasting from their studios in the Hope Gibbons building on the corner of Dixon and Taranaki streets, 2ZB took advantage of the new transmission facility at Titahi Bay which had opened just months before the radio station began. Its superior location over the former principal transmission site on top of Mt Victoria meant that the entire region could pick up the 2ZB signal during the day and this range extended at night to include most of the bottom half of the North Island and the top half of the South Island. Remarkably, its second massive valve-powered AM transmitter installed in the 1940s was still in use and broadcasting on 1035 kHz from Titahi Bay  into the 2000s when it was finally replaced with a modern solid-state unit. 2ZB was the first ‘commercial’ radio station in Wellington but rather than being privately owned,  it operated as a branch of the National Broadcasting Service (later to become the NZ Broadcasting Corporation and then Radio New Zealand).

The ‘First Lady of Radio’, Aunt Daisy

It proved to be extremely popular and many of its announcers (the most famous being Maud Basham, aka ‘Aunt Daisy’ aka the ‘First Lady of Radio’) were feted as major celebrities by the public. Companies flocked to advertise on the radio station and it became very profitable for the NBS. Before the advent of reliable recording technology, advertisements were often performed live in separate studios and many Wellington actors began or supplemented their careers voicing advertisements in the form of short skits. Though they were expensive items, a radio became the appliance that every family wanted to own and in many cases they would have been regarded as the most valuable item in the household. In the mid-late 1930s, a basic five-valve shelf or ‘mantle’ radio would have cost about £10 (about $1000 today) but a ‘luxury’ floor-standing model with seven or more valves, shortwave reception, hand-crafted woodwork and superior sound quality could easily cost £20 or even £30 for an imported English model.  Radio manufacturing became a significant local industry with a number of factories based around the Courtenay Place area and specialist radio retailers and repair shops became ubiquitous throughout the city and suburbs. 

A long-line radio aerial above a house in Luxford Street, Berhampore, 1929.

Self-installed long-wire aerials were a common sight on Wellington houses and in their backyards. These greatly improved the reception of local stations but were essential for listening to shortwave broadcasts at a time when stations like the BBC and Radio Australia were some of the few reliable sources of international news available during a period when overseas news coverage in daily newspapers was limited.  

2ZB continued to be the most popular radio station in Wellington for decades but it was an end of an era in 1993 when the original call sign was dropped as the station’s name and was replaced with ‘Newstalk ZB’. In 1996 the NZ Government sold off Radio New Zealand’s commercial stations and Newstalk ZB came under the ownership of the Australian-owned conglomerate, The Radio Network which in turn became New Zealand Media and Entertainment Ltd in 2014 (better known today as ‘NZME’).  Though it can now also be heard on FM and online, the station continues to provide an AM transmission on 1035 kHz frequency, slightly offset in the 1970s from 1120 kHz  that it began broadcasting on over 80 years ago.    

The day the Empress came to town

In late 1937, an exciting news announcement quickly spread across Wellington; the RMS Empress of Britain was going to visit the city the following year. Launched in 1930, she was one of the largest, fastest and most luxurious ocean liners of the period.

Only slightly smaller than the Titanic, her design incorporated lessons learnt from the tragic sinking of that ship and included double-steel plating to deal with the ice-infested waters which were common on her main Atlantic run between England and Canada.  As trans-Atlantic passenger numbers would fall dramatically each winter and the freezing of the St Lawrence River made Canadian port access difficult, towards the end of each year she would be seasonally converted into a luxury cruise liner and it was in this capacity that she visited New Zealand.

She first visited Sydney and Melbourne where hundreds of thousands of spectators turned out to see the ship. Then on 6th April 1938 she crossed the Tasman Sea, heading first for Milford Sound which had been promoted to passengers as the highlight of the cruise, before coming to Wellington. As the vessel approached NZ, much was made of her size and technology. Readers of newspapers were advised of how passengers could make a ship-to-shore phone call to London if they wished…at a cost of £3/12 for a three-minute conversation, the equivalent today of around NZ $400! Features included a regulation size tennis court, picture theatres and a ‘country fair’ with a coconut shy, hoopla stalls and a fortune teller. There were 390 staff employed in the catering department alone, while the ship’s three great white funnels could be used as a beacon in emergencies; when illuminated by powerful flood lamps they could be seen by other vessels 50km away. When she arrived in Wellington on the morning of Sunday 10th April 1938 (thankfully a calm sunny day) excitement was at a fever-pitch. A live radio commentary from Mt Victoria commenced on Radio 2YA as soon as she was spotted off the Wellington heads and thousands of people lined the shore and hillsides to catch a glimpse of what was then the largest passenger vessel ever to enter the harbour. That afternoon there was a radio broadcast of a live concert given by the ship’s orchestra, while what was said to be “the wealthiest and most distinguished aggregation of passengers ever to visit Wellington” toured the city. Car-owning locals picked up random passengers from Pipitea Wharf, inviting them to their homes and driving them all over the region to show them the sights. When she departed that evening just after 11pm, songs were sung, thousands of streamers were thrown from the deck by passengers and Oriental Bay was jammed with cars lined up nose-to-bumper with all of them sounding their horns to echo the horn blasts coming from the ship.

After being converted into a troop carrier for World War II, she made another brief visit to Wellington in May 1940 to transport New Zealand soldiers to the UK. Unlike her visit two years earlier, wartime restrictions meant that this time there was no public announcement, no media coverage and not even a simple listing in the Evening Post’s daily ‘shipping news’ column. With all of the secretive war-related shipping activity that was happening in the harbour at the time, many in the city may have been unaware that the great ship had returned.  However, five months later came some shocking news that was reported and which likely would have had some people in the city in tears; on 26th October 1940 the Empress of Britain was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German U-Boat. She was the largest passenger vessel lost during the war and the largest vessel of any kind to be sunk by a U-Boat. 

The hand-tinted photo above captures the ship tied up at Pipitea Wharf on the evening of 10th April 1938 shortly before its departure to Auckland (by coincidence, this was 30 years to the day before the storm that resulted in the sinking of the TSS Wahine).  Pipitea wharf no longer exists after it was demolished for the construction of the container wharf in the late 1960s but it was located just north of the Wellington Railway Station. You can see the photo in full detail and read more about the port’s activities during this period in this Handbook of the Wellington Harbour Board which has been digitised on our Recollect site.

 

How Crofton Downs got its name

Crofton before restoration in 1978. Photo by Charles Fearnley

The Wellington suburb of Crofton Downs is known for its steep hills, shopping centre and how several of its streets are named after Winston Churchill (e.g. Winston Street, Churchill Drive, Spencer Street and Downing Street). However, the origin of the suburb’s name can be found in neighbouring Ngaio. Tucked away at the back of a section on the eastern side of Kenya Street lies a house (once part of a larger estate) called ‘Crofton’.  Seen today from the street, at a glance you could be forgiven for thinking that it is an example of a 1970s or 1980s faux-colonial cottage, the style of which was popular with house builders during that period. In fact Crofton is one of the oldest surviving houses in Wellington and its early history is connected with some of New Zealand’s most significant figures from the Victorian period.

The house was built in 1857 for William Fox, one of the most polarising NZ politicians of the 19th century. Born in 1812 in County Durham, he started his working life in the UK as a lawyer, moved into journalism, immigrated in 1842 to Wellington where he helped manage the New Zealand Company and finally drifted into politics. As an indication of how tumultuous the political scene was the time, Fox became Premier (i.e. Prime Minister) on four separate occasions between 1856 and 1873. His longest period as ‘PM’ was just over three years but his shortest was only two weeks! Crofton may have been used by Fox and his family as a weekend retreat when they were in Wellington (his parliamentary seat was actually Rangitikei and the town of Foxton is named after him).

Letter from Octavius Hadfield to his sister Octavia dated 1866 mentioning his son Henry attending Crofton School

In 1864 the house and land was sold to the first Bishop of Wellington, Charles Abraham. He established a ‘grammar’ boarding school on the site, essentially one of the first serious attempts of an institution providing formal secondary education to teenage boys in Wellington. One of its pupils was Henry Hadfield, the first-born son of the missionary Octavius Hadfield. We recently discovered several references to Henry’s education at Crofton in the letters Octavius wrote to his family back in England. These were later repatriated back to NZ, gifted to Wellington City Libraries by Henry’s sister in 1951 and have now been digitised on our Recollect site (click on the caption to see more). Little snippets include how Henry grew quickly and was physically strong for a boy of his age but took a while to find his feet academically and socially. Meanwhile, his father often wondered how he was going to pay his son’s school fees on a reverend’s salary. It is likely that Octavius would have made the journey to Crofton with his son many times via the tortuously steep Old Porirua Road, especially when his friend Rev. Henry Woodford St. Hill purchased the school and became its headmaster.  The school closed in 1875 after Wellington College opened on its current site with much better facilities and easier access. The original 14 acres of land which surrounded the house was gradually sub-divided and sold off and the house became a normal residential property.

Its location was originally called Upper Kaiwarra (a corruption of Kaiwharawhara) but in the 1870s the suburb took on the name of the house and the whole area became known as Crofton. Confusingly, around this time William Fox created another estate also called Crofton not far from Marton in Rangitikei which he hoped to develop into a ‘temperance’ (i.e. alcohol free) township. With mailed letters continually ending up in the wrong place, in 1908 the suburb changed its name to Ngaio after the species of tree which are abundant in the area and ‘Crofton’ fell into disuse. Then in the 1950s, a neighbouring semi-rural area was developed after the addition of a train stop to help make it attractive to commuters and the name re-emerged as the suburb of Crofton Downs. As to the source of the original name that William Fox gave his property, the most likely explanation is that it came from the small village of Crofton in Wiltshire where his wife Sarah Halcomb was possibly born or her family may have owned land. As village lacked a church, she was christened in the neighbouring town of Marlborough only a few kilometres away in 1816.

The Octavius Hadfield Collection

Wellington City Libraries is proud to launch an online, digitised collection of correspondence from one of New Zealand’s most significant missionaries and supporters of Māori rights, Octavius Hadfield.

Octavius Hadfield Papers on Recollect

These original letters and diary extracts were gifted to Wellington City Libraries by his daughter, Amelia Caroline Hadfield, in 1951 and are now easily available to read for the first time as part of our heritage database, Wellington City Recollect.

Hadfield arrived in New Zealand shortly before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and soon made his way to Kāpiti. There he befriended Te Rauparaha and was able to prevent the great warrior making a retalitory attack on Wellington following the Wairau ‘Affray’ of 1843. Te Rauparaha and his son Tāmihana later encouraged Hadfield to establish the Rangiātea church in Otaki. He worked closely with Māori communities, introducing them to farming to allow them to engage with the settler economy and became a fierce critic of the NZ Government because of their actions in causing the NZ Wars. Despite many Europeans turning against him and even accusing him of treason, in 1870 Hadfield became the second Bishop of Wellington and then in 1890 he was elected to head the Anglican Church as Primate of New Zealand.

These letters are amoung our most valuable taonga and offer a fascinating insight into the mind and thinking of one of the greatest New Zealanders of the colonial period. Each document includes a full transcription.

Discover these taonga and more on Recollect .

Khandallah Heritage Night this week

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 CityFirst 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. 

The Levin House of Hobson Street

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.