In between conferencing and researching, I managed to fit in some sightseeing in Wellington. It really was only a day or two, and sometimes the weather was somewhat inclement, but I did see some of the main attractions. Above is a detail of the portico of the beautiful Wellington Railway Station, which opened in 1937. I must admit to only using it for the conveniently-located supermarket inside.
The first sight that I saw was the sea. Wellington is blessed with a beautiful harbour (not shown: the beauty) surrounded by hills. The city centre runs along the waterside, so salt water is only ever a few minutes' walk away.
The port is a very active one, with freighters and other vessels coming and going all the time. Though most are more salubrious than this, the Southern Prospector, a trawler which has apparently been laid up here for years.
So it was appropriate that my first museum was the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, which is about Wellington's maritime history as well as its social and cultural history (the artefactual timeline of the twentieth century worked really well for me). It's located in the Bond Store, which used to house the Wellington Harbour Board. The rather opulent board room has been preserved; in one of the anterooms is a memorial to their employees who fell in the First World War. The museum also has displays relating to the history of New Zealand's maritime defences, which included mention, I was pleased to see, of the Kaskowiski affair (even though that didn't happen in Auckland, not Wellington).
There was a permanent exhibition to the Wahine disaster. Wahine was a ferry linking the North and South Islands on the Wellington-Lyttelton route. On 10 May 1968 it encountered the worst storm in New Zealand's history — the collision of an extratropical cyclone and an Antarctic storm — as it entered Wellington Harbour. After struggling towards safety for hours, it eventually foundered, and out of the 733 people on board, 53 perished. Taking place so close to Wellington, the disaster and attendant rescue efforts were a media sensation which left behind dramatic images and some artefacts — such as this mural by James Turkington, Wahine (which is the Māori word for 'woman'). Water damage can still be seen at the top.
There were no extratropical cyclones in sight on my next trip to the waterfront. The ship is the Hikitia, a floating steam crane built at Glasgow in 1926. Behind it is the national museum, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum, usually just known as Te Papa. Spoken by about 4% of the population, Māori is one of New Zealand's official languages, though in terms of signage and official documents it doesn't seem to be as bilingual as Wales, say.
Te Papa Tongarewa is Māori for 'container of treasures'. Taumata atua means 'resting place of a god', which is what this stone is. It would have been placed among the crops, so that the god could come to protect them and ensure a good harvest.
Canoes, or waka, were very important in pre-contact Māori culture, not only for the obvious practical reasons of transport and fishing, but because tradition and mythology recalled their use in the migration to New Zealand. They might have looked something like the above, a scale replica of a modern ocean-going canoe built in the Cook Islands, which has sailed all over the Pacific.
A figurehead from the prow of a canoe which was buried in wetlands some time in the three centuries before Europeans arrived. According to the exhibit caption this was done both for preservation and as an offering to Papatūānuku, the earth goddess.
Yet another canoe, I'm afraid. This time it's a waka taua, a war canoe, belonging to the Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi people. It is named Teremoe and fought in several battles in the 1860s, between Māori and Māori and Māori and Pākehā.
Pākehā is the Māori term for New Zealanders of European descent (though use of the term is contested; not all Pākehā would accept the label). Relations between the two groups have not always been friendly. Arguably this is where the conflict started, the so-called Harriet affair. In 1834 the Harriet ran aground off the Taranaki coast, carrying settlers back from Sydney. The survivors were attacked by two different iwi; some of the male captives were released in order to come back with a ransom of gunpowder. Instead they brought back HMS Alligator and a detachment of Redcoats. Eventually the last of the Harriet's survivors were freed; the watercolour above shows the rescue of John Guard, aged 3, the first Pākehā born on the South Island. According to the Sydney Herald,
[F]inding the child safe, [the crew of the Harriet] now determined to take full revenge for the murder of their shipmates, and there being about 103 natives on the beach, we fired on them; and the soldiers on the hill supposing that orders had been given for firing commenced a discharge of musketry upon them.
The incident was notorious enough to be condemned by a parliamentary committee back in London, but the watercolour, 'The rescue of John Guard, then a child of three years of age by Captain Lambert of HMS Alligator', was painted half a century later, suggesting that it was remembered differently by European New Zealanders.
This cannon has significance for both New Zealanders and Australians. It was cast overboard from HMS Endeavour in June 1770, in a (successful) attempt to lighten the ship after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef. The significance of this is that Endeavour was James Cook's ship, and on this voyage it was used to chart both New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia for the first time. In 1969, the cannon was recovered along with five others which are now dispersed around the world.
(A model of) HMS New Zealand, a battlecruiser commissioned in 1912. It was a gift from New Zealand to the mother country, promised during the dreadnought panic in 1909 to alleviate the cost of the naval arms race with Germany. Australia also did its part by funding a sister ship to New Zealand, but HMAS Australia, as the prefix suggests, remained in Australian hands (in adherence to the abortive 'Fleet Unit' concept of imperial defence). New Zealand fought in most of the actions in the North Sea, including Jutland where the lead ship of its class, HMS Indefatigable, was sunk after a magazine explosion. New Zealand came through more or less unharmed; Australia missed the battle completely thanks to a collision with none other than New Zealand. Lest we forget…
This friendly fellow is well-known to New Zealanders and Australians alike, though maybe not so much in this form. He is of course Phar Lap, a champion racehorse who won 37 times in 51 starts, including a Melbourne Cup, between 1929 and 1932. The legend goes that his victories buoyed morale during the Great Depression, with correspondingly greater anguish when he died mysteriously after winning the Agua Caliente in Mexico; it's certainly true that he has been long remembered in both countries (like many a Kiwi, he emigrated to Australia for career reasons). I've now been in the presence of two of the three Phar Lap relics: his skeleton in Wellington and his hide in Melbourne; only his heart in Canberra remains to be seen.
Your common or garden Tiger Moth. The significance of this one is its use by James Aviation as an aerial topdresser between 1949 and 1956. Aerial topdressing is the use of aircraft to spread fertilisers on crops (cf. crop dusting, the aerial delivery of pesticides). New Zealand pioneered the development of aerial topdressing in the late 1930s and 1940s. Why New Zealand? The Wikipedia article on aerial topdressing notes a number of factors: a supportive public service, the rugged nature of much of New Zealand's farmland, high prices for their major products (lamb and wool), and the postwar availability of ex-RNZAF aircraft and aircrew.
This twisted piece of copper used to be part of a ship called Rainbow Warrior. On 10 July 1985, French agents attached two limpet mines to Rainbow Warrior while it was moored in Auckland harbour and detonated them, sinking the ship and killing one of the crew. The reason why France carried out such an unfriendly act in an unfriendly nation was because Rainbow Warrior was Greenpeace's flagship, and was due to lead a flotilla to Muroroa to protest the French nuclear tests there. Unfortunately for France, two of their agents were captured by New Zealand authorities, and after initial denials the French government was forced to admit responsibility. Not a proud moment in French history.
A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
As an Australian, I was quite literally ashamed to walk through this exhibit about the welcome given to refugees in New Zealand. And that was before Australian policy became even harsher. I probably couldn't even face it now.
On my last morning in Wellington, I braved gale-force winds to take in a few more of the city's sights. This one I'd actually seen before, though, since the conference had been held inside it. Depending on the source, and whether you believe in number agreement, the Old Government Buildings either is or was or are or is the second-largest wooden building world and the largest in the southern hemisphere. Also, supposedly the first ever building with a smoke-free policy — not for public health but due to the fire risk. Eventually the public service outgrew it, and it's now the Law School of the Victoria University of Wellington.
The Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings, less formally known as the Beehive. This is where Cabinet meets and the various ministers have their offices (Parliament proper is in the stone building on the right. The statue is of Richard Seddon, prime minister 1893-1906). In the basement is a civil defence command bunker which can theoretically withstand an earthquake of more than magnitude 8, so the magnitude 6.5 one which hit Wellington a week after I left would barely have had an effect (on the bunker, that is).
Next to the Beehive is the Wellington Citizens' War Memorial (not to be confused with the National War Memorial which is in Mount Cook, not to be confused with Aoraki/Mount Cook), dedicated thirteen years after the First World War and re-dedicated seven years after the Second.
On the front side, a relief shows a soldier leaving his family to go to war.
Maybe somebody can explain this to me. The aircraft chosen to represent the Royal New Zealand Air Force on the cenotaph look like a Hurricane and a York. But as far as I can tell, the RNZAF never flew Yorks and only had a handful of Hurricanes (unless you count Article XV squadrons in the RAF). Better choices would have been a Dakota and a Kittyhawk or Mustang, surely.
The Wellington Cable Car runs from the CBD up to the Botanic Garden. It's been running since 1902, when it was an actual cable car, rather than a funicular as it is now. Apparently there are a hundred or so private funiculars in Wellington, thanks to all the hills, but this is the only one I saw.
The view is much better on a sunny day — I've seen photos!
Also in the Botanic Garden is this extremely rare Krupp 13.5cm field gun, overlooking the city and the sea. Less than two hundred were ever built and this may be the only one left. It was captured by the New Zealand Division at the Canal du Nord on 29 September 1918 and in 1920 came to New Zealand as a war trophy. A gun battery had in fact been located here in the late 19th century with a 7-inch disappearing gun, and a rangefinder where the little dome is.
Little domes often lead to bigger domes. The little one in the previous photo housed an astrolabe during the International Geophysical Year; the biggest one is the Carter Observatory, once New Zealand's main research observatory. Given that the middle of a city is not exactly ideal for astronomical observations, that function is now performed by Mount John University Observatory, with Carter focusing on a public education role. It's been refurbished in recent year and now sports a whizzbang new planetarium. (Which I didn't visit because the next show was aimed at 7-year olds.)
Carter's pride is a 9¾-inch Cooke refractor. It was built in 1866-7 in York for an English amateur, then brought to New Zealand in 1907 for a presumably rich clergyman, purchased by Wellington City Council in 1924 and ended up at Carter when it was opened in 1941.
I was intrigued by Carter's library. Much of it was donated by Leslie Comrie, a New Zealander who fought on the Western Front and later graduated with a PhD in astronomy from Cambridge. Comrie was a pioneer in the field of computational astronomy, which then relied upon mechanical calculators rather than electronic computers. He formed the first scientific computing company, Scientific Computing Service, Limited, in 1937 and during the war did things like devise bombing tables for the fabled Norden bombsight. In 1941, Comrie, who was then in London, sent fourteen cases of astronomical books and journals, some quite rare, to Carter. Anecdotal evidence suggests that he did this because he was worried that civilisation in Europe, or at least in Britain, would be destroyed, and so he wanted to make sure that the astronomical knowledge built up over the centuries would be preserved in far-off New Zealand. If that's true, his choice of books is quite interesting. In the above photo can be seen Percival Lowell's three classics: Mars (1895), Mars and its Canals (1906), and Mars as the Abode of Life (1908). As I've discussed, professional interest in the canals lingered long after the hypothesis was supposedly demolished in 1909; and perhaps these books represent a youthful interest in the controversy on the part of Comrie. (Though many of his books were acquired from the estates of other astronomers.) But what are we to make of the presence of Ignatius Donnelly's Atlantis (1882), H. P. Blavatsky's Collected Writings (1883), J. W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time (1927) and The New Immortality (1938)? Clearly not all of the books in the above photo were donated by Comry: K. R. Lang's Astrophysical Formulae was a standard text when I was an astrophysics postgrad, which wasn't that long ago. Some of the other esoteric titles fall into this category: William Corliss' Mysterious Universe, Jacques Vallee's Anatomy of a Phenomenon and The UFO Enigma, and Immanuel Velikovksy's Earth in Upheaval were all published after Comrie's death in 1950. So perhaps they reflect Carter's acquisition policy: but even allowing for the astronomical content (and Vallee, a prominent ufologist, actually started out as a computational astronomer himself) somebody had a very broad mind!
A poignant relic from the space exploration exhibit: a heat shield tile from the space shuttle Columbia.
The last photo I took in Wellington, back down on the waterfront: a mad cyclist. By now the weather had definitely closed in, and as it turned out my flight home later that day was delayed by five hours. But at least there was no earthquake!
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