The South Canterbury Museum, Timaru , New Zealand items.

'The South Canterbury Museum Ink Well' 

Travelling Inkwells.

Preserving our past.... 
...Telling our stories

Items and images contributed by Mr Philip Howe, Museum Director. The Pioneer Hall building was opened on December 10, 1966. Designed by South Canterbury architect Ron Doig.
South Canterbury Museum (opens in a new window)
Research brochure
Online database broken link. A complete transcript of rate roll should soon be available via our online databases on our website for Geraldine County Council rate rolls for 1894-95, covering the Geraldine Town & Road Boards, Mt Peel Road Board, Temuka Town & Road Boards plus the Arowhenua Town Board.
Perth Street, P.O. Box 522, Timaru 8165
Phone (03) 6842 212   Fax (03) 6842 215 
Tony Rippin - Curator of Documentary History e-mail:
No bags are allowed in the research room - lockers are available. You will be able to take paper, pencils laptops (but not their bags) and any research material you need into the research room.
Archives are open to the public
Tuesday - Friday 1.30-4.30pm
Sunday 1.30-4.30p
Closed Monday and Saturday

Items from the SC Museum collection:

2008 additions research library
Booklets that were available at the South Canterbury Museum in 2013, broken link.  

Pounces, Penwipers and other Writing Accruements!

The speed and manner in which we communicate with the other side of the world today has had an impact on our language. Short punchy and to the point! The flowing, flowery effusive styles of yesteryear are no longer appropriate. Looking at some of the tools of the trade may give us clues as to why this is the case. 

The earliest pen, the quill, was made from specially cleaned and hardened feathers and was sharpened like a pencil. It had to be dipped into the inkwell repeatedly during writing. This was also the case of the steel nibs introduced in the 1830s although these could be placed on a variety of handles including greenstone like the pen in the display at the South Canterbury Museum. 

Ink was purchased in large bottles and decanted into inkwells. Inkwells came in a variety of guises made from almost every material imaginable but most had the following features - a solid and stable base, shallow so that only the nib was inked, and a narrow neck to keep out dust and other impurities. 

As the pens were inclined to clog with ink, special wipers were used. Book-shaped ones made from velvet were common homemade gifts but more durable wipers made like small brushes with the bristles sticking up were also used. The one at the South Canterbury Museum is made from horsehair in a brass holder. 

The ink needed to be blotted. Sand, chalk, magnesia or powdered pumice, which was also called pounce, could be used. Later blotting paper was invented by accident in the 1840s when a mixture for making paper was measured incorrectly. 

Before envelopes, letters were sealed with sealing wax. The stick of sealing wax was held in the flame until a blob dropped off onto the folded letter and was pressed with a signet before it hardened. The signet usually had the senders initials on them but on display at the South Canterbury Museum is one with the image of a ship. Signets were often worn at the end of a watch chain so that they were easy to get when needed. 


To keep all of these items together the inkstand, or standish, was used. It held all the accruements needed for writing such as inkwells, pounce pot, box for sealing wafers or wax, a candle to melt the wax, penknife, penwiper, letter rack, and sometimes even a small bell to summon staff. 

The genteel art of writing took time and patience or a blotted, smudged and unreadable page was the end result. No wonder time and energy was also spent on the choice of the words so clearly crafted. 

Penny post and keeping up with Victorians on the move!

The introduction of the penny post in England in 1840 lead to a dramatic increase in literacy and letter writing. A small cross-stitch stamp holder on display at the South Canterbury Museum still has a stamp wrapped in silk inside it as well as the following delightful little poem:

In England letters find no grace
Unless they bear Victoria's face
To help her face from dust or damp
This case provides for postage stamps.

The Victorians were ardent travelers and much of their writing equipment was designed to accommodate this. Three ingenious travelling inkwells are also on display at the South Canterbury Museum. These tiny portable travelling inkwells were popular as they had a spill-proof lock and could be carried in a pocket or purse. 

For the more well-appointed traveler, a travelling writing case or box would be required. When open, a sloping writing tray covered in leather or velvet, rested on the table over the compartments for holding stationery. As well as holding pens and paper, writing cases often held a small candle or taper for sealing letters. With the boom in letter writing, the demand for these in the mid nineteenth century was enormous although some were made from expensive woods such as rosewood or walnut or may have an inlay of mother of pearl such as the one at the South Canterbury Museum. 

As ink, pens and paper were expensive they needed to be protected. At the South Canterbury Museum a brightly painted wooden document case designed carried title deeds dates from 1825. 

Today the elegant art of copperplate handwriting has been replaced by computers and the penny post by email and the Internet but that basic human instinct to communicate endures!

Swinging for your Butter - the Cradle Butter Churn!

The Cradle Butter Churn.

With no corner dairy or late night supermarket, making butter for your morning toast or mid morning scone was important work. 

Butterchurns came in a variety of shapes and styles. Small glass churns made enough for family use. Box churns were made from wood but could be square and box-like or round and, like the glass churns, had paddles inside turned by a handle on the outside. 

The cradle or rocker churn operates like a swingboat at the fairground as it is swung back and forth with the cream lapping over the rounded ends inside the churn. Easier work than turning a handle and making far more butter at once - enough to sell perhaps. 

The bright yellow cradle butter churn on display upstairs at the South Canterbury Museum was owned by the family of George Austin Morris. George Morris arrived in New Zealand from Hampshire, England with his parents on the "Zealandia" in 1865 at the age of 7. In 1873 he married Catherine McGregor and took up a 268 acre farm at St Andrews which he named "Fairview". Catherine came to New Zealand in 1854 as a child with her parents on the "Merchantman" which also brought Governor Browne to New Zealand. They farmed at Cashmere.

Miss Elizabeth Acland stands beside a similar but plainer wooden cradle churn in this photograph taken on the porch at Mount Peel in 1895. In front of her is a small table with the butter that she is shaping with butterpats. Behind her is the butterworker that was used to remove excess water after the butter had been washed. Miss Acland married Charles Dunn the following year and moved to the North Island with him. 

Miss Elizabeth Acland with butter pats. 1885.

You can get a closer look at a cradle churn and a wide range of other early domestic appliances in the mezzanine floor displays upstairs at the South Canterbury Museum. In 2008 the museum had close to 50,000 items within it's collections, of which less than 3000 were usually on display at any one time.

Virtual reality in the Victorian era!

We often think that visual wizardry such as three-dimensional modelling is recent developments, products of the computer age. Yet the idea of creating an artificial 3-D image is nearly as old as photography itself. By the 1850s, as the new science of photography was getting into its stride, someone came up with the idea of taking two pictures at once of the same scene. The trick was to use a camera with two lenses, spaced about as far apart as our eyes are on our heads. This resulted in two almost identical images on the same photograph. These were then viewed through a stereoscope, designed to create a single three-dimensional image for the viewer. When a person looked through the stereoscope, their right eye and left eye looked at separate images. This created an optical illusion adding depth, or three dimensions, to the image.

Stereoscopic images became very popular, and a large industry developed producing stereoscope cards that depicted scenes from around the world, landscapes, science and technology, architecture, popular entertainment and even risque images. Many local families owned stereoscopes and were able to by packages of commercially produced image cards to add to their collection. Many locals today can recall viewing stereoscope pictures as children when visiting grandparents as children. Photographic technology in the 1930s and 40s progressed to allow another virtual reality viewer in the form of "Viewmaster" miniature images on card disks. These were popular through the mid-Twentieth Century and still are available today in modern guise.

The South Canterbury Museum has several Victorian stereoscopes in its collections well as dozens of image cards. A stereoscopic camera with its twin lenses is on display upstairs. We have put two stereoscopes out on a table for people to try for themselves. Even today visitors are amazed by the effectiveness on these Victorian devices into tricking our eyes into perceiving depth from flat photographs. Make sure you view Victorian virtual reality next time you visit the Museum.

Shipwrecks, effigy burning and professional jealousy!

(written by Tony Rippin, curator of documentary history at the South Canterbury Museum)

Today Timaru's harbour (160k -opens in another window) is an integral, and at times almost forgotten part of the landscape. However, during the establishment of the settlement, the development of the harbour often aroused fierce emotions and heated debate. This was never more evident than in 1880 when hundreds of locals paraded an effigy of a critic of the harbour works through the streets, hissing and abusing it, before finally blowing the effigy to pieces at the end of the breakwater.

The effigy was of John Blackett, the colonial engineer, who demanded the destruction of the early breakwater, blaming it for the erosion of the beach north of the harbour at Whale's Creek, and the subsequent exposure of the embankments for the new railway to the ravages of the sea. An outcry of local response, led by the Harbour Board, rubbished the report, pointing out erosion had already been occurring in the area up to twenty years prior. Furthermore, they noted, the eminent Sir John Coode had predicted the breakwater would actually protect the area from continuing erosion once complete. The placement of the railway crossing in such a close proximity to the sea was labelled 'contrary to common sense' as Whale's Creek was known to be an inlet for surging seas, thus surely should have been deemed unfit as a site for a railway crossing. Blackett's reputation also came under scrutiny, as a local Member of Parliament was assured professional jealousy prompted the report.

The colonial government chose not to follow the recommendations of Blackett's report and the construction of harbour works continued. Piece by piece over the next eighty years, the harbour gradually took its current shape, drastically reducing the shipwreck toll of the earlier roadstead years.

Much more of the harbour's story can be viewed in one of the South Canterbury Museum's permanent displays 'At the Water's Edge.' 

Gillespie Record of Settlement
Timaru Herald, June 1880
Hamilton File, SCM

A few recent additions to the South Canterbury Museum research library:  
From Tony Rippin,
Curator of Documentary History at the South Canterbury Museum 

A series of bound volumes of copied newspaper clipping related to home defense in South Canterbury during World War Two. Cover currently covers 1941 and the following subjects:
- Home Guard
- EPS (emergency Precautions Service)
- Timaru Fire Emergency Service
- New Zealand Woman's War Service Auxiliary
- The Semple Tank
- New Zealand Woman's Land Army
- Black out trails
- Collected and collated by Mark Denne for the South Canterbury Museum
- 2008

1941 NZ Wises Directory
1947 Stones Canterbury Directory

New Zealand Yearbooks for 1933, 1950, 1956 and 1962  

Also, a few new finding aids that could prove very useful are:

Also, thanks to the assistance of Paul McNicholl, we can now make available:  
Salisbury Park Crematorium full records 1982-1992 (transcript)  
War Deaths 1915-1919 (an indexed set of newspaper clippings)  
        Indices for birth, death, marriage and memorial notices for 1900-1919

Lynly Yates has also sent us notes from her recent talk to the Society on NZ Military Service records.  These are available in a Clearfile in the research room, along with copies of Personnel Archives brochures, forms and a list of commonly used abbreviations.  

 Margaret O'Donnell: More About the Brien Lot: a sequel to the Brien Plot (2003)
 Alan and Margaret O'Donnell: The O'Donnell Family of Sutherlands (2003)
 Transcript: Letters written by Sarah Ann Walker to her family in England from New Zealand between 23 August 1859 and 1 November 1883

We have also been donated a large collection of local and general New Zealand books from the late Jack Tanner. These include valuable additional copies of local histories and supportive texts covering topics including subjects such as historic sites (some with local content) and New Zealand flora and fauna.

Thanks to the work of Elaine Aitcheson & Barbara Hertnon, transcripts of the Ratepayers roll for the town of Timaru for 1865, 1866 and 1867 have been completed. The rolls are available for viewing in the research room. Transcript of the Ratepayers Roll for the town of Timaru for 1894. Databased and printed in three orders - by occupier, by section number and by location. Transcribed in 2008 by Elaine and Barbara.


       The Tait Years at Timaru Boys High School

       David Stevenson Shaw 1865-1951

      Two recent books relating to the Hokitika area by Colin Townsend: Some Small Towns Yesterdays Today; and Misery Hill: a personal cameo history of the Hokitika Gaol, and some of its inmates  

The few months of 2003 have seen a wide variety of additional materials added to the museum s collections, including books, photographs, maps and various ephemera. Highlights include:      

       Richard Stowers Rough Riders at War (2003), purchased following Lynly Yates recent talk to the South Canterbury Genealogy Branch at the Museum

   The diaries of William Annett of St Andrews (and contextual genealogical documents), kindly donated by a Christchurch descendant

       A large collection of local building plans, featuring various local buildings, from local architect John Wilson. Note: due to the size of this donation completion of cataloguing is likely to take some time.

       Also soon to be released is Claremont School s 125th Jubilee booklet, which will be available following their celebrations at Easter.   

       Copies of various diary transcripts have been added to the research library. These only represent a small selection of the diaries we hold. A  summary of our farm diaries collection in 2015. They include personal diaries, farm diaries, shipboard diaries, and business diaries.

       Fire and Flood: Pleasant Point Volunteer Fire Brigade 1944-1994

       A Family of Canterbury Settlers: the Denton Family 1850-2000   / compiled by Adair Dunsford and Russ Denton. Christchurch, 2000

        Return of South Island pastoral runs with licences due to expire between January 1888 and December 1890, presented to the Legislative Council in 1888

       Streets and Places Directory, Election 2002

        Index Bowker and unidentified plan books

        Arowhenua Maori School Centennial booklet

        True Grit: A centennial history of Pleasant Point Rugby

        As the River Flows Past: the memoirs of S J Bruce Campbell

        Guide to information contained in New Zealand birth, death and marriage certificates

        Chalmers Presbyterian Church records, including marriage registers from 1902-1984 (indexed and transcribed from 1902-1921)   


A recent purchase of new Timaru Herald on microfilm for 1937 and 1938, combined with Mr Ray Bennett's donation of a number of 1930s reels, has extended our coverage of this major local newspaper

Paul McNicholl has provided two more volumes of biographical material -
Public Trust deceased estates, South Canterbury, 1901-1958
South Canterbury people who served in the Australian Armed Forces in World War II

Also, a newly produced thesis, Good Old Clyde : Clyde Carr MP, Timaru, and the Art of Incumbency, 1928-1962 by Stephen Kerr

Ken Elliot, researcher of local postal history, has also deposited a copy of his manuscript Postal History of South Canterbury, which will be updated periodically

The Christchurch Methodist Archives also recently donated to us a second or additional copy of several local Methodist histories, as well as two publications not previously held by the Museum:
Haslam, J: The First Hundred Years: Waimate Methodist Church 1863-1963 (1963)
[Uncredited booklet]: St Pauls Methodist Church: Historical and Reminiscent 1865-1935 (1935)

A small collection of South Canterbury visitor guides and similar information has been transferred to the Museum from the Timaru District Library

Also new are copies of two maps of Timaru (for 1875 and 1882) held by the Museum, which are now available in an A3 clearfile for easy reference. Both include section numbers and, although some section numbers are illegible, this should prove a valuable tool for identification of sections that may have belonged to your ancestors. Over time these maps will be supplemented by copies of additional general South Canterbury maps. 

Map - Levels roads and adjacent areas, October 1944. Covers as far as Cricklewood. By E.A. Collins

Other work under way at present includes indexing of volumes of early twentieth century birth, death, marriage, funeral and memorial notices that have not been previously indexed.

Available soon: Biographical Index of South Australians, 1836-1885 

         To my dear mother...and all at home: letters written by Colin Andrew Campbell to his family at Melville Downs, near Fairlie, South Canterbury, New Zealand, March 1916-September 1918 from Featherston Camp, New Zealand and Somewhere in Palestine (2003). Unfortunately Colin never made it home, dying of wounds received under fire in Palestine in 1918.         

Rocket Brigade Captured in Print 15 August 2006 Timaru Herald

Timaru's legendary volunteer rocket brigade has been immortalised in print. Local historian David Batchelor, in conjunction with the South Canterbury Museum, has just completed a 36-page booklet -- The Lifesaving Rockets of Timaru -- outlining the brigade's efforts on Timaru's coastline in the 1870s and 1880s. The brigade was established before the harbour was built, and in response to the alarming number of shipwrecks along Timaru's coastline. Museum director Philip Howe said the booklet had been produced in-house and included a number of coloured images, maps, plans and diagrams. Biographical information about some of the brigade members was also provided -- including that on Arthur Haylock, an artist who produced a number of watercolours of some of the shipwrecks. An initial 100 copies of the booklet had been produced, but more could be printed on demand. It will be used as a resource at the museum, and are also for sale for $15, with proceeds going towards museum development.

26 May 2007 A small ship cannon delivered to the town in 1882 was recently donated to the South Canterbury Museum.

Ms McCaughan believed the cannon was delivered to Timaru in 1882 for use by the Timaru Volunteer Rocket Brigade. "It used to be up by the lighthouse on The Terrace and was used for signalling." The cannon later belonged to Claremont man Keith McFadgen. When he died last year his wife donated the piece of artillery to the South Canterbury Museum. It was transported to the museum by a local trucking business due to its weight. "It's a very impressive piece." While the cannon is in its original condition, its carriage is a reproduction.  

 Enduring the Inferno, commemorating the South Canterbury experience of World War One. The publication draws upon the stories and experiences of South Canterbury men and women during the first World War that have been shared by the Museum's exhibitions and public programmes over the last five years. Produced in April 2019 by the South Canterbury Museum, with support form the SCWWONE Commemorative Committee Trust, the lavishly illustrated 42 page book will be selling for $19.95 at the South Canterbury Museum.

Items were assessed for relevance and importance to the region's heritage before being formally accessioned.

Images: Museum, replica of Pearse's plane
 Natural asserts
Crowd sourcing
What is the point of a museum?

T.D. Burnett bequeath the land and buildings in 1941. enabling the newly formed South Canterbury Historical Society to establish a museum in one of the houses. The South Canterbury Museum, an octagonal open planned gallery, with a mezzanine floor, named Pioneer Hall, was designed by Ron Dohig and opened in 1966.

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Page created 18 August,  2002
Updated 22 October, 2020