24 December 1953: New Zealand suffers its worst ever railway disaster at Tangiwai
At 10.15pm on Christmas Eve 1953, a mudflow composed of a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris, and water, caused by the collapse of the walls containing the crater-lake on Mt Ruapehu, reached Tangiwai in the form of a wall of water, sand and boulders. Here, it washed away the rail-bridge over the Whangaehu River. Five minutes later, when the Wellington-to-Auckland Express train attempted to cross the bridge, its locomotive and six front carriages were plunged into the flooded waters.
An eyewitness saw the carriages that had fallen 'floating down the river with the lights still on'. He noted that 'after they had travelled about 40 yards they disappeared and I no longer saw the lights'.
The lives of 151 people were lost as a result of the what would turn out to be New Zealand's most destructive railway disaster.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were visiting New Zealand on their first royal tour when the disaster occurred. The Queen made her Christmas broadcast from Auckland, finishing with a message of sympathy to the people of New Zealand.
On 31 December 1953 a ceremony was held to inter the unidentified victims in the Karori Cemetery. A year after the disaster, the Wellington-to-Auckland express dropped a wreath into the Whangaehu River from the new railway bridge in memory of those who had died. It was the first act to commemorate the disaster and has since become a tradition. Four years later, the official memorial of the disaster, paid for by the Government, was unveiled at the Karori Cemetery.
“The horror of that incident still comes back to me at nights and every time I get on a train I have only to shut my eyes for a minute and I remember.” - Joan Karam a survivor of the disaster.
Find out more about historic places associated with the Tangiwai disaster on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
15 November 1861: First issue of the Otago Daily Times published
The Otago Daily Times was first published on 15 November 1861 by founding members William Cutten and future Premier Julius Vogel. Under Vogel’s editorship the ODT
became a strong advocate for Otago Province.
The ODT was originally published from premises in Princes Street, but moved to a new building at the corner of Dowling and Burlington Streets at the foot of Bell Hill in 1879. It stayed here until 1928 when it moved into larger premises on the other side of Burlington Street facing Queen's Gardens, where they stayed until 1977.
In its formative years, the ODT was active in many campaigns for social reform, none more important than the exposure of sweat shop working conditions in Dunedin in the 1880s by Editor Sir George Fenwick and Chief Reporter Silas Spragg, which led to major law reforms.
The first issue ran to 2750 copies, and was sold for threepence. The paper’s first editorial stated that...
…from this day we aspire to be the historical mirror of all that occurs in Otago…the early pioneers of Otago may years hence turn to these pages and recall, with mingled feelings of thankfulness and triumph, the humble times and the hard efforts of their earliest associations with the great colony, and they may dwell with laudable pride on the success of the place whose first settlement they assisted…
...and to this day the newspaper has the longest history of daily publication in New Zealand and has a reputation for providing comprehensive coverage of the Otago region and advocacy for regional causes.
Find out more about historic places associated with New Zealand's publishing industry on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
26 October 1942: Women Jurors Act allows women to sit on juries
The passing of the Women Jurors Act in October 1942 allowed for women aged between 25 and 60 to have their names placed on the jury list on the same basis as men. This was one of a number of important milestones for New Zealand women in the 1940s, which were in part driven by the demands of war and the absence of servicemen overseas.
For the most part, the other nations of the English speaking world were more progressive, with women serving on juries in parts of the United States since the 19th century. Britain saw woman jurors in the High Court towards the end of 1920.
Views on women taking on male-dominated roles were often split and sometimes downright insulting. A professor at Harvard University reported in 1913 that he had ‘scientifically proved’ that women were unwilling to listen to arguments and could not be induced to change their opinions on any subject and were therefore unfitted for service on juries.
Fortunately these types of views were not persuasive although there was still consternation from at least one letter writer to the New Zealand Herald after the passing of the 1942 bill: ‘women are unfitted for such a job, for when it comes to facing up to the sterner realities of life, women, in spite of themselves are ruled by the heart, and not the head’.
New Zealand’s first female juror was Elaine Kingsford, who sat on a case at the Auckland Supreme Court in 1943.
Find out more about some of the places associated with justice and the courts system on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
11 September 1880 Tragedy strikes on the Rimutaka Incline
The 4.8km Rimutaka Incline at Kaitoke, Upper Hutt was built in 1871 as part of the Wellington to Wairarapa rail route. It was the most elevated section of the rail route, and construction of the incline across the rugged Rimutaka Ranges required a bold engineering solution. A mountain railway was chosen as a ‘temporary solution’ over a more expensive rail tunnel, and the Rimutaka Incline was built using English engineer John Fell’s drive friction system; it was the third and last system ever to be built using this system and as such is of considerable technical significance.
Tragedy struck on the morning of 11 September 1880 when the Greytown train to Wellington was passing over the mountains. That day's Evening Post
recounted the event that transpired:
“The train started its laborious ascent up the steep gradient, and had travelled as far as a part of the line generally known as "Siberia" from the piercingly cold blasts of wind which seem almost constantly to sweep down the mountain gullies which converge at that point. Here a strong N.W. gale was found to be blowing across the track, and suddenly a terrific gust struck the train. The consequences were most disastrous. The two passenger carriages, which are stated to have been full of passengers, and also the luggage van, were hurled bodily off the line and over the edge of the precipice, which at that point is nearly 100 feet in depth. The three vehicles fell with a fearful crash to the bottom, and were seen lying, a wreck of smashed timber and ironwork, at the bottom of this fearful declivity.”
The brake van at the rear of the train remained on the rails and was able to detach itself and free-wheel down the slope to Cross Creek station to raise the alarm. The wind was so strong that the rescue train had to shelter in a nearby tunnel whilst men had to crawl along the track holding the centre rail.
Four children were killed and thirteen adults were injured in the incident, which was the first major rail accident in New Zealand’s history. Windbreaks were soon erected on this now notorious stretch of railway to prevent this sort of accident from happening again. The Rimutaka Incline closed on 29 October 1955 and it is now part of the Rimutaka Incline Rail Trail.
Find out more about some of the places associated with our historic railways on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
4 August 1942 Death of renowned Government Architect John Campbell
John Campbell (1857-1942) was New Zealand’s first ‘government architect’. His elaborate designs for post offices, courthouses and other government buildings were standardised and used throughout New Zealand.
Campbell was born and brought up in Glasgow and arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1882. Here he worked briefly for the firm of Mason and Wales. On 7 February the following year he was appointed to a temporary position in the Public Works Department in Dunedin. On 30 November 1888 Campbell was transferred to Wellington, where on 1 April 1889 he became draughtsman for the Public Buildings Department. That department merged with the Public Works Department in 1890, and Campbell's title became 'architect' in 1899.
Campbell remained in charge of the architectural design of government buildings in New Zealand until his retirement in 1922, holding the newly created title of government architect from 1909. His best known Queen Anne design is the Dunedin Police Station (1895-6), modelled on Richard Norman Shaw’s New Scotland Yard (1887-90). His best Edwardian Baroque building is the Public Trust Office, Wellington (1905-9). Although Campbell designed the Dunedin Law Courts (1899-1902) in the Gothic style, he had, by c1903, established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand. In 1911 Campbell and Claude Paton jointly won the national architectural competition for the design of Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Although only partially completed, Parliament House is the crowning achievement of Campbell’s career.
Find out more about some of the places associated with John Campbell on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
18 July 1855 New Zealand’s first postage stamps go on sale
New Zealand’s first postage stamps went on sale on 18 July 1855, fifteen years after they first appeared in Britain.
The stamps were adhesive and non-perforated, and featured the renowned ‘Chalon Head’ design which depicted a full face likeness of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes. 1 penny (1d), 2 pence (2d) and 1 shilling (1s) stamps were available in the Full Face Queen set which was printed in Britain, with other values added later. The issuing of stamps was welcomed, with one newspaper article acknowledging that, when compared to money payments for postage, much inconvenience and loss of time could now be avoided.
In 1862 it became compulsory to use postage stamps to prepay the cost of delivering letters within New Zealand. This meant that it was no longer necessary to take letters to the post office and in 1863 the Colonial Secretary William Fox (1812-1893) campaigned for the erection of public letterboxes. By the end of 1863, iron pillar letter boxes were in use in New Zealand’s main towns.
Find out more about some of the places associated with New Zealand's postal history on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
3 June 1941 First women enter police training
The notion of women joining the police force in New Zealand had been around since the nineteenth century. Just three short years after the 1893 Electoral Act, which granted the vote to women, a writer at the Observer newspaper was evidently annoyed enough at the idea of policewomen (or ‘the female policeman’, as he called them), that he was stirred to pen an article ridiculing the idea. ‘How would she act when her hair came down as she was struggling to get a common drunk down…prior to handcuffing him?’, the article hooted. ‘Would she let the offender get away while she clewed up her wayward tresses and handled her skirts into position again…?’ The idea had been mooted, it seems, but there did not appear to be the will, in the 1890s at least, to make it happen.
A generation later, in the 1930s, the National Council of Women started lobbying for approval for women officers. It took another decade and the work pressures caused by the removal of many men from the domestic work pool by the Second World War to lead to their efforts being rewarded. 10 women from various parts of New Zealand were recruited in June 1941.
Trainees were required to be well educated, aged between 25 and 40, unmarried or widowed, have shorthand and typing skills, and pass a strict medical test. The 10 women selected, all aged between 30 and 35, trained at the Police Training school in Wellington for three months. A newspaper article of the time noted that the training facilities even had a mock court room set up ‘to put the constable through her paces’. These women would act as temporary constables in detective branches; there would be no uniformed policewomen (like the ones pictured) until 1952.
From these small beginnings, today about 19% of the New Zealand constabulary staff is made of women.
Find out more about historic places associated with the New Zealand Police force on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
14 May 1907: Frederic Truby King makes a speech on women's health which would lead to the foundation of the Plunket Society
On 14 May 1907 Dr Frederic Truby King, at the time superintendent of the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, addressed a meeting at the Dunedin town hall on the promotion of health of women and children. As a result of this, the Society for the Promotion of the Health of Women and Children, later known as the Plunket Society, was born.
The Plunket Society aimed to reduce the high infant mortality rate through the promotion of breastfeeding, domestic hygiene and strict adherence to routine.
By 1909 there were Plunket Society branches in all of the country's four main centres. Sixty more branches opened following a lecture tour by King in 1912. Currently, Plunket is an integral part of New Zealand society and the largest provider of services to support the health and development of children under five.
Frederic Truby King was knighted in 1925. Following his death in 1938, he was the first private citizen to be honoured by a state funeral.
Find out more about the places associated with the Plunket Society and Dr Frederick Truby King on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
10 April 1968: The sinking of the Wahine
On 10 April 1968, the ferry Wahine fell victim to one of the most ferocious storms in New Zealand's recorded history. Though there have been worse shipping disasters in New Zealand with far greater loss of life, the sinking of the Wahine in 1968 is by far the most well known. With the loss of 51 lives, this was our worst modern maritime disaster.
The wrecking of the Wahine was one of the first disasters to be televised to a shocked nation. The footage was later screened around the world as the international media spotlight focused on Wellington.
Find out more about places connected to navigational safety and maritime history on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero:
26 March 1896: Tragedy at Brunner mines with 65 men and boys killed
The Brunner coal seam was discovered by Thomas Brunner in 1848. From the 1860s onwards this seam was worked by various commercial and provincial government concerns, reaching its peak of production around 1901.
Tragedy struck Brunner on 26 March, 1896, when the worst mining disaster in New Zealand's history occurred. In an explosion of gas and coal dust 65 men and boys died, and the impact on the miners' families lasted for generations.
Many of the victims were buried in a mass grave at Stillwater and it was estimated around 6,000 people attended the funeral. An enquiry was held into the disaster and the explosion was initially blamed on an unknown miner. However, civil action taken by some of the bereaved families against the company was successful, at least in terms of the court's decision to award compensation.
After the 1896 explosion the mining community at Brunner declined, although in fact production peaked in 1901, and it was another five years after that before the main mine closed. The output from neighbouring mines was still handled by the Brunner complex until the 1930s, but even 1907 the Grey River Argus was lamenting, “…the Brunner of today is a place of gloom and dread, of rusty roofs…of disheartened men and decaying streets, a place with a glorious future behind, and beneath it.”
A memorial to the disaster, erected for the centennial commemoration in 1996, is located on the Brunner Industrial Site.
Find out more about coal mining in New Zealand, the places of industry and the settlements that served them, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
9 February 1900: Wanganui Opera House opened
The Wanganui Opera House was built in response to an upsurge of theatrical entertainment in Victorian New Zealand, and also a Wanganui Borough Council decision that Queen Victoria's record reign should be marked.
The Wanganui Borough Council began discussions about the proposed erection of a Municipal Opera House in 1897. In the following year a national competition was held to find a suitable design, and the winning entry was submitted by Wellington architect George C. Stevenson. Nicholas Meuli, a well known building contractor in Wanganui, was contracted to build the opera house. The building was completed in five months at a total cost of £5,200, and was opened on 9 February 1900 by the Premier, Richard Seddon.
In 1988 the cost of running the Opera House was considered too great for the council and it was decided to offer the building to the community to run. In 1989 the Friends of the Opera House was formed, undertaking to restore and refurbish the Opera House. Between 1990 and 1999 the number of seats was reduced from 1,000 to 830, exit doors were installed at either side of the building, the stage replaced, and an annexe added to provide room for set construction and catering. During 1999/2000 celebrations were held to mark the centenary of the building. As part of these celebrations a Royal charter was given to the Opera House, and the name changed to the Royal Wanganui Opera House.
Although the building does not have the facilities required by a modern opera house, its excellent acoustics have been recognised by international artists. It is an important survivor of a distinctive era of theatrical entertainment.
Find out more about New Zealand’s grand theatres and opera houses on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
10 January 1838: The arrival of Bishop Pompallier
On 10 January 1838, the founder of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, French Bishop Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier arrived at Hokianga, accompanied by a priest and brother of the Society of the Mary.
The first Catholic mass was celebrated three days later at Totara Point. Pompallier established a series of Catholic mission stations throughout New Zealand from Hokianga (1838) to Otago (1842), and set up a number of churches.
Pompallier is also noted for his role as a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi. He was sympathetic to Māori concerns and asked Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson to promise to protect the Catholic faith. This pledge to protect and recognise not only major Christian denominations but also Māori custom is sometimes referred to as an unwritten ‘fourth article’ of the Treaty.
Pompallier returned to France in 1868, and died there in 1871. In 2002 his remains were returned to New Zealand and interred beneath the altar at St Mary’s Church (Catholic), Motuti.
Find out more about historic places associated with Bishop Pompallier and New Zealand’s Catholic community, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
8 December 1939: Fire at Seacliff hospital kills 39 women
Shortly after 10 o’clock on the night of the 8th December 1942, a fire started in ward 5 of the Seacliff Psychiatric Hospital, near Dunedin.
Due to the medical conditions of the patients the ward was always locked at night, and nearly all windows were shuttered and locked. According to newspaper reports the fire spread so quickly that staff, even though they were in possession of their own fire brigade, were unable to undertake any rescues, or to quench the flames.
Although the majority of the large Seacliff Hospital building was made of stone, this particular ward was a later addition, made of timber and burned quickly. Two patients managed to escape through a broken window, but the rest quickly succumbed.
An inquiry condemned the practice of leaving patients locked up without adequate supervision, and found that the building was a fire risk. It was made of very flammable materials, and the design allowed flames to spread rapidly. Its ancient alarm system, which had to be unlocked by a nurse before being activated, was virtually useless. It was recommended that future institutional buildings be made of fire-resistant materials, with emergency exits, automatic monitored fire alarms and sprinkler systems.
Find out about the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and about more places associated with care for the mentally ill, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
And find out about other hospital buildings on the New Zealand Heritage List:
8 November 1939: Opening of the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition
On 8 November 1939, the Centennial Exhibition opened in Wellington. The exhibition showcased the country’s finest achievements made in the hundred years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. New Zealanders marked the centenary across the country with a vast array of local and national events and the construction of monuments and buildings.
New Zealand's commemoration of the 1940 centennial was a major event. More than 2.6 million people visited the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition, which ran from 8 November 1939 - 5 May 1940 at Rongotai, Wellington. Communities throughout the country held pageants, with hundreds dressing up in colonial costume and parading through the streets.
The design of the exhibition buildings at Rongotai was undertaken by the eminent architect Edmund Anscombe. Anscombe is considered by many as the expert architect of New Zealand exhibitions in the 20th century. When based in Dunedin he was the creative force behind the design of the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition of 1925/6, which saw a total of 3,000,000 visitors over six months at a time when the population of the whole country was 1,250,000 people.
Surviving photographs of Anscombe’s design of the Centennial Exhibition buildings showcase a strong and confident dominion at the peak of the Art Deco period and on the brink of another World War. It is unfortunate that the buildings were heavily damaged by fire within a few years of the exhibition, and completely removed by 1946.
Find out about more places associated with Exhibitions in New Zealand, and other buildings designed by Edmund Anscombe stabling on the New Zealand Heritage List Online:
11 October 1861: First Cobb & Co coach service runs to Otago goldfields
Cobb & Co. were not the first coach service in New Zealand but they quickly became the biggest. In its first venture from Dunedin to Gabriel's Gully in Central Otago, Cobb & Co. reduced the time for the trip from two days to nine hours beginning a new era in New Zealand coaching.
One might think that travelling by stage coach as a quintessentially Victorian, glamourous and safe alternative to walking or going by horse. However, the truth is that travelling by coach was dusty, bumpy and dangerous. Coach travellers regularly had to get out and walk at steep points of the track, and coaches could sometimes be wrecked or dragged over cliffs by panicked horses.
These days, when New Zealanders hear the term ‘Cobb & Co.’ they think of a chain of family restaurants established in 1970 by Lion Breweries. Cobb & Co., with its links to New Zealand’s transport heritage, provided the perfect brand name. In 2015 there are eight Cobb & Co. restaurants, most of them in provincial cities.
Find out more about places associated with the Cobb & Co and the roads on which they travelled on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
19 September 1893: Women's suffrage day
New Zealand was the first nation to introduce universal adult suffrage in 1893. Governor Lord Glasgow signed a new Electoral Act into law, making New Zealand the first self-governing country in the world to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
That achievement was the result of years of effort by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard. In 1891, 1892 and 1893 they compiled a series of massive petitions calling on Parliament to grant the vote to women. In recent years Sheppard’s contribution to New Zealand’s history has been acknowledged on the $10 note.
Even so, New Zealand women still had a long way to go to achieve political equality. They would not gain the right to stand for Parliament until 1919, and the first female Member of Parliament (Elizabeth McCombs) was not elected until 1933 – 40 years after the introduction of women's suffrage.
Today, the idea that women could not or should not vote is completely foreign to New Zealanders. Following the 2014 election, 31% of our Members of Parliament were female, compared with 9% in 1981. In the early 21st century women have held each of the country’s key constitutional positions: prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general and chief justice.
Find out more about places associated with the Women’s suffrage on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
7 August 1908: First train to run the full length of the North Island Main Trunk line
The North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) links the North Island's two major cities and is a microcosm for New Zealand's rail history and key engineering developments throughout the 20th century. The NIMT has been described as an "engineering miracle", with numerous engineering feats such as viaducts, tunnels and a spiral built to overcome large elevation differences with grades suitable for steam engines.
The massive expenditure was justified by Julius Vogel and subsequent governments of the period, not simply because forging a direct route between Auckland and Wellington was a practical necessity, but also because it was a means of gaining a foothold in the King Country, of encouraging immigration to New Zealand, as well as a potential stimulus for settlement in the central North Island and the national economy. The NIMT was a major instrument of, and was central to, social and economic change within the central North Island and nationally.
The first train to travel the length of the North Island Main Trunk line, the 'Parliament Special', left Wellington on the evening of 7 August. Due to the tightness of the schedule, it had to travel over a makeshift track in the central section of the still-unfinished main trunk line. It carried Prime Minister Joseph Ward and other MPs north to greet the American navy's 'Great White Fleet'.
The trip, which takes about 11 hours today, took the ‘Parliament Special’ 20½ hours.
Find out more about places associated with the New Zealand North Island Main Trunk line on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
7 July 1916: NZ Labour Party founded
After some 10 years of indecision and internal strife in the Labour movement, this country’s oldest existing political party, the New Zealand Labour Party was formed at a joint conference held in Wellington on 7 July 1916.
The party's origins lie in the British working class movement, heavily influenced by Australian radicalism and events such as the Waihi miners' strike. It quickly gained the support of the urban working classes during the Great Depression. The sweeping victory of the 1935 general election brought Labour 55 seats in Parliament and the party remained in office until 1949. Among the early successes of the governing Labour Party were the establishment of their national housing programme.
Find out more about places associated with the New Zealand Labour Party on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
10 June 1906: Death of Richard Seddon
Richard John Seddon, known as ‘King Dick’, is to date the longest serving Prime Minister of New Zealand. He is regarded by some as one of New Zealand’s greatest political leaders.
Seddon was born in 1845 in Lancashire, England, and immigrated to Australia in 1863. He worked at railway workshops and prospected on goldfields before moving to New Zealand in 1866. After serving in West Coast local politics, Seddon entered Parliament in 1879 and became premier in 1893, following the death of John Ballance.
As leader of the Liberals, Seddon was associated with a number of important reforms and the granting of the vote to women. Seddon was an imperialist, he held numerous large portfolios while leading the country, and was the first New Zealand political leader to adopt a populist style.
In 1906, when returning to New Zealand from Australia, he died of a heart attack. Profound public grief led to the building of a number of monuments in his memory, including two representations of Seddon: a statue in Hokitika, unveiled in 1910, and a Wellington statue, which was erected nine years after Seddon’s death; priority having been given to Seddon’s burial tomb and the landscaping of Parliament Grounds after a fire at Parliament House in 1907.
Find out more about places associated with King Dick’s life and the memorials erected to his memory on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
7 May 1881: Chinese immigration fears in Dunedin
In the 1860s Dunedin merchants sought to replace European miners who had left Otago for the new West Coast fields. Chinese were seen as hard-working and law-abiding, and they were also willing to rework abandoned claims. By 1869 more than 2000 Chinese men had arrived in the province, although Chinese women seldom migrated with them. In 1881 there were only nine women to 4995 men, raising fears that white women were at risk from Chinese men.
The long depression of the late-1870s to early-1890s led to an increasing difficulty of finding work on the goldfields; this led to a rise in anti-Chinese prejudice. On 7 May 1881, the mayor of Dunedin presided over a meeting which unanimously called for a ban on further Chinese migrants. Similar meetings were later held around the country.
The New Zealand government subsequently introduced the Chinese Immigrants Act of 1881. The Act imposed a £10 (equivalent to $1,650 today) poll tax on Chinese immigrants as well as other restrictions such as a limit on the number of Chinese passengers per ship arriving in New Zealand. The poll tax was waived in 1934 but the legislation was not repealed until 1944.
In 2002, then Prime Minister Helen Clark issued an official apology to the Chinese community on behalf of the New Zealand government, acknowledging the suffering caused by the poll tax.
Chinese settlers and their descendants have left a significant mark on New Zealand's heritage. Find out more about some of these places on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
21 April 1961: First Golden Shears competition
Prior to 1961 there had been shearing championship competitions run at Royal Shows in New Zealand and Australia; however there was no official national championship in either country. In 1957 the Wairarapa Young Farmers' Club arranged a shearing competition at Masterton at the local A. and P. Show. The spectacle proved so popular that the organisers decided to institute a national championship contest.
First held at the Masterton War Memorial Stadium in 1961, the inaugural Golden Shears surpassed all expectations with huge interest from the public; the local Army was called upon to control crowds around the stadium.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, before the impact of live sport on TV, the fascination and excitement of Golden Shears became a household name with seats booked twelve months in advance.The competition has become an icon of the shearing and wool-handling industry in New Zealand.
The wool industry has been an important part of New Zealand’s history since the 19th century, find out more about them on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
29 March 1901: Skippers Bridge opened
The small, but busy mining community of Skippers had existed on a promontory above Skippers Creek and the Shotover River since the gold rushes of the early 1860s. The population had boomed in 1862 to over 1,000 people, before settling to about 200 people from 1864 onwards.
Although a bridge had existed some distance downstream for several decades, it would only allow foot or pack-animal traffic to the settlement. The need for the conveyance of heavy mining materials and equipment between Queenstown and the settlements of Skippers and Bullendale led to repeated demands for better access than the small pack track that wound from Skippers Saddle to these interior settlements.
A dray road from Queenstown, started many years before, had been steadily getting closer to the settlement as engineers blasted their way around (and sometimes through) precariously sited bluffs and cliff-faces. However, to cross to the settlement itself a span of nearly 100m over the Shotover had to be bridged. At a height of about 90m above the water level, with sheer cliffs on either side, this was no small undertaking. At the time of completion, it was estimated that the new bridge would shave off about 10 shillings (about NZ$100 in 2016) per ton of coal delivered to the township.
Suspended on 14 wire cables strung from concrete towers, the bridge was opened after three years of construction during which its cost doubled to about £4,000 (equivalent to more than $700,000 in 2016). Liberal Minister of Mines James McGowan did the honours, praising his ‘working man’s’ government for building roads and bridges ‘for the people’. After the speeches dinner was laid on in Mrs Johnston’s Otago Hotel for ‘40 or 50 gentlemen’. A ball in the evening for the locals rounded off the festivities.
It is unfortunate that by the time the bridge was completed, the settlements on the Upper Shotover had entered a period of decline. By 1901 the population of the township had fallen to less than 100, with the school closing in 1927; the settlement was abandoned by the 1940s. Today, the bridge continues to be used by farmers, tourists and the occasional brave bungey jumper.
Bridges have been an important part of New Zealand’s history for hundreds of years, find out more about them on the Heritage New Zealand List Online:
17 February 1873: Daily Southern Cross editor David Luckie publishes ‘The Russians are coming!’ hoax
During the 19th century the Russian and British empires were involved in a number of conflicts. With nothing but clear blue water between New Zealand’s shores and Russia's Pacific ports, many New Zealanders feared a sea-borne invasion.
On the 17 February 1873 the editor of The Daily Southern Cross, David Luckie, published a hoax report of a Russian invasion of Auckland by the Russian ironclad Kaskowiski (Cask of Whisky). Aucklanders were alarmed to read that the crew of the Kaskowiski had seized gold and taken the mayor hostage.
This hoax was believed by a considerable part of the city’s population, despite a footnote appended to the article which ‘explained the whole romance’. Crowds besieged the offices of the Daily Southern Cross and the ‘incident’ was discussed in the streets throughout the city. The day after the hoax was published Luckie stated his intention was to publish the article as a warning, which would hopefully lead to future protection.
The Russian war scares of the 1880s caused the New Zealand Government to erect batteries overlooking the harbours of the four main centres. Remains of these batteries, some updated to meet the threat of a Japanese invasion during the Second World War, can still be seen on our coast.
Find out more about historic places associated with New Zealand’s coastal defence, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
1 January 1859: New Zealand's first permanent lighthouse, at Pencarrow Head, opened
New Zealand has a varied, rugged and often dangerous coastline. Since the arrival of people to these shores, countless lives have been lost amongst the wrecks of boats, barques and ships.
As shipping increased during the 1840s, many vessels, unfamiliar with the hazards of the harbour at Wellington, foundered on the rocks. It became clear to the settlers that a permanent form of beacon was needed. Between 1843 and 1851 several attempts to build a beacon at Pencarrow proved unsuccessful and ships continued to be wrecked on the rocks. By 1851 the public demand for a lighthouse had increased, spurred by the loss off Cape Terawhiti of the barque Maria and 30 of its passengers and crew.
Pencarrow Lighthouse was the first permanent lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. On 1 January 1859 the lighthouse shone for the first time, amid great celebration. The New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian reported that New Year’s Day 1859 would ‘be a day not soon forgotten by the settlers of Wellington’. It was, for a time, operated by New Zealand’s first and only female lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett.
Pencarrow Lighthouse remained operational till June 1935 when it was replaced by an automated light at Baring Head. It has been maintained by Heritage New Zealand since 1966.
Find out more about historic places associated with New Zealand’s maritime safety, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
1 December 1898: First motion pictures shot in New Zealand
Upon the first public showings of moving pictures, New Zealanders were enthralled by the spectacle. A review of the 'Latest Scientific Wonders' by the Hastings Standard described the experience for its readers: 'On a screen 25ft long will be thrown moving pictures, exact reproductions of life. A dancing girl will appear on screen going through all her movements exactly as in the original, and her features and form will lead the onlooker to believe that she really is there in person.'
It is believed that photographer W.H. Bartlett took the first motion pictures in New Zealand. Bartlett took the pictures with Alfred Whitehouse, an entrepreneur who imported New Zealand’s first ‘kinetoscope’. The subject of the film was the opening of the Auckland Industrial and Mining Exhibition; the pictures captured scenes such as the arrival of the Governor with a cavalry escort, and the crowds entering the exhibition building.
Whitehouse went onto make a series of ten one-minute films which were toured around the North Island to mixed reviews. Only one of Whitehouse’s ten films survives today, and it is the oldest film in the New Zealand Film Archive Collection (see below).
Although each of Whitehouse's films were only one-minute long, they were the first step towards New Zealand's current prosperous film industry. New Zealanders were quick to become avid cinema goers, with new, purpose built, picture theatres springing around the country from the early-1900s onward.
Find out more about historic places associated with New Zealand’s early cinema, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
View the earliest surviving moving picture, shot in New Zealand by Alfred Whitehouse, here
at the New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero.
3 November 1886: Birth of iconic Anchor butter brand
The first dairy factories in New Zealand were opened in the mid-1880s, in Taranaki and Waikato, to process whole milk. Farmers took their milk to the local factory in metal cans on the back of carts. The factories became places for farmers to gather and chat.
In the early 1880s the most successful factories made both butter and cheese, and could adapt to changing supply and demand. Twenty factories had been built by 1884. At first they used traditional farmhouse methods, and only slowly began to use larger, steam-driven equipment.
From a dairy factory at Pukekura, Waikato, Henry Reynolds launched his Anchor butter on 3 November 1886. The brand name was allegedly inspired by a tattoo on the arm of one of his workers. The Anchor brand quickly established itself as a market leader and became synonymous with the New Zealand dairy industry. It would become one of this country's best-known trademarks.
The 1880s saw the dawn of New Zealand’s food export industry, with the advent of new preservation technologies like industrial-scale freezing works and refrigerated shipping. By the time Reynolds started his Anchor brand, the country had been slaughtering lamb for export for several years.
Reynolds was encouraged by comments made at the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne and began exporting Anchor butter to Britain in 1888. Butter exportation to the ‘mother country’ was one of the reasons New Zealand became known as the 'dairy land of the empire'.
Find out more about historic places associated with New Zealand’s dairy and meat export industry below, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
18 October 1924: First trans-global radio transmission between New Zealand and England
It is 91 years since the first direct radio contact between New Zealand and England. First contact was not an expensive affair, made between governments or corporations, but between siblings from an East Otago farm and an 18 year old Londoner, all of them amateurs.
Frank Bell and his older sister, Brenda, came from a family of farmers on the Shag Valley Station, East Otago. Their father was a keen amateur scientist and set up what was probably the first telephone connection in New Zealand between two farmhouses in Shag Valley. As a boy Frank made his own radio set and spent long periods listening to signals on it.
With a small group of enthusiasts he helped pioneer the use of short radio waves to communicate over long distances, initially through Morse-code. He achieved a number of transmission firsts, including New Zealand’s first overseas two-way radio contact. But it was his radio conversation with London on the evening of 18 October 1924 that made world headlines.
That evening, Frank and Brenda heard a transmission by a London-based amateur, Cecil Goyder. Goyder was trying to contact a Bostonian operator. Bell heard the transmission and replied; this was the first ever trans-world two way wireless contact with New Zealand. Brenda wrote in her diary than when Goyder returned the call Frank went quite white and couldn't speak. This was the first transmission of any kind to be sent and received at such a distance.
In later years, Brenda took over the wireless station, becoming New Zealand’s first female amateur radio operator. Maintaining the ground-breaking work of her brother, she was the first New Zealander to contact South Africa by radio, in 1927. After the Second World War she moved into professional radio as a writer and broadcaster for a Dunedin station.
Find out more about historic places associated with telecommunications below on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
21 September 1892: ‘Oldest’ continually working hydroelectric power plant starts operation at Mokopeka Station, near Havelock North
New Zealand has one of the oldest continually operating hydroelectric plants in the world – the Mokopeka Station Power House. Electricity was first generated there on 21 September 1892.
From the early 1880s to 1901 the state was not involved in hydro developments. In 1886, electricity generated from two dynamos in Skippers Creek powered a stamper battery at Bullendale, a goldmining settlement near Skippers in Otago; the electricity powered the battery and was also sufficient to light the underground workings and to power some other mine machinery. The equipment began operation in 1886, making it the first industrial use of hydro-electric power in the country, two years before Reefton became the first town in New Zealand to be lit by electricity. Hydro plants were also used in the South Island for river gold-dredging in the 1890s, and at Thames in the North Island for gold mining. Freezing works and dairy factories were also powered by hydro.
In 1896 the government passed a law that prevented individuals from establishing hydroelectric schemes without permission. It began building hydro stations in the early 1900s. The first major station was at Lake Coleridge, which began supplying Christchurch with electricity in 1914.
The Mokopeka Station Powerhouse is one of New Zealand's outstanding private engineering achievements. It is a unique example of the early and innovative use of electricity in New Zealand, and is believed to be one of the oldest continually operating hydroelectric plants in the world.
Find out more about early electricity generation in New Zealand on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
30 August 1926: Kawarau Falls dam becomes operational
From the earliest time of European settlement, the outlet of Lake Wakatipu, the source of the Kawarau River, had been seen as a place to make use of the mighty power that the water of the lake provided. The waterwheel of a flour mill had been installed here since the 1860s, and later the locals of Frankton used the power of the lake to pump drinking and irrigation water to the lands above.
However, in the 1920s plans were made to dam the waters of the lake, to hold back this powerful force, in order to provide alluvial gold miners downstream with the opportunity to prospect the very bed of the river itself for the large returns that were expected to remain under the water, out of reach of gold pan and shovel.
The prospect was an attractive one; with the river effectively 'turned off', gold worth millions of pounds might be won from the riverbed. In the 1920s a consortium of companies started constructing a dam at the lake outlet, at a cost of £106,000 (equivalent to $10 million today). Many dozens of downstream riverside claims were sold in the months running up to the completion of the dam and prospectors waited eagerly for the bonanza which would surely follow the closure of the sluices.
Problems began to emerge almost as soon as the sluice gates were closed. Heavy flow from tributaries was blamed for an unsatisfactory fall in levels. As the gates were closed later in the year than normal, due to the dam’s recent completion, the tributary rivers of the Kawarau were experiencing their spring floods and after only a week, the river-bound claims had to be abandoned for the season. The next season lasted for about a month, with the most successful company along the river recovering only 47oz of gold.
With confidence in every aspect of the scheme at its lowest, the operators of the dam found the year on year decrease in capital a crippling blow and folded shortly afterwards.
The lasting benefits of the dam come mostly from the road which runs over it, connecting the Wakatipu with Southland since 1936.
Find out more about our historic dams on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
20 July 1965: Riot rocks Mt Eden Prison
There has been a prison at Mt Eden for at least 127 years, since the first prisoners were incarcerated there in 1888. Its design was based on that of Dartmoor prison in England and echoes the prevailing thought at the time that imprisonment should be as uncomfortable as possible. It was also the site of New Zealand’s last execution, in 1957. It is a Category 1 Historic Place on Heritage New Zealand’s List of historic places.
Following an unsuccessful escape attempt by two inmates in the early hours of 20th July 1965, a warder was clubbed and his keys taken. More prisoners were let out of their cells and chaos spread throughout the building. Fires were started at the central dome of the building.
Confusion multiplied as more inmates were freed to save them from possible suffocation. For the next 33 hours, Mt Eden Prison burned. Firemen who attempted to reach the fires were beaten back by a shower of bricks, books and Molotov cocktails; meanwhile, the prisoners burned everything they could find.
A cordon was established around the prison perimeter and any breakout attempt was hindered by warning shots and high-pressure hoses. By 10.45am on the 21st July, suffering from hunger and the lack of shelter, the rioting prisoners surrendered.
The damage to the prison building was severe; 61 cells were completely destroyed, along with much of the roof structure. The prisoners had to be relocated whilst the prison was extensively rebuilt.
Today, much of the historic structure of the prison is to be mothballed, with prisoners now being held at the adjacent Mt Eden Corrections Facility.
Find out more about our historic prison or corrections buildings on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
4 June 1943: Twenty-one killed when train derails at Hyde, Central Otago
The only sizable accident involving passengers on the Otago Central Railway occurred at 1.45pm on 4th June 1943, at a cutting near the town of Hyde.
The Cromwell to Dunedin express left the rails and crashed onto its side while rounding a curve just south of Hyde. There were 113 passengers on board, many bound for the Dunedin Winter Show or the Wingatui race meeting. Help did not arrive at the scene for an hour and a half, and rescue work had to continue through the night.
The force of the crash was such that the underneath of one of the carriages was twisted into the form of a letter "S". Bits of the train were scattered throughout the surrounding farmland and the cutting contained a mass of splintered wood, bent steel, and broken seats; an attending doctor described it as resembling "the result of a bomb blast".
Forty-seven people were injured and Twenty-one people were killed in what was New Zealand’s worst loss of life in a railway disaster until the Tangiwai tragedy of 1953.
An inquiry into the accident found that the train had entered the bend at more than twice the speed limit for that section of track. It ruled that the engine driver, apparently intoxicated at the time, had committed a ‘serious dereliction of duty’. He was subsequently found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to three years’ reformative detention.
Find out more about our significant railway buildings and infrastructure on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
3 May 1897: New Zealand's first woman doctor registered
On 3 May 1897 Margaret Cruickshank became the first New Zealand woman to register as a doctor and subsequently to engage in general medical practice.
Her early education had been hard; after their mother’s death, when they were only 10 years old, Margaret and her twin, Christina, attended school on alternate days. One stayed home to care for the five younger children in the family, and in the evening the other one taught her twin what she had learned at school during the day.
At Otago Girls High School, Margaret and her sister were joint dux. She was accepted to Otago Medical School and, in 1897 became only the second woman in New Zealand to complete a medical course and in May of that year became the first registered woman doctor in New Zealand.
Apart from a year's study in Britain in 1913, she worked in the town of Waimate for the rest of her life, eventually becoming a partner in a doctors’ practice there. When the 1918 influenza pandemic struck she began working day and night; she not only gave medical care to her patients but attended to any urgent domestic tasks, which at times included feeding babies and milking cows. Unfortunately Margaret Cruickshank caught influenza herself and died of pneumonia at Waimate on 28 November 1918.
In gratitude for her work a marble statue of Cruickshank was erected in Waimate in 1923. On it were carved the words:
'The Beloved Physician
Faithful unto Death.'
Find out more about the places behind Margaret’s education and medical training in general on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
25 April 1915: ANZAC Soldiers land at the Gallipoli Peninsula
The landings at Gallipoli occurred 100 years ago this month. 25th April 1915 saw the landing of 16,000 Australians and New Zealanders in an action which would see the death of 44,000 Allied soldiers over the next 8 months, about a fifth of whom were from New Zealand.
The sacrifice of ANZAC soldiers at the Gallipoli Peninsula has become emblematic of the sacrifice of Australians and New Zealanders in all theatres of the First World War and of later conflicts. It is therefore on ANZAC Day, every April, that Kiwis come together to remember the dead in all wars fought by our soldiers as well as those that went to war and survived.
Following the First World War, memorials were erected in almost every town in New Zealand.The memorials serve as a focus for the dawn services held on ANZAC day each year, on the anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in 1915.
Find out more about some of these memorial and the history behind them on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
The involvement of New Zealand in the First World War and wider world conflicts has also left traces within our borders. An example of this is the Featherston Military Training Camp; the camp was instrumental in preparing over 60,000 recruits for service on the Western Front. The construction of the camp was an undertaking unparalleled anywhere in Australasia, and its scale embodies the extent of New Zealand’s commitment to fight in an overseas war.
Find out more about this site by clicking the link below:
27 March 1883: First Salvation Army members arrive in New Zealand
On 27 March 1883 two young English Salvation Army officers, Captain George Pollard and Lieutenant Edward Wright, arrived at Port Chalmers with the purpose of setting up the New Zealand section of the Salvation Army.
The 1880s saw New Zealand in the grip of an economic depression with the resulting poverty, homelessness, drunkenness and prostitution becoming real problems for the colony. This led to a devout Dunedin women, Arabella Valpy, sending £200 to the Salvation Army founder, William Booth, asking him to send someone ‘to the rescue of perishing souls’ of Dunedin.
By 1886, the Army had more than 5,000 members; with a presence in the all the major cities of New Zealand. Part of the focus of the Salvation Army was on social care and charitable work; this tradition has carried on into the 21st century.
The Salvation Army have been responsible for the construction of distinct ‘barracks’ or meeting halls. Find out more about some of these buildings and the history behind them on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
23 February 1940: 100,000 welcome home HMS Achilles crew
The Battle of the River Plate, in December 1939, was one of the first Allied victories of the Second World War. This naval battle, off the coast of Uruguay, resulted in the sinking of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee
, who had been terrorising merchant shipping throughout the Atlantic since the beginning of the war.
Along with two other Allied vessels, the battleships Exeter and Ajax, Achilles engaged the German battleship and managed to inflict great damage on the vessel before it escaped into the safety of neutral Uruguay's Montevideo harbour. Believing a overwhelming force awaited outside the harbour for him, the captain of the Admiral Graf Spee, Hans Langsdorff, chose to scuttle his ship rather than have it falling into the hands of the enemy.
Langdorff would eventually commit suicide while under guard in Buenos Aires.
Although the HMS Achilles was a British Navy ship (it would eventually become part of the New Zealand Navy in 1941), a large proportion of the sailors on board were from New Zealand; it was therefore a matter of great national pride that members of the armed forces of this country had been involved in such a decisive victory.
The turnout of 100,000 people for the vicotry parade in Auckland on 23rd February 1940 is testament to this.
Find out more about our historic coastal defences and the protection our shoreline on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
9 January 1923: Death of Katherine Mansfield
At the age of only 34, Katherine Mansfield died from tuberculosis in France.
In spite of her own conviction that 'I shall not be "fashionable" long', Katherine Mansfield has acquired an international reputation as a writer of short stories, poetry, letters, journals and reviews. Her work has been translated into more than 25 languages. She was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, the daughter of a successful Wellington businessman, in October 1888.
After leaving New Zealand for Europe in 1908, Mansfield inspired mixed reactions in London literary circles – cultural weather-vane Virginia Woolf admitted to being jealous of her writing, but the modernist poet T.S. Eliot described her as ‘a thick-skinned toady’ and ‘a dangerous woman’. She had a long friendship with the novelist D.H. Lawrence, but they later had a falling out.
Mansfield’s output was small: five collections of stories, as well as reviews, journals, letters and poems. But her life and works have inspired biographies, radio and television programmes, plays, operatic works and films.
“I thank God I was born in New Zealand. A young country is a real heritage, though it takes one time to recognise it. But New Zealand is in my very bones.” – Katherine Mansfield, March 1922
Find out more about Katherine Mansfield and her family on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below: