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:
2 December 1917: Start of the ‘six o’clock swill’
In 1917, legislation was passed that introduced to New Zealand the culture of the ‘six o’clock swill’. Intended as a temporary wartime measure, compulsory six o’clock closing for pubs was made permanent in 1918 and lasted for 50 years.
Early closing had been adopted in four Australian states in 1916, ostensibly as an attempt to improve public morality and also as a wartime austerity measure. In both countries the outcome was the same; a clientele made up almost exclusively of men would drink as much as possible in the hour or two between the end of the working day and closing time. It’s no wonder that the swill has been identified as a cause of Australasia’s binge drinking culture.
A referendum in 1967 finally brought about the end of the six o’clock swill in New Zealand. By the 1960s attitudes to liquor had changed due to the rise of restaurant culture and an influx of foreign tourists travelling to New Zealand by jet aircraft. A rousing 64% of voters supported the change to 10 pm closing.
Find out more about some of the pubs and hotels on the New Zealand Heritage List by following the links below:
4 November 1930: Phar Lap takes home the Melbourne Cup
In a great day for New Zealand sporting history, New Zealand bred racehorse Phar Lap and his rider Jimmy Pike won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, claiming victory over Second Wind by two lengths. Phar Lap or ‘Big Red’ as he was often known, had been born four years earlier at the Seadown Stud close to Timaru, but his racing career took off in Australia.
A national icon in both New Zealand and Australia, Phar Lap’s skeleton is held by Te Papa in Wellington, his hide is mounted in the Museum of Victoria and his heart is on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.
Find out more about the home of Phar Lap’s parents by following the link below:
October 1936: Jean Batten flies solo from UK to NZ
Arriving in Auckland on 16 October 1936, Jean Batten made the first ever direct flight between England and New Zealand and the fastest ever trans-Tasman flight. During the same journey, she also broke the world record for a solo flight from England to Australia by more than 24 hours, arriving in Australia in just 6 days.
After spending several days in Australia, Batten departed for New Zealand at 4.40am on October 16, 1936. At the time only a handful of pilots had successfully flown across the Tasman and Batten insisted that no-one was to risk their own life flying out to find her if she crashed into the sea. The flight took 10 and a half hours (nearly two hours longer than expected) and thousands on both sides of the Tasman waited anxiously until she touched down in Auckland.
Jean Batten was perhaps one of the most famous people in the world in the 1930s and certainly one of the first New Zealanders to have an international profile. Known as the ‘Garbo of the Skies’, she was a shining light of adventure and glamour in the depths of the Depression.
Find out more about places associated with Jean Batten and the history of aviation in New Zealand by following the links below:
September 1862: First professional opera performance
The first professional opera performance in New Zealand was at Dunedin’s Royal Princess Theatre on 29 September 1862.
The touring ‘English Opera Troupe’ performed The daughter of the regiment
with members of the theatre’s company. The opera was a shorter English version of Gaetano Donizetti’s 1840 French comic opera, La fille du regiment
, which tells the story of Marie, an orphan raised by a French army regiment, and Tonio, a Tyrolean peasant.
By the 1870s, a number of overseas opera companies were touring, and performances were held in theatres and opera houses in Dunedin and other centres such as Nelson, Napier and Auckland. The New Zealand opera scene continued to be dominated by visiting companies and overseas singers well into the 20th century and it was not until 1954 that our own professional company, the New Zealand Opera was formed.
Opera New Zealand, founded in 2000 and a merging of Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch-based opera companies currently performs in three of New Zealand’s main centres, including at the heritage-listed St James Theatre
Fire destroyed Dunedin’s Royal Princess Theatre in 1875. Many other ‘opera houses’ and theatres, like Wellington’s St James, remain and have been included in the New Zealand Heritage list.
Find out more by following the links below:
August 1872: Novelist Anthony Trollope begins his tour of New Zealand
One of the Victorian era’s most famous novelists, Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) kicked off a two-month tour of New Zealand in Bluff in August 1872. Trollope had spent the previous year travelling around Australia and in 1873 published a two-volume book of his travels, Australia and New Zealand. In the book, he describes a number of places that are now included in the New Zealand Heritage List.
Trollope visited Dunedin and Queenstown, prophesying the transformation of the latter into something akin to a Swiss alpine resort. Travelling by road, he made his way to Canterbury. Trollope was impressed by the Moorhouse Railway Tunnel connecting the port of Lyttelton to Christchurch. He was given a guided tour of the Canterbury Museum by its founder, Sir Julius von Haast. At the time of his visit the building of Christ Church Cathedral had stalled with only the foundations in place. According to Trollope the idea of building a cathedral had been abandoned and ‘it seemed to be the general opinion that a set of public offices should be erected there instead’.
Continuing north, Trollope visited and described the remaining earthworks at Gate Pa. He bathed at the Pink and White Terraces and visited Sir George Grey at his home on Kawau Island.
Overall he was positive about New Zealand and his attitudes were consistent with those of the time. ‘The great drawback to New Zealand’ he writes ‘… comes from the feeling that after crossing the world and journeying over so many thousand miles, you have not at all succeeded in getting away from England.’ He encountered a number of Māori during his visit but adopted the popular view that they were a dying race, on the brink of disappearance in the face of inevitable progress
Find out more about New Zealand Heritage List places visited by Trollope:
July 1938: First Electric Trains in Wellington
The first electrified rail line in Wellington, from the central city to the suburb of Johnsonville, officially opened on 2 July 1938. A new central Wellington Railway Station had been opened the year before and both developments were part of an extensive governmental programme to upgrade the city's railway facilities. The central station also reflected the importance of railways in New Zealand’s progress and development.
The Wellington-Johnsonville line was the country’s third electric railway: the Ōtira tunnel on the Christchurch to Greymouth line was electrified from 1923 to 1997, and the Christchurch to Lyttelton line from 1929 to 1970. Electric locomotives were seen as ideal for use in tunnels – a clean, no-smoke alternative to dirty steam locomotives.
By 1940, the North Island main trunk line out of Wellington was electrified as far north as Paekākāriki. Here the station building
dates from 1909 and is located within one of New Zealand's best collections of railway station structures. The increasingly busy Hutt Valley suburban lines, servicing the 1905 Lower Hutt Railway Station
, were electrified in the 1950s.
Find out more about heritage places associated with Wellington's first electrified rail lines:
June 1990: World’s first female bishop of an Anglican diocese appointed
New Zealand’s Anglican Church was an early adopter of women into the priesthood - the first were ordained in 1977. Dr Penny Jamieson was ordained and appointed to a Wellington parish in 1985. Just five years later, her peers elected her to the see of Dunedin and she was consecrated Bishop of Dunedin in June 1990.
Jamieson saw her appointment as ‘enormous encouragement’ to women in all churches and in society at large. In the 1990s, ‘the glass ceiling’ seemed to have finally been broken. It was a decade where, for the first time in New Zealand, women held many of the country’s top offices. Dame Catherine Tizard became the country’s first female Governor General (1990-1996). Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley were the first female Leader of the Opposition (1993-1999) and Prime Minister (1997-1999), respectively. At the end of the decade, Theresa Gattung was appointed Chief Executive of Telecom – becoming the first female CEO of a publically listed company in New Zealand.
Penny Jamieson retired as Bishop in June 2004. In August 2008, the Right Reverend Victoria Matthews became New Zealand’s second woman bishop when she was elected Bishop of Christchurch.
Find out more about heritage places associated with New Zealand’s first female bishop:
May 1868: First shipment of salmon and trout ova arrives
On 2 May 1868, the clipper Celestial Queen arrived at Port Chalmers; her cargo the first shipment of live fish ova from England. From the 1860s, various animal and plant species were imported by acclimatisation societies who wanted to recreate the environment they had known 'back home' in Britain.
Some three months earlier, the Celestial Queen had left London loaded with boxes containing 220,000 salmon ova and 14,500 trout ova; chilled by blocks of ice from Wenham Lake, Massachusetts. On arrival in Port Chalmers, the ova were found to be in ‘excellent condition’, but unfortunately neither Atlantic salmon nor brown trout hatched from them survived in New Zealand waters.
Brown trout hatched in Hobart in 1864 had survived, and their progeny was brought to New Zealand in 1867. Nelson’s Trout Hatchery, also dating from 1867, is a rare surviving example of early infrastructure associated with the late nineteenth-century trend of acclimatising British species in New Zealand. The first brown trout ova were brought from Australia to the Nelson Hatchery in 1868. They hatched successfully and were used to stock local streams.
By the early 20th Century, the impetus that had driven acclimatisation began to wane as the negative impact of introducing foreign species into the New Zealand environment became better understood. The propagation of trout remained popular and the Trout Hatchery was used until 1929, when a new hatchery was constructed.
Find out more about a heritage place associated with acclimatisation of exotic species in New Zealand:
April 1922: New Zealand's first poppy day
Traditionally worn on Remembrance Day in many other countries, New Zealand’s Poppy Day has been associated with Anzac Day since its beginnings.
This tradition is due more to circumstance than design - the ship carrying a cargo of silk poppies to New Zealand from France arrived too late for publicity to be arranged before 11 November. The decision was taken to hold the first ‘Poppy Day’ on Friday, 24 April 1922 – the day before Anzac Day.
It was a Frenchwoman, Madame Guérin, who came up with the idea of manufacturing and selling silk poppies to raise funds for those left unemployed or destitute by World War One. In September 1921, the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association ordered 350,000 small and 16,000 large silk poppies from Guérin’s French Children’s League. The sale of poppies in New Zealand that year raised £13,166. Some funds were sent back to the needy in France and over £10,000 was used by the RSA to assist returned soldiers and their families at home.
Early memorials to honour soldiers who lost their lives or served in World War One include the following examples in the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero:
March 1864: ‘Discovery’ of Arthur’s Pass
It is 150 years since Arthur Dobson ‘discovered’ and crossed Arthur’s Pass from Canterbury to the West Coast. The pass was already known to Māori, who used it to bring pounamu across the Southern Alps.
Historically, the Arthur’s Pass area reflects the development of transport infrastructure to traverse the South Island. After the discovery of gold in 1865, the pass was identified as a potential main route to the West Coast goldfields and an expensive highway was built. The new road was only used once by the gold escort, as the miners soon decided it was more convenient to ship gold to Melbourne.
Some 20 years later, in 1886, the Midland Railway Company Ltd began construction on the Midland line, which runs from Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthur's Pass. Today the line carries freight and the TranzAlpine passenger service. As a tragic side note, in 1866, while working on a track between Lake Brunner and Greymouth, Arthur Dobson’s brother George (also a noted surveyor and explorer) was mistaken for a gold buyer and murdered by the notorious Burgess Gang.
Find out more about heritage places associated with Arthur’s Pass and the Dobson Brothers:
February 1978: New Zealand beats England in test cricket for the first time
Wellington’s Basin Reserve was the scene of one of New Zealand’s great sporting moments on 15 February 1978, when New Zealand defeated England for the first time in test cricket. Having suffered many losses to the English team over the previous years, they finally succeeded on their 48th attempt. England only needed 137 to take out the test match against New Zealand, but they were out for only 64, largely in thanks to the bowling efforts of Richard Hadlee, who took 6 wickets for 26 runs.
Find out more about heritage places associated with New Zealand cricketing history:
January: 'Bookies' banned from New Zealand racecourses
A change in gaming legislation at the end of 1910 led to the ban of bookmakers or ‘bookies’ from racecourses in New Zealand. Bookies had come under increasing threat since the 1880s when the totalisator or ‘par-muteul’ gambling provided race-goers with a fair and transparent means of betting. The amount bet on each horse in a race was manually added up, along with the total amount bet on the race. A commission or fee was then deducted and the remaining amount was distributed to betters who had backed the winners and placegetters, proportional to the size of their bet.
This system of betting meant that race-goers didn’t know what return to expect on their bets, so tote boards displayed the number of bets made per horse and the total betting amount per race. That way, they could see what other people were backing and estimate their potential returns. The ban on bookies meant that New Zealand racing clubs had a monopoly on gambling which gave them increased revenue for exploring new solutions to the manually operated totalisator. As a result, the world’s first automatic totalisator machine was in operation at Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland by 1913. Despite these changes, bookies continued to make a profitable living, albeit illegally! One advantage of bookies was that bets could be placed by telephone or telegraph (not possible with totalisator bets).
Find out more about early New Zealand racecourses and totalisators: