Yesterday I went to the Gifts and Legacies at the Otago Museum. It took some of the items in the museum and told a mini-biography of the people who had gifted them or on whose behalf they were bequested. It was quite a simple exhibition but very effective as a story-telling device. Just an item and beside it a story-board of the person. Some of the items were slightly weird, such as the pickled deer foetuses from Clayton Keith Baker, gathered from the wild when he was researching red deer. Another research project resulted in a collection of moa coprolite (dropping) from a young man still just in his early 30s. His PHD thesis was “Pre-settlement Paleoecology of Central Otago’s semi-arid lowlands, with emphasis on the pre-settlement role of avian herbivory in South Island Dryland ecosystems, New Zealand.
Another collector who made good was David Teviotdale, who was a farmer’s son and farm worker in the early 20th
century, who only had four year’s formal schooling. When farming didn’t work out he became a bookseller and stationer and indulged his great interest in moa-hunter curios, tools, bone and shellwork, and collected thousands of pieces, eventually presenting 4000 items to the museum in 1924, and being offered the anthropological curator’s position there. From the encyclopedia of New Zealand: When Teviotdale retired in 1937 the Otago University Museum appointed him honorary archaeologist, thereby continuing a relationship that had enhanced the museum's collections by several thousand artefacts. In 1942 Teviotdale took over as director of the Southland Museum, Invercargill, a post he held until he was 82.
Another collection was from Lieutenant-Colonel George Barclay with medals from all over the place – Waterloo, Crimea, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Yorkshire, Spain, Italy, the Imperial Medal, Star of Romania. Karl Troop Cross and many others. I think he was involved with the early formation of the St John Ambulance in New Zealand.
A different and smaller collection was of Helen Moran’s embroidery, she was an embroidery guild founder. I took note of her especially since one of my friends, now in her 90s, was involved in the early embroidery movement and would be interested in this, I think.
My favourite item was probably a diorama of the Building of Noah’s Ark by George Tinworth. It was a donation from a grandson of Sir Henry Doulton of Royal Doulton fame and I see Tinworth worked for that firm. It had a lot of figurines working on the ark, but also had writing about various groups, which said things like Fighting, Drinking, Building etc. The figures were well defined and individualised and I just liked it a lot. I gather he was thought of quite highly, but I haven’t heard of him before.
Then there was Barry Watkins’ surfboard of 1971. Nothing very special about Barry, perhaps, except that he was bitten by a shark off St Clair Beach in Dunedin, and received a bite worthy of 90 stitches. The surfboard was bitten in half and he donated it to the museum. It was quite a prominent feature of the exhibition sitting there on the wall. Apparently just 11 of the 44 recorded shark attacks in New Zealand waters have been fatal.
More famous events/people brought geological items from the Tarawera eruption which destroyed the Pink and White Terraces (perhaps my most regretted event of all time) – the Otago Daily Times reporter brought them back. There were mineral objects from Ernest Shackleton.
People interested in weapons might have enjoyed the items from soft –drink magnate Alexander “Ginger-beer” Thomson, whose company was well-known for its soft drinks some of which came from natural springs in the area. He was born in Linlithgowshire. His items had nothing to do with soft drinks or anything soft, being a blunderbuss flintlock with a flared brass barrel, a flintlock blunderbuss pistol, and a cased pair of pistols by Farrell McDermott.
There were dozens including some lovely gowns by a European aristocrat, I think a grand-daughter of a Belgian king though his son’s last mistress. The only other one I have taken note of was the bequest by a widow of a farm estate owner, who gifted the museum £1000 to be spent on an important item. They chose a head and torso from a standing bronze Buddha made in Thailand (Siam, I suppose, or was it something else again then) in the 14th
century. It seemed an odd choice to me, but perhaps that is because I think museums should focus on the local. (Our museum here only collects things relevant to the area.)