Seeking Amy Castle

Do you know where we can find a photo of Amy Castle?

Do you know where we can find a photo of Amy Castle?

Several years ago, when working at Te Ara as the theme editor for the science themes, I had a personal campaign to obtain photographs of scientists featured in the Biographies section of Te Ara (most of which came from the Dictionary of New Zealand biography).

With the help of colleagues from all over the country, most of the gaps have now been filled; but one person still lacks an image. Does anyone know of a picture of Amy Castle (1880–1971), who was an entomologist at the Dominion Museum?

Amy Castle was originally employed in 1907 as a temporary assistant at the Dominion Museum. In those days female employees were paid less than men, and filling junior positions with women was a way of saving money. She was obviously talented, and took on scientific responsibilities looking after the entomology (insect) collections. Despite her lack of formal training she was eventually appointed to a professional position as entomologist – one of the first women in the public service to be employed as a scientific role. But all the time she was only being paid two-thirds of the rate of an equivalent male employee.

Through the 1920s Castle continued to expand the entomology collections, helped groups interested in insects, undertook fieldwork and published several scientific papers. In 1931 staff numbers at the museum were cut as part of a government economy drive, and Castle was made redundant. Having been poorly paid as a woman all her career, part of the reasoning for her early retirement was that she didn’t have a family to support.

Her biography in the printed version of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography says that nothing was known about Amy Castle after 1931 – not even the date or place of her death. Subsequently, with the help of her relations, it has been established that she left New Zealand in 1957, and died in England in 1971. Her death certificate gives her occupation as ‘retired entomologist’.

We know nothing of the last 40 years of Castle’s life, and nor has a photograph of her come to light. The late Ross O’Rourke did an exhaustive search through Te Papa’s archives, without success. Can anyone help?

Remembering Ernie Abbott and the Trades Hall bombing

A police poster calling for information on the Trades Hall bombing (click for image credit)

A police poster calling for information on the 1984 Trades Hall bombing (click for image credit)

On Thursday 27 March I was part of a group of over 100 people who gathered in the foyer of Wellington Trades Hall on Vivian Street to remember the death of caretaker Ernie Abbott. Abbott was killed 30 years ago, on 27 March 1984, in a bomb attack on Trades Hall. He had noticed a suitcase left unattended in the foyer, outside one of the rooms in which union meetings had been held that day. When Abbott picked up the suitcase it exploded, killing him and substantially damaging Trades Hall. Ernie’s watch, which stopped at the time of the explosion, showed his death to have occurred at 5.19 p.m. At the memorial gathering this was the time that signalled the start of three minutes of silence in remembrance.

The attack was one of the few acts of terrorism to occur in New Zealand, but no one claimed responsibility. It to this day remains an unsolved crime, despite the offer (now lapsed) of a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bomber. The bombing occurred at a time of increasing industrial tensions and frequent strikes. This tension was heightened by the wage freeze Robert Muldoon had introduced in 1982. Muldoon, who had been prime minister since 1975, had carried out a long running campaign against what he described as militant unions. Muldoon claimed they were run by ‘pommy stirrers’, bringing British class hatreds that had no place in New Zealand. He also maintained that communists had undue influence in the unions. These claims struck a chord with many New Zealanders holding more conservative and anti-union views.

It seems likely that the Trades Hall bomb was planted by a lone right-winger with a hatred of unions. It was probably aimed at union leaders who were holding a meeting in the hall earlier that day. A number of unionists recalled walking past the case around 5 p.m. as they headed off to another meeting. Abbott moved the case, triggering the explosion, when he was mopping the foyer, his regular activity at that time of the evening.

Peter Cranney remembering Ernie Abbott

Peter Cranney remembering Ernie Abbott

Ernie Abbott was more than just the Trades Hall caretaker. Originally from Liverpool, he had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. During his careers as a merchant seaman and as a wharfie he had been an active unionist. As Trades Hall caretaker from 1966, he was a member of the Caretakers and Cleaners Union and at the time of his death was union vice-president. In a bitter irony, Abbott had been made a life member of his union the day before the bombing.

At the memorial gathering speakers recalled the events of 1984 and paid tribute to Ernie Abbott. They recalled his role as a ‘stirrer’ at Trades Hall, provoking arguments between ‘poms’ and Scotsmen. Speakers gave differing views on Abbott’s reputation as ‘a grumpy old bastard’. Peter Cranney, who became vice-president of the Caretakers and Cleaners after Abbott’s death, said he always got on well with Ernie, who welcomed the chance to lean on his mop and have a yarn. Cranney also recalled Abbott’s two dogs, Patch and Patch II. Ernie’s first dog called Patch famously jumped off the Trades Hall roof in pursuit of a seagull. Patch survived the fall but thereafter had a limp. His successor, Patch II, was badly burned in the explosion but survived. On his recovery Patch II was fostered out to a new home.

Some of the members of the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band playing in the Trades Hall foyer

Some of the members of the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band playing in the Trades Hall foyer

Speakers compared Abbott’s death to those of Frederick George Evans, killed in the Waihī miners’ strike of 1912, and Christine Clarke, who was killed by a driver breaking a picket line at Lyttelton in 1999. Others compared his death to those workers who were killed each year in industrial accidents. The ceremony included a showing of Rod Prosser’s documentary film The hatred campaign on the 1984 bombing. In fine union tradition, tunes such as ‘The Internationale’, were played by the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band. There were calls for the memorial ceremony to be held annually in the future.

Precious metal quiz

A glam bunch of entries

Viewing art, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 1958 (click for image credit)

Viewing art, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 1958 (click for image credit)

GLAMs – galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Without their support and the expertise of their staff, the Te Ara Resource Team would not be able to bring you the wide range of images, film and sound files that we do.

This April Te Ara is launching three entries that are very dear to our hearts:

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten Museums – that entry will be launched later in the year.

Since the beginning of the Te Ara project, we’ve had the support of museums, galleries, libraries and archives throughout New Zealand and all over the world. We would like to acknowledge their support and highlight a few things you might not have known about them.

  • Before the establishment of National Archives (now Archives New Zealand), government archives were stored all over Wellington city. When fire broke out in the Hope Gibbons building in 1952, numerous public records were destroyed or damaged.
  • Auckland City Libraries are home to the Sir George Grey special collections. Ranging in scope from illuminated medieval manuscripts to photographs, the initial collection was acquired by Sir George Grey, governor of New Zealand, and gifted to the country in 1887.
  • The National Art Gallery building in Wellington was requisitioned by the air force during the Second World War. The paintings were stored in Hastings for the duration of the war. They were returned to the gallery in 1949.

We would also like to acknowledge just some of the repositories that we work with every day. There are too many to list them all, but here are just a few:

Archives New Zealand, which supplies us with newsreels like this; Radio New Zealand Sound Archives, who are keepers of songs like this, the New Zealand Film Archive, which has supplied us with many films for the upcoming entries in our Creative and Intellectual Life theme, and of course TVNZ Television Archive.

We also source material from specialist archives, like the Christchurch Anglican Diocesan Archives, the Society of Mary Archives and the Presbyterian Archive. Banks like BNZ and Westpac have their own archives and museums. Crown research institutes like GNS Science and Landcare Research also have libraries and archives.

Regional libraries and archives have always shown us a great deal of support, especially when we were working on our Places entries. We would particularly like to thank the Wairarapa Archive, Palmerston North Library, Hastings Library and Tauranga Library.

Te Ara’s resource researchers and writers regularly visit the Alexander Turnbull Library and use the collections of research libraries like the Hocken Library and Macmillan Brown Library.

We also source artworks and archives from galleries in the four main centres, as well as regional galleries like Timaru’s Aigantighe Art Gallery.

It is always a pleasure to showcase the collections of New Zealand galleries, libraries and archives on Te Ara. We hope that you enjoy the images, films and sound files in these new entries and join us in thanking all the librarians, archivists, curators, technicians and collection managers who make these resources available.

Stolen artworks

The interior of the Chapel of Futuna, showing the crucifix that was stolen around 2000 (click for image credit)

The interior of the Chapel of Futuna, showing the crucifix that was stolen around 2000 (click for image credit)

Last week one of our lovely colleagues just forwarded a link to this news story, ‘Sculpture found 10 years and 300km later‘, about a steel sculpture that had been stolen from outside an Auckland library and found, a decade on, somewhere near Ōhakune. Someone spotted it because it had been included in a photograph on a real estate listing! Earlier this year another colleague had shared a link to Interpol’s ‘Most wanted works of art’ poster (PDF, 709 KB), which I hadn’t come across before, and which led me to look further at their website, where you can see other images of recently stolen artworks.

All of this made me wonder about art thefts in New Zealand – the ones I could remember off the top of my head were Colin McCahon’s triptych ‘Urewera mural‘, the wooden crucifix from the Chapel of Futuna in Karori, in Wellington, and the statue of Pania from the Napier waterfront.

The ‘Urewera mural’ had been commissioned for the Āniwaniwa Visitor Centre building in the 1970s. For a bit of background, you can read about the debate between McCahon, the park board and Ngāi Tuhoe about the wording on the painting on the Department of Conservation website. The mural was stolen in June 1997, in what was seen as an act of protest by Tuhoe. The work was returned 15 months later as a result of negotiations between arts patron Jenny Gibbs and Tuhoe activists Tame Iti and Te Kaha.

After the painting’s return, conservation work was done at Auckland Art Gallery and it also toured a number of other North Island galleries. It was rehung in Āniwaniwa in 2000, but seven years later the building itself was closed and the painting moved back to the Auckland Art Gallery, where it still is today.

The crucifix from the Chapel of Futuna was made by sculptor Jim Allen specifically for the John Scott-designed chapel. It was stolen around 1999–2000, at the time the land around the chapel was being developed for housing and the chapel itself was being used as storage. Police discovered the crucifix on a rural property in Taranaki in 2012. It was reinstated in the chapel in March 2013, after restoration work by conservator Carolina Izzo.

May Robin with Pania (click for image credit)

May Robin with Pania (click for image credit)

The story of Pania made national headlines when it was stolen in October 2005. The statue, modelled on local girl May Robin, was presented to the city in 1954. Fortunately, the statue was found by police the month after it was taken, and was reinstated on Napier’s foreshore.

Many of the media stories about the theft of Pania also mentioned the theft of a Paul Dibble sculpture, which had been stolen from the grounds of a restaurant on the Kapiti Coast some weeks earlier. That sculpture, ‘Long horizon’, weighed around a tonne and the thieves appeared to have carefully planned how they were going to remove it. It too was returned within weeks – in this case because a man called the local paper saying he knew where it was but wanted a reward, which he received. Although the statue was returned and the informant later convicted of blackmail, the thieves were never caught.

Looking at these examples you have to wonder whether New Zealand art thieves have a particularly odd mindset – there seem to have been a number of instances where someone just thought: ‘Wow, that’s really big. It must weigh a tonne. I’ll steal that!”

These examples were just off the top of my head. I suspected there were probably other New Zealand art thefts out there, possibly of artworks that didn’t need heavy lifting machinery to move them! And I was right: a quick search of Papers Past revealed a number of pre-1945 art thefts. One of these didn’t have the happy ending that the above examples above had – Psyche, a painting by British artist Solomon J. Solomon, was stolen from Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery in 1942 and was never recovered.