Flowers from the Holy Land – a First World War souvenir

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Wellingtonians (and ex-Wellingtonians) might remember Quilters, the second-hand bookshop run by John Quilter for 36 years. Earlier this year John decided to close the store (although he plans to keep selling rare New Zealand books online), and, as is traditional, he had a closing-down sale.

As I waited in line to pay for my small pile of goodies, while brooding about whether I should buy the incredibly fluorescent poster for Hair (I should have), I noticed a small book with a wooden cover on the counter. I had a quick look and discovered that it had pages of pressed flowers from sites in the Middle East. Having never seen anything like it before, I added it to my pile and took it home.

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

It turned out to be a book of ‘Flowers and Views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem’. It has lovely, slightly naïve prints showing places such as Bethlehem, separated by tissue paper from delicate dried flower arrangements collected from the same location. My copy has 12 plates and 12 matching flower arrangements, as well as a title page and the wooden cover. The lithographs are credited to A. L. Monsohn of Jerusalem, which, according to Wikipedia, was a lithographic press that began in 1892.

A bit more of a web search revealed that these little books were popular souvenirs from the Middle East from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. The covers were generally made from olive wood. (I can’t tell if mine is or not, but I’m going to assume so for now.) Some of them, like this one from the Australian War Memorial Museum, have a carved cross on the cover. Others have ‘Jerusalem’, surrounded by a carved and coloured border, or silhouettes of camels and palm trees. Mine is much plainer, and has ‘Jerusalem’ stamped on the cover. It would appear that some of these books only have the pressed flowers, and some have much more elaborate flower arrangements, such as this one, where the leaves, grasses and flowers have been arranged into a picture of a tree in a meadow.

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

So how did this book end up in New Zealand? The inside cover has a pencil note, ‘to Auntie Anne [or Annie?], from Kenneth M Stevens in Palestine’, with 1916 added in pen. The handwriting is a little hard to make out, but I think that’s right. So, assuming that this little book was sent back by a New Zealand soldier, I had a look at Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Cenotaph – where I found a record for Kenneth McKenzie Stevens, 13/2375, of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. On Archway, Archives New Zealand’s website, I found two First World War records for Kenneth Stevens – the one above, and Kenneth Murdock Stevens (13/237). Both men served in the Auckland Mounted Rifles, which fought in Palestine in 1917–18. My best guess is that one of the Kenneths picked this book up and sent it to ‘Auntie Annie’ – but which one will have to wait for another day.

I’m fascinated by this little book, and would love to know if anyone else in New Zealand has one. It also raises other questions, such as who did the flower arranging, and were the flowers really collected from the specific locations, or were they pulled out of one large pile? Possibly unanswerable, but interesting to think on.

Te ringa toihau nui

Basil at the Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards, 2012

Basil at the Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards, 2012

E hoa, e te ringa toihau nui o Te Ara, te kaihautū o te wāhanga Māori, tēnei te mihi nui, tēnei te mihi aroha hoki ki a koe

It is with great sadness that we record the departure to an exciting new venture of Basil Keane. In recent years Basil’s official title was ‘director of Māori digital projects at Manatū Taonga’, which reflected his wide-ranging creativity in digital publishing, but he first arrived at the ministry as editor Māori for Te Ara. Basil came to us from the Eastern Institute of Technology after Rangi McGarvey had established the mana of the editor Māori position, so there were very big shoes to fill. We were not at all certain that we would be able to do so. The interview panel was chaired by Ranginui Walker, and I remember that the moment Basil left the interview room, Ranginui turned to us and said, ‘There’s your man’.

Some of the things which impressed us all at the interview proved to be great indicators of the contribution Basil would make over the next 10 or so years. First, there was his huge excitement and forthright enthusiasm for the potential of Te Ara. He could see straight away the role it might play in the Māori community, and he dedicated much of his boundless energy to achieving this. Second, there was his intuitive understanding of, and creativity about, the possibilities of digital technology. No-one else among the community of Te Ara geeks was so quick to discover natty new apps or ingenious sites. Third, there was his deep knowledge of Māori history and culture generally. Ranginui became very excited about Basil’s interest in the Kotahitanga parliament and urged him to continue working in that area. So it was great to see Basil complete his thesis on Kotahitanga two years ago, with Manatū Taonga’s support. In the community of Māori historians, he was a real leader. One of Te Ara’s finest contributors, Paul Meredith, notes that Basil was ‘very much a thinker about Māori history.’

Once Basil took up the reins, he did a brilliant job. It was a complete privilege to work with him through the next nine themes of Te Ara – not forgetting the Places entries, where Basil gave every entry a really close look-over from a Māori perspective. He was also a great travel companion on our trips around Aotearoa to launch those entries, and it was amazing how many Wharehouse stores around the country he managed to find on these fleeting visits.

I really enjoyed working with Basil on those nine themes. He quickly won the confidence of Te Ara Wānanga (Te Ara’s Māori advisory committee), showed leadership in drawing up rough entry lists and then listened carefully to the changes and hints dropped by members of the Wānanga. When it came to choosing the authors, Basil’s knowledge of expertise and local sensitivities in the Māori world was irreplaceable, and when the draft entries came his judgements about their strengths and missing bits were always acute. When it came time for him to write entries himself, they were consistently clear, accurate, hugely well-informed and pitched at just the right level. Just look for example at his wonderful entries on Pounamu (his very first), Te hopu tuna, Kotahitanga, and Whāngai. In all he wrote 25 Te Ara stories – about as many words as a good book.

Basil was also a really clever and generous promoter of others’ work – indeed one of Te Ara’s most popular blog posts was his ‘A beginner’s guide to finding Matariki’, which was designed to promote Paul Meredith’s path-breaking story about Matariki. In all Basil penned over 30 posts on the Signposts blog – including some classics, such as ‘Pit bull on the menu’ and ‘Top 10 things we share with Australia’. He was consistently a passionate enthusiast for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, and drew on all his considerable powers of diplomacy to respond to those who challenged the iwi identification of certain tīpuna.

Over time Basil took on a real leadership role within Manatū Taonga. He had a powerful vision for the different ways that web technology might be used to benefit knowledge about Māori subjects. He was a great supporter of NZHistory.net.nz, and he was generous and understanding in guiding us ignorant Pākehā about what was fitting for a Māori audience. Many in Manatū Taonga called on his wisdom about appropriate tikanga for welcomes, launches and any public occasion. I appreciated that Basil could be quite firm and clear about what was needed, but always made his point without rancour or a loud voice. We quickly learnt to listen and follow his advice.

Finally Basil’s humorous engagement at morning coffees, his forthright contributions to the Dom Post quiz, and his perverse and highly opinionated judgements about Hurricanes rugby, Black Caps cricket and Warriors rugby league will be remembered fondly.

What a loss for Manatū Taonga; but I hope Basil is as proud as we are of his massive achievement. The 150 stories about Māori subjects in Te Ara will be his legacy.

Te tau hōu Māori: whakanuia!

Sounding conch shells at Matariki celebrations, Wairau Bar, Marlborough, 2009 (pic: Marlborough Express)

Sounding conch shells at Matariki celebrations, Wairau Bar, Marlborough, 2009 (pic: Marlborough Express)

Tēnā koutou, me ngā mihi o te tau hōu Māori ki a koutou katoa! Ae rā, ko te wā o Matariki tēnei, o Puanga rānei. Greetings of the Māori New Year to you all! To some iwi the new year is heralded by the appearance of the constellation Matariki (the Pleiades) in the sky, while to others it is the rising of the star Puanga (Rigel) that marks the start of the new year.

As you can read on Te Ara, Matariki/Puanga is an ancient festival, but one that had largely died out by the mid-20th century, before having a spectacular revival around the turn of this century. While I’m happy to be corrected, this year may in fact mark the 20th anniversary of Matariki’s modern revival.

In June 1995, Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper reported on a two-week festival, Te Whakanui i a Matariki, being held in the capital, mostly at Pipitea marae. Activities were to include kite-flying (which is traditionally associated with Matariki), demonstrations of Māori arts and talks on Māori issues. One of the key organisers of the event was the artist Diane Prince, and the event’s patron was Whetū Tirikātene-Sullivan, MP.

The modern festival of Matariki really took off in the early 2000s, particularly after it started to be promoted by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission). In 2004, Libby Hakaraia published a popular book, Matariki: the Māori New Year, introducing Matariki and its associated customs.

Today Matariki/Puanga is widely celebrated in communities across the country. Many people have also suggested that the Māori new year should become a new public holiday. In 2009, Māori Party MP Rāhui Kātene’s private Member’s Bill, Te Rā o Matariki/Matariki Day Bill, which would have made Matariki a public holiday, had a first reading but was not supported to go to select committee.

There are two main reasons given in support of such a holiday (apart from wanting another day off work!). First, that we should have a holiday that is truly indigenous and based on the seasons of this land. Second, that we need a day of celebration, in contrast to Waitangi Day, which (rightly or wrongly) many people associate with contention and protest. Some people have suggested that a Matariki/Puanga holiday could replace the Queen’s Birthday holiday, or that the Māori new year would be a more appropriate time than Guy Fawkes Day for fireworks.

What do you think about the modern revival of Matariki/Puanga?

The Magna Carta down under

The 1297 version of the Magna Carta on display in Canberra (pic: Flickr: NickHodge's photostream)

The 1297 version of the Magna Carta on display in Canberra (pic: Flickr: NickHodge's photostream)

Today marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, a document granted by King John of England that limited the power of the Crown. This document was fundamental in establishing the concept of the rule of law and notions of freedom and justice. Why, I hear you ask, are we interested in such an anniversary here in New Zealand? Because New Zealand was once a British colony, we inherited its laws. One clause of the Magna Carta remains on the New Zealand statute books:

‘NO freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.’

The Treaty of Waitangi has been described as the ‘Māori Magna Carta’.

The Magna Carta 800 Committee for New Zealand has listed on its website a series of events around the country. There’s a lot on this month, including commemorative services and lectures. In July the University of Auckland is holding a five-part lecture series. If you’re at all interested in the legacy of this important document, check out the New Zealand committee’s website and consider attending one of the events. You can also find out about the Magna Carta and its application to New Zealand on Te Ara.

In search of ‘Auntie Naughty’

Poster advertising Mrs W. H. Foley, 1858 (pic: Canterbury Museum, Canterbury Pilgrims and Early Settlers' Association Collection)

Poster advertising Mrs W. H. Foley, 1858 (pic: Canterbury Museum, Canterbury Pilgrims and Early Settlers' Association Collection)

In August last year I received an intriguing email from Ernest Huggins, a retired school teacher from London, Ontario. He had just come across our Dictionary of New Zealand biography entry on Mrs W. H. Foley, one of the varied band of entertainers who travelled round the country in the 19th century, bringing song, dance, poetry and spectacle into the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. Mrs Foley was a much-fêted actress, but somewhat elusive – when her biography was first published in 1990 we knew only her stage name, and had no details of where she was born, her early life or what happened to her after she apparently faded from the scene in 1867. That was about to change. Mrs Foley, Ernest told me, was his great-great-aunt, and his cousin, Zoe Cant, had details that could fill in some of the gaps: ‘She has quite a file on Mrs Foley, aka “Auntie Naughty” and I am sure would be delighted to share it with you.’

Indeed Zoe had a wealth of information on Mrs Foley. For starters, she knew her original name – Catherine Huggins – and had discovered that she was born into a family of actors in Lincolnshire, England around 1821. In 1843 Catherine Huggins gave birth to a son, Charles, and she married his father, Daniel Caparn, two years later. The family emigrated to Tasmania in 1847. Catherine ran a dress shop in Hobart for a while before she and Daniel separated. She went on her own to San Francisco; Daniel ended up in Honolulu, where he died in 1851.  That same year, Catherine married William Henry Foley, ‘a charismatic clown, circus proprietor and theatrical entrepreneur’ in Sacramento. In 1855 they arrived in New Zealand with their circus, and Mrs Foley soon branched into acting. This was the point at which our original biography had started.

Realising that major amendments and additions would be needed, I contacted the author of the DNZB biography, Peter Downes. It turned out that, with the assistance of Catherine Bishop, a PhD student, and Ian Harding, another family historian, Peter had found out even more information about the feisty Mrs W. H. Foley. After the birth of a daughter, the Foleys had parted company in 1857, and some time later Catherine took up with her company’s new leading man, Vernon Webster, who confusingly also went by the name Lowten Lowten. In 1867 Catherine and Lowten embarked on an unsuccessful tour to Chile, followed by a period in England. In 1882 they married (bigamously, as William Foley was still alive), and the following year came back to New Zealand. They made a brief return to the stage, then retired to Napier to run a hotel. Catherine died there in 1887, and is buried in the Napier cemetery. Her gravestone gives no clue that she was once the celebrated Mrs W. H. Foley.

Peter’s revised version of the entry is now up on the site and makes a fascinating read. The discovery of all this rich new information is the result of some great collaborative detective work, made more impressive because of the many names Mrs Foley went by during her lifetime. Mrs W. H. Foley, aka Catherine Huggins, aka Catherine Caparn, aka Lucy Catherine Foley, aka Lucy Kate Lowten and Mrs Lowten Lowten, enjoyed her finest hours in New Zealand. It seems fitting that her bones now lie in New Zealand soil.

There is one more mystery I want to solve: what did she look like? If you have or know of the existence of a portrait of Mrs W. H. Foley that we could attach to her biography, I would love to hear from you!