What’s on: Events








The Friends of the Turnbull Library (FoTL) offers a monthly programme of public talks that are free to all, and held – unless otherwise indicated below – on the Ground Floor, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, (corner of Aitken and Molesworth streets, Thorndon, Wellington).

Programme of public talks, September–November 2018

All public lectures are free, although donations are welcome.

Thursday 20 September at 5.30pm: Alexander McKay – New Zealand’s first scientific photographer

Simon Nathan has researched the life of Alexander McKay (1841-1917) who explored many parts of New Zealand while working as a fossil collector and geologist for the New Zealand government between 1873 and 1902.

Alexander McKay (pictured left) was also a keen amateur photographer, capturing geological features and documenting the impact of the 1888 and 1902 Canterbury earthquakes. He invented a telephoto lens in about 1890, and later developed techniques for photographing fossils and microscopic thin sections of rocks. All of McKay’s varied photographic work was aimed at illustrating the scientific work he was undertaking. 

Simon Nathan, science historian and biographer of Wellington – himself a geologist – is an excellent speaker. Don’t miss this public talk.

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Tuesday 16 October at 5.30pm: Two yards of Serge for Mrs Pharazyn: Wellington women go shopping in the 1850s

William Clark (1830-1902) was a draper in colonial Wellington, with his shop on Lambton Quay. Thanks to the extraordinarily detailed business records which are now part of the manuscript collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, the shopping habits of his broad variety of customers – Māori and Pākehā, landowners and labourers, sailors and rival shopkeepers, the military and the government – can be revealed.

Angela Lassig was delighted to find this treasure trove within the vellum bindings of Mr Clark’s ‘Day’ books while she was researching a book on the history of 19th-century women’s dress in New Zealand – the project for which she has received a FoTL research grant. Angela is a fashion and dress historian currently based in Auckland.



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Thursday 22 November at 5.30pm: Defining Conflicts? The New Zealand Wars

Dr Vincent O’Malley is a well-known and acclaimed Wellington historian, whose fine book, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 was published by Bridget Williams Books in 2016.  He has received a FoTL research grant to help him research his latest book project, a history of the New Zealand Wars aimed at the secondary school market.
Vincent will present an overview of this turbulent period in our history – a series of conflicts that profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nation’s history. He looks at the origins, causes and consequences of these conflicts and discusses how the wars have been remembered historically.

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Looking back on our public talks, February-August 2018

Thursday 22 February at 5.30pm: Cranleigh Barton: a most particular man

We regret that this talk had to be cancelled at short notice. We do hope to re-schedule it.

Mr Moyles’ Cottage, Rangiora. Spring, 1950

Cranleigh Barton (1890-1975) was a trained solicitor with a passion for art who was born in Feilding. When he decided at the age of 30 to devote himself to watercolour painting, he moved to live in Christchurch and then went to London to study at the Slade School of Fine Arts. For the rest of his life he travelled extensively on painting trips, and the diaries that he kept from the age of 17 detail his life as a watercolourist. He exhibited successfully in London and Christchurch, and the ATL holds many of his paintings such as the one shown here.

Philip Rainer – a former senior staff member of the Alexander Turnbull Library – has been pursuing private research interests for the past nine years. 

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Tuesday 20 March at 5.30pm: Sun, Sea and Sustenance: the story of the Otaki Children’s Health Camp

Reminiscences of 47 former residents and staff of the Otaki Children’s Health Camp have been collected and edited by Di Buchan in a book (published by Steele Roberts) that gives entertaining insights into the health camp movement and celebrates the outstanding individuals who contributed to New Zealand’s first permanent health camp.

Di Buchan

Di Buchan has spent her working life as a social and environmental impact assessor and researcher about projects and programmes throughout New Zealand and the Pacific. She has recently retired and in addition to being a Board member of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand and of the DB Environmental Trust which she established, she is the primary caretaker of a two-acre garden and a family of chooks just down the road from the Otaki Children’s health Camp (now known as Stand Children’s Village).

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Thursday 19 April at 5.30pm: Nicolaes Witsen and Abel Tasman’s 1642 voyage of discovery

Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717) published parts of the journal of Frans Jacobsz Visscher, Tasman’s chief navigator during the voyage. This journal adds surprising and otherwise unknown details including illustrations which add to our understanding and knowledge of the voyage.

Rudiger Mack, teacher, antiquarian bookseller and researcher, has gone back to the original (1705) Dutch-language report of Abel Tasman’s voyage of discovery, and found clear evidence of exactly where in Golden Bay was the fateful first encounter between Māori and Europeans.

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Thursday 24 May at 5.30pm: Malcolm Harrison: textile artist

Malcolm Harrison (1941-2007) was a textile artist of extraordinary creative talent, whose work has been collected by most New Zealand galleries and cultural institutions. It is his artworks that soar above Parliament’s Galleria, and the documentation of the often controversial process behind this installation is held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Ann Packer, a freelance writer, editor and oral historian, is planning to write a biography of Malcolm Harrison. She is author of the bestselling Random House book, Crafty Girls’ Road Trip (reprinted twice, new edition in 2012), as well as the prize-wiining book Stitch: New Zealand Textile Artists (2006).

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Thursday 28 June at 6.00pm: Centenary FOUNDER LECTURE

Prof Lydia Wevers

Professor Lydia Wevers ONZM speaking on BOOKS AND THEIR READERS

Lydia Wevers retired last year after 17 years as Director of the Stout Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington. She has written and edited many anthologies and books on literary topics and is a well-known literary historian and critic. We are delighted that she has agreed to give this year’s Founder Lecture, which commemorates the 1918 death and bequest of Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull. At Parliament’s Grand Hall, by invitation only.

Tuesday 24 July at 5.30pm: Henry Suter: The poverty, despair and discoveries of a colonial naturalist

“Henry Suter’s letters and diaries tell an intriguing story of his determination to make a life and living as a naturalist and become New Zealand’s foremost expert on molluscs.”

Dr Pamela Hyde has a PhD in medical sociology from Victoria University of Wellington. She is the author of a recently published biography of Henry Suter (1840-1918), who is her great-grandfather. Her research took her to Switzerland and Germany to uncover Suter’s early life. In writing the book she discovered that he had traded in Māori ancestral remains and this led her to participate in a ceremony to repatriate some of these kōiwi tangata at Te Papa in 2017.

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Tuesday 21 August at 5.30pm: William Frederick Howlett BA: Journalist, alpinist, naturalist, teacher

William Howlett arrived in New Zealand in 1875 to begin a peripatetic life as schoolteacher, storekeeper, satirist, alpinist, politician, naturalist and thorn in the side of authority – an articulate, straight talking, intelligent, cynical man generally regarded as a bit odd.

Dr Ian St George is a medical practitioner and amateur historian who presents the life of William Howlett, and the unusual story of a man who described himself as an “unrestrainable dreamer of dreams”. But the Pahiatua Star saluted his achievments: “There is not another man in the Forty-mile Bush that has done as much as he to bring this district into prominence, by his outspoken and intelligent letters … on the land and other questions.”

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Looking back at 2017

Thursday 9 February at 5.30pm: Serendipity and Palimpsests: Re-imagining Colenso and his contemporaries

Dr Sydney Shep, co-curator of an exhibition (which closed on 9 March) at Turnbull Gallery titled Unexpected Connections: Colenso and his contemporaries, considered aspects of the multi-layered world of 19th-century polymaths like William Colenso who lived rich, interconnected, transnational lives and who remain challenging figures for biographers and researchers alike.

Wednesday 22 March at 5.30pm: Murder: A New Zealand social history

Jarrod_IMG_0011Christchurch sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert – who received the 2016 FoTL Research Grant – is the author of Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand. His talk about his current project, a book titled Murder: A New Zealand History, engaged his audience and provoked lively debate about murder trials and the social climate that surrounds them.


Tuesday 11 April at 5.30pm: Te Oka — Pakeha Kaumatua: The life of Jock McEwen

McEwen-2_for website Dr Mary McEwen is a retired ecologist and a writer. She spoke about her biography of Jock McEwen (her father-in-law), giving many insights into the complex nature of this man and his times. Jock McEwen – administrator, historian, linguist, master carver and composer – was a significant figure in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands for more than half a century.


Wednesday 10 May at 5.30pm: Shirley Smith and the Mongrel Mob


Auckland oral historian and biographer Sarah Gaitanos – the author of biographies of Nola Millar and violinist Clare Galambos Winter – has been working on a biography of the trail-blazing human rights lawyer and activist Shirley Smith. She spoke about Shirley Smith’s own assessment of her legal career, when (reflecting on her life) she suggested that her advocacy for her “boys” in the Mongrel Mob in the 1970s and 1980s was among the most satisfying things she had ever done.

Tuesday 27 June at 6.00pm: The 2017 FOUNDER LECTURE

Malcolm McKinnon

FOOTNOTES TO HISTORY: How does the historian get from footnotes to text? Or vice versa? Wellington historian Malcolm McKinnon gave a lively talk, drawing on his experience researching and writing New Zealand economic history to probe the often unpredictable journey from the archive to the book.


 Tuesday 11 July at 6.45pm: From the Kirkcaldie & Stains archives

Following the business of the FoTL AGM, ATL staff members presented several items from the archives of Wellington’s famous department store – including photographs, memorabilia and Kirkcaldies catalogues – now held in the Turnbull collections.

Wāhine: Beyond the ‘Dusky Maiden’:

Two events were held in July and August to present different aspects about the exhibition.

Friday 28 July, at 12.10 and Thursday 10 August at 5.30pm

Ki tua o te puhi rauwhero: Historical representation(s) of Māori women 

Puawai Cairns, Senior Curator Māori, at Te Papa talked about stories that emerged from her research for Te Papa’s Gallipoli exhibition. She alluded to the invisibility of many Māori women in World War I histories. Paul Diamond, Curator, Māori at the Alexander Turnbull Library, shared cartoons featuring Māori women from his forthcoming  book on the representation of Māori in editorial cartoons. Ariana Tikao (right) chaired this event. 

Ariana Tikao and Catherine Bisley, co-curators of the Wāhine: Beyond the ‘dusky maiden’ exhibition, presented the second event, sharing insights relating to powerful examples of mana wahine contrasted with nineteenth-century ideas about Māori maidens.

Wednesday 13 September at 5.30pm: IMG_0626Patrick Hickey (1882-1930): “A dangerous radical”


Peter Clayworth, historian and researcher (pictured left at the Library in March), spoke about the extraordinary life of Pat Hickey – coal miner, union leader, and socialist who helped found the New Zealand Labour Party – drawing on his biographical research into the early twentieth-century labour activist.

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Tuesday 10 October at 5.30pm: ‘A democratic game’: Rugby league, community identity and cultural pride in New Zealand between the war yearsryan-bodman-2016

Recipient of this year’s Friends of Turnbull Library Research Grant, Auckland historian Ryan Bodman discussed some insights from his research into the social and cultural history of rugby league in working-class communities in New Zealand.

Thursday 9 November at 5.30pm: ‘Make her praises heard afar’

Well-known historian and biographer of Ettie Rout, Jane Tolerton (pictured right) spoke about her research into New Zealand women’s overseas war work in World War I. Noting that New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women’s suffrage, but only one among the allies not to have produced a book on women in the war, Jane says she has found many great stories that show that “New Zealand women ‘punched above our weight’ in the war”. Much of her research was done in the Turnbull Library. (See Bulletin Board.)

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Looking back to 2016:

Thursday, 18 February at 5.30pm: Measured Works: Surveying Wellington

Mark BagnallMark Bagnall, Curator ATL Cartographic Collections, talked about his research for the February exhibition at the Turnbull Gallery.

The first plans for the settlement of Wellington, drawn up in London in 1839, were probably more marketing-focussed, and gave quite vague directives for early surveyors from 1840 onwards. (Left: Mark Bagnall)

Wednesday, 30 March at 5.30 pm: Mr Explorer Douglas and his giant geological maps of South Westland

Detail_Douglas map

Simon Nathan, science historian and biographer of Wellington – himself a geologist – discussed the achievements of Charles Douglas, one of New Zealand’s most accomplished – but least known – explorers, who devoted himself to the detailed exploration and mapping of Westland. Charles Douglas’s map of Westland remains on display on the Lower Ground floor of the National Library of New Zealand, Aitken Street entrance. (Pictured: detail of huge map of South Westland)

Wednesday, 13 April at 5.30 pm: ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Settler: Garrison and Empire in the 19th century’

Charlotte Macdonald, Wellington historian & university professor, talked about her current research project, which aims at putting a face to the British army and navy presence in colonial New Zealand. Read more about the project on Soldiers of Empire

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Thursday, 19 May at 5.30 pm: A H Turnbull and ‘that most entertaining little man, Dr Hocken’

Donald Kerr, biographer of the famous NZ collector who lived in Dunedin from 1862 until his death in 1910, spoke on his research. Dr Thomas Hocken was a contemporary of Alexander Turnbull, and accumulated the extraordinary treasures forming the basis of the Hocken Library – now in the University of Otago.

Wednesday 15 June at 6.00pm
 The 2016 FOTL Founder Lecture: Moss and Mason: some reflections on writing literary biography

Wellington writer, biographer and historian Rachel Barrowman discussed the research for her acclaimed biographies of RAK Mason and Maurice Gee. Rachel is the author of The Turnbull: a library and its world.

Tuesday 5 July at 6.00pm:  The AGM of the Friends of the Turnbull Library

National Librarian Bill Macnaught

Following the business of the AGM, Bill Macnaught talked about the future directions of the National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, looking ahead to 2020.

Tuesday 23 August at 5.30pm

Helen Clark – Secretary-General of the United Nations?

Wellington political analyst and researcher Ken Ross shared some insights from his research on former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was a contender for the top job at the United Nations in New York.

Tuesday 14 September at 5.30pm


From left: Bill Sheat, Peter Bland, Sunny Amey, Laurie Atkinson and Murray Lynch

The contribution of Wellington’s Downstage to theatre in New Zealand

In celebration of Heritage Month, a panel discussion chaired by Murray Lynch (Director of Playmarket, former director of Downstage) was held, featuring:

Peter Bland, poet, playwright, co-founder of Downstage; Sunny Amey, former director of Downstage; Bill Sheat, lawyer, co-founder of Downstage; and Laurie Atkinson, recently retired theatre reviewer.

During the lively discussion, Peter Bland recited some of his poems, and all panellists shared stories of Downstage’s early days – from the Wellington Rowing Club to the move after 10 years to the Hannah Playhouse in Courtenay Place. It was a dramatic and entertaining public forum about a significant landmark in Wellington’s cultural life, much appreciated by an audience of about 80.

Tuesday 11 October at 5.30pm
 Dr Lydia Wevers, Director of the Stout Research Centre, spoke on Reading TROLLOPE in New Zealand.

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Looking back to 2015:

Wednesday 4 February at 5.30pm


Professor Atholl Anderson


Dr Aroha Harris

Professor Atholl Anderson and Dr Aroha Harris, described the huge research project that became Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated Historypublished by Bridget Williams Books in November 2014. New perspectives on Maori history, to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.



Wednesday 11 March at 5.30pm
Once on Chunuk Bair: Cultural artefact of the 1980s?


Dr Lucy Treep

Auckland researcher Lucy Treep, now working on a biography of Maurice Shadbolt, spoke about Shadbolt’s only play, Once on Chunuk Bair. The play dramatises events that occurred on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula in August 1915. At the time Shadbolt said that the play was intended to be a ‘monument’ to the men who died at Gallipoli but in 1989 he also suggested that the play was ‘really about New Zealanders and New Zealand seventy years on’ from 1915.  Dr Treep is a graduate of the University of Auckland with a degree in architecture and a PhD in English.

Thursday 30 April at 5.30pm  

The First World War and the Pacific


Damon Salesa at the National Library on 30 April 2015

Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa, Associate Professor of Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, spoke on Pacific perspectives of the First World War. He stressed that, although it is typically seen as a European war, it was global and imperial, with important dimensions and engagements in the Pacific. Many lasting legacies of the war—for New Zealand, especially—took place much closer to home. For New Zealand, Samoa was where the first act of the war occurred.


Thursday 14 May at 5.30pm
 The Future of the Past? Collecting internet and other born digital heritage at the Alexander Turnbull Library

Mark Crookston, Digital Collection Strategy Leader at the ATL, spoke about the born digital and internet collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, looking back over seven years since the launch of the National Digital Heritage Archive. He discussed aspects of the role the research library of the future in enabling society to understand the past.

Wednesday 17 June at 5.30pm

Ken Ross spoke on David Lange’s ‘diplomatic’ journey from the Oxford Union to Yale


Left: David Lange hosts Paul Eddington (‘Yes Minister’ actor), 28 January 1988.

Ken Ross discussed his assessment of David Lange alongside the trio of our other best prime ministers internationally since 1945 – Norm Kirk, Jim Bolger and Helen Clark. (See Bulletin Board) He concludes that David Lange warrants a biography written by someone with the talent of John Mulgan or Michael King.

Wednesday 22 July at 6.00pm
 The 2015 FOTL Founder Lecture

Tales from the digital frontier: Developing Te Ara, the world’s 1st national encyclopedia on web

Wellington writer, digital communicator and historian Jock Phillips spoke on his role in developing and eventually completing the huge online project, Te Ara, Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Jock received the 2014 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-fiction. Looking back on the design and development of Te Ara, Jock offered insights into the editing challenges of this enormously successful website, www.TeAra.govt.nz  This 2015 Founder Lecture was held at the Aronui lecture room of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

Tuesday 4 August at 5.30pm
Tea, Zen and Cosmic Anatomy: The mysticism of Katherine Mansfield

In this FoTL talk, Gerri Kimber explored Katherine Mansfield’s spiritual development during her life, culminating in her decision to enter Gurdjieff’s ‘Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man’ in Fontainebleau in the autumn of 1922, claiming that ‘I want to be all that I am capable of becoming so that I may be – […] a child of the sun’.  Gerri Kimber is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Northampton, and Chair of the international Katherine Mansfield Society. Gerri is the recipient of the Friends of Turnbull Library Research Grant for 2015.

Tuesday 8 September at 5.30pm
New Zealand Publishing Today

Fergus for website

Wellington publisher Fergus Barrowman MNZM discussed aspects of New Zealand publishing from his perspective of 30 years as Publisher of Victoria University Press.

Fergus is a literary commentator and is editor of the literary journal Sport, which he co-founded in 1988 with Elizabeth Knox, Damien Wilkins and Nigel Cox. Fergus was awarded the NZ Order of Merit for services to publishing, in June 2014.

Tuesday 8 September at 5.30pm

The Rona: a significant historical racing yacht

Peter_Scott_OctPeter Scott, a former National Librarian, came along with Philippa Durkin, from the Rona Preservation Trust to talk about the preservation and conservation of a very special old lady: the classic kauri racing yacht Rona which was built in 1892 for wealthy merchant and benefactor Alexander Turnbull. The Rona has continued to sail and be raced but she does need more work now.

Peter Scott is particularly interested in the history of the Rona, and is currently chairing the fund-raising sub-committee for the deck restoration project.

Tuesday 10 November at 5.30pm

You Don’t Travel in China at the Full Moon: Agnes Moncrieff and China, 1930-1945


Wellington researcher and former teacher Barbara Francis (pictured) discussed Nessie Moncrieff’s life in China. Agnes ‘Nessie’ Moncrieff had an interesting life. She graduated MA from Victoria University College and represented NZ at a World Student Christian Federation Conference in Beijing in 1922. After three years as a Travelling Secretary for the NZ Student Christian Movement and four years teaching at Feilding Agricultural High School, she trained with the NZ YWCA in order to return to China in 1930 as an International Secretary with the YWCA of China until 1945. She wrote weekly letters to family and friends and monthly reports to NZ YWCA during these 15 years in China, covering her involvement with YWCA and her experiences in China.

Thursday 19 November at 5.30pm

The Maori Land March forty years on … 


Paul Diamond, Curator Maori at the Alexander Turnbull Library, spoke about the exhibition (showing until 4 December 2015) in the Turnbull Gallery, “Not One More Acre”, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Maori Land March – which set off from Te Hapua to march to Wellington in 1975. The impact of the march has been far-reaching, and the images of Dame Whina Cooper and her mokopuna quickly reached iconic status.

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All public lectures are free, although donations are welcome.

For the latest news, see the Bulletin Board.