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 – in Taiwhanga Kawhau, the Auditorium on the Lower Ground floor, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, (corner of Aitken and Molesworth streets, Thorndon, Wellington).

Some of our events have been recorded, and you can find those links at the end of this year’s programme below.  We also have occasional public talks in Auckland, usually on the North shore. See FoTL Public Talks in Auckland

Our programme of public talks is free and open to all, but we would ask you to RSVP if you plan to attend.

An on-line Zoom Webinar option is also now offered for most of our talks. If available, you will find the link at the end of each session.

Wellington events in 2023:

Thursday 16 March at 5.30pm

David Grant, historian and biographer:

Necessity or Folly? Jim Anderton’s dramatic exit from the Labour Government in 1989 and its consequences

David Grant will be speaking on his biography of Jim Anderton, Anderton: His Life and Times. He is the author of 14 books and this is his third major political biography.

Jim Anderton was a dynamic President of the Labour Party (1979-1984) before becoming a popular MP for Sydenham.

David Grant will focus on the events leading up to Anderon’s dramatic exit from Labour in 1989, and the consequences of his decision. He will discuss Anderton’s increasing despair about Rogernomics as factories closed or moved offshore, unemployment burgeoned and the State seemed to deny a duty of care to its poorer citizens. Anderton was particularly incensed with the ‘asset sale’ of state institutions leading to capital fleeing the country, the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

Anderton fought to preserve the doctrinal bastions on which the Labour Party was founded, and would not vote for the sale of the Bank of New Zealand – defying his party’s 242 constitutional clause. Isolated and suspended, he won an appeal but soon afterwards resigned, stating he could no longer defend this ‘right-wing’ government. He then went on to form two new parties, first NewLabour and later the Alliance Party.

Join us to hear the full story on Thursday 16 March at 5.30pm.

Venue: Auditorium, National Library, Molesworth Street, access from Aitken Street

RSVP: turnbullfriends@gmail.com

Can’t make it in person? This event will also be delivered using Zoom. You do not need to install the software in order to attend, you can opt to run Zoom from your browser.

Register if you’d like to join this talk and we’ll send you the link to use on the day.


Wednesday 12 April 2023 at 5.30pm

Dr Michael Brown, Turnbull Library Curator Music:

The Disasteradio Project

Many forms of contemporary music are produced using digital audio workstation (DAW) software. Such computer applications streamline the recording process and offer music artists sophisticated new tools. However, they also present major challenges if we wish to document the digital creative process in ways equivalent to physical music archives. This talk is about the Disasteradio Project, a Turnbull Library pilot study undertaken with New Zealand computer musician Luke Rowell (a.k.a. Disasteradio) that aims to develop strategies for preserving DAW music productions.

Dr Michael Brown has been Curator Music at the Turnbull Library since 2015.  Michael has published widely on New Zealand music, and this year he was appointed JD Stout Fellow at Victoria University to research contemporary digital music. Photo: Mark Beatty

Thursday 11 May 2023 at 5.30pm

Paul Diamond, Turnbull Library Curator Māori:

Researching Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay

In May 1920 the news that the brilliant, well-connected mayor of Whanganui Charles Mackay had shot returned soldier Walter D’Arcy Cresswell reverberated around New Zealand and across the Tasman. New Zealanders were then riveted by the trial that followed. It emerged that D’Arcy Cresswell was a young gay poet who had been blackmailing Mackay, threatening to reveal Mackay’s homosexuality unless he resigned as mayor. Charles Mackay was sentenced to hard labour and later left the country, only to be shot by a police sniper during street unrest in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis.

Mackay had married into Whanganui high society, and the story has long been the town’s dark secret. The cast of this tale includes the Prince of Wales, the president of the RSA, Sir Robert Stout, Blanche Baughan . . . even Lady Ottoline Morrell. Much more than an extraordinary story of scandal, the Mackay affair reveals the perilous existence of homosexual men at that time and how society conspired to control and punish them.

In this talk, Paul Diamond (pictured right) will discuss his research journey – in Whanganui, Berlin, and  London – to uncover the story of the ‘Whanganui Affair’. The outcome of his years of digging, Downfall: The destruction of Charles Mackay shines a clear light on the vengeful impulses behind the blackmail and Mackay’s ruination.

Find out much more about this intriguing story on Thursday 11 May.

Wednesday 7 June 2023 at 5.30pm

Helen Beaglehole, historian, editor and writer:

Sources, Silences, Perspectives and Prejudices: the challenges of writing the first history of settlement in the Marlborough Sounds

Helen Beaglehole will be speaking about her latest book, One Hundred Havens: The Settlement of the Marlborough Sounds, a story of the area as shaped by land, sea and people.

Wednesday 28 June 2023 at 6.00pm


Witi Ihimaera DCNZM, DCM

Acclaimed writer, anthologist and librettist

Author of the immensely popular novel, The Whale Rider, Witi Ihimaera was Professor of English and Distinguished Creative Fellow in Māori Literature at University of Auckland until 2010. Witi is an influential figure in New Zealand literature and over his long career has won numerous awards for both fiction and non-fiction.

His first memoir, “Māori Boy”, won the Ockham Book Award for non-fiction in 2015, and Witi received a Prime Minister’s Award for fiction in 2017. This will be a very special event, with refreshments offered after the lecture. RSVP is essential.

Our public programme will continue every month until November.

Thursday 16 February at 5.30 pm: Dr Pamela Wood     REGRETFULLY CANCELLED

Dr Pamela Wood, a retired academic, registered nurse and independent historian specialising in the history of health, has recently published New Zealand Nurses: Caring for our people, 1880-1950 (2022). She was to speak to us in February, but now we hope to reschedule this talk at a future date.

Past Events 2022/23:

Tuesday 7 March 2023 at 5.45pm

Joint event with Randell Cottage Writers Trust, Friends of Turnbull Library and Friends of Randell Cottage.

French writers at Randell Cottage:
Sedef Ecer – Gallipoli from a woman’s perspective
Caroline Laurent – inspiration at Oriental Bay

Who are the latest French writers in residence at Randell Cottage? How are they drawing on their experiences here, in combination with their multicultural heritages, to inform their creative work? Come and hear Franco-Turkish novelist, actor and playwright Sedef Ecer, as she shares her evolving concept for a First World War Gallipoli encounter between women from Turkey and New Zealand. Watch the newest video in our web-based series with Caroline Laurent, of French and Mauritian extraction, on her recent stay, with plans to return. Produced by Godwit Films and funded by the French Embassy, this short video is in French with English subtitles.

You are invited to join members of the Friends of Randell Cottage, the Randell Cottage Writers Trust, the Friends of the Turnbull Library and representatives of the Embassy of France at the National Library on Tuesday, 7 March from 5:30 for 6:00 pm.

Murray Pillar from the Pop-up Millwood Gallery will be on hand to sell copies of Room to Write, the newly-launched bilingual collection of writing by past residents of Randell Cottage.

Light refreshments served before & after the event. Koha (suggest $5 pp) would be appreciated.

Time: 5:30 to 7.30 pm (formalities 6.00 to 7.15 pm)

Venue: Auditorium, National Library, Molesworth Street, access from Aitken Street

Thursday 10 November 2022 at 5.30 pm:

Dr Oliver Stead, The Paper Knife – Patrick White and Katherine Mansfield:

Oliver Stead discussed the influence of Katherine Mansfield on Patrick White, a renowned novelist and playwright. White is still the only Australian to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1973). On a visit by Patrick White to the Turnbull in 1961, the unusual link connecting the writers was first revealed. White donated to the library a silver and greenstone paper knife (pictured right) that had belonged to Katherine Mansfield.

Dr Oliver Stead, Curator, Drawings, Paintings and Prints at the Turnbull, holds degrees in Art History and Information Studies. Prior to joining the Turnbull team, he held curatorial and collection management roles at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Auckland Museum, National Library of Australia and the Wallace Arts Trust.

Thursday 6 October 2022, at 5.30pm:

“A Scandalous Mistake”: Aotearoa’s “Wicked Bible”

Anthony TedeschiCurator Rare Books & Fine Printing at the Alexander Turnbull Library, spoke about seventeenth-century printing processes and their vulnerability to errors for all sorts of reasons. He said that many different printings of the Bible at this time included significant errors, such as “Judas” instead of “Jesus”; “vinegar” instead of “vineyard; and “place makers” instead of “peace makers”.

Dr Chris Jones, University of Canterbury historian, discussed his research into the Wicked Bible – famous for its commandment: ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’. Previous owners of the copy purchased in 2016 by the Phil and Louise Donnithorne Family Trust are largely unknown, up until a Christchurch bookbinder, Don Hampshire, bought it in 2009. Its authenticity was confirmed in 2018, and it has since been conserved and now digitised to encourage continuing research. Chris also discussed some of the colourful myths that have grown up around this Wicked Bible, but he refuted many claims, including the legend that the printer was taken to court and bankrupted.  

Thursday 1 September 2022 at 5.30 pm:

Sarah Gaitanos: “Don’t Mention the War”

Sarah Gaitanos discussed her current project, the intriguing story of Brigadier Reginald Miles (who served in two world wars). Her talk gave specific attention to his 1940s incarceration with WWII British generals in Castello di Vincigliata, Mussolini’s Colditz for British generals outside Florence, and his daring escape to Switzerland. Reginald Miles was a significant international figure at an important time in our history, yet this distinguished New Zealand commander has been largely overlooked in military history.

Sarah Gaitanos is a writer, researcher and social historian. Her biographies have received critical and popular acclaim. She is the author of The Violinist: Clare Galambos Winter, Holocaust Survivor; and Nola Millar: A Theatrical Life; and her third biography, Shirley Smith: An Examined Life, presented a detailed account of the distinguished lawyer and tireless human rights campaigner. Sarah is a recipient of a 2022 Friends of Turnbull Library research grant.

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Dr Claire Macindoe on Dr H B Turbott, “the Radio Doctor”

Dunedin researcher Dr Claire Macindoe has researched the story of Dr H B Turbott who became our first health communicator and disease-prevention expert in 1943. For 40 years he was a well-known, respected and loved broadcaster on health matters of concern to New Zealanders. Claire talked about the health messages promoted across his forty-year radio career, and explained the fascinating role of radio within New Zealand households in that era. Claire is the recipient of one of our Research Grants, to work on her proposed book.

Thursday 28 July 2022
Carol Markwell: Enough Horizon: the life and work of Blanche Baughan

Foxton writer Carol Markwell (pictured left) discussed the background to her new book, the first ever biography of Blanche Baughan (1870-1958), one of New Zealand’s first poets and travel writers. Carol first read about Blanche Baughan as a prison visitor who helped the young waitress, Alice May Parkinson, imprisoned for shooting her lover in 1915. She was intrigued to follow up, finding that Blanche settled in Sumner and Banks Peninsula, becoming a botanist and conservationist, as well as a prison reformer. Carol’s thorough biography illuminates the life of this extraordinary New Zealand poet and humanitarian.

Carol Markwell reads and writes poetry, plays and short stories but now finds biography the most compelling of all. Carol was born in Wellington but grew up in the Manawatū. She now lives beside the estuary of the Manawatū River at Foxton Beach and enjoys reading, writing, walking on the beach and watching the sea birds, especially the godwits as they come and go on their long trips to Alaska.

Tuesday 28 June 


HE The Rt Hon Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand

Kia Whakatōmuri te haere whakamua:
Approaching our past with curiosity and courage


Dame Cindy Kiro spoke about the importance of research and her confidence in the Alexander Turnbull Library, not just as a secure repository, but a place where researchers can rely on the knowledge and support of professional staff. She discussed the role of memory, saying that it involves “how the past makes us feel”, and that “memories are the stories we tell ourselves about our past”. She also spoke with enthusiasm about the new directions in history being taught in schools, seeing it as a powerful tool in applying wisdom to our past. “Life can only be understood backwards”, and the pursuit of knowledge must also involve applying this knowledge in a way that does the greatest good. She herself felt immense optimism about the future of research, pointing out that approaching our past with curiosity, courage and passion will ensure that we are better equipped on our journey.

Dame Cindy Kiro is the 22nd Governor-General of New Zealand, and the first Māori woman to be appointed to this role. She is of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Kahu and British descent. Much of Dame Cindy’s career has been in the tertiary education sector, where she became a distinguished researcher and held leadership roles at Massey University, Victoria University Wellington/Te Herenga Waka and the University of Auckland. While at the University of Auckland she was Director of the Starpath Project, which investigated the impacts of socio-economic status on educational achievement in New Zealand. Prior to taking up her current role, Dame Cindy was Chief Executive of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. She was appointed as a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DNZM) for services to child wellbeing and education on the New Year 2021 Honours List.


Wednesday 8 June

Adrian Humphris, “The architecture of Thomas Turnbull & Son”

Wellington city archivist Adrian Humphris spoke about both Thomas and William Turnbull as well as Turnbull & Son the firm; the history and background, and significant buildings designed and built.  Thomas Turnbull and Son was a prominent, recognised architectural practice of the early 20th century. The firm, led by Thomas Turnbull and later his son William, had a prolific outfit, designing at least 120 buildings from the early 1890s until the 1940s.

While Thomas was one of the leading local architects of the Victorian era, and is recognised as one of the architects to transform Wellington from a town of two-storey timber buildings to a fine Victorian city, William was also a talented architect who kept up to date with the changing architectural styles of the early 20th century.

The firm can also be linked to many Wellington (and NZ) architects, who were either articled or had their initial training or experience there; for example William Meek Page, Richard Atkinson Abbott, John Thomas Mair and some others all spent time working there.

Thursday 19 May 2022: Hirini Kaa, “Te Hāhi Mihinare: Mātauranga meets The Word”

Conversion, literacy and the dissemination of knowledge was always going to be a contested space. Mātauranga was the worldview shaped and formed here in Aotearoa, and when it met centuries of European thinking and knowledge about another people’s ancestral stories, the outcome was nothing short of spectacular.

Dr Hirini Kaa, of Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and Rongowhakaata, is an historian and Anglican minister (like family members before him). Dr Kaa has worked in the social services sector, as an academic at the University of Auckland, and for his iwi, and now with Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa (the Māori Anglican Church) focusing on mātauranga (knowledge and ways of knowing). Since researching and presenting the historical documentary series The Prophets for Māori TV, he has gone on to become a significant media commentator on a range of critical topics.

Thursday 24 March 2022: Te Kupenga, casting a wide net

Chris Szekely & Michael Keith discussed the book that celebrates the Alexander Turnbull Library’s centenary – Te Kupenga 101 stories of Aotearoa from the Turnbull, sharing behind-the-scenes commentary on how the stories were selected from Turnbull’s net, including what happened to “the stories that got away” and what to expect as the net is adapted for use in New Zealand schools.

Michael Keith is an experienced writer and editor, and now edits Turnbull Library Record.

Chris Szekely has been Chief Librarian at the Turnbull since 2007, as well as being a children’s writer.


Thursday 21 April 2022: Ross Calman with Paul Diamond: Te Rauparaha: Restoring the mana of a manuscript

Ross Calman is the translator and editor of the 50,000-word account of Te Rauparaha’s life, originally written by the chief’s son, Tamihana Te Rauparaha, in the 1860s.

In addition to being the key source for Te Rauparaha’s life, Tamihana’s account offers fascinating insights into traditional Māori society during the ‘musket war’ era and the nature of contact between Europeans and Māori in the pre-Treaty era.

Ross Calman (Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa-ki-te-tonga, Ngāi Tahu) is a Wellington-based writer, editor and translator, and a descendant of Te Rauparaha. In this event, the Turnbull Library’s Curator Māori Paul Diamond was in conversation with Ross. They discussed the personal nature of the project, what is known about the circumstances of the manuscript’s creation and some of the challenges Ross faced in interpreting the manuscript, as well as the ongoing significance of Tamihana’s account for us today.

Tuesday 17 May 2022: Kaumātua Kōrero, the Diaries of Iraia te Ama o te Rangi Te Whāiti (1890-1918)

Recipient of the 2021 FoTL Research Grant, Pania Te Whāiti (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitaane, Ngāti Toa, Kāi Tahu), discussed her research project involving these diaries – the working notebooks of the South Wairarapa farmer and kaumātua who recorded (in te reo) 27 years of his life, his thoughts and his activities.

Unfolding against the backdrop of the activities of influential prophet Pāora Te Potangaroa, Iraia’s story tells of the alienation of Wairarapa land by the Crown, the alienation of the Wairarapa Lakes, the printing of the Te Puke Ki Hikurangi newspaper, the Kotahitanga political movement, the Great War, and the illnesses that devastated the Māori population, ending with the 1918 influenza pandemic that claimed Iraia’s life.

Events 2021:

Tuesday, 9 Feb 2021, 5.30pm

Singing the Trail: The Story of Mapping Aotearoa New Zealand        

John McCrystal of Wellington has worked as a freelance writer since 1996, contributing to most of New Zealand’s leading newspapers and magazines. Singing the Trail is the story of New Zealand through its maps – and the story of the explorers who made those maps.

John discussed oral maps made by early Polynesian and Maori settlers: waypoints, lists of places in songs, chants, karakia and stories that showed direction. Centuries later came the great navigators, Abel Tasman and then James Cook. And finally it was the turn of the surveyors, explorers, rockhounds, gold diggers and politicians to negotiate the internal detail. His lively talk showed why maps and charts have always fascinated him.

Tuesday, 23 Feb 2021, 6.00pm

Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond ONZ DBE:

Knowledge is a Blessing on your Mind: Whakapapa, Science and History

Anthropologist and historian Dame Anne is a staunch supporter of the Alexander Turnbull Library, and has drawn on material in the collections for many years. She is also an environmentalist, committed to the river restoration project, ‘Let the River Speak’, which looks at the ways people, water, land and animals can thrive together.

The FoTL 2020 FOUNDER LECTURE was rescheduled from 14 September 2020. It was recorded and we hope to have a link to it available soon.

Thursday, 18 March 2021, 5.30pm

Tooth and Veil: The life and times of the New Zealand dental nurse

Freelance journalist Noel O’Hare spoke about the School Dental Service (established 100 years ago in 1921) and the young women who worked as dental nurses in schools, enduring inferior conditions of low pay, a military style of management, and inadequate and antiquated equipment for more than 50 years.

Born in Northern Ireland, Noel O’Hare has lived and worked in New Zealand since the early 1970s, becoming a staff writer for the NZ Listener in the 1980s. He is the author of Think before you Swallow: The art of staying healthy in a health-obsessed world (2007) and How to Save the World by Recycling Your Sex Toys (2009). Until recently, he worked as a researcher and writer for the Public Service Association. 

Thursday, 22 April 2021, 5.30pm

Crossing the Lines: A new history of New Zealand soldiers in WWII

Brent Coutts discussed the previously untold history of homosexual soldiers in World War II, drawing on the experience of Harold Robinson, Ralph Dyer and Douglas Morison, who were female impersonators in the Tui and Pacific Kiwi Concert Parties. From the men’s formative pre-war lives, through the difficult war years to their experiences in a post-war London, Coutts presented a story of strong friendships, a shared queer identity and love of performance, along with the search for love and belonging as homosexuals within both the civilian and military worlds.

A University of Otago graduate living in Auckland, Brent is the author of Protest in New Zealand (2013), Re-Reading the Rainbow (2017) and Pacific History (2018).

Friday 30 April 2021

Saving Randell Cottage

Members of the Randell Cottage Writers Trust, the Friends of Randell Cottage and the Friends of the Turnbull combined for a special screening of Saving Randell Cottage at the National Library of New Zealand, Ground floor Programme Rooms. Thorndon’s Randell Cottage has been established as a writers’ residence, and this story of generosity, diligent research and multiple visits to multiple garage sales, demolition yards and second-hand stores, has been retold in a new seven-minute video. Trustee Christine Hurley spoke about the making of the video and its place on the new Randell Cottage website, along with other new written and video content, including a video tour of the cottage. Cottage donor Beverley Randell spoke about the family’s history and connection with the Cottage. And current CNZ RCWT Writing Fellow Lynn Davidson outlined her goals for the residency.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

From Suffrage to a Seat in the House

Until now, the protracted struggle for women to achieve the right to a seat in Parliament has been a neglected footnote in Zealand’s proud history of being the first country to grant women the vote. Women’s path to Parliament was actively resisted by male politicians who had only grudgingly accepted the extension of the franchise to women as well as by women who accepted the argument that women’s presence in Parliament would somehow undermine their status. But there were some who, despite constant political machinations and filibustering from inside Parliament and charges of impropriety and splitting the women’s movement on the issue, persisted in what was to be a forty-year journey from suffrage to a seat in the House.

Jenny Coleman is an associate professor in feminist history at Massey University. She has previously published Mad or Bad? The Life and Exploits of Amy Bock 1859-1943 and Polly Plum, A firm and earnest woman’s advocate – Mary Ann Colclough 1836-1885 and has also edited and introduced a reprint of the earliest sensation novel written by a woman published in New Zealand, Mary Ann Colclough’s (1866) Alone in the World, A Tale of New Zealand.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Kua mua, ka muri: Using our digital experiences to look back and move forward at the Alexander Turnbull Library

Mark Crookston (recently appointed Programme Director, Documentary Heritage; formerly Associate Chief Librarian) looked back on the ATL’s digital experiences to date and looked forward to the aspirations of a research library. He spoke about the key challenges and opportunities provided by digital – building representative research collections, addressing challenges of sustainability, and the scale and ephemeral nature of born digital. He discussed efforts to meet researcher expectations, work to build research communities, and the development of the staff skills and culture to meet the present and future digital shifts and requirements of being a digital research library.

28 July 2021


Dame Gaylene Preston


Dame Gaylene Preston told of a lifetime of integrating archival footage into her feature films.

Leading New Zealand filmmaker and storyteller Dame Gaylene Preston is a national treasure, having produced and directed some of the most enduring popular classics of New Zealand cinema.  Her compassion and understanding of real life and of real people, through film for over four decades, has contributed to her peerless reputation as a distinct local voice.

She explains: “In 1986 I began collecting women’s life stories on cassette tape.  Around the same time, I discovered the pristine preserved black and white Weekly Revues shot by the precursor of the National Film Unit. That investigation became a lifelong pleasure.”

In her lecture Dame Gaylene used film clips to demonstrate how she has integrated archival footage into her feature films and TV series including HOME BY CHRISTMAS, War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us, Bread & Roses, HOPE and WIRE and her Museum Suffrage Installation, HOT WORDS and BOLD RETORTS.

27 OCTOBER  2021

Anna CottrellBehind the scenes at the Alexander Turnbull Library

Last year, journalist, oral historian and documentary producer/director Anna Cottrell was asked to make a five minute film on the history of the ATL. Five minutes? Not possible!

Anna discussed her recent film project taking her behind the scenes at the Alexander Turnbull Library, and showed the 15-minute documentary that focuses on the fascinating behind-the-scenes work of this amazing research library and its many treasures. See above (events recorded) for a link to Anna’s terrific short film.

Anna is a story teller who records personal stories often to illustrate a bigger picture. Her latest overseas trips were to Iran twice for The Kiwi, the Knight & the Qashqai, a documentary featuring the nomad weavers, the Qashqai, NZ’s oriental rug repairer, Anna Williams, and Sir David Attenborough.  Also, during the World War I anniversary, Anna made 35 short ‘haiku’ documentaries for TV3 MediaWorks based on personal stories of women and men, Māori, Pākeha and a Chinese tunneller. She spent hours researching in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room.

20 October 2021

What became of the Samuel Joseph family? 

The large and boisterous Samuel Joseph family feature in two of Katherine Mansfield’s best known short stories, “Prelude” and “At the Bay”. KM made little attempt at disguise – they are the children of Amelia and Walter Nathan, who lived next door to the Beauchamps in Tinakori Road when KM was a small girl.  Simon’s talk included short readings by Alison Lloyd Davies from Katherine Mansfield stories.

Simon NathanWell-known Wellington writer & science historian Simon Nathan is a grandson of Walter Nathan, who was the business partner of KM’s father, Sir Harold Beauchamp. Simon has uncovered a fascinating story, tracing the relationship between the two families and revealing the rather different lives of the children.

18 November 2021

Alexander Turnbull and the Book-Collecting Game

Anthony Tedeschi (ATL Curator Rare Books and Fine Printing) spoke on his time in the UK on a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship, delving into archival collections on the hunt for further evidence of Alexander Turnbull’s book-collecting practices. His talk highlighted some of the letters he unearthed between Turnbull and a few of his dealers as well as purchases made and not made.

Highlights from 2020:

In 2020, our first post-Covid-19 event was:

Wed 10 June 2020, 12.00-1.00pm, at Vic Books (Pipitea Campus), Rutherford House

‘Minnie Dean: Villain or Victim?’


Public talk – Friends of Turnbull Library / Ngā Hoa o te Whare Pukapuka Turnbull in association with Randell Cottage Writers Trust and Mākaro Press

Watch this session at home: now a video on YouTube. Link is Minnie Dean: Villain or Victim? – YouTube

Amaury da Cunha, the French writer in residence at Randell Cottage in Thorndon, spent much of his time working on a book about Minnie Dean the infamous ‘baby farmer’ in Southland, his research connecting him with Karen Zelas, the Christchurch author of The Trials of Minnie Dean: A Verse Biography, which is being developed into a one-woman play. Both authors were in conversation with publisher Mary McCallum, talking about their shared fascination and their research, which included use of the Alexander Turnbull Library and National Library archives. Minnie Dean’s story continues to fascinate people. She was the first – and only – woman to be hanged in New Zealand. But was she a baby farmer and child murderer, or hardworking wife and mother, supporting her family by caring for unwanted children in a society that shunned her?

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On Thursday 30 July at 6.00pm: We welcomed Hon Grant Robertson, Associate Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage, who came to help us celebrate the centenary of the opening of the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1920. 

Celebrating 100 years since the 1920 public opening of the Alexander Turnbull Library: Turnbull’s Legacy: Tomorrow’s Heritage

Photo credit: Marcel Duque Cesar, National Library of New Zealand

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On Wednesday 18 March at 5.30pm

Derek Lightbourne presented ‘Islands of despair’

Fragile yet fearsome, New Zealand’s subAntarctic islands are home to otherworldly plants and wildlife. They have also seen two centuries’ worth of human triumphs and tragedies. Three-time subAntarctic voyager Derek Lightbourne took his audience on a fascinating journey to these wild islands via a slideshow recalling the struggles of would-be settlers and shipwrecked castaways.

Wellington author Shona Riddell was unable to attend to give her personal perspective, but Derek talked about Shona’s latest book ‘Trial of Strength, adventures and misadventures of the wild and remote subAntarctic islands‘ (which she researched in the Turnbull Library). She was able to obtain unpublished manuscripts and papers, including her great great grandmother Harriett Cripp’s 1851 birth certificate from Auckland Island, as well as written accounts of life during the same era.

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On Wed 8 July at 5.30pm: Elspeth Sandys presented

A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley

Wellington novelist Elspeth Sandys (pictured right) has published nine novels, two collections of short stories and two memoirs. She has written extensively for the BBC and for RNZ as well as for TV and film.

A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley is a beautifully written multi-layered narrative, part-biography, part-travel journal, part-literary commentary. She talked about Rewi’s family connections and the way that his many diary entries illuminate his experiences in China. By placing the man, Rewi, and his work in the context of his time, Elspeth gave us personal insights into the life of this extraordinary New Zealander.

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On Thursday 27 August at 5.30pm:  Elizabeth Kay presented

Five years and 359 days with the 2nd NZ Division

Elizabeth Kay talked about researching the story of her father, Sir Edward Norman, and 25 Battalion after reading Eddie’s war-time letters to her mother, Margaret. Her book, Eddie Norman and 25 Battalion, covers the journey of 2 NZ Division as it fought its way across North Africa and through Italy. Using Eddie’s letters and extensive further research, it tells a personal story in the wider context of WWII. Elizabeth is a well-known Wellington resident, with a Post Graduate Diploma in Art and Architecture from Victoria University of Wellington, where she taught History of Architecture for over a decade.

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On Wed 2 September at 5.30pm, historian Rhys Richards spoke on

Wellington’s First Pākehā Arrivals: 1803-1839

Explorers and sailors, sealers and whalers, flax traders and land speculators: just who were the early European visitors and residents who made the region around Whanganui-a-Tara their home well before the arrival of the ‘official’ permanent settlers of Wellington in 1840? The nobs and snobs of the New Zealand Company sought to ignore all pākehā residents and visitors who were present before they began to replicate an ideal ‘English society’ in the new colony.  Rhys Richards has devoted many years to researching the commercial explorers engaging in extensive trade with local Māori long before 1840. His new book, The First Pakehas Around Wellington and Cook Strait 1803 to 1839, seeks to bring these figures “out of the shadows of our nation’s history and to accord them the role they deserve in our local history.”

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On Wednesday 28 October at 5.30pm – Sarah Shieff spoke on

Denis Glover & Allen Curnow: A Friendship in Letters

Sarah Shieff is Associate Professor of English in the School of Arts, University of Waikato. She was the recipient of the 2020 FoTL research grant, to assist her latest project to publish a collection of the letters of Allen Curnow ONZ CBE (1911-2001). She believes that publishing Curnow’s letters will go some way to make up for the fact that he never wrote his own autobiography.

Her Letters of Denis Glover (Otago University Press) is to be published in late November, and she has previously published Letters of Frank Sargeson (Random House 2012). As well as preparing a scholarly edition of Curnow’s letters for publication, she plans to develop a fully searchable database that will assist future scholars. Allen Curnow’s oldest and closest friend was Denis Glover, hence the subtitle of her talk: A Friendship in Letters.

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Wednesday 11 Nov at 5.30pm: Paul Bensemann spoke on


Paul Bensemann presented the remarkable story of how a group of young activists became aware of government plans to mill vast areas of West Coast beech forest and began campaigning to halt this.

From small beginnings, a larger movement grew, initially centred on the work of the Native Forests Action Council, and eventually Forest and Bird and Native Forest Action. Paul explained that he had spent time at the Turnbull Library, using the Sir Charles Fleming and Action for Environment collections. He also interviewed many campaigners and collected old photographs to supplement photographer Craig Potton’s beautiful forest scenes. The book was a finalist in the 2019 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

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Tuesday 24 November at 5.30pm:

Cristina Sanders spoke on JERNINGHAM 

Edward Jerningham Wakefield was the wayward, headstrong ‘wild-child’ of the Wakefield family that set up the New Zealand Company to bring the first settlers to this country. His story is told through the eyes of bookkeeper Arthur Lugg, who is tasked by Colonel William Wakefield to keep tabs on his brilliant but unstable nephew. But trouble brews between settlers, government, missionaries and Māori over land and souls and rights, and Jerningham is at the heart of it. Alive with historical detail, Jerningham tells a vivid and important story of Wellington’s colonial beginnings and of a charismatic young man’s rise and inevitable fall.

Cristina Sanders’ book “Jerningham” was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020.

Some of our events have been recorded. To view a recorded event, follow these links:

Into native seas: Europeans encounter an Indigenous ocean

(Speaker: Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa, on the occasion of the annual Founder Lecture, hosted by the Friends of Turnbull Library) Recorded on 28 June 2019 – coming soon! 

Minnie Dean: Villain or Victim?

(Speakers: Mary McCallum, Karen Zelas and Amaury da Cunha; co-hosted by the Friends of Turnbull Library, Randell Cottage Writers Trust, and Mākaro Press) Recorded on 20 June 2020

Dame Anne Salmond: Knowledge is a blessing on your mind: Whakapapa, Science and History

(Speaker: Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond ONZ DBE, on the occasion of the 2020 Founder Lecture, hosted by the Friends of Turnbull Library) Recorded on 23 Feb 2021

Dame Gaylene Preston: Image to Imagination, travelling the faultline

(Speaker: Dame Gaylene Preston, on the occasion of the 2021 Founder Lecture, hosted by the Friends of Turnbull Library) Transcript presented on 28 July 2021 – with some (but not all) short movie clips inserted

Simon Nathan: What became of the Samuel Joseph family?

(Speaker: Simon Nathan; excerpts from Katherine Mansfield stories read by Alison Lloyd Davies; hosted by the Friends of Turnbull Library) Recorded on 20 October 2021

Anna Cottrell: Behind the scenes at the Turnbull Library

(The event hosted by the Friends of Turnbull Library on 27 October 2021 showed this short documentary, A Century of Wonder, produced by the Turnbull Endowment Trust in 2020.)

See here for Previous FoTL public talks

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