Tauranga’s heritage store

I was very fortunate a few weeks ago to be invited to join a group touring the Tauranga Heritage Collection at one of its storage sites – for anyone not familiar with Tauranga, we don’t have a museum, but we do have a long-standing museum collection! And, it looks like we will have a museum as earlier this year our commissioners approved plans for a new civic ;precinct, Te Manawataki O Te Papa, that will feature some form of museum.

But for now, and since 1998 when the previous museum at the Historic Village closed, everything’s been in storage, although not in stasis as items are still being donated and actively collected.

What we visited was a storage facility so everything – more than 30,000 things – is wrapped, labelled and safely packed away. However, curators Fiona Keen and Dean Flavell, do have out a few things of interest available to show visitors, plus the museum has a very cool sub-collection that is sent to schools who book it, and about 11,000 items have been digitised and are available to view on Tauranga Heritage Collection website.

This solid piece of rock is a very interesting specimen and known as ‘the peace stone’. It was split by a farmworker wanting a step for his house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The final peace-making between Te Arawa iwi of Rotorua and Maketu and Ngai Te Rangi of Tauranga took place on September 23, 1845 at Otumoetai pa, after 10 years of bitter warfare. We were told the stone had been brought from Mauao and it is believed that the two chiefs each placed a foot on the stone, performed a hongi and smoked a pipe that they passed between them, thus sealing the deal.

The stone was donated by the late Alister Matheson, a local historian of some note, who had grown up with it on his family farm (originally purchased just 25 years after the peace-making), where it rested underneath an ancient titoki tree. To ensure the protection of the pa site on the land Mr Matheson sold it to the council in 2004 and in 2012 it opened as a public reserve. Read Alister Matheson’s own recollections of the site here.

Some of the items are old, some are newer; some have bigger stories and some have smaller, but they all have stories and all a piece of our story.

An embroidered butterfly on a cushion cover. It has been padded underneath the stitching to give it a 3D effect. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection
Gold silk embroidery of grapevines adorns these 18th century silk shoes. It’s thought the embroidery would have been done by the owner and then given to the shoemaker to use. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection

The curators put together a lovely illustrated booklet for this year’s Association of NZ Embroiderers’ Guild Conference in Tauranga. It was their second ‘Glimpses’ booklet, the first done for the Tauranga Arts Festival in 2019 that highlighted Maori artefacts.

A kete made of flax and ribbon wood bark. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection
Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection

A mounted albatross head is one of the stranger things in the collection. The head – just the head, mind you – was gifted to William Soultau Pillans (1849-1915) by well-known ornithologist Walter Buller (1838-1906) as thanks for bird illustrations drawn by Pillans, a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. This being the 19th century naturalist, ornithologists shot what they wanted to learn about and had the birds stuffed!

The family had it hanging in the house until after Mr Pillans’ death when his widow had it removed because she thought it bad luck. Later, in the 1970s a granddaughter, who was living in the same house and didn’t like the head, donated it to the museum.