In September 1952 the
late Mr HD London, known as "Jack" to members & friends, called a
public meeting to gauge the interest in forming a historical
Society. The interest taken by a large number of Whakatane
townspeople guaranteed the birth of a Historical Society which they
decided to call the "Whakatane & District Historical Society".
At the first meeting of
the society, held on 1 October 1952, the following officers were
Patron: The Hon. W Sullivan MP
President:The Very Rev. JG Laughton
Vice President: Mr IS McHarg
Sec/Treasurer: Mr HD London
Hon Solicitor: Mr JD Buddle
Council: Rev W Rangi, Mr A Breward, Mr C Kingsley-Smith
William Sullivan was
also at one time Mayor of Whakatane , and was later knighted for his
(the Whakatane Museum has in its collection the KCMG awarded to Sir
After 1953 each current
Governor-General accepted the position of Patron of the Society. In
2008 Professor Judith Binney honoured the Society by accepting this
position. During the first meeting a Constitution was drawn up with
the aims and objects of the Society taking precedence. Over the
past 57 years the majority of these objectives have not changed,
especially those dealing with the formation of a museum and the
recording of local history in published form.
1958, following several historical displays, members of the Society
felt that the time had arrived when consideration should be given to
the establishment of a repository for the artefacts and archives
that had been collected. The donation by Gordon Ellis of a valuable
collection of early New Zealand historical books, and a collection
of artefacts from the Urewera was placed in the care of the
Historical Society and provided impetus for moves to establish a
permanent home for the Society's collection.
With the establishment
of a fund raising Committee a campaign was launched to raise money
for a Museum. In the mean time the collection was housed in the
home of the Society's curator whose home took on the appearance of a
museum. The firm of Alleman, Land, Heaney and Associates were
approached and plans for a museum were drawn up. The final plan
provided for 5,200 sq ft. The original intention was that the Museum
should be erected by 1967 when Whakatane was to celebrate its 100th
year of European settlement. But fundraising had not
progressed as expected. The project took second place behind other
Two key members of the
Society, President HGD (Dave) White and Anton van der Wouden, spent
many hours setting up the exhibition and readying the museum for
opening in February 1972. The vision of Dr Wadmore & Sir Peter Buck
was at last realised forty years after they had suggested a museum
From 1972 to 1976 no permanent staff were employed by the Borough
Council for the Museum, and the Historical Society managed the
Museum with a volunteer roster. Dave White, Anton van der Wouden
and Errol Westgate made extensive contributions with their time,
Anton being basically a full time unpaid curator. In 1976 Anton van
der Wouden was appointed full time Curator of the Museum, on a
salary as a member of the staff of the local District Council.
In 1978 when the first
extension was being added the Society once again made a major
financial contribution to the Museum. Funding assistance was
provided for new display cases. During this time the floor space of
the Museum was doubled.
During the 1990s the
Historical Society assisted the growth of the HD London Library with
donations to purchase books and the microfilm of the Tauranga
Newspaper Bay of Plenty Times from 1872-1911. In 1996, with
assistance from the Beacon, Whakatane Genealogical Society,
Whakatane District Council and the Lottery Grants Board, the Society
purchased a microform reader/printer for the Museum at a cost of
$19,000. This has proved to be an invaluable resource and is
constantly used and appreciated by the researchers who spend time in
The Society again, in
1990, when fundraising began to double the Museum Space, contributed
significant funds towards the project, at the same time conducting a
district-wide fund-raising campaign. Members of the Society made
personal contributions of $12,000 and the Society donated $25,000 of
its surplus funds to the extension project.
Also at the time of the
second extension fundraising project $7,000 was raised through the
efforts of the Secretary Errol Westgate for shelving and display
furniture in the new Gallery. The Whakatane Beacon and Trust Bank
bought the extra wide shelving to house the back copies of the
Beacon newspaper from 1939. The Society purchased three large
tables for the research library reading room. Later on the St John
Ambulance Association and Bay of Plenty Power Board purchased mobile
shelving to house their archive collections in the research
In 1996 the Museum
displays were updated and reorganised. In addition to the huge
volunteer contribution of the Society's members a donation of $5,000
was made towards the project.
A SELECTION OF SOCIETY PROJECTS
- as described above.
Whakatane High School
Prize - The
Society sponsors the JC Wadmore Memorial prize at Whakatane High
School for the best Student in 5th & 6th form
History. The prize consisting of book vouchers has been supported by
the Society for more than 25 years. It is hoped through sponsoring
such prizes that Students are encouraged to take an interest in
Historical and heritage issues.
- The Society brought pressure on the Lands & Survey Department to
protect the Fort Galatea site. The efforts paid off and the site is
now protected and the Department of Conservation has erected 5 signs
to explain the history of the site.
- In 1967 the Governor-General announced two gifts to the people of
Whakatane. The first being 358 acres of land at Kohi Point and the
second 10 acres of land centred on Kapu-te-Rangi (Toi-kai-rakau's
pa), a site which has the longest known history of any spot in New
Zealand. The Society had for a long time sought to gain recognition
of these sites and to protect them for future generations.
Guerrin's Mill Site
The Society played a Major role in the creation of a memorial to
Jean Guerren. Unveiled on June 1965 the memorial celebrated the
memory of the gallant Frenchman Jean Guerren who defended Te Poronu
Flour Mill to the death. The unveiling brought to a successful
conclusion a dream the Society has cherished for 10 years.
The Memorial is
situated on the roadside of the Whakatane-Taneatua main highway and
lies some 100 metres from the actual site of the mill. The monument
contains one of the grindstones supplied by the Government to
replace those destroyed by Te Kooti in 1869. The second Millstone
can be found at Wairaka Marae at the base of the flagpole. Mr D.C.
Butler, Chairman of the Whakatane County Council accepted the
Monument on behalf of the people of the District and formally handed
it over to Mr Ken Moore, President of the Society, for safe keeping.
- described below.
MEMOIRS, MONOGRAPHS & JOURNALS
During the Society's
first six years, 1952-1957, members were supplied with Newsletters.
In 1958 the Society's Council decided to publish a Journal -
Historical Review - starting with 4 copies a year. Now
in its 57th year, members receive two copies a year. Historical
Review has been a success and the Society has 400 members listed
throughout New Zealand and overseas. In 1984 the Tauranga
Historical Society amalgamated their Journal with the Historical
Review, which now has the sub-title "Bay of Plenty Journal of
History", and now take 100 copies of the journal for their members.
Probably the most
important change was in 1979 when the Society decided to purchase
its own printing press. This allowed the Society to publish the
Historical Review and a number of Memoirs and
Monographs and books on various aspects of local history. The
output of the Historical Review would not have been possible
without the help of many volunteers whose input continues and is
essential in keeping the work of the Society continuing.
Monographs and Memoirs for
the Society continue to be published with the most recent being a
Memoir on the Kohika archaeological excavations near Matata.
In 1959 Dr Gordon Ellis
bequeathed to the Whakatane Historical Society an important
collection of rare and early New Zealand Books. In accordance with
his wishes the collection is known as the "Gordon Ellis Collection".
Dr Ellis was a serious and discriminating collector of books dealing
with the history of New Zealand particularly the 18th and
19th centuries. Among the books donated are Angus's
New Zealanders, and valuable books by Nicholas 1817, Cruise
1823, Polack 1840, Dieffenbach 1843 and a set of 8 volumes and a
folio of plates being Captain Cook's accounts of his voyages to New
Zealand and the South Seas.
Whakatane was particularly fortunate that Dr Ellis chose to leave
his collection to the town where he settled in 1951. The funds Dr
Ellis left to the Historical Society continue to accrue interest and
are used to purchase further books for the Museum Library adding
annually to the impressive collection.
Two further bequests, from Rev. Starnes and Gordon Coates, of rare
early New Zealand history books, helped build up a very valuable
collection of books; many no longer available to buy anywhere.
HD LONDON LIBRARY
A Research Library located
in the Museum & Gallery in Boon Street. The Library contains
archives, maps, charts, plans, photographs, scrapbooks, personal
files, newspapers and books. A number of Periodicals is also held
and include various historical journals: New Zealand Geographic,
New Zealand Genealogist, Journal of the Polynesian Society, New
Zealand Journal of History, Archaeological Association Newsletter
and many others. Included among the archives are records of
Whakatane County Council, Whakatane Harbour Board, Records of clubs
and organisations, school records, family papers and immigrant
The Library also has a large
selection of War publications such as the Times History of war,
Official History of New Zealand in WWII (47 Volumes) and
The History of the Great European War 1914 (10 Volumes). A near
full set of New Zealand Year books is held, New Zealand Statutes and
A varied selection of
Newspapers is held including the very first copy of the first
Whakatane newspaper, the Whakatane Times and Opouriao Advocate
dated 11 February 1899. Others include Opotiki News
and Kawerau Gazette/Eastern Bay News and Bay Weekend.
The Whakatane District Council's newsletter Byways and BOP
Regional Council's newsletter are also collected. For those
with an interest in Family Research the library has a copy of the HJ
Fletcher index of Maori names, An index to the Maori Land Court
Minutes Books for the Waiariki rohe, Post Office Phone lists
1925-1935, Cemetery Records, Electoral Rolls, Town Directories, and
biographical files compiled from newspapers, publications and
exchanges with families.
WHAKATANE HISTORICAL SOCIETY SCHOLARSHIP TRUST
The concept to place
surplus funds into a scholarship trust was suggested to the
Whakatane & District Historical Society by the first Curator of the
Museum Anton van der Wouden. He envisaged a fund which would enable
students whose home base is in the EBOP to apply for grants to
assist with tertiary study. At that time there were very few
scholarships for EBOP students available. The Society accepted the
proposal for an Educational Trust and it was duly established.
In 1996 the Society
granted $80,000 of its surplus capital towards the founding of the
Whakatane Historical Society Scholarship Trust. The Trust
provides scholarships for Students from the EBOP who are studying at
tertiary Institutions. Scholarships must be on an aspect related to
New Zealand issues, and copies of completed works are deposited in
the Museum Library.
The Trust has a page on this
website where more information is available.
Kohika pa was discovered in November 1974 by the then owner of the
land Mr Phil Jessup, who was employing a dragline to drain part of
the area. A line of palisade posts standing upright were
providentially exposed by the digger lining one side of the new
Mr Jessup promptly informed Anton van der Wouden,
the Curator of the Whakatane District Museum, who called in two
experienced amateur archaeologists, Dave White and Ken Moore, from
the Whakatane & District Historical Society.
The Society undertook an exploratory excavation
and from the line of palisade posts and large quantity of artefacts
that turned up in the drain and the excavated spoil it was soon
apparent that this site was extremely important nationally, and too
big for the Society to handle on its own. So staff and students of
Auckland University's Department of Anthropology were quickly
involved and Dr Geoff Irwin started systematic excavations in May
Further excavations were conducted by Auckland University in the
following two summer vacation periods.
The wetland site posed major technical problems as the excavations
tended to fill up with water and had to be pumped out. Also most of
the many hundreds of finds were waterlogged and had to be kept wet
before undergoing long-term treatment to preserve them. This was
carried out in Auckland by the University under the direction of Mr
Karel Peters and later of Dr Rod Wallace and Ms DilysJohns.
treatment involves replacing the water in waterlogged wooden objects
with a plastic called polyethylene glycol. This stops the wood from
shrinking and cracking when it is freeze dried afterwards. The
process is very slow because the polyethylene glycol solution has to
make its way into the wood to replace the water. A small object can
take 6 months to treat and a large one several years.
This technique was so
new to this country at the time of the Te Kohika excavations in the
late 1970s that it had to be studied overseas by Mr Peters. The Te
Kohika collection therefore resulted in the creation of a whole new
conservation laboratory at Auckland University, which has since
become the country's leading one for the treatment of waterlogged
Though much of what we
know about Te Kohika has been gained from the evidence found during
the excavation process and the later study of the artefacts, a great
deal has been obtained from related studies.
For example soil
studies have given us the date of the dune on which Te Kohika was
built, as well as an idea of what the surroundings were like at the
time and how they changed.
Pollen studies show
what plants were growing nearby and that human activities started in
the area around 1000AD. Also that the absence of pollen from
European species shows that Te Kohika pa was abandoned before
Studies have also been
made on such things as shellfish remains, fish bones and coprolites
(archaeologist-speak for turds), which give a good idea of what the
people and their kuri (dogs) ate.
All the wealth of information about Te Kohika pa and its people was
brought together in Society Memoir Number 9 in 2004. This was
produced jointly with the participation of the University of
Auckland Department of Anthropology, Ngati Awa and the Whakatane &
District Historical Society, and jointly published by the Society
and Auckland University Press.
The Te Kohika Collection
The major part of the
Te Kohika Collection was brought back from Auckland to the district
on 8 May 1998 by Geoff lrwin of the University of Auckland
Department of Anthropology, accompanied by Pouroto Ngaropo
representing Ngati Awa.
The return of the Te
Kohika Collection was first acknowledged at Umutahi Marae, Matata,
before the taonga were welcomed at the Whakatane District Museum &
The Te Kohika Collection
presented some complex ownership issues which required considerable
negotiation between Ngati Awa and the Whakatane & District
Historical Society who had been responsible for the recovery and
preservation of the earliest parts of the collection. Resolution
was achieved with the signing of an agreement whereby the Society
handed ownership of the collection to Te Runanga o Ngati Awa and
with the appointment of Trustees to manage the Te Kohika Collection,
comprising a majority of Te Runanga o Ngati Awa representatives, as
well as a representative each from other iwi and the Whakatane &
District Historical Society in recognition of their associations
with the collection. The Trustees have placed the Te Kohika
Collection on loan to the Whakatane District Museum & Gallery for
the time being.