Friday, 25 September 2015

The Lounge Ceiling at Brain Watkins House

Pressed metal ceiling in the lounge, Brain Watkins House
Image courtesy of Shirley Arabin
Historically, tin ceilings were introduced to North America as an affordable alternative to the plasterwork in European homes. They gained popularity in the late 1800s as Americans sought sophisticated interior design. Durable, lightweight and fireproof, tin ceilings were appealing to home and business owners alike as a functionally attractive design element that was readily available. As the century progressed and settlers in both New Zealand and Australia began to afford to build houses that were not just utilitarian in design the popularity of the tin ceiling grew.

The lounge at Brain Watkins House is part of the rear extensions that is estimated to have been built c1900 and Joseph Brain installed the tin ceiling and the chandelier hanging from the centreflower as it was called.

It was between 1839 and 1901 that thin rolled tin-plate was being mass-produced. Sheets of tin were stamped one at a time using rope drop hammers and cast iron molds. Using this method of production, metal was sandwiched between two interlocking tools. The top tool, or "ram," was lifted up by a rope or chain, then dropped down onto the bottom die, smashing into the metal that was underneath and permanently embedding intricate patterns into the tin. Tin ceilings were traditionally painted white to give the appearance of hand-carved or molded plaster. They were incorporated into residential living rooms and parlors as well as commercial businesses, where painted tin was often used as wainscoting.

Tin ceilings are not actually tin. They are steel coated with tin, much like a tin can. It can look like plaster without the weight. Besides being vermin proof they were also easy to clean when ash and smoke from open fires settled on the ceiling. In some houses the bathroom walls had tin panels.  The ceilings were often painted in distemper or Kalsomine, a brand name. It could be tinted in pastel shades so it was possible to pick out the pattern with paint.


Evans, I. The Federation House Flannel Flower Press. Mullimbimby NSW 1986.

Wikipedia.   [15 Aug  2015]

Friday, 18 September 2015

The Camping Ground, Mount Maunganui

Mount Maunganui Camping Ground, c. 1960s
Published by Logancard, Image courtesy of Justine Neal
A holiday camp was located on Mauao in the early part of last century.  Waikorire is the original Maori name for the area which extends along the beach front of Pilot Bay and the base of Mauao, where the present camping ground and hot pools are situated.

Mount Maunganui Camping Ground, c. 1960s
Published by Logancard, Image courtesy of Justine Neal
An excerpt from the Western Bay of Plenty Year Book 1950 reads:
"On the Mount and about its approaches lie spacious camping grounds for the tenters and those who bring their own caravanserais. Here hot water may be obtained, together with washing and cooking facilities in communal fashion."
In 2005 30 beachfront sites were lost to the boardwalk and in 2007 a protest meeting was held at the loss of a further 40 sites to the Hot Pool redevelopment.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Survivors of the Marquette

From Tauranga to the Trenches mobile exhibition space.
Image: Tauranga Heritage Collection
Here at the Tauranga Heritage Collection we are continuing to develop World War One exhibitions for our mobile exhibition space. Past displays have featured the story of local soldier Reginald Watkins and also focused on the Gallipoli campaign.  We are currently working on a nursing story that features Nurse Jeanne Sinclair and the sinking of the Marquette.

Survivors of the Marquette
Image: National Army Museum, 1986.1753
The transport ship Marquette was sunk by a German submarine in the Aegean Sea on 23 October 1915. Of the 741 people on board, 167 were lost, including 10 members of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, 19 male Medical Corps staff and three New Zealand soldiers, making it the blackest day in the history of New Zealand’s military nursing.

Nurse Sinclair
Image: National Army Museum, 1991.587
Nurse Jeanne Sinclair survived the sinking and wrote a remarkable account of what took place. The full account will feature as part of the exhibition which will open in October.
“We walked along the top deck and then stood to look along the forward. We saw a green line coming through the water and remarked about it and Grigor said “I wonder if it is a torpedo” and then “Bang!” It was a torpedo – we raced for our life-belts got in line in our night places – half on each side – no noise – not a single scream and I cannot think how it was that we were so cool and collected.”

Friday, 4 September 2015

Collecting Bricks in New Zealand

Parlour display, in the former Katikati Heritage Museum
One of the many esoteric and quirky groups of objects held by the Western Bay Museum (formerly the Katikati Heritage Museum) is a large stack of almost two hundred bricks. Why bricks, you may well ask.  Well it seems that folk will selectively hoard, occasionally even seek out, pretty much anything old, whether it has an intrinsic value or not, and you don't have to go too far out of your way before you have a collection. Some were on display upstairs in the old museum's "Parlour" section, where they were used to provide a base and backdrop to a small cast iron stove and a miscellany of other household items.  The provenance of the bricks is unknown, but the collection is likely to have been amassed from many different locations.

N.Z. Brick, Tile & Pottery Co.
A few of the bricks are plain, revealing few clues as to their origin. Most have some remnants of a maker's mark on them, usually stamped onto the face of the brick during manufacture with the aid of a bespoke plate bolted into the brickmaking machine.  This is usually referred to as a frog design, the "frog" being the indentation on the face used to better key in the mortar binding the bricks together.  The New Zealand Brick, Tile & Pottery Company (manager, Albert Crum) operated from works in New Lynn between 1905 and 1929.

New Zealand Brick, Tile and Pottery Company Ltd. trademark, 1909
There was another company with the same name in Canterbury between 1886 and 1890, but this brick is unlikely to have emanated from a firm which appears to have specialised in terra cotta and fire clay products.

Russell & Bignell, Wanganui
Little is known about the firm of Russell and Bignell of "Wanganui," except that Arthur and Robert Russell built Wanganui Hospital and the Pukemarama Homestead, the latter now cared for by Heritage New Zealand.

Sankey Aluma
Some of the more specialised bricks were imported, presumably because products of the right quality were unavailable locally.  This Sankey Aluma firebrick probably originated from the brickworks of J H Sankey & Son, Essex Wharf, Canning Town, London, a manufacturer of cement, lime and fire bricks from 1857 until the 1920s.

Koru and Tiki brick design, unidentified manufacturer
In keeping with the flag debate currently sweeping New Zealand, this somewhat battered red clay brick has a rather nice koru and tiki design, but sadly no indication of the firm that made it.  Perhaps a brick afficionado will be able to identify its manufacturer and place of origin?

Buller's Ltd. GPO telephone insulators
I thought I'd include an item which isn't a brick at all, but ceramic insulators were often manufactured by the same companies that made bricks, and seem to attract just as many collectors/enthusiasts.  These telephone insulators were manufactured by the English company, Buller's Ltd. and imported into New Zealand in great numbers from the early 1900s onwards, due to their exceptional quality.  Much of the text of a recently published book, Collecting Insulators in New Zealand: A Guide for Beginners, is available online for those readers who might wish to start their own collections.  Sadly, I couldn't find a similar volume for would-be New Zealand brick hoarders.

Text and images by Brett Payne (who quietly confesses to having a small brick collection of his own - only one brick, mind you.)


Brickmakers in South Canterbury, New Zealand, by South Canterbury GenWeb, n.d.

Bricks with names on Huntly, by KiwiAlan, 20 May 2011

Albert Crum’s New Zealand Brick, Tile & Pottery Company in New Lynn (1905-1929), on Timespanner blog, 19 January 2011

Tasker, J., Wilson, R. & Clark, G. (2015) Collecting Insulators in New Zealand: A Guide for Beginners, Kanuka Press.

Scotland's Brick Industry - Sankey Aluma

Pukemarama, by Heritage New Zealand