The Industrious Heart A History of New Plymouth / 12


Once people called it idleness. Now they speak ofleisure. In 1880 James A. Garfield, the last American President to be born in a log cabin, posed a question which the world-and New Plymouth-is still trying to answer: 'We may divide the whole structure of the human race into two chapters: First the fight to get leisure; and then the second fight of civilisation-what shall we do with our leisure when we get it?' For the first few years of settlement the Europeans at Ngamotu hadn't much time for leisure. Their days started before dawn and ended after sunset-in winter long before and long after. Until sufficient land for crops had been cleared, starvation was often not far away and privation was accepted by most settlers as a matter of course. But 'affairs of the mind' had not been left out of plans for the settlement. In 1841 a 'Colonists' Library' was sent out on the Amelia Thompson, which comprised 20 volumes of Encylopaedia Britannica, several books on agriculture and horticulture, 12 volumes of Gibbon's Roman Empire, histories of India and China, books on winemaking and two volumes of Penny Magazine. By 1847 the Taranaki Book Club had been formed, with a 'reading room open to members daily and on Monday evenings music, singing, whist and chess.' It was 'open to all willing to pay £1 ($2) annually,' but a reservation was that' applicants would be balloted for at a general meeting-a fairly effective means of keeping the lower orders from joining the club.
The Book Club was not a public library, but its existence may have quickened the desire of the settlers to have one. In 1848 the Mechanics Institute and Library was formed, with which the Book Club was amalgamated. Its founders were all leaders of the little community and their wives, among whom was Mrs Popham-King, the town's leading music teacher for the next 20 years. John Gully arrived in New Plymouth with his young family in 1852. He moved to Nelson eight years later where he established an international reputation as a water-colour artist. While in New Plymouth he was for a time secretary of the institute and in 1858 he advertised in the Herald that the institute 'had the pleasure to announce that Mr Graylin will deliver a course of three lectures on Combustion at 7lh o'clock, when he will detail the properties and peculiarities of the four elements, Oxygen, Hydrogen, Carbon and Nitrogen when studied in connection with metallurgy. ' The institute conducted its affairs in the house of C. Beardmore, owned by Archdeacon Govett, in Vivian Street; in an auction room in Devon Street near the present site of King's Building; and later in the Provincial Council's rented headquarters (also owned by the arch- deacon) in Courtenay Street until it was burnt down in August, 1859. The Provincial Secretary reported: 'The building comprising the Council Chamber was insured ... but valuable books, the nucleus of a public library, were not insured and were entirely destroyed.'? It was not until July 1865 that the institute and the Book Club obtained new premises-in the new Provincial Council chambers, built across the junction of what is now King and Brougham Streets. 'The ground floor is devoted to use of the library, with reading room and circulation library and an office for the town board,' said the Taranaki Herald. There were, in fact, two libraries: The upper library for which the annual subscription was $4 (ladies $3), and the lower library ($2). The more expensive books were circulated for a year in the upper, when they were transferred, sometimes the worse for wear, to the lower. Not everyone was happy with the way the institute was run. A 'note left by a professional man throws some light on the acrid atmosphere.":' On September 9, 1872, 'a great event was caused by the arrival of Anthony Trollope (the English novelist) and his wife. They were received by Whitcombe (Secretary of the Library) and taken to the Superintendent's house, where they lunched ... the elite of the place trotted around after our distinguished guests and looked as if they would fall down and worship Trollope.' By 1876, the year of the abolition of the provinces and the election of the first borough council, New Plymouth's economic fortunes were picking up and efforts were made to expand the institute's role.
A full-time librarian, Mrs Beale, was appointed, and for a time renewed interest was evident. But relations between the institute authorities and the borough council, which had never been smooth, deteriorated. Matters came to a head in April, 1878, when, as a result of increasing lack of public support, the institute wound up its affairs. According to council minutes, some of its books were sold and the remainder, 'plus Museum philosophical instruments and library of reference were left with the Board of Education to hold in its trust for the public.' The borough council accepted the closure of the institute with equanimity, if not with relief. The absence of co-operation had forced the council to pay rent for its accommodation for nearly three years, and in July, 1879, the council decided to occupy the ground floor of the institute building, which 'would in future be styled the Town' Hall.' So New Plymouth was without a 'public' library. But it still had a museum, which had been established with the institute in 1865. This and the reading room were allowed to remain in the 'Town Hall' and for several years the reading room and museum were regarded as one organisation. The first official reference to a 'public library' came in 1884 when the council asked subscribers 'to donate the current year's subscriptions to the Free Public Library.' The next year a library rate of 'one halfpenny in the pound' was approved. For nearly 20 years, with the council maintaining that the library should be self-supporting, little progress was noted. But new hope came in 1906 when, thanks to the efforts of a former Mayor, A. C. Fookes, an American millionaire, Andrew Carnegie, 'after much correspondence with the Borough Council' made a grant of$5000 for a free public library, with the proviso that the council find a suitable site and should provide not less than $250 a year for its upkeep." A site was found in King Street in 1908 on part of land now occupied by the memorial hall and library building, and the Carnegie Free Library was formally opened by Mayor Tisch. A new librarian, Miss Free, was appointed at a salary of $120 a year. The museum was left meantime in the 'Town Hall.' The next fillip to library affairs came in 1911 when W. H. Skinner, a noted local historian, gave books and relics of early European settlement to the library.

A few years later (he was then Commissioner of Crown Lands in Blenheim) Skinner and his' son, Professor H. D. Skinner, offered the town their priceless collection of Maori artefacts. This offer was conditional on a fireproof building being provided, and that a 'purely Taranaki museum' be founded which would 'make clear to visitors and students the history, progress and resources of the Province of Taranaki.' It was five years before this was accomplished Meanwhile, progress of the public library was slow, due mainly to the council's 'user-pay' principle, as a result of which the 1915 library account showed a deficit of$800. But attitudes were changing. In 1918, with the help of a $12,000 loan and gifts from the Hempton family (in memory of their father Captain Thomas Hempton) an annexe to the Carnegie Library was built, to which the Skinner exhibits were transferred. By 1920 Skinner had returned to live in New Plymouth and became chairman of the council's library committee, to rekindle interest and controversy in both library and museum affairs. One result of this was that in 1927 a meeting was held in the museum between representatives of three Maori tribes and civic representatives with the object of making the museum the repository of certain Maori treasures.
These included the anchor stone of the Tokomaru canoe, one of the fleet which arrived in New Zealand about 1250, and a stone axe used in its construction. It was a difficult meeting, for each of the tribes claimed ownership of these priceless relics. Thanks to the patient negotiations by people such as Sir Maui Pomare and other Maori leaders, and Skinner, agreement was reached and the relics were deposited with the museum on condition that they would not pass from Maori ownership and would be kept in a . safe building open to the community. Surprisingly, it was the depression of the 1930s which finally reconciled the differences between the council and its library and museum committee which had existed for so many years. It was obvious a new and larger library building was required-but so was an airport. The airport won; World War Two intervened, and it was not until 1952 that the council was able to call for plans and specifications for a new building on Marsland Hill. Tests proved this site unsuitable, and in 1954 the war memorial committee and the library committee obtained approval of the city council and the citizens to erect 'The Memorial Hall, New Plymouth Public Library and Taranaki Museum' on the corner of Brougham and Ariki Streets. The decision was not reached without acrimony; there were many public and private meetings, letters to the editors of both papers, and lobbying and deputations to the council on the location, cost and design of the complex. One of the main areas of interest was the 'war' between two factions-the 'slopers' and the 'flats'. The former advocated a sloping floor in the memorial hall, with the aim of its use solely as a theatre; the 'flats' wanted a level floor, which could be used for dances, receptions and public meetings, as well as a theatre. After weeks of discussion the 'flats' won. The cost of the complex, which was opened in 1960, was $580,000. Librarians have included Mrs Beale (1875-1885), Mr Morton (1886- 1907), Miss Free (1908, later assistant librarian for many years), Mrs Marvell (1918-1919), J. H. Beattie (1920-22), E. B. Ellerm (1922-1928), A. L. Low (1928-1958) and T. B. O'Neill (1959-1960). Present librarian is Miss A. L. Shipherd.
In 1980 the library had a staff of 18, a book stock of 120,000 volumes, a membership of 19,000 to whom more than 550,000 books were issued during the year. For some years it has been a repository for archives and Government publications. For more than 30 years G. S. Childerstone was in charge of the museum. Since he retired the post of curator had been held by Rigby Allan (1957-1973), Nigel Prickett) 1973- I 975) and Ron Lambert. The two last-named and the staff have spent several years documenting and classifying the vast amount of material collected by their predecessors, as well as obtaining new exhibits. Today, 70 years after its foundation, the Taranaki Museum has grown into a nationally important respository of priceless artefacts and relics.
Many of the wealthier settlers had brought pianos, organs and other musical instruments from England, and in the early years-and later- these treasured items provided music for evening singing circles, glee clubs and harmony vocal groups. Most were private occasions. One of the earliest 'public concerts' was on Christmas Eve, 1844, when 'this evening the Church Singers amused the Settlers by singing several very pretty Airs and Anthems'. 4 Taverns and inns were venues for meetings and concerts and by May, 1856, the Masonic Hall in upper Brougham Street was being used for more genteel occasions-soirees and balls. Harold Homeyer advertised he would be available for music and dancing lessons 'at one guinea a quarter payable in advancev.' On April 26, 1854, 'a concert was given in M. A. King's Room. Tickets 5 shillings and two shillings'. It was well attended. The following evening, the 27th, a theatrical performance took place and this was repeated the following evening. 'These amusements were patronised by the Mount Egmont Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. '6 But the presence of soldiery in the town for defence against rising Maori hostility was cause for alarm among the civilian population. The public houses did a roaring trade-and so did the police, breaking up brawls among the troops. Assaults by soldiers on settlers, and vice- versa, became increasingly violent. The military authorities moved to allay the town's fears by holding sports meetings and' social occasions'. On May 3 I, 1856, the Taranaki Herald reported: 'A ball was given on Tuesday last at Mr Foote's new Hotel, by the sergeant-major and sergeants of the garrison which was attended by a large number of civilians. The rooms were tastefully decorated, and the dancing, which commenced at eight o'clock, was kept up, with slight interruption, until five o'clock in the morning. An excellent supper was provided by Messrs Black and Lawrence, and many loyal toasts-amongst others The Queen, Prince Albert and the Royal Family, Governor Brown, The Army and Navy, our Settlement of Taranaki, and the Ladies-were drunk in excellent wine with enthusiastic applause'

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