“Yesterday, Kawiti went with a strong party in boats and canoes to Kororareka and Celias husband came to give notice, [there are] men coming at day light to strip Paihia. When these notices come, we sleep in our clothes, have a few things of paper and money in our pockets, some things hid away and carpet bag at hand. If we could only be allowed to remain in peace.”
—Marianne Williams to Marianne Davis, April 8, 1845 [1]

This is one of the many first-hand accounts of the New Zealand Wars that has been transcribed this year by Collection Technician Alicia Taylor. In 2019 Alicia and Collection Manager Rebecca Loud from the Museum's Documentary Heritage team have been working on improving the quality of collection records relating to the New Zealand Wars. By making these records available online and searchable they are hoping to inspire budding historians and researchers alike to learn more about this part of New Zealand's history.

He Rā Maumahara, the national day of commemoration of the New Zealand Wars, first observed in 2017, was the initial catalyst for Alicia and Rebecca to begin looking at what New Zealand Wars related material were held in the Documentary Heritage collection. They started by cataloguing objects that were not yet accessible online or had minimal information recorded about them. Enrichment of records also meant making sure that the letters, diaries and photographic prints were imaged. They did this so that people could view the collections remotely but also to protect the original documents by limiting the need to handle them in the future.

Access to the Museum's Documentary Heritage collections of books, documents and photographs has traditionally required a physical visit to the Museum. However, with the development of Auckland Museum's Collections Online, many of these collections are increasingly becoming available on the web. For documents and photographs that are out of copyright, people are also able to copy and reuse them without restriction. Opening these collections up to be used in classrooms and by researchers, supporting the government’s initiative to teach New Zealand history as part of a compulsory school curriculum.

Through the process of cataloguing, researching and digitising these collections, Alicia and Rebecca have uncovered new discoveries about these collections and built on the knowledge of what we know about them. Below Rebecca and Alicia talk about how they researched these collections, what they learnt about them and how they are making them available to a wider audience online.

Uncovering Stories

Within the photography collection there are more than 500 photographic albums spanning from the 1860’s until today. Some of these albums hold photographs depicting sites and people connected to the New Zealand Wars. What makes these albums interesting is that they tell a more in depth story than just a single photograph can. The albums often contain annotations which help us decipher where, when and of who a photograph was taken. You can pick up clues and build a picture about who compiled the photos by being able to see where they went, who they may have met and what they were interested in. However, there is still a bit of detective work involved. When cataloguing we will fact check information against other images in our collection or held in other museums. We also use online resources like Papers Past [link] or Te Ara [link] to research further and check information like dates and names. It’s not uncommon for places or a person’s name to be spelt incorrectly or differently from how we know them today.

In one of the albums catalogued was a page containing 29 tiny portraits of colonial soldiers and officers with only a surname and a regiment written underneath. Some of the men were immediately recognisable like Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron, commander of the Imperial Forces in New Zealand from 1861-1865. Others however required a bit of digging to find out more to find out who they were. To help with this Alicia consulted an online copy of the Hart’s Army List.

The Hart’s Army List was an unofficial record published yearly from 1840 to 1915 containing names and regiments of men who served with the British Army. By searching the year and regiment, it was possible to obtain a full name for most of the soldiers. The next step was then to search on family history sites to see if anything further could be discovered such as birth or death dates. This research enabled the discovery that Appleton V.S. was Veterinary Surgeon for the Military Train, William Appleton and Hassard 57 was Colonel Jason Hassard of the 57th Regiment, who was fatally wounded at the assault on Otapawa pā in 1866. By adding their full names to the record, and adding it to the record online, we help researchers and descendants to discover these portraits.

One of the benefits of capturing digital images of photographic prints is they can sometimes reveal more than when you look with a naked eye. In one of the albums there is a photograph of Martyn’s Farm on the Great South Road. The Farm, often incorrectly spelt as Martin’s Farm, was situated about four miles from Drury in the outskirts of Auckland. During the Waikato Campaign a stockade was built around the farmhouse and from 1862 British Army troops stationed there worked on the construction of the Great South Road. The stockade can be seen in the print but once digitised we were able to zoom in and could see that there were colonial soldiers lined up along the stockade in the photograph. This would not have been possible without the digitisation of this image.

The letters, diaries, ships logs, and other reminiscences of the New Zealand Wars kept within our manuscript collection tell a variety of personal and professional stories. Many are first-hand accounts, and as a collection they cover the complete series of conflicts from the Wairau Incident of 1843, through the Flagstaff or Northern Wars that ignited only five years after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi, and continue through the Religious and Land Wars fought in Waikato, Rotorua, Gisborne, Taranaki, and Wellington throughout the 19th century (1846 – 1872).

Though there are many fascinating stories to choose from, Captain Thomas Broun’s red leather-bound letter book is a stand out. Broun was a member of an old titled Scottish family, born in Edinburgh on the 15th July 1838. Intended for the Army, Major Broun received his first commission at the age of sixteen, during the Crimean War. After the close of that war he accompanied his regiment (the 35th Royal Sussex Infantry) to Burma and then, in 1857, went on to fight in the first war of Independence in India. He was present at the assault and capture of Delhi, at the relief of Lucknow, and was attached to Lord Clyde's main force through most of his campaigns. 

Following a severe case of cholera, Broun retired from the military. In 1863 he married and, after a brief stay in Scotland, emigrated to New Zealand. He brought with him letters of introduction from the Duke of Hamilton to Sir George Grey, who at once offered him a commission as Captain in the 1st Waikato Regiment, then being formed for service during the New Zealand War. He served through the whole of the war, partly in the Waikato and partly on the East Coast and was awarded the New Zealand medal.[2]

Previously uncatalogued in the Museum’s collection, we expected his letter book to contain standard communications regarding operational aspects of his post and perhaps some descriptions of insects, indicative of his career as an entomologist post-war. Indeed, Broun wrote often about the various goings on in camps around the Mangatawhiri River. He also reported movements of Māori in that area, procured payment for his troops, and wrote to his superiors for the completion of operational tasks such as requesting fresh food rations, carpenters’ tools, and clothing.

Amidst the minutiae of day-to-day living in the camps, an affecting piece of correspondence from November 14, 1863 stood out:

“My Dear Colonel” Broun writes, “The arrival of a canoe with 2 friendly natives gives me an opportunity of reporting a circumstance which I think justifies the removal of Lieut. Nunnington either from the 1st Waikato Regt altogether but certainly from my company.” Lieutenant W. Nunnington was a Volunteer from Malborne who had arrived in New Zealand September 23, 1863.[3] Broun continues, “The Color Sgt. complains of having been grievously insulted by him on the night of the 9th November… Lieut. Nunnington proposed although a married man to have connection with the Senior Sgt. and I am informed that this is not the first attempt on his part other NCOS [Non commanding officers] hinting at having rejected similar proposals… I would deeply regret having to place an officer under arrest to be tried by Ct Marshal on such a charge as that individual as it would bring such deep disgrace on the Rgt. to which he belongs. I trust you approve of the method adopted and that you will do your utmost to have him removed immediately and that you will send another Subaltern to relieve him.”

Unfortunately, there is not a lot more we can say about Lieut. Nunnington. Following his dismissal, Broun recommended he be appointed to the C. Transport Corps. However, he doesn’t appear in Hart’s Army List and there are only sparse mentions of him discoverable on Papers Past. We think he was cleared outward to Sydney aboard the H.S. Machin in January 1864. Despite his anonymity, Nunningtons story highlights the dimension to be found through comprehensive cataloguing projects. More and more we are uncovering and sharing these remarkable tales that provide a window into the lived experiences of people, in this case, during the New Zealand wars.


Cataloguing and digitisation: How we make objects as accessible as possible online

It is important that objects are well represented and easily findable in our database. To achieve a thoroughly catalogued record we focus on access points, which represent all the pathways that will lead people to the most useful objects for them. Standard access points are basic elements such as a title, description, date, place, and related people. We build on these by adding a range of Subject Headings and free-text keywords. 

These help users search our collections by topics. They also help us to build and create links between other collections in the Museum as each become hyperlinked to other related objects on Collections Online. Because we can’t always predict how people wants to engage with the collection, we use as much technical vocabulary as possible but also incorporate natural language that is more widely used.

Alongside cataloguing, New Zealand Wars-related collections have been digitised. Letters, diaries and photographic prints are captured in-house using a medium-format camera with a copy stand. For more complex capture work such as albums, we outsource to a photographer specialised in imaging heritage collections. We capture the front (recto) and back (verso) of most of our collections as often there are inscriptions on the back of documents and photographs that may be important. Digitisation helps us protect the original document or photograph by limiting the need to handle it in the future.


[1] Source: Letter from Marianne Williams to Marianne Davis, April 8, 1845. MS-1991-75-772

[2] Biography Source: An obituary by Thomas Frederick Cheeseman: 'Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute', vol. LII, Wellington, 1920, ix-x

[3] Papers Past: Department of Volunteers from Melbourne

Loud, Rebecca, and Taylor, Alicia. Uncovering documentary evidence of the New Zealand Wars. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Published 24 October 2019.
URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/ discover/stories/blog/2019/