Just recently the husband and I had a child free weekend away, during this time we spend two days exploring the town of Napier in the Hawkes Bay. Naturally I was drawn to the town’s heritage and as per usual my first stop was to the local museum – MTG Hawkes Bay.
Situated in the main part of town near the seafront, it is attached to the library and spread over three floors. The ground floor gallery is taken up by two exhibitions – Tenei Tonu and Turuturu, Fingers, Feathers and Fibre. Tenei Tonu showcased the taonga, both historic and contemporary, alongside the stories of the local Iwi Ngati Kahunguru. Turuturu took up a space which joined the museum to the library and is a fascinating albeit brief look at the importance of weaving in Maori culture.
Turuturu are weaving pegs used to keep a garment off the ground when it is being made. The main peg is the right one and can be elaborately decorated. It represents the mana of Te Whare Pora – the knowledge-bank of the art-form. The peg itself upholds the mana of the growing garment and it spiritually connects the maker to the world of thought and concentration. The peg also grounds the maker so they do not get lost in their intellectual world. (quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)
On the second floor was three collections – one of an amazing display of heirloom silverware whilst the second was called Five Pakeha Painters – Perspectives on the Hawkes Bay. This small exhibition of artwork acknowledged the importance of art as a form of dialogue between the artist, the land and the social norms of the time. The third exhibition was titled The House of Webb – A Victorian Family’s Journey to Ormondsville. This is a temporary exhibition (it finishes on the 3rd November) showcasing life in Victorian Napier through the belongings, diaries and letters of the Webb Family. In 1884 the Webb family left their comfortable life in England and travelled to Napier and then further south to Ormondsville, this exhibition showed what life was like for these early settlers, some of their trials and how they survived those early days.
The final gallery to be explored was in the basement of the museum – here the visitor is taken through that fateful day in 1931 when the Hawkes Bay was hit by a massive earthquake which destroyed almost all of Napier and killed over three hundred people.
At 10:47am on 3 February 1931, a devastating earthquake struck Hawke’s Bay. In that moment it seemed the end of the world had come. People were thrown off their feet; buildings shuddered and collapsed as the ground pitched violently. In central Napier, fires broke out within minutes and rushed through the city. Amidst the burning, falling buildings, the bright blue sky of a summer’s day was obscured by smoke and dust. People could only watch as their home was destroyed around them. In desperation the injured screamed for help, others ran for the safety of the beach, or home to find their families. (Quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)
As well as the thoughtful display of objects and stories, there is also a short film of ‘Survivor Stories’ which brings home how devasting the earthquake was to the people of the Hawkes Bay. Time here will forever be divided between ‘before and after the earthquake’.
The second place to be visited was the Napier Prison…yes on purpose…and no not in shackles…
Napier Prison is New Zealand’s oldest prison, it was first opened in 1852 and was closed to inmates in 1993. Situated on Bluff Hill and next to the quarry where early inmates were expected to do hard labour extracting the stone that would build walls which now surround the prison. In 2002 the prison was restored to the state it is in by a local family who turned it into a back-packers (not my first choice of accommodation) but nowadays it is a tourist attraction and even on the cold wet day we visited there were a quite a few visitors.
As a visitor you can either go on a guided tour or do the self-guided audio tour which we did. The facilities also host scare tours in the evenings and has an Escape Room Experience for those wanting something a bit different. On two separate occasions and for quite different reasons, the prison has been the focus of a TV show – one looking to enhance the visitor experience from a heritage perspective and the other capitalising on the prison’s spookier stories. The prison has also through its time been used as a psychiatric unit, a lighthouse and a meeting place for Alcoholic Anonymous groups.
Above is a block called ‘The Pound’ – the padded cells and caged exercise area chilling reminders that once upon a time mental illness was treated with a lot less compassion.
The above photos show a small selection of numerous information boards that provide a light moment amongst the many somber ones.
The above photos are of the main block and exercise yard, the bottom picture is of a well discovered a short while ago. The well room is in what was once the infirmary before being divided into other rooms during the prisons back packing days.
On a personal note, it was a fascinating place, however the sense of relief when I walked back out the front gates was immense. The heavy sense of foreboding made for an uncomfortable visit, there were places I simply could not enter. I took no photos of the ‘hanging yard’ or the graveyard (where only three burials are had), the feelings of deep sadness were enough to stop me pressing the shutter. The ‘hanging yard’ in particular had an effect on me…but having said that I am glad I went, it was educational and an eye-opener to life behind bars in New Zealand’s oldest prison.
The remaining photos are just a few from around a city well known for its art deco architecture and seafront gardens.
Please note that all photos are my own – the MTG Hawkes Bay do not allow photography in many of their galleries, hence the paucity of photos from this lovely museum.