One of our many archive treasures is a plain red book with Letters from New Zealand printed in gold on a somewhat fragile spine.
This book contains letters written by members of the Webb family (Patty, her husband Reverend Anthony, their seven children and three nephews) to Mary Webb, Anthony's sister living in England.
Covering 1884-1885 the letters record the family's journey to New Zealand, arrival at Dunedin, then Napier, and finally setting up home at Ormondville.
Throughout, the letters are peppered with delightful accounts of daily life, as well as watercolours and sketches to further describe events.
Mary considered the letters to have immense significance and bound them together to keep them safe.
Letters from New Zealand is the hero object in MTG Hawke's Bay's latest exhibition, The House of Webb, a Victorian family's journey to Ormondville – opening to the public today.
Early in May 1884, the Webb family left their home in Stockingford and rushed to London.
The impetus for their sudden departure was a letter from Willie, Anthony and Patty's second son, who had been sent to New Zealand for health reasons.
In the letter, Willie wrote: "the doctor said I would not live more than two months more".
Hoping to see Willie again, the Webb family boarded the British Queen, an old vessel taking its final voyage between England and New Zealand.
The main drawback of the ship was the infestation of cockroaches and rats. Cockroaches were everywhere, in the food, beds and on ceilings.
At night, rats became adventurous, running along ledges between the cabins and peering out from dark corners.
Arriving at Port Chalmers, Dunedin on July 2, 1884, Anthony learned that a clergyman's position awaited him in Ormondville, Southern Hawke's Bay.
Changing vessels, the party arrived at Napier on "a very quiet dreamy sort of afternoon". Two days after arriving, Anthony and Patty received a letter informing them that Willie had died in Tonga.
Anthony stood on the edge of Bluff Hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean and thought of WilIie, "I seemed to realise the parting more than at any time".
The Webb family arrived in New Zealand during a time of immense change in local society and landscape, as the deforestation of Te Tapere-nui-a-Whātonga "Seventy Mile Bush" was being carried out by Scandinavian workers brought in by the New Zealand Government.
This mighty forest, once lush with trees and bird life, was slowly decimated: a railway and roads were built and the land turned into pasture.
While Europeans considered the clearing of the bush a great achievement, to the hapū of the region the extent of destruction was to have unknown consequences to their home and ways of life.
Anthony was the first permanent Anglican minister in the Ormondville area. To serve his scattered parishioners, he organised weeknight services at sawmills in small communities.
He became acquainted with the Scandinavian and German families and commenced weekly services on the "German Line".
Known for his caring, kindly and self-sacrificing attitude, Anthony was summoned to those in need regardless of religious beliefs, earning him many close friends within the community.
The family quickly settled into Ormondville, where life was exhilarating, challenging and adventurous – so different to their sedate existence in Stockingford.
The men found employment sawmilling and on farms, while the women adjusted to the daily round of household and farming chores.
Forming strong bonds with Ormondville, Patty and Anthony along with four of their daughters lived there for the remainder of their days.
Summing up their love for the area are Patty's words: "A prettier sight than the Ruahines on a bright spring morning can hardly be imagined. Their snowy tops look dazzlingly white, with a sky of the deepest blue overhead, and the air is so clear and pure that they look much nearer than they really are."
We invite you to come and step into the world of the Webb family.
• Chamber Music NZ - Heath Quartet, Sunday, June 24, Century Theatre. Tickets available from Ticketek
• TEDx Hastings St, with the theme of culture, TEDx Hastings St will explore culture in every sense of the term, Saturday, July 7, 9.45am – 4.30pm, Century Theatre. Tickets available from Ticketek
• Gail Pope is curator of social history at the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke's Bay.