An exhibition titled On the Move: Modes of Transport from the Collection, showing now at the Sarjeant Gallery, was created for Whanganui Heritage Month, but due to Covid this has now been postponed until October next year.
But the show must go on and the exhibition On the Move has taken its place alongside Marie Shannon's Sleeping Near The River and Julia Morison's Head[case].
On the Move includes recent acquisitions and works that have not been previously exhibited. All the works are specific to Whanganui and they are all from the Sarjeant Gallery Collection.
One such work is a large, black-and-white photograph of the drop scene on the Whanganui River, with steep vertical cliffs covered in foliage and bush. There are three men in a waka, one of whom is thought to be Thomas William Downes on one of his many Whanganui River expeditions.
Downes was a watercolourist and sketcher, and deeply interested in the history of Whanganui and the river. His book Old Whanganui was published in 1915, followed by his History of and guide to the Whanganui River and a manuscript, River Ripplets, published in 1993. These books are valuable resources on the Māori history of the Whanganui River.
The photograph, gifted by Bruce Speedy in July, dates from circa 1910. Bruce rescued the beautifully framed work while working with accountancy firm R and IL Robson. In 1968 the firm moved premises from Maria Place to Ingestre St.
"During the move I heard Robby, who was a pretty severe bachelor man, say, 'Well we haven't got room for this, it will have to be thrown out'. So as the office junior, and admiring the work, I said, 'Mr Robson do you think I could have it?' His response was, 'You've got 10 minutes to relocate it and get back to the office'. Those were the days when the boss said jump - you jumped."
The photograph has accompanied Bruce around New Zealand in the intervening years. He believes it encapsulates the upstream Whanganui River with the cliff face above covered in ferns and the dugout canoe as one of the many modes of river transport.
The river is a substantial feature in the photographs and paintings of the exhibition. There are waka, sailing boats, coal-fired river boats taking loads of tourists for picnics up river in the 1920s and 30s, and images of historic boats such as the Waione and Ohura - even a houseboat.
"There is one image of a boat heading up river laden with tall milk tins. People up river were reliant on boats to transport milk, food and people," says curator Jennifer Taylor-Moore.
A watercolour and pencil work titled Ferry, Whanganui River 1860, by Charles Barraud, depicts a flat-bottomed cable ferry (punt) used to transport people, horses, carts and livestock across the Whanganui River. It was pulled across using a cable wire and operated from where the Whanganui i-Site is now, across to a site near the Red Lion Hotel.
Other images show fascinating panoramas from the 1860s. In one of the early watercolours Taylor-Moore has identified the "imposing" Nixon family house that stands alone on the Whanganui East bank, bare of any other housing.
The scene looks across the river towards Mt Ruapehu from near St George's Gate. The bare fields and hills in the image have been replaced by the suburban sprawl of Whanganui East near Nixon St. The house, called Sedgebrook Grange, was the home of the Nixon family. John Nixon was a captain in the NZ Militia and later promoted to the rank of major. He commanded the Whanganui Cavalry Volunteers, was an early Justice of the Peace in Whanganui, and also worked as an immigration agent.
The artworks in the exhibition can also be viewed online via the collection portal, Explore the Collection, which is accessible via the Sarjeant website.
• On the Move: Modes of Transport from the Collection is on until November 7.