A inside, two page, view of Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh's tapa-covered notebook

Special Collections: 2020 Christmas hamper

The stacks in Special Collections contain countless items that deserve close inspection by researchers. Here are a few that caught the eye of Special Collections staff during 2020.

Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh gifted a tapa-covered notebook (above) to Special Collections in October.1 It is a wonderfully creative record of her 2016 visit to London where she read her poem `Unity’ in front of Queen Elizabeth II and dignitaries at the Commonwealth Day service in Westminster Abbey.

With its eclectic mix of poetry, cut-outs, doodles, and souvenirs, the notebook is a joy to read, with little discoveries that surprise, delight and challenge perceptions about what it means to be a Pacific nation and a part of the Commonwealth. – Nigel Bond

The donkey's ears poem with two drawings of a donkey, showing ears pointing forwards and also ears pointing back.

Click images to enlarge

As a children’s book, A matchless chronicle of Birds Beasts – and no fishes is one out of the box. Mary Rankine Brown originally created the booklet with its rhyming verse and expressive matchstick-inspired drawings in the 1910s for her daughter Elisabeth.2

Rankine Brown (1868-1940), who was married to Victoria University College Professor John Rankine Brown, published the booklet during the First World War as a fundraiser for the Red Cross in New Zealand and Australia. This may be when the rhyme about the `British Lion’ and `Kaiser Bill’ was added to those on parrots, calves, kangaroos, and the like. By July 1918, sales had raised an extraordinary £3000, a testament to this Wellington woman’s talent, enterprise and active community involvement.3 – Jo Birks


Sketchbook watercolour of Picton sound by Alfred Watson Hands

Coming across something unexpected in a collection is one of the pleasures of working with archives. That happened recently when rehousing a collection of architectural watercolours and sketchbooks by Alfred Watson Hands (1859-1927). Among the mostly British and European architectural studies lay a single sketchbook filled with distinctly New Zealand content.4 Charming pen and ink sketches of the country’s coastal settlements are interspersed with studies of Māori artefacts and moody watercolour landscapes. Further research revealed that Hands, an English architect, retrained as an Anglican minister and worked in parishes in New Zealand from 1880-1887. This intriguing collection has wide scope for further research. – Sarah Cox

Scrapbook lying open at the page with the fronds of the maidenhair fern.

This recently accessioned bound volume with ‘Junior Division’ stamped on the spine has many fascinating stories to tell.5 During the 1890s, the first professor of music at Auckland University College, Carl Gustave Schmitt (1837-1900), used the first 46 pages to draft his lectures.  His wife Lucy then used the volume as a scrapbook, carefully glueing knitting patterns, recipes, clippings, photographs and other memorabilia on the remaining pages. On one page are fronds of maidenhair fern from the wedding of Alice Phimister and Auckland cabinetmaker Leonard Hurle, who were married at St Mary’s Cathedral, Parnell, on 22 December 1920.  – Katherine Pawley

View of construction work on the Recreation Centre

Early this year I did my last workout at the University Recreation Centre before demolition work started to make way for the new Recreation and Wellness Centre. My first visit was in 1993 to play indoor football in the sports hall, so it was a nostalgic moment exiting for the final time. A few days later I came across a set of photographs in the University of Auckland historical collection from the mid-1970s showing construction work on the Recreation Centre, taken by the Information Office.6 The lack of hard-hats, hi-vis jackets and perimeter fencing was in sharp contrast to the current work in the 300 sector. Seeing the photographs was a reminder that the campus is constantly evolving, and that our collections document the University’s built environment for posterity. – Ian Brailsford


1 Marsh. S. (2016). ‘Fast talking PI goes to London to visit the Queen’, New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre records, MSS & Archives 2003/4, 3/44 

2 Social gossip. (1917, June 8). Free Lance, p.14.

3 Women in print. (1918, July 3). Evening Post, p.9.

4 Alfred W. Hands papers. MSS & Archives Arch accession 0015

5 Professor Carl Schmitt music lectures and Schmitt family scrapbook. University of Auckland historical collection. Part 3. MSS-Archives-Vault 130, 43

6 University of Auckland historical collection. Part 2. MSS & Archives 97/5, 6/3/22 

Featured image: Page from tapa notebook reproduced with kind permission of Selina Tusitala Marsh.