Visiting Taihape Museum

A hidden treasure-trove and a criminally under-visited museum.

Visiting Taihape Museum
Photograph taken by David McPherson. Used with permission.

If you want to learn about the history of Taihape and the surrounding area, you must visit this museum. I had arranged to meet a couple of the volunteers on the museum’s committee, and I cannot tell you how knowledgeable they were. Though I went to look at their medical collections, which for a small museum are extensive, I left with a lot of knowledge about Taihape and the history of the museum.

Elizabeth and Frances are part of the small committee that runs the museum. With the limited number of volunteers, they are only able to open once a week on a Sunday. I arrived when the museum opened at 11am and stayed for more than two hours – there was that much to see.

When you walk through the front door of the old church that houses the museum, the first thing your eye is drawn to is a large banner hanging from the ceiling towards the back of the building. The banner is in brilliant colour and came from the now-defunct Taihape Hospital where it was used (one assumes based on the date on the banner) in May of 1911 when the hospital was opened. Most of the medical collections are displayed in a two-level cabinet that allows the viewer to see from the top and the front. Some, like a field medical card of a local soldier, are displayed with their more relevant collections so they were fun to hunt out.

The age of the objects in the medical collection varies – there was an early wooden stethoscope from 1820s Glasgow and a nasal trocar and cannula from 1872 at the oldest end of the spectrum, but most of the collection came from the 20th century.

Something that surprised me was the relatively contemporary-looking dental lamp. Only upon reading the box it was displayed in did I realise that it was from 1922. With my pretty limited knowledge of the history of dentistry, I could have sworn something similar was used at my last visit to the dentist.‍‍
Image Description
Sister Agnes Buckley. Photo used with permission.

One of the noteworthy medical professionals to have come from Taihape is Sister Agnes Buckley (63397 N.Z.A.N.S.). She died on active service in the Second World War in Italy, in 1944 aged 36. Her photograph hangs on the wall in the museum and two of her medical books are part of the museum's collection. Letters from Buckley to her family written while on active service are held by the National Library, and she features in Auckland Museum’s Online Cenotaph so she is well represented in the nationally distributed collection of servicepeople.

Image Description
Dental right angle lamp, originally belonged to Dr D. Sinclair. Accession number 1975.253b. Photo used with permission.

If looking at Taihape Museum from the street, you might be fooled into thinking the museum is just the old church building, but it is actually a complex featuring sheds, garages and an historic cottage. All are filled with collection items. Frances showed me around the whole complex, pointing out things of interest as we went. Relevant to the health history of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Taihape community was the last horse-drawn cart that delivered the local supply of milk. It was relevant to me personally as my Opa emigrated from the Netherlands to work in the dairy industry and before retirement was the head of the dairy union. Though he never worked with horse-drawn carts, he did drive trucks around Raetihi collecting milk for processing at the dairy factory for much of his early time in this country.

The last stop on my tour was the historic cottage at the back of the museum complex. The volunteer team have done a wonderful job of making the cottage feel lived-in and as correct to the period as possible. Laid out on the bed in the bedroom were some women’s clothing and if you have read about my visit to the David Warnock Medical Museum in Palmerston North you will know about my interest in textiles. One of the items on the bed was a corset. On closer inspection, it was a medical corset. Comprised of whalebone for structure across the chest, the sides had elastic sewn in and ties to adjust to fit a range of people rather than being made bespoke for just one person.

Taihape Museum is a hidden treasure-trove and criminally under-visited. It is situated one street off State Highway 1 so the next time you drive through on a Sunday please go and visit. The museum survives off voluntary labour and donations from visitors. If you have the time, speak to one of the volunteers. They are there to guide you through the museum and are an absolute wealth of information and amusing anecdotes.

In reflecting about my visit, I think the thing that amused me the most was the very contemporary first aid kit hanging behind the desk where the volunteer on duty sits. Elizabeth gave me a smile when I photographed it as it’s not part of the collection, but I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of all this now-outdated medical paraphernalia across the room from this modern requirement of public safety.