Your Place

Dannevirke's Gallery of History is true to its name

The museum is housed in the town’s old courthouse and is filled with treasures.

Authored by Our Health Journeys Curator Caitlin Timmer-Arends

The entrance to the museum. Image used with permission.

Dannevirke Gallery of History and its volunteers are an absolute delight. The museum is housed in the town’s old courthouse and remnants of the courthouse remain throughout the building. One of the galleries is in the office that used to belong to the stipendiary magistrate, for example.

Volunteers Scotty and Jill gave me a brief tour of the main gallery of the museum where most of the medical collections are held, and then left me to my devices for almost two hours as I went through the museum in depth.

An amazing find was the Handyside Medicine Chest, in the previously mentioned stipendiary magistrate’s office. The medicine chest is the largest I have seen in any museum collection around the country, and it is magnificent. It was stocked according to a booklet named Cox's Companion to the Family Medicine Chest by a company in Wellington, and it was purchased by John Stewart Handyside of Akitio in about 1880.

Handyside observed the wrecking of the ship Pleiades, at Akitio Beach in 1899. “Mr. W. Forsbury Handyside saw the ship driven onto the beach, his family helping to succour the shipwrecked crew.” The crew were later taken to Wellington by the SS Himatangi and the captain charged with negligent navigation.

The Handyside medicine chest on display at Dannevirke Gallery of History. Image used with permission.

Many of the bottles still have the original kid leather tied over their tops. Those bottles have never been opened and never been used. Others are well used and have had their ingredients replaced. Handyside used the medicines and received new stock from various chemists until he sold his properties and returned to England in 1908.

Dannevirke Gallery of History has scanned the original book used to stock the chest, and produced it into a little bound copy that you can purchase from the museum. They very generously gifted me a copy and I can't wait to delve into all the bottles the medicine chest contains; what's in them, what they were called, what their purported medical uses were. It will be a great avenue of discovery.

Margaret Smith in 1999, now the owner of the medicine chest, entrusted it to the Dannevirke Gallery of History, and it is on display there in its original condition.

A table in the dentistry display containing a mercury jar. Image used with permission.

Something I have been told as I have visited museums and met with volunteers continues to shock me. Once upon a time, thankfully long before I visited the dental nurse, children would be given a little bit of mercury to play with while their dental work was being done. Volunteer Jill told me yet another anecdote to add to my collection of dental horror stories, about her personal experiences playing with mercury. The museum’s dental display has a pottery container for mercury used in fillings and came from the first school dental clinic in Dannevirke.

A really cool find, that without a label would be absolutely overlooked, was a clock. It was a standard clock, nothing particularly special, until you read the label that accompanies it. This was the Labour Room clock, and the time on the clock was set nationally, and was not allowed to be altered. It was to make sure that when a baby was born, the correct national time was recorded for the baby's birth. The clock came from the local hospital upon its closure and without places like our local museums, these pieces of our health and medical histories would be lost.