Stitched in time: unravelling UC’s history through an embroidered tablecloth

The development of the UC 150 anniversary exhibition offered a range opportunities to students and staff, including some interesting research challenges. Finn Adams worked as a research technician on the exhibition, and generated some valuable information about various objects featured in Whiria te tangata: Weaving the People Together. In this post, Finn reflects on one particular research journey.

At the beginning of 2023, I was assigned the task of researching objects related to the history of the University of Canterbury (UC) for its 150th anniversary exhibition, currently on display in the Pūmanawa Gallery at the Arts Centre. This was a task that put me into contact with a rather eclectic mix of artefacts, and I researched some interesting items, some of which unfortunately did not make it into the exhibition due to lack of space. One such item was a faded tablecloth emblazoned with many names embroidered in different colours. Although this tablecloth may seem uninteresting at first glance, it proved to be rich in university history and provided a challenging but rewarding research experience.

CCS00887, embroidered tablecloth, Canterbury College Survey, University of Canterbury.

I say the research was challenging because I was given the tablecloth with almost no information – we were not even certain if it had any links to UC! However, the cloth itself provided a large window to begin research, as written on it were many names that might lead us to an answer. The Curator of the Teece Museum, Terri Elder, provided me with a useful lead, noting that most of the names were female. Thus, she believed, the tablecloth could be related to the women-only hall at UC, Helen Connon Hall.

My first challenge was transcribing the names on the cloth. They were all written in cursive, which is infamously difficult to read, especially for a Gen-Z like me. I managed to write out a good number of the names and began trying to identify them. After sifting through old UC Review articles and searching the names on Papers Past, I was able to confirm that some of the women were students at UC in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. It was not until I got my hands on Marie Peter’s book, Connon Girls: A Study of 20th Century New Zealand Women at University, that I could comfortably confirm that many of the women also went to Connon Hall. The book contained several images that identified the women in the photos, and I found that many of their names were present on the tablecloth.

Connon Hall, ChCh, March 1924. Photographer P. Mason. MB1056, Ref 17332, Macmillan Brown Library

Having roughly confirmed part of the tablecloth’s story, I was still at a loss as to why it had been made in the first place. I originally thought it might be the names of a specific year group, but as I continued to read Peters’ book, I realised some of the women were at the Hall as early as 1936, and some as late as 1943. As a result, I started to wonder if the cloth was made at a Connon Hall event attended by both current and former residents. For example, Alice Candy, the warden during these years, was known to often host gatherings at the Hall. Furthermore, in 1943 there was a large party for Connon Hall’s 25th anniversary. Perhaps the tablecloth had originated from this party? I thought it may have been made as a sort of guestbook of all the women who had attended the Hall over the years. It was just a matter of finding some small piece of evidence to confirm this. Frustratingly, I was unable to find that elusive evidence and began to believe I had reached a dead end.

Fortunately, whilst I had been researching the cloth, I had continued transcribing more names and researching their individual stories. This eventually led me to find something that completely disproved my first theory! I found two names on the tablecloth of women who attended Connon Hall in 1950. This meant the cloth had been in production during 1950 and thus I began my search for some significant event at the Hall around this time. I realised that 1951 was the year Alice Candy resigned as warden and there was a leaving party held for her. Trawling through Papers Past, I found a Press article which stated that the students of the Hall gave Candy an ‘embroidered table cloth’ at the party. This, I thought, must be it, a cloth signed by students from 1936-1950, all years Candy was warden at the Hall. My theory was crushed once more after consulting Peters’ book, where she also mentions the gift and describes it in more detail as a ‘Chinese embroidered supper cloth’ – surely not the tablecloth I was looking for.


Miss Candy’s Garden Party 1941, Helen Connon Hall, MB1117, Ref 24085, Macmillan Brown Library

Luckily, looking at sources related to Alice Candy’s retirement led me along the right track. After expanding my search to include later dates, I stumbled upon a Press article which described a gathering in 1954 in honour of Candy. Here I finally found what I had been looking for. The article reported an interview with one of Candy’s former residents at Connon Hall, Nancy Caughley. In this interview, Caughley said Candy had a large tablecloth which she would ask her students to sign. Candy would then embroider over the signatures with whatever colour thread she deemed suitable. Caughley also recalled a time where she read out a name on the cloth to Candy, whom upon hearing the name, decided to unpick it from the cloth! Upon closer inspection, you can see where several names have been unpicked. So, the article informs us that the tablecloth was kept by Candy throughout the 15 years she was at Connon Hall. Given that all the names of her students are not present on the tablecloth, it is likely she asked only her favourites to sign it or rewarded good students with the honour of signing their names. Those who fell out of favour evidently ran the risk of being removed.

CCS0087, close up of embroidered tablecloth, Canterbury College Survey, University of Canterbury.

I can now say with certainty that this tablecloth is an item of significance for Connon Hall, which in turn is itself an important part of UC’s history. Connon Hall was the first residential hall for female students established by a university college in the country. In operation between 1918 to 1974, the hall was named after one of New Zealand’s most important university graduates, Helen Connon. Among her many achievements, Connon is most noted for being the first woman in the British Empire to receive a postgraduate degree, receiving a Master of Arts with first-class honours in 1881. The Hall housed many notable women during its time, including the maker of this tablecloth, Alice Candy. Before becoming the Hall’s warden, Candy had graduated from Canterbury College and was appointed as a lecturer in History in 1921. She was well-known for her enthusiastic lecturing and left her mark on the documentation of the University’s history by collaborating with James Hight in the writing of A Short History of Canterbury College, a book I can personally say is still useful today. According to Peters, Candy excelled in her role as warden of Connon Hall, with her former residents having an overwhelmingly positive opinion towards her. By her retirement Candy had a distinctive influence on the Hall and the University. Today, she is commemorated at the University by the naming of the ‘Alice Candy’ building.

Miss Alice Candy, warden, Helen Connon Hall. At her garden party Oct. 22, 1941. MB1117, Ref 24086, Macmillan Brown Library

Although not as well-known as Candy or Connon, many women whose names were embroidered onto the cloth demonstrated the same excellence in their lives.[1] Grace M. Gane is one of the names that I was fortunately able to uncover more fully. She attended Connon Hall for at least one year in 1941. After studying at the Teacher’s College, Gane somehow made her way into speech therapy, becoming Wanganui’s first speech therapist. She had a very successful career, serving as the editor of the New Zealand Speech Therapists Association Journal and publishing an article in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders in 1968. According to the New Zealand Speech-Language Therapy Association she is a founding figure for our country’s practice of speech-language therapy.

Another interesting student is Eila G. Simpson, who was also at Connon Hall in 1941 and received her Master of Arts sometime in the early 1940’s. Simpson was eventually seconded to the Department of External Affairs at New Zealand House in London. In this role she answered a range of questions from curious Brits about New Zealand, educating the British populace about our country. She reputedly answered questions such as: how to pronounce Māori words; if you could marry your wife’s sister; if you could transport your husband’s corpse to New Zealand; or how much Stewart Island was valued at! Unfortunately, we do not know any more of Eila’s story.

Helen Connon Hall students 1941. Eila Simpson is back row 7th from left, Grace Gane is in the 3rd row 11th from the left. MB1117, Ref 24089, Macmillan Brown Library.

Lastly, an odd story comes from Doris Adams who attended the Hall in 1936 and became a teacher. A Press article I found reports that on her way to Kirwee School one morning in 1939, she parked her small Sedan on some train tracks and was hit by a train. She miraculously escaped with only a slight cut to her head. In 1946 she went off to Bengal to work as a missionary, which caused me to wonder if the two events were connected.

The tablecloth turned out to have a wealth of university history tied to it through its connection to Connon Hall, Alice Candy, and some very interesting students. The charming story of the tablecloth’s origins demonstrate the heart in university life. Candy certainly cared about her students enough to create a rather sentimental item during her time at the Hall. This contrasts with the rather cold and distant stereotypes often given to university figures, although Candy’s proclivity to erase names from the tablecloth perhaps undermine this statement a tad. Additionally, for me, the tablecloth provided a tough but very satisfying research project, which hopefully shows the reader not to settle on probable conclusions if there is still some more digging to be done.

Finbar Adams works part-time at the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities as a Gallery Host and Researcher. He recently graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Master of Arts in History.  Finn has found working at the Teece has been a valuable experience, particularly as he has been able to assist in the research and installation process of the University of Canterbury’s 150th anniversary exhibition. 


Special thanks to the knowledgeable staff of the Macmillan Brown Library at the University of Canterbury for their help finding sources and images for this article.


[1] I should note many names on the cloth are still yet to be identified. The students I was able to identify often had little information about them recorded, meaning many an interesting career and life have not been revealed.


Peters, Marie. Connon Girls: A Study of 20th-Century New Zealand Women at University. Christchurch, New Zealand: Helen Connon Hall History Project Committee, 2017.

“CURRENT NOTES”, Press, vol. XC, no. 27329, 21 April 1954, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1954,, 2.

Biography – Alice Candy:

Alice Muriel Flora Candy was born 9 July 1888 in Oxford, New Zealand. She is a well-known New Zealand historian, academic, and teacher. She graduated from Canterbury College with her Bachelor of Arts in in 1910 and acquired a Master of Arts in 1911 with Honours in Political Science. From 1912 until 1920 she taught at a variety of schools around New Zealand.

At the end of 1920 she was appointed a lecturer in history at Canterbury College as the junior and sole colleague of James Hight. While as a lecturer she became well-liked for her enthusiastic teaching style, she seemed to be a natural teacher and so does not have many published works. She did, however, co-write A Short History of Canterbury College along with Hight in 1929. This book as an extremely valuable piece for the early history of the Canterbury College and the first of two University of Canterbury history books to date.

Whilst still lecturing at Canterbury College Candy was appointed the resident warden of Helen Connon Hall in 1935. From 1936 to 1951 Candy remained the warden at the hall and was viewed very favourably by most of the hall’s residents. She retired from her academic position at Canterbury College in 1948 and in 1951 she resigned as warden of the hall. She retired to her home in Redcliffs Christchurch, where many of her former students and residents would be encouraged to visit her. She passed away in 1977 at the age of eighty-eight.

Picking up the threads of Canterbury College

A recent survey of heritage artefacts at UC has thrown up an interesting variety of unusual teaching tools employed by Canterbury staff and students over the last 150 years. Recent UC History graduate Alethea Chai has a passion for the history of textiles and fashion, and was inspired to delve further into the history behind a very special collection of fabric samples in the care of by the Department of Art History. The samples traverse history from seventeenth-century Persia (where the oldest samples originate), to twentieth century America, and on to the present day in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

The University of Canterbury is the second oldest university (after Otago) in New Zealand, and with the University’s 150th anniversary rapidly approaching in 2023, it’s a good time to reflect on our history. Sitting in various storerooms on the Ilam campus are relics of the Canterbury College period of the University’s history (1873 to ca. 1960), and included amongst them is a fascinating collection of 35 fabric samples housed by the Department of Art History and Theory, which testify to the tactile teaching methods required by the pre-internet lecture hall.

CCS0050 Fabric Samples, Department of Art History and Theory, University of Canterbury

It is not yet known exactly how the collection of fabric samples, which run from seventeenth-century silks to Samoan tapa cloths, was acquired by Canterbury College. However, research for this article has established that the fabric samples were originally part of a larger collection assembled by sisters Eliza M. and Sarah L. Niblack.[1] Eliza Niblack was a textile curator, and her brother, Admiral Albert P. Niblack, collected textiles on her behalf while stationed overseas in the early twentieth century.[2] In a review of a recent exhibition of textiles from the collection, Christine Tate noted that the collection benefitted from “[t]he Admiral’s untrained but apparently unfailing eye and his noted anthropological interest in autochthonous peoples.”[3]

Admiral Niblack died in 1929 and left his sisters, Eliza and Sarah, his collection. When they then passed away in 1930 and 1933 respectively, their collections were subsequently donated to the John Herron Art Institute (now the Indianapolis Museum of Art).[4] Canterbury College may perhaps have acquired the fabric samples from the Indianapolis Museum of Art in the 1930s, when they were deaccessioning some of the samples. Alternatively, the College may have acquired them directly from Eliza’s sister Sarah in the 1920s. It is recorded that Sarah Niblack sold a nineteenth-century Moroccan valance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1923, so Canterbury College may have similarly been recipients of textiles direct from the Niblack family.

CCS0050 Fabric Samples. Detail of 17th century Persian velvet weave, embroidery and silk brocade.

Why would Canterbury College have acquired a collection of historic fabrics? One theory is that these fabric samples were used for teaching and research at Canterbury College. Contained within a specially made box and matted like miniature artworks, the fabric samples would certainly have been useful tools for art history classes or textile design classes. The Canterbury College School of  Art offered a broad range of subjects in the early twentieth century.[5] Pre-war subjects included dressmaking, millinery and embroidery. The 1921 Prospectus, for example, lists ‘History of Ornament’ as a component of both the ‘Art Needlework’ and ‘Millinery and Dressmaking’ courses.

After the Second World War, textiles were still included in the Fine Arts curriculum. In 1946 a course in ‘Weaving and Tapestry’ was introduced, and according to the 1949 Prospectus, the ‘Needlecraft’ course covered subjects such as historic and peasant embroideries as well as plain and tapestry weaving. This course would be a likely candidate for the use of the fabric samples. They could have been used as examples for the students to examine and learn from as they produced their own work. See, for example, the embroidery sampler made by Audrey Black at the School of Art in the 1940s. Another candidate for the use of the fabric samples would have been Art History classes. ‘History of Art’, according to the 1921 Prospectus, was in the courses offered ‘For Girls’ as well as ‘For Boys’. In a course such as this, perhaps the textiles were used to assist with dating portraits, or to glean information about people’s social class and identity in historical paintings.

Embroidery Sampler, Audrey Black, ca.1940. UC-MBL-1350, UC Art Collection. Image: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Whether or not the samples were originally used as teaching tools for art history and textile design, the collection is a fascinating resource for considering the history of textiles and fashion. For instance, most of the fabric samples are handwoven, hinting strongly at the craftsmanship required to create textiles. Spinning and weaving are some of the oldest crafts in human history, and can be found in sources since antiquity – a famous example is Penelope in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The more recent fabric samples in the collection, such as the Scotch Paisley or the eighteenth-century European tapestry weave, also testify to changes in manufacturing technologies. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Industrial Revolution saw advances in textile-making technologies. The Spinning Jenny, a machine that could spin raw fibres, was an important innovation of the time. Previously, fibres were spun by hand using spinning wheels (à la Sleeping Beauty). As the new textile-making technologies were less labour intensive, traditional craftsmen were put out of work. This led to the Luddite Riots, a series of protests by a group of British craftsmen whose livelihoods were affected by these innovations. Beginning in 1811, these workers destroyed machinery such as power looms.[6] The modern term ‘luddite’, referring to someone technically challenged or opposed to new technology, has its roots in a critical time in textile history.

Textiles: a spinning jenny. Engraving by W. Lowry, 1811. Image: Wellcome Collection. Public Domain

Another interesting feature of historical handwoven fabrics is that they are often more tightly woven, and are therefore longer lasting than modern twenty-first century fabrics made on a power loom. This helps to explain in part why the fabric samples at UC, including the silks and velvet weave, are in such good condition. Many extant historic dresses have unfinished seams that show little fraying. On modern garments, which are also subject to the rigours of washing machines, unfinished seams fray rapidly due to the lower quality of many fabrics. Historic fabrics also were much more breathable to wear as they were made of natural fibres such as linen, silk, cotton and wool. Comparatively, many modern garments are made of polyester ­or plastic, which do not breathe. Many of the fabric samples in UC’s collection attest to a time when textiles were the product of craftsmanship – a time of ‘slow fashion’ alien to our modern fast fashion textile industry.

Finally, these textiles can also speak to significant moments of cultural history. For example, the samples of eighteenth-century French and Russian block printed cotton attest to a craze for chintz (printed cotton) when it became a hot commodity in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Europe. Chintz designs were often inspired by the taste for Chinoiserie (‘exotic’ or ‘oriental’ products in Europe that arose from trade with China and the East).[7] French Queen Marie Antoinette was famously criticised for wearing cotton as it hurt the French silk industry, but she helped to ignite the craze across Europe and the profits of this trend ended up in the pockets of England, who exploited Indian textile makers.[8] As demand rose, Europe looked to slave-produced cotton from America. Despite the exploitative production methods, cotton, especially chintz, was not seen as a cheap textile but rather as a status symbol. However, the reality of the cotton industry was not nearly as pretty as the finished garments. Sadly, the practice of exploiting textile workers continues today. According to the BBC, Indian textile workers are still reportedly exploited by luxury European brands.[9]

CCS0050 Fabric Samples. Detail of French block printed cotton, French block printed linen, Russian block printed cotton, and Scotch or English shawl weave, all 18th-19th century.

This small collection of fabric samples at UC have historical significance on several levels then. As examples of teaching methods in twentieth-century New Zealand, they emphasise the early history of the Canterbury College Arts programmes, even if their exact use is unknown. They are reminders of the role textiles and related crafts had in the School of Art and in women’s education in the early years of the University. Furthermore, the fabric samples testify to the history of textile production. They represent a diverse range of textile-making techniques and are the product of historical craftsmanship. Individual samples also represent particular moments in cultural history, such as the craze for eighteenth-century chintz. Hopefully by bringing them to the light again, these historical textile samples can be informative to a new generation.

Alethea Chai recently graduated from Canterbury with a Masters in History with Distinction. Her dissertation, “Dressing for success in medieval France: the function of fashion in Christine de Pizan’s oeuvre”, explores the uses of fashion in the life and works of Europe’s first feminist. She is now working for the Department of Internal Affairs in Wellington as a content writer. In her free time she researches and reconstructs historical costumes,  and has won both Best in Show at Christchurch Armageddon 2021 and Judge’s Choice at the CNZ Masquerade Ball 2022 costume contests.


Our thanks especially to the Department of Art History and Theory for access to their resource collection, and to Erin Kimber at Macmillan Brown Library for research support for this article. All images are copyright to UC unless otherwise stated.


[1] Collection not to be confused with the Admiral Albert P. Niblack Collection (admiral-albert-p-niblack-collection-1843-1929.pdf).

[2] “Moroccan Mastery with Textiles,” The Washington Times , July 18, 2013,

[3] Christine Tate, “The Fabric of Moroccan Life,” Textile 3, no. 2 (2005): 192, DOI: 10.2752/147597505778052558.

Andrea Nicol (curator), “The Fabric of Moroccan Life” (National Museum of African Art), accessed August 16, 2022,

[4] “Herron Art Notes,” The Indianapolis Times, October 9, 1924, Home edition, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,

[5] To learn more, you can check out the online exhibition, Art School 125: 125 Years of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury.

[6] “Luddite,” in A Dictionary of World History, Oxford University Press (2015)

[7] Eilunud Edwards, “Lasting impressions: Indian block-prints and global trade,” Textile Symposium of America Symposium Proceedings (2016): 98-100

[8] Jason Hickel, “How Britain Stole $45 Trillion from India,” Al Jazeera, December 19, 2018,

[9] Rajini Vaidyanathan, “Indian factory workers supplying major brands allege routine exploitation,” BBC, 17 November, 2020,


Edwards, Eilunud. “Lasting impressions: Indian block-prints and global trade.” Textile Symposium of America Symposium Proceedings (2016): 97-107.

“Herron Art Notes.” The Indianapolis Times, October 9, 1924, Home edition. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

Hickel, Jason. “How Britain stole $45 trillion from India,” Al Jazeera, 19 December, 2018.

“Luddite.” In A Dictionary of World History. Oxford University Press (2015)

“Moroccan Mastery with Textiles.” The Washington Times , July 18, 2013.

Nicol, Andrea (curator). “The Fabric of Moroccan Life.” National Museum of African Art. Accessed August 16, 2022.

Tate, Christine. “The Fabric of Moroccan Life.” Textile 3, no. 2 (2005): 190-93. DOI: 10.2752/147597505778052558.

Vaidyanathan, Rajini. “Indian factory workers supplying major brands allege routine exploitation.” BBC, 17 November, 2020.

Arms and armour of antiquity in New Zealand collections

Postgraduate student Finn Adams shares a selection of arms and armour of antiquity which can be found in New Zealand collections. The selection is drawn from the survey he completed as a PACE 495 intern at the UC Teece Museum in 2021.

During the first semester of 2021 I began an internship with the University of Canterbury Teece Museum through the PACE 495 course. The project I undertook was to create a resource which catalogued all the known examples of arms and armour of antiquity currently held in New Zealand collections. I hope the resulting resource will be of value to researchers who are as fascinated by ancient arms and armour as I am, and will also be useful for teachers or students investigating ancient warfare.

The completed resource contains over sixty artefacts from a variety of museums and collections. Each item appears with catalogue information provided by each institution as well as my own personal interpretations, which added any other necessary information about the objects. The process of finding all these objects differed for each artefact, but generally most were discovered by contacting museum staff or private collectors directly. Once an artefact was added to my list, I attempted to research as much information as I could about each type of weapon or armour. The final product includes all the artefacts and information about them compiled into a list, which has been broken down into three main sections –  ‘projectile and throwing weapons’, ‘edged and bladed weapons’, and ‘armour’. In this post I would like to share two artefacts from each section that I think are particularly noteworthy.

Spear Point (Arrowhead)

Arrowheads made up a large chunk of the final resource and therefore I thought at least one should be included here.

#51357.4, Spear Point, ca. 500 BCE, Collection of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Creative Commons CC BY.

This artefact is more likely to be an arrowhead rather than a spear point, as suggested by its original catalogue entry, given the shape of the item and its small size at just 57mm long. It is possibly a bilobate (i.e. double lobed) arrowhead shape with a tang. The completed arrow would have been formed by the tang being inserted into a reed or a hollow wooden shaft.

Although the original catalogue entry states that it is of Greek origin, the shape suggests it may be an Achaemenid-Egyptian variant of the bilobate arrowhead dating from 550 to 400 BCE. The catalogue information does not state where this particular arrowhead was found but it is possible that it was attributed to the Greeks simply because it was originally found in Greece. If this is the case, it is possible that the arrowhead ended up in Greece during the Achaemenid invasion of Greece which occurred around the time to which the arrowhead is dated. However, this is just speculation.


I found this slingshot bolt (or bullet) interesting as there is a possibility that it could have been used in the famous rebellion of Queen Boudica. It is also one of the few artefacts from the UC Teece Museum’s collection included in the resource, so I was able to study it in person.

R31.12, Romano British slingshot, ca 1st-5th century CE. Collection of University of Canterbury James Logie Memorial Collection. Creative Commons CC BY.

This artefact is most likely a slingshot stone, as it has been identified in the Teece Museum database. This slingshot bolt was probably used for warfare, due to it being larger than bolts which were typically used for hunting. The catalogue notes suggest that the stone came from Colchester, in England. If this is correct, then the bolt most likely belonged to a native Briton rather than a Roman due to its lack of design and the fact that it is made of stone (rather than lead, which is what the Romans used).

Roman rule in Colchester, (known as Camulodunum to the Britons and Colonia Victricensis to the Romans), lasted from about the 1st century to the 5th century CE so, the slingshot probably dates in between that timeframe. Most of the fighting between Britons and Romans in the Colchester area took place in the 1st century CE. It is even possible that this bolt was used in the rebellion of Boudica, (Queen of a Briton tribe, the Iceni), as Colchester was attacked and destroyed by the Britons in 61 CE. We know that slingshots were used for attacking strongholds at that time, so this is an interesting possibility.


This ancient axe is particularly interesting as its provenance can be accurately pinpointed, which is uncommon when dealing with antiquities. I was fascinated to learn that the axe was found in the short-lived capital of Amarna built by the Pharoah Akhenaten, whose wife was the now famous Nefertiti.

1929.340, Axe, ca. 1550-1069 BCE. Collection of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, 1929.340, 4414, TA 29-30 321. Creative Commons CC BY.

This axe head was most likely part of a battle-axe. To make it functional, a pole would be inserted through the two lugs. According to the Auckland Museum catalogue, the axe head presumably was found at the site of Amarna in Egypt. This means its date can possibly be narrowed down to a range of 15 years from 1347-1332 BCE, as Amarna was said to have been inhabited only for this short time. However, it is possible that the date range could be slightly wider as people probably inhabited Amarna just before it was completely built and a little after it had been abandoned.

Amarna was built in 1347 BCE during the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty by Pharoah Akhenaten as his new capital. Just fifteen years later, after Akhenaten’s death, Amarna was abandoned. An almost identical axe head found at Amarna in the Brooklyn Museum collection can be used for reference. Brooklyn have their axe dated to circa 1353-1329 BCE. (see


This electrotype dagger is a remake of one of the most impressive Mycenean weapon finds, in my view. Although it is not an original, the electrotype is still exceedingly well made and gives the viewer a better understanding of what the original would have looked like when first made.

E75.8, Electrotype Dagger, based on original ca 1500 BCE. Collection of Otago Museum, Gift of the Association of Friends of the Otago Museum. All Rights Reserved.

This dagger is known as the ‘Lion Hunt dagger’ and is one of several electrotypes produced by the Gilliérons in Württemberg at the start of the 20th century CE. This electrotype was probably made between 1900-1908. The replica is known as a ‘galvanoplastic’ model, (which is an alternate term for the electrotyping process). The original Bronze Age Mycenaean dagger, which features a scene of warriors hunting lions, is currently in the National Archeological Museum of Athens. The original dagger would have been made as a grave good, specifically to be placed with the deceased in a burial.

Samnite Bronze Suit of Armour

 This bronze suit of armour is rather intriguing, as it is one of the few suits of ancient armour held in New Zealand and the only set that includes greaves.

DG308, Samnite Armour, ca. 4th century BCE. Collection of Doug and Anemarie Gold. All Rights Reserved.

This Samnite suit of armour was fashioned from hammered sheets of bronze, and is comprised of an “Attic type” helmet, corslet and greaves. The Samnites were an Italic tribe from Southern Italy and were a constant enemy to the nearby Romans, who subjugated them in 321 BCE. This particular suite of armour could have possibly been worn by a warrior fighting against the Romans as it dates to the 4th century BCE, when Rome was often at war with the Samnites.

The Attic helmet in this suit was a style developed by the Athenians in the 6th century BCE. It is thought that lighter helmets like the Attic became popular around 530 BCE in Greece. Most Attic helmets were not much more than a skull cap by themselves, but this helmet also has hinged cheek pieces attached. There is no neck guard attached to this helmet, which was common, although it may have detached. The Attic style of helmet is the helmet that the goddess Athena is usually depicted wearing. This style of helmet, and its variants, was in use until 400 CE, commonly used by the Romans.

Illyrian Greek Bronze Helmet

This final item, an Illyrian helmet, is currently on display at the Teece Museum, and I had the opportunity to study it first-hand. This is also one of the two helmets I focussed on for the PACE 495 research essay, so I am well acquainted with it.

DG190, Illyrian Helmet, ca. 6th century BCE. Collection of Doug and Anemarie Gold. All Rights Reserved.

The design of this style of helmet was likely Peloponnesian in origin and was popular in Greece up until the sixth century BCE. The first group of this style of helmets was made using two bronze pieces, and dates to the period from 700-640 BCE. This particular helmet is made from just one piece of bronze, so the helmet is definitely more recent than 640 BCE. This helmet also has no ear cutouts, so it is probably not a late version of the helmet, thus a date of late 6th century BCE is probably reasonable.

The Illyrian helmet was very popular in Northern Greece and the Balkans after the mid-6th century BCE and was in use there for a few more centuries after it had died out in Greece by the 5th century BCE. The popularity of the helmet in these areas explains why it is referred to as ‘Illyrian’, which was the name one of the larger Balkan tribes. Since the helmet is probably from the 6th century BC, it is difficult to say where it was used for certain, although it was most likely manufactured in Greece.


These are some of the items that I personally found interesting and had a great time researching during the PACE 495 internship at the UC Teece Museum. They demonstrate the surprising range of ancient arms and armour that are held in New Zealand collections. Furthermore, I was even more surprised by the total number of items identified in my research, as this far exceeded what I predicted we might locate.

Overall, I was very pleased with the end result of the project, and I believe that the resource definitely holds some interesting information about ancient arms and armour in New Zealand. I hope that this snippet of the finished resource shared here adequately affirms this.

Finn Adams is currently studying to complete a Master of Arts in History at the University of Canterbury and is a Gallery Host at the UC Teece Museum. In 2021 he completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Classics. Part of his course of study included working as a PACE 495 intern at the Teece.



Sincere thanks to the following organisations and colleagues for their assistance in the creation of this resource:

    • Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira – Deirdre Harrison, Louise Furey, Anna Beazley
    • Canterbury Museum – Daniel Stirland
    • Doug and Anemarie Gold
    • Tūhura Otago Museum – Moira White, Jen Copedo
    • Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa– Claire Regnault, Carolyn McGill
    • University of Auckland – Jeremy Armstrong
    • University of Canterbury Teece Museum – Terri Elder
    • Victoria University of Wellington – Diana Burton

Fun and Games in the Ancient World

The daily lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans can be difficult to relate to, but in some respects the Classical world was very much like our own. Teece Museum Gallery Host and UC graduate Brylea Hollinshead considers our differences and similarities in this survey of fun and games in the ancient world. 

With their majestic temples, great philosophers, and formidable armies, the ancient Greeks and Romans are often seen as a sober and serious bunch, elevated in the popular imagination to the heights of the gods they worshipped. You might think that all of their time was occupied by lofty matters like the development of the arts, rational study, and military training. However, this viewpoint overlooks the playfulness which was present in the everyday lives of Greek and Roman men, women, and children. This article will bring the ancients back down to earth by exploring fun, games, and silly antics in the Greek and Roman worlds through artefacts in the UC Teece Museum and Logie Collection. We will consider the relationship between gender and play, and note how ancient attitudes differ from our own. Yet unearthing our commonly shared forms of fun – from children’s toys to drinking games – will reveal that we are perhaps more like the ancients than we think.

Terracotta horse and rider from Boeotia, mid 6th century BCE.  JLMC 35.55

Greek and Roman children, just like kids today, entertained themselves with toys and games in their free time. Animal models, like this terracotta figurine of a horse and rider (JLMC 35.55) currently displayed in the Teece, made popular toys. One can imagine a young child might have cherished this little figurine over two millennia ago. Dice too, are not a modern invention, but were a popular game in the ancient world. The Greek playwright Sophocles credits the hero Palamedes with their invention during the Trojan war. [1] However, archaeological excavations place their origins even earlier – six-sided dice much like our modern-day equivalent have been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating from as far back as 2000 BCE. [2] The Teece houses this wonderful example of a pair of bone dice from the Roman period (DG 277), which bear remarkable resemblance to the dice you might find in a store today. Board games like latrunculi and tabula (similar to chess and backgammon) were also common, as were knucklebones made from the bones of animals like sheep and goats (hence the name!), and balls made from inflated pigs’ bladders.

Pair of bone dice, ca 2nd century CE. DG 277, On loan from the collection of Doug and Anemarie Gold. 

Toys could also serve the function of reinforcing gender expectations and preparing children for their future social roles. In the ancient world, male citizens were expected to participate in society’s public sphere by becoming, for instance, politicians, soldiers, or labourers. A woman’s role, by contrast, was primarily to become a wife, bear children, and manage the household. Therefore, young boys often played with toys like tools, and girls with dolls. The Greek philosopher Plato drew this link between play and education, stating “if a boy is to be a good farmer or a good builder, he should play at building toy houses or farming . . . One should see games as a means of directing children’s tastes and inclinations to the role they will fulfill as adults”. [3] The separation of girls’ and boys’ toys, though still present today, is being challenged as patriarchal ideals break down and both genders gain more opportunities.

Merriment and games were not restricted to childhood – the Greeks and Romans retained their sense of play into adult life. Sports and athletics, for instance, were fundamental aspects of ancient society. The Greek cultural appreciation of athleticism culminated at the Olympic games, a tradition which has retained its popularity into the modern day. First held at Olympia in 776 BCE, adult male citizens competed in wrestling, long jump, running races, shot put, and discus. The Romans, too, enjoyed sporting contests, with chariot racing and gladiator combat being particularly popular games. In Rome these grand spectacles were held in a giant arena called the colosseum, and captured the interest of all areas of society, from poor workers to Roman emperors like Nero, who bet large sums on their outcomes. The emperor Commodus himself even competed as a gladiator!

The evenings held the opportunity for a different kind of play. The Greek symposium (a term which is now, ironically, used in English to denote a formal professional conference) was a drinking party for elite males renowned for its boisterous fun, games, and revelry. Symposia involved the consumption of food and alcohol, and entertainment such as music, poetry, and dance. The kylix, a drinking cup for wine, often became part of the fun itself. For instance, the exterior of some kylikes were painted with a feature which may seem odd to modern viewers at first glance: a pair of eyes.

The Logie Cup, an Attic black-figure eye-cup, ca 525-520 BCE.  JLMC 56.58

A striking example of this is shown by the Teece Museum’s “Logie Cup” (JLMC 56.58).  It is thought by scholars that these eye-cups were used as a kind of mask. During the symposium, a symposiast would raise his wine-filled kylix to his lips, covering his face. The cup’s painted eyes would stare out at his companions, while its handles and circular foot would become ears and a bulbous nose or gaping mouth. Undoubtedly, the amusement aroused by this trick would increase alongside the revelers’ levels of intoxication.

Symposiasts also used their cups to play kottabos. This ancient equivalent of a modern-day drinking game involved the partygoer flinging the dregs of the wine from his cup towards a designated target. A successful toss won the symposiast prizes and was seen to bring good fortune in love. A self-referential kylix in the Logie Collection shows a man reclining on a couch at a symposium holding a kylix (JLMC 17.53). After a few sips, the contents of his cup might have gone flying!

Attic red-figure kylix with an image of a reclining symposiast, ca 480 BCE. JLMC 17.53

Women in ancient Greece and Rome did not enjoy the same freedoms as men, and the majority of them were prohibited from joining in the fun at athletic contests or wild drinking parties. Little first-hand information exists on the private lives of ordinary women, who spent much of their time inside the household. However, they undoubtedly found their own ways of making fun, even while confined to their homes. This column-krater (used for mixing wine and water at symposia), for instance, shows two women juggling in a fairly rare artistic depiction of women at play (DG 305).

Red-figure krater with two women juggling, DG 305. copyright Doug Gold
Attic red-figure column-krater with two women juggling, ca 5th to 4th century BCE. DG 305, On loan from the collection of Doug and Anemarie Gold. 

The scene on the neck of the vase references a wilder and more disinhibited realm of play involving women. It depicts the mythological followers of Dionysus (or Bacchus), the god of wine and madness, engaged in an orgiastic scene of debauchery. The satyrs, who were conceived as silly, buffoonish, and lustful creatures, advance on their female companions, the maenads (whose name translates to raving ones). Some of the maenads playfully fend off the satyrs with thyrsi, or pinecone topped staffs. Though these characters were creations of myth, the god of madness inspired worship from real women in antiquity, who joined groups like the Greek Dionysian and Roman Bacchic mystery cults. Inspired by the god, initiates of these secretive sects took part in ecstatic rituals including intoxication, trance-inducing song and dance, sacrifices, and sexual activity. Such frenzied Dionysian “play” offered a kind of fun and freedom to marginalised members of society like women, which they might otherwise have lacked in their everyday lives.

Fun and games played an important part in the everyday lives of ancient men, women, and children. Alongside work, study, and civic duty, Greeks and Romans played with toys and challenged each other in board games, spectated and competed in sporting contests, and engaged in Dionysian revelry through drinking parties and mystery cults. Recognising this lively, all-too-human element of ancient cultures connects us to the past not only through our most serious endeavours, but also through our ability to have fun.


Brylea Hollinshead has just completed a Bachelor of Arts in Classics and Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, with a particular research interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. She has been working as a gallery host for Teece Museum since 2017.


[1] Sophocles, Palamedes fragment, 479 R trans Kidd, Stephen E. “How to Gamble in Greek: The Meaning of Kubeia.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 137 (2017): 119-1

[2] Glimne, Dan. “Dice”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Feb. 2019, Accessed 14 April 2021.

[3] Plato. Laws 1.643b-c, trans D’Angour, Armand. “Plato and play: Taking education seriously in ancient Greece.” American Journal of Play 5.3 (2013): 293-307. Accessed 14 April 2021.

People and Place: Knowledge of the Ancient World through the Canterbury Sallust

UC Classics graduate Emily Rosevear explores the history of the ancient world through an examination of a special text in the University of Canterbury Library Rare Books Collection, which is known as the Canterbury Sallust. Produced around 1465-70 CE, the Sallust manuscript is a rare edition of Bellum Jugurthinum by the Roman author Gaius Sallustius Crispus.

The ancient Greeks and Romans came into contact with a wide variety of people across Europe, Asia and North Africa through trade, migration and war. As they expanded their horizons, they developed a fascination with the world around them and the lands beyond their cities. Their interest was strongly influenced by significant historical and political events, including the campaigns of Alexander the Great and the eastward expansion of the Greek world in the fourth century BCE, as well as the consolidation of the Roman Empire under Augustus in the first century CE. These events promoted further territorial expansion and led to an increasing awareness of previously unknown regions.[1]

Ancient Greek and Roman literary works tend to focus on inhabited lands which were thought to be suitable for settlement or offered potential resources.[2] With their interests so closely related to people and conquest, ancient authors often combined elements of we might now view as different disciplines – history, geography, and ethnography – when writing about new places or peoples. For example, well known today are the works of the Greek historian Herodotus (c.484–c.425 BCE) who used geography to frame his narrative by including in his Histories descriptions of the regions under Persian control such as Egypt, India and Scythia. This combination of historical and geographical descriptions became an important feature of later works of the period, including those by authors such as Thucydides, Polybius, and Sallust.[3] The work of Sallust (86–c. 35 BCE) is of particular interest to us, as the University of Canterbury holds a rare early copy of one of his manuscripts. 

Interior page from the Sallust manuscript showing the neat humanist script.

The Work of Sallust

Contained within the UC Library Rare Books Collection is a copy of Sallust’s work Bellum Jugurthinum. The text is an account of the conflict that erupted in North Africa towards the end of the second century BCE when Jugurtha (c. 160–104 BCE) usurped the throne of Numidia after the death of its pro-Roman king. This work was completed in approximately 40 BCE by Gaius Sallustius Crispus, (or ‘Sallust’ as he is known), who was a retired Roman senator. His work is centred around war and military conquest, with three chapters devoted to the land and people of North Africa. By emphasising the relationship between the physical features of the place and the character of its people who are described as rough, hardy and untamed, he is perhaps alluding to a clash between the civilisation of Rome and the perceived barbarism of the Numidian kingdom where the war takes place.[4]

Fortunately for us, Sallust’s work has survived through to the modern day because copies of his manuscript were read and published across Europe in the centuries following its original publication, thereby preserving his work. This monograph and a slightly earlier one (Bellum Catilinae, completed c. 42 BCE), also by Sallust, are among the earliest historical texts written in Latin that have survived in their entirety from antiquity.[5]

When Sallust first published his work it would have been written by hand on rolls made of papyrus as this was the normal form of a book in antiquity.[6] The copy held by the University Library however, is a codex, a small book of approximately 140 millimetres high by 100 millimetres wide, featuring a brown hard cover with decorative features. The codex itself is comprised of 110 vellum leaves or 220 pages. The text is written in a neat humanist script and where a new sentence begins at the start of a line a larger capital letter appears in the margin. The leaves have been grouped into quires, or ‘gatherings’, made up of ten leaves. The last page of each quire has a catchword at the bottom, which matches the first word of the following section. Occasionally the scribe has enclosed the catchword in what can be described as an ‘ornamental doodle’, some of which are quite elaborate.[7] The manuscript includes only a few examples of marginalia and minimal signs of wear suggesting that the book received little use until it was acquired by the University of Canterbury.

Interior double page from the Sallust manuscript with an example of a decorative embellishment.

 From Rome to Canterbury: A History of the Canterbury Sallust

The Canterbury Sallust has an interesting history in its own right, travelling across the world as it did from its original source in Europe to the University of Canterbury Library in New Zealand. Unfortunately, prior to its acquisition for the Library little is certain about the manuscript’s origins. What is known is that on 4 May 1953 the manuscript was sold at Sotheby’s to C. A. Stonehill, and several further sales followed in the next thirteen years before it was acquired by Professor of Classics D.A. Kidd for the University of Canterbury in 1966.

The manuscript likely originates from northeast Italy and has been dated to c. 1465-1470 CE. The binding shows similarities with texts from Ferrara and Cesena, and is influenced by the style associated with Florence. From Italy the manuscript appears to have moved to France. This is indicated on the front flyleaf where there is an erased signature, ‘Monchol’, which is believed to be of French sixteenth-century origin. Other names written in the manuscript suggest that it may have belonged to the family of Pierre de Monchal, an advocate at the parliament of Paris. His relative Charles de Monchal, the archbishop of Toulouse, was a renowned bibliophile and established a large library. It is possible that our manuscript was part of this library, but nothing is known for certain and little else is recorded until the mid-twentieth century.[8]

In 1966 Professor Kidd was in England on leave and it was hoped that while there he might purchase for the University Library a representative manuscript in Latin. Professor Kidd found however that due to an increase in sales to various institutions there were few manuscripts on the market and the prices of the remaining manuscripts were rising steadily.[9] It was fortunate that when the Sallust manuscript was located it was closely followed by the announcement of a bequest from Walter Cuthbert Colee.

Cover of the Sallust manuscript. The decorative binding is now missing its original clasp.

Walter Colee (1876-1966) was a graduate of Canterbury College and a former headmaster of a number of Christchurch primary schools. Colee was active in the world of education, serving as a member of the Canterbury University College Council from 1934 to 1949, and holding the position of Chairman for two years. He also served on the Senate of the University of New Zealand and was a member of the Lincoln College Board of Governors for nineteen years. His bequest of £100 was gifted to the University Library with no limitations as to how the money should be spent. The Library was therefore free to spend the money to its best advantage. Rather than use the money for ordinary books the Library deemed it appropriate to purchase something special, “something beyond our ordinary means yet of use to some and of value for everyone.”[10] As Latin was one of Colee’s interests it seemed fitting that the first early manuscript in Latin acquired by the University should be a lasting memorial to his work.


The Canterbury Sallust has had a long history in its own right, travelling around the world from Italy to France and on to England, eventually making its way to New Zealand. When it was originally produced, the manuscript itself increased the understanding of the ancient Romans of their place in the world though its narrative of conquest. Texts such as Sallust’s Bellum Jugurthinum helped to educate Romans about the world beyond their own cities and foster an interest in the history and geography of the world in which they lived. Today the work of Sallust continues to be a valuable teaching tool, expanding the horizons of a new generation of students, as part of the University of Canterbury Library Rare Books Collection.

Emily Rosevear recently competed her Master’s Degree in History at the University of Canterbury and currently works as a Gallery Host at the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities.



Our thanks to Special Collections Librarian Damian Cairns and the University of Canterbury Macmillan Brown Library for their continued support, and permission to reproduce images for this article. All images are copyright to UC.


[1] Daniela Dueck and Kai Brodersen, Geography in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 3.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., 8.

[4] Ibid., 46.

[5] Garry Morrison, “The Canterbury Sallust” in Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library ed by Chris Jones, Bronwyn Matthews and Jennifer Clement (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2011), 90.

[6] D.A. Kidd, The Canterbury Sallust. (Christchurch: University of Canterbury, 1969).

[7] Morrison, The Canterbury Sallust, 92.

[8] Ibid, 92-93.

[9] C. W. Collins, ‘Foreword’, in The Canterbury Sallust, by D.A. Kidd (Christchurch: University of Canterbury, 1969).

[10] Ibid.

A Classical Bestiary

In this second post of her series about the connections between Classics and the natural world, UC Classics student Laura Bythell explores the history of some special animals in antiquity. 

If you have ever owned a cat you will understand why they were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, but you might not know much else about animals in antiquity. Dogs might not have been recipients of worship, but they sure have been important as man’s best friend. And what about cows? Those cute ungulates batting their long eyelashes are the reason some people go vegan, but what did the Romans think? This short list will whet your appetite for classical history as we skim the surface of the roles of animals in the ancient world.

Cast collection copy of a Rhyton in the shape of a bull, JLMC CC4.

Aurochs (Latin: urus)

The aurochs was the mighty wild beast from whom most domestic cattle are descended. Now extinct, this bovine creature once roamed across Europe, where it was hunted by the Greeks and Romans. Their huge horns were prized as hunting trophies and were sometimes made into drinking cups.

Cattle (Greek: bous. Latin: bos)

Domesticated cattle played an important role in Greek and Roman life. Oxen were sturdy creatures used for agriculture and bulls were specifically coveted for religious sacrifice. Cattle were so important as working animals that their meat was generally reserved for consumption during sacrifices, rather than being eaten on a regular basis. This was especially true for the Greeks, for whom the consumption of meat in general was closely linked with religious practice. Instead, sheep and goats were much more commonly kept for their meat and dairy, although it is worth noting that meat, regardless of which animal it came from, was much more of a luxury than it is now.

Dogs (Greek: kyon. Latin: canis)

Dogs have been man’s best friend since antiquity, even being referred to as “that most faithful friend of man, the dog” by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder nearly two thousand years ago. While this is surely not the first example of such a phrase, it shows the Romans were just as fond of these four-legged companions as we are. The Greeks were equally as fond of them, but this did not mean they were exempt from occasionally becoming food; according to contemporary historian Andrew Dalby, the Greek physician Galen mentions the nutritional value of dog meat, but their use as food is very rarely mentioned in other ancient texts.

As well as companionship, dogs were also valuable guards and hunters. In fact, dogs were frequently featured in mosaics at the entrances of Roman homes. A famous example can be found at the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii. These mosaics, sometimes accompanied by the text cave canem (“beware the dog”), are often considered to be depicting guard dogs. The Teece Museum itself is home to a large hunting dog mosaic from Roman Syria belonging to the Logie Collection. The Collection is also home to a contrasting canine depiction – a Greek column-krater shows a delightful small dog trotting alongside a barbitos player (JLMC 182.97).

182.97 column krater
Red-figure column-krater featuring a dog, JLMC 182.97.

We get the word cynic from the Greek word kyon. Diogenes the Cynic, also known as Diogenes Kynikoi (dog-like), was one of the founders of the Cynic School of Philosophy, which espoused the belief that humans should live simple lives and pursue their basic needs without all of the complications of modern living. Diogenes originally received the epithet kynikoi as an insult, but found the name fitting to his lifestyle.

Elephants (Latin: elephantus)

One of the most famous examples of elephants appearing in antiquity happened during the second Punic War (218-201 BCE) when the Carthaginian general, Hannibal, brought war elephants over the Alps. These elephants are thought to have been either the now-extinct North African or the Syrian elephant. Though elephants are not native to Italy, war elephants were also utilised by the Romans.

However, Hannibal was not the first to bring elephants to Italy. War elephants were also used by King Pyrrhus of Epirus during the Pyrrhic Wars. During the final Pyrrhic battle, the Battle of Beneventum in 275 BCE, the Romans were able to capture eight of these elephants, but it was not until after the Punic Wars that use of war elephants was properly taken up by the Romans.

Roman as, Antoninus Pius, 148-149 CE, featuring an elephant. British Museum Collection Asset #666933001 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The historian Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) wrote a great deal on elephants in his work The Natural History, providing more ancient insight into the animals. According to Pliny, elephants were the closest in intelligence to humankind. Despite their use in war, he noted that they were naturally gentle animals. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) had also commented on the docile nature of elephants in his much earlier work History of Animals, further noting that they were easily tamed.

While elephants have never been truly domesticated, they have been used by humans for thousands of years for war, entertainment, and their ivory. The tradition of killing elephants for their ivory is even mentioned by Pliny, and while war elephants are a thing of the past, and their use in entertainment is now rare, this last tradition has unfortunately followed us into the twenty-first century, and alongside habitat loss, is one of the leading causes of their endangerment. Elephants are now highly endangered, and without drastic action, our remaining species of elephants will join the North African and Syrian elephants in extinction.

Panthers / Leopards (Greek: pardalis or panther. Latin: pardus or panthera)

Nowadays, the word panther is not the formal name of any particular animal, but is commonly applied to leopards, jaguars, and cougars collectively. The Latin term ‘Panthera’ serves as the official name for the subfamily of cats which includes leopards, lions and tigers. Once prevalent in the ancient wild, these big cats are now endangered. The Romans no doubt helped their endangerment along; exotic and ferocious animals were popular at public spectacles and were often made to fight or were hunted for entertainment. Bestiarii were a particular type of gladiator who fought against animals in the arena, either voluntarily or as a death sentence.

Etruscan oinochoe with a procession of goats, JLMC 69.64.

Goats (Greek: aix. Latin: capra)

While goat milk is not common these days, it was much more regularly consumed in the ancient world. Goats were not as useful as cattle as working animals and so they were raised mainly for their milk, meat and skins. Goats generally require less land and resources than cows, and have a slightly higher milk production to resource consumption ratio. Although they produce less milk overall, goats would have been ideal meat and dairy animals for poorer farmers or families. As the Romans and Greeks did not have refrigeration or pasteurisation, goat milk would have been safest to consume only when very fresh (limiting its use), or when fermented into delicious cheese – a much more accessible option.

Goats were also depicted in mythology; the goatherd nymph Amalthea helped protect the infant Zeus from his hungry father Cronus. Sometimes Amalthea herself is depicted as a goat. A procession of six grazing goats can be seen around this Etruscan oinochoe (wine jug) which was possibly made in the city Vulci in Etruria (JLMC 69.64).

Sheep (Greek: probaton. Latin: ovis)

Sheep milk or cheese is even harder to find now than goat milk (at least in New Zealand) but for the Greeks and Romans it was just as popular. According to Aristotle, cheese was commonly made with a mixture of goat and sheep milk, possibly making an early variant of feta cheese. In New Zealand feta is often made with cow’s milk, but in some countries, it is still made predominantly with sheep and goat milk.

Cast collection copy of a statuette of Hermes carrying a sheep, CC33.

In this statuette of Hermes belonging to the Logie Collection, a sheep is being carried under Hermes’ arm to sacrifice. Although less prestigious than cattle, sheep were also used in religious sacrifice by the Greeks and Romans (JLMC CC33).

Laura Bythell is currently working towards completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Classics. She has worked as a gallery host at the Teece Museum since 2017. 


Images: Unless otherwise stated, all images are © University of Canterbury. Photographer Duncan Shaw Brown



Andrew Dalby. Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. 2003.

Aristotle. The History of Animals. Accessed July 2020, URL:

Galen. On the Natural Faculties. Accessed August 2020, URL:

Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Strabo. Geography. Accessed August 2020, URL:

Women in academia: personal interactions in Miss Marion Steven’s travel diary

In 2017, Roswyn Wiltshire completed a PACE internship with the Teece Museum, transcribing a travel diary which belonged to Miss Marion Steven. The process of reading, translating, interpreting and researching the diary entries revealed some fascinating new angles to Marion’s story. Here, Roswyn contemplates whether the story of Marion’s journey might also shed light on the challenges faced by female academics post World War II.

Since the donation to the Teece Museum of Marion Steven’s travel diary and the extensive oral history project undertaken by Natalie Looyer, we have begun to learn more about the vivid character of the James Logie Memorial Collection’s founder, Miss Marion Steven. Marion travelled extensively during her career, visiting colleagues, museums, and archaeological sites. Before embarking on one such trip at the end of 1958 she was gifted a journal in which she recorded notes of meetings, lectures, artefacts, performances of ancient Greek tragedies, and on-going excavations. When transcribing the diary I also undertook research into the context of what I was reading. One major thread that emerged in this process was the situation of women in academia, and specifically the disciplines of classics and classical archaeology, during the post-World War II period.

Mrs Simpson and Miss Marion Steven, ca 1940

Miss Steven’s legacy is emerging as an inspiration to young classicists – a woman who resolutely went her own way and rose to become Reader – Associate Professor in today’s terms – at a time when the academic world was dominated by men. During the span of her career, women were always less than ten percent of the teaching staff at the University of Canterbury. This imbalance was an ordinary part of life for Marion, and it can be difficult to discover if she had any particular views on the situation faced by her and her female colleagues. By comparison with pioneering women of the field we can discover the range of stances on feminism, but in Marion’s own diary it is difficult to identify any real hints of her opinion.

One of the challenges women academics who worked alongside their husbands encountered was that they too easily fell into obscurity. When transcribing Marion’s diary, for example, it was difficult to find anything about the ‘Mrs Wace’ mentioned who showed Marion’s colleague, James Stewart, photos of the recently excavated shaft graves at Mycenae[1]. Marion elsewhere had referred to the Wace’s excavations, but the report on those excavations from Alan John Bayard Wace only mentions “Mrs. Alan Wace” among “other members of the excavation who undertook various parts of the work”. Miss Elizabeth Wace, his daughter, who would go on to be Director of the British School in Athens, was also “actively present throughout”[2]. “Mrs. Alan Wace” was in fact Helen Pence, an archaeologist in her own right who had studied in Rome. Learning about such women I became less surprised by Marion’s insistence on being addressed as Miss Steven after her marriage. Although Marion and her husband were not in the same field, keeping an identity separate from the traditional role of wife was no doubt important.

A page from Marion Steven’s travel diary.

When learning about the achievements of women like Marion, striding forth in careers and environments dominated by men, we may well ask ourselves “were they feminist?” To succeed in a man’s world does not necessarily require challenging the established hierarchy. From the early days of archaeology there were women both stridently feminist and fervently anti-suffrage, with many shades between. On the one hand, Gertrude Bell, an English archaeologist who also worked for British Intelligence during World War 1, was fervently anti-suffrage. The American archaeologist Harriet Boyd Hawes had doubts about suffrage, and felt “that a woman’s chief concern should be with the arts of living and homemaking” and the Danish academic Lis Jacobsen expressed similar sentiments very publicly, seeing herself as an exception. In contrast, the Egyptologist Margaret Murray was the first woman in the United Kingdom to be appointed as a lecturer in archaeology, and she was also a suffragette in the militant Women’s Social and Political Union. Also at the other end of the spectrum, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, whose work focused on prehistoric Egypt, remarked that “since the early ’30s my feminist allegiance led me to have a woman doctor”[3].

From the character that comes through in Marion’s diary, I believe that this quiet feminism, seeking to give women opportunities wherever possible, was the kind that would have appealed to her. She had herself been denied her first career opportunity in medical science by gender discrimination and was aware of the difficulties women faced[4]. However, studies interviewing women archaeologists who were contemporaries of Marion found that their subjects remembered little or no discrimination, even when statistics suggested otherwise[5]. To the successful, it is not always clear how one can fail through any fault but one’s own.

Marion Steven in Rome, ca 1970

Marion’s travel diary did not focus on this matter. She was primarily concerned with making notes for use in teaching. The diary also served to keep track of expenses, with accounts of travel and food costs.  Personal interactions are often reported in a single, heavily abbreviated sentence. Everything recorded was either useful or important to her – and thus, however brief, the very fact that she chose to record a particular snatch of conversation is always significant.

One such passage is in her account of a visit to Sir John Beazley in Oxford. Beazley was a renowned classicist, and Marion’s connection to him had a significant impact on the prominence of the Logie Collection. Beazley even bestowed the name ‘Logie Painter’ on an Attic vase painter who created the ‘Logie Cup’ from the Collection, and another kylix in the Louvre. But in this particular meeting the subject of their discussion – the Berlin Painter – is suddenly followed by a remark from Marie Beazley.

“ – Lady B[eazley], when they were working in B[ritish] museum before war – [said that it was the] ‘only time she felt free’”[6].

Marie Beazley is typically a footnote to her husband, without an easily traceable record of her own career. Yet Marion implies that Marie was working at the British Museum alongside her husband, and that this gave her a sense of freedom unprecedented in her life. It is one of the very few occasions that Marion directly quoted anyone in her diary, and gives us a possible hint of where her convictions lay.

A page from Marion Steven’s travel diary, with dried flowers.

I believe Marion was very much aware of how difficult it was for most women to succeed in academic careers as she had done. The scale of gender inequality in academia may have never stood out as much to Marion as it does to us, for it was, lamentably, normal. As for what she did in response, Marion was not a flamboyant activist personality. Perhaps more importantly, however, she was fully invested in supporting her students. Through the Collection she established and through her example as a role model, she continues to be a guiding and inspiring presence to new generations of classicists.

Roswyn Wiltshire has worked as a gallery host at the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities since 2017. She has just completed a Master of Arts in Classics at the University of Canterbury.



Our thanks to the Steven Family for their continued support of the Logie Collection, and permission to reproduce images for this article.


[1] MKS Travel Diary, February 27th 1959. Page 62. Logie Collection Archives, uncatalogued.

[2] Wace A.J.B. 1950. ‘Excavations at Mycenae, 1939’. The Annual of the British School at Athens, 45, pp. 203-228.

[3] Bolger, 1994, 48 in Claassen, C. ed. 1994. Women in Archaeology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Jørgensen, 1998,219-220; Champion, 1998, 193 in Diaz-Andreu, M. and Stig Sørensen, M. eds. 1998. Excavating Women: A history of women in European archaeology. London and New York: Routledge.

[4] Marion received a scholarship in pathology at Middlesex hospital London; she had applied under M.K. Steven. When she arrived, it was withdrawn due to there being ‘no facilities for women’. Holcroft, A. ‘Obituary: Marion Kerr Steven’, in Chronicle v. 34 no. 4 (1999): 8-9.

[5] White, Marrinan, and Davis, 1994; Kästner, Maier, and Shülke, 1998.

[6] MKS Travel Diary, January 8th 1959. Page 35. Logie Collection archives, uncatalogued.

Classics in your garden

There are many ancient treatises on agriculture, often recorded in written form as poetry, which detail information about plants and animals, or how to improve and manage crops.  A number of plants that were familiar to the ancient Greeks and Romans can also be found in New Zealand. UC Classics student Laura Bythell explores the connections between the ancient world and the natural world outside your window. 

When you look in your garden, you might not see a great deal of significance in your weeds, other than a reminder that it’s time to grab the lawn mower again. However, many common plants that have made it to New Zealand from across the ocean might surprise you with their classical significance. This handy list will help you identify weeds and plants in your garden whose hidden histories you can use to impress your family and friends.


Acorns: (Greek: βάλανος – balanos. Latin: glans or balanus)

Acorn-strewn pathways are a common sight during Autumn in New Zealand due to the popularity of oak trees. While acorns are now mostly just a nuisance, they are actually thought to be one of humanity’s first foods. Only some varieties of acorn are edible, but those that can be eaten are useful as a food during times of famine and can be ground into a flour. Acorns have been mentioned by multiple classical authors; according to the Greek historian Strabo, they were a staple food of the ancient Iberians.

Bears breeches: (Greek: ἄκανθος – akanthos. Latin: acanthus)

Also known as Acanthus mollis, this leafy weed is a menace in New Zealand gardens. However, long before it made its way to our shores, acanthus was a popular motif in Greek, Roman and even Byzantine architecture. One of the most common places you can spot acanthus is in the capitals of Corinthian columns, a design which is credited to the Greek sculptor Callimachus. According to Roman author Vitruvius, Callimachus was inspired when he saw an acanthus plant growing in an unusual way; a basket had been placed upon an acanthus root and a tile placed upon the basket in order to preserve its contents. This caused the acanthus to grow up and around the basket and bend beneath the tile as if it were supporting it. Callimachus was apparently taken with this, and created a new design for the Corinthian column.


Hemlock: (Greek: κώνειον – koneion. Latin: conium)

Hemlock is a common but dangerous backyard weed to be aware of. Although it is part of the carrot family, (sometimes known as carrot fern!), it is far from edible, and was used as a poison in ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher Socrates famously died from ingesting a hemlock-based poison after being sentenced to death. If you touch this plant you should wash your hands immediately.

Mallow: (Greek: μαλάχη – malakhe. Latin: malva)

Mallow is a pretty purple-flowered weed that, unlike Hemlock, is safe to eat, but perhaps not very pleasant. Its bitter leaves were eaten by Roman poet Horace, who waxed lyrical about his humble diet in Odes 31: “as for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance”.


Dandelions: (Greek (modern): ραδίκι – radiki. Latin (late): dens leontis)

Dandelion and its relative chicory both have roots in classical history. Common dandelions can be included in your garden salad, and have been linked to the Greek goddess Hecate by modern pagans. Chicory is a member of the same botanical family as dandelions (Asteraceae or daisy family), and a variety of it is known as endive – the very same leafy green that Horace referenced earlier.

Sow-thistle: (Greek: σόγχος – sonkhos. Latin: sonchus)

Sow-thistle is another plant from the daisy family that was used as a potherb in ancient times. While foreign varieties have been introduced to New Zealand, we also have our very own native variety, Puha.

Calendula: (Greek (modern): καλέντουλα – kaléntoula. Latin (modern): calendula – diminutive of kalendae)

Also known as marigolds, this plant is well known for its bright orange or yellow flowers. Calendula belongs to the daisy family along with sow-thistle, but it was much more utilised in the ancient world than its cousin. Calendula has been used through the centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes. The ancient Romans and Greeks were well aware of this plant’s benefits, and used it in religious ceremonies. The edible petals also made a popular garnish because of their bright hue.


Yarrow: (Greek: possibly sideritis as a generic term for wound-healing plants. Latin: herba militaris or millefolium.)

Yarrow or Achillea millefolium can be found on roadsides in New Zealand. It derives its name from the Greek hero Achilles, who in Homer’s Iliad is mentioned as the person who taught his companion Patrocles the use of an unnamed “bitter root”, which he uses to heal the wound of another character. Achilles is said to have learned this from the wise centaur Chiron, who was known as a great healer. The “bitter root” may have been yarrow as it was well known for its blood-staunching properties and is native to temperate regions of Europe, including the Mediterranean. The use of the root by Achilles was discussed by the Roman author Pliny the Elder in The Natural History who debated the origin of the plant.

Fennel: (Greek – μάραθος – marathos. Latin – ferula)

Fennel was brought to New Zealand by European settlers and can be cultivated in your herb garden. Like hemlock, it is a part of the carrot family, but unlike hemlock, it is much more edible. Greek poet Hesiod claimed in Theogony that the titan Prometheus hid fire in a fennel stalk when he stole it from the god Zeus to give to humanity.


Ivy: (Greek – κισσός – kissos. Latin – hedera)

Ivy is an invasive climbing plant that loves to creep up walls. Due to its fast-growing and aggressive nature, this non-native plant has been officially labelled a pest by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. To the ancients however, it was quite the opposite of a pest. Both the Greeks and Romans made use of ivy wreaths, which were believed to have medicinal properties. The Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have used ivy to treat drunkenness, and so ivy wreaths were believed to have the same effect, and were associated with Dionysus and Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine.

Black Nightshade: (Greek – στρύχνον – strukhnon. Latin – strychnos)

Nightshades are a large and old genus of plants. One of its family is quite common in New Zealand; black nightshade is a pesky plant that can be found in many backyards. Luckily, black nightshade is tame in comparison to its more famous relative. Atropa belladonna, or deadly nightshade, lives up to its threatening name; the highly toxic plant was used as a poison in ancient Rome. While nightshades are often best avoided due to their toxicity, other relatives of these two plants include the very edible potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants.

Black Nightshade

Apples: (Greek – μᾶλον – malon. Latin – pomum as a generic word for fruit)

Apples are one item on this list that are still very popular today and are a favoured fruit tree in gardens. While delicious, they have also caused strife; the Trojan War would never have happened if not for a golden apple! In another Greek myth, the huntress Atalanta was tricked into marriage with Melanion when he distracted her with golden apples. However, the importance of apples was not restricted to mythology in the classical world – the Greeks may have also used an apple a day to keep the doctor away, as they were considered by the ancient Greek physician Galen to be part of a healthy diet.

Hellebore: (Greek – ἑλλέβορος – helleboros. Latin – helleborus)

Hellebore is a flower that is prized for the fact that it is both easy to grow and blooms in winter. Although beautiful, they are unfortunately also poisonous. This plant was used in antiquity for medicinal purposes and also appears in mythology; the Greek hero Heracles was cured from the madness the spiteful goddess Hera had cursed him with by the use of hellebore.

Print out this list and go around your back garden or on a short stroll in your local area, and see how many of these plants you can identify. Then next time you are out and about you can impress your family with your amazing botanical and classical knowledge!


Laura Bythell is currently working towards completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Classics. She has worked as a gallery host at the Teece Museum since 2017. 


Images: Laura Bythell, 2020



Andrew Dalby. Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. 2003.

Dioscorides. De Materia Medica. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Hippocrates (ed. Charles Darwin Adams). The Genuine Works of Hippocrates. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Gwen Skinner. Simply Living. Reed Publishing. 1981.

Intriguing visitors: memories from a gallery host

It is a joy to be able to open the doors of the Teece Museum again, having been closed in response to the Covid19 pandemic. While we move carefully ahead, it is an interesting time to reflect on the things that we missed sharing during lockdown, and consider what that tells us about our sense of community. At the Teece, we have most definitely missed being able to welcome in visitors from near and far. With this in mind, UC postgraduate Natalie Looyer shares some of her interactions with visitors as a Teece Museum gallery host, and reflects on what value a collection of classical antiquities might have for our community.    

I began working as a gallery host when the Teece Museum first opened its doors in May 2017. I remember the sense of excitement that the James Logie Memorial Collection would be open to the public for the first time since the 2010-2011 Christchurch Earthquakes. But I also recall the apprehension of those working hard to make this happen. Would it all work out? Would the public respond positively to a museum dedicated to classical antiquities? Would we get enough visitors?

Visitors browsing the opening exhibition ‘We Could Be Heroes’, 2017

Almost three years on I still remember the delighted reactions from visitors who came to the opening weekend of the first exhibition, “We Could Be Heroes: The Gods and Heroes of the ancient Greeks and Romans”. As the Christchurch Arts Centre was only just beginning to regenerate post-earthquake, many visitors were thrilled to be back inside its iconic buildings. A number of visitors informed me that they had studied on site when the Arts Centre was still the home of the University of Canterbury. Other visitors shared their own earthquake stories with me, while some listed the great things that were now happening in post-quake Christchurch – the Teece Museum included.

One visitor approached me on the first day and began sharing her memories of travelling to Sicily and the Middle East where she had seen similar antiquities in museums. Another visitor said to me, “I don’t need to look closely at the items. Just being in here makes me feel like I’m in Ancient Greece!” Another visitor, upon seeing the Xena Warrior Princess costume on loan from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, yelped and informed me that she had seen every single episode of the 1990s television series. She then rushed outside to phone her sister about the exhibition. “You have to see it,” I overheard her say.

I was overwhelmed with pride at the collective public response to the museum. University figureheads whose titles we tended to utter with trepidation – the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor – visited with their children and parents, all in their relaxed weekend wear and looking suitably pleased with the new museum. Children found much intrigue in the gallery, not least with the two mosaics that are embedded into the museum floor. I remember one boy pretending to pat the dog mosaic. Another child crawled around on top of the river scene mosaic, exclaiming to their mother, “Look, I’m swimming!” A moment later, “Ouch! The fish bit me!”

Finding inspiration in the ‘Beyond the Grave’ exhibition for a children’s holiday activity, 2019

Some visitors returned more than once over the months to follow. One gentleman got talking to me about his past travels to Greece when he was younger. He returned a few weeks later, donning a souvenir t-shirt and cap that he had purchased in Athens, to share with me some Greek travel guides that he had dug out of his bookcase. I remember another visitor whom I spotted studying a bust of the Roman emperor Augustus, an item also on loan from Te Papa Tongarewa. The man pointed out that he and Augustus had similar shaped noses, to which I suggested that maybe he had some Italian blood in him. A couple of weeks later the man returned and excitedly informed me that he had done some digging and had indeed discovered some Italian ancestry. “Not that I’m necessarily related to this bloke, but you never know,” he said, throwing a thumb in Augustus’ direction. Still, I recognised his hopeful gaze resting upon the stately bust in front of him.

We may not be able to trace our lineage to ancient heroes, but we often feel a remarkable sense of connection to many aspects of the ancient world. The narratives that are presented alongside the items in the Teece Museum prompt us and our visitors to reconsider our own ideas of heroism, religion, life, leisure and loss. Such an opportunity to think a little deeper about what connects us as people seems particularly important in a city like Christchurch, which continues to grow from the challenges that its people have faced in recent years. Thinking about the many and varied interactions that I have enjoyed with our visitors, it heartens me to know that our museum can offer those visiting a chance to experience a shared sense of humanity with those living thousands of years before us.

Children enjoying the Christmas Feastivities activity in the Fantastic Feasts exhibition, 2020

As a casual gallery host I still get to witness the enjoyment that visitors experience in the museum from time to time. Just recently I watched as a parent shuffled her child out of the museum, assuring him that they would return another day when they had more time to view everything. I smiled when I overheard the boy’s earnest reply: “Can we come back on my birthday?”


Natalie Looyer has been involved with the Teece Museum as both a gallery host and a collection technician. During her time with the Museum she completed a Master of Arts with the University of Canterbury Classics Department, focusing on ancient Greek literature. Natalie is currently working as contract oral historian and researcher.

Museums for Equality: a personal journey

Museums around the world are changing, but have they changed enough? As we celebrate International Museum Day, with the theme “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”, recent UC graduate Amy Boswell-Hore reflects on the ways in which museums exclude or include visitors with disabilities, using the experiences of her family to illustrate this important issue. 

Museums have a long history, dating back over 2500 years. They have grown from being small assemblages to become impressive collections of artefacts and rooms filled with art. For much of their history, the purpose of museums was usually to show the status of the museum’s owner, whether that was a person or a nation. It was not until the 1980s that the purpose of museums really changed, and they became centres of education, where people of any heritage, race, or culture could come to share their stories. This revolution in museum practice has resulted in most museums working hard to become more inclusive. Yet in spite of this development, there are still groups of people whose needs are frequently forgotten by museums and the cultural sector at large. In particular, the disabled community is being left behind.

In April, 2019, my family and I went on a trip to Europe. As the family’s resident planner, I took it upon myself to create a detailed itinerary. I am also my family’s resident museum nerd, so I included as many museums as possible. Little did I know that this decision would be a life changing experience. You see, my family is a perfect example of how frustrating it can be to visit a museum when you are disabled. My father has been blind since he was a few weeks old and my late sister had cancer, which frequently forced her to use a wheelchair. Meanwhile, my mother is deaf in one ear and has an inflammatory disorder, which makes walking difficult. Together, we’re familiar with a range of different disabilities.

The Boswell-Hore family in Paris, 2019

Prior to this trip, my family had visited museums in New Zealand which are relatively modern and purpose built, but many of the iconic buildings that house European museums, such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, were around long before accessibility regulations and building codes. The Louvre, in particular, was a sore point for me and my sister. While we had a lot of fun looking at the artworks we studied in high school, the building itself is a wheelchair user’s nightmare. The Louvre was originally a palace and its architecture reflects this. There are stairs leading between many of the galleries, even those that are on the same floor, which make it impossible for any wheelchair bound person to visit certain galleries without assistance. At first, my sister was determined and made herself climb the stairs, pulling herself up them with the handrail. By the third set, however, she was exhausted. In the end, she asked for my help and I carried her to the top of every flight of stairs. While my sister enjoyed the art, you could tell the process of seeing it was humiliating for her. Coming from New Zealand, where wheelchair lifts are required in museums, it was a disappointing experience.

Megan Boswell-Hore in front of Pierre August Renoir’s ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’, 1876.

On the other hand, my father had some wonderful experiences on our trip. For example, at Stonehenge as soon as the staff noticed that my father was blind, they began offering him extra services without being asked. We did not even realise that we could ask, having limited options at home. He was given a free audio guide of the site and free entry into the museum. They also loaned him a small scale model of the monument, so that he could feel its shape and understand what we were looking at. For the first time my father was given the opportunity to be independent at a historic site. Likewise, Corfe Castle, an eleventh century fort, had audio stations set up around the site, with each station playing part of a recorded story. My father loved it. The story allowed him to imagine how the ruined castle once looked and operated. These two historic sites are spectacular examples of how small gestures could completely change the experience of a blind person. They gave my father the ability to independently learn the history around him.

Richard Boswell-Hore at the National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh was another highlight. This incredible museum featured a wide variety of interactive displays. Throughout the zoological section the labels had anatomical replicas of the animal in front of you, while the geological section welcomed visitors to touch some of the stones on display. There were also mini-games dotted around the building that helped you to understand a scientific concept. The musical mini-game was my father’s favourite – this was a large, wall-mounted instrument made out of pipes that demonstrated soundwaves. Not only did it make noise, but it also made vibrations that could be felt when you placed a hand on it. It was wonderful to see a museum put their funding to good use and create an experience that was accessible to both able-bodied and disabled. Yet, we found that it was not only the well-funded museums that had put in the effort to include everyone. Even some of the community museums, run purely on donations, included hands-on experiences. Gold Hill Museum, a tiny museum in Shaftsbury, also had replicas and short audio recordings. Their response to inclusivity was simple, but very effective, and proved that museums with limited funding can create a positive experience.

Interactive musical instrument in the National Museum of Scotland

As much as I enjoy museums in New Zealand, my experience is that they are not on par in terms of accessibility with those we visited overseas. I believe that it is time for our museum community to improve their facilities for the disabled, and the first step to making our museums more user-friendly is to get disabled people involved in the discussions about how to do this. There are many stories which illustrate the misguided attempts and failures of the able-bodied to improve accessibility, often due to incorrect assumptions relating to disabilities. Another example from my family’s experiences was visiting the Roman Baths in Bath. The museum was wonderful but they made one glaring mistake. They had written the display labels in braille, but many of the labels were beneath cabinets. To be able to run his fingers along the bumps and read the label, my father would have to sit on the floor. The placement of the braille labels meant that this lovely gesture was in vain. If a blind person had been consulted, they would have been able to identify the mistake, and also point out that only a small percentage of the blind community can read braille. An audio guide would have been better for everyone involved.

Fortunately, it is not too late for New Zealand’s museums. There are some fantastic people at work striving to implement better systems. If you are interested in this topic, I suggest that you look into Arts Access Aotearoa, a group that is actively working to improve the museum experience for disabled New Zealanders.


Amy Boswell-Hore is a recent graduate of the University of Canterbury; having earnt a Bachelor of Arts in History and Classics, a post-graduate diploma in Classics, and a certificate in Latin. She has worked with the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities since 2017.


Our thanks to the Boswell-Hore family for generously agreeing to share their experiences and family photographs with us.