Friday, 3 October 2008

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand

The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre has made a digital version of New Zealand's first encyclopaedia - complete a glimpse of prison life in 1897, talk of teenage boys' smoking rooms at church and a state-of-the-art electric belt which guaranteed its wearer a steady galvanic current of life-giving force.


The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Volume One: Wellington Provincial District—which weighs 5.1 kilograms in hard copy—was produced in 1897. Also available now is Volume Six: Taranaki, Hawkes Bay and Wellington. Both volumes are online from today


This has been a big project for the NZETC and we hope that the volumes will be a great digital resource for researchers and genealogists. The Cyclopedias contain a wealth of information on New Zealand’s social history and include a collection of biographical portraits, a town and country gazetteer and surveys of local trades and businesses. It was the sort of thing you had to pay to get yourself into unless you were a particularly prominent person. The volumes were a money making venture.


The other four volumes, covering Auckland, Canterbury, Otago & Southland, and Nelson, Marlborough & Westland, will be digitised later this year.


The first volume reminds readers that Wellington was once known as the ‘Empire City’ of the Colony of New Zealand. It takes readers on a tour which includes:

· a curate whose efforts to keep teenage boys out of mischief included providing them with smoking rooms: The Rev. Charles Archibald Tisdall, curate of St Paul’s is “an advocate of muscular Christianity. He believes that the churches should do more than is usually done to provide counter attractions for the youth of the Colony. He has, therefore, succeeded in founding a boys’ club, for lads of sixteen and upwards. A membership of seventy-five has already been attained, and the good work grows and increases. Suitable apartments have been provided for gymnasium and reading and smoking rooms...”

· a state-of-the-art electric belt which guaranteed its wearer a steady galvanic current of life-giving force: The Pononga Electric Company, Manufacturers of Pononga Patent Electric Belts: “The subtle forces of nature which can be communicated through the electric current are beneficially applied by means of the Pononga Electric Belt. As the blood is the life of the body, so electricity is the life of the blood. … This marvellous belt can be worn as required, and may be put on at bedtime and removed in the morning, or can be worn as any special time when needed, and removed when the object has been attained. The writer had the opportunity of testing a belt that had been in use for some months, and can testify that there was a sensible current of electricity being generated continuously. The belt is worn round the hips, the positive pole being placed immediately over the spine, while the negative touches the abdomen in front, or vice versa as may be needed according to the complaint. A gentle current at once passes through the vital organs of the body, whereby organic action is stimulated, the vital energy is renewed, digestion is assisted, and the blood, nerves, and tissues are beneficially influenced.”

· a poultry, pigeon and canary association which refused to tolerate foul play: “The New Zealand Poultry Association will serve the same good service as many more pretentious societies. It will bring together from various parts of the Colony, men engaged in a common pursuit that will enable them to compare notes and to compete in friendly rivalry, substituting a spirit of healthy emulation for narrow minded jealousy, and overweening self-conceit born of ignorance of the merits of others.”

· the Welch Football Club, a team made up entirely of members of the Welch family of the Wairarapa: “The late Mr. Henry Welch and his three brothers settled in the Hutt Valley in the early days, and in 1873 removed into the Masterton district. That they were of the genuine material needed for the subduing of rough country may be inferred from the fact that their sons, now mainly resident in and around Masterton, constitute one of the most formidable football teams to be found in any county in the Colony.”

· a vision of Friday night in Eketahuna at Carter’s Temperance Hotel…

· a glimpse into prison life at The Terrace Gaol, Woolcombe Street, Wellington, where good conduct was rewarded by baked, rather than boiled meat – but never milk in your tea. And where bad conduct might still result in flogging – or the gallows: “ The cells are each provided with a hammock, blankets, and pillow, a dish, a pannikin, a tin knife, and a wooden spoon. A bible and hymn book are also provided for each cell. … [The prisoners] have three meals a day, the midday meal consisting of soup, meat, and potatoes. Mutton and beef are served boiled on alternate days. The special class good-conduct men are allowed baked meat; and all are served with a mug of tea without milk. … Very great efforts are made to insure that the prison shall be a reformatory institution, and not a “training-school for criminals,” and to keep the prisoners as much apart as possible is a necessary step to all measures of reform. …Flogging has almost ceased, and cannot now, as formerly, be administered on the authority of two visiting justices. The sentence of the judge of the Supreme Court, delivered at the time of trial, is the only authority for flogging. Capital punishment, as everyone knows, has not yet been abolished; but the little plot in front of the gaol contains but seven mounds, of which all are neatly preserved and labelled with the initials only of those whose remains lie beneath. A gallows is kept at this gaol for the use of the Colony, and is erected here or shipped away as the locality of the case may require.”



The NZETC would like to thank both Wellington City Libraries and Colonial CD Books for making the project possible.

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