Curious: Miss Matilda Sanville – the smallest lady in the world


This portrait of Matilda Sanville – the smallest lady in the world (also known as ‘the Fairy Queen’) – was taken in Sydney in 1875 in connection with her appearances in the city and before her tour to New Zealand. The portrait uses known studio portrait conventions of the time to convey Sanville’s size (a… Read more »

How many plants are in New Zealand?

  • The fork fern Tmesipteris tannensis is indigenous to New Zealand, being present here without human intervention. Moreover, it is endemic, being indigenous to New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. About 45% of the indigenous ferns and 80% of the indigenous seed plants are endemic to New Zealand. Photo Leon Perrie CC BY-NC.
  • Stereocaulon ramulosum is a common New Zealand-indigenous lichen. I suspect few New Zealanders would know it, which is symptomatic of the attention given to lichens, even though they contribute significant biomass to many ecological communities. Photo Leon Perrie CC BY-NC.
  • African club moss (Selaginella kraussiana) is an introduced lycophyte (and not a moss). It is very invasive, even into relatively undisturbed indigenous forests. It carpets the ground, suppressing the regeneration of indigenous plants. WELT P026410. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa CC BY-NC-ND.
  • Anyone visiting New Zealand’s coast is likely to have seen Neptune’s necklace (Hormosira banksii). It is a very common, indigenous brown seaweed. But many New Zealand seaweeds are only poorly known. Photo Leon Perrie CC BY-NC.

I gave a talk on “Understanding and valuing our plants” at the recent open day of Otari-Wilton’s Bush in Wellington. I’m very interested in why New Zealand’s native species might be valued. I am hoping you can help me think about that – I welcome your input; look out for an upcoming blog post. But… Read more »

Te Papa’s international textiles – Nigeria to New Zealand

East & West Missionary Exhibition label attached to one of the curios displayed there

East & West Missionary Exhibition A survey of the costume and textiles Te Papa’s International History collections now underway has shown that many of our collections from Africa and Asia retain links with an exhibition held almost 90 years ago.  In most instances, they have not been exhibited since then.  I’ve become fascinated by these… Read more »

Today is World Contraception Day!

Display case with one contraceptive pill stating 'the pill that changed the world' against a backdrop of visitors' comments 'Let's talk about sex'

World Contraception Day aims to improve awareness and access to the many contraceptive methods available, and to help people make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. Contraception: Uncovering the collection of Dame Margaret Sparrow is an exhibition at Te Papa which features just about every contraceptive device you can think of, from the… Read more »

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘human rights’? This week Te Papa hosted a fantastic and thought-provoking conference on human rights in museums with the theme: ‘Access is a human right’. Federation of International Human Rights Museums Speakers from around the world shared their experiences, and we shared ours – from… Read more »

Healing Te Papa’s Achilles Heel: George Dawe Redefined!

Dawe 1

Posh ignorance vs. best practice Art historians and curators can be obstinately wrong and obtuse even about great masterpieces. A notorious example is Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine (c. 1490) which should really be called Lady with a Ferret, but posh ignorance prevails. The best practitioners in the field are never afraid to… Read more »

More Macey – recent photography acquisitions


Te Papa recently acquired more cabinet card photographs by Blenheim photographer, William H. Macey. Macey’s photographs are a great example of the strength of photography occurring in the regional centres of New Zealand during the late nineteenth century and up to World War I. You can read more about Macey and see more of his… Read more »

Condoms in the trolley

Supermarket, Devonport, Auckland, 1977, by John Daley. Gift of John Daley, 2012.  © Te Papa (O.038942)

Does anyone remember having to go into a pharmacy and ask for condoms? 30 years ago today saw a massive change in how New Zealanders bought condoms – for the first time they became available on supermarket shelves. Until 1985, condoms were bought mainly from chemist shops. Boxes were either on display or customers had… Read more »

Why museums matter: activism, politics and protest

Next week we have the privilege of welcoming Professor Richard Sandell, a leading museologist from the UK, to Te Papa. Richard, who my colleague devoutly declares ‘should be compulsory reading for anyone working in a museum’, is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Federation of International Human Rights conference. His keynote address, ‘Why Museums Matter:… Read more »