Help Wanted: Who, What, When?

Help Wanted: Who, What, When?

Photographs tend to come to museums with little or no information attached.  The ones below are planned for use in an upcoming Te Papa book on our photography collection. You can help us flesh out some detail on these old photos before it gets locked down in print.

Military Man or Policeman?

At Pungarehu, near Parihaka, by Alfred Burton, Burton Brothers studio, May 1886, black and white negative. Te Papa.

This one has two curious features. First, the window by the doorway is set quite low compared with the others. Its height is more in keeping with a Maori meeting house. Is it possible that the origins of the house lie in a wharenui, with side wings added? The pitch of the roof seems a bit too steep though.

The bigger issue is what uniform the man is wearing. Pungarehu was an Armed Constabulary (AC) camp in Taranaki used as the base from which to invade nearby Parihaka in 1881. But by 1886, when this photograph is believed taken, a ‘one policeman’ policy had been introduced to Pungarehu to try and defuse on-going tensions between Parihaka Maori and Pakeha. Whether the man here is this sole policeman isn’t known, but he isn’t wearing a regular AC uniform. A possibility is that the photograph was taken after September 1886 when the AC was split into the NZ Police Force and the NZ Militia (the beginnings of the NZ Army). But even if the photograph was taken after September (and it is unlikely), the police uniform was much the same as the AC one, a dark blue tunic and trousers and soft cap. Then of course, there is the question of the relationship of the man and the woman, and indeed between all the people. Any ideas? You can zoom into the detail of the image by clicking on it when you are taken through to Collections Online.



 Delivering the Goods

Delivery trucks, by Ken Niven, Gordon H Burt studio, 1931-1940, black and white negative. Te Papa.

Moving forward well into the 20th century, what date should we put on this photograph? It depicts some grocery delivery trucks from the Foodstuffs co-operative, who were associated with the Four Square grocery stores. Foodstuffs had a warehouse in Martin Square in Wellington and this photograph could well have been taken there. The question is when. The truck on the left is probably a Chevrolet, the one on the far right a British make. We know the photographer began working in 1931 and went off to war in 1940, but can we narrow the date range down further? If there is a listing of truck plate years somewhere their numbers might give a clue about period: H28.289; H30.997; H31.914. The partly obscured car at right might be a dating clue as well. Here are close-ups of the most readable truck plates:

Truck plate 1

Truck plate 2


Manufacturing Mystery

View of factory floor with workers, by Gordon H Burt studio, 1924-1945, black and white negative. C.002013. Te Papa.

What are these people making? They are in a Wellington factory, 1920s or 1930s. There look like mops at left, but the people further over seem to be assembling electric motors. However, these are quite small, too small to drive floor polishing machines, if that is what the mop heads are designed for. Note the woman at the far bench using the magnifying device. Obviously some fine work required at some stage. How does all the fabric working connect to the metal working and assembly?

Woman at magnifier


Cars and Clothes: 1920s or 30s?

by Roland Searle, black and white negative. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. O.019799. Te Papa.
Group at picnic, by Roland Searle, black and white negative. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. A.019799. Te Papa.

Scroll down to see the other two photographs. Same woman in same dress. But are they different occasions? She is wearing different shoes in the first two. And there are different men in the first and third, and different rugs, but a similar record player, and looks like same friend at left, though with different hats. Or has she swapped hers in the third for that of the woman in the first. There seem to be different cars in each photograph. What are they and when did they first appear? The first one is apparently a 1929 Austin, but what about the others? And what dates are the clothes? I would have thought 1920s, but if the car is 1929 then maybe we are looking at the early 1930s?

Woman beside car.
Woman beside a car, by Roland Searle, black and white negative. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. A019716. Te Papa.
Group with record player, by Roland Searle, black and white negative. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. A.019750. Te Papa.
Group with record player, by Roland Searle, black and white negative. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. A.019750. Te Papa.

Lost in the 1960s?

Woman and man with station wagon, by Ken Niven, colour photographic print. Purchased 2009. O.031822. Te Papa.

Has he strayed off the highway into the woods and chanced upon an elegantly dressed woman who happens to have a map within the voluminous pockets of her coat? Or maybe the car is so brand spanking new they are reading the instruction manual before heading out onto the road. Make up your own story, but what I really want to know is what car and what year was it first produced? An internet search suggests Ford Falcon XP around 1965, but someone will know for sure.

Any information or leads gratefully received.

− Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography
P.S. This blog is getting a lot of hits. So I’ve done further two (#2, #3) with more photos that need info (we have plenty!)


  1. Hi Athol

    Came across your ‘Wanted’ article re info for Museum.

    Rather interesting. – Re Rego numbers…

    I had a collection of number plates from the first and these were issued all to my Grandfather for his cars over the years.

    Then cleverly calculated, most was ‘stolen’ (with a lot of other items), by my father.

    My having been the sole beneficiary, I had inherited all of my Grandfather’s estate… including the set of his rego plates I was supposed to have!!
    There are crooks out there!!

    A full display had been made up showing all from the first one issued by the County Council concerned, up to the modern style used today.

    Other councils did similar according to my grandfather (pre his passing – 1965).

    The first ones were of heavier material and a different slightly larger font style than any showing in the pix. I do have photos somewhere, but it would take a lot of looking to find them just now.. But certainly, now I will keep more alert for them.

    The age suggested (1908) would be very close as it took a while for all the councils to cotton on to the future income stream.

    Subsequently the Govt. saw a better way of it being done.. If they – do it they could milk us all for more taxes, and it has never stopped since!!

    William (Bill)

  2. The shoe change: she’s swapped her fashionable shoes for a pair of ‘sand shoes’ ie washable white cotton canvas shoes. Hers are Mary-Jane style with a strap and a button, later ones had laces. in the 1950s we had a thin white ‘paint’ to spruce them up. Do we have any idea where these photos were taken?

    1. Author

      I assume the photos were taken around Wellington somewhere, as that is where the photographer lived. He was a bank clerk, which seems a little lower in the social scale than these people seem to be, though maybe his occupation needs a bit more investigation.

  3. To keep long skirts clean women added a removable, washable dust ruffle or ‘balayeuse’ (literally a “sweeper”) to the hem of their dress or to their petticoats.

    Re Cars and Clothes: 1920s or 30s?: from the longer waved hairstyle of the ‘leading lady’ I’d agree it’s 1930s, though her friend with the cloche hat is a little behind the times. Still, they are on a picnic, so presumably not wearing their best clothes. The ‘leading lady’ is stunning, and the whole group looks so privileged and self-assured I wonder if they were famous people in their day?

    When designing costumes for a NZ play I add at least 5 years to the date of Parisian fashions because the fashion magazines, dresses, fabrics and sewing patterns all had to come from overseas, and then it took time for a daring fashion to be assimilated into the more conservative NZ culture.

  4. I examined the photo – then read the comments! My conclusion is similar. The photo (three trucks) are wearing 1941-46 registration plates. The Ford truck at left is the newest, probably 1941/2 build. It may not be ex-military as some trucks were released for civilian service during war years – but it had to be an essential service (which food delivery was). The sedan at right is 1938-39 vintage (it is a Ford V-8). So, definitely taken 1941-46, possibly during the war.

  5. I can scan the photograph with the details to you if you like if you dont have the good book on Four Square! Love reference books especially off stores…

    1. Author

      Thanks, but I did go and look at the book after your first message, so no need for you to send scan.

  6. The Ford Falcon photo seems so un-natural that it has been posed. Could be for a sales brochure. Check out Ford NZ or Colonial Motors archives.

    1. Author

      Oh yes, definitely an advertisement.

    2. The Falcon picture is most definitely a Ford Motor Co publicity shot. The model is XP, which was built in Australia (NOT New Zealand) 1965-66. The photo was probably taken 1965, when the car was first released.

    1. Author

      Ah, pictures are very useful, thanks. Pity there is almost no colour photography from pre-WWII to make comparisons.

  7. found this regarding number plates in new zealand
    Checkup, therefore renewed every year.

    1939-1940, 1933-1934, 1931-1932, 1930-1931, 1929-1930.

    First registration-1908 year.
    1908-1925-white-on-black, consisting of an alphabetical code district (from 1 to 4 letters) and a serial number of up to 4 characters.
    In Christchurch with 4 digits codes were not enough, so use the following sequence of issue:
    Ch1… CH9999, CH1A… CH999A, CH1B Of … CH999B, CH1C Of … CH999C

    1925-1966-numeric numbers (except for 1925-1926), changing every year, from 1941-every five years. The change occurred in the middle of the year, each series was distinguished by the color combination and the punctuation symbol in the center of the mark:
    1925/26-square, white on green,
    1926/27-hyphen, white on black,
    1927/28-star orange on black,
    1928/29-diamond, white to Brown,
    1929/30-round, white on blue,
    1930/31-colon, white on black,
    1931/32-triangle, orange on black,
    1932/33-low dash, black on orange,
    1933/34-star, white to dark brown,
    1934/35-diamond, white on dark blue,
    1935/36-comma, white to reddish-green,
    1936/37-inverted triangle, black on yellow,
    1937/38-Heraldic Shield, black on white,
    1938/39-white Maltese cross on a green,
    1939/40-Pentagon black on orange,
    1940/41-triangle, white to dark red,
    1941/46-diamond, white on black,
    Motorcycles have number 1 … a private taxi, 999-1000… 1999, rental cars-2000…, private vehicles-2999 with 10001. The rest of the vehicles had an alpha prefix in the room.

  8. Found this online after consulting a vintage car enthusiast.

    Description of Motor Vehicle Registration Plates Issued from 1925

    Year 1925 –1926
    Symbol  square mid centre
    White numerals on green background

    Year 1926 –1927
    Symbol – hyphen mid centre
    White numerals on Black background

    Year 1927 –1928
    Symbol * Star mid centre
    Orange numerals on Black background

    Year 1928 –1929
    Symbol • Diamond mid centre
    White numerals on Brown background

    Year 1929 –1930
    Symbol • Circle mid centre
    White numerals on Blue background

    Year 1930 –1931
    Symbol : Colon mid centre
    White numerals on Black background

    Year 1931 –1932
    Symbol  mid centre
    Orange numerals on Black background

    Year 1932 –1933
    Symbol – Hyphen low
    Black numerals on Orange background

    Year 1933 –1934
    Symbol * Star lower centre
    White numerals on dark brown background

    Year 1934 –1935
    Symbol •Diamond lower centre
    White numerals on Oxford Blue background

    Year 1935 –1936
    Symbol , comma lower centre
    White numerals on bronze/green background

    Year 1936 –1937
    Symbol  Inverted Triangle lower centre
    Black numerals on Yellow background

    Year 1937 –1938
    Symbol Escutcheon lower-centre
    White numerals on Black background

    Year 1938 –1939
    Symbol  Maltese cross mid centre
    White numerals on Green background

    Year 1939 –1940
    Symbol Pentagon mid centre
    Black numerals on Orange background

    Year 1940 –1941
    Symbol  triangle lower centre
    White numerals on Venetian Red background

    Year 1941 –1946
    Symbol •Diamond lower centre
    White numerals on Black background
    Annual issue of plates not made during war

    Year 1946 –1951
    Symbol – hyphen mid centre
    Black numerals on mid-buff background

    Year 1951 –1956
    Symbol , Comma lower centre
    White numerals on Black background

    Year 1956 –1961
    Symbol * Star mid centre
    White numerals on Venetian red background

    Year 1961 –1966
    Symbol • Circle mid centre
    Black numerals on Yellow background

    Year 1967 –1986
    No Symbol. 2 letters plus 1 – 4 numerals Silver on Black background

    Year 1986 – present
    No Symbol. 3 letters plus 1 – 3 numerals Black on White reflectorised background

    1. Author

      Thanks Chris, so that makes the date of the picnicking young people 1930 or later. Can you give me the URL for this web site? I had come across it previously when I was researching the trucks (to which I wasn’t sure if it applied) but it eluded me when wanted it for the car.

    2. Author

      Good point, thank you. It’s easy to have today’s mindset where the date of the plate is simply the date of when it was first issued, but back then it represented the current year. So the date of this photo is pretty well nailed. Now what about the trucks? Zooming right in it looks like a diamond between the numbers, though it could be another shape. But whatever the case, it is definitely not a hyphen, as per 1946 to 1951. The plates also can’t be 1939 to 1940, as they were black on yellow then. I’m adding close-ups of the truck plates to the blog.

  9. The picture of the factory….I remember my mother having a floor dusting mop ( not for cleaning but to get up fluff) in the 1950’s as in the mop heads shown in the front of the picture. Not sure how this relates to the rest of the picture though.

    1. I’d like to float some ideas and observations. It is a production line (or a circle, really!). The cases in the centre are filled with circular steel parts – perhaps these rotate in a machine. The girls at the front are sewing woolly or stringy bits. It does look to me as though they’re polishing attachments for floor polishing machines.

      Is it war time? What makes me wonder is the number of females at work there. Females did men’s work during the war – after the war they were sent back to the kitchen! To add to that theory, at least one of the women has a wedding ring on – generally married women only worked during the war years. However, the woman at the back of the room, furthest from the camera and with her back to us, has stockings on. They were hard to come by during the war year and, if she had some, surely she wouldn’t wear them to work?

      Thoughts and observations to further confuse!

  10. delivering the goods photograph! I have the lovely book on Four Square history, and on page 77 The Foodstuffs deliver fleet operating out of the Wellington Warehouse in Martin Square circa late 1940s.
    From left to right. Head Driver Mac Rous. Driving on ex-Army Ford. Lou Neale driving on extended Morris Commercial, and “Happy” Moore also driving a Morris Commercial. Vehicles were very scare throughout the war years and overloading of the trucks to achieve delivery was commonplace.. oh for history! I didnt come to NZ until 1970. but just doing NZ history…its a great book to have for history!!!

    1. Author

      Great, thank you. Don’t know why I didn’t think to check if there was a book on Four Square’s history. Have looked at it today. We did note that the truck on the left was the sort used by US Forces during the War, but thought it might have been a pre-War example. I wonder if some were left behind from the Americans being stationed in NZ during WWII? I must say that going by the number plates (see images in Flickr link from Wayne Johnston above) they look like 1937 to 1939 or 1941 to 1946, but definitely not 1946 to 1951, so maybe we are right about the truck. I wonder how the author of the Four Square book Joseph Bolton came to the late 1940s as a date. Perhaps a copy of the photo in the Foodstuffs files? If you are out there Joseph….

  11. Hi Athol, a couple of notes on the Burton Brothers image featured first in the post.

    I don’t believe the house is an altered whare, if you look at the line of supplejack lashings along the exterior walls, the window by the door isn’t all that much lower than the others, but the lack of awning makes it look lower. Many of the Armed Constabulary were well versed in building this kind of hybrid raupo house with colonial features as they built their barracks in this style (an example is here:

    The names of some possibly relevant members of the Pungarehu AC/police force of the period 1885-1887 you may want to look into are Inspector Pardy (sometimes spelled Purdy), and constables Kelly, Ryan, and Twomey. It might be worth trying to find pictures of them?

    The Hocken have a copy of this photo and date it to 1881, so that could help broaden the search. also, the man near the front in the Taranaki Mounted Rifles uniform is wearing what is known as a “military sun helmet” which may be helpful? this style of helmet was common in the mounted units, and if you look at this gentleman’s trousers, you can see they are riding jodphurs, which leads me to the key burning question on my mind about this image – how did he keep his cream trousers so clean? 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks for your feedback. I still think the centre window is lower. If you enlarge the image on our Collections Online and then move it up so the bottom of the frame runs at the level of the windows it is noticeably different from the others. Also, the raupo has a break in its thatching either side of the centre section. I’m not saying it is a ‘built-on’ wharenui, just putting the question.

      There are certainly photos of Pungarehu when it was a larger camp showing many raupo thatched huts for the AC. So I agree, nothing too unusual about the construction. Interestingly, this large house never features in the other photos though.

      Yes, had ascertained that Pardy, Kelly, Ryan or Twomey could have been ACs stationed there, but not found any photos of them, and if this is a mounted rifles uniform it won’t be them anyway.

      I am pretty certain about May 1886 for date of the photograph. Photographer Alfred Burton was listed as a passenger disembarking in New Plymouth in early May. Te Papa has the original photographer’s registers and the sequence of Parihaka related negatives within it comes just before the Tarawera eruption of June 1886 (though the Burton photographs of the eruption aftermath were taken somewhat later), so that supports May as a date.

      What I would like to know is if there is a surviving station duty book for Pungarehu. That might have recorded Burtons visit. Doesn’t seem to be one at Archives NZ though.

      I agree about keeping trousers clean, but I always wonder how women managed to keep the bottom of their skirts clean in the 19th century. I know some had drawstrings to raise them when crossing muddy streets, but even so…

  12. For the picnic pictures, I would go by the women’s shoe styles and check the car registration number in order to date the pictures.

    1. Author

      Sure. any idea where a list of number plate dates can be accessed?

    2. The car registration plates are 1930-31 issue. Plates at that time were issued annually, on the 1st July.

      The gorgeous girl is the same in the top two photos. The car she is leaning against in the second photo is the same car in the top photo – ie the open top car. It is a ‘baby Austin’ – or Austin 7. Unsure of its year.

      The other car in the top photo has rolled top fenders (mudguards). It is the same car in the second photo and they’ve not changed it’s position (ie it is parked in the same place as the top photo). That car’s bumper and fenders would appear to be the same as the one on the car in the third photo, (ie car reg 92 : 116) and now the group has introduced a third car! I’m not game to guess the make of the other two cars. I suspect 92 : 116 is a Chevrolet, but I may be quite wrong. The third car should be easily identifiable by the radiator badge.

    3. Author

      I guess you are right John about the two cars being in the same position across two photographs. I had initially discounted that because all the greenery in the first photo doesn’t seem to reflect what you can see of the background of the laughing woman shot. But its probably just the angle it is shot at and everything about the cars matches.
      Now that I look more closely, it does seem that the shoes under the rear wheel of the car in the first shot are the ones she is now wearing in the standing photo.
      As for the badge on the car in the third shot, unfortunately this camera seems to have a marked drop off in sharpness to the right, so it is really too blurry to get any information out of it. Thanks for your comments.

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