We need you to help bring Leslie Adkin’s diaries to life

We need you to help bring Leslie Adkin’s diaries to life

Horowhenua farmer Leslie Adkin kept a diary for 40 years from 1905, recording a huge amount of information of early 20th century New Zealand life, through war and peace. Te Papa is calling for volunteers to transcribe Leslie’s dairies from October 1917, just after he was conscripted to serve in the army, through to the end of the conflict in November 1918.

If you’ve been following Leslie Adkin’s WWI experiences through his Twitter feed or via ‘Life 100 Years Ago‘, you will know that 3–5 September 1917 were three tense days for Leslie, his wife Maud, and infant daughter Nancy.

Maud Herd and Leslie Adkin sitting at a table in the garden. Maud is pouring tea.
Maud Herd and Leslie Adkin sitting at a table in the garden. Maud is pouring tea. Image: Afternoon tea, 26 March 1917, by Leslie Adkin. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (B.022632)
Close up of Nancy in pram with teething bone in mouth
Close up of Nancy in pram with teething bone in mouth. Image: Here goes Aug 19, 19 August 1917, by Leslie Adkin. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.006381)

This was because Leslie’s name was one of the 15,000 drawn in the 10th conscription ballot, which meant he was selected for compulsory military service. The ballot occurred between 21–23 August.

Excerpt from an Evening Post article
Evening Post, 24 August 1917

After the paperwork was checked by clerks at the Chief Statistician’s Office, things moved rapidly for the men who were called-up.

Leslie received the fateful news on 3 September – the next day he visited a lawyer to check his options, and on 5 September he went to Palmerston North for a military medical examination, which he had to pass before he could be accepted into the army or appeal his conscription.

Palmerston North library building from the early 1900s
Palmerston North Library. Image: Palmerston North, about 1904, New Zealand, by Muir & Moodie studio, maker unknown. Te Papa (C.013297)

Leslie wrote three pages in his diary about this experience, which included a visit to the Palmerston North Library before he got down to business:

“At 2pm I stripped to trousers + socks + had my height, weight (10 stone 6lbs), chest measurements, normal 34 inches + expanded 36 inches, colour hair, eyes etc + religion taken….Stripped naked, had eyes + hearing tested, sounded (heart + chest), arm exercises + hopped about.”

I’m not going to give the game away by telling you the outcome, except to say that Leslie received five shillings for attending the exam. You can read the full account here on Collections Online.

The transcription of many of Leslie’s war-time diaries, including these three uncertain days, has been completed largely through the huge efforts of a voluntary transcription army (but unlike the New Zealand army during WWI, no one was conscripted!).

George Leslie Adkin's diary, well-worn and with a sticker on the cover saying May 1917 to Feb 1919
George Leslie Adkin personal diary, May 1917-February 1919, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (CA000245/001/0009)

You can read about the start of this project in 2014, and the achievements of the first ‘contingent’ that transcribed Leslie’s diaries – 18 months’ worth of diary entries (6500+ separate entries) in four weeks.

As we head towards the final 14 months of war commemorations, we are calling for another big push to transcribe Leslie’s diaries – from October 1917 (the Battle of Passchendaele) to November 1918 (the Armistice and the Influenza pandemic).

Poster featurign the flags of the Allies nations
A poster celebrating the Allies’ “glorious triumph” over Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the official end of World War I. Image: Poster, ’The British Empire And Allies’ Glorious Triumph’, 1919, New Zealand, by A. R. Hornblow. Acquisition history unknown. Te Papa (GH014049)

It’s easy to sign up to join Te Papa’s ‘transcription army’ – and you don’t need to pass a medical. Just go to Collections Online and search using a date and the keyword ‘Adkin’ – e.g. “25 December 1917 Adkin” – then scroll down to the heading ‘Topics’.

Click the matching thumbnail and you will find a diary entry ready for you to transcribe. You will also find these ‘how-to’ instructions will help with abbreviations and style.

Once you’ve done your duty, wait to see what Leslie tweets, when the date that you transcribed comes around – 100 years later!


  1. Hi Kirstie, can you please confirm I just submitted a diary entry 29 January 1918 but when I click on the topic button the same diary entry date shows available for transcription again. Does it lock out the diary entry once someone has transcribed it ?

  2. Hi, I was enjoying reading and transcribing these diaries but with the new site can no longer find the appropriate pages. Earlier diary entries no longer show the photo just the transcription, and I like to read the original (eg 1 October 2015). I could not find 1 October 2017, and when I refreshed the page I had been working on last week, I did not see the photo, only the transcription box (empty).
    Also, I couldn’t find this blog from the home page, I had to google Te Papa blog to get to it.
    Please can you email me or post here how to get to the diary entries?

    1. Author

      Hello Lynley
      Thanks for you email. Firstly – thanks for your transcripctions: so far 259 have been done since I wrote this blog which is just amazing.

      Sadly, the images of the diary entries dropped off the database after we upgraded Collections Online last Thursday, but our technical gurus are working hard to get them to surface again. I will try to get a facebook message out when the problem has been resolved.

      As for finding the blog – you can find it on the Te Papa home page if you click on ‘Discover the Collections’ which is in the top banner. The blog is one of the three options you have when you click here.

      Thanks again for your help so far and maybe in the future once the teething issues with Collections Online have been sorted out.

      Kind regards
      Kirstie Ross

  3. Does Te Papa require multiple transcriptions of the same entries to be completed (by different volunteers) before accepting a single entry and uploading it? If not, do you have a timeframe that completed single entries are likely to start showing? I’ve unfortunately lost track of the ones I’ve done!

    1. Author

      Hi Jane
      Thanks for your question and for contributing to the transcription of Leslie Adkin’s diaries. We just need one person to transcribe an entry – this is then double checked by someone at Te Papa (me!). This is because Leslie’s handwriting is clear to read and we have found that not many typos come through. Transcriptions are uploaded immediately to our database, although I’m not sure how long they take before they are visible to the public on Collections Online. Not long, in any case. If you remember the date or even the month and year you were working on, these should be showing by now if you did the transcribing earlier this week or last week. I’ll also check with Te Papa’s technical staff to see if you/we can search on your name/the name of the person who did the transcription.

  4. Keen to be involved.

    1. Author

      Great to hear Moira.
      Please feel free to transcribe as many diary entries as you like. Some a very short and require a minimal amount of time but others quite be quite long and full of interesting details. Thankfully Leslie’s handwriting is pretty easy to read,

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