Airmail Stationery

A couple of weeks ago I scanned a heap of correspondence in the Hocken Collections for an historian colleague in Queensland. The letters were from Jean Begg (1886-1971) to her ‘folks at home’ as she travelled the world in a variety of jobs, missionary, social worker and high-level administrator.  She was a prolific letter writer, seldom missing a week, telling her mother and sisters back in Dunedin all of her news. She habitually began each letter by describing small domestic moments; sitting by a fire, drying her hair, grabbing a couple of minutes before going to her office.  However, she often had to finish the letter a day or two later when she ran out of time. By the 1930s she was based in Calcutta while she was the National General Secretary for the YWCA in India, Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

Sometimes she wrote on blue aerogram letter with their characteristic red and blue patterns running round all the edges. If these were from London they were often bought from the Post Office with prepaid postage but from India they carried stamps. She used every available surface and covered each aerogram in blue-black fountain pen ink. When ball-point pens became readily available in the late 1940s she used them but they are now harder to read as the inferior quality of the ink has smudged and ‘bled’ over time.

This is a typical beginning of a letter:

‘My dear home folks,
Don’t you like the procession on the top pf the page? — I quite like this airmail pad of mine!’

And here’s what she was referring to:


While in Calcutta she had several pads of onion skin paper to write on and these are only random samples. Other places like Cairo, Basra, Bagdad and Jerusalem airmail stationery supplies were more limited.

Source: Hocken Collections, MS-1006/007







Woodhaugh General Store


In the centre of this 1912 picture of the Leith Valley amongst paper mills and sawmills a stone built shop can be seen. At the time it was a general store and with a sub-post office. It has survived as a private residence while none of the industrial buildings survive.

The store was run by E.S. Clarke as this rather magnificent piece of stationery reveals. Advertising is nothing new. Of the brands featured Colman’s mustard is immediately recognisable, the distinctive tins still dressed in yellow on today’s supermarket shelves. Keen’s Oxford Blue was used in laundering to make your whites whiter, as was No1 Azure Blue I suppose. Robinson’s Patent Barley and Groats was widely advertised in the pages of medical journals like The Lancet as a ‘superior food for children, invalids and others’.


Image sources:  ‘Owheo, The Story of Leith Valley during the Pioneering Days 1848-1948, compiled written and illustrated by William H. Davidson’ Manuscript Hocken Collections, University of Otago. AG-206/015.

Thomson’s NZ Journal of Science

This marbling is not from an endpaper but a cardboard front cover of the short-lived New Zealand Journal of Science.


Two volumes appeared between 1882-85 and after a lapse a third in 1891. It was initiated and largely written, by science master at the Dunedin High Schools – George Malcolm Thomson (1843-1933). He was certain that people ‘who are in the habit of noting natural phenomena, but who do not consider their observations sufficiently detailed for publication in scientific memoirs would gladly have some means of placing them on record in a form accessible to their co-workers’.[1]


He knew however the tightrope he was walking. He had earlier written a small book on the Ferns of New Zealand. ‘The usual demand in such a work,’ he wrote, ‘is that it shall be written in a ‘popular’ style and in ‘popular’ language—in other words, that all technical terms shall be avoided.’ But he warned that such books could ‘fail to satisfy those who want scientific descriptions, [because they] are not sufficiently explicit.’[2]


In this he echoed the sentiments of H.G. Wells, who had during his formative years trained in biology. Wells had no doubt that writing popular science comprised a particular discipline. The best should have ‘an orderly progression and development’ as readers come to such articles ‘for problems to exercise their minds upon.’[3] The worst examples of popular science came from the pens of practitioners who talked down to their audiences, using vague terminology which said nothing and was difficult to follow. Wells had little time for ‘inaccurate compilation’ of facts written in the ‘dialect of science.’[4] It should be borne in mind the term ‘popular science’, like other multilayered complex terms such as ‘expert’, cannot map from nineteenth century usage unproblematically onto our own understandings.[5]



[1] George Malcolm Thomson, “[Introduction to New Zealand Journal of Science.],” New Zealand Journal of Science [New Series] 1 1(1891): 1-2.

[2] ———, The Ferns and Fern Allies of New Zealand: with instructions for their collection and hints on their cultivation (Dunedin: Wise & Co, 1882).

[3] H.G. Wells, “Popularising Science,” Nature 50, 26 July (1894): 300-01.

[4] ———, “Popularising Science,” Nature 50, 26 July (1894): 300-01.

[5] Graeme Gooday, “Liars, Experts and Authorities,” History of Science 46(2008): 431-56.




Hutton & Drummond


This tuatara resting in front of a cabbage tree and a flax bush graces the front cover of Animals of New Zealand written by Captain F.W. Hutton and James Drummond published in 1905. Captain Frederick Wollaston Hutton (1836-1905) a well-known naturalist was based for most of his working life in Christchurch.

By the time Hutton co-wrote his book Animals of New Zealand in 1905, he had already published a lengthy list of technical scientific papers in both New Zealand and offshore journals. In this book, we learn from the preface, the authors ‘endeavoured to combine popular information with the purely scientific, and have intermingled stories of quaint habits and characteristics with accurate descriptions of all the animals dealt with.’

To do this they borrowed freely.

Personal correspondence with William Walter Smith (1852-1942), the Ashburton based gardener and newspaper articles by Thomas Henry Potts (1824-1888) a Canterbury runholder, Justice of the Peace and an early conservationist formed major of sources of anecdote and information.

An economical re-purposing also extended to illustrative material Animals of New Zealand reproduced photographs of coloured plates from Buller’s famous book A History of the Birds of New Zealand published in 1873. Buller himself used information supplied to him by Hutton and Potts amongst others. The circle of NZ naturalists, particularly before about 1880s was always rather small.

The second edition carried a frontispiece of a photo of Hutton who had died on board ship, on his way back to New Zealand after a trip ‘Home’.









A.R. Livingston, Stationer and Account Book Manufacturer, Dunedin. Flourished 1860s through to the 1890s.

This is an endpaper for a ledger book that Livingston made with imported high quality rag based paper.

Alexander Robert Livingston originally sold Otago Provincial Government maps including Hector & McKerrow’s geological map of 1864. He was a foundational member of the Otago Bible Society and sold tickets (presumably that he had made) to the Congregational Soiree at First Church of Otago in February 1865. Street directories list his premises in Princes Street in 1880. By 1894 his business has expanded with a grander title of Alex Robt Livingston & Co, and he had added cardboard boxes to the list of goods sold. A year later his business has moved to Crawford Street and he has added bookbinding to his list of accomplishments. Clearly his business was successful.

Sources: Otago Daily Times 12 Apr 1862; 8 Jan 1864; 21 Sept 1864. Wise’s Street Directory 1880-81; Stone’s Directory 1894-5.