Recently, some of the Friends visited Te Papa to view the artefacts discovered when the Cottage was renovated back in the mid-1990s. They were accompanied by Virginia Warbrick who originally documented and catalogued all the items, as part of her work for a PhD. This included detailed descriptions, measurements and drawings of every item.
This unique collection came about due to the careful and painstaking work done during the cottage’s restoration by Beverley Randell, her husband Hugh Price, and their daughter Susan Price and their deep commitment to ensuring it was conserved for the future.
Beverly also spent many hours with her 80-year-old father and a few of his surviving cousins recording their memories. Together they were able to make sense of the objects they found in the cottage and record a history that represents the life of many New Zealanders from that period, as well as a detailed personal family history which was published in a book called A Crowded Thorndon Cottage by Beverley Randell.
And now we have a very special and original collection of remarkable remnants including crockery and china; pudding dolls; needles; pins; needles; and various pieces of broken and discarded jewellery alongside several items of children’s clothing.
Also included in the ‘treasures’ found under the house were writing slates and slate pens; textbook pages; a baby plate and toys (a homemade hoop, spinning tops, playing cards, a carved boat, and balls).
During the renovations the attic was opened up, and found lying in a corner were some hand-sewn clothes that would have fitted a young girl. Amongst that finding was a worn and altered dress, skirt, jacket and shirt.
Beverley believes that while the extension of 1874 was being built, Annie, the middle daughter aged nine at the time, had hidden these clothes. She had always had to wear her sister’s hand-me-downs, and in an act of defiance, she secretly squirrelled these clothes away.
Handwriting on the walls illustrated which bedroom the three Randell boys used. A brief pencilled note on white cloth glued to the wooden wall noted: “March 10, W.Randell A new pair of boots” – an expensive item in those days, worth proudly noting.
Another significant discovery in this room was found on a plain piece of blue wallpaper, exposed when the top layers were removed. There, drawn with a ruler and pencil, is nine-year-old Dick’s impression of the Government Building in Thorndon after it was built in 1876.
It would have been the biggest structure Dick had ever seen, with more windows than seemed possible. Even now, it is still the largest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
There are many more fascinating objects (and potential stories to go with them) to be discovered on Te Papa’s Collections Online. Check out more of the Randell collection.