A gown from past generation for future generation

Curator Paul Gaelic and the Shaw gown. Photo: Nikki South.

It’s a gown, the Killen gown, an elegant silk gown of 1870s vintage.

It was worn by one of the region’s first ladies, Mary Elizabeth Killen, and her image lives on in a special exhibit at Katikati’s Western Bay Museum in the old fire station.

The exhibit is a look at a small slice of Katikati, the origins of its people and their town, and it’s a rare insight into a specialist craft.

And when an expert costume conservator from Te Papa National Services went to Katikati, and in front of locals spent four days mounting the gown for the exhibition at the museum, it started something.

“It meant the community viewed The Western Bay Museum as a professional and reputable organisation,” says manager/curator Paula Gaelic.

“Our credibility as a museum grew commensurately. And on the back of the Killen gown, we have been gifted so many more important objects.”

One of the people who visited the museum to watch conservator of costumes and textiles Sam Gatley at work on the Killen gown, was Omokoroa resident Mrs Shaw. “She could obviously see we were giving the Killen gown the care and dignity it deserved. So she gifted us a gown worn by her great-grandmother – it’s 10 years older than the Killen gown.”

The museum then again successfully applied to Te Papa’s National Services’ expert knowledge exchange programme, for Sam Gatley to return to Katikati to mount the 1860s Shaw gown. National Services is the Te Papa arm that supports museums throughout the country.

“They’re museums that are doing the job properly,” says Paula. “Only some of the 500 museums in New Zealand are selected. It’s not a given, it’s a privilege to have their support.”  

And from May 26-29, The Western Bay Museum will open its doors for three or four hours each day so the community can watch Sam Gatley at work on the Shaw gown and get an insight into the skills, qualifications and science that go into work behind the scenes of a modern museum.

“Although we’re small, we’re a 21st century museum, innovative and creative in the way we do things.”

Sam Gatley, professional conservator of costumes and textiles, is a curtain-raiser of sorts to a new exhibition at the Western Bay Museum called “Suffrage 125”. This year marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. On 19 September 1893 the Electoral Act 1893 was passed, giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote - the first country in the world to do so.

There are lots of events planned. Go to: nzmuseum.com for information on a writing competition and a re-enactment of a suffrage march, and other events including the Suffrage 125 exhibition itself.

While the Shaw gown is being transformed into a museum exhibit, it’s fascinating to explore the backstory to the Killen gown, and how it got to New Zealand. “Katikati was the only planned Irish settlement in the world,” says Paula.

In 1873, an Irishman called George Vesey Stewart would emigrate to New Zealand and buy 10,000 acres in Katikati for a special settlement of 40 Irish families. “He asked the Irish government to provide sailing ships which he would fill with paying passengers. And then he convinced the Northern Irish to sell up their land and come to New Zealand.”

The scheme was so successful he bought another 10,000 acres around Katikati, and yet another block in Te Puke. The Killen gown came with the settlers. There’s a Killen Road in Katikati, after a Mr Killen who was the first minister.

The silk gown mounted by Sam Gatley and on exhibition at the Western Bay Museum was worn by Mrs Mary Elizabeth Killen – the minister’s wife.

The garment behind the story is on public display at The Western Bay Museum now. Another gown with another story will go on display when the Suffrage 125 Exhibition opens on June 1.

It’s a gown, the Killen gown, an elegant silk gown of 1870s vintage.

It was worn by one of the region’s first ladies, Mary Elizabeth Killen, and her image lives on in a special exhibit at Katikati’s Western Bay Museum in the old fire station.

The exhibit is a look at a small slice of Katikati, the origins of its people and their town, and it’s a rare insight into a specialist craft.

And when an expert costume conservator from Te Papa National Services went to Katikati, and in front of locals spent four days mounting the gown for the exhibition at the museum, it started something.

“It meant the community viewed The Western Bay Museum as a professional and reputable organisation,” says manager/curator Paula Gaelic.

“Our credibility as a museum grew commensurately. And on the back of the Killen gown, we have been gifted so many more important objects.”

One of the people who visited the museum to watch conservator of costumes and textiles Sam Gatley at work on the Killen gown, was Omokoroa resident Mrs Shaw. “She could obviously see we were giving the Killen gown the care and dignity it deserved. So she gifted us a gown worn by her great-grandmother – it’s 10 years older than the Killen gown.”

The museum then again successfully applied to Te Papa’s National Services’ expert knowledge exchange programme, for Sam Gatley to return to Katikati to mount the 1860s Shaw gown. National Services is the Te Papa arm that supports museums throughout the country.

“They’re museums that are doing the job properly,” says Paula. “Only some of the 500 museums in New Zealand are selected. It’s not a given, it’s a privilege to have their support.”  

And from May 26-29, The Western Bay Museum will open its doors for three or four hours each day so the community can watch Sam Gatley at work on the Shaw gown and get an insight into the skills, qualifications and science that go into work behind the scenes of a modern museum.

“Although we’re small, we’re a 21st century museum, innovative and creative in the way we do things.”

Sam Gatley, professional conservator of costumes and textiles, is a curtain-raiser of sorts to a new exhibition at the Western Bay Museum called “Suffrage 125”. This year marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. On 19 September 1893 the Electoral Act 1893 was passed, giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote - the first country in the world to do so.

There are lots of events planned. Go to: nzmuseum.com for information on a writing competition and a re-enactment of a suffrage march, and other events including the Suffrage 125 exhibition itself.

While the Shaw gown is being transformed into a museum exhibit, it’s fascinating to explore the backstory to the Killen gown, and how it got to New Zealand. “Katikati was the only planned Irish settlement in the world,” says Paula.

In 1873, an Irishman called George Vesey Stewart would emigrate to New Zealand and buy 10,000 acres in Katikati for a special settlement of 40 Irish families. “He asked the Irish government to provide sailing ships which he would fill with paying passengers. And then he convinced the Northern Irish to sell up their land and come to New Zealand.”

The scheme was so successful he bought another 10,000 acres around Katikati, and yet another block in Te Puke. The Killen gown came with the settlers. There’s a Killen Road in Katikati, after a Mr Killen who was the first minister.

The silk gown mounted by Sam Gatley and on exhibition at the Western Bay Museum was worn by Mrs Mary Elizabeth Killen – the minister’s wife.

The garment behind the story is on public display at The Western Bay Museum now. Another gown with another story will go on display when the Suffrage 125 Exhibition opens on June 1.