SOME VERY SPECIAL OBJECTS
- 23 December 2021
- Cherie Jacobson
Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House in Ōtautahi Christchurch was officially opened by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 15 December 2020. Katherine Mansfield House & Garden Director Cherie Jacobson attended the opening and explains a special connection between the two heritage properties.
View of Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House from across the tennis court.
It’s hard to believe I have been intending to write this blog post for over a year! Time definitely flies when you’re managing a heritage property in the midst of a global pandemic. However, a year on, it’s lovely to reflect on a special day in December 2020 and some wonderful objects that were previously part of Katherine Mansfield House & Garden’s collection until they found their way back home to Christchurch.
This story starts with a deaccession project begun by Katherine Mansfield House & Garden (KMHG) in 2019. While KMHG is a collecting institution, we have very limited storage space and our collection policy has been refined since the early days of the collection, meaning some collection objects are no longer a good fit. We have been following best practice to carry out this deaccession process, which has many steps, but essentially once an object has been identified for deaccession and approved by our Board, we try to locate the object’s original donor or their next of kin and seek agreement on the best future for the object.
Four objects that were identified early in the project were framed watercolour paintings by Kate Beath (later McDougall). Three are rural landscapes (with one depicting Mount Peel in Canterbury), while one is the interior of a glasshouse at Leslieville, her family’s home in Riccarton. The paintings have no direct connection to Katherine Mansfield, the Beauchamp family, or the house at 25 Tinakori Road, and had been in storage for some time.
Three of the four paintings by Kate Beath now on display at Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House.
Luckily, our collection records noted that Kate Beath was the niece of famed suffragist, social reformer and writer Kate Sheppard (née Malcolm). Knowing that Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House had recently been purchased by the New Zealand Government and was to be opened to the public under the care of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga (HNZPT), I contacted HNZPT to see if they might be interested in the paintings. Unsurprisingly, they were!
Katherine (known as Kate) Christian Beath (1882-1979) was the daughter of Kate Sheppard’s older sister, Marie Beath (née Malcolm). Kate Beath was an impressive woman in her own right, being one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s earliest trained female architects.
Kate studied at the Canterbury School of Art and, from 1904, trained as an architect with leading Christchurch architect Samuel Hurst Seager. Kate’s progressive, educated and artistic family obviously supported her ambitions as her father was co-signatory of her unpaid contract with Seager. She completed her training in 1908 and travelled to London with her aunt Kate Sheppard. Over the next two years she visited many places in the United Kingdom and Europe and continued to correspond with Seager who encouraged her to learn from the buildings she saw. She returned to Christchurch in 1910 and in 1915 married pharmacist Colin McDougall. The couple moved to Wellington and had two children. Kate exhibited with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, but does not appear to have continued her architectural career after her marriage.
Delving further into our collection records, we found there were other objects that had connections to Kate Sheppard and her family: a rosewood sewing box with a mother of pearl inlay inscribed ‘Kate Malcom’ (Kate Sheppard's maiden name) on the lid; a tortoiseshell and pearl card case with ‘Kate’ inscribed in silver on a small plaque along the top; and a watercolour paint set (like her niece Kate Beath, Kate Sheppard was known to be a talented artist). Kate Sheppard didn’t have a daughter, so it made sense that some of her items, particularly ones with the name ‘Kate’ on them, had been passed down to her niece with the same first name.
The paintings and objects had been donated to Katherine Mansfield House & Garden by Kate Beath’s children in the 1990s. Sadly, both had since passed away. However, our Collections Assistant, Hannah Thompson, managed to find the widow of one of the donors and get her blessing for our plan to gift the paintings and objects to HNZPT for display at Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House. It made much more sense for the paintings and objects to return to Christchurch, given their direct link to Kate Sheppard and her family, and given the paintings depicted scenes from the South Island. It was also wonderful for us to know that the paintings and objects would be displayed and enjoyed by visitors, rather than kept in storage.
We don’t know exactly why Kate Beath’s children chose to gift these items to KMHG, but Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House was in private ownership when they did. They may have felt an historic house celebrating another prominent New Zealand woman named Katherine was an appropriate place. In a way, it worked out very well – KMHG was able to care for the items until they were ready to return home.
Not only was it a privilege for me to attend to the opening of Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House, it was a thrill to see the paintings and the objects that Hannah and I had carefully packaged up and sent on their way after the work involved in the deaccession process, now on display.
Next time you’re in Christchurch, I highly recommend visiting Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House. The experience has been cleverly designed to tell the story of Kate Sheppard and those she worked alongside campaigning for women’s right to vote. It also celebrates women’s achievements in New Zealand since then. The original part of the house was completed in 1888 – the same year as the house at KMHG!
Interpretation in Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House.
The beautiful garden is where Kate received the telegram on 19 September 1893 informing her that Lord Glasgow had signed the new Electoral Act into law.
A peek at the beautiful garden from inside the house.
Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-4pm, you can find more information on the website. While you’re there, make sure you say hi to those collection items for us!
With thanks to Helen Osborne from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. Biographical information about Kate Beath from Elizabeth Cox and a Special Research Project by Elaine Wheldon for Jenny Grenfell. All photos by the author except photos of the card case, which were supplied by Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House.