Things to do  |  14 Jul 2020

An old painting of Banks Peninsula cottages has set the scene for a family history lesson given by a visiting grandfather to his young grandchildren at Akaroa Museum.

The naïve oil on canvas by an unknown artist shows the “Harris Cottages” in Okains Bay.

Museum Director Lynda Wallace says the Harris family descendants have made the most of their recent visit to Akaroa, with the younger members learning a great deal about their links to the area.

“Three generations of the family came to see the painting, with the grandfather using the opportunity to share the local family history with his grandchildren,” Ms Wallace says.

“This is what local history museums do best – connect people with their past in this place.”

The painting – acquired by the museum in 1965 – shows two neighbouring cottages originally owned by Silas William Harris and William Edward Harris.

The men, who were not related, arrived in Okains Bay in 1854, later marrying half-sisters Adeline and Sarah Ancall.

Ms Wallace says the Christchurch-based descendants are among a rush of museum visitors this month as more people start to explore their own backyard, often along with their family history.

“In the first week of July, visitor numbers to the museum were actually higher than last year,” she says.

Both local and visitor spending in the area has climbed in the past few months as people explore Banks Peninsula. Akaroa has also proved to be a very popular holiday spot for families during the July school break.   

“More North Islanders are exploring the South Island – many for the first time – and Christchurch people seem to be visiting Akaroa more frequently,” Ms Wallace says.

“More people are definitely discovering small-town New Zealand, and all the wonderful experiences and opportunities to learn about their heritage and local history – particularly on Banks Peninsula.

“Our museum pieces help people dip into the past, bringing a personal strand to their family story and helping to reimagine the lives of their ancestors.

“By learning about our own heritage, we can have a renewed sense of self and the importance of family connections.”

Akaroa Museum is open every day from 10.30am to 4pm.