17 September 2008
Brain Watkins House Museum
When Mount Tarawera erupted ash blackened the Tauranga sky. At the Brain house on Cameron Road the family’s horse was brought inside and given shelter in the hallway. With the outbreak of WW1 family legend has it that treasure was buried under the foundations for safe keeping. Forty years later Bessie Brain and a gentleman friend were tragically struck and killed by a car outside the front gate.
Indeed the Brain Watkins House Museum has many stories to tell. However, opportunities for sharing these stories have largely been restricted to a few hours a week, when the house is open to the public. The owners of the property, the Tauranga Historical Society, a volunteer charitable organization, want to change this and are focused on future proofing the house museum.
Society president, Shirley Arabin believes prioritizing the conservation needs of the collection and the recent installment of fire and security systems is central to this. However, equally important is provision of access to the house and collection. “I am excited that Brain Watkins House will be featured on NZMuseums as a recent survey shows our visitors are mainly local or from overseas. The website will open up the collection and house to the rest of New Zealand”.
The Society has initially chosen to highlight the hats, a small but beautiful part of the Brain Watkins collection. Many of the forty-six hats were made by Bessie Brain, a Tauranga milliner. More textiles are tucked away in boxes, drawers and cupboards throughout the house. They are a wonderful reflection of the continuous occupancy by members of the Brain family and reveal the social history of a middle class home in New Zealand, and in particular, the lives of the women in it.
Image: Four of the Brain sisters (from left to right), Ada, Alice, Esther and Bessie, Brain Watkins House Museum