Dismissing the Staff: Domestic Servants and a Historic House in Dunedin, New Zealand


  • Alex Trapeznik




Whilst house museums are a relatively recent phenomenon in New Zealand, they nevertheless form an integral part not only of the history of New Zealand museums but also of New Zealand culture. As such, their present organisation reflects public historical consciousness in terms of perceptions and values that we have held and continue to hold. This article focuses on Olveston, a historic house in Dunedin,[i] as a case study of popular engagement with the past, and argues that a broader analysis of early twentieth-century social structure is required—one that includes the role of domestic servants in the household. It complements and supplements recent historical scholarship on house museums which argues that a more authentic and inclusive interpretation of the social relationship between employers and their servants—including class and racial antagonism—would lead to a greater connection with visitors.[ii] Initially, I will examine the pertinent literature on house museums in general and their servants in particular, as well as questions facing historic houses, moving finally to a detailed descriptive analysis of servants in Olveston.



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