ARC2001_12_b.jpg Carrington letter book (sealed section). Collection of Puke Ariki (ARC2001-12).

Frederic Carrington's letter book is very good at keeping secrets - it's held one for over one and a half centuries without telling. A large chunk of its pages, 230 to be exact, are bound with linen tape and wax seals. Furthermore to prevent prying fingers from entering - the pages have been glued together. Written across the front of the sealed section are the words “Private Correspondence only” and “purely personal” in Carrington’s handwriting.

The unsealed portion of the book contains letters written by Carrington when he was chief surveyor for the Plymouth Company, to Colonel Wakefield, the principal of the company in the early 1840s. Carrington’s employment with the Company was ceased in 1844 following a dispute.

Although there's been plenty of supposition, no-one knows what's in the sealed section at the back. Some believe it is personal family letters Carrington did not want his employers to see when he was required to hand over his documents on leaving the Plymouth Company. Others believe it contains letters critical of Colonel Wakefield, damning the company he worked for. The Company never did get their hands on the book and in a private journal entry Carrington noted regarding the controversy surrounding the letter book returning to the Company – “What! With all my family and private affairs: No! I will cut my throat first …”

The journal was gifted to the Taranaki Museum by Carrington’s daughter Jessie Deacon in 1923. There are no known conditions placed by the donor on the book or opening the sealed section. An inventory created by W. H. Skinner the principal benefactor of the Taranaki Museum at the time does not even mention the sealed section of the book despite noting it was a “splendid gift to the town for use of future students of its foundation”.

In 1966 former Mayor E. O. E. Hill created an outcry when he asked the museum to make the sealed section public. After great debate and speculation over what the journal could be hiding it was decided by the museum and the Carrington family to keep it sealed. In 1985 an article appeared in the Taranaki Herald incorrectly noting Carrington left instructions for the section to be opened 100 years after his death (he died in 1901).

The letter book is an important item in the Puke Ariki Heritage Collection, and its secrets currently remain sealed.


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