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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 3, November 1958

Nelson Historical Society's Work Reviewed

page 11

Nelson Historical Society's Work Reviewed

Why is history so Interesting and instructive, and how can a study of it be of such great benefit to present and future generations?

History is a record of human effort and the results thereof; of ambitions and the lack of same; of strength and weakness; courage and cowardice; wisdom and foolishness; of building and destroying; of greed and sacrifice.

History is, for those willing to study and understand, almost a complete series of lessons in the operation of the laws of cause and effect. It certainly provides the answers to many of the problems which confront us today.

History also leads us to a realisation that most of the amenities we enjoy today have been provided by the sacrifices of previous generations. A realisation of this fact should generate within us a determination to make ourselves any sacrifices necessary to ensure that future generations will benefit from our present activities.

The history of our Maori friends is well worth investigating and recording. It contains ample evidence of a most daring spirit—of chivalrous actions and amazing courage.

It needed exceptional daring and courage to load a small canoe with water and food, and then sail out into "the blue"—yet that is what the Maoris did on numerous occasions.

I think, however, that the most important lesson to be learned from a study of Maori history is, that constant warfare, such as afflicted the Maori, can lead only to much unnecessary loss of life, much destruction of the benefits of previous sacrifices, and inevitably must lead ultimately to annihilation.

This is evidenced by the frequent complete disappearance of a tribe, the temporary occupation of the lands of the conquered, and later the defeat and extermination of these conquerors by other tribes, the overall result being the steady diminution of the numbers of the Maori population.

Another lesson that Maori history illustrates is that weakness invites attack, and that sacrifices necessary to maintain ability to defend almost certainly give immunity from attack.

The earliest white settlers of Nelson found on their arrival here a land almost as Nature made it, and they, by their own efforts, had to provide for the survival and comfort of themselves and their families.

Their early hopes and achievements, also their disappointments, coupled with their strenuous efforts to overcome their difficulties have fortunately been fairly well recorded.

Nelson Historical Society members have already gathered quite an imposing collection of these records, and have sorted, classified, recorded and safely stored them.

These efforts have been materially assisted by our possession of the Tyree collection of photographic negatives. I am certain that few realise the tremendous efforts made by the late Mr William Tyree to make his collection of over 200,000 negatives a complete pictorial record of Nelson's progress and activities from about the year 1847, up to the time of his death.

He collected and stored not only his own work but also the work of nine other photographers operating in Nelson and the vicinity.

The whole collection is housed in a fire-proof and damp-proof building specially erected for the purpose, and through the courtesy of the present owners of this building we have been able to still store the collection in it.

These negatives are in surprisingly good condition, and they have been sorted, grouped and indexed, chiefly by Mr Tyree. The collection is a most valuable one, very helpful to our present efforts.

This brings me to the aims and objects of our society, which are:—

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(a) To collect, preserve and record, for the benefit of the citizens of Nelson and surrounding districts, all matters pertaining to the northern part of the South Island.

(b) To provide and maintain suitable housing for such historical material and such other associated matter as the committee of management shall from time to time decide.

(c) To undertake and/or encourage research into historical matters.

In reference to (a), I think we can claim to have done rather well, having already accumulated a mass of most interesting and useful material.

With regard to (c) research into historical matters, we have also been very active, but in regard to (b), the providing of suitable housing, despite our giving much thought and effort to the matter, we have not so far had any definite success.

As a result we have not yet been able to have possession of the Bett Collection, which we greatly value and which the late Dr Bett wished us to have. Fearing for its safety he stipulated that we should not be given possession until we had a suitable building, together with adequate revenue for maintenance. The collection is at present in Wellington awaiting our ability to comply with these conditions.

What has the society done to achieve this objective?

We have explored the possibilities on a great many occasions, but it was obvious we could not provide a suitable building out of the subscription of members. Despite the fact that we have no paid officers, all our efforts being on a voluntary basis, our subscriptions have been largely absorbed in purchasing files, cupboards, shelving, and the like, for protecting and storing the large quantity of material we have collected.

However, we have carefully studied similar efforts that have been made elsewhere, and we have come to the conclusion that the best way to achieve our objective, is to organise a trust board on the same lines as has been done successfully in the terms of the Auckland, Canterbury, and Otago Museum Trust Acts.

Under the terms of these acts a trust is formed consisting of the nominees of the city, borough and county councils, together with representatives of the Education Board, the secondary schools and other bodies such as the Nelson Historical Society.

This trust board would have power to raise money for the purpose of providing a suitable building. For the costs of maintenance and supervision it would levy the local bodies in proportion to their rateable values.

This levy would be a very small fraction of a penny in the pound, of the rateable value, probably about 1/25 or l/30th of a penny.

If the exhibits could be made sufficiently interesting, and a reasonable charge made for admission, the institution may likely be self-supporting. We have already discussed this proposal with the Nelson City Council, and it has been well received.

But to achieve our objective we still need energetic help.

The public can provide this by becoming members of our society. Membership is open to everyone, and the subscription is only £1 per year.

I assure you the whole of it will be used in furthering the objects of the society.

People can greatly help by advocating the advisability of assisting our efforts, whenever they have the opportunity. We urgently need the full support of public opinion, and would greatly value assistance in developing that support.

Our society is a Nelson district organisation, not only a Nelson city one, and our members are scattered throughout the district. We also have a branch association at Motueka, and exchange information and co-operate very closely with the Marlborough Historical Society.

In the Historical Exhibition just concluded the public saw some of the results of our efforts, sufficient, I believe, to convince them the full support of the Nelson Historical Society is well worth while. Grant us the financial opportunity and we will definitely drive through to the full attainment of our aims and objectives.