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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, May 1970

The Records Committee and its People

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The Records Committee and its People

The beginnings of the Nelson Historical Society resulted from a chance conversation between Mr L. W. Field and myself early in 1954. Mr J. Stewart had previously proposed that action along certain lines be taken. A number of those whom we thought might be interested were approached and this led to a meeting at my home in Whitby Road on the 20th May of that year. The primary objective at that time was to collect documentary material of historical interest, particularly with reference to the northern part of the South Island.

Mr D. F. Horlor was elected Chairman, Mr L. W. Field Secretary, and I became Convener of the Records Committee. Subcommittees were set up to draft a constitution and rules, and another to try to obtain fireproof accommodation.

The Records Committee elected were Messrs J. Stewart, J. E. R. Paterson, G. Gould, W. R. P. Jaques and myself as Chairman. Later Mr C. W. Cannington joined us. At our commencement we had very helpful advice from the Alexander Turnbull Library. Mr Field, when in Wellington, obtained a general outline of procedure regarding cataloguing and card indexing material which was meticulously followed until we handed over to the Museum Trust Board in 1965. All material on arrival was placed in a special setting and it remained there until I had entered it on the accession register, labelled it with its number, and sent out a card of acknowledgement to the donor. It was then passed on to a second position and dealt with by the card indexing team. When they had finished this job it went to a third setting and I checked it over and finally disposed of it in the appropriate place as listed on the card index and register. The first meeting of the records committee took place on the 28th July, 1954. At this meeting we were able to report that Miss Frank had signed an agreement to hand over the Tyree collection and that the Directors of Hallenstein Bros. Ltd. had generously permitted the collection to remain in the premises built by Tyree and owned by the H.B., on a rent free basis.

We made it our policy throughout the period to buy any books that could help with our work and also all books that had historical interest bearing on Nelson. Annual publications of local interest were also obtained from issuing bodies.

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On the 30th August the great problem of where to house our material was temporarily solved when the A.N.Z. Bank made three rooms available in the rear of their premises in Hardy Street. The Society owes them a debt of gratitude.

In the report of the Records Committee of the 30th August, 1954, I stated that Marlborough had much historical material and that Mr Allan Hale had told me "There is no hope of any activity in Marlborough in the direction of forming a local Society". I think our subsequent drive in what was once a part of Nelson led to the formation on 1st April, 1956, of the now very active Marlborough Historical Society, so we did some good after all.

In our report of October 26th we were still making progress. In the Tyree collection we were getting some semblance of order out of chaos. Mr L. W. Field took over the photographic section and from then on this was his principal activity.

On Mrs Ruth Allan's advice we set our net wide hoping to get an extensive range of material of Nelson interest. In the local Customs office was one find but we were later deprived of this by National Archives. Mrs Allan also told us that we should be prepared to store in safety much material from the Lands and Survey Department and this still remains a departmental decision of the future.

At this stage we made an approach to the Nelson Institute for permission to erect a building on land owned by them adjoining the Institute.

The minutes of the Records Committee for 19th November, 1954, state "If the Society is to build up its membership, and claim the interest of members, meetings should be held at intervals at which material of interest be presented". On the 25th November Messrs Pat Griffin, G. Gould and myself visited Motueka and met there about 30 people. I talked on the aims and objects of the Society. Later a Motueka sub-branch was formed.

On the 28th April, 1955, our first public lecture (four speakers) was held in the Institute Museum Rooms and later in the year Mrs Ruth Allan talked to members. In May, 1955, my wife and I went to England. The Society was extremely fortunate in that Mr J. G. McKay took over my position. Jim McKay had qualities of leadership, wisdom, personality, and knowledge of local history, that made a great impact on the Society for the duration of his life. I look back with pride and pleasure on our association. In the Records Committee report of September, 1955, Mr Paterson said they had gone into the matter of publication (of our first journal) and that page 35it would be published without financial loss. The first number appeared in November, 1955. On the 30th May, 1956, I was nominated by the Society to be their representative on the Nelson Regional Committee of the Historic Places Trust and I became its first President.

I had been very concerned, prior to my visit to England, on the principles to be adopted in the repair, preservation, and maintenance of archives and other historical material. I spent much time watching work being done in the repair department at the Public Records Office in Chancery Lane and elsewhere. On my return I attempted to apply what I had learnt to a wide range of material and this took up a fair amount of my time. I carried on until the Museum Trust Board took over. Our policy had always been to register damaged material on its accession and put it aside until it was repaired when it followed through the usual channels.

In 1956, through contact with Mr Bert Monro, my brother-in-law, and later with his son, Mr Alex Monro — descendants of Sir David—I learnt about the Monro Diaries. After much correspondence with Mr Monro we obtained these diaries for Nelson.

As previously mentioned it became our policy to send cards of acknowledgement and thanks to all donors of material and when possible to label articles with the donor's name. When a large collection was given to us we promised as far as possible to keep it intact. We felt that these procedures would help to give confidence to the public and encourage future donors, and it did.

In 1956 Messrs J. G. McKay, G. Gould and C. Collins were carrying on the work of the Records Committee. Mr J. Stewart was not very well and was not able to assist us. Mr J. G. McKay was at the rooms each Friday at 10.30 a.m. to interview interested people.

In February, 1957, we were invited to put on a display for the Nelson Industries 5-Day Fair (Jaycee) and I think it was appreciated. Previously we had put on a display at the Stoke School.

During the year increasing amounts of materials were coming in and storage was becoming a problem. It became our policy to have typed and to bind selected manuscripts and diaries. Two radio broadcasts were also given.

We decided to make Monday evening our "workday" and invited extra helpers. The Records Committee increased by the addition of Miss H. M. Jenkins, Mrs Methven, Mr T. R. Jameson and Mr and Mrs Dickinson. Later Dr Curtis, Miss Easterfield, Mr Eric Jackson joined us. Messrs J. G. McKay and C. Collins continued with loyal support.

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During the year a few of us visited Tapawera and the objects of the Society were indicated, and Mr J. N. Newport spoke on the history of the district.

In 1958 the Nelson Centennial Committee was set up and Mr L. E. Baigent and I were nominated from the Nelson Historical Society. I was appointed to the Executive Committee and was Chairman of the Exhibition Committee. A splendid show was put on in the School of Music, in September, 1958. The publicity led to a greater influx of material and the Julie Tomlinson silver and furniture were one of our rewards. In 1958 and 1959 I was involved on several committees concerned with the setting up of a Museum Trust Board and on March 12th our proposals and submissions came before the Nelson City Council. Over the next few months we visited all the local bodies in the area and put the case for the formation of the Nelson Provincial Historical Trust Board as it was then known.

The Deeds Office, Nelson, invited our Society to look over some 30,000 documents and gave us permission to select those of interest. These documents went back to 1852. It took six months for Messrs T. R. Jameson, H. G. Jamieson and myself to complete this task, working one morning a week.

In 1959 the question of the purchase of Isel came up and a year later the Council gave the Nelson Historical Society permission to house material there. James McKay died suddenly in December, 1959, and with the loss of his balanced judgement and steadying influence the Society suffered considerably. Mr T. R. Jameson took over the cataloguing and cross-indexing that had previously been done by Jim McKay. In 1960, apart from routine work, much time was spent on Museum Trust Board proposals.

In May, 1961, I had the task of arranging and setting out at Isel the material in our possession. Safety precautions against fire and vandals had to be taken, and necessary furniture and show cases purchased. We were now in a position to receive from the Cawthron Institute on permanent loan the Marsden furniture, china and other items.

It was decided to hold committee meetings at Isel on the first Tuesday of each month, all members of the committee receiving numbered keys making it possible for them to work at Isel at their convenience. The Records Committee weekly meetings continued at Isel and Miss Ash joined our team. The beautifully printed cards attached to various items on display giving donors' names and other particulars are her work. She was also a tower of strength with cataloguing and card-indexing which she carried on in association with Mr T. R. Jameson. The Nelson Evening Mail sent us bound page 37copies, each volume covering three months. From the start we kept an index card of matters of import to Nelson. Miss Ash continues with this work in the hope that the future will yield dividends. At the end of 1962 we put on a comprehensive display in the Hall at All Saints' Church on the occasion of their Centennial.

When requested we opened Isel to visiting parties who wanted to see through the museum. In 1963 Mr J. N. Newport, Mrs Fountain and Mrs W. Parr joined the workers at Isel. The two latter undertook the cataloguing of the Library.

At a public meeting held on 23rd July, 1963, our President, Mr L. E. Baigent, said our Society would continue to function in cooperation with the Nelson Provincial Museum Trust Board when the Trust had been set up, and there has been at no time any deviation from this principle.

During most of my time as Chairman of the Records Committee research work was required so that answers to inquiries from many parts of New Zealand were adequately dealt with. In May, 1964, Mr J. E. R. Paterson moved from Nelson and we lost a valuable worker. His service in the production of the journal and helping with the card indexing helped us greatly. Mrs Cross and Mrs Holcroft undertook the cross-indexing of obituaries and biographies. Mr Jameson became ill and when he died in 1965 we missed him greatly. Mr J. Newport carried on, later to be followed by Mrs Tunnicliff.

In December, 1963, the Nelson Provincial Museum Trust Board held its first meeting and in March, 1965, Mr J. R. Eyles took over as Curator. Mr L. W. Field had been appointed to the Board as the Nelson Historical Society's representative. The Nelson Historical Society and the Institute Museum, after much discussion, agreed to hand over their historical material to the Trust Board once a Curator was appointed and the year 1965 was the final report of the Records Committee.

On the 15th September, 1965, I was elected President of the Nelson Historical Society, an honour I am very appreciative of. For me, with the cessation of work at Isel, life seems to have lost something. Our meetings of members and excursions were then very small beer in comparison with the interest of the work we had carried on with since our inception.

The highlight of the year, 1966, was the exhibition in the Suter Art Gallery of a selection of paintings from the Bett Collection. We also became active in the development of Broadgreen and I was later appointed to this committee. Preservation of the Provincial Chambers was another important activity of the Society and I also served on this committee.

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On the 23rd January, 1967, we lost our staunch old friend and counsellor, Mr L. E. Baigent, and on the 18th July, 1967, I was very happy to welcome my good friend, Dr C. R. Barnicoat, as our new President.

Following the 1966 exhibition of the Bett paintings, I had hoped that the Museum Trust Board and its executive would put their shoulders to the wheel. I mentioned this to my friend, Mr Charles Griffin, and he suggested an approach to business firms, which first involved the production of a brochure and the booklet is at last in being. It is now over to the Museum Trust Board to really get down to the job.

I can look back with great pleasure on my association with those I have had the privilege of working with, and the fact that we as a small team formed the structure on which a great success could be built.

* Past President (1967—) Nelson Historical Society.