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Western Pacific Archive Arrives In Auckland

Western Pacific Archive Arrives In Auckland

Three container loads of Western Pacific history will return to the region on 9 October when the British Government formally transfers its unique and extensive Western Pacific Archive to The University of Auckland.

The Western Pacific Archive captures a century’s worth of the life and times of the Western Pacific Islanders through unique records, photographs, maps and other memorabilia covering the period 1877-1978.

The collection is of great importance because of the light it sheds on indigenous communities and colonial policy over a long period. It is an invaluable record of a unique period in the development of the region.

VIPs at the ceremony will include Heather Yasamee of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office; The British High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr Richard Fell; The Consul-General, Mr Stephen Turner; and Dr John Hood, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Auckland.

“Pacific researchers over the years have experienced frustration trying to access this material, and since much of the relevant research is conducted in this region, there are obvious geographical advantages in locating the archive in Auckland,” says Stephen Innes, Special Collections Librarian at the University.

The acquisition reflects and will reinforce the University’s strength as a centre for Pacific research, which has already seen the creation of the Centre for Pacific Studies IN 1990 and the Fale Pasifika, currently under development.

The archive will be complemented by the other Pacific resources of the New Zealand and Pacific Collection and Special Collections at the University. THESE are second only to the University of Hawaii in comprehensiveness, and together provide a draw card for researchers.

The prospect of the transfer of the Western Pacific Archivebasic facts above represent has already sparked a lot of interest among researchers, both in New Zealand and abroad.

The transfer is the result of several years of negotiation, review and physical preparation, including substantial conservation work, by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recently published a commemorative history of the archive, tracing the origins A souvenir publication to mark transfer is now available from and development of the Western Pacific High Commission and reproducing a selection of documents.

“Much of the value of an archive lies in the use that can be made of it,” says Heather Yasamee from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who will present the archive to the University.

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s transfer of the Western Pacific Archive and associated collections to The University of Auckland is designed to make this historic archive more readily available for researchers in the region to use and enjoy.”

“By returning this archive to the Pacific region, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is returning part of the region’s history.”

At 600 linear metres, most of the archive will be housed in a commercial storage facility, but access to the materials will be provided in the Special Collections reading room, part of the University’s General Library refurbishment.

In 1976, Bruce T. Burne, then Archivist of the Western Pacific Archive, wrote: “The records form… an entire and integrated whole. As such, not only must they be invaluable and of prime interest to the Governments of the region, but they also constitute by far the most important depository of historical and other information in the entire Pacific region, covering as they do the major part of the South Seas inhabited by a wide variety of Polynesians, Micronesians and Melanesians.”

“To historians, anthropologists, political scientists, demographers and other social scientists the value of the documentation they contain is incalculable…”

Media representatives are invited to attend the ceremony.

Details of ceremony:

Event: Formal handover of Western Pacific Archive from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office to The University of Auckland

Date: Wednesday 9 October 2002

Time: 11.30am

Venue: Whare Kai, Waipapa Marae 16 Wynyard Street Auckland

The handover ceremony will be followed by a Samoan performance by students from the University’s Centre for Pacific Studies performing arts class.

Notes for editors:

The bulk of the records belong to the records Western Pacific High Commission collection, from which documents the daily routine business between the High Commissioner and his staff. It encompasses the full span of daily life in the High Commission, covering the social, political, economic, military, diplomatic, judicial and administrative aspects of the Commission’s business and the territories under its jurisdiction.

In addition, the records of the British Agent and Consul in Tonga (BCT) and the New Hebrides British Service (NHBS) have also been transferred to Auckland, with the kind agreement of the governments of Tonga and Vanuatu. The WPHC files comprise records of the daily routine business between the High Commissioner and his staff, and the territories for which he was responsible. They encompass the full span of daily life covering the social, political, economic, military, diplomatic, judicial and administrative aspects of the WHPC’s business and the territories under its jurisdiction.The NHBS collection contains the correspondence of the Resident Commissioner with his District Agents and the High Commission itself. The BCT files reflect the unusual nature of Britain's relationship with Tonga, which was never a formal colony.

The archive also includes papers relating to Pitcairn, which continues to be an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. A copy set of Pitcairn papers in the Western Pacific High Commission files is therefore kept in London, together with a separate collection of Pitcairn territorial records.

The history of the Western Pacific Archive is inextricably intertwined with that of the region it documents.

The Western Pacific High Commission was established by Order in Council in 1877. For the first 75 years of its existence it was located in Fiji, where the posts of High Commissioner and Governor of Fiji were held conjointly.

A further Order in Council in 1893 redefined the High Commissioner’s jurisdiction, limiting it to territories under British control. By 1900 his responsibilities comprised the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the New Hebrides, Tonga and Pitcairn.

In 1952 the posts of High Commissioner and Governor of Fiji were separated and the Western Pacific High Commission moved to Honiara (where the High Commissioner became concurrently Governor of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate). The earlier records remained in Suva where they were administered as part of the newly created Central Archives of Fiji and the Western Pacific.

When Fiji became independent in 1970, the Fijian records were transferred to its new government and the Central Archives were dissolved. The remaining collections formed the newly established Western Pacific Archive.

At this time the archive comprised the files of the High Commission itself, together with records relating to the New Hebrides British Service (NHBS), the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP), the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (GEIC), the British Agent (later Commissioner and Consul) of Tonga (BCT) and Pitcairn (PIT).

For the GEIC and BSIP, the collection contains virtually the only copies of correspondence with the High Commission up to 1942, the records of the two resident Commissioners having been almost totally destroyed during the Japanese invasion and occupation in the Second World War.

As the High Commissioner’s responsibilities dwindled with the progress of the colonial territories to independence, the Western Pacific High Commission became increasingly redundant and in 1978 the Western Pacific Archive itself closed.

The records of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were sent to Tarawa (Kiribati) and Funafuti (Tuvalu); those of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate were sent to Honiara; and those of the Western Pacific High Commission were sent to London together with records relating to Pitcairn, Tonga and the New Hebrides. It is these records that will be handed to The University of Auckland on 9 October.

Electronic photos of some of the documents are available on request.

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