Mariners Betrayed

Part of an article by Ken Scadden which appeared in the Wellington Captital Times on Thursday 29 November 2007. 

The announcement of the change of name of the Museum of Wellington City and Sea to Wellington Museum is a blatant betrayal of the history and origins of the Wellington Maritime Museum and the commitments which were made by the Wellington Museums Trust (WMT).

The name change is in spite of a pledge made by the Wellington Museum Trust’s first chairman, the late Michael Hirschfeld, that the name Wellington Maritime Museum would be retained in perpetuity
for maritime-related purposes.

Given that the bulk of funding for the Museum redevelopment came from maritime sources and the Museum collection was 99% maritime, the balance as suggested by the Museums Mission Statement and name
was two-thirds maritime and one-third social history.

However in the past few years the management of the archives of the Union Steamship Company and the Wellngton Harbour Board were transferred to the Wellington City Council Archives (in spite of earlier assurances by the WMT that the collection would be kept together and fully resourced).

In recent times there has been a discernible anti-maritime change in the Museums direction. Seldom in Museum publications or reports is the word maritime mentioned. Constantly the Museum is described as “Wellington’s social history Museum”.

The closure of the Museum research service (which was largely  maritime), the paucity of exhibitions with a maritime focus and now the contemplation of the possible deaccessioning/disposal of all or part
of the maritime collections (which were donated to the Museum by hundreds of Wellingtonians over the years) – this “social history good”, “maritime history bad” dogma is straight out of the pages of Animal Farm.

The recent claim that the Museum will “tell Wellington stories” is belied by the exhibition programme which has recently featured Burton Brothers photos of the Pacific Islands and currently War in Paradise, neither of which have a Wellington let alone maritime focus.

Wellington Harbour is the heart of the capital and the history of this great city is inextricably linked to its maritime history. The Museum is in grave danger of further alienating the many people who make up the maritime community and who currently give the Museum a great deal of support, both financially and practically.

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