A severe blow
A while ago in Dunedin I visited the Otago Settlers Museum, an institution founded in 1898, the 50th anniversary of the first Scottish settlement of Otago. In the beginning the museum focused on the earliest European arrivals—from 1848 until 1861 when the gold rush started. The focus gradually widened to acknowledge more recent arrivals and, eventually, the Māori people who had been there all along. In 2012 the museum was renamed Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. Toitū is the Māori name of a stream that once flowed near the site, and the word carries other connotations, as the museum website explains.
In the museum is an ‘early colonists’ gallery, purpose-built in the early 1900s. In this large square room, lit by lantern windows at the top of the hipped ceiling, there are hundreds of framed photographs stacked six rows high. It’s very impressive, and gives the impression that anybody who can’t point to an ancestor on the wall is a newcomer.
I was reminded of my visit by the Early New Zealand photographers blog, which quoted this newspaper article:
The war and the rising value of glass has combined to administer a severe blow to the Canterbury Early Colonists Committee. The gallery of photographs of old colonists in the Museum is feeling the effects of time, and many of the portraits are fading. The idea struck a member of the committee that it would be a good scheme to get fresh copies made of some, or all, of the portraits, and he made enquiries from the Christchurch photographer who had the negatives to see what could be done in the matter. He was amazed to learn that, owing to the value of glass. Sydney agents had been round to most of the photographers in Christchurch and bought up old negatives at 3d a dozen, and about 300 portraits of the old Canterbury identities were among the negatives secured.
[‘General News’, The Press (Christchurch newspaper), 22 July 1916.]
It’s a terrible warning about who you can trust to look after your most precious stuff. And in this time of digital storage it’s a warning about entrusting anything to the cloud.