In early March the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, located at Wigram, was approached to see if assistance could be provided to help salvage and store some of the more vulnerable items from Lyttelton Museum. The building sustained severe damage on 22 February and was on the verge of collapsing. The honorary curator, a 90+ year old gentleman, was very distraught and anxious that the collection should be saved. In addition to general Lyttelton ephemera, the collection contains important maritime material relating to Lyttelton, as well as Antarctic objects that are second only to those held by Canterbury Museum.
After some planning and purchase of materials a small team of mainly curatorial staff drove to Lyttelton via the tunnel on Friday 4 March. The damage to many of Lyttelton’s historic buildings was extensive and severe. On reaching Lyttelton
Museum it was clear that the team would not be entering the building because of the risk of collapse and concern for public safety. Members of the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade, armed with instructions about what objects needed to be removed and a determination to succeed in doing so, entered the building and began bringing out the treasures. Air Force Museum staff set up a packing area located between the unstable museum building on one side and the road to the port on the other along which large articulated trucks were continually travelling to get supplies through to Christchurch and beyond. The rescued objects were carefully packed and transported back to Wigram for temporary storage.
By day’s end about 25% of the collection had been rescued and placed in safe storage at Wigram, much to the relief and delight of the museum’s honorary curator. It is hoped that the building can be stabilised so that the remainder of the collection can be saved. For those staff involved, it was a challenging, rewarding and thoroughly interesting day, and a very satisfying opportunity to handle precious local community treasures and to help our fellow museum colleagues.
Air Force Museum of New Zealand