Digital tools bring history to fingertips
An exciting element of the current collection survey at the museum is the increasing ability to digitally rebuild accessions and collections from the formative years of the museum.
The ability to filter information with search engines, on the new system, not only gives the staff the ability to search and combine objects by categories, but it creates opportunities to research and record the story behind the object.
The objects and archives regarding one collection from the family of Elizabeth Ross, of ‘‘Langwell’’ Warepa, has been confirmed as containing 170 objects and 500 archive items spanning the years when the family lived in New Zealand from 1851 to the late 1980s.
The documents record many significant family events, from the feelings of the first of the family to depart from Scotland in 1851 to ephemera and images from the return visit to Caithness by Elizabeth and her siblings in 1963 as part of a Dalgety world cruise.
The points of interest found in the archives, reflecting aspects from everyday life in the colonial era, the tragedy of war and the excitement of 20th century adventure, are also found in the collection of related objects on display at the museum.
On display are snuff mulls and porridge spoons made of rams horn, sitting alongside golden candle snuffers and an original set of scales used at Gabriel’s Gully.
Not far from the objects providing evidence of life in Scotland and the excitement of Otago’s gold rush era are a pair of ladies hat pins.
These pins were fashioned using tunic buttons from Eliza- beth’s brother Robert, who was killed in the Great War.
It is said that the family did not speak of Robert’s passing until they visited his graveside 45 years later, making these everyday items significant and engaging.
One of the key elements that make this collection unique and complete is the fact that Elizabeth and her siblings never married or had children to take on these items.
In addition to retaining the history and many fine items in Elizabeth’s care, she purchased her own objects of great quality for her own life, in the quaint Warepa homestead known as ‘‘Langwell’’.
One of the audit team, Pip Harrison, has been intrigued by Elizabeth Ross through handling some of the textiles acquired through Miss Ross’ estate.
Harrison comments: ’’Bedroom garments of fine silk, a filmy apricot muslin or lawn 21st birthday dress, these objects speak to having a certain status as well as taking pride in one’s appearance’’.
For the museum to hold a unique archive with enough material for a book, while also being the custodians of the related artefacts that document pioneer endeavour from the perspective of one family, is fantastic.
To have this now made accessible, in a format that allows the results of research to be added to a self-contained searchable platform, not only has the potential for outcomes such as publications and exhibitions, but creates endless possibilities for access and engagement for visitors and the community.
South Otago Museum is on Renfrew St, Balclutha phone (03) 418 2362. Opening hours Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm.
It has extensive collections of domestic and industrial heritage reflecting 150 years of settlers’ ingenuity on the fertile plains and river deltas of South Otago, including artefacts that illustrate industries of the lower Clutha River and coastline.
Elizabeth and Anne Ross of Warepa on a day excursion to Dunedin c1960.