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.

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