Presbyterian archive awarded UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand award

Presbyterian Research Centre Ng New Zealand Chinese Heritage Collection has been awarded coveted UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand status. 

The Memory of the World Register lists documentary heritage which has regional and world significance and outstanding universal value.

UNESCO recognition draws attention to the significance of documentary heritage and the institutions that care for it.

The Ng Collection and six other select collections of New Zealand documentary heritage have been inscripted onto the prestigious UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand register this year. This brings the total of inscriptions on the register to 27. The latest editions to the register were announced on 29 November at a special ceremony in Auckland.

The other new inscriptions to the register are: the John A Lee Papers, and J. T. Diamond West Auckland History Collection (Auckland Libraries), New Zealand Official Photographs, World War 1914-1918 (Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington), Kaleidoscope – a weekly television arts documentary programme 1976-1989 (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision), Salmond Anderson Architecture Records (University of Otago’s Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hāken, Dunedin) and the Tyree Studio Collection (Nelson Provincial Museum and Alexander Turnbull Library).

The Memory of the World New Zealand Trust Chair Dianne Macaskill said, “the Memory of the World Trust is delighted to welcome these seven new inscriptions onto the register. Each is important to our nation’s history and society today. They give insight to significant stages of New Zealand’s growth as a nation and on the world scene, including the Great War, early 20th century politics, the arts and literature, Chinese culture, architecture designs and social and industrial developments within New Zealand regions.

“Each is a valuable source of research for historians, researchers, educators and many others in the wider community.”

“The Ng Collection contains an extensive and diverse range of papers, photos and oral histories, collected over the years by Dr James Ng and his wife Eva. It is a highly significant record of the Chinese culture in New Zealand from the 19th Century to mid-20th Century and a valuable source for researchers of our nation’s history. ”

The Memory of the World Trust congratulates the nominating institutions for their care of these taonga. “You should all be proud of the work you have achieved to safeguard these valuable collections and make them accessible to many more people,” Dianne Macaskill said.

Jane Thomsen, Director of the Presbyterian Research Centre of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, says she is extremely pleased that the Ng collection has been recognised by UNESCO for its importance to New Zealand. “

She says The Ng New Zealand Chinese Heritage Collection has been gathered since 1959 by Presbyterian Church members Dr James Ng and his wife Eva Ng. It documents the history and experiences of Chinese New Zealanders from the first arrival of Chinese miners in the 19th century to the eventual reunification of Chinese families in the late 1940s to early 1950s after the Japanese invasion of China.

Jane emphasises that the collection is “unique in the voice and agency it gives to Chinese on their experiences of life in New Zealand, through their own words, as recorded by missionaries and in later oral histories, or as documented in letters they wrote”.

The Presbyterian Research Centre in Dunedin is particularly pleased to house the collection as much of the information relates to the Otago region, which was the first and largest New Zealand gold mining area.

Jane says it is hard to single out one item from the vast collection but a ‘Roll of Chinese’ which belonged to Reverend Alexander Don, a Presbyterian minister/missionary, is a significant item in the collection. “No other document like it exists anywhere else in the world. It dates from 1883 to 1929 and contains the names and details of more than 3,500 New Zealand Chinese, including personal, work, travel and financial details, and it shows the changing nature of the New Zealand Chinese community.”

The Ng New Zealand Chinese Heritage Collection includes notebook and diaries, 30 folders of research notes, papers (including unpublished Chinese community newsletters), at least 300 letters in Cantonese and English, and 100 unique photographic negatives of Chinese goldminers taken by Rev Alexander Don.

The Collection has recently been transferred to the Presbyterian Research Centre. It is planned that it will be available by appointment for researchers at the Centre’s Hewitson Library and that most of the collection, including diaries, will be digitised to provide online access to researchers world-wide.