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Example of the types of documents now being retrieved, reorganised documented by the project
Photo No. : P090225-1
Click for enlarged photo

Historical records reorganised and properly documented
February 25, 2009

[Melanesian Messenger - Melanesia] Former Bishop of Malaita Diocese the Rt Rev Terry Brown is currently being engaged by the Anglican Church of Melanesia to properly reorganise and document its historical materials spanning more than ten decades. Here's how he takes on the project.

During my last couple years as Bishop of Malaita, I frequently consulted the Church of Melanesia archives (old books and papers) on deposit at the National Archives of the Solomon Islands in Honiara. These cover the period of about 1850 to 1980, though there are many gaps.

I frequently found that the National Archives staff could not find the material I requested and some of it was damaged or in the wrong place.

I decided that a good retirement project would be assess and reorganize these archives. At the same time, many important papers have accumulated at the provincial office since the inauguration of the province in 1975 and these also need organizing.

I put my proposal to the Council of Bishops last and they agreed to provide me housing in Honiara for four years in exchange for my working on these archives.

Last November I visited the national archivist and explained my plan and she very kindly gave me free access to the repository where the Diocese of Melanesia books and papers are stored and also an office to work in undisturbed. I have surveyed about half the archives and will give a report and put a work plan to the Council of Bishops in late February.

I believe an archives has two main responsibilities – to preserve old and important papers but also to make them accessible. Sometimes these two aims seem to be in conflict, for if many different people handle old photos and papers they are soon destroyed.

Therefore, I shall be both preserving but also making photocopies or digital copies to make them accessible. For example, I have scanned some 440 photos of R. W. Beattie, the Tasmanian photographer who visited Melanesia on the Southern Cross in 1906. I hope to put these on an inexpensive CD for sale at the provincial book store.

Likewise, I have been transcribing some of the journals and hope to publish them or put them on the internet. Already I have put many early Melanesian Mission published materials on the Anglican church history site, Project Canterbury, www.anglicanhistory.org, on the Oceania directory.

Just as an example of the kind of material in the archives, here is a picture of a letter from Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, written on 6 February 1855 from the Selwyn family home in Richmond (London) to the young priest, John Coleridge Patteson, “Coley”, telling him that the ship for New Zealand will be leaving soon.

It can be seen that the letter is damaged, probably by insects, and that the signature has been torn off, probably by someone who sold it to an autograph dealer. However, the embossed mitre with GANZ and the handwriting makes the letter clearly recognizable as Selwyn’s. It reads:

“My dear Coley,

“I have now at length strong reason for believing that next Sunday will be your last at Feniton, as the leak has been discovered [and] the process of repair is [now] going on. I know [nothing] to detain us after this week, and even if the wind should not be fair. I should like to get the party on board as soon as we are ready.

“I will wrote once more to tell you when to start.”

I sent a copy of this letter to the Librarian at St. John’s College, Auckland, who is making a collection of all of Bishop Selwyn’s letters. Soon it will be available for all to see, while the original remains protected from further insects and other damage.

My hope is to concentrate on this collection this year and then in 2010 move on to the papers at the provincial office. As Archbishop Ellison told the last General Synod, however, the ACOM needs a room or building in which to house its own archives. The SI National Archives were subject to some theft during the ethnic tension period. It would be better if the ACOM had its own facilities.

If you have old Melanesian Mission or Diocese of Melanesia materials, do not hesitate to contact me at tmb@solomon.com.sb. Please consider depositing them for a secure future in the ACOM archives. Likewise, if you are hunting for information and think there might be something in the ACOM archives, please be in touch with me.