Plans for a National System
The first real attempt to ensure the preservation of the archives was made by A. Hamilton, Director of the Dominion Museum, in 1906. He advocated the construction of a reinforced-concrete building and the appointment of a director of colonial records. Later, in 1909, a central repository was made available in the Mount Cook Barracks, Wellington, under the control of the Director of the Museum, and a number of Government records, including those of earlier defunct administrations, were stored there for the next eight years, after which the records were once more dispersed. Interest in New Zealand's history continued to grow and various schemes for the development of a national historical collection were put forward. At length the agitation of the Board of Science and Art, set up under the 1913 Science and Art Act, resulted in the appointment in 1926 of G. H. Scholefield as Controller of Dominion Archives in conjunction with his appointment as Librarian of the General Assembly Library. This appointment marked the real beginning of a National Archives. There was as yet no staff and no building, but gradually a considerable quantity of archives from all over the country was brought into the parliamentary library, and the principle was established that no Government records should be destroyed without the consent of the Controller of Dominion Archives.
In October 1936 E. H. McCormick was appointed to the work of arranging and listing the records. During the war he was appointed Archivist to the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force and returned to New Zealand as Chief War Archivist. In 1946 he produced a comprehensive plan for the establishment of a national archives system. The time was not then ripe for its full implementation, but gradually M. W. Standish, who took over control of the archives in 1948, was able to develop and expand the various functions of a national archives. A fire in Hope Gibbons building at Wellington in 1952 destroyed the records of a number of Government Departments. Public interest was quickened and in 1954 Cabinet approved a plan for the development of the archives, including the appraisal of departmental records, the arrangement and description of the archives, the appointment of a Chief Archivist and appropriate staff, and the introduction of legislation. Cabinet also authorised the New Zealand Government to join with certain Australian libraries in microfilming material of Australasian and Pacific interest held in overseas archives and libraries. Improved accommodation was also found in the Employers' Federation building on the Terrace, Wellington. In 1957 the Archives Act was passed providing for the establishment of a National Archives and the appointment of a Chief Archivist. It also provided that records over the age of 25 years should be deposited in the National Archives and that no records should be destroyed without the consent of the Chief Archivist.
But without adequate accommodation the National Archives could never develop properly. In 1959 a temporary solution was found by which the National Archives, with Cabinet authority, took over legal custody of valuable records held in Government cellars and elsewhere. At the same time a vigorous disposal programme was undertaken, which effectually reduced the space taken by old records and made available accommodation for the records of other Departments. In 1962 the opening of a Records Centre at Lower Hutt provided some space for Government archives until such time as a National Archives building could be erected.