Functions and Scope of National Archives
The primary function of the National Archives is the preservation of the archives of Government Departments and related administrative units, and this involves the selection of those records having permanent value, the authorisation of the destruction of valueless records, the arrangement and description of archives, and the provision of a reference service to scholars, to Government Departments, and to the general public. Almost all Government Departments have transferred their older records to the custody of the National Archives. These comprise some 80-odd groups and include the archives of the Governor, from 1840 to 1939, the archives of the Colonial Secretary's Office, and those of its successor, the Department of Internal Affairs, from 1840 to 1937, the archives of the Colonial Defence Office and its successor, the Army Department, from 1859 to 1925, of the Justice Department from 1858 to 1934, and of the Treasury from 1840 to 1921. Most of the surviving records of the old provincial governments have been deposited in the Archives: Otago, Nelson, Hawke's Bay, and Taranaki archives are more or less complete, but the archives of the Wellington Provincial Government date only from 1858, and Auckland from 1872, while nothing more than a few volumes has survived from the Westland and Marlborough Provinces. The archives of the New Munster Government are also complete, but only one volume has survived from New Ulster. Many other Departments have deposited their older archives. But there are many gaps in these archives caused by a series of fires and other disasters in Government buildings. In 1862 the White Swan, carrying some of the Colonial Secretary's papers, was wrecked. In 1887 the Wellington Post Office was burnt down, with the destruction of all of its records, together with a number of small Departments' archives. In 1890 the Government Printing Office was destroyed, and in 1907 the burning of Parliament Buildings resulted in the loss of the inwards letters of the Maori Affairs Department, from 1840 to 1891, records of the Education Department and of the Marine Department. In 1952 fire in Hope Gibbons building destroyed the earliest records of the Lands and Survey Department, the Marine Department, the Ministry of Works, and the Labour Department, and in 1960 a fire at Aotea Quay destroyed almost all the Post Office records since 1887.
The National Archives also holds the archives of the New Zealand Company, from 1840 to 1850, including duplicate dispatches sent from the Principal Agent to the Secretary, London, as well as similar duplicates from the Governor to the Secretary of State for Colonies, 1840 to 1855. There are also a few manuscript collections of notable people, such as R. J. Seddon, Sir T. Gore Browne, F. A. Weld, and W. P. Reeves. Some attempt has been made to microfilm material held in overseas institutions: Colonial Office archives relative to New Zealand, 1840 to 1860; the archives of the French Ministry of Marine, which was concerned with the French missionaries in the Bay of Islands and the colonisation of Akaroa; dispatches between American consuls, both in New Zealand and in the Pacific Islands, with the United States State Department. Archives from Samoa have been placed on indefinite loan in the New Zealand Archives. These include the archives of the British Consul since 1860 and of the German Consul and of the German Administration of Samoa.
The second function of the National Archives is that of the provision of records centres, where Departments may place their semi-current records until such time as they are ready to be transferred to the Archives or to be destroyed. A reference service is supplied to Departments by National Archives staff. There are two records centres at Lower Hutt and one in Auckland, all opened in 1962.
Finally, since 1955, the National Archives has provided a service in records management for Government Departments. It assists Departments to develop better classification schemes, to improve their records-keeping practices, and to arrange for the regular retirement of obsolete records and their ultimate disposal.
The National Archives have produced a number of publications. These include 10 preliminary inventories describing the archives of the provincial governments, the New Zealand Company, and the Governor-General. Information circulars are from time to time distributed to Departments to assist them in the management of their records.
Non-Central Government archives and private archives are preserved by libraries and museums. The New Zealand Library Association has formed an Archives Committee to assist in their preservation. It is in process of surveying and listing the holdings of local authorities.
by Pamela Somers Cocks, M.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Archivist, Wellington.