The Lyttelton Harbour/Whakaraupō community is what we’re about – Harbour people, places and stories. So each month we’re going to have a chat to someone connected to the museum and/or the community and share their stories with you. We’re starting with the man who got the Museum going …
Happy Birthday Baden!
Baden Norris (QSO, NZAM) was the driving force behind Lyttelton Museum from its foundation back in 1969. He remained our Curator until after the 2011 earthquakes, and is still the go-to person for tricky historical questions. Baden turns 90 this month and, as he does, he reflects on some of the highpoints of his time with the Museum, and his hopes for the future.
There have been many memorable visitors over the years, and two stand out for Baden: the Governor General, Dame Catherine Tizard, and British actor Geoffrey Hughes (best-known for playing Hyacinth’s brother-in- law Onslow on Keeping Up Appearances in the 1990s), who loved the Museum so much, he visited three times.
Perhaps more important, though, were the regular visits from other museums around Canterbury – Sumner, Kaiapoi, and further afield – and the sense of being part of a network of dedicated people focused on preserving the region’s history. The thousands of children who visited on school trips over the years brought the Museum to life and Baden loved sharing stories and jokes with them, inspiring new generations to think about those who had gone before.
In building the Museum’s collection, Baden always tried to focus on what was special to Lyttelton, not necessarily the most beautiful or financially valuable things. Highlights include objects made by prisoners from the Lyttelton Gaol, like watch chains made of horse hair, and the replica of the flag presented by the Lyttelton District High School to Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition before it departed for Antarctica in 1911. The replica flag was presented by the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University in the UK. SPRI holds the original flag, which they discovered was too fragile to be returned to Lyttelton, so they had the replica made for us, testament to the esteem with which Lyttelton and Lyttelton Museum are held in international Antarctic circles.
The candelabrum from the church at Rāpaki, which hung in the first-floor hallway of the old Museum, is quietly beautiful, fashioned by hand from the rungs of a metal drum, but forgotten under the church for many years after electricity was introduced. Another treasure is the map of Lyttelton annotated with Māori place names by Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke kaumatua Donald Couch.
Baden is proud to have been able to highlight the stories of watersiders and Merchant Navy heroes like Captain George Brotherton Morgan, New Zealand’s most highly decorated WWII Merchant Service officer, who was born in Lyttelton.
Thinking about the future, Baden is sure of one thing – we’re on the right track. He’s pleased that the work he and many others have done over the years is being continued with passion and skill, and is looking forward to attending the opening of the new Lyttelton Museum. He’s never been much of a one for computers, but is particularly pleased that the collection is available for anyone, anywhere to view online, and especially that we can use the eHive website to collect more stories about the objects. He wants to see us increase our involvement with all areas of the community, especially younger people and schools.
As to where the collection should go from here, Baden quickly identifies sporting achievements as a focus. He can think of at least six All Blacks who came from Lyttelton, for example, but there is nothing about any of them in the Museum’s collection.
In many ways, Baden is amazed at how far the Museum has come since its beginnings almost 50 years ago. He’s grateful for the opportunities that have come our way, and for the tireless hours put in by scores of volunteers to make it a great success. He has no fears whatsoever for the Museum’s future –the necessary elements are all there, and he is sure, once again, it will all fall into place.
And of course we have much to thank Baden for! For almost half a century he has dedicated himself to gathering Lyttelton Harbour/Whakaraupō stories for future generations.