By John Pratt
The Treasury Research Centre and Archive located in Queen Street, Thames, is a unique and fascinating resource. About the turn of the century, a group of passionate Thames locals started curating and indexing records that were originally held at the School Of Mines, which is itself a fascinating part of the history of the Thames-Coromandel-Hauraki region, or Tangata Whenua as Te Tara o Ika a Māui.
As distant a memory as it might seem today, Thames was once one of New Zealand’s largest and most prosperous towns, with as many as 22,000 residents at the height of the mining boom. Thames attracted Kauri diggers, gold prospectors, miners, engineers and industrialists, businessmen and speculators. As hard as volunteers were working to index the available information, they were aware that valuable records and slices of history were being lost every day, along with a generation of people to whom they were important.
Local couple, Geraldine and Morrie Dunwoodie, led other volunteers in the challenge to collect and preserve the unique history of the region. In 2003 they formed the Coromandel Heritage Trust, and while they continued to collect what artefacts they could, they had no permanent home. In 2009, the Trust was granted the long-term lease of the former Carnegie Library, and the adjoining section. After a lot of fundraising, the humidity-controlled archive building was opened next door. The intent of the new building’s striking design was to ensure that it took nothing away from the Edwardian elegance of the former library, and its stark modernism lends relief to the baroque elegance of the 1905 Carnegie building. The Carnegie library building is perhaps the last and certainly, the most original of Andrew Carnegie’s libraries, still functioning as a library in New Zealand, thanks to a faithful restoration undertaken by the Thames Coromandel District Council in 2007. The library still provides its original library function and reading rooms to support the Treasury today.
Since opening the doors in 2014, the Treasury has been deluged with archive material. The Treasury’s digital Collection Management Project -“Towards the Future: Preserving the Past” - has meant that the Treasury has become the focus of the region’s museums and other institutions with a collective interest in the history of the region. The archive now contains and preserves at least 45 discrete archives from the region. While the focus is on preserving documentary history, the Treasury also has oral archives and a few curious physical artefacts. The earliest documents precede the first discovery of gold at Kapanga in 1852, and even the ledgers of local businesses of the time make fascinating reading today.
As extraordinary as the Treasury is, it is important to realise that the Treasury is a community-based charity organisation, and it relies on the participation of the community to succeed in its mission to record and celebrate our history. It is fitting that it is able to take advantage of the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie, but today’s Treasury would not exist at all without the generous support of local philanthropists. History never stops being created however, and the Treasury encourages contributions of all kinds, from those old records that have been hoarded away, to volunteer assistance, and donations. The Treasury is open to the public Monday, Thursday and Friday every week, from 11am to 3pm.
Years before Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started huge charity foundations, Andrew Carnegie, (1835 – 19191) the richest man in the world, gave away 90% of his fortune. As well as his many other benevolences, for instance, the Carnegie Hall in New York, he built and equipped 2509 libraries around the world, 18 of them in New Zealand.