Canterbury Museum

Message from the Museum Director

Posted: 15 March 2011

Tena koutou. Greetings to all.

I'm delighted to be able to report that Canterbury Museum - its buildings and outstanding collections and exhibits - has come through the severe earthquake which rocked Christchurch on 22 February 2011 in remarkably good shape.

The Museum buildings and the adjacent Robert McDougall Gallery have been assessed by our structural engineers and found to be structurally sound, and as a  result have both have been issued green cards. This will allow safe entry for people once power, water and sewerage are reconnected.

Minimal damage has occurred to the external fabric. Several loose gable tops and capping stones have been removed by stonemasons and the top of the tower strapped to hold stones which have worked loose in the quake and its aftershocks. For public safety, fencing has been erected along the nineteenth century east and south facades to keep people away until stonemasons can check and re-fix stonework.

Inside the Museum, exhibitions and collection stores are in good condition overall. It is estimated that 99% of collection items are intact. This, together with the minimal damage to the building, is extremely good news - particularly since nearby heritage buildings have sustained reasonably serious damage.

The performance of the Museum buildings in the magnitude 6.4 earthquake is a tribute to the Christchurch City Council and the Museum authorities of the time who undertook extensive earthquake strengthening of the nineteenth century buildings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Inside the Robert McDougall Gallery, the exhibition The Heart of the Great Alone, which is on loan from the Royal Collection, is entirely safe and without damage.

You have heard in the media about the discovery of time capsules beneath the statue of John Robert Godley in Cathedral Square. This was a welcome spot of good news during the rather bleak weeks immediately following the earthquake.  Thanks to Mayor Bob Parker involving the Museum, we are now caring for the items and undertaking immediate conservation work to stabilise and protect  the vellum manuscript in the first, in a glass bottle which broke during the shake. The second, a larger sealed copper tube, is in safe storage pending re-opening of our conservation laboratory where it will be assessed by staff and opened by the Mayor - possibly in mid-April 2011.
The two capsules were placed within the base of the statue at the time it made its two moves. The statue was originally erected on its current site in front of the Cathedral in 1867. In 1918 it was moved to a new site beside the Cathedral, where the War Memorial now stands. Public outcry over this move resulted in legal action, which forced the move back to its original site in 1933. The two capsules mark the 1918 and 1933 moves.

We have received many messages of concern, support and offers of assistance from colleagues and friends throughout New Zealand and beyond - thank you  all , we greatly appreciate your support. We will attempt to personally acknowledge all the messages once the Museum is operational again.

Although the last few days have seen a relaxation of the cordon in the area around the Museum, we are still without power, water and sewerage. Without power, the Museum server is down, and emails to the Museum address will not reach us. Until  power, water and sewerage  are restored, the Museum remains  closed to staff and the public. The Museum is being patrolled by security guards 24 hours a day, and we have had excellent support from the large Police and Army presence in the inner city.

Further information regarding the re-opening of the Museum will be posted here in the coming weeks.

Nga mihi,

Anthony Wright