In 1965, respected historian Baden Norris (QSO, NZAM) was perusing historic copies of the Lyttelton Times in the local library when he came across someone’s decomposing fish and chip dinner lodged between the pages of his intended research material.
Incensed, Baden wrote to the Council about the state of Lyttelton’s historical assets. He suggested that, if an area could be found, the port town might, someday, boast its own museum. The idea quickly gained public support, and the Council made space available in the former Shipping Company Headquarters on Hawkhurst Road.
Lyttelton Museum officially opened its doors in 1969. Through the dedicated efforts of a team of local volunteers and donors, the Museum’s collection grew, as did the organisation. Baden served as the Curator of Lyttelton Museum, while simultaneously working in the Port and later as Curator of Antarctic Collections at Canterbury Museum. In 1980, the Museum moved to the former Merchant Navy Centre at 2 Gladstone Quay. For the next three decades it continued to develop and thrive within the historic brick building.
Then, in September 2010, the devastating magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck, causing significant damage to the premises and forcing the Museum to close. The 6.3 magnitude February 2011 earthquake followed, damaging the building beyond hope of repair.
With the collection at risk, the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade and staff from the Air Force Museum of New Zealand staged emergency recovery operations, rescuing the precious artefacts.
Sadly, the building was demolished, leaving the community without its much-loved Museum.
As careful stewards, our committee was happy to make the decision to rebuild in 2016.
In 2017 the Christchurch City Council gifted us the site of 33/35 London Street. A literal home to build the foundation for our future Museum.
We’ve developed a bold new vision to safeguard and share the precious taonga of the Whakaraupō /Lyttelton Harbour. Te Ūaka will be a purpose-built museum for the 21st century, firmly grounded in the heart of Lyttelton. It will be a central place where the Harbour’s many stories can be woven together and shared - a touchstone for the community now and in future generations
“We know what a huge achievement it was to get the Museum off the ground and keep it running – we have great respect for the people who did that. Now, we see an enormous opportunity to bring the new Museum well and truly into the 21st century.
Our aim is to retain something of what made the old Museum special – it’s not your everyday museum – and that reflects what Lyttelton is all about. Te Ūaka will have that spark of difference, passion and excitement that makes Lyttelton, Lyttelton.”
Dr Kerry McCarthy, President of the Lyttelton Historical Museum Society Incorporated
Te Ūaka will educate and inspire through our collections, our people and our narratives. There are many stories to share of the arrivals and departures, beginnings and endings, ebbs and flows of this special place.
Six key themes have been identified to tell the stories of Whakaraupō. Each is intrinsic to Lyttelton’s identity, and will underpin how Te Ūaka presents stories and objects in exhibition displays:
01. Mana Whenua
02. Colonial Canterbury
04. Lyttelton Local
06. Lyttelton by Nature
We’re passionate about our place and feel privileged to safeguard and share its fascinating heritage.
Te Ūaka is the name gifted to Lyttelton Museum by Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke. In English it can refer to a landing place, a place of arrival, or a berthing or mooring place for a watercraft. And that makes perfect sense for Ōhinehou, the Lyttelton township nestled in Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour on Te Pataka o Rakaihautū/Banks Peninsula.
Te Ūaka acknowledges the migration of people to this place, starting in the 14th century with Waitaha, then Mamoe and, later, Kai Tahu, and moving through to the British colonial era and more recent arrivals. We will tell their stories of exploration - how and why these people came to be here.
Te Ūaka also means to become firm. And this is another thing we will celebrate in Lyttelton’s Museum. The objects, stories, ideas and attitudes that have been brought and shaped here over the centuries have woven together with this special place to create an independent and proud community. As the Ūaka provides shelter for waka, the Museum provides shelter for taonga and their stories.
Our Museum will acknowledge the achievements of the people of this harbour across many generations, and it will tackle some of the difficult stories that need to be told. Te Ūaka will explore Lyttelton’s past with the intent to inform Lyttelton’s future, and it will welcome today’s new arrivals with a unique insight into just what makes this port town so special.