News that Archives New Zealand will soon get a new building – to house “New Zealand’s overflowing taonga vault” – reminded us of the work of Fulbright alumna Pamela Hall (nee Cocks) at the National Archives in the 1950s. Back then, Archives was a team of just three in an attic at Parliament Buildings!
In this personal account from our Fulbright archives, Pamela recalls her time as an archivist in Wellington of the 1950s, her Fulbright experience in the US, and returning to NZ to continue developing her career at the Archives.
“I was a Fulbright Scholar from September 1957 to January 1959 at the University of America in Washington D.C. I was employed by the National Archives, later Archives New Zealand, at the time. I started working for the National Archives in January 1950 as an archivist. At that time the Archives employed three people in the attic at Parliament Buildings in Wellington. Michael Standish was the Archivist in charge and later became Chief Archivist.
I had been at Library School in 1949 after completing an M.A. in history at Canterbury University. I completed a thesis on Henry Sewell, New Zealands first Prime Minister.
I clearly remember being in Parliament Buildings, doing some work as a student and knocked on a door. I went in and saw two men, Michael Standish and John Miller. I talked to Michael about the work he did…I was immediately hooked, and I knew it was for me. I had to convince the Library School that I could work at the Archives, rather than in a library. Michael supported me.
The Archives in New Zealand was very much in its infancy. We needed to learn a lot. An American Historian visited the Archives daily and encouraged me to apply for a Fulbright to go to America. I was fortunate to be awarded a Fulbright, and was accepted by the University of America in Washington D.C. It had a good Archives Department under Professor Pozner, a German archivist who had left Germany before the war, as his wife was Jewish.
I travelled to America by ship. Other Fulbrights were on the ship going to Britain and America. We had a great time together. I got off the ship at Panama, flew to Miami and went by train to Washington, D.C. The course was for a year. I learnt a lot. I recall writing each month to Michael about what I had learnt so that we could apply the learning on my return. During my time in Washington, I visited archives on the East Coast.
Washington, D.C. was a beautiful place. I was lucky enough to meet an English girl. We remained friends even when she returned to England.
After the course I went to England, visited the National Archives and many of the County Archives. I was fortunate to be on half pay from Internal Affairs during my time away.
I returned to New Zealand to my old job. I remained in the Archives until I married in 1968 and went to Gisborne where I worked at the Gisborne Library until I had children. Later, I was Honorary Archivist at the Gisborne Museum for about 19 years.
During my time at the Archives I gave lectures Archives at the Library School and to Archives conferences and the like. [I also] contributed papers during my time at the Archives and after I settled in Gisborne.
I am grateful to Fulbright for giving me the opportunity to advance my knowledge. It was good to be able to assist the growth of National Archives, now Archives New Zealand, in its formative years.”
Thank you to Alan Hall for sharing Pamela’s story and photo with us.
Feature photo of a model of the ‘new’ Archives building in 1991 and photo of old Government House and Parliament Building – both CC BY Archives New Zealand