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Hocken Richdale collection gains UNESCO honour

Wednesday, 9 November 2016 9:11pm

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Hocken Head Curator - Archives Anna Blackman with some of the Hocken's Lance Richdale collection which yesterday became inscripted into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

An early 20th Century University of Otago alumnus has received an international honour for his groundbreaking research into New Zealand seabirds, recognising the historical significance of his dedication toward Otago’s albatross and penguin conservation.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) yesterday inscripted Lancelot Eric Richdale’s archived research material into its Memory of the World New Zealand documentary heritage register at a ceremony in Wellington.

"This extensive and unique collection documents Lance Richdale’s meticulous and internationally recognised research ... Receiving this honour is one way we can publicise these important holdings."

The honour recognises Richdale’s unique and groundbreaking contribution to understanding the behaviour of New Zealand’s royal albatross, yellow-eyed penguins and the petrel and prions of Whero Island and is a boon for the University’s Hocken Library which holds this material.

Hocken Head Curator – Archives Anna Blackman says receiving the honour of the Memory of the World inscription highlights the national significance of the Richdale archives.

“This extensive and unique collection documents Lance Richdale’s meticulous and internationally recognised research into the lives of New Zealand seabirds, in particular the northern royal albatross at Taiaroa Head, the yellow-eyed penguin on the Otago Peninsula and the petrels and prions of Whero Island. Receiving this honour is one way we can publicise these important holdings.”

UNESCO recognition draws attention to the significance of documentary heritage and the institutions that are their custodians. Inscription on the register raises awareness of the historical and cultural importance of archived materials and helps ensure the inscribed items are protected, preserved and accessible.

Yesterday’s ceremony also saw the Memory of the World register inscript the Sir John Logan Campbell Papers (Auckland Museum), Katherine Mansfield Literary and Personal Papers (Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington) and the Waipu Scottish Migration Collection (Waipu Museum).

Lance Richdale’s work in Otago

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Lance Richdale.

Lance Richdale (1900-1983) was a world authority on seabirds and a pioneer of Dunedin’s albatross colony.

Richdale taught in rural North Island schools for five years before moving to Otago as an instructor in agriculture with the Otago Education Board in 1928. He studied history at the University of Otago, graduating with an MA in 1936 and obtained postgraduate certificates in Botany.

He was introduced to the study of birds on a trip to Taiaroa Head, where he came across a male albatross incubating an egg. Unfortunately, as albatrosses and their eggs were often eaten or the subject of vandalism, the egg was stolen before it could hatch.

This had a profound effect on Richdale, who recognised the detrimental effects that people and predatory wildlife were having on the albatross, and he dedicated the next 47 years of his life to protecting and studying albatross and other sea birds of the South Island.

His efforts led to the establishment of the Richdale Observatory at Taiaroa Head, a protective sanctuary for albatross which opened in 1983. Richdale was also interested in the study of penguins and petrels, and he later began field study of these birds on the remote island of Whero Rock, near Stewart Island.

The collection of his research at the Hocken Library includes diaries, field notes, manuscripts, publications, and photographic material relating to his studies of penguins, albatrosses and petrels. Ms Blackman notes that his use of motion picture to capture the behaviour of these birds was “a New Zealand first.”

UNESCO Memory of the World Register

UNESCO launched the Memory of the World programme in 1992.

Sitting alongside UNESCO’s better-known World Heritage List and Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Memory of the World programme is an international initiative to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity and preserve valuable collections and archived material across the world.

The Memory of the World register promotes heritage stories at three levels, international, regional and national. The New Zealand programme was established in 2010.