SS Ventnor Wreck Gazetted as Heritage Site

May 2015

Early this year the NZCA officially took the lead on the Ventnor Project when it was discovered that in January 2014 the wreck of the SS Ventnor had been accessed, filmed, and artefacts removed from the site. This was done before the wreck site was officially granted heritage status, so while the artefacts were legally obtained, there was alarm when it was heard that the person who arranged for the removal of the artefacts was preparing to “gift” the artefacts offshore. NZCA and the Ventnor Group believe that the artefacts are part of New Zealand’s heritage and history and the proposed gifting of the artefacts offshore is not in the best interest of Chinese in New Zealand.

Through a campaign of letters and lobbying the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and it’s minister, Maggie Barry, NZCA and the Ventnor Group has managed to ensure the site is gazetted as an archaeological site thanks to help from Heritage New Zealand. That means that the site is currently and will always be protected as an archaeological site which means that entry to this area for viewing is permissible, but any modification, destruction or the removal of parts of the ship or other artefacts is illegal.

John Albert, the person in charge of the group that dove down to the SS Ventnor site has ’salvaged’ the artefacts from the SS Ventnor  before the archaeological site note was made. In the future, any other artefacts that are taken off the SS Ventnor will be covered by the Protected Objects Act 1975 i.e. no touch, no take, take a picture or video, write a proposal of what it is, why you want it, who will keep it etc. It looks pretty detailed in what has to be done.  So we had natural grounds for a complaint from after April onwards when the notice was gazetted.

According to the Bill, the process is as follows
  1. The objects will need to be clarified as to their ownership.
  2. A panel of experts will be set up to view the objects and make comments
  3. If the objects have a historical, cultural, spiritual, (and some other factors) and that the loss of the objects out of NZ would be a significant heritage loss in the history of New Zealand and in particular to the Chinese New Zealand history, then the Bill suggests that the objects could be placed under protection.
In this instance we have achieved our goal and the artefacts will be handed back to New Zealand at Te Papa on the 18th July 2015. In the first meeting with Te Papa, it has been agreed the event will begin with a “Bai” ceremony. Guests will pick something from a tray of things collected from Mitimiti beach, and then the joss stick ceremony will begin. There will be the electric firecracker there to start the ceremony and at the end, each person will take a handful of red paper, so that the ancestors will follow us up to the marae.

Linus Chin
Otago Southland Chinese Association