“Getting it registered was one thing; getting it restored was another.”
The Proclamation, the original document recording the British declaration of a Protectorate over some of the Cook Islands, was successfully registered on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in early 2014 and in its decaying condition was identified by a Memory of the World Committee for Asia/Pacific (MOWCAP) panel expert as needing restoration treatment.
“Our tropical climate is devastating to old books and documents and The Proclamation was no exception,” says Mason, “It was brown with age, crumbling when handled and the text on it was fading away.”
Frail and nearing extreme deterioration, The Proclamation document underwent over eight hours of intense restorative treatment in the hands of New Zealand-based archives conservator David Ashman, to ensure it would last well into the next century.
“If looked after and kept out of UV light, water and fire, the document should last another 200 years,” says Mason.
The process began by first removing the document from its highly acidic backing board, to which it had been glued over 60 years ago. Then the document was soaked in a solution of calcium hydroxide.
After that it had to be very carefully removed from the solution.
“This is the most delicate part of the process,” says Mason.
The document was then repaired using hand-made glue, applied to fine tissue, and using fingers and tweezers, was attached to the document’s gaps and tears.
“This too is an awkward stage as some of the pieces of tissue are tiny. Also, further moisture is being added to the document so application is very delicate.”
The document also underwent a dry cleaning process of light brushing and delicate sponging to remove any loose particles.
This was done using a soft brush and vulcanized rubber sponges.
After the dry clean process the embossed stamp on the paper appeared more visible.
Ensuring one of the few surviving rare articles of the Cook Islands is properly preserved has been an integral step in ‘bringing the project over the MOWCAP finish line’, says Mason.
“The document is not only significant because it formalises the beginnings of our acceptance as a nation, it is also significant because it reveals to us today the difficult choices our then leaders had to make to protect their people.”