1491972488203 - Long forgotten time capsule opens a window to the 1960s

Long forgotten time capsule opens a window to the 1960s

For nearly 60 years the contents of a time capsule containing “top-secret” documents remained untouched, nestled in the wall of the Bowen State Building.

Heritage, Arts and Culture Minister Maggie Barry opened the 1960s time capsule on Wednesday at the Bowen State Building, which is being renovated by Precinct Property.

The 100mm copper pipe was found behind a plaque laid by the former minister of works Hugh Watt when the building was built in 1959.

Opening the tube required more effort than Barry’s usual ribbon cutting and rose snipping duties, she said. 

READ MORE: * Time capsule found in the Bowen State Building * Construction under way on Bowen campus near Parliament * Precinct Properties secures major government leasing

“It didn’t want to divulge its secrets,” Barry said.

After 10 minutes of struggle and the use of a pair of metal cutters, a roll of documents, newspapers, photographs, and a small envelope of coins were pulled and shaken out by Barry and Heritage New Zealand chief executive Andrew Coleman. 

The capsule contained documents giving the specifications of the building, and a departmental briefing labelled “top secret” that included official records of the site. 

A magazine dated October 1966 contained a feature on the former commissioner of works, Frederick Hanson with the headline “He spends 70 million a year” and had a photograph of the commissioner smoking a pipe.

The capsule also contained black and white photographs of the building at various stages of its construction, and a photo of a Ministry of Works building inspector at his desk. 

“It’s about a building and it’s about a building undergoing big renovations at the moment, so I guess this is an important part of the building’s past and the city’s past, I’m not sure what it reveals about what life was like back in 1960,1961,” Barry said. 

Coleman said time capsules have been discovered in several other Wellington buildings under construction that date back to the late 1940s and 1950s.

A similar capsules was found during construction on Old St Paul’s church and the Supreme Court building. 

“It seemed to be in vogue back then to put time capsules in place,” Coleman said.

The Bowen State Building was built by the Ministry of Works and opened in 1962. It was sold to Precinct in 2012 for $50.4 million.

Precinct has leased the building and the neighbouring Charles Fergusson Tower to the Crown.

Renovation of the building began in November last year, as part of Precinct Properties’ $203 million renovation of the Bowen Campus, which includes the Charles Fergusson Tower, Bowen State Building, and West Annex.

Pritchard said a new time capsule might be placed as part of the renovation.

Kirstie Ross a curator at Te Papa who specialises in 20th century history said

the people who put together the time capsule probably had no idea a lot of the documents inside would now be digitised and available to the public online. 

“It’s the provenance, the story around the documents that makes them really interesting, that they were tucked away in that little square hole there,” Ross said. 

The time capsule was first stumbled across by LT McGuiness workers who were salvaging parts the lobby. 

LT McGuiness surveyor Russell Mulder said it was a unexpected find, and quite easy to remove. 

“It was pretty exciting, it’s not every day you find a time capsule,” Mulder said.

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