Storage plans for Plimmer's Ark relic

ANTHONY SCADDEN
Last updated 09:22 29/11/2012
Plimmer Ark sign
AMY JACKMAN / The Wellingtonian
Closed for business: Plimmer's Gallery is out of commission owing to earthquake strengthening.

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A notable piece of Wellington's maritime history is at risk of being banished to spend its final years hidden away in a warehouse.

Wellington City Council plans to relocate the remains of the sailing ship Inconstant, or Plimmer's Ark as it became known, from its current position between Shed 6 and the TSB arena to dry storage in a warehouse at the end of January.

The council says it does not have room for the old ship at the TSB Arena.

After the council relocates there while the council building and the town hall are undergoing earthquake strengthening, the TSB Arena is to be fitted out for use as a conference centre.

Wellington Museums Trust has been charged with moving the wreck.

"We don't have a choice in the matter," said Brett Mason, the trust's director of museums.

"It's a domino effect with the town hall move. Unfortunately, we're at the end of it."

The Inconstant has been undergoing preservation work for several years. The council has spent more than $2 million on restoration work on the Inconstant since it was excavated from its old berth, beneath the Old Bank Building, in 1997.

"We've finished two of the three main preservation stages," maritime archaeologist Jack Fry, who is also a conservator on the relocation project, said.

At present, the Inconstant lies in a liquid polyethylene glycol solution, but if it is taken out at that stage, it could potentially be lost forever, Mr Fry said.

"We don't know what will happen to the unpreserved timbers yet," Mr Mason said.

"The parts of the hull that are being conserved are still continuing to be conserved."

The move will be in two parts. It is hoped that the already preserved parts of the vessel can be moved before Christmas.

Mr Fry said he regretted the uncertainty surrounding the fate of such a significant piece of the city's heritage.

"Historical importance is becoming an extinct species," he said.

Maritime Archaeological Society of New Zealand members are hurriedly campaigning to keep the remains in the best condition possible.

"We're campaigning to raise money to control the humidity in the warehouse," said society president Ken Scadden. "It has to be less than 50 per cent."

Preservation that has been carried out on the Inconstant is similar to that on significant wrecks such as England's Mary Rose and Australia's Batavia.


SHIP'S HISTORY

The Inconstant was built in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1847. It was wrecked at the head of Wellington Harbour in 1849 because it missed its stays and hit the rocks at Pencarrow. It was then towed into Wellington Harbour to be used as a warehouse and bond store by John Plimmer.

Later it was housed in the harbourmaster's office and was the first jetty in Wellington, used as a landing place for immigrants.

In 1883 it was dismantled and its remains were buried underneath the National Mutual head office.

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The Inconstant is significant in New Zealand because it is one of the few surviving examples of wooden shipbuilding and the only one to have undergone a monitored conservation programme.

- The Wellingtonian

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