SS Ventnor artefacts should be in museum, public says
Nobody has claimed five historic artefacts salvaged from the wreck of the SS Ventnor, which sank near the Hokianga Harbour more than 100 years ago.
Divers retrieved the objects – which include a 19th-century plate, the ship’s brass bell, a porthole, and a lamp holder – from the wreck in early 2014.
Their retrieval caused controversy among New Zealand’s Chinese community, many of whom view the wreck as a grave site as the Ventnor was carrying the remains of 499 Chinese miners back to their homeland when it sank in October 1902.
The Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH) invited the public to claim ownership of the artefacts in August 2015.
Although the ministry received 185 responses, none were claims of legal ownership.
Instead, the majority of responses suggested the objects should be put in a museum, MCH Heritage Operations manager David Butts said.
“In view of their cultural and historical significance to New Zealand and New Zealanders the majority of responses asked for the objects to remain in Crown care suggesting a museum would be an appropriate holding place for the objects.”
Most of the miners whose remains were on the Ventnor had come to New Zealand to try their luck in the gold rush. Many had died here years before the ship sailed.
Their remains were disinterred, cleaned and boxed up to be taken back to China for their families to care for.
They never made it back. The Ventnor sank off the Hokianga Heads after striking a reef near the coast of Taranaki. Thirteen of the ship’s crew were killed in the disaster.
For many years, the location of the Ventnor’s wreck was a mystery. It was discovered by a team of amateur film-makers in 2012, although it wasn’t officially recognised as the Ventnor until 2014.
Butts said submissions on the artefacts were received from descendants of the miners living in New Zealand and overseas countries like China, Singapore and Australia.
The ministry was seeking further advice, including legal advice, before it committed to putting the objects in a museum, he said.
“We are pleased at both the response and the outcome.”