Peter Layne’s first task as a research volunteer at the New Zealand Police Museum in Porirua was to ‘get to know’ the background stories of the sepia-coloured mug shots of criminals from the 1880s. Staring down from the surrounding walls.
‘I looked for information about the lawbreakers on Papers Past and integrated it with information from the NZ Police Gazette to create detailed stories for 10 of these offenders. Their stories are now on the museum’s Facebook page,’ Peter says.
Peter picked up a lot of fascinating detail about the mug shot subjects during his research including the fact that some of the offenders came out of prison with a lot more flesh on their bones than when they went in. ‘Many of them would have been impoverished by the depression of the 1880s,’ he explains.
His background was perfect for the role. Some 43 years in the banking industry (Peter was, amongst other things, a foundation staff member of Kiwi Bank) and experience in historical research have honed his attention to detail and investigative skills.
‘When I turned 60 I was at a crossroads and left banking two years later to try other skills,’ Peter recalls. ‘I went to Emerge which is an agency that helps people with disabilities (Peter has hearing loss). They recommended that I talk to Volunteer Wellington Through their Porirua office I found a position at the Police Museum which is part of the police training complex, the Royal New Zealand Police College, in Porirua. The museum and its exhibits are used in training as well as being open to the public.’
A front-of-house role was his initiation to the museum. ‘Even though I’d been in banking all those years, I had to learn how to work the eftpos machine!’ He welcomed visitors, and carried out retail, phone and administration work. These tasks, and others, are carried out by some 11 volunteers on a roster system.
Peter has several other projects on the go now. ‘Currently I’m scanning (digitising) photos. I’ve also catalogued a collection of negatives and photos in a standard museum format. This information is then transferred into the museum’s collection management system.’
After two years at the museum Peter is now one of the longest-serving volunteers. Curator of Public Programmes (at the time of this interview), Naias Mingo, says that volunteers bring valuable skills to the museum: ‘We have a diverse group, all with unique skill sets and backgrounds. Volunteers work on projects that develop their skills while also benefiting the museum and our collections. The work Peter has done, particularly his research on some of our people from our mug shot wall, has enriched the stories we tell the public about policing in New Zealand.’
Research and recording are key to preserving the stories and history of policing in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Story by Carolyn Williams
Photograph Gary Jones