Arrangement and custodial history of the Donald McLean papers

The papers of Donald McLean have been arranged into series, according to normal archival practice. Series are groups of documents with a common provenance that have been created as part of a particular activity or share the same format.

The papers were donated to the Library by the family in 1950, and a further portion were purchased in 1960. Considerable work has been done on them by Library staff since that first accession. However, much of the early work was done in ways that did not follow current practices, which has led to further research, series identification, listings and enhancements in preparation for this digitisation project.

Although they have always been known as the Donald McLean papers the papers were, in fact, a McLean family collection. In particular they included extensive papers of his son Douglas Maclean (spelt this way, rather than as McLean). These other family papers have now been separated from those created and received by McLean himself, and are not included in this digitisation project.

An early Library initiative that proved to be of particular significance was an ambitious transcription project begun by Library staff when the papers were first received. This was in the time before mass copying was as easy as it is now and in these years the Library put much effort into transcribing the letters and diaries of prominent political figures. In all over 15,000 pages of transcription of the McLean papers were produced, covering large parts of the English letters, official papers and diaries. These transcriptions have now been digitised and linked to the digitised images.

Over time the papers were also fully microfilmed. Most of this filming was done in the early days of microfilming, which meant some quality-control issues. However, the Library was committed to digitising from the microfilm where possible, and, with careful enhancement and checking, very little had to be refilmed.

The early transcription work has been complemented by further transcriptions (of a much higher standard than those done by early Library staff) by Marsha Donaldson, on a volunteer basis, as part of her interest in McLean's family history.

Meanwhile a separate project has been proceeding. This is the E Ma: Nga Tuhituhinga ki a Makarini project to translate the McLean Māori letters. The project members are Dr Ngapare Hopa, Te Kohu Douglas and Dr Jane McRae, and their work has been funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga The National Institute of Research Excellence for Māori Development and Advancement.

It has been a very fruitful collaboration for the Library as the E Ma team have recognised that the Library's digitisation project will be an ideal vehicle to present their work, and the integration of their translations with the digitised Māori letters adds greatly to the research value of the McLean digitisation project.

Donald McLean in a typically stern pose, ca 1870.

Donald McLean in a typically stern pose, ca 1870.
Photographic Archive
Alexander Turnbull Library