Architectural traces in the Western Pacific Archives

Between 1906 and 1980, the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, was administered jointly by France and Great Britain. As part of this unique colonial arrangement, known as the Anglo-French Condominium, each country had its own resident commissioner and government offices in the capital Port Vila.

Plan of proposed barracks in Port Vila (1910)

Detail from a 1910 plan by Joseland and Vernon for a proposed barracks in Port Vila, New Hebrides.1

In the Condominium’s early years, a number of joint facilities were proposed, including a police barracks designed by Sydney architects Joseland and Vernon.1 The barra­cks, shown here, were to house the British and French divisions of the New Hebrides Armed Constabulary in separate but matching wings. A neighbouring joint prison was also planned. In the end, neither the barracks nor the prison was built. Instead, the French retained their existing prison and police barracks and the British built their own facilities during the 1920s.2

The barracks plan is from the records of the New Hebrides British Service (NHBS), which forms one strand of the Western Pacific Archives (WPA). The NHBS records date from 1902 while the wider WPA records relating to Vanuatu date from 1875, well before the Condominium came into effect. The country became the Republic of Vanuatu in 1980 following a movement for independence in the 1970s.

The architectural plans were among a small selection of WPA items which were shown to Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and his delegation during a recent visit to the University.

The WPA, which documents all aspects of British colonial administration in the Western Pacific from 1877 to 1978, also includes the records of the Western Pacific High Commission and the British Consul in Tonga. Covering the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Pitcairn, and Kiribati and Tuvalu, the WPA contains more than 2,800 boxes of material, including correspondence, administrative reports, land and legal records, maps and photographs.

In recognition of its historical and research value, the WPA was entered on the UNESCO Memory of the World Regional Register for Asia/Pacific in 2014. The WPA was transferred to the University of Auckland from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in England in 2002.

Katherine Pawley, Special Collections

1 ‘Condominium Barracks, Vila, New Hebrides.’ NHBS 5/XII/10. Western Pacific Archives.
MSS & Archives 2003/1. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.

2 Rodman, M. (2001). Houses far from home: British colonial space in the New Hebrides. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, p.88.