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Friday, 22 November 2019

Preventative Conservation of the Seaman Chetty Collection


A library is a repository of wisdom of great thinkers of the past and the present. It is a social institution charged with the responsibility of disseminating knowledge to the people without any discrimination. The holdings of the libraries are the priceless heritage of humankind as they preserve facts, ideas, thoughts, accomplishments and evidences of human development in multifarious areas, ages & directions. The past records constitute a natural resource and are indispensable to the present generation as well as to the generations to come. Any loss to such materials is simply irreplaceable. Therefore preserving this intellectual, cultural heritage becomes not only the academic commitment but also the moral responsibility of the librarians / information scientists, who are in charge of these repositories (Sahoo, 1990).
The Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation housed in Westville Campus B Block. The collection consists of museum items, photographic material and a library. The Centre aims to record the present, preserve the past, provide information and stimulate research.
Durban-born, he was among the first black South African boxers to be world rated. At the age of fourteen, after the death of his father, Chetty faced the challenge of taking over the family’s fish and chip business. Three years later, with the encouragement of his uncle, Seaman Dorasamy, Chetty embarked on his remarkable boxing career. Boxing promoter Billy Padarath signed him up immediately after witnessing Chetty’s remarkable victory in the early 1990’s when the local boxer beat four opponents in a single night. Chetty also snared the South African flyweight and bantamweight titles. After leaving the navy, he became a boxing instructor, training some of South Africa’s finest black boxers. Chetty left behind a proud boxing legacy.
The Seaman Chetty donated his army uniform, and boxing outfit to the Centre. The Seaman Chetty Collection comprises of a boxing outfit and army uniform. (Boxing outfit, belt, sewed pullovers, caps, insurance support, calfskin belt, towels and Crepe gauzes. There are additionally trophies and identifications. )

Strategic Plan 

I contacted Neil Somers our Preservation and Conservation officer for guidance. Nellie assessed the collection and contacted an expert in restoration and cleaning of textile and leather. A preservation needs assessment of the Seaman Chetty’s collection was compiled. A Preservation Needs Assessment provides clear guidance for the future management of museum and other significant collections. It is an important document for museums and other collecting institutions. A Preservation Needs Assessment evaluates the policies, practices and environmental conditions of a museum, with the aim of identifying factors that may have an adverse effect on the future preservation of a collection. It will look at the physical condition of a collection and the suitability of current housing, display and storage facilities(Services, 2016). 

The Conservation Process

Neil Stuart-Harris, Preventative Conservator: Textiles from the Durban Local History Museums was contacted to assist with the conservation of this collection.

As a precursor to the commencement of this process, Neil was asked if he would conduct a demonstration workshop of the various conservation processes of the various items in the Chetty collection.

See photographs at the end of the document

1.    Army Uniform Jacket

The jacket was very dusty with some creasing. The article was thoroughly vacuumed inside and out including the interior of the pockets. Various items found in the pockets were removed, recorded and relocated to a melinex enclosure (see photograph below). The artefact was subsequently brushed with a clothes brush and then steamed to remove creases and restore the shape. The buttons were tarnished and dust was lodged in the embossed ridges of the button crest. The buttons are attached with a double split ring, the shank passing through a small round button hole. The buttons were removed and vacuumed, cleaning proceeded with Wrights Brass Cream using cotton swabs. The metal was restored to its former lustre and reattached to the jacket. The various manufacturers’ stampings on the base of the buttons was documented. 

Seaman Chetty army jacket buttons – manufacturers stamping

Centre front closure – Top button Smith & Wright Ltd Birmingham
3 x B & P Ltd B.Ham ( Brent & Parker Ltd Birmingham )
Epaulettes – 1 x Smith & Wright Ltd Birmingham
1 x B & P Ltd B.Ham ( Brent & Parker Ltd Birmingham )
Breast Pockets – 1 x Smith & Wright Ltd Birmingham
1 x unstamped
Skirt Pockets – 1 x B & P Ltd B.Ham ( Brent & Parker Ltd Birmingham )
1 X Firmin London
Cuffs – 4 x Buttons Ltd Birmingham with a logo of crossed swords below

The jacket was displayed on a flimsy metal hanger which contributed to the loss of shape of the artefact. It was recommended for future display that the article be mounted on a padded wooden hanger or preferably on a dress stand with sleeve supports.

2. Scout Jacket

The jacket was extremely dirty, mould and lint infested and required a thorough vacuum using a narrow nozzle suction pipe with a stiff brush attachment. This cleaning was repeated twice. The artefact had been stored badly resulting in deep creases which required repeated deep steaming. The buttons were cleaned using a tooth pick and de-ionised water applied with a cotton swab. 

3. Boxing Dressing Gown

The gown was lint covered and very dusty. The conservator vacuumed the article inside and out and proceeded with a wet clean soaking the artefact in de-ionised water for 30 minutes. The object was washed using a pure soap solution applied with a sponge roller. The gown was thoroughly rinsed and towel dried, hung and left to dry. 60% of the French seam of the right hand arm hole had come apart and was subsequently re-machined. The under-stitching of the upper revear and collar on the right hand side was re-stitched by hand with 100% cotton thread. The gown was steamed and the sleeves, shoulders and side seams padded with acid free tissue and then packed with minimal folding for storage. This artefact will be displayed in the future on a dress stand.

4. Boxing Gloves

The boxing gloves were very dusty showing some signs of mould growth and the leather was extremely dry. The gloves were vacuumed inside and out and given a damp wipe with de-ionised water. After a 24 hour drying period they were treated with Lexol Leather Dressing and once dry were buffed up with a soft cotton cloth. The inside of the gloves were packed with acid free tissue to restore and maintain the shape. The laces had been removed and given a wet clean eliminate the extreme staining. 

5. Suede Boots

The calf length boots had been stored in such a way that the suede was flattened, creased and extremely dry. They were packed with polyester batting and allowed to stand for a week to encourage the creases to drop out naturally. They were vacuumed inside and out and steamed to restore the moisture into the suede. Once dry they were brushed with a small stiff brush to restore the pile. The interiors were packed with acid free tissue, and to assist the support of the vamp a strip of foam core board was inserted prior to lacing. 

Image before conservation: Army jacket; scout jacket; boxing gown; boxing gloves; suede boots
Images showing conserved artefacts, left to right: army jacket; scout jacket; boxing gown; boxing gloves; suede boots


SAHOO, J. 1990. Preservation of library materials: Some preventive measures. OHRJ, 47, 105-114.
SERVICES, I. C. 2016. Preservation needs assessments [Online]. Australia Available: http://www.icssydney.com.au/index.php?id=268 [Accessed].

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