Ken Scadden, Archivist relishing chance to see auction

Ken Scadden has little time left, but is about to fulfil a quest to ensure his treasures are taken care of.

Scadden, president of the Maritime Archive Association, has a terminal illness.

But rather than leaving the rigmarole of dissolving his collection of more than 300 miliary medals to his loved ones, the 61-year-old plans to sell them at the auction house Dunbar Sloane in Wellington on Thursday.

"I've sometimes sat at an auction of some old man's estate and thought, blow that - I want to be there in the front row telling them all, ‘Bid more, you buggers'.

"These are the things collectors really enjoy - researching, and then the adrenaline rush of that moment when you're waiting for your lot to come up."

Among the collection going under the auctioneer's hammer is a set of medals that belonged to British soldier Robert McLeod, who died a single man in Whangarei Hospital in the 1920s.

He bequeathed his medals to the doctor who tried to save his life, and they were passed down the generations in the surgeon's little syringe box before Mr Scadden bought them.

The former director of the Museum of Wellington City & Sea also has an abiding interest in one of New Zealand's great maritime mysteries - the sinking of the General Grant off Auckland Island in 1866 with 2576 ounces of gold on board.

Tales of its bounty have prompted dozens of salvage expeditions, but the wreck has never been found. Mr Scadden co-wrote a book, The General Grant's Gold, with Madelene Ferguson Allen, who died before she could complete it.

It covers various theories, from the logical - that the island's cliff eroded over the detritus - to the wild - some claim foreign scavengers secretly plundered it.

Scadden has made archaeological dives around New Zealand, but never at the site where the General Grant is thought to lie. He recalled his last dive at Palliser Bay, where the sunken Ben Avon's load evoked a mythical sea-floor cityscape.

"There were massive stacks of bricks under the sea and, with a little bit of boyhood imagination, you would think you had found Atlantis."

- © Fairfax NZ News