Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Hilary Wooding, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Henry Sarjeant was born on 19 November 1829 at Rangeworthy, Gloucestershire, England, the son of Sarah Williams and her husband, William Sarjeant, a farmer. Henry emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1850s or early 1860s, joining his brother Isaac who was farming in the Wanganui area. He bought two farms in the Mangamahu valley, naming them Riverley and Oeta, and later purchased land at Whangaehu, Lake Wiritoa and Fordell; by 1882 he had acquired 3,595 acres in the Wanganui district.
Henry Sarjeant was 63 years old when he married Ellen Agnes Stewart, 40 years his junior, at Christ Church, Wanganui, on 11 February 1893. Ellen came from a prominent Wanganui family: she was the eldest daughter of Frances Ann Stewart and John Tiffin Stewart, formerly the Wanganui district engineer. Henry and Ellen moved from Fordell to Wanganui town in the mid 1890s. In 1909 they built a new house on their Bell Street property. Called The Loggia, it was designed by Ellen and based on a house she had visited on the shores of Lake Como in Italy during a trip to Europe a few years earlier.
The Sarjeants were involved in many public activities. Ellen was a member and for a time president of the local Plunket Society and a member of the Wanganui Arts and Crafts Society. Henry was a member and trustee of the Wanganui Astronomical Society and the Wanganui Public Museum, and was active in the local philosophical society and benevolent society, the Wanganui Orchestral Club (later Society) and the Freemasons. He made generous donations to a number of cultural and educational groups.
Henry Sarjeant had a lifelong interest in the arts, and visited the major galleries of Europe during a number of trips abroad. When he died at his home on 12 February 1912, aged 82, he left property valued at £30,000 in trust to the Wanganui Borough Council for the purpose of building and maintaining an art gallery. His name is thus remembered in what is perhaps the finest provincial gallery in New Zealand. The design of the gallery was decided by competition, which was won by Dunedin architect Edmund Anscombe; he was assisted by his student Donald Hosie. The governor general, the earl of Liverpool, laid the foundation stone on 20 September 1917, and on 6 September 1919 the prime minister, W. F. Massey, officially opened the Sarjeant Gallery. The building was designed in the shape of a Greek Cross and constructed of brick faced with Oamaru stone.
The year after her husband's death Ellen Sarjeant married John Armstrong Neame, said to have been a childhood sweetheart. There had been no children of her first marriage. She continued to take an interest in the Sarjeant Gallery: she was a representative on the gallery committee, and, with funds made available by the council, purchased works of art for the gallery during her many trips to Europe, including a bust of Henry Sarjeant by Raffaello Romanelli. She died in London on 22 September 1939.