Story: Collecting

Page 2. Notable collectors

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The best-known 19th- and early 20th-century collectors were George Grey, Thomas Morland Hocken and Alexander Turnbull. Each donated all or parts of their wide-ranging collections to public institutions in New Zealand. The contribution of private collectors, including lesser-known figures, to libraries and museums is noteworthy.

Scholarly praise

Medieval European manuscripts were a small but important part of George Grey’s collection. He acquired 27 of these, dating from the 12th to the 15th century. Jack Bennett, a New Zealand-born literary scholar at Oxford, wrote in the 1950s that with respect to the medieval manuscripts he ‘might have done better, and learnt more, by staying at home and taking the tram to the Auckland Public Library’1 rather than visiting the great medieval literature collections in London, Rome and Los Angeles.

George Grey

Politician and twice governor of New Zealand George Grey collected manuscripts, rare books, letters, art, photographs and ephemera relating to many countries (including New Zealand) and historical periods. In 1887 he donated 8,000 volumes to the Auckland Public Library. The Grey Collection at the library eventually numbered some 14,000 items.

Thomas Morland Hocken

Dunedin coroner Thomas Morland Hocken’s collection became the basis of the Hocken Library, which opened in 1910. Hocken displayed selections of his own material at the 1889–90 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, among them 173 items relating to the founding of the colony of New Zealand. He also showed 75 groups of Māori items, which included hei tiki (neck ornaments) and three canoe stern posts.

Alexander Turnbull

Another major collector was Alexander Turnbull of Wellington, who began acquiring books at the age of 17 and amassed New Zealand’s largest private library. His 55,000 volumes, along with many maps, pictures and manuscripts, were bequeathed to the nation on his death in 1918. The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington became part of the National Library of New Zealand in 1965.

Starting young

Young New Zealanders also had opportunities to show their collections in the industrial exhibitions of the 19th century. Edward Zohrab was highly commended for his coins, shells and birds’ eggs, entered in the juvenile class of the 1885 Exhibition in Wellington. According to the official record, his collections showed ‘great method in arrangement, and speak well for his appreciation of the rare and curious’.2

Other collectors

Other important but lesser-known New Zealand collectors included Auckland businessman Henry Partridge, who presented his entire collection of 70 Gottfried Lindauer portraits of Māori to the city of Auckland in 1915.

Publisher A. H. Reed collected bibles, manuscripts and the works of Samuel Johnson, all of which were donated to the Dunedin Public Library in 1948. His brother Frank Reed accumulated the largest collection outside France of books and manuscripts relating to French writer Alexandre Dumas. His collection went to the Auckland Public Library after his death in 1953.

Other important bibliophiles were Esmond de Beer of Dunedin, Henry Shaw of Auckland and Pat Lawlor of Wellington.

Collecting history

For some 60 years from the early 20th century Fred Butler collected items relating to the history of New Plymouth, his home town. He pasted birth and death notices clipped from local newspapers into scrapbooks. Butler’s record of early settlers is now housed in Puke Ariki Museum, along with an index of 20,000 reference cards. At one stage he had a library of an estimated 80,000 books, and was also a well-known quilt-maker.

Notable non-literary collectors included Victorian military man Thomas Broun, whose 13,000-strong beetle collection is held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum. From the 1930s Ronald and Zillah Castle of Wellington collected early and unusual musical instruments, and their collection of around 500 instruments (now also in the Auckland War Memorial Museum) was the largest of its type in Australasia and the Pacific. During his lifetime, Heaton Rhodes of Canterbury accumulated the world’s most complete collection of New Zealand stamps.

  1. J. A. W. Bennett, quoted in E. H. McCormick, The fascinating folly: Dr. Hocken and his fellow collectors. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1961, p.13. Back
  2. Official record, New Zealand Industrial Exhibition, 1885, Wellington. Wellington: Government Printer, 1886, p. 184. Back
How to cite this page:

Richard Wolfe, 'Collecting - Notable collectors', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Richard Wolfe, published 5 Sep 2013