Colonial Museums

This was an essay I wrote for an Art History Honours paper on collecting practices, called: Nineteenth-Century Colonial Museums: temples to rational progress or curiosity cabinets? (See also my related later post on Te Papa’s storeroom.)

colonial museum

Colonial Museum interior, Museum Street, Thorndon, Wellington, circa 1895, Ref: PAColl-3114-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Your museum is in my debt for ½ gross specimen bottles, in exchange for these I should be very much obliged if you could manage to let me have a skin either American or African of one of the smaller carnivora…it will so much add to the interest of my museum.[1]

Among the gifts were gems from Ceylon, snakes, a blue crane, a Maori chief’s cloak, a hornet’s nest, New Zealand Coleoptera and Lepidoptera, a duckling, and a game hen in male plumage.[2]

If you ever have an Apteryx [kiwi] to spare please remember me.[3]


Nineteenth-century natural history museums might be thought to typify what Susan Pearce describes as ‘systematic’ collecting. ‘Systematics’ works by selecting examples intended to stand in for all the others of their kind and complete a set. The emphasis is on classification in which specimens are extracted from their context and put into a new relationship based on a series of objects.[4] However, it was never this neat for the nineteenth-century colonial museum-builders. They saw themselves as scientists collecting in a rational manner, but their often eclectic collections must have sometimes appeared more like curiosity cabinets, which was an accusation detractors made against them. This essay considers whether the collecting practices of the nineteenth-century colonial museum directors and staff ensured their museums were scientific establishments or more like curiosity cabinets. My focus is particularly on James Hector at the Colonial Museum in Wellington, and Julius von Haast at Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, with some comparisons drawn mainly from Australia. Although the displays might often have resembled curiosity cabinets providing ‘intellectual recreation’ for the settlers, museum staff were also involved in scientific work that contributed to the goals of a colonial settler society. Nevertheless, their collecting practices did not always meet their aims for rational and meaningful collections.

Julius von Haast (1822–1887) was appointed Canterbury Provincial Geologist in 1861, and his own collection of 6,000 to 7,000 geological specimens and herbarium was lodged in his offices in the Provincial Council Buildings.[5] The following year he made a public appeal for donations for his future museum and began receiving items from New Zealand and overseas. From the mid-1860s he began acquiring large numbers of moa bones. The new museum building opened to the public on 1 October 1870, and the most impressive display was a group of seven moa skeletons, made up from the bones earlier found. There were also ethnological objects, pictures, and maps, in addition to his geological specimens and herbarium.

In 1862, Dr James Hector (1834–1907) arrived in New Zealand to undertake a geological survey of Otago. In 1865 he was employed by the central government in Wellington as director of the National Geological Survey and the just-established Colonial Museum. At least three of his four staff came to Wellington with him from Dunedin. In 1867 the New Zealand Institute Act was passed, with the Colonial Museum under its (nominal) control. The Act allowed for other museums and societies to become affiliated and many did. The New Zealand Governor, Sir George Bowen, in his inaugural address to the Institute of 4 August 1868, reminded his audience that the main object in founding the Institute was to ‘provide guidance and aid for the people of New Zealand in subduing and replenishing the earth – in the ‘heroic work’ of colonization’.[6] In his speech of thanks, William Fox, member of the House of Representatives, informed the gathering that, ‘we in New Zealand were here to lay the basis of a true civilization, not only to subdue nature, and till the soil, but impelled by Anglo-Saxon ardour and energy, to develop all that was worthy of development’.[7] After the speeches, an inspection was made of the museum, including the Maori house and Fox’s sketches made during his recent European trip.

The first public museum collections in New Zealand were closely tied to colonial government purposes. They were initially places to lodge specimens collected by geologists, at least in Canterbury, Otago, and Wellington. Not only were geological specimens collected on their expeditions, but also plants and fauna. These expeditions were integral to the extension of colonial government, particularly if the colonists were to understand, control and exploit the resources of these ‘new’ lands:

One of the most effective ways to consolidate political sway over a territory was by abstracting its essence through a survey or catalogue of its attributes, including topography, climate, mineral resources, flora and fauna, human population and commercial products.[8]

Like European museums, colonial ones also set out to educate and morally uplift the middle and lower classes (this it was hoped would also contribute to social cohesion and control).[9] As well as some scientific knowledge, it was thought a properly organised museum could instil a sense of order, method, and law.[10] It could also promote ‘progress’ by showing the products of the colony.[11] There was a strong emphasis on the utility of colonial collections – for the education of the working class, and also to gain local acceptance for the museums. However this was only successful if the useful exhibits were kept up to date, which was not always the case. For example, Frederick McCoy of the National Museum, Victoria, was very proud of his models of mining machinery, but they soon became out-dated and only suitable as museum exhibits rather than learning tools.[12]

Colonial museums had several ways of building up their collections. Chief among them were their own field trips, and donations or exchanges. The first method could result in a more scientific collection, whereas the latter might add to the eclectic character of the museums. A major source of objects was their own field trips. In 1874, Hector noted 20,000 new acquisitions to the museum of which 18,000 were fossils collected by the Geological Survey Department. Haast also obtained many of his moa bones through his own field trips, on one occasion only after a public subscription raised enough money for him to employ two workmen.[13] Funding was often a problem. Few other colonial museums had funding of the scale of Frederick McCoy, of the National Museum in Melbourne, who could decline donations from ‘ignorant amateurs’ as ‘scarcely of any value’ because ‘the inconvenience connected with the preservation of such objects infinitely outweigh their usefulness’.[14] (McCoy spent about £80,000 on buildings, furnishings and collecting over the decade 1857 to 1867.[15])

Donations, or offers for sale, from amateur collectors were also usually an important source for colonial museums. The contents of the Colonial Museum one year after opening included some material from Canterbury provided by Haast, and ‘contributions from forty-four private individuals’ amongst the 9,297 geological specimens, 2,846 shells, and 1,811 natural history items (including ‘wood, fish, wool, native implements, weapons, dresses’, etc).[16] Hector was not likely to decline the offer of a promising specimen if he could afford it. In fact, the museum directors appear to positively seek out the more spectacular specimens. Samuel Drew, a keen amateur collector from Wanganui, regularly made offers to the Colonial Museum, for example, in 1881 he wrote to Hector offering a whale skeleton washed up on a nearby beach, noting that it needed cleaning first. Hector offered £5 or £6 (although later pays £8) giving advice on how to clean it. Once received, he writes back to Drew that only 22 out of 40 teeth were received and asks him: ‘will you kindly try and recover them [the remaining teeth] as otherwise the skull will not have its characteristic formidable aspect’.[17] Drew also had his own collection (later forming the basis of the Wanganui Museum) and Hector engaged in two-way trade with him. Aesthetic appeal was appreciated for its ability to please visitors, and for which spectacular pieces were necessary. When Andreas Reischek arrived at Canterbury Museum as a taxidermist, his first task was to arrange a large ‘set piece’ of grizzly bears, an antelope, lynx and condor. Another task was arranging a rhinoceros and elephant, as the museum was about to open its new mammal hall.

Notably, gifts (or exchanges) were received from a wide range of places. In 1872, Hector notes a collection of 70 Californian birds was presented by the Academy of Natural Science in San Francisco; 114 birds from Norway; 41 forwarded from Dr Buller (in London), and 57 ‘are on their way from Germany, having been sent in exchange by Dr O. Finsch’. In addition, 170 American shells were received from Colonel Jewett of New York, an insect collection from Queensland, and Sandwich Island dried plants from Dr Hildebrand.[18] In 1874 he notes that about 600 fossil specimens have been distributed as exchanges, and 205 bird skins have been presented to the Otago Museum. The collection of foreign birds has been added to from a collection of Fijian birds, Northern Territory of Australia (from the South Australian Museum) and North American species from the Smithsonian Institute. Walter Buller again sent a collection of New Zealand birds from London. Dr Loven of Sweden – who visited New Zealand that year – also donated shellfish.[19]

While the pursuit of natural history, in particular, has been seen as central to furthering the inequality between imperial powers and colonies,[20] there was a two-way trade of specimens. And while we might now regard more as lost than gained that was not the perspective at the time. The directors often relied on their close relationships with their counterparts in England and Europe for items. For example, J D Hooker, Director of Kew gardens, was often sending plants or seeds: ‘Kew has a duty to send seeds to the colonies’.[21] Colonial museum directors were often advocates of ‘acclimatisation’ – the introduction of foreign species of flora and fauna, especially those from ‘home’: part of the ‘replenishing’ work referred to by Bowen. The existence of local museums at least prevented some local material being sent overseas for lack of an alternative, and as Gregory Kohlstedt suggests, the colonials personally had much to gain – their work would often attract more attention back home than comparable work done in England.[22]

While funding was often scarce, some local objects had commercial value that could be sold or exchanged. For example, Hector noted in the 1874 annual report of the museum: ‘the chief addition to the New Zealand birds has been the acquisition of a large number of skins of huias, kiwis, kakapos, and other specimens that, from their rarity, are useful for exchange’.[23] Haast quickly built up the Canterbury collections by exchanging duplicates with institutions all over the world. His collections grew so fast that he often said that collections had outgrown the space. The main items he sent as exchanges were moa bones or skeletons and birds, but for particular institutions he also provided soil and timber samples, Maori skulls, shells, and a whale skeleton.[24]

When money was available, buying from, or exchanging items with, professional dealers like the American Henry Ward was another way of adding ‘interesting’ objects to the collection.[25] In one exchange of correspondence with Ward, Haast asks for ethnological items. Ward replies that for US$600 he can give him a ‘stalwart Indian warrior (mounted with wax head and hands) in full costume’, etc. For US$750 ‘he shall be the actual Indian (so far as skin of head, arms, hands, lower legs and feet go – you shall have the skeleton) nicely stuffed’. For US$1025 Haast can have his horse too, and for US$1200 also his wigwam.[26] International exhibitions (once closed) were also a typical way that museums acquired objects.[27]

As the exchange of correspondence between Haast and Ward shows, ‘natural history’ at the time also included indigenous peoples and their material artefacts: ‘natural’ was used in the sense of ‘unimproved or uncivilised’.[28] This was the case from early in New Zealand, but in Australia there was a general lack of interest in the material objects of Aborigines until about the 1870s. Then the rise of interest in ‘social Darwinism’, an increasing belief that they were dying out, and interest from metropolitan centres in ‘primitive races’ caused the colonists to take more interest. Haast corresponded with Ferdinand von Hochstetter at the Imperial Museum in Vienna, and at Haast’s request, von Hochstetter recommended Andreas Reischek as a taxidermist. Reischek arrived in Christchurch in 1877 and about the same time Hochstetter wrote to Haast: ‘Reischek will be able to…remind you of the gaps in my collection, particularly in Maori skulls. Also in prehistoric ethnographic objects of the south seas’.[29] This trade was also two-way, as during his 1886 visit to Europe Haast was particularly keen to collect ethnological items, ‘for every day authentic ones became more difficult to obtain’.[30]

One of the themes of collecting described by Elsner and Cardinal is the ‘urge to erect a permanent and complete system against the destructiveness of time’.[31] It was a common belief in the nineteenth century that indigenous species would inevitably die out. The native species might be dying out but they could be ‘saved’ by being collected and placed in museums for study. Sir George Bowen also referred to this in his inaugural speech to the New Zealand Institute:

It is the opinion of the highest authorities on this subject that at no distant period it will be impossible to procure a collection of many species even of the common birds now found in this country. Before long, these too will have disappeared with the Moa. But local observers and collectors still have it in their power to place on record accurate information respecting their numbers, habits, and distribution.[32]

It was also a commonly held view in Australia:

Many of these marsupials are now very rare, and in a few years many more will be completely extinct. It is, therefore, a fortunate thing for Australian naturalists that such a good collection as this has been made in time.[33]

Reischek became the most prolific collector of New Zealand specimens taken back to Europe.[34] After his initial two-year appointment at Canterbury Museum expired, he remained in New Zealand for another ten years, collecting for local museums, himself, and for the Natural History Museum in Vienna. It seems Reischek was mainly motivated by the desire to take back to Vienna with him a large ‘exotic’ collection (of natural and ethnological specimens) that would secure his fortune and reputation.[35] He made no secret that he intended to take most of it back to Vienna. He wrote to the Premier (a letter drafted for him by Sir Walter Buller): ‘Before returning to Vienna with my collections, a large portion of which are intended for the Imperial Museum, I am anxious…to find the rare ‘Notornis Mantelli’, [Takahe] only three specimens of which have hitherto been procured’.[36] He was seeking free passage on a government steamer to Fiordland, which Buller had also already arranged.[37] The number of specimens the Vienna Imperial Museum eventually acquired included 453 ethnological; 2278 ornithological; 120 mammals; c.8000 fishes and reptiles and 2046 plants.[38] Nevertheless, there were a few nineteenth-century dissenting voices to such collecting practices; for example, Thomas Potts, a Board member of the Canterbury Museum opposed Haast paying large sums for bird skins to collectors such as Reischek on the grounds that it would lead to the rapid diminution of rare species.[39] And A H Martin wrote in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, ‘the worst [poachers] being the professional bird collectors’.[40]

As well as collecting and classifying their specimens, the museums were publishing catalogues as a permanent scientific record, such as the complete catalogue (237 pages) published by the Colonial Museum in 1870. Research was also presented to local Philosophical Society meetings and published in the annual Transactions and Proceedings of the NZ Institute, which Hector edited until his retirement in 1903. Some of this was not always appreciated back ‘home’ – Hooker, a long-time correspondent with Hector, complained about some poorly packaged and labelled timber samples from New Zealand:

The day has long passed for attaching value to miscellaneous collections of seeds or woods from so go ahead place as New Zealand. What you want is a properly organised Botanic Garden, like the Australian, Indian, Ceylon…Meanwhile your money is wasted on futile books on Grasses, the object of which it is difficult to conceive.[41]

However, in an earlier letter he had been complimentary about Buchanan’s book on New Zealand grasses, which potentially had practical value for sheep and dairy farming.

A number of these museums, Canterbury for example, were also art museums. In 1872 Haast received his first gifts of art works – ‘a pair of pink vases with gold handles and decorations; on one side of the vase the Lorelei, the nymph of the Rhine, on the other, Undine, nymph of the German Lakes’.[42] A large number of plaster casts of antique statuary and busts of famous people were also donated by Mr George Gould. Plaster casts were a popular acquisition in many colonial museums in the nineteenth century.[43] Most small colonies could not initially afford separate art galleries and museums and this display of natural and ‘artificial’ objects alongside each other resulted in similarities to cabinets of curiosities.

With all the different collecting sources what did the museums look like towards the end of the nineteenth century? In 1893/4 a British Museum curator, F A Bather, undertook a survey of museums in the empire. The first characteristic of a colonial museum, he argued, was its emphasis on local specimens. Indigenous specimens were best kept apart from other collections, as this is what most visitors wanted to see. However, this was his perspective as a foreign visitor, whereas many local visitors wanted to see more ‘exotic’ items; for example when Victoria acquired three gorillas in 1865, visitor numbers doubled.[44] He noted about Wellington:

the amount of space is not so good as at Christchurch and is said to be totally insufficient for the proper display of the collections. Still the space is quite enough for the exhibition of a representative collection of the natural history of the colony, and for a typical general collection to instruct or amuse the public. The first lesson a curator has to learn is to cut his coat according to his cloth.[45]

He was also scathing of the poor arrangement and labelling at the museum: ‘many will consider it disgraceful that the National Museum, the presumed headquarters of the country’s scientific and intellectual activity, should be the worst-managed institution of the kind in the whole southern hemisphere’.[46]

The accusation of having a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ appears to haunt the museum directors. This was not surprising, as by the nineteenth century this term had come to mean an idiosyncratic, disordered collection lacking any system or meaning. Hector, in his first annual report, thought the national museum should be the country’s research museum, employing the scientific staff, and providing accurate information to local ‘typical or popular museums…a method which would prevent their lapsing, as is too frequently the case, into unmeaning collections of curiosities’.[47] However, provincial rivalries meant this plan of a central and branch museums did not develop. (Museum directors often played on provincial rivalries to get funding from their provincial governments.) Haast was also accused by some of his detractors on the Provincial Council of having an ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ and a ‘Toy Shop’.[48] There was perhaps some justification in this, as in his biography of his father, Heinrich von Haast notes that ‘everyone who has a calf with two heads or other “lusus naturae” sends it along to Dr Haast, and gets his name in the paper’.[49] A select committee of the Canterbury Provincial government also recommended in 1870: ‘That the Museum should be placed on such a footing as to preserve it from being made a mere collection of curiosities or being absorbed by a more central institution’.[50]

In 1855 the President of the Melbourne Philosophical Institute said that he hoped to see the museum contain collections of ores, woods, etc that are useful, not a ‘mere collection of curiosities’.[51] Perhaps he had in mind the display of objects before the Institute the year before, which included:

Gold ingots, fire-arms, a microscope, some curiosities from the Cape of Good Hope, a stuffed kangaroo, a metronome, a map of the goldfields, the skull of an Australian half-caste, a model of a steam ferry, Aboriginal implements, views of New Zealand…some limestone from Mt Eliza, surgical implements, a model locomotive, fossils, skulls …a statuette ‘Dorothea’, views of the Holy Land, …parakeet skins, pathological specimens …Chinese coins and medicines, a stuffed platypus, a collection of gilt picture frames covered with glass…some arrowroot grown at Prahan, a map of the world, …and some engravings by Albrecht Durer.[52]

However, the element of curiosity was also apparent at the imperial end. Hooker wrote in a letter to Hector: ‘Lyell is wonderfully interested in your Tongariro Geology and I do think that New Zealand is the great problem of the day. I am writing to Sir G. Grey to take up the subject of child-birth amongst savages…Inquiries should be made amongst all the oceanic islanders.’[53]

One way of countering the curiosity cabinet accusation was to organise the museum along evolutionary lines. This would reflect the latest scientific ideas, provide a systematic method of display, and dovetail well with current ideas about the progress of civilisation. However, one of the differences between Australian and New Zealand museum staff in this period appears to be over the extent to which they accepted or rejected evolutionary ideas, particularly as expressed by Charles Darwin. Most of the major museum directors in Australia (with the exception of Gerard Krefft at Sydney from 1861–74) were opponents of Darwinian ideas, and usually supporters of the anti-Darwinian Richard Owen, the Curator of Natural History at the British Museum. Frederick McCoy (Victoria) was a notable anti-Darwinian. This meant that evolutionary ideas did not really take hold in Australian museums until these directors retired around the 1890s.[54] These debates seem not to have featured much in New Zealand. Hooker, who corresponded with both Haast and Hector, was a self-proclaimed Darwinian, and Haast, at least, also exchanged correspondence with Darwin. The main evolutionary debate at this time in New Zealand seems to have been around the age of extinction of the moa, and whether it was caused by Maori or by a previous race of ‘moa-hunters’. Haast on one side believed the extinction occurred centuries earlier by another race, whereas Hector and others believed it to have been more recent and by the Maori.

What distinguished these museums from curiosity cabinets was their aim to attain ‘completeness’, up-to-date scientific information, and taxonomic arrangement. Completeness meant having an example of each known species, rather than an object valued for its own rarity or uniqueness. Hector’s annual reports often refer to how complete the collections are – for example in 1872: ‘The collection of New Zealand birds is now tolerably complete…the number of fishes now known to belong to New Zealand is 147 species, of which only about fifteen are not represented’.[55] This did not mean that duplicates were refused, as they were useful for exchanges. Nevertheless, the reality of collecting did not always reflect the aims and rhetoric. While achieving a ‘complete set’ of New Zealand species might have seemed realistic, such an aim for every species in the world would have been unachievable. This did not stop them collecting foreign material, however, so it is likely they had other objectives, such as sheer quantity to include in annual reports (and rival other museums) and a desire for visually interesting specimens to attract and inform visitors.

While a museum was considered an important marker of civic society to colonial governments; once established, the politicians were often not so keen to maintain them. With Wellington established as the capital in 1865, the central government had rapidly built public buildings, including the Colonial Museum behind Parliament Buildings, to forestall an attempt to move the capital back to Auckland.[56] Hector had complained from at least 1873 that the museum lacked space and was in need of repairs. In 1886 he noted the ‘larger proportion of the collection is inaccessible to the public and almost equally to the officers of the Department for carrying on their work’.[57] In 1894, he said ‘it is now 12 years since the building was painted and the timber is perishing’.[58] By the 1890s he also had virtually no staff under his control – having first lost the geological survey staff to the Mines Department, then the Colonial Laboratory, and the Botanic Garden to the Wellington City Council.[59] In the depression years of the early 1890s some were also fired in the general government retrenchment. Australian museums also suffered budget cuts in the 1890s.[60] At the Colonial Museum all material accepted was to be considered worthy of display and therefore no storage space had been provided. What could not be displayed had, therefore, to be kept in staff work areas. As there were few staff much of the material accumulated in boxes, some of which was not finally sorted until after World War II.[61]

In their heyday in the 1870s and early 1880s, colonial museums were actively involved in activities that helped extend and support colonial government and settlement, such as surveys of geology, botany and animal species. Specimens were collected for display and research and many publications resulted. They were also popular places for entertainment and intellectual recreation. Haast estimated 50,000 visitors in 1872 (based on the numbers signing the visitors’ book, multiplied by three to account for those who did not sign) and Hector about 10,000 at the same time, but based only on numbers signing the visitors’ book. While their displays may have somewhat resembled curiosity cabinets, they at least attempted to collect and classify objects in terms of a scientific rationale. However, as more surveys were completed, and political and economic circumstances changed in the late 1880s and 1890s, the museums entered a phase of decline. It is likely that at that time they appeared cluttered and out-of-date places with a range of eclectic objects. In any case, their collecting practices had never quite matched their aims and rhetoric, as every opportunity for acquiring spectacular items was taken if they could afford it. Nevertheless, the philosophy behind the nineteenth century museums and curiosity cabinets of an earlier age was not the same. Curiosity cabinets gathered together spectacular and rare items of natural and man-made work ‘to show that God is prolific, prodigious and ingenious’.[62] Whereas by the nineteenth century, and especially post-Darwin, museums were interested in the rationality and orderliness beneath the profusion of life – although their actual displays may not have always lived up to their aims.


Asma, Stephen, Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: the Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Bennett, Tony. Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.

Blackley, Roger ‘Beauty and the Beast: Plaster Casts in a Colonial Museum’, in Anna Smith & Lydia Wevers (eds) On Display: New Essays in Cultural Studies. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2004, pp. 41–64.

Bowen, Sir George ‘Inaugural Address’, Transactions & Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. Vol. 1, 1868

Burnett, R ‘Life and Work of Sir James Hector’, MA thesis, Dunedin: Otago University, 1936.

Dell, R. K. ‘The First Hundred Years of the Dominion Museum’ (unpublished manuscript, Hector Library, Te Papa/Museum of NZ, Wellington) 1965.

Gill, B J ‘History of the Land Vertebrates Collection at Auckland Museum, New Zealand, 1852–1996’ Records of the Auckland Museum, Vol. 36, 2001, pp. 59–93.

Elsner, John & Cardinal, Roger ‘Introduction’ in J Elsner & R Cardinal (eds) The Cultures of Collecting. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994, p. 1.

Fleming, C A ‘Science, Settlers, and Scholars: The Centennial History of the Royal Society of New Zealand’ Royal Society of New Zealand, Bulletin, Vol. 25, 1987, p. 23.

Galbally, Ann & Inglis, Alison, et al. The First Collections: The Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and 1860s. Melbourne: University of Melbourne Museum of Art, 1992.

Gregory Kohlstedt, Sally, ‘Australian Museums of Natural History: Public Priorities and Scientific Initiatives in the 19th Century’ Historical Records of Australian Science. Vol. 5 (4), 1983.

Haast, H F von The Life and Times of Sir Julius von Haast: Explorer, Geologist, Museum Builder. Wellington, 1948, Published by the author.

Healy, Chris From the Ruins of Colonialism: History as Social Memory. Cambridge, NY & Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

King, Michael The Collector: Andreas Reischek, A Biography. Auckland, Sydney, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981

MacKenzie, John (ed), The Victorian Vision: Inventing New Britain. London: V & A Publications, 2001.

O’Rourke, Ross ‘The Drew/Hector Letters 1880-1899’, Unpublished compilation, Hector Library, Te Papa/Museum of New Zealand, 1995.

Pearce, Susan ‘Collecting reconsidered’ in Susan Pearce, (ed) Interpreting Objects and Collections. London, NY: Routledge, 1994.

Rasmussen, Carolyn (ed), A Museum for the People: a History of Museum Victoria and its predecessors 1854–2000. Melbourne: Scribe Publications, 2001.

Reischek, Andreas Yesterdays in Maoriland: New Zealand in the ‘eighties, translated and edited by H.E.L. Priday, London: Cape, 1930.

Sheets-Pyenson, Susan. Cathedrals of Science: The Development of Colonial Natural History Museums During the Late Nineteenth Century. Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988.

Strahan, Ronald (ed) Rare and Curious Specimens: An Illustrated History of the Australian Museum 1827–1979. Sydney: Australian Museum, 1979.

[T & P NZI] Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, Vols. 1 (1868), 5 (1872), 7 (1874).

Yaldwyn, John & Hobbs, Juliet (eds) My Dear Hector: Letters from Joseph Dalton Hooker to James Hector 1862–1893. Wellington: Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, unpublished Technical Report, No. 31, Dec 1998.


[1] Ross O’Rourke, ‘The Drew/Hector Letters 1880–1899’, Unpublished compilation, Hector Library, Te Papa/Museum of New Zealand, 1995. Letter from Hector to Drew, February 1888.

[2] H F von Haast, The Life and Times of Sir Julius von Haast, Wellington, 1948, p. 634.

[3] John Yaldwyn, & Juliet Hobbs, (eds) ‘My Dear Hector: Letters from Joseph Dalton Hooker to James Hector 1862- 1893’, Wellington: Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, unpublished Technical Report, No. 31, Dec 1998, Letter from J D Hooker, Director Kew Gardens to James Hector, 21 July 1864

[4] Susan Pearce, Interpreting Objects and Collections, London, NY: Routledge, 1994, pp. 201–202.

[5] Haast received an Austrian knighthood in 1874 (adding “von” to his name).

[6] Sir George Bowen, ‘Inaugural Address’, Transactions & Proceedings of the NZ Institute, vol 1, 1868, p. 4

[7] Transactions & Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 1, 1868, p. 14.

[8] John MacKenzie, (ed), The Victorian Vision: Inventing New Britain. London: V & A Publications, 2001, p. 283.

[9] Ann Galbally, & Alison Inglis, et al. The First Collections: The Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and 1860s, Melbourne:University of Melbourne Museum of Art, 1992, p. 8.

[10] Susan Sheets-Pyenson, Cathedrals of Science: The Development of Colonial Natural History Museums During the Late Nineteenth Century. Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988, p. 13.

[11] Carolyn Rasmussen, (ed), A Museum for the People: A History of Museum Victoria and its Predecessors 1854-2000. Melbourne: Scribe Publications, 2001, p. 21.

[12] Rasmussen, ibid, p. 49.

[13] T & P NZI, Vol. 7, 1874, p. 54.

[14] Quoted in Gregory Kohlstedt, 1983, p. 6.

[15] Rasmussen, p. 67.

[16] Dell, ‘The First hundred years’ 1965, p. 35.

[17] O’Rourke, 1995. It seems Haast was even more persistent, waking a farmer’s wife in the night to negotiate retrieving one missing whale tooth from her (Haast, 1948, p. 968)

[18] T & P NZI, 1872, pp. 12–15.

[19] T & P NZI, 1874, p. 562–563.

[20] Sheets-Pyenson, Cathedrals of Science, p. 16.

[21] John Yaldwyn, & Juliet Hobbs, (eds) My Dear Hector, 1998, Hooker letter to Hector, 16/7/1869.

[22] Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, ‘Australian Museums of Natural History: Public Priorities and Scientific Initiatives in the 19th Century’ Historical Records of Australian Science, 5 (4), 1983, p. 4.

[23] T & P NZI, 1874, p. 563.

[24] Haast, 1948, p. 626.

[25] Henry Augustus Ward, Rochester NY, was a “natural history merchant” who travelled the world in search of specimens and marketing opportunities. He visited NZ on his way to Melbourne to set up a display at one of the international exhibitions (Sheets-Pyenson, p. 47).

[26] Haast, p. 786.

[27] While this essay has not considered Auckland Museum, it seems Auckland was in similar circumstances at this time with limited resources, cluttered displays, a range of objects juxtaposed, and a wide network of exchanges. (B J Gill ‘History of the land vertebrates collection at Auckland Museum, NZ, 1852–1996’ Records of the Auckland Museum, 36, 2001, p. 59–93).

[28] Rasmussen, 2001, p. 2.

[29] King, p. 35. As Reischek took back 37 Maori skulls, he would have more than fulfilled Hochstetter’s wishes had Hochstetter still been alive.

[30] Haast, 1948, p. 966

[31] John Elsner & Roger Cardinal ‘Introduction’ in Elsner & Cardinal (eds) The Cultures of Collecting, Melbourne University Press, 1994, p. 1.

[32] George Bowen, ‘Inaugural Address’ Transactions & Proceedings of the NZ Institute, Vol. 1, 1868, p. 7.

[33] J E Taylor, 1886 on the Sydney Museum in ‘Our Island Continent – A Naturalist’s Holiday in Australia’ in Ronald Strahan, (ed) Rare and Curious Specimens: An Illustrated History of the Australian Museum 1827–1979, Sydney: Australian Museum, 1979, p. 44.

[34] At about 14,000 specimens, Reischek’s ‘was the largest single collection of ethnological and natural history specimens ever taken to Europe from New Zealand’, Michael King, The Collector: Andreas Reischek, A Biography, Hodder and Stoughton, 1981, p. 142.

[35] King 1981, p. 32. It did not work out this way for him, mainly because his ‘patron’ Hochstetter died before Reischek returned to Vienna.

[36] Quoted in King, 1981, p. 112.

[37] Buller also tried in 1884 to secure a grant for Reischek from the Government’s Art Union fund, but the Colonial Secretary came to the conclusion that stuffed birds were not works of art within the meaning of the Act (King, p. 112 footnote)

[38] Andreas Reischek, Yesterdays in Maoriland: New Zealand in the ‘eighties, translated and edited by H.E.L. Priday, London: Cape, 1930, p. 308.

[39] King, p. 81 footnote.

[40] Quoted in King, 1981, p. 112.

[41] Yaldwyn, & Hobbs, My Dear Hector, letter of 24 January 1882, pp. 171–172.

[42] Haast, 1948, p. 635.

[43] Roger Blackley, ‘Beauty and the Beast: Plaster casts in a colonial museum’, Anna Smith & Lydia Wevers (eds) On Display: New Essays in Cultural Studies, Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2004.

[44] Rasmussen, p. 68/

[45] Dell, p. 87.

[46] Dell, p. 88.

[47] R. K. Dell, ‘The First Hundred Years of the Dominion Museum’ (unpublished manuscript, Te Papa/Museum of NZ, Wellington) 1965, p. 31.

[48] Haast, 1948, p. 245.

[49] Haast, 1948, p. 628.

[50] Haast, p. 611.

[51] Rasmussen, p. 22.

[52] Quoted in Chris Healy, From the Ruins of Colonialism: History as Social Memory, Cambridge, NY & Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 85.

[53] Yaldwyn & Hobbs, My Dear Hector, letter of 31 May 1868, p. 93.

[54] Tony Bennett, Pasts beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism. London & New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 9.

[55] T & P NZI, Vol. 5, 1872, pp. 12–13.

[56] Dell, p. 82.

[57] Dell, p. 70.

[58] Dell, p. 86.

[59] C A Fleming, ‘Science, Settlers, and Scholars: The Centennial History of the Royal Society of New Zealand’ Royal Society of New Zealand, Bulletin, 25, 1987. p. 23.

[60] Gregory Kohlstedt, p. 16.

[61] Dell, p. 85.

[62] Stephen Asma, Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: the Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 78.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s