At the Whanganui Regional Museum, we were warmly welcomed by Senior Curator Libby Sharpe, and Lisa Reweti, Public Programmes Presenter. Libby told us about the history of the museum and the exciting refurbishment and restoration work nearly completed.

The theme flowing through the museum will be life along the mighty river, which has shaped Whanganui past and present. The exhibitions will feature the museum’s impressive collections, notable for their strength in taonga Māori and the natural and human history of the river and region.

The origin of the museum, which first opened to the public in 1895, was the private collection of early Whanganui jeweller Samuel Drew, who offered his extensive private collection to the town in 1890. Libby suggested that Samuel’s passion for collecting had so overwhelmed the family home, Mrs Drew put her foot down. The first wooden museum building, now the Savage club premises, can still be seen on Drews Avenue, so named as Drew was also the museum’s first director. The museum moved to a new building at its current location on Queens Park in 1928, following a significant bequest from Miss Elizabeth Alexander. We were intrigued to discover another significant benefactor had been a great uncle, local Doctor Alfred Wall, who in 1946 left the museum his extensive collection of Māori taonga and £10,000, which funded an extension to the building.

The collections range from the bones of ancient moas, who were trapped in the swamps around the river, the skeleton of an unusual species of whale found locally and a very cute taxidermized Tasmanian tiger, now extinct. They include an important collection of Lindauer portraits, early water colour sketches of the town, a significant collection of tapa cloth from the Pacific and a huge resource of local photography. One curiosity is a collection of hand-carved wooden furniture made by women in local workshops, very popular in the early twentieth-century.

The museum, which is reopening in mid-March, is a wonderful resource for those who live in the city and surrounding region. Certainly a must visit, when you are in Whanganui.

Ross & Rachel Macfarlane
Members, Friends of Te Papa

Feature image: Historic Whanganui Tour Group photo taken in front of Whanganui Regional Museum. Photo by Rachael Macfarlane