Haast’s own collection of moa bones, plants, birds, rocks and minerals formed the basis of the displays. The Museum increased its collections by exchanges with other museums worldwide and purchases from European institutions and Webster’s Auction House in England. Among the items that came to Canterbury Museum were natural history specimens such as foreign bird skins, butterflies, shells, mammals, vertebrate and invertebrate fossils; minerals and central European flora; medals, coins, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian antiquities; ethnological objects from Africa, North and South America, Scandinavia, Europe, India and Australia; sculpture and bronze ornaments; items, including vases, from the London International Exhibition of 1871; and scientific publications.
Local supporters donated items including artefacts, publications, ceramics, flora and fauna. The Museum also benefited from numerous bequests. Haast’s breadth of cultural interests was demonstrated when, before the Museum officially opened in 1870, an art exhibition was shown.
The Museum’s second Director was H O Forbes, and after him came Frederick Hutton who continued actively collecting. Later Directors, including Edgar Waite, Robert Speight, Robert Falla and Roger Duff, continued to build up the collections. During Duff’s tour to England in 1948 he acquired a large collection from various museums either by purchase, exchange or on permanent loan. He negotiated the loan of the W O Oldman Collection of Polynesian and Maori Artefacts and the gifting of the Rewi Alley Collection of objects from China.
From the early 1900s the Museum has been the home of major colonial history and archival collections. The social history collections have grown in importance with clothing, furniture, household items, stamps, artworks, architectural plans, maps, photographs, diaries, personal papers and publications being added.
The Antarctic collections are of worldwide interest and importance. The scientists accompanying Robert Falcon Scott’s two Antarctic expeditions actually worked in the Museum en route to the ice. Based on these foundations active collecting culminated in the opening of the Sir Robertson Stewart Hall of Antarctic Discovery in 1977. Active collecting continues in this international point-of-difference for Canterbury Museum.
Sally E Burrage and Anthony E Wright
Additional text sourced from:
- Guide to the Collections in Canterbury Museum (1900), published by Canterbury Museum Trust
- Canterbury Museum Trust Board Annual Report 1948