A museum takes shape

By: Lyn Johnston

Artefacts in the original Brookes museum.

In the late 1890s, Edwin Stanley Brookes Jnr established the first Albertland Museum in the attic of his family home, Minniesdale House, at Wharehine. Fascinated by local history, he had an impressive collection of Maori and Pakeha treasures found on Brookes’ land, Henry Marsh’s adjacent Opou Block and the Okahukura peninsula (now Tapora) and elsewhere. When the property was sold by Archie Brookes at the end of WW2, the question arose, “What to do with the Museum?” Sam Long, a garage proprietor and Wellsford member on the Rodney District Council, agreed to take the museum records and all sorts of bric-a-brac to store.

The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington took many of the books, and Auckland Museum sorted out what they fancied. The rest, including thousands of birds’ eggs, hundreds of very old books and scrapbooks of news cuttings ended up in the Wellsford Public Library. In 1962, as part of the Albertlanders’ Centennial, a new grandstand was built at the Port Albert recreation ground with a museum underneath. Items came out of storage, and many others were donated by local families. This museum did not have regular opening hours. Visits were by appointment. Bess Farr, local historian and curator of the museum, would often open it up for visitors. Ultimately, the Port Albert site proved unsuitable, being on a dusty metal road and damp in winter.

A display in the present museum.

A specifically designed museum was needed, and it was decided that Wellsford was more central. A site was selected in Memorial Park on Council land. A dedicated team, headed by Ivan Tomas, fundraised for six years to make their dream become reality. In 1990, the present Albertland and Districts Museum was officially opened. Since then it has become home to many more historic treasures, particularly photographic collections and archives. With renewed interest in Albertland heritage and genealogy, people from all over the world visit or contact the museum online to research their family roots.

A peer review by representatives from Te Papa Tongarewa noted that the Albertland Museum houses unique and irreplaceable collections pertaining to early New Zealand settlement. Care and protection of rare items is ongoing. Items like letters and manuscripts from the mid-to-late 1800s, presently being scanned and transcribed, make interesting reading. More than 100 years of photographic records provide researchers with an enviable data base to peruse.

Staffed solely by volunteers, there is always a need for helpers to act as visitor hosts, take care of the collection, transcribe records, input into the database and much more. Interested? Give the Museum a call on 423 8181 or email museum@albertland.co.nz.


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