How do you create a museum?

 

The Institute's Minute Book from 150 years ago reveals the people and events that shaped the Auckland Museum and its vast collections. 

A group of forward-thinking Aucklanders formed the Institute and set themselves the goal of "promoting science and literature by means of a museum and library".

Look through a selection of the original meeting notes to learn about the Institute’s earliest members and their vision, which resulted in the Museum we enjoy today.

1869

30 January 1869

Under the mountain

The Institute members were often out exploring Auckland’s unique natural sites. A field trip in 1869 took them to a lava cave formed 28,000 years ago by the lava flow from Three Kings volcano.

A description and map of the cave was published by engineer and surveyor James Stewart in September 1869. Stewart’s map was used when the Institute went on another field trip to the caves in 2012. On the trip was James Stewart’s great-grandson David Cook – a life member of the Institute.
 

The Auckland Institute and Museum coat of arms was designed by TV Gulliver in 1926. This version was produced by Carlton Studio in 1928. Auckland Museum Collection: 71/4

15 February 1869

Donations

Frederick Whitaker, the Institute’s president, donated this piece of arsenic from Kapanga Mine on the Coromandel Peninsula. You can see his donation listed among 80 others in the Institute’s first annual report.

In the late 1800s arsenic was used in all kinds of products including wallpaper, beer, coal, candles, and taxidermy – many of the Museum’s older natural science specimens contain arsenic.

Native arsenic Kapanga Mine, Tokatea, Coromandel Peninsula Frederick Whitaker Auckland Museum Collection: GE 7529

18 September 1869

Notorious quacks

Not all members of the Institute were happy about the company they were keeping. Dr James Bell wrote to the Institute requesting that his name be erased from the roll because of ‘certain notorious quacks’ being admitted as members. He held the view that members should be of high standing.

Dr Bell was known as medical man who served his district well. He was one of the founders of Albertland, a non-conformist society north of Auckland on the Kaipara Harbour.

The letter in which Dr James Bell asked for his name to be removed from the Institute’s roll. Auckland Museum Collection: MUS-95-38-2 Portrait of Dr James Bell. Brett, Sir H. and Hook, H(1927) Albertlanders: Brave pioneers of the sixties. Auckland

18 September 1869

Notorious quacks (continued)

Not all members of the Institute were happy about the company they were keeping. Dr James Bell wrote to the Institute requesting that his name be erased from the roll because of ‘certain notorious quacks’ being admitted as members. He held the view that members should be of high standing.

Dr Bell was known as medical man who served his district well. He was one of the founders of Albertland, a non-conformist society north of Auckland on the Kaipara Harbour.

The letter in which Dr James Bell asked for his name to be removed from the Institute’s roll. Auckland Museum Collection: MUS-95-38-2 Portrait of Dr James Bell. Brett, Sir H. and Hook, H(1927) Albertlanders: Brave pioneers of the sixties. Auckland

16 October 1869

Field tripping

Thomas Kirk, botanist and the first curator of the Auckland Museum, discovered a new species of Isoetes (I. alpina) on a tour to the Waikato with his friend, and Institute member, Captain Hutton.

Kirk presented his findings at the Institute’s general monthly meeting on 18 October 1869.

He found other new species of quillwort in 1876 in ‘our central and alpine lakes’. You can see one of those specimens here.

The album with photographs of the trans-Atlantic cable machinery on board the steamship Great Eastern in 1867. Photographer John Thomson, Auckland Museum Collection: PH-ALB-518

16 October 1869

Field tripping (continued)

Thomas Kirk, botanist and the first curator of the Auckland Museum, discovered a new species of Isoetes (I. alpina) on a tour to the Waikato with his friend, and Institute member, Captain Hutton.

Kirk presented his findings at the Institute’s general monthly meeting on 18 October 1869.

He found other new species of quillwort in 1876 in ‘our central and alpine lakes’. You can see one of those specimens here.

The album with photographs of the trans-Atlantic cable machinery on board the steamship Great Eastern in 1867. Photographer John Thomson, Auckland Museum Collection: PH-ALB-518

18 October 1869

For the love of learning

In October 1869 the necessary arrangements had been made for Museum and Institute to officially become one organisation. A promise was made to preserve the collection and keep admission free. The Institute then governed the Museum for 127 years until 1996.

In 1996 the Institute became an independent body but retained important roles such as appointing four members to the Museum’s Trust Board. As a learned society it continues to feed the curious minds of its members and Aucklanders with lectures by leading thinkers, field trips, and Museum tours. And as a membership body it also supports curatorial research such as the Kermadec Islands and Southwest Pacific marine expeditions.

Thomas Kirk was the part-time curator of the Museum when it and the Institute became one organisation. Auckland Museum Collection: PH-RES-3240-001