The collection was the life passion of Wellington musicians, siblings Zillah and Ronald Castle. Auckland Museum purchased the private collection in its entirety from the estate in 1998, fulfilling the Castle’s wish that their private museum would form the basis of a national collection. The siblings have been described as New Zealand’s ‘pioneers … in the cause of early music and instruments’.
The Castle Collection is the single most important collection of antique, rare and unusual instruments and musical scores in the nation. The collection of early instruments has been described as being unique in the southern hemisphere, and was sited in the new Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
History of the Castle Collection
Chosen from a collection of over 480 instruments, the display includes rare violins, an 18th century harpsichord and an eclectic collection of instruments associated with New Zealand´s pioneer days.
Auckland Museum acquired this world-renowned collection late in 1998 when it might otherwise have been lost from New Zealand to overseas buyers. It is one of the largest acquisitions ever made by the Museum, and augments an already substantial collection, including the strongest collection of European musical instruments in any New Zealand institution.
Instruments of note include a 1781 harpsichord by Jacob and Abraham Kirckmann of London, which is one of only two in New Zealand. The Collection also features one of only two surviving 300-year-old Thomas Stanesby tenor recorders in the world. There is also an impressively wide-ranging collection of string and wind instruments. The collection also traces the movement to recorded music. There is a Stroh viola and a Stroh cello, which were used to make early Edison recordings of violin music, and some early New Zealand-made gramophones.
The Castle Collection also showcases a number of locally made instruments that are part of New Zealand´s musical heritage, including some early 20th Century violas.
Zillah and Ronald Castle started their collection before the Second World War, initially as part of their interest in reviving performance of Baroque and Renaissance music. The couple travelled around the country giving recitals and became well known members of Wellington´s musical community. Eventually, with extraordinary foresight, they extended their collection from the English medieval period to represent the development of musical instruments through to the present century. Their collection was exhibited from their home in Newtown, Wellington until Ronald´s death in 1984.