The Ethnology collections of Auckland Museum began within the core collection of the museum from its founding in 1852.
Over the years, sections of that core collection were separated out to form the Archaeology, Applied Arts, History and other collections. The present handwritten registers of the Ethnology collection were commenced by the Museum Curator, Thomas F. Cheeseman, in about 1900. In his first volume of this register, Cheeseman re-registered all the ethnological objects that were already in the museum, then continued on with current acquisitions. Since then, the Ethnology collections have been regarded as a separate collection, growing continuously to their present size. The handwritten register commenced by Cheeseman is still maintained by the Ethnology Department as a linked parallel to the current electronic registration system.
Thomas Cheeseman can be regarded as the first Curator of Ethnology (1874-1923), followed by Gilbert Archey, Vic Fisher, Olwyn Turbot, David Simmons and Roger Neich.