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Castle Collection Decant

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Castle Collection Decant

Julie Burns
Coll. Technician, Relocations

Castle Gallery pack

Castle Gallery pack

Julie Burns, Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira

The Collection

The music collection from Wellington based siblings Zillah and Ronald Castle was collected over 50 years from the 1930’s, with many having both local and international significance from their unusual nature. Their collection comprises of 520 instruments; cases, sheet music and musical accessories.

Acquired by Auckland War Memorial Museum in 1998, the Castle Collection is still one of the largest collections held onsite. One hundred and fifty of these were on display in the Castle Gallery and 470 stored back of house. The project started on 18 November 2016, with packing the objects in back of house storage, taking a total of five months. During this time, 293 musical instruments and 99 accessories were packed into 145 boxes.

Packing the Gallery

The packing of the Castle Gallery began on April 4 and ran until May 20. Members from the Relocations team, with assistance from the Museums Display team, started with clearing free standing cases from the centre and front of the room. Thanks to the efforts of the Display team, this was achieved within the first day, creating an empty central space for our team to set up work stations.

Over the next seven weeks, we constructed 47 boxes and 3 frames, packing a total of 151 objects. While we try to pack objects of similar construction and type together, it is harder with larger objects as we are restricted by size and shape. We had 15 objects from the gallery that were classed as ‘oversized’; such as the harpsichord, the octave spinet and the double bass. All the ‘oversized’ objects were arranged onto two separate pallets and stored in the back of house storage.


The purpose of the decant is to help enable phase one of the Future Museum plan, renewing the Eastern walkway. A new pathway will be created from the southern entrance to the northern entrance through the Eastern side of the museum. As the Castle Gallery was located at the centre of the proposed corridor, removal and packing of the objects was essential to avoid potential risk the build may pose to the collection. The space will be improved under the Gallery Renewal project, maintaining the Museum's object rotation objectives to enrich stories and engage the public; the goal being to make the wider museum collection more accessible to the public.

Future Museum PDF

'Z', for Zillah

One of the more memorable moments is a Guarneri styled violin made especially for Zillah Castle in 1950 by Australian Luthier, J. Stubbs of Sydney. The instrument is made from Australian Poplar, Mahogany and European Spruce. Stubbs had left a hand written poem on a bit of paper that is attached to the inside of the violin, and can be seen through the F holes:

Long years attuned to Nature's choir

In mellow forests where I grew

At length transformed by magic fire

At last I come to sing to you”

Close up of poem by J. Stubbs to Zillah Castle

Close up of poem by J. Stubbs to Zillah Castle

Julie Burns, Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira

The back of the scroll neck has a circular mother of pearl inlay with an engraved “Z” for Zillah. These personal features show the connection between the Luthier and Collector, preserving the stories and developing a deeper connection of the objects’ significance to the owner, Zillah Castle.

Cite this article

Burns, Julie. Castle Collection Decant. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 8 August 2017. Updated: 9 March 2021.

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