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Castle Collection of musical instruments

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Castle Collection of musical instruments

The late Zillah and Ronald Castle of Wellington collected and exhibited around 500 musical instruments, many of international significance. Their world-renowned collection is now held by Auckland Museum.

‘[This viola d’amore is] perhaps my favourite of the bowed instruments in our collection’. - Ronald Castle.

‘[This viola d’amore is] perhaps my favourite of the bowed instruments in our collection’. - Ronald Castle.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Fifty years in the making

The Castle Collection includes unique and unusual musical instruments of international significance, amassed over 50 years by Zillah and Ronald Castle. There are more than 480 instruments in total, including rare violins, an 18th century harpsichord and an eclectic collection of instruments associated with New Zealand's pioneer days.

Acquired by Auckland Museum in 1998

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 particular note

The 1781 harpsichord by Jacob and Abraham Kirckmann of London, 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.

An extensive range leading into recorded music

The collection includes an impressively wide-ranging collection of string and wind instruments. It 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.

Instruments made in New Zealand

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.

A small collection that grew into a private museum

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. Both accomplished musicians, they 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. The collection grew into a private museum and was exhibited from their home (which was actually three adjoining houses) in Newtown, Wellington until Ronald's death in 1984.

The 500-odd items range over every imaginable un-powered device capable of producing music. Many were gifts from people who wanted a good home for an unwanted instrument. There are workable examples of every member of the violin family, as well as didgeridoos, a zuffolo, harpsichords, a crwth, harps, tablas, a sáhn, horns, trumpets, clarinets, a hurdy-gurdy and hundreds of other pieces.

The Castles also collected textbooks and volumes of rare music. There were numerous works of art, and a collection of dolls, toys and children's books and magazines. Ronald also built a museum of pharmaceutical objects and apparatus above the family chemist shop.

Cite this article

Le Vaillant, Louis. Castle Collection of musical instruments. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 5 June 2015. Updated: 11 June 2015.

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