New Zealand Exhibition Building, Dunedin 1865

“The more museums we have the better.”

This is the first blog in a series of four focussed on the history of the North Otago Museum.

Our museum’s story begins in 1863. That year the Superintendent of Otago formed a committee to collect material from the Otago District to display at the 1865 New Zealand Industrial Exhibition. In 1865 Thomas Forrester visited the Oamaru region to collect geological specimens for the display. He was also a commissioner for the exhibition.

It is not known whether any of the items in the museum’s collection today date from these early years. It is possible that some of the mineral specimens in the geology collection do.

Meanwhile in 1864 a mechanics' institute was founded in Oamaru. Like other mechanics' institutes it provided a place for adult education. But the institute was not an initial success and operations were suspended at the end of 1865, then revived in 1866.

The formation of a museum in Oamaru was discussed during the 1870s and some material was displayed at the Mechanics’ Institute. A newspaper article from 1872 noted “The more museums we have the better. I hope you will persevere till you make the Oamaru Museum an accomplished fact.” But progress was slow. In 1874 the North Otago Times recorded “the project of the establishment of a Local Museum in connection with the Mechanics' Institute has been allowed to slumber for a long time … it is somewhat surprising that, the long-talked-of institution has not ere this, been established.” It wasn’t until 1882 that substantial progress was made.

Next week I will be covering the history of the Oamaru Museum from 1882 to 1948. If you would like to know more, the book Diatoms to Database by Thomas Heyes covers the history of the North Otago Museum from 1863 to 1994.

Chloe Searle