Henry George Drew was born in 1875, the son of Catherine (nee Beatson) and Samuel Drew. His father Samuel is still a well-known figure in Whanganui, not just as the founder of the Whanganui Regional Museum, but as a scholar, a musician, a philanthropist, a creative jeweller and a successful businessman.
Henry is somewhat overshadowed by his father’s reputation, but never-the-less deserves recognition for his own substantial contribution, both to the family jewellery business and to the world of museums.
He attended Wanganui Collegiate School from 1885-1887 and then moved to Wellington to train as a jeweller, and returned to Whanganui to join his father in the family jewellery business. He was renowned as a creative and adept craftsman. The Drew premises still stands on the south side of the Bridge Block at 19 Victoria Avenue. Henry was responsible for rebuilding this shop in 1909, the previous shop being pulled down to accommodate the new. He later moved his business premises further up Victoria Avenue to Perrett’s Buildings, where it remained until the 1950s.
Like his father, Henry had a passion for natural history. Samuel Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as the Austrian collector and taxidermist, Andreas Reischek who, on two visits in 1886 and 1888, helped to classify his collections. At the age of 11 young Henry received lessons in taxidermy from Reischek and developed into a highly skilled taxidermist and a recognised collector of New Zealand birds, butterflies and moths.
In 1901, after the death of his father, Henry Drew was appointed Honorary Curator of the Museum. Following the appointment of a paid Curator, George Marriner in 1908, Henry was elected as a trustee and served from 1908 to 1912. In 1916 he was again appointed Honorary Curator, a position he held for three years.
In a 1916 letter to Amy Castle, an entomologist at the Dominion Museum (now Te Papa), he commented, “I have just been appointed Curator of Wang. Public Museum, and therefore my private collection must be reluctantly placed on one side. My duties at the Museum will take up all my spare time.”
Henry has been described as the best taxidermist produced by New Zealand. He mounted exhibits for many different museums around the country. He was especially noted for his ability to mount bird specimens in a natural way. A case of native birds, titled Morepork Under Siege, was mounted by him while Honorary Curator and was on display at the Museum for many years. It depicts a sleepy Ruru, or Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae), being besieged during the day by small birds that include Riroriro (Grey warbler), Tauhou (Silvereye), Miromiro (North Island Tomtit) and Piwaiwaka (Fantail). Still in the Museum collection, the diorama demonstrates the sort of natural poses that Drew was attempting to perfect.
In 1924 he produced a collection of 350 birds for display at the Wembley Exhibition in England. This included eleven blue penguins which were kept at his home for a few weeks by his two children before being killed and mounted for display. He also mounted a large brown bear that came to Whanganui in a travelling circus.
Henry Drew retired from the family jewellery business in 1949, leaving his son Frank in charge.
Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum