Victoria Avenue

Happy Birthday Mr Drew!

1802.2525Today the Whanganui Regional Museum celebrates the birthday of its founder. Samuel Henry Drew was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, on 17 November 1844. The Drews migrated to Tasmania in the early 1850s and then to Nelson in 1860. Samuel established a successful jewellery and watch-making business in Whanganui in 1864, which continued to be run by his descendants until the 1990s. The Drew building is still standing in Victoria Avenue.
Drew married Catherine Beatson in Nelson in 1872 and the couple came back to Whanganui where they raised their eight children. He had a wide range of interests including music and sport. He was a member of the Philharmonic Society, the conductor of the Wanganui Liedertafel (the Male Choir) and president of the Wanganui Orchestral Club, and also belonged to the Wanganui Rowing Club. His greatest passion, however, was the study of natural history.

'Caught Napping' by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

‘Caught Napping’ by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

Samuel Drew collected natural history specimens and Māori artefacts, eventually establishing his own museum in his home in 1880. His family helped to collect and classify his specimens of molluscs, birds, beetles, fossils and other fauna. His collecting activities extended as far as Kāpiti Island where he became something of an authority on the local birds and fish.

Drew devoted his spare time to his private collection, furnishing specimens for collections throughout New Zealand. He published articles on natural history in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute and was made a fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1897. Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as Andreas Reischek who, on two visits in 1886 and 1888, helped to classify his collections. Reischek also trained Drew’s son, Henry, as a taxidermist.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

The private collection eventually began crowding out Drew’s family home and he realized he would need to find larger premises to house his museum if he wished to continue collecting. He also recognized the importance of his collection and the considerable public interest in it. For these reasons he offered the collection to the town to form the nucleus of a public museum.

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Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Drew’s collection was purchased in 1892 for a nominal sum, and through his efforts a new purpose-built museum was erected in Wicksteed Avenue, now Drews Avenue, to which his collection was transferred. He was appointed Honorary Curator of the new Wanganui Public Museum and continued to collect, using his expertise to mount natural history specimens and organise displays.

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Samuel Drew died from a sudden heart attack at his business premises on 18 December 1901 at the age of 57 years. The Whanganui Regional Museum is a lasting reminder of the enterprise, expertise and dedication of this extraordinary individual. Whanganui will remain indebted to this man for the contribution he made to recording and collecting the cultural and natural heritage of this region, as well as founding an institution of national and international renown.

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

He was always ready to devote his very limited leisure to the advancement of musical and scientific matters in Wanganui, and has left in the Wanganui Museum a fitting monument which will serve to preserve his memory and demonstrate what even one earnest and capable worker can do, when his heart is in his work … (From the Wanganui Herald 18 December 1901)

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The Museum’s Board voted to create a permanent memorial in tribute to Samuel Drew. One of the trustees, Mr Empson suggested a marble bust of Drew and said, “There is no place fitter for a bust than the Museum, and no bust fitter for the place.”

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Whanganui 75 Years Ago

W T Stewart Motor Co Ltd, now the Bike Shed, on the corner of St Hill and Ridgway Streets

W T Stewart Motor Co Ltd, now the Bike Shed, on the corner of St Hill and Ridgway Streets

In 1939 local business man Francis Haddow Bethwaite went out into the central business sector of Whanganui and took a series of black and white photographs of buildings, businesses and street scenes.

Bethwaite was closely involved with the local Chamber of Commerce and it is probable that this photography project was connected to its activities. The Chamber was a driving force in the Whanganui contribution to the Centennial Exhibition in Wellington in 1940 and Bethwaite was the Chamber’s primary planner.

Wakefield Chambers on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ridgway Street.

Wakefield Chambers on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ridgway Street.

Bethwaite was a keen amateur photographer who recorded family occasions and outings, business events and local developments. He was also a painter in oils, a sportsman and an expert in horticulture, being one of the initiators of the New Zealand Camellia Society.

The photographs were taken with a Kodak, probably a folding bellows camera that packed down into a neat flat leather-covered packet, convenient to carry and very reliable. The images were printed in black and white 8 x 10s, a standard photographic printing size of the time.

In 1939 New Zealand was preparing to mark the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Whanganui was in full swing, planning and producing an exhibit for the Centennial Exhibition in Wellington that demonstrated its material progress as a leading provincial centre.

The Alexander Museum now the Whanganui Regional Museum, Queens Park.

The Alexander Museum now the Whanganui Regional Museum, Queens Park.

The large public amenities, the Sarjeant Gallery and the Alexander Museum, had already been built. The new Alexander Library was designed to complement the Sarjeant and opened in 1934. They contributed to a grand civic centre but the town now had to maintain and pay for them.

The new Post Office was under construction to a contemporary grand design. New buildings had not been a primary feature of the town, the Depression of the 1930s limiting changes to repairing or altering building facades that suffered damage during the 1931 Napier earthquake.

The Majestic Theatre in what is now Majestic Square.

The Majestic Theatre in what is now Majestic Square.

By the late 1930’s Whanganui was an increasingly prosperous town, recovering from the effects of the Depression and the Great War, soon to be known as the First World War.