Theatre of wonders : the emergence of the Southland Museum, 1869-1945 : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Museum Studies at Massey University
During the last two decades of the twentieth century, international scholarship in museology began to focus on the development of museums in the colonial context, with particular emphasis on the nineteenth century. While a tradition of institutional histories has developed in North America and Australia there have been few detailed histories written of New Zealand Museums. Institutional histories provide an insight into the motivations and practice of early museology and the role museums took in the colonisation process and the subsequent development of provincial centres. This thesis provides the first detailed historical account of the early development of Southland Museum and Art Gallery. Four periods of development have been identified. Andrew McKenzie operated a museum in his commercial premises from 1872 until 1875 when the Invercargill Athenaeum purchased his collection. The Athenaeum maintained a museum collection until the early twentieth century when it was transferred to the Southland Technical College where it was opened to the public in 1912. Intensive political lobbying and fund-raising from 1936 led to the opening of a purpose built public museum in Invercargill in 1942. At a time of adversity, the museum emerged as a public symbol of progress and freedom. Underpinning the primary chronological narrative of this thesis is the identification of the important individuals whose energy ensured that the museum collection continued to develop as an educational resource for the community. The thesis also documents and analyses the changing focus of the collections from a 'theatre of wonders' to a more systematic natural history collection. While located at the Southland Technical College the focus shifted progressively towards agricultural subjects, though the museum maintained a very broad range of exhibits including an increasing range of cultural material. The final chapters of the thesis broaden to a detailed account of the collecting activities of selected individuals in Southland during the period 1869 to 1945.