A collection of more than 350 books, maps and taonga collected over 50 years by a Central Hawke's Bay farmer and avid historian is set to be auctioned in Auckland early next month.

Pam Plumbly, manager of rare books at Art+Object in Newton, said the "impressive collection" was unique.

One of the pictures from Sir Richard Owen's 1879 book about extinct wingless birds of New Zealand.
One of the pictures from Sir Richard Owen's 1879 book about extinct wingless birds of New Zealand.

"Such collections are increasingly difficult to locate in such complete form and his library is a tribute to his lifetime passion for research and history."

She described what James Gordon Wilson had put together as being rare and important New Zealand and Pacific-themed titles.


Mr Wilson, who died in 1967, was born in North Otago in 1882 but his family moved to a farm property, Netherby, at Hatuma near Waipukurau in 1897.

He would live and farm there for the rest of his life.

Ms Plumbly said one of the highlights of the collection was an account book for the Mount Herbert Station in Waipukurau which is dated 1865-1867 and provides a day-to-day insight into farming then.

It also underlines how the station's farmer Henry Russell assisted settlers from Britain with passage, housing and capital to get them started in the new colony Downunder.

Early Maori history across Southern Hawke's Bay was strongly pursued by Mr Wilson and he became well known for his excavations and searches for early artefacts in swamps and along the coastline.

He was a well respected member of the Polynesian Society and in the 1930s devoted himself to the research and compilation of the History of Hawke's Bay which was eventually published to tie in with the New Zealand centennial in 1940.

The collection includes volumes of Cook's Voyages from 1773 to 1785 as well as many drawings and correspondence between Major General Horatio Gordon Robley and historian Elsdon Best which date to the early 20th century.

"Robley was a gifted artist and historian in his own right with a particular interest in Maori moko and these letters are lively and insightful," Ms Plumbly said.


One item which is expected to fetch between $4000 and $6000 is a journal of Abel Tasman's voyages which was published in 1898 and is one of only 200 copies, while what Ms Plumbly described as "a highlight" of Mr Wilson's natural history collection, Memoirs of the Extinct Birds of New Zealand by Sir Richard Owen is also expected to fetch a top price.

Among the larger historic items in the collection is a whaling harpoon Mr Wilson had unearthed on the original site of a whaling station at Pourerere.