One of Whanganui's often unseen treasures is the contents of a building on Whanganui Collegiate School campus. Curated by Richard Bourne with expert help from archivist Frances Gibbons, the museum and archives building preserves the history of the school and town it serves.
Shortly, as part of Whanganui Heritage Month, its records, artefacts and exhibits will be open to the public.

Richard recently retired from working life and the museum is now his full-time "hobby".
"And I love it. I'm so lucky to have a hobby that I can really enjoy.
"What really gives me heart is Old Boys and families see if they give something it gets properly looked after and shared with others."
Now he looks forward to showing the museum and some of the school's important buildings to visitors.
"The new headmaster is particularly keen to get involved with the community."

He says the Heritage Month tours will appeal to people who love Whanganui history and heritage.
"It's Whanganui's oldest surviving business, and it is a business: it started in 1854. There's a real connection to the city from that point of view."
Richard says they work closely with Whanganui Regional Museum and the staff there have been "fantastic".
"We've got a photo of every 1st XI from 1883 right through to today."
That was by way of a lead-in to the fact that the Regional Museum gave the school access to a large number of glass plate negatives from the Tesla collection, many of which were photographs associated with Collegiate School.
They now adorn the museum, an invaluable record of the school's students and masters from its early days. The large, framed prints are of exceptional clarity and definition, considering many were taken more than a century ago.

There are paintings, sketch books, photograph albums from the Great War, letters, postcards, documents and records, sporting trophies, medals, sent to the museum by people from around the world who recognised their significance and made sure they went home.
"It's what gets the passion going when you get entrusted with things like that," says Richard.


In a sophisticated archival computer database is the entire school register, a record of every student who ever attended the school. Their records are cross-referenced and linked with anything in the museum pertaining to them. Many of those boys went on to become people of world renown, like Sir Harold Delf Gillies, widely considered the father of modern plastic surgery.

The museum is in a building that used to be the music block, honeycombed with little rooms that used to have a piano and little else.
Those rooms are perfect for archives and records.

The former music block now houses the Collegiate Museum and Archives. PICTURE / PAUL BROOKS
The former music block now houses the Collegiate Museum and Archives. PICTURE / PAUL BROOKS

Throughout the building there is crockery, old uniforms or parts of, models donated by former students, books, estate collections, all the things that go to make up an educational and social history of the city and district over 165 years.
Because so many Collegiate Old Boys fought in conflicts around the world, the museum contains a lot of military history, much of which is displayed on Anzac Day.
The last Old Boy to be killed on active service was Donald Nairn, who was killed in action in Oman in 1979.

Richard got involved with the museum in 2002, but it was the work of Peter Mackay, a Collegiate teacher and Old Boy, that laid the foundation of the museum as it is today. His work was continued by Russell Goldsworthy and in 2004 it was suggested that the museum become a sesquicentenary project for the Old Boys Association.
A trust was set up and, with some professional advice and help, the museum began to take shape. Richard is chairman of that trust. Once Old Boys saw the way that everything was properly stored, cared for and displayed, they were encouraged to help grow the collection.

"We don't want to disenfranchise families: we want them to have a sense of ownership." Artefacts deposited with the museum are on "permanent loan".
Not everything is stored in the museum building.
The school telescope was restored by Geoffrey Lawson (of Krupp Gun restoration fame) and takes pride of place in the foyer of the new administration block. It was donated to the school in 1926.
Other important items are throughout the school, including in the recently enlarged library.

Former school librarian Frances Gibbons has been a great help in the museum.
"She comes in most days and does cataloguing and a whole lot more."
Frances has cross-referenced all trophies, cups and tankards with every winner over the years.

On the stairs to the top floor are military aircraft paintings by Old Boy John Crisp in memory of those who died in the Battle of Britain.
Upstairs is a showroom of artefacts, in which even the dormer windows have been blocked out and turned in to display cabinets.
"You don't want UV light in a museum," says Richard.

He also explains that the College Board, the school trust, has always included the "H" in Whanganui, even though the name of the school reflected the city's thinking of the time.


Both Richard and Frances have a vast knowledge of the school and its history and can recount stories galore of days gone by and pupils of the past.
A large model ship was donated by the father of the school's first ever Vietnamese student.
High above it, secured to the ceiling is a rowing scull of some vintage.
A variety of relics and artefacts, all with their stories, fills the floor, walls and rafters.

Frances has an office upstairs where she continues the never ending work of cataloguing the ever-growing collection.
"We also do a lot of research for authors," she says. The story of fighter pilot Keith Caldwell is being written and the museum has supplied material.
The Museum Trust publishes a regular newsletter.

Frances runs orientation for new students and they are all treated to a tour of the museum.
"They do appreciate it. They come in House groups so we can focus it on a House, like Grey House, and the Old Boy who built his own kayak and kayaked home to Auckland," says Frances.
"That was David Lewis, who became a well-known explorer."

The Whanganui Collegiate School Museum and Archives is open for Heritage Month on Wednesdays, August 14, 21 and 28, and September 4 and 11, from 2-4.30pm, and on Sunday, August 18 and 25 and September 1 and 8, from 10.30am-1pm.
Visitors will also get a tour of the campus, the historic "big school" and the chapel.
Tickets are $5 each and there will be door sales.