Who knew that an exhibit at the Whanganui Regional Museum had a connection to Britain's "Iron Lady", former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?

The museum's Dr Mike Dickison did - and he shared the story with a tour group participating in the Whanganui Summer Programme.

The museum's curator of natural history led participants on a tour of the collections stored in the basement and related the story of Thomas Thatcher who lived in Whanganui and purchased a stuffed badger on a trip home to England.

"He donated the badger to the museum on his return to Whanganui and would later have a son named Denis who grew up and moved to England where he married a woman named Margaret," said Dr Dickison.


Another interesting exhibit in the collection is the skeleton of a beaked whale that was washed up on the beach at Hawera in 1933.

"George Shepherd, who was the museum curator, decided to retrieve the whale and preserve the skeleton for the museum.

"He brought it back to Whanganui on a horse and cart and the carcass was placed on the roof where it was dried and picked clean."

Dr Dickison said beaked whales are rare and had not been seen in New Zealand before and the species, now known as Shepherd's beaked whale was named after the curator.

The collection contains many stuffed and mounted birds including the extinct piopio and huia as well as some exotic animals including a couple that died at the old Aramoho zoo.

Visitor Anne Paynter from Opotiki was impressed at how extensive the collection is.

"I'm involved with the museum in Opotiki and we are just getting organised to move into a bigger building but it won't have this amount of storage."

Geoff Potts lives in Whanganui and said he is something of an "amateur paleontologist" with a strong interest in fossils and local history.

"The shellrock around here provides me with a lot of interesting finds - I like to have a bit of a dabble."

Mr Potts said he had also enjoyed the first Summer Programme activity visiting pa and kainga sites around the city with Huia Kirk on Monday.

Kevin and Miriam Williamson have recently moved to Whanganui from Katikati in the Bay of Plenty and Mr Williamson said he "takes his hat off" to Whanganui for having such a good museum.

"Tauranga is a place with three times the population and I believe they are still discussing whether they should have a museum," he said.

Dr Dickison encouraged the visitors to drop by again on January 21 when there would be a tour of the museum's textiles collection.