One of the things I really enjoy, is looking through the Sarjeant Gallery archive at Whanganui District Council. This is where the information regarding the origins of the Gallery is held, including the original plans and blueprints, and all the various bureaucratic communications from early last century.

The archive contains telegrams from Mayor Charles Mackay, letters about financial matters from councillors and legal documents, including of course a copy of Henry Sarjeant's Will. The Will sets out his generous bequest of £32,000 and his wishes for a gallery for Whanganui to be built "for the inspiration of ourselves, and all those who follow".

The design competition booklet created by Samuel Hurst Seager is there too. This outlined the many design requirements for the Sarjeant Gallery. It was distributed to New Zealand and Australian architects in 1915/16 and ultimately thirty three of the architects who read it submitted an entry. Four of those were shortlisted, and in late 1916 a neoclassical Greek cross design by a young employee of the well-known Dunedin architect Edward Anscombe was announced as the winner. That young man was Donald Hosie and he was just twenty one. In one letter Samuel Hurst Seager described Hosie as "undoubtedly an architectural genius". Sadly Donald died the following year, killed in action at Passchendaele, just weeks after the Gallery's foundation stone was laid.

Sarjeant Happenings ... a regular column on events at Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery
Sarjeant Happenings ... a regular column on events at Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery

Of course all of the documents kept in the archive are "official". They deal with governance issues, financial matters, building regulations and council business – and while they are incredibly important - personally I absolutely love it when a handwritten note or letter when pops up among the heavy black inked typewritten documents. A letter from Henry Sarjeant's widow Ellen, written in her own hand from the South of France, is a treasure for example. The Sarjeant Gallery's builders' ledger is another – full of names, prices and completed jobs large and small.

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I would love to see more of the Whanganui public's personal reactions to the Gallery from 1919, but the Council archive is not the place for those. Local people will have recorded their reactions to the building of the Sarjeant Gallery between 1917 and 1919 in their letters and journal entries. Maybe you have some of these recordings in your own family archive? What would they have said about the work, the excitement, the building anticipation? And what were their reactions to the opening ceremony? What did people say about their first visit to the newly opened Sarjeant Gallery in 1919?

For the Sarjeant's 100th birthday New Zealand Glassworks gifted the Gallery a glass time capsule and we are delighted as it will enable us to catch the personal reactions of the people of Whanganui in 2019. The time capsule will be able to take about 200 personal notes, each on a single piece of folded up paper. After a year of taking your messages it will be sealed on September 6, 2020,m when it will go into the Sarjeant collection store with all of the artworks, where it will stay sealed for 50 years when it is our intention that it be opened on September 6, 2070, when the gallery turns 150 years old.

Laying of the foundation stone for Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery. Photo / Frank James Denton
Laying of the foundation stone for Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery. Photo / Frank James Denton

Philip Stokes of New Zealand Glass Works is going to blow the time capsule this Friday so pop in to watch it taking shape. It will be a completely sealed bubble with a flat base and on the top we are going to slice in a small letter shaped slot for posting your note.

Lari Steward of the Sarjeant Gallery said "I remember the excitement of retrieving a bottle from the ocean with a message in it. We really want people to post a note for their descendants to read in 2070"

Please come into Sarjeant on the Quay on or any day after Saturday September 7, 2019 to post your own personal message into the Sarjeant's time capsule. The slot will be approximately five centimetres long and just one centimetre wide and it will take a short note or a small photograph with something written on the back.

A message will be etched on the outside of the time capsule – it will say "May those who come after us, open this capsule and remember us and our affection for the Sarjeant Gallery"

We hope that it will be a wonderful insight into us, the Whanganui community that ensured the Sarjeant Gallery would live on and inspire for another 100 years.


Do you have a story about the Sarjeant Gallery that you would like to share? If so, please contact Relationships Officer Jaki Arthur on jaki.arthur@sarjeant.org.nz or 06 349 3268. To learn more about the Sarjeant Gallery's current exhibitions, the Sarjeant Collection, the redevelopment project and our interim relocation, visit www.sarjeant.org.nz.

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