Anyone interested in family history or genealogy will know of the trials and tribulations of tracking down elusive ancestors and what this journey entails.

When confronted with the options available for family research most immediately head to the major archival repositories. Another source of valuable information could be closer to home at the local library or museum, which may hold material seldom found elsewhere.

Held at the Whangarei Museum is a large archival collection which includes photographs, maps, plans, manuscripts, letters, documents, paintings, registers and more. These records are available to the public and research requests are received and processed by archives staff regularly.

One request pertaining to a prominent architect was received who was responsible for the design of several buildings in Whangarei including the hospital, nurses' home, Kensington grandstand, two churches and city library.

The original architectural plans for the Kamo Holy Trinity Church dated 1886.
The original architectural plans for the Kamo Holy Trinity Church dated 1886.

The inquirer, who was a descendant of Edward Bartley and was researching the family's history, was looking for material relating to her ancestor's architectural achievements in the area and was hoping the Whangarei Museum held some associated information.

Not only did the Museum have several photographs of the buildings designed by Ed Bartley in its collection, but it also had his original architectural plans for the Kamo All Saints Church dated 1886.

Trained as a carpenter and joiner, Bartley was involved in construction of several Government buildings after arriving in the colony in 1854, and by 1870 was recognised as a skilful builder.

It was not uncommon at the time for a builder to do architectural design, and he shifted from a career as a builder to a successful profession as architect, designing over 20 churches by 1901, including two at Kamo.

The church plans in the collection, donated in 1965 by Whangarei City Council Building Inspectors, would have been meticulously measured and drawn up by Bartley and presented to the Anglican Church for approval before work commenced.

They incorporated a principal floor plan showing the arrangement of church furniture and fittings, orthographic projections and various elevation drawings depicting views of the external appearance of the church.

The architectural designs also included detailed drawings of pews, church font and similar fixtures, all completed by hand on coated linen and bearing the unmistakable copperplate signature of Edward Bartley.

These concept drawings were required to convince clients of the merit of design and to enable building contractors to construct the buildings.

Conventionally, drawings were made in ink on velum, linen or a surface of similar material, and any copies required had to be laboriously made by hand too.

In architecture, the finished work during Bartley's period could be very expensive and time consuming.

The All Saints Church erected at Kamo is a wonderful testament to Bartley's extraordinary ability to design a lasting monument for parishioners and has proven the capabilities of this build as it stands to this day.

It is also rewarding in the knowledge that these hand-drawn, impressive documents have been retained safely for over a century and can be viewed by family historians over 130 years after the event.

■ Natalie Brookland is collection registrar, Whangarei Museum at Kiwi North.