History of the Collections  

The origins of Te Papa’s collections go back to the establishment of the Colonial Museum in 1865. The orientation of the early collections reflected the scientific priorities of its first director, James Hector; though the haphazard acquisition, often by donation, of prints and paintings, ethnographic ‘curiosities’, and items of antiquity formed the beginnings of the other collections.

The national focus of the collections was confirmed in the institution’s renaming as the Dominion Museum in the early 1900s. The development of the national art collection began in about 1905 and gathered momentum with the establishment of a National Art Gallery, housed with the Museum in a new building in Buckle Street in 1936.

In the 1980s the need became apparent for a museum more representative of New Zealand’s culturally diverse society and with a broader audience appeal. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992 reflected this shift of perception, and the focus of the collections and their access to the nation was given a dynamic new impetus.

Go to the links below to read the essays that will introduce you to each of Te Papa's five major collection areas.