Auckland Museum

About Auckland Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum is New Zealand's first Museum.

The Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its place in the Pacific and its people. The Museum is a war memorial for the province of Auckland and holds one of New Zealand's top three heritage libraries.

It has pre-eminent Māori and Pacific collections, significant natural history resources and major social and military history collections, as well as decorative arts and pictorial collections.

The history of Auckland Museum

The founding and building of Auckland Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum stands on the hill known by Māori as Pukekawa.

It has occupied this site since 1929 when subscriptions raised by Aucklanders in remembrance of their war dead and enabled the construction of what is considered one of New Zealand's finest heritage buildings.

To this day, Auckland War Memorial Museum is a touchstone of remembrance for families and returned service personnel who wish to honour their loved ones and fallen comrades.

Prior to 1929, Auckland Museum occupied premises in central Auckland, beginning life in a two-room farm cottage in the suburb of Grafton.  With one room for the Museum's fledgling collections and one room for the curator, New Zealand's first Museum soon outgrew this site, relocating to what was the Provincial Council Building in 1867 before moving once again to the old Post Office building in Princes Street three years later.

The Museum's first custom-built premises, to which it moved in 1876, were just along the road on Princes Street. Under the guidance of the visionary curator, Thomas Cheeseman, the Museum and its collections flourished, necessitating a further move and the commissioning of a world-wide architectural competition to design a new Museum for Auckland which would be combined with a war memorial to commemorate soldiers lost in World War I.

Funded by the Institute of British Architects, a £1,000 sterling prize drew over 70 entries, with Auckland firm Grierson, Aimer and Draffin winning the competition with their neo-classical building reminiscent of Greco-Roman temples.

Crafted from Portland stone and designed to reflect the heroic valour of the New Zealand soldier and the 'classical' tragedy of battles such as Gallipoli, the Museum's colonnades are said to be almost an exact replica of the Parthenon's in Greece.

In the building's foreground is the consecrated ground of the Court of Honour and the Auckland Cenotaph (empty tomb).  The first Cenotaph was a temporary structure of wood and plaster; built and designed by Sir Edwin Luytens at Whitehall, London for the Peace Day events of July 1919.  Luytens designed an empty tomb on a pedestal in stark severity, without decoration or religious symbols and inscribed to 'The Glorious Dead'. The Cenotaph captured the grief of an Empire unable to bring home their war dead and subsequently a permanent Portland stone monument was built for the first anniversary of the Armistice in 1919 as a lasting memorial.  The Auckland Cenotaph was copied from cinema newsreels as the blueprints for the original Whitehall design were deemed too expensive for their purchase.

The official opening and consecration ceremony for Auckland War Memorial Museum was held on 28 November 1929. The total cost of the building was NZP250,000.

After World War II, the building was extended to encompass war memorials for the over 4,000 Aucklanders who lost their lives in the second world war, and the growing need for space for the Museum's collections. The semicircular extension at the rear of the building was opened in 1960, providing two thirds more floor space and the World War II Hall of Memories which now also encompasses the names of those lost in subsequent 20th Century conflicts.

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The Auckland Domain
Auckland, New Zealand