Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Thursday, March 03, 2016

History Revisited - Armidale's museum fight

Attempts to create an Armidale Museum have a long and sometimes chequered history.

The first move dates to 1890.

In December of that year, Armidale City Council requested the Minister of Public Instruction to establish technological classes and a museum in Armidale. In January 1891, the Mayor called a public meeting to discuss technical classes.

In November, the Under Secretary of the NSW Mines Department contacted Council in connection with the establishment of a School of Mines, asking if Council would provide a room should a collection of minerals be provided for exhibition. Council agreed and the collection was duly sent to Armidale.

These initial moves took place at a time of continuing fascination with science and technology, with technical education seen as a weapon of economic development. While Armidale clearly shared this interest, no further action appears to have been taken.

Towards the end of 1909 public interest resurfaced, with a sub-committee formed to receive specimens for a Technological Museum covering natural history, geology, mining and agriculture. On 16 February 1910, a representative public meeting was convened to further consider the museum question.

Money was again a key issue. With the School of Arts unable to fund a permanent building, the meeting concluded that the proper place for a museum would be in a technical school building. The meeting therefore resolved to ask the Mayor to inaugurate a deputation, through the State member, to wait upon the Premier seeking a special grant for the erection of a building for technical classes and a museum. Again, the museum proposal seems then to have lapsed.

There is now another long gap in our story. It is 1923 before the museum question resurfaces, and then it takes a different form. Whereas the previous discussions had focused on a technological museum, now the trigger was the possible purchase of a South Sea Island curio collection owned by P T W Black. This, A H Perrott of Chevy Chase hoped in September 1923, “would be for the foundation of a museum for New England.”

The use of the word New England suggests that the museum is now being seen in a broader context. At the same time, the shift from a technological museum to one centred on a South Sea Island’s collection raised the issue of purpose, a key question so far as museums are concerned. This issue would ultimately take the museum in new directions.

For the present, a committee was formed including Mayor Morgan Stephens to consider the proposal. The Mayor was forced to advise the committee that it was not possible to purchase the collection.

The museum proposal again lapsed, surfacing next in 1929. This time the result was the creation of NSW’s first municipally operated museum. I will continue the story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 February 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

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