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

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

History Revisited - Armidale museum fight finally won, if for the moment

DECEMBER 1933: Local member and Education Minister David Drummond opens the Armidale museum, the first municipally operated museum in NSW
Starting in December 1890, three previous attempts to establish an Armidale museum had all failed. Now in November 1929, the Armidale Express reported that Alderman D W Oliver had instigated new moves “to establish a museum in Armidale”.

The trigger appears to have been the offer of the gem and minerals collection belong to Albert Pike. Now an elderly man living in Mittagong, Mr Pike was a well known local prospector and one of the pioneers of the Copeton diamond field.

This was a considerable collection, one that would be later valued at £5,000. Following a detailed evaluation by W E Clark, science master at Armidale High School, the Armidale Council announced in June 1931 that it had decided to accept Mr Pike’s offer of the collection in return for “suitable living quarters and a small retainer.”

David Drummond as local MP and also Minister for Public Instruction offered one guinea as a donation and suggested that the collection could be housed in the Teachers’ College until accommodation could be provided. Drummond had already been looking for specimens that might be included in a museum at the Teachers’ College that would be reflective of the North.

The Armidale Express considered that the museum would be better in a more central position and also not confined to geological specimens. The paper launched an appeal for £50 to help house the exhibits, to provide a living room and furniture for Mr Pike and to pay him 10s a week in wages as curator and attendant.

On 5 September 1931, Alfred Pike arrived in Armidale by train. On Saturday 26 September, the museum opened in temporary premises to display both the Pike Collection and other exhibits lent by local businessman Harry Court.

The new museum had considerable support, but faced problems of premises, content and governance.

Its location in temporary premises proved difficult. Initially Council had hoped to fund a building for the museum and also art gallery using Unemployment Relief Council funds. When this failed, Council looked at other options.

Finally, in March 1933 Council received advice of a Government loan of £600 for construction of a museum and gallery on Council land to the Government Architect’s plans and specifications. Construction began immediately on a reasonably substantial brick building next to the Fire Station in Rusden Street.

Meanwhile, the museum’s protagonists worked to increase the collection. Now back in office as Minister for Education, Drummond persuaded Sydney jeweller Percy Marks to donate another collection of gemstones, while fifty samples of Australian commercial timbers were obtained from the Technological Museum in Sydney.

In the midst of work, Albert Pike died in May 1933, not living to see the final result.

On Saturday 16 December 1933, Drummond was able to officially open the Armidale museum. Armidale now had a functioning museum and art gallery, the first municipally operated museum in NSW, but there were difficulties ahead.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 March 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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