New Zealand Geographic reviews Te Kupenga


Pistons, spark plugs, and small rocks are not objects that you would expect to find in the holdings of a prestigious national library. But the Alexander Turnbull Library, one of New Zealand’s greatest — and earliest — treasuries of culture is far from ordinary. Its varied collections reflect the idiosyncrasies of its namesake benefactor, who donated the fruits of a lifetime of hoarding to the grateful nation in 1918.

‘Turnbull once declared: “Anything whatever relating to this Colony… on its history, flora, fauna, geology and inhabitants, will be fish for my net.” And that principle has steered the collection ever since. Hence the pistons (hand-cast by Burt Munro for his famous racing Indian and Velocette motorcycles), the spark plug (from the first plane to cross the Cook Strait), and, whimsically, the rock (which punctured the tyre of the first motor vehicle to drive to Aoraki Mount Cook).

‘But the heart of the Turnbull is its print material—Turnbull amassed some 55,000 books and that number has now swollen to more than 300,000. The library also holds 82,000 maps and 1,600,000 photographs, along with a comprehensive newspaper archive and manuscript collection and much more (though Turnbull’s ethnographic collection found its way to Te Papa).

‘Te Kupenga is an attractively illustrated selection of personal highlights, as chosen and introduced by library staff. The ‘101’ refers to the number of years since the Turnbull first opened, but also hints at the book’s introductory nature.’

Read the full review at New Zealand Geographic here.