Turnbull Centenary 2018-2020 Essay

AIM: To create new knowledge about Alexander Turnbull, and to publicise his legacy during the anniversary years 2018-2020.

The Friends of the Turnbull Library (FoTL) is now calling for Expressions of Interest in submitting an essay on any aspect of the life and/or collecting role of Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull, who donated his personal collection of about 55,000 books and other items relating to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands to the nation in 1918. This generous bequest became the nucleus of the Alexander Turnbull Library, an internationally renowned research library which opened its doors to the public in 1920.

At the discretion of the Friends of Turnbull Library, the expressions of interest will be assessed and entrants will be advised of the terms and conditions. The original concept of an essay competition may be modified to provide research funding to one or more selected entrants.


  • We expect the final essay(s) will achieve a high academic level of accessible scholarship, providing a new perspective on the life and achievements of Alexander Turnbull.
  • Entries may be non-fiction or creative writing.
  • By entering the competition entrants agree to FoTL terms and conditions regarding subsequent publication of your essay and FoTL publicity requirements.
  • The awarding of research funding will be decided by a panel selected by FoTL and the decision of the judges is final. No correspondence will be entered into.
  • Open to anyone (no age limit).
  • Word length: is expected not to exceed 5000 words.


Up to $15,000 to be allocated or shared at the complete discretion of the Friends of Turnbull Library.

DEADLINES: Expressions of interest (research proposals) must be received by Friday 29 June 2018.

Following confirmation of the acceptance of a research proposal, essays must be received by FoTL on or before 1 September 2019. Results announced 15 November 2019.  Successful entries may be published in Turnbull Library Record in 2020.


Alexander Turnbull (1868-1918) was born in Wellington, the sixth of seven children, and was educated in Wellington and then in England. As a young man Alex joined the family’s prosperous “general commission business”, involving importing, shipping and insurance, occupying two warehouses and an office on Customhouse Quay. His growing passion for collecting books began when he was 17, and quickly focussed on anything published in or about New Zealand. At times he was buying about 700 books per year, and his interests widened to include all the “South Sea Islands” of the Pacific. When he died, shortly before his fiftieth birthday, he had amassed about 55,000 books, along with drawings, prints, paintings, maps and manuscripts; and this was the collection he gifted to the nation to form “the nucleus of a New Zealand National Collection”. It was welcomed as “the most generous bequest to the people of New Zealand ever made by a New Zealander.”

E.H. McCormick’s excellent 1974 biography of Alexander Turnbull is meticulously researched and rich with archival detail, but there are various dimensions of this driven and generous man which might produce a fascinating essay. Turnbull’s first racing yacht, the narrow and beautiful gaff rigged cutter Rona, is moored at Chaffers Marina. Turnbull’s history as a sportsman and sailor has been documented by his own account of sailing in Queen Charlotte Sound. What is Turnbull’s history as a sailor? Before he became a dedicated book hound Turnbull was a laddish man about town – what kind of person was he? He came from a close family but his relationship with his sisters, especially the younger one Sissy, seems to have been a bit puritanical – what was he like as a brother and son? Why did Turnbull himself never marry and is the obvious explanation the right one? What was he like as a businessman and how did the business support the ferocious bookbuying? Towards the end of his life Turnbull succumbed to drug addiction, about which McCormick is clear but discreet. What was the incidence of drug use in Wellington at this time and how would Turnbull have acquired his supplies? Who were his close friends?

An essay on these, or any other aspects of this remarkable but essentially private man would add to our knowledge and understanding of Turnbull’s life and passions.

Further information about Alex and the Alexander Turnbull Library is on www.turnbullfriends.org

Enquiries and Expressions of Interest to: fergiehill@xtra.co.nz

Preserving the past to enlighten the future

The Friends of the Turnbull Library Inc

PO Box 12186, Thorndon, Wellington 6144, New Zealand


The Friends of the Turnbull Library is pleased to announce an essay competition with prizes totalling $15,000 to celebrate the anniversaries of the generous bequest of Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull’s library to the nation in 2018, and the subsequent opening of the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2020.

We are now inviting expressions of interest in submitting an essay on any aspect of Alexander Turnbull’s life and/or his role as a collector.

Essays should be between 3,000–5,000 words in length, and must not have been previously published. We expect they will have a scholarly underpinning and be written in a lively and accessible manner for an informed but not specialist readership.

Turnbull’s personal collection, of some 55,000 books and other items relating to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, formed the basis of the Turnbull Library which has subsequently grown steadily to become the internationally renowned research library it is today, serving all those with interests in the fields of historical, literary, cultural and genealogical studies.

The Friends of the Turnbull Library is an incorporated society established in 1939. The essay competition assists our aims to promote public interest in the Alexander Turnbull Library, and to encourage research and use of Library materials to create new knowledge.

The deadline for expressions of interest in entering the essay competition is 29 June 2018. Subsequent completed essays must be submitted (by email or by post) by 1 September 2019.

Enquiries and Expressions of Interest should be emailed to editor@turnbullfriends.org.nz or fergiehill@xtra.co.nz

Turnbull’s treasures inspire two very different projects

Vincent O’Malley

Angela Lassig

The Friends of the Turnbull Library is delighted to announce that two research grants will be awarded in 2018.

Wellington historian Dr Vincent O’Malley – whose fine book The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000, was published by Bridget Williams Books in 2016 – receives a research grant to assist him to begin work on a book on the New Zealand Wars aimed at secondary school students as well as a general market.

Dr O’Malley says that his project “takes us to the heart of the series of conflicts that profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nation’s history.” The new book will focus on a number of quite lengthy first-hand accounts (manuscripts held in the Alexander Turnbull Library) from Māori and Pākehā who either fought in or witnessed the wars that ravaged New Zealand between 1845 and 1872. From Heni Te Kiri Karamu’s narrative of her remarkable exploits as a wahine toa, through to Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky’s colourful account of his time in the Forest Rangers and beyond, these stories will resonate with New Zealanders who are now acknowledging the need to remember, embrace and own our past.

Auckland dress historian Angela Lassig receives a research grant towards the publication of an illustrated book on the history of women’s dress in nineteenth century New Zealand. Ms Lassig has drawn almost all her material from the rich and diverse collections of the Turnbull Library. She will be making use of letters and diaries, cartoons and advertisements, sketchbooks and photographs, to create an accessible social history for the study and enjoyment of New Zealand women’s dress and textile heritage. Images will be accompanied by detailed descriptions of the women, their clothing, their social circumstances and additional information such as about the dressmakers and drapery shops that may have been available to women at the time.

These grants bring the total number of projects assisted by the Friends of the Turnbull Library to fifteen, since the first grant was awarded to Philip Norman in 2004 for his biography of Douglas Lilburn. Six biographies have been awarded research grants and a very diverse range of other projects ranging from a survey of ecclesiastical architecture (2006) to a history of rugby league (2017).

Significant bequests have created the research fund, but Rachel Underwood, president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library, says there are always many more applicants than can possibly be funded. “The vast collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library – a world-class research library that attracts scholars from around the globe – provide fertile soil for many diverse research projects. We would love to be able to support more researchers with larger grants,” Mrs Underwood said. “We encourage people who might be able to make donations or to set up bequests to come and talk to us about how they could help.”

New book on women’s work in WWI

Jane Tolerton is an experienced historian and a lively story teller. Her two books on Ettie Rout have been immensely popular.

Now she has written a well-researched account of New Zealand women’s work overseas in the First World War, including gripping stories of heroic women such as Ida Malone (wife of Col. William Malone), Dr Grace Russell, and Kitty Mair (daughter of Gilbert Mair).

At her public talk to the Friends of Turnbull Library on 9 November, about 150 people – including some descendants of the women she has written about – turned up to be entertained and enlightened.

Jane Tolerton

“Make Her Praises Heard Afar: New Zealand women overseas in World War One” has been published by Booklovers Books.


Turnbull Library Record: Call for Papers

Contributions are now invited for the 2018 issue of the Turnbull Library Record. To mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Alexander Turnbull, the theme for this issue is Death and Legacy.

Articles or pictorial essays should be between 2000 and 5000 words in length. Contributions that have not been previously published are welcome, and before acceptance, will be independently double-blind refereed. Articles should have a scholarly underpinning and be written in a lively and accessible manner for an informed but not specialist readership.

The Editorial Board reserves the right to decline to publish an article, whether solicited or unsolicited.

The deadline for submitting articles is Friday 29 September 2017 (extensions by negotiation).  For more information, please contact the Managing Editor, Fiona Oliver (fiona.oliver@dia.govt.nz)

Information about past issues of the journal can be found under ‘Publications’.

Rugby league history project wins research grant


Ryan Bodman, photo by Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Auckland researcher Ryan Bodman has been awarded the 2017 Friends of the Turnbull Library Grant of $15,000 to assist in researching his new project, a social and cultural history of rugby league in New Zealand.

 Ryan Bodman is an independent researcher, at present a contracted historian to the Waitangi Tribunal. His project arose out of his earlier research into the trade union movement, when support for the game of rugby league – introduced into New Zealand in 1907 – emerged as a recurring theme.

 “In the early days rugby league faced sustained antagonism from rugby union’s governing bodies. Forced to the margins of New Zealand society, the game developed a unique culture and ethos,” he explains. “It was popular amongst similarly marginalised groups such as Irish Catholics, Kiingitanga Māori, Pacific Islanders and working-class communities, who embraced the game as a source of community identity and cultural pride. Many aspects of the game’s social and cultural history is not well known because historical enquiries are often informed by middle-class interests. However, my project aims to explore rugby league’s unique ethos and culture, as well as the modern game’s emergence from the sporting shadows in the context of economic, social and political changes that have shaped present-day New Zealand.”

 In announcing the award, Rachel Underwood, President of the Friends of the Turnbull Library said: “Ryan Bodman is a hardworking, highly talented scholar whose book will explore some little-known aspects of the relationship between sport and social class from the start of the twentieth century to the present. We are extremely pleased to contribute to this major project which will be of considerable public interest. Ryan will have access to the rich and diverse collections held in the Alexander Turnbull Library, including oral history and photographic archives.”

Book launch: Mansfield’s early life and collected poems

km_launch_nov16Dr Gerri Kimber, who was awarded the 2015 FoTL Research Grant to write a biography of Katherine Mansfield’s early years, has now had her book published by Edinburgh University Press. The New Zealand launch of this book, KATHERINE MANSFIELD: THE EARLY YEARS, and a new book of THE COLLECTED POEMS OF KATHERINE MANSFIELD (edited by Gerri Kimber and Claire Davison and published by Otago University Press) will be held at the KM Birthplace in Wellington on 15 November.

Murder History project wins FoTL Grant

Jarrod Pic

Dr Jarrod Gilbert

Christchurch researcher Jarrod Gilbert has been awarded the 2016 Friends of the Turnbull Library Grant of $10,000 to assist in researching his new project, a social history of New Zealand focussing on the crime of murder.

Jarrod Gilbert is an independent researcher, a part-time university lecturer in sociology, and a columnist for The New Zealand Herald.

“Jarrod Gilbert is a highly talented writer and scholar, whose book on gangs, PATCHED, was praised for its remarkable combination of depth, ambition and accessibility. Now Dr Gilbert plans to tackle the history of murder in New Zealand, using specific murders – both well-known and little-known – as case studies that will chronicle our relationship with violence from pre-colonial days to the present. We are extremely pleased to contribute to this major project which will be of considerable public interest,” said Rachel Underwood, President of the Friends of the Turnbull Library. “Jarrod will have access to the rich and diverse collections held in the Alexander Turnbull Library, including newspapers and photographic archives.”

The Maori Land March 1975: Democracy in action


Paul Diamond speaking at the National Library on 19 November

Paul Diamond, Curator Maori at the Turnbull Library, talked about the current exhibition in the Turnbull Gallery, “Not One More Acre …”, commemorating the Land March of 1975. The emphasis was on photographs, starting with the “defining image” of Whina Cooper and her mokopuna, as Paul explained the enormous significance of more than 250 colour photographs taken by an American, Christian Heidegg, which were donated to the Turnbull but are now serving an important new role in jogging memories and helping illuminate the sequence of events and the simultaneous process of consciousness-raising which occurred.

Fifteen years in China


Barbara Francis at the National Library on 10 November with her book “Our Secretary in China” published in 2010.

On 10 November Barbara Francis, Wellington researcher and retired teacher spoke about Agnes Moncrieff and China, 1930-1945: You don’t travel in China at the full moon’. Agnes (Nessie) Moncrieff worked as International Secretary with the YWCA in China from 1930 to 1945, describing her experiences and achievements in vivid weekly letters to friends and family and in monthly reports to the YWCA in New Zealand. Barbara Francis became a close friend in Nessie’s later years, and then she spent eight years transcribing and annotating Nessie’s papers – deposited in the Turnbull Library. She has now transcribed and edited Nessie’s correspondence for publication by Victoria University Press.