Who was Smart Alex?

One thousand years after Kupe arrived in Aotearoa and around 100 years after James Cook first navigated his way to Aotearoa New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull was born in Wellington, Alexander Turnbull – known as ALEX – was born in Wellington, growing up to become not only a successful businessman but an amazing collector – of art, artefacts, clothes, coins, maps, photographs and books – especially books about New Zealand and the Pacific. He bought his first book at 17, and it became a lifelong passion. He wasn’t a hoarder, he was a book hunter, and his great love for collecting books about us turned into something quite extraordinary.

When he died in 1918, Alexander gifted his collection (including 55,000 books!) to New Zealand. That gift became the basis for New Zealand’s largest documentary heritage library, the Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL). It was seen as “the most generous bequest to the people of New Zealand ever made by a New Zealander”.

The Alexander Turnbull Library opened its doors to the public of New Zealand on 28 June 1920, so we are celebrating the Library’s 100th birthday this year. Now its collections have grown to include millions of books, images, paintings, artefacts, and letters, diaries and personal papers, and it has become part of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa.

For more information about Alexander Turnbull himself, see his biography in Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of NZ, the Friends of Turnbull Library website, or the Alexander Turnbull Library website.