In preparation for a local museum, the Devonport Library Associates were cataloguing local historic photographs and gathering documents, while the Devonport Borough Council was offering financial and advisory assistance and other help. The end goal was at that time a joint museum project between the Devonport Historic Society and the Library Associates. Paul Titchener retained his role with the Devonport Historic Society through August 1976 and received further moral support for a museum from the Devonport Garden Circle. However, the next move came from the Devonport Library Associates.
In late February 1977, the basement at the north-east corner of Victoria Road and Clarence Street was proposed as a better location for the museum. Devonport Library Associates’ Colin Charles Bowley (1937-1984) noted that the lease on the basement was soon to expire and the location would be handy to the ferries, shops and parking. The Library Associates, which by its constitution could only fund the library and not a museum, approached the Council to check the basement’s suitability and called for a public meeting to form a separate society to establish and run a museum. However, the Council noted that while the basement had previously been used as an art gallery, it provided poor access for the disabled and elderly. It is now part of the site of the Manuka Café and Restaurant.
In March 1977, the Council decided in principle to both underwrite the basement’s rent for six months and make a $500 grant, but this wasn’t finally actioned. In the North Shore Times Advertiser of 19 July 1977 Paul Titchener in his ‘Beginnings’ column continued to make the case for a museum.
Bryan Sawyer was a 44-year-old real estate agent. Impressed with the need to preserve heritage architecture from a visit to London, he was asked by local architects to lead the search for an alternative site. He became convenor of the museum steering committee in 1977 and investigated an old cottage at 26 Anne Street for the museum. In July 1977 the Devonport Borough Council agreed to pay that rental, providing there was sufficient membership of the proposed Devonport Museum and Historical Society.
However, by September 1977 the old Devonport Presbyterian Church building became the fourth and most preferred option and the old Council quarry in Vauxhall Road on Mount Cambria became the final location. The church had been built in 1866 at the corner of Church and Cracroft Streets and opened in 1867. In 1890 it was moved to the rear of the church site to allow for extensions and in 1916 another Presbyterian church, St Paul’s, was consecrated in Albert Road, with the church building on the old site becoming the Sunday School. In 1956 that building was sold to the Y.M.C.A. and in 1976 the combined 1866 and 1890 building was then auctioned, with the 1866 section converted into a two-storey house.
The new owners, Lynn and Colin Barrow, wanted to demolish the 1890 section but Brian Sawyer intervened on behalf of the steering committee, which now favoured purchasing that part of the old building for $1,000. Originally the Society had been relying on raffle tickets and the like for fundraising, but more income was necessary. Ultimately, the Society borrowed $8,000 over five years from the BNZ, which was paid back in four, and the Council agreed that the old building could be relocated to Council-owned land, next to the Devonport Kindergarten (on that site since 1954).
The 200-member Devonport Museum and Historical Society now had both a building and site. However, there needed to be much clearing of that site, which had also been used as a plastic recycling dump, with much general junk and rubbish. The site also required bulldozing into the cliff face and sloping to avoid a collapse. The 1890 building was strengthened, sawn in half and moved onto the cleared site on 30 March 1978 for $2,500. After a lot of work, Devonport Museum opened to the public on 10 February 1980, to great fanfare, and rostered volunteers for weekend openings. A mezzanine was added in 1990.
I am working on a history of the Museum, and welcome any information you may have via my email.