Alexander Turnbull (bibliophile)

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Alexander Turnbull
Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull.jpg
Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull
Born (1868-09-14)14 September 1868
Died 28 June 1918(1918-06-28) (aged 49)
Burial place Bolton Street Memorial Park, Wellington
Nationality New Zealand
Known for Collecting many items which formed the basis of the New Zealand National Library collection
Turnbull House

Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull (14 September 1868 – 28 June 1918)[1] was a New Zealand merchant, dandy[2] and book collector. On his death, his collection became the nucleus of the Alexander Turnbull Collection, initially housed in his house on Bowen Street opposite Parliament Buildings but as of 1987 housed with the collections of the National Library of New Zealand. In 1913, shortly before his death, Turnbull had presented his Maori and Pacific artefacts to the Dominion Museum (now Te Papa).[3]


Born in Wellington to Scottish merchant Walter Turnbull (1823–1897) and his wife Alexandrina Horsburgh (1827–1896), Turnbull grew up in Wellington but moved to London with his family near the end of his schooling in 1881. By the time he returned permanently to New Zealand in 1892, he was already collecting books. His particular interests were New Zealand, Pacific exploration, Scottish history, English literature, John Ruskin, and, particularly, John Milton. He had a standing order with London bookseller Bernard Quaritch, which was regularly updated to include more subjects.

Turnbull also made a collection of New Zealand art. He began his New Zealand art collection by purchasing a group of watercolours of New Zealand flowers by Georgina Burne Hetley.[4]

He is buried with his parents at Bolton Street Memorial Park, Wellington.[5]


After his death his collection contained approximately 55,000 books, as well as manuscripts, photographs, paintings and sketches (the artefacts having already been given to the Dominion Museum). The collection is no longer housed in his purpose-built house (which is now in the care of Department of Conservation and known as Turnbull House), but in the same building as the other collections held by the National Library. Turnbull's Milton collection continues to be added to, by purchase and donation. A number of significant additions were made in the 1970s.[6]


  1. ^ "TURNBULL, Alexander Horsburgh – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". 1918-06-28. Retrieved 2016-03-11. 
  2. ^ Traue, J. E. "Turnbull, Alexander Horsburgh". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  3. ^ "Turnbull, Alexander Horsburgh". Collections Online. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 25 July 2010. 
  4. ^ "Unpublished Collections". Alexander Turnbull Library. Retrieved 7 March 2017. 
  5. ^ "Details for TURNBULL Alexandrina Horsburgh". Friends of Bolton Street Memorial Park. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 
  6. ^ "Milton Collection - National Library of New Zealand". Archived from the original on January 30, 2009. Retrieved September 5, 2009.