• Museum History

1883 The Lowe Street Museum

The first museum in Gisborne was a small room in the Lowe Street Municipal Offices, which were built in 1883.

1953 Establishment of The Gisborne Arts Society

The institution, known today as Tairāwhiti Museum was established in 1953 when the Gisborne Branch of the Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Arts Society separated from HBECS in 1953 to form the Gisborne Arts Society.

1955 Lysnar House gifted for an art gallery and museum

Lysnar House was previously the home of the family of William Douglas and Ida Eleanor (nee Tiffen) Lysnar.  William was a lawyer, landowner and politician, as well as an enthusiastic collector of Māori artefacts. When he died in 1942, he left his estate to his only daughter Winifred.

In 1954 in accordance with her late father’s wishes Winifred Lysnar gave the lower land of Lysnar House (now Kelvin Park) to the people of Gisborne, and sold Kelvin Rise and Lysnar House to the City for a nominal sum to be used for the purposes of an art gallery and museum. The Museum opened in 1955 and remained in Lysnar House for 20 years.  Lysnar House still stands behind the museum and is now used by the Gisborne Artists’ Society.

The Ballroom of Lysnar House was relocated in 1975 and now forms part of the Marina Restaurant in Vogel Street, Gisborne.

1958 Opening of the Māori Wing

After the opening of the Gisborne Art Gallery and Museum in 1955 a new Māori Wing was opened in 1958.

The building of the Māori Wing was led by the Māori Committee of the Gisborne Art Society and was partly funded by the Māori Purposes Fund (established 1934/5).

Members of the committee in 1956 included Mr K. Te Hau, Mr L. Fowler (sec.), Dr A. L. Singer (art society president), Mr J. Atkinson (museum director), Mr M. Ngata, Mr H. Ngata, Mr P. Kaua, Mr T. Tamepo, Mr H. Paenga, Mr P. Milner, Mr R. Wills, Judge H. Carr.

1972 Wyllie Cottage opens to the public

Wyllie Cottage was part of the Lysnar’s gift to the city for the Gisborne Art Gallery and Museum in 1954. However, it remained tenanted until 1970. It was opened for display after renovations in 1972.

1972 Establishment of Transport and Technology section

A storage building/barn was constructed behind the museum and art gallery in 1972 to house transport and technology exhibits.

In 1975 the Transport & Technology collections and building moved from the museum to the Showgrounds in Makaraka and in July 1984 became an incorporated society in its own right. In 1988 the museum purchased the former Kia Ora Dairy Factory premises in Makaraka, where they operate as the East Coast Museum of Transport and Technology.

1975 Central School temporary museum

In 1975 the Museum temporarily moved to Gisborne Central School while a new museum building was built.

After the old Central School burnt down in 1904 a new building was erected in its place. The new Central School opened in 1905 complete with its own museum, a collection of curios and Māori artefacts displayed just inside the main entrance. The museum was set up by the headmaster of the time, FJ Rowley, and remained at the school until 1954, when many of its treasures were transferred to the Gisborne Museum of Art and History.

1977 Opening of the Gisborne Museum and Arts Centre

The museum’s new building at Kelvin Rise was opened in 1977 by Mr HB Williams. An inaugural exhibition of contemporary Māori art was opened by Henare Ngata.

The Waihirere Māori Club performed at the opening under the leadership of Ngapo Wehi. The Gisborne Federal Band also performed.

The museum was designed by then Gisborne Arts Council Chairman and architect Colin Pilbrow.

1985 Relocation of the Star of Canada

The Bridge of the Star of Canada was gifted to the citizens of Gisborne in 1983 and relocated to the Gisborne Museum and Arts Centre in 1985.

8 April 1991 Opening of the Winifred Lysnar Education Discovery Centre

31 July 1992 Opening of The Museum Research Centre [History and archives centre] 

1999 Te Moana maritime exhibition opens

2010 New Museum entrance opens

2014 Gallery and storage extension opens with three new gallery spaces, including the Professor Jack Richards Decorative Art Gallery and a new collection storage facility.

This project was supported by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage Regional Museums Fund, Eastland Community Trust, Gisborne Endowment Trust and Professor Jack Richards.

2014 C Company Memorial House opens on the museum grounds

A partial list of the Directors of Tairāwhiti Museum

1955 Leo Fowler

1956 John Atkinson

1958 Bill Way

Apr 1971 – May 1975 Elizabeth Shaw

Jul 1975 -Sept 1987  Warner Haldane

Mar 1988 – Jan 1993 Wayne Orchiston

Apr 1993 – Dec 1994 Priscilla Thompson

May 1995 -Feb 1997 Greg McManus

June 1997 -2005 Michael Spedding

Nov 2002-May 2003 Sheryl Smail [Acting Director]

June 2003 –

2007 – 2009 Monty Soutar

2009 – 2011 David Butts

2011 – 2015 Laura Vodanovich

2015 –  Eloise Wallace


We welcome ideas for new projects and exhibitions so if you have something in mind, please get in touch – we would love to hear from you!

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