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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 4, December 1959

Bett Historical Collection

page Two

Bett Historical Collection

"The historical collection of Dr F. A. Bett is the richest gathering of material devoted to a single area that has been assembled in New Zealand." Mr C. R. H. Taylor, the chief librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, told a public meeting held on September 29, 1959, in the Old Folks' Hall under the auspices of the Nelson Historical Society.

The Bett Collection is being held in trust by the Turnbull Library until such time as suitable premises to house it are provided in Nelson, and mention was made of the old Marsden home in Isel Park as a property which should be bought by the city for the purpose.

Mr Taylor said that there were so far recorded over 350 manucsripts, many of which were substantial volumes. They concerned nearly every name that had been notable in Nelson history, such as Thomas Brunner, J. C. Richmond, J. W. Saxton, John Tinlino and Sir David Monro.

There were ships' logs, diaries of early settlers, records of business firms, documents of transactions and agreements, circulars, reports, notices, prospectuses, programmes, map books, cuttings, almanacs, directories and telephone books, guide books and year books.

These led to the printed material which was not exclusively Nelson, but practically every important book and pamphlet about Nelson or touching upon the area, was present, along with much of general New Zealand interest.

Government Papers

Dr Bett had collected excellent files of Provincial Government gazettes and proceedings, and similarly for other related provinces, for Wellington, and for the South Island.

Official papers of the central Government, and the many important reports to the British Parliament from the 1830s onwards were vital to the historian, and arc in good strength in Dr Bett's catalogue, Mr Taylor said.

Beyond those again were the groups of photographs, sketches and pictures, maps and prints that so frequently told far more than the printed word.

This considerable group of records was bequeathed to a group of trustees, who were instructed to place it in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, until suitable accommodation and custody could be arranged in Nelson.

Collection's Future

"The Nelson Historical Society is anxious to realise Dr Bett's objective," said Mr Taylor. "His was doubly a generous intention, for not only is the collection to come as a free gift, but a very useful sum of money will be provided to ensure a small income for development, additions and equipment.

'The society has in prospect a very handsome and suitable building on the outskirts of the city which could, by including other material, become a mecca not only for the casual visitor, but also for the serious student.

"With certain modifications, this could serve the purpose if properly staffed, and it is hoped that this can be secured," Mr Taylor said.

He added that when Dr Bett's wishes were finally realised, Nelson would be the fortunate possessor of the best local history collection in New Zealand.

Copies of a preliminary list which shows the wide range of material acquired by Dr Bett were circulated at the meeting, which was attended by about 100 people.

page Three

Of Wide Extent

Introducing Mr Taylor, the president of the Historical Society, Mr L. E. H. Baigent, said that many present had known Dr Bett personally. They thought they knew what the collection consisted of, but really had no idea of its wide extent till cataloguing of it had been undertaken at the Turnbull Library.

The Deputy-Mayor, Mr F. J. Lock, who moved a vote of thanks to Mr Taylor, said that the old Marsden home, set in the beauty of Isel Park, would be an ideal location for the Bett collection and other valuable historical material held in Nelson.

"I want you all to leave this meeting as ambassadors telling everyone that purchase of the Marsden home for this purpose by the city is a must for Nelson," Mr Lock said.

In reply to questions at the conclusion of his address, Mr Taylor said that the Bett collection could be accommodated in a hall about the size of the one they were in. It should be kept as a separate entity, but he suggested that other similar Nelson historical material could be put in other rooms in the same building.

Mr J. A. Jenkins pointed out that the Nelson Historical Society already had a large collection and this was being added to all the time. There was available for display, in addition to much manuscript and printed matter, the big Tyree collection of early Nelson photographs and a valuable selection on antique silver.