Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, September 1977
Many people do not realise that Nelson has one of the best collections of local historical material in New Zealand. This collection was started by the late Dr F. A. Bett, who for some forty years was an assiduous collector of books, newspapers, documents, letters, in fact of anything pertaining to the early history of the Province. Dr Bett was never selfish in his collecting, always his aim was that he would eventually leave the people of Nelson valuable resource material for future historians. He hoped his collection would be suitably housed in Nelson and be available to its citizens under proper safeguards.
The building of the Provincial Museum at Isel Park in 1973 included a library for this valuable collection which had been stored in Wellington since Dr Bett's death, pending the provision of suitable fire-proof building. The trustees of the collection have been able to add to it over the years, while the valuable Marsden Collection belonging to the Cawthron Institute is housed in the same building. For many years the Nelson Historical Society collected much material which has been added to the Library. Since its opening many additions have been made by bequests and donations. Family records, letters, diaries, either copies or originals are now available.
Such material is of little value to the student or researcher unless it is professionally catalogued and arranged. The Museum Trust Board was most fortunate in securing the services of Mrs N. Russell as Librarian. Not only does she catalogue, but she is personally interested in and acquainted with the material, and is able to suggest ways of tracking down elusive information. The excellent standard of the Library is recognised by both the Turnbull Library and the National Archives, who are ready to let Nelson have duplicate material of local interest. A senior official of the Alexander Turnbull Library has said that, thanks to the excellent foundation laid by Dr Bett's Collection, Nelson has a more comprehensive range of local source material than any other Provincial Centre.
Another unique historical feature of the Provincial Museum is the large collection of Tyree photographs. The Tyree Brothers were not only expert photographers, they were also great travellers. During the 1890s they journeyed by horse and trap to every part of the Nelson Province capturing for posterity views, buildings and portraits of pioneers. It is indeed fortunate that the plates are now housed at the Museum and that the staff are able to supply prints. This is also a growing section as more old photographs are copied and catalogued.
It is obvious that the present premises are becoming inadequate, especially as it has been decided to house the Cawthron Museum there. This collection is one of the few Natural History Museums in the country. At present the Museum Trust Board are examining page 13plans for extensions. These will give extra gallery space for Nelson exhibits, a Cawthron Gallery, a lecture Hall which can be used for school classes, and additional library space, with more room for researchers to work. This is all being planned in an imaginative way to take advantage of the unique park setting. It is doubtful if any other museum is surrounded by such a wealth of trees and flower beds, while Isel House, with its display of period furniture and priceless china, helps to make the complex one of Nelson's greatest assets.