Established in 1865 as the Colonial Museum. First director James Hector. First building was on Museum Street. behind Parliament, in Thorndon, Wellington. After New Zealand became a dominion in 1907, the museum became known as the Dominion Museum.
The new building in Buckle Street was formally opened on 1 August 1936 by Governor-General Viscount Galway. The original plans for the Buckle Street building were never completed and by the 1980s storage had reached capacity in 1994 construction began on a new building on Wellington's waterfront.
While the Dominion Museum (later called the National Museum from 1973) and National Art Gallery had shared the Buckle Street building since 1936, the two remained separate entities until the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992 incorporated the two.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa), which incorporated the art gallery and museum, moved out of Buckle Street in 1996. Their new waterfront home opened on 14 February 1998.
Since 2001, the Buckle Street building has been the premises of Massey University (Wellington Campus).