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Colourful book covers from the Alexander Turnbull collections

Alexander Turnbull Library Collections

Kei Te Wharepukapuka o Alexander Turnbull ngā tūemi kohikohinga taonga ā-pepamana kua tāngia kāore anō rānei. The Alexander Turnbull Library holds New Zealand’s national documentary heritage collections.
Find out about the history of the collection and search the collections in the Turnbull Library.

Gift of Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull

The Alexander Turnbull Library began with the gift from Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull, who on his death in 1918 bequeathed his magnificent library to the nation. He had built a comprehensive collection relating to New Zealand and the Pacific, summed up in his own words: 'anything whatever relating to this Colony, on its history, flora, fauna, geology & inhabitants, will be fish for my net, from as early a date as possible until now'.

The Library opened its doors to the people of New Zealand on 28 June 1920. It is now a division of the National Library of New Zealand, and its collections and services are housed within the National Library building in Wellington.

Research collections

The Turnbull Library collections are based on Alexander Turnbull's private collection of:

  • books
  • manuscripts
  • photographs
  • paintings and sketches.

Collections have grown

Over time, through donation, bequest, legal deposit, and targeted purchasing, this has grown to contain millions of items in a wide range of formats. These formats now include:

  • books, magazines, newspapers
  • manuscripts
  • sound recordings, oral histories
  • photographs, paintings, cartoons
  • electronic publications, and
  • websites.

Increasingly born-digital materials are being added to the collections. Taken together, they support advanced research into the land and peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific.

Strengths of the collections

Strengths include a comprehensive collection of works in:

  • Te Reo
  • Māori life and history
  • the exploration, discovery, settlement and ongoing development of New Zealand
  • the Pacific Islands and Antarctica
  • pictorial representations of New Zealand and New Zealanders in a wide variety of media
  • the records of New Zealand women’s organisations, as well as organisations active in politics, commerce, industrial relations, and the arts, oral histories, and New Zealand music.

World’s major resources on the works of John Milton

A particular strength is our collection of illuminated manuscripts, early printed books and fine printing. These build on the collecting of Alexander Turnbull, and feature one of the world’s major resources on the works of John Milton (1608-1674).

Links to the Alexander Turnbull collections

Use the links in the list below to learn more about the Alexander Turnbull collections.

Archive of New Zealand Music

The Archive of New Zealand Music is the world's largest archive of unpublished material relating to New Zealand music and musicians. The Archive collects and preserves New Zealand's music heritage, making it accessible now and into the future. It holds hundreds of unique collections that document the rich variety of our musical life, from the works of composers and musicians, master recordings of record labels, through to music education, broadcasting and criticism.

Cartographic Collection (Maps)

The Cartographic Collection has over 60,000 historical and current maps, charts and atlases plus map-related DVDs, CDs, books and serials. It concentrates on New Zealand, the Pacific and Antarctica.

Drawings, Paintings and Prints

The Drawings, Paintings and Prints collection holds drawings, prints, paintings, cartoons, architectural plans and objects relating to New Zealand and the Pacific from 1642 to the present. More than 100,000 watercolours, drawings, sketchbooks, oil paintings and prints are in the collection. Most feature New Zealand scenes, people and events. Many early pictures relate to Māori or their way of life, and the earliest days of European contact and settlement. Images also cover the development of early towns and cities, exploration, natural history and science, shipping, and wars.

Ephemera Collection

The Ephemera Collection contains published programmes, posters, menus, advertising, pamphlets, and other material relating to New Zealand, the Pacific, and New Zealanders overseas. The Collection has over 200,000 ephemera items dating from the 1840s to the present. Subject strengths include theatre and entertainment, politics and activism, horticulture, war, Māori, tourism, alcohol, environmental issues, everyday life and popular culture.


The Manuscripts Collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library is one of New Zealand’s foremost collections of non-government manuscripts and archives; the Collection occupies over 11 kilometres of shelving, 10,500 microfilms and 1.7 TB of electronic records. Manuscripts are unique and original records created by a person or family. They include such things as letters, emails, journals, diaries, notebooks, speeches, unpublished literary works and scrapbooks. The Manuscripts Collection also contains a select amount of Archives; these are the records of organisations, societies, businesses or groups deemed to have ongoing heritage research value.

National Newspaper Collection

The National Newspaper Collection contains newspapers from New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific. It is the country’s most comprehensive collection of historical New Zealand newspapers. The collection includes New Zealand’s earliest newspaper, the New Zealand Gazette, published in 1840. It also holds recent daily and community papers. Newspapers are available in various formats including paper, microfilm, and digital.

New Zealand and Pacific Book Collection

The New Zealand and Pacific Book Collection contains more than 300,000 books relating to New Zealand, the Pacific and Antarctica. It is the most comprehensive collection of New Zealand books in the country. The collection covers topics such as Māori and Pacific Island languages, voyages, history, biography and literature. It includes books and monographs published in New Zealand and overseas, some on microfilm. The collection has been developed from the original bequest of Alexander Turnbull in 1918.

New Zealand Cartoon Archive

The New Zealand Cartoon Archive includes over 50,000 cartoons reflecting New Zealand society and politics. It contains cartoons and caricatures from the 19th century to the present.

New Zealand Music, Sound, Audio-visual Collection

The New Zealand Music, Sound, Audio-visual Collection forms part of the New Zealand and Pacific Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library. It includes over 50,000 published New Zealand music recordings, talking books, audio documentaries, and videos. The Collection also contains over 12,000 music scores published in New Zealand or by New Zealand composers. New items are added through legal deposit, purchase and donation. Unpublished audio-visual recordings are held in the Archive of New Zealand Music, and Oral History and Sound Collection.

New Zealand Serials Collection

The Alexander Turnbull Library Serials Collection contains periodicals and magazines from New Zealand, the Pacific, Australia and Great Britain. It is the country’s most comprehensive collection of historical New Zealand periodicals. The Serials Collection is kept for preservation and research purposes, while the National Library’s General Serials Collection is held for current use. Items in the Serials Collection are available in a variety of formats, including paper, microfilm and digital. The collection contains millions of issues from more than 40,000 magazine and periodical titles. We add about 25,000 items to the collection each year, through legal deposit, purchase and donation.

New Zealand Web Archive

The Library began selecting websites in 1999 and the collection has continued to grow with active development since 2005, reflecting New Zealand’s growing online cultural and historical presence. The collection also provides a visual history of how websites change over time and most of the websites in the Archive are collected at regular intervals to ensure new content is captured. This content includes web pages, images, multi-media, and publications, such as journals, that are made publicly available.

Oral History and Sound

There are more than 10,000 recordings in the collection. Recordings include interviews with people from throughout New Zealand and the Pacific, of various ethnicities, iwi (tribe) and hapū (sub-tribe), occupations, political affiliations and interests. Talks, readings and events are also covered. Most of the collection has been recorded since the 1960s. The collection covers New Zealand society, culture, community, and political history from the late 19th century to the present. A few interviews are fully or partially transcribed. Photographs and other relevant material are sometimes included.

Photographic Archive

The Photographic Archive is one of New Zealand’s foremost collections of photographs. It contains around 1,600,000 prints, negatives, albums, transparencies, digital photographs and other photographic formats, from the 1840s to the present. It continues to grow as a visual record of the land and peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific. The Archive holds photographs taken by professional photographers as well as the work of ordinary New Zealanders who have documented their lives, families and communities. The emphasis is on collecting the most original format possible.

Rare Books and Fine Printing

The Rare Books and Fine Printing Collection contains about 29,000 rare books and other printed items dating from 1469 onwards. It also includes early manuscripts dating from the Medieval period. The Collection reflects the diversity of Alexander Turnbull's own collecting interests and forms part of the Turnbull Library collections. Related material in other formats, such as unbound early maps and prints, are held in other Alexander Turnbull Library collections.

Turnbull General Collection

The Turnbull General Collection contains 40,000 books related to areas outside New Zealand and the Pacific. It includes works on Milton, and the history of the book. The collection was developed from the collecting interests of Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull, and is particularly strong in 19th and early 20th century English literature. The main collecting focus now is to support other specialist areas in the Turnbull Library collections, especially material relating to the works of John Milton and the history of print culture.

Turnbull Named Collections

The Turnbull Named Collections are the personal libraries of collectors that have been donated to us. There are about 30 named collections covering many subjects. The Turnbull Named Collections contain printed items, mostly books, and are part of the Alexander Turnbull Library collections. Most were donated many years ago.

Visit the Turnbull Gallery

Enjoy curated selections of original Turnbull Library collection material, along with a stimulating programme of events, that offer fascinating insights into our cultures and history.

Turnbull Gallery

Get help from the Alexander Turnbull librarians

The catalogues do not list all of the items in the Alexander Turnbull Library but you can get help from staff to find out what else we hold.

Get help from staff

Like to donate items?

Donations and bequests help build the collections and support the activities of the National Library and Alexander Turnbull Library.

Donate an item or bequest