Museum History

The Beginnings

This important landmark in the Russell village arose from plans to mark the New Zealand Centennial year of 1940. The vision was a building to house a Town Council office, library, restroom and a museum.

Land was given by Charles Frederick and Mary Ann Baker, and a building was erected in 1954. Two years later a small museum room was ready for visitors. It was a long room about 10 metres by 5 metres. Originally, the museum was called the Russell Centennial Museum from 1956-1970.

Local families, like the Bakers, Kings and Lanes, lent or donated their treasures.

A roster of volunteers opened the museum on demand and the museum steadily grew. By 1963 it was open every day and was building up savings from its modest entry fee, initially sixpence.

When Queen Elizabeth visited New Zealand in 1963, it was included in her walkabout of Russell. The museum at that stage was also very crowded with exhibits and it was time to grow.

1969 Bi-Centennial

With the approaching bi-centennial event commemorating Lt James Cook’s visit to New Zealand in 1769, the Museum Trustees applied for a government subsidy as well as a bank loan.  Together with accumulated funds it was possible to build a new museum which provided a larger floor area of 100 sq m at a cost of $13,480. It was described as “in simple colonial style”, built in concrete block with a tiled roof.

The museum was renamed the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. In 1970 the one-fifth scale model of Captain Cook’s Endeavour, built by Auckland model-maker Ralph Sewell, was gifted to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. It had been shown extensively throughout New Zealand in 1969-1970 during the Cook Bi-centennial Commemorations.  South British Insurance Company sponsored the model’s travel costs, purchased the model and donated it to the Russell Museum. They also provided an annex to house the model and for twenty years a supply of free postcards to give to visitors showing the model under sail.


Our Purpose

After several years’ discussion and planning the museum was ready to expand.  A new gallery  offices and storage areas were added. This project was funded from Museum savings and a grant from ASB Community Trust.

At this time the name became Russell Museum / Te Whare Taonga o KKororāreka, reflecting our bicultural heritage. The gallery was named the Marie King Gallery in honour of the Museum’s founding curator 1956-1986, Marie Menary King QSM.

Since 2002 the Russell Museum has been undergoing alterations. The interior was redesigned with the help of Richard Wolfe, museum design consultant. This involved a new colour scheme, carpet and lighting throughout, new display cases and text panels all designed to tell the town’s story. The gallery has space for changing displays and the historic Russell video and historic images on computer. As well, a welcoming entrance and fresh new signage give the museum a higher profile.

Funding for these improvements came from ASB Community Trust, NZ Lottery Board, Sky City Community Trust, Russell RSA, Lion Foundation, FNDC Amenity Funds and the Museum’s own savings.


2 York Street,
Russell Kororāreka
Bay of Islands
Aotearoa New Zealand

Call Us

(+64) 9 403 7701

Opening hours

10.00 - 4.00 daily
Last visitors admitted at 3.45 pm