Volume 84 1975 > Volume 84, No. 3 > Obituary: Gilbert Edward Archey (C.B.E., D.Sc., F.R.S.N.Z.) 1890-1974, p 336-340
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GILBERT EDWARD ARCHEY (C.B.E., D.Sc., F.R.S.N.Z.) 1890-1974
On the afternoon of October 20, 1974, Gilbert Archey was found lying in his garden with a hoe still in his hand. He had participated in the morning service at the Cathedral, had been to see his wife in the hospital and went outside to enjoy “a little light gardening”. He was 84 years old.
So passed from life one whose home had been in Auckland for 50 years, but whose name was honoured not only throughout New Zealand but world wide, particularly in fields of Zoology, Ethnology, Pacific Art, Museum Administration and Education. In addition to these, it seems that he was interested in every aspect of family and community life, and there were many worthy activities that benefited in some way from his participation. But there was nothing flamboyant in his nature. Indeed, when those who knew him are asked for their impressions of Gilbert Archey, a frequent reply is that he was a man of quiet friendliness. When congratualated on his knighthood, his reply to the writer (who was not a close personal or family friend) was: “Please, I'm just Gilbert to my friends”.
Note: A full list of his publications is planned for inclusion with an extensive “In Memoriam” of Sir Gilbert Archey, in the Annual Report 1974-75, Auckland Institute and Museum.
His achievements are all in the records and they are numerous. The above curriculum vitae, while formally recording the orderly sequence of growing up, and the achievements in education, sport, military service, community service, art, science and philosophy, bears witness to the breadth and depth of interests encompassed in his long life. But it is his friends and family whose memories illuminate these stages and show us something of his formative years, and then of the man himself. His parents, Tom and Sarah Archey, came to New Zealand with three very young children in 1892, the ship being damaged by fire and repaired at St. Helena. Tom taught school briefly in Auckland, was Headmaster at Paparoa then moved to Christchurch were Gilbert attended school and university.
Dr J. B. Condliffe, a life-long friend, was at school with Gilbert at West Christchurch District High School. He writes:
In the Cadet Corps I was a private and Gilbert was Colour Sergeant. He was even then a convinced patriot and never wavered in his loyalty. Through out his life he stood erect, always neat and precise in his movements and manners. The old fashioned appellation of gentleman could be applied to him since he was always courteous and considerate. We played together in the school's Second Fifteen. He was Captain and played centre-three-quarters. I was scrum half. I have always carried in my mind a picture of him behind me, never tousled or bustled but always competent and cool, and later I came to think of him in Chaucer's phrase as ‘a very perfect, gentle knight.’
Dr Condliffe refers to a request for help, and continues “. . . he was both modest and discreet and I can only infer that he helped me gain permission to undertake the work. Many such kind deeds he did by stealth.” Again: “One of the great contributions Gilbert made was to the Pacific Science Association, as its New Zealand representative and organiser of successive conferences.”
A daughter tells of her father's “impish sense of humour . . . his letters sometimes contained little information, but were gems to read. . . . a phenomenal - 339 memory for poetry and he could always give the ‘aptest’ quotation to make a point. He was loved by all his family, to the youngest generation.”
When one recalls the premises in Princes Street that housed the Auckland Museum at the time Gilbert Archey was appointed as its Curator, and the magnificent setting and building of the District War Memorial Museum with its additions of facilities for staff, Library of Auckland Institute, and Auditorium since World War II, it is appropriate to recall that all this was achieved during his Directorship. As one of a great number of people involved, it inevitably fell to his lot to work out requirements and to steer through the many frustrations that beset the team in achieving its aims. It has not only been an achievement in “bricks and mortar”, for the Auckland Institute and Museum has a world-wide reputation for its educational, scientific and cultural activity.
To have played the part he did in bringing this to completion would be a magnificent achievement for any man. But he achieved so much else besides and was beloved by family and friends, respected and honoured by all who knew him, or knew of him.
Lady Archey passed away soon after Sir Gilbert. They are survived by three daughters, Jocelyn (Mrs Chater, Christchurch), Alison (Mrs Childs, Auckland) and Jill (Mrs McKenzie, Auckland) and their families. We sympathise with them in their loss. But we who knew him, full of years and of honours, can also share with them a lasting sense of inspiration from the example that was set by Gilbert Archey, “a very perfect, gentle knight”.
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