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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Sir Gilbert Archey
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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”.

Curriculum Vitae
  • Born in York, England, August 4, 1890.
  • Married, 1915, Myrtle (daughter of the late W. Gee); three daughters:
  • Jocelyn (Mrs Chater), Alison (Mrs Childs), Jill (Mrs McKenzie).
  • Educated West Christchurch Boys' High School, and Teachers' College.
  • Canterbury University College (M.A. with Honours in Zoology).
  • Canterbury representative in soccer, 1913.
  • Taught at Nelson College (Assistant Headmaster), 1914.
  • Assistant Curator, Canterbury Museum, 1914-23.
  • Served overseas World War I in N.Z. Field Artillery for three years (Captain. O.B.E.)
  • Appointed Curator, Auckland Institute and Museum, 1924 (retired in 1964 after a Directorship of 40 years).
  • Elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 1932.
  • Received the degree of D.Sc. for his study of the Moa, 1941 (published as Auckland Institute and Museum Bulletin No. 1).
  • Served in World War II, at first in New Zealand, then overseas. (Lt.-Colonel attached to British Military Administration in Malaya).
  • Served on University of New Zealand Senate, 1941-61.
  • Served on Council of Royal Society of New Zealand (President 1941-42).
  • Served on University Grants Committee, 1948-51, 1954-60.
  • Served on Council of Auckland branch, Royal Commonwealth Society (President 1957-59).
  • Served on Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, 1964-68.
  • Served on New Zealand Commission for UNESCO.
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  • Served on Maori Purposes Fund Board.
  • Served on Waitangi National Trust.
  • Member of Auckland Cathedral Chapter.
  • Member of Auckland Rotary Club, Northern Club and of York Lodge.
  • As Secretary-General organized Seventh Pacific Science Congress in Auckland and Christchurch, 1949.
  • Awarded C.B.E., 1958.
  • Knight Bachelor, 1963.
  • On retirement from the Directorship of the Auckland Institute and Museum appointed Director Emeritus, 1964.
  • Awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand Hector Medal for researches on Maori and Polynesian decorative art and science administration, 1968.
  • Died aged 84 on October 20, 1974.
  • His scientific work was at first in zoology, some 24 papers. After moving to Auckland he began his long series of contributions on Maori and Polynesian art, a total of some 25 papers, bulletins and handbooks: these included South Sea Folk (Handbook to the Auckland Museum collections); Sculpture and Design, An Outline of Maori Art; and And Art Forms of Polynesia. His “Whaowhia: Maori Art and Its Artists”, completed shortly before his death, is due to be published in 1975 by Messrs Collins.

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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