Turnbull Centenary 2018-2020 Essay

AIM: To create new knowledge about Alexander Turnbull, and to publicise his legacy during the anniversary years 2018-2020.

The Friends of the Turnbull Library is now calling for Expressions of Interest in submitting an essay on any aspect of the life and/or collecting role of Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull, who donated his personal collection of about 55,000 books and other items relating to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands to the nation in 1918. This generous bequest became the nucleus of the Alexander Turnbull Library, an internationally renowned research library which opened its doors to the public in 1920.


  • We expect the winning essay will achieve a high academic level of accessible scholarship, providing a new perspective on the life and achievements of Alexander Turnbull.
  • Entries may be non-fiction or creative writing.
  • By entering the competition entrants agree to FoTL terms and conditions regarding subsequent publication of your essay and FoTL publicity requirements.
  • The competition will be judged by a panel selected by FoTL and the decision of the judges is final. No correspondence will be entered into.
  • Open to anyone (no age limit).
  • Word length: should not exceed 5000 words.


First prize: $10,000

Second prize: $5000

DEADLINE: Entries must be received by FoTL on or before 1 September 2019. Results announced 15 November 2019. Prize-winning essays may be published in Turnbull Library Record in 2020.


Alexander Turnbull (1868-1918) was born in Wellington, the sixth of seven children, and was educated in Wellington and then in England. As a young man Alex joined the family’s prosperous “general commission business”, involving importing, shipping and insurance, occupying two warehouses and an office on Customhouse Quay. His growing passion for collecting books began when he was 17, and quickly focussed on anything published in or about New Zealand. At times he was buying about 700 books per year, and his interests widened to include all the “South Sea Islands” of the Pacific. When he died, shortly before his 50th birthday, he had amassed about 55,000 books, along with drawings, prints, paintings, maps and manuscripts; and this was the collection he gifted to the nation to form “the nucleus of a New Zealand National Collection”. It was welcomed as “the most generous bequest to the people of New Zealand ever made by a New Zealander.”

Further information about Alex and the Alexander Turnbull Library is on www.turnbullfriends.org

Enquiries and Expressions of Interest to: fergiehill@xtra.co.nz

Preserving the past to enlighten the future

The Friends of the Turnbull Library Inc

PO Box 12186, Thorndon, Wellington 6144, New Zealand