The Auckland Ferry Building celebrates its centenary this year, with the first of its office leases auctioned in July 1912. Designed in an imperial baroque style by architect Alexander Wiseman (1865-1915), it has housed many small business operators over the century.
One of those occupants was Gilbert Allen Rawson (1880-1960), a bookkeeper, bookseller, amateur scientist and avid book collector, who kept an office in the building intermittently between about 1915 and 1960. Leighton’s Provincial Directory1 for 1937/38 shows that `G.A. Rawson (secretary)’ had an office on the second floor of the building, as did coal, customs and shipping agents, the Royal Life Saving Society, and the Auckland Master Bakers Association, among others.
By 1960, the year Gilbert Rawson died and bequeathed his sizeable book collection to the Library, the office had become his "unofficial home” 2 and was described as “a small room crammed with books, among which were the former owner’s few requirements for his day-to-day living.”3
Under the bequest, the Library had to immediately fetch the books, which were packed into apple crates and trucked up to the University just before Christmas. Some of Rawson’s books are now in Special Collections, and are marked with his bookplate and address stamps.
Rawson was a member of the Otago and Auckland Institutes (regional branches of the Royal Society of New Zealand) and of the Rationalist and Humanist Society. During the years he lived in Dunedin, he went on botanical explorations with his brother, Sydney Herbert Rawson (1883-1951), a member of an informal diatom group. Gilbert Rawson also corresponded with European scientists; some of this correspondence is now held at Otago Museum.4
Other material on the Ferry Building is held in the Architecture, General, Fine Arts and Audiovisual Libraries, while the Maritime Museum has marked the anniversary with a digital exhibition.
Jo Birks, Special Collections
1 Leightons' Auckland provincial directory ... Auckland, N.Z. NZGC 919.51 L52
2 (28 April 1961). Recluse left rare library to university. New Zealand Herald.
3 Johnson, O.A. (1986). The true university : a short history of the University of Auckland Library 1883-1986. Auckland : University of Auckland Library.
4 Harris, A.C., & Michelsen-Heath, S. (2006, December). `Sidney Herbert Rawson (1883 – 1951) Dentist and amateur botanist (specializing in ferns, diatoms, and slime moulds) and his place in the Dunedin diatom group’. New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter. 86, pp.22-25.