Dargaville Link to Treasure House

by Brian Eastwood

Some of Frank Oscar Peat’s Kauri gum
collection, on display at the Dargaville Museum

For some men arriving in Northland at the beginning of last century, kauri gum held almost as much lure as gold. Frank Oscar Peat was such a man. Have a look at the display that has ended up in Dargaville Museum’s Kauri Gum Hall and you will understand why.

Gained with financial help from Dargaville Rotary in 1978, it totals 400 golden samples, large and small, out of Peat’s collection of 1,600 pieces.

Born in Arch Hill, Auckland, he came with his parents to Dargaville in 1902 as a young man of nineteen years, second eldest in a family of eight children. Over the next twenty-five years he collected the best pieces of kauri gum.

In his book, Great Northern Wairoa, Edgar Bradley wrote that Peat left his job at B. E. William’s store on the corner of Hokianga Road and Victoria Street to build a jeweller’s shop, where Distinction Jewellers now trade in town.

One of Peat’s brothers owned a blacksmith shop in Victoria Street, another was manager of the Kaihu railway operation and their father was listed as a jeweller. Both parents died in their sixties and are buried in Mt Wesley cemetery.

Frank Peat had married a distant cousin from a family with connections in Titirangi and that is where he went after leaving Kaipara in 1927.

Records show that builder P. W. Peate (with an ‘e’) built ‘a museum in classic style’ for Frank in Titirangi. He named it ‘Treasure House’ and put his treasures of kauri gum, mounted specimens of native birds, seashells and artefacts on display for tourists. Most of the exhibits came from Dargaville and other parts of Northland.

Drive up to Titirangi today, go to Lopdell House built in 1930 as Hotel Titirangi, and in the car park at the back you will find Treasure House, still exactly the same as Peat knew it but nowadays locked up.

In 1933 he decided to sell his lifetime collection. The Evening Post reported, ‘it is described as the finest of its kind in the world and is to be acquired by the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum. Mr. Peat received a tempting offer from overseas but prefers that the collection should remain in New Zealand’. And that has been Dargaville’s good fortune.

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