Our history and heritage

A brief history of libraries on the Coromandel Peninsula

Thames Library

Image result for thames carnegie library


Thames Library began life as a Mechanic's Institute library in 1870. As well as providing books and magazines in a comfortable Reading Room, the library was also home to what would later become the Thames School of Mines mineral collection.

After financial difficulties in 1879, it reopened in 1880 as the Thames Free Public Library under the control of the Thames Borough Council.  It was one of the earliest free libraries in New Zealand.  The building was well sited in those days in Grahamstown, which was the main centre of activity on the goldfield.  It was on Queen St, close to the Police Station, Magistrate's Court, Stock Exchange, trading banks, legal offices, shops and hotels around the bustling Queen St and Alfred St interection.
In 1902 it was suggested that the Thames Borough Council take advantage of American steel magnate's offer 'to pay for the erection of a public library in any city in the English speaking world which would provide a site and commit itself to the permanent maintenance of the institution'.  Carnegie promised 2000 pounds and a brick building was designed by architect J Currie and built by Lye and Son.  It was opened on November 2, 1905 by Mayor Archibald Burns. 

Opening of the Thames new Public Library: The Mayor (Mr A Burns) adressing the assemblage, 2 November 1905 

Photo: The Treasury - Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

The main room was 35 by 25 feet, with 4000 books.  There was also a newspaper room and a ladies reading and writing room which had a separate entrance.  All the rooms had grates for fires.  By November 20, 1905, a new residence for the librarian, Mrs. Lowe, had been completed.  It was a 'neat cottage' behind the new library. 

As early as 1930 there were complaints about the lack of space available in the Carnegie Library. In 1955 a new library was proposed but the idea was rejected and the building continued to service the community, with its stock supplemented by books loaned from the National Library of New Zealand's Country Library Service.

There were various attempts by community groups over the years to get a new library built and when another proposal went before the Council in June 1989, there was strong public support.  In August 1989, the Thames Community Board decided in favour of building a new library and approved a design by architects Gooch, Mitchell & Macdiarmid.  It was built by Argon Construction on the corner of Mackay St and Sealey St in Thames, and opened June 1st, 1990. 

Council finance covered the building costs, carpets, and a new automated circulation system, but not the interior fittings.  By attracting sponsorship and advertising from local businesses, an extra $45,000 was raised, which was enough to buy shelving and furnish the building with style.  Many members of the public generously donated new books.

During the 2000s, Thames Library joined forces with Mercury Bay Library and Tairua Library to create the Thames-Coromandel District Libraries network. In 2016, a series of major renovations to the Thames Library building created a community meeting space (the Carnegie Room), new public toilets, and better office spaces for staff.

Today, Thames' Carnegie Library building is one of only a handfull still standing in New Zealand, and is now home to The Treasury family history research centre. Thames Library will celebrate its 30th anniversary in our Mackay Street building in 2020. 

(Click here to learn more about the history of the Thames Carnegie Library buildng).


No photo description available.

Mercury Bay Library

The information presented here is largely taken from the research of Mrs. Nell Oxley, who was the Librarian at Mercury Bay from 1967-1989.

The earliest records we have for a library in this area date from 1885, when the Mercury Bay Athenaeum Hall was built in Monk Street Whitianga. It included a large room lined with lock-up cupboards for a Library. The books consisted largely of leather-bound classics, but it was well-stocked, and there were several hundred to choose from.

The Librarian was the proprietress of a small sweets and fancy goods shop in Monk Street who held the keys to the Hall and Library cupboards, apparently opening up on demand.  We believe the first Librarians were both spinster sisters, the Misses Lewis. Another early Librarian was Mrs. Margaret Wilson, who later owned the shop.


  "Auntie Maggie's" shop in Monk Street. The shop was next door to the Athenaeum that housed the Library, and which stood on the site of the current town hall. Mrs. Margaret Wilson was the Librarian.   Mercury Bay Museum Photo # 1191.

  We have no more confirmed information until the 1930’s, but by this time the Country Library Service had commenced supplying loan books to supplement the collection. By custom the proprietress of the little shop continued as Librarian.  Until 1935 this was Mrs. Doris Hamilton. From 1935 – 1941 this was Miss Amy Wheeler (who became Mrs.  Fred Lee). And from 1941 – 1942 the Librarian was Miss Jean McLeod (who became Mrs. Malcolm Niccol).

In 1942 the little shop was closed owing to the wartime rationing of stock. The Country Library Service books were then separated from the library’s own stock - which remained at the Hall - and were moved to Mr. William Heald’s General Store on the corner of Monk Street and Victoria Street (now Esplanade Road). The staff at Heald’s General Store were now acting as librarians, as well as holding the keys to the Hall Library. During the war years 1939 – 1945 the Hall was used as barracks for the Mounted Rifles.

In 1946 the Hall was destroyed by fire, and all the books were lost except for those Country Library books held at Heald’s General Store.

By 1947 the Country Library books were transferred to Smith and Ross’ General Store on the corner of Albert and Coghill Streets (on the site of the block of shops where Subway is now) to augment the store’s own small library. In 1948 – 1955 Miss Joyce Bronlund acted as Country Service Librarian and contact, until she left to be married.

In 1957 there was an increasing public demand for a library service so Mr. & Mrs. Jack Matthews decided to promote a small public library, which was established in a room in the Matthews residence in Monk Street. Application was made to the National Library in Hamilton for more Country Library Service books, and those books, along with those that were donated became the nucleus of the Whitianga Public Library.

The demand from the reading public had continued to grow, and in 1959 a larger library was needed. Dr Dorothy Cochrane Logan and Mr. G. Crabbe approached the National Library at Hamilton with an application to form a second library elsewhere in the township, with the County Library Service supplying books.  This was eventually granted.  With the assistance of Mrs. Marjorie Sharples and a committee, a small library was set up in the waiting room of Mr. Yates, Dental Surgeon, (On the site of the Block of shops where Unichem is now).

 The books were kept in locked cupboards, and many had been kindly donated by Whitcoulls inAuckland.  At this time Mrs. Marjorie Sharpels is designated the Librarian and the library is to be called the Mercury Bay Central Public Library.

Soon, due to lack of space, the Library is on the move again, and in 1964 library was transferred to a room behind Miss Hodge’s second shop (roughly where Mercury Bay Foodmarket is now.) This room is later shared by Mr. Thom, Solicitor.

These two libraries continued to function separately until 1965, when the National Library suggested an amalgamation as a more practical solution.  A public meeting was held, the amalgamation was approved and a full committee was formed with Mrs. Barbara Matthews as Librarian-Secretary, and Mrs. Marjorie Sharples as Librarian-Treasurer. The Library was to continue to be called the Mercury Bay Central Public Library.  The hours of opening were extended, the location still being Miss Hodge’s shop. In 1967 Mrs. Nell Oxley joined the library staff as the third Librarian.         

 Miss Hodge outsider her shop in September 1958.   The Library was located here from 1964-1969..

   Miss Hodge outsider her shop in September 1958.  The Library was located here from 1964-1969.

  Mercury Bay Museum Photo #1095.

By 1969 the block of shops housing Miss Hodge’s haberdashery,and thus the library, were sold for re-building, so once again the library needed to move. The Council office in Whitianga came to the rescue and partitioned off a small room at the back of their offices in Albert Street (where Tuatua restaurant is now). The library supplied the shelving and fittings, but the rent was free.  The move completed, opening hours were again extended to include Friday evening and two mornings per week.  In 1973 Mrs. Matthews retired, but retained the position as Secretary until 1979. Mrs. Nell Oxley became the Librarian-in-charge.

In 1976 the Council decided to move, and built new premises on the opposite side ofAlbert Street (in Taylor's Mistake). The Library again needed a new home, and found one in a room at the back of the Sound Shell, in Soldier’s Memorial Park. By October 1976 the move is completed.

 The Sound Shell, Whitianga

  The Sound Shell was located on the site of the current library in Soldier's Memorial park. The library was housed in the Sound Shell from 1976 until the building was removed in 1989. Mercury Bay Museum Photo # 1041.

  By 1982 the Library is growing rapidly, and an adjoining room in the Sound Shell is offered.  Opening hours are increased to four mornings a week, and Friday evening, but the site is still far from ideal.  In 1989, the Thames Coromandel District Council and the Community Board decide Whitianga deserves a new library, and plans are put forward.  During this time, the Library is moved to temporary premises in Campbell Street, while the Sound Shell was demolished and the present purpose-built library is being constructed. 


The brand new Mercury Bay Library as it looked in 1990..

Photo from "The History of our District Mercury Bay" researched and complied by June Martin. 
Mercury Bay C.W.I. 
The brand new Mercury Bay Library as it looked in 1990.

On the 20th October 1989 the current Library building was handed over to Council, and the Library opened for use on Tuesday the 28th of November. (You will be pleased to note we haven’t moved since!)   At this time the Librarian being Helen Hall, with Hilda Gray as 
Secretary. Later Librarians include Elspeth Coker, (Children’s Librarian), and Gloria Patchett, who held the position from 1991 until 2005, when the decision was made to appoint a qualified Librarian.

The current Librarian would like to sincerely thank all the past and present volunteers for their time, hard work and every ounce of energy they have put in.  Our library is continuing to evolve and improve, and we look forward to being in Mercury Bay for another 126 years, at least!

 The Mercury Bay Library in 2011..   

The Mercury Bay Library in 2011.  

Tairua Library

Our current building in Tairua opened on 11th June 2008, replacing a temporary prefab library which had served the community for many years.