Exhibition opening

Special Collections Exhibitions
Portrait of a Gentleman Scholar
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Only a few really great libraries become so because of the munificence of their parent institution. The really splendid research collections internationally are augmented by, and further attract, collections of the world's leading scholars, often accompanied by substantial sums to be held in trust for building on the foundations laid in the donor's lifetime or on her or his death.

The University of Otago Library is certainly a large academic library even by international terms but its claim to greatness is somewhat more qualified to certain parts of its collection and more recently,. of course, to the two international class buildings which house its major research collections - the Hocken Library and the Central Library within this splendid Information Services Building.

The University of Otago Library contains the most significant special collections of any academic library in the country and they had their substantial foundations in the donation and bequest of personal collections of scholars and bibliophiles. Today, we honour in particular, the major contribution of Dr Esmond de Beer and his sisters, Mary and Dora, towards making this Library a significant research library at least in antipodean terms at the launch of this exhibition to portray a Portrait of a gentleman scholar.

Michael Wooliscroft, University Librarian

The collection

The de Beer Collection, comprising nearly six thousand volumes, is the Library's principal repository for pre-1800 material and showcases aspects of European civilization and culture from the Renaissance to the end of the 18th century. It enjoys national importance as a research resource and has international standing in its areas of strength - 17th-century English history, politics and philosophy; 18th-century poetry; travel and guide books; and the history of horticulture.

The exhibition

The exhibition highlights aspects of the life of Dr de Beer, with something of his family circumstances, education and interests and, in particular, his considerable achievements as a scholar and great generosity as patron of scholarship and the arts. Included are photographs and pictorial material relating to Dr de Beer from the Hocken Library archives. Among the treasures on display are first editions of John Locke's Essay concerning human understanding in English, French and German; various elegantly bound volumes of John Evelyn's works and two magnificent illustrated editions of John Milton's Paradise lost: the first illustrated edition of 1688 and a first edition, 1827, illustrated by John Martin. Various early illustrated travel books provide a fascinating insight into the development of the guide book which he traced in his article ‘The development of the guide-book until the early nineteenth century', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 1952.

Opening addresses

The opening addresses by W.J. McEldowny and Dr Keith Maslen are available below in PDF format.

W.J. McEldowney

W.J. McEldowney
Esmond de Beer pdf (PDF 4 pages)

K. Maslen

K. Maslen
A Serious Traveller: Esmond de Beer as Scholar pdf (PDF 4 pages)

de Beer Gallery

the west end of the exhibition gallerythe east end of the exhibition gallery

Photographs from the opening in the Charles Brasch Court

opening of the exhibitionopening of the exhibitionopening of the exhibition

The exhibition was opened at 5.30pm, Wednesday, 20 March 2002.

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