Samuel H Drew, an avid collector, started to build and catalogue his own private collection of insects and shells in 1880. This collection grew as he and his family collected Maori artefacts and exchanged objects from overseas museums. By 1885 he had amassed an extensive collection that he opened to the public.
In 1891 the need for a publicly owned museum was acknowledged and a trust was established to raise funds. Mr Drew generously sold the trust his valuable collection for 1,200 pounds, far below its real value of 2,246 pounds and this formed the nucleus of the new museum’s collection. Opened in 1895, Wanganui’s first public museum was situated in the present Savage Club Hall.
Some years later, a generous legacy from the estate of Henry Alexander enabled a new two-storied building with basement to be built in Queen’s Park. Architect Robert Talboys designed the building and when opened in 1928 it was named the Alexander Museum after its main benefactor.
A bequest from the Davis Trust in 1968 funded the rear extension that houses the Maori Court with it's famous waka, the Davis Lecture Theatre, a classroom and a multi storied parking building. In 1997, to alleviate storage problems, the 2000 square metre car park building was converted into storage facilities for the Museum and Wanganui District Council’s archive department.
Now named after the region it serves, the Whanganui Regional Museum displays and cares for a diverse range of artefacts from all over New Zealand and around the world.