Topic: The Rail Heritage Collection
Is part of topic History at Te Papa
Te Papa’s collection of railway models is largely the work of craftsman and railway enthusiast Frank Roberts. Born in 1882, Roberts spent seventeen years as a cleaner, fireman, and driver for the Railways Department.
He and his brother George then became partners in an electrical firm, although much of Frank’s time was spent developing a working ‘garden railway’ at his Epsom, Auckland, home.
Frank built 1:24 scale models of New Zealand locomotives, working not from plans but from photographs, close observation, and his own memories. Together with George’s models of rolling stock, Frank’s locomotives provide an accurate record of New Zealand railways from the 1870s to the 1930s.
Perhaps the highlight of Frank’s modelling career came when he was commissioned to operate a working layout at the 1940 Centennial Exhibition in Wellington. Thousands of visitors saw the model railway, and many considered it the exhibition’s greatest attraction.
In 1950, Frank sold his models to the Railways Department. They were widely exhibited for many years, and Frank was employed to maintain them to museum-display standard. In June 1993, just before it was privatised, New Zealand Rail gifted its collection of 53 models to Te Papa's predecessor.