Turnbull House on Bowen Street, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, is a three-storey brick building designed by William Turnbull as a private home for nationally significant collector and bibliophile Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull (1868-1918).
Alexander Turnbull was an important collector, principally of books, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Turnbull’s collecting, which had begun at a young age, became much more focused around 1892 and his collection came to include works by John Milton, Maori and Pacific artefacts and clothing, coins, and volumes relating to New Zealand, ocean voyages, naval history, Captain Cook, and English drama. Turnbull was also interested in golf and yachting, and was a member of a number of societies and local clubs. In 1913 he donated his collection of artefacts to the Dominion Museum and devoted his time to books for the last two years of his life. Turnbull commissioned prominent architectural firm Thomas Turnbull and Son (architect William Turnbull) to design a house for himself and his collection, which in 1918 was regarded as the largest private library in the country and was valued at £51,800.
Turnbull was not to live for long in the house. He died in 1918 and his collection was bequeathed to the government. His house, which was purchased by government, was opened to the public in 1920 as the Turnbull Library. The Library was to stay in the building until 1973, after which time the building housed various tenants including community groups, and was used for functions.
A life-long bachelor, Turnbull's private life and sexuality has been speculated about by biographers and historians. Eric McCormick and Chris Brickell have taken a circumspect approach, considering that he may have been what today would be understood as gay, but noting a lack of definitive evidence, whereas Stephen Eldred-Grigg has described him as a 'wealthy homosexual merchant, bibliophile, philanthropist and advocate of fin de siecle aestheticism'.
Deemed to be earthquake prone by the Wellington City Council in 2009, the building was closed in 2012 pending further strengthening work.
11 Bowen Street, Wellington Central, Wellington 6011, New Zealand