It all began in 1842 when the Auckland Mechanics Institute opened a library service for its members.
By the late 1870s the Institute was in financial difficulties. Auckland City Council took over the library and opened its doors to the public in September 1880.
Sir George Grey watched from the sidelines for a couple of years. Then on 19 August 1882, while in Wellington on parliamentary business, he sent a telegram to Auckland stockbroker James Shera, stating his wish to give books and manuscripts to the city and asking Shera to “speak to the Mayor on the subject.”
Sir George gave a public lecture in June 1883 to explain the nature of his gift and he packed out Auckland’s grandest venue, the Theatre Royal with Auckland’s book enthusiasts.
Before the transfer of Grey’s collection began from his home on Kawau Island, a handsome new building was erected on the corner of Wellesley Street and Coburg (now Kitchener) Street, to house the generous donation.
Today this building is wholly occupied by the Auckland Art Gallery, but until 1971 it housed Auckland Public Library as well as the city’s art collection.
By the time of the 1887 opening, Sir George had donated about 8000 volumes – more than half of the Library’s stock.
Because he continued to give generously for the rest of his life, sending books to Auckland even after his return to England in 1894, the tally eventually reached 14,000. This does not include his personal correspondence, which amounts to more than 3000 letters.