Samuel H Drew, born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, emigrated with his family to Tasmania in the early 1850s and then to Nelson in 1860. He established a jewellery and watch-making business in Wanganui in 1864 which continued until the 1990s. Drew married Catherine Beatson in Nelson in 1872, returning to Wanganui where they raised their eight children.
Samuel Drew had a variety of interests including music and sport; he was a member of the Philharmonic Society and president of the Wanganui Orchestral Club, and also belonged to the Wanganui Rowing Club. His greatest passion, however, was the study of natural history.
Samuel Drew collected natural history specimens and Maori artefacts, eventually establishing his own museum in his home in 1880. His family helped to collect and classify his specimens of molluscs, birds, beetles, fossils and other fauna. His collecting activities extended as far as Kapiti Island where he became something of an authority on the local birds and fish.
Drew devoted his spare time to his private collection, furnishing specimens for collections throughout the colony; he published several articles on natural history in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute and was made a fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1897. Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as Andreas Reischek who on two visits in 1886 and 1888 helped to classify his collections. Reischek also trained Drew's son, Henry, as a taxidermist.
Drew's private collection eventually began crowding out his family and he realized he would need to find larger premises to house his museum if he wished to continue collecting. He also recognized the importance of his collection and the considerable public interest in it. For these reasons he offered the collection to the city to form the nucleus of a public museum.
Drew’s collection was purchased in 1892 for a nominal sum, and through his efforts, a new museum building was erected in Drews Avenue to which his collection was transferred.
Drew was appointed Honorary Curator of the new Wanganui Public Museum in 1892. He continued to collect for the museum, use his expertise to mount natural history specimens and organise displays.
Samuel Drew died from a sudden heart attack at his business premises on December 18, 1901 at the age of 57 years. The Whanganui Regional Museum is a lasting reminder of the enterprise, expertise and dedication of this extraordinary individual to both his professional and personal interests. Wanganui will remain indebted to this man for the contribution he made to recording and collecting the cultural and natural heritage of this region, as well as founding an institution of national and international renown.