Rugby Museum founder a visionary

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 12:00 21/03/2013
John Sinclair
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ

BEFORE HIS TIME: John Sinclair, centre, flanked by former All Black Nev MacEwan, left, with one of his beloved Welsh rugby supporters' groups in Palmerston North.

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Palmerston North's Rugby Museum is all modern and interactive these days, and it owes its existence to John Sinclair.

He died last week aged 90 and history will record him as the man who founded the museum in 1969.

Sinclair and the late Fred Spurdle, who died in 1985, have been recorded as co-founders but Spurdle often said Sinclair laid the foundation six months before he came in.

In those days the museum didn't have a home, just displays around Palmerston North.

Current chairman Clive Akers has access to many of Sinclair's letters which reveal he was the ideas man while Spurdle looked after the collection.

"He was a visionary who could look outside the square of the conservative attitude rugby had in the 1950s and 60s," Akers said.

The museum could easily have moved to Wellington or another major centre, before it found its latest home at Te Manawa.

Akers said it was the Sinclair factor which largely swayed them to campaign to retain the museum in Palmerston North.

"John never had a vision of starting a museum; it happened only because the chairman of the Rugby Union in 1968, Tom Morrison, declined the offer of souvenirs John brought home from the All Blacks tour of Britain."

Morrison told Sinclair: "Go away and start your own museum John; it's not our role to display memorabilia".

It was to be the world's first national rugby museum.

"John had the rare gift of obtaining things for nothing from friends and businessmen about town. When the official opening took place in 1969, he had invited 100 people, but 300 turned up, including many former All Blacks, officials of the NZRU and several ambassadors."

He openly acknowledged he had little interest in watching rugby, seldom watching Manawatu play.

As his son Mark said, his father's primary focus was history.

"The relationship between rugby and New Zealand and in that he was ahead of his time."

He had played rugby to a modest level at Palmerston North Boys' High School and Nelson College and often accompanied Ian Colquhoun's Boys' High first XVs as a historian.

His interest was really sparked straight after World War II when he was still in England and watched the famous Kiwis team playing there.

Sinclair had trained as a pilot in Canada and joined the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm toward the end of the war. He returned to Canada, was married in Toronto to Shirley before coming back to Palmerston North to his father's accountancy firm and then into the travel business.

He became a pioneer, leading supporters' groups overseas. He encouraged schools to adopt visiting Springboks and British Lions players, to assemble scrapbooks for them and to ensure they were made welcome.

He made many close friends overseas, including South African rugby chairman Danie Craven who invited him to South Africa in 1970 to start an adoption scheme; he didn't go.

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- Manawatu Standard

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