'Forgotten Philanthropist’ — these two words summarise this book. Robert McDougall was one of Christchurch’s most generous benefactors. His gift to Christchurch in autumn 1928 of the art gallery that bears his name is, in today’s monetary terms, the largest gift ever given to the city, yet today he and that gift are virtually forgotten.
Robert McDougall built up his biscuit and confectionery company, Aulsebrooks, to become possibly the largest employer of staff in Christchurch in the early 1900s. It was this success and Robert’s ongoing business acumen that allowed him to exercise his philanthropy to the extent that he did. He was also heavily involved in all aspects of manufacturing and industry in Christchurch and New Zealand, participating in and helping organise trade fairs and exhibitions throughout the country. Although by nature a reserved man, Robert was a man before his time. He cared about his employees’ welfare, building sports facilities for them and helping them when in need, and he was responsible for many other acts of generosity in both Christchurch and beyond. He was also a family man, who spent far more time than a father usually did with his children in those days.
This biography provides not only a welcome insight into Robert’s life and the times in which he lived—a time when Christchurch was rapidly developing—but also a return to prominence of one of New Zealand’s most accomplished businessmen and unassuming philanthropists.