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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Which New Zealand Photographer died while photographing tigers at Wirth Brothers' Circus?

John Randall Mann (c1857-1902)


The sensationalist headlines might have indicated otherwise, but John Randall Mann was not the victim of a tiger attack. Having completed a photo-shoot of a young lady (Miss Purcell) inside the tigers’ cage at Wirth Brothers’ Circus in Freeman’s Bay in May 1902, Mann remarked, “That will do gentlemen,” turned away, and immediately dropped down dead. The ensuing inquest - to which Mann’s partner Auckland photographer Alfred Jones (who later went on to found the firm Jones & Coleman) was called as a witness - attributed his death to heart disease exacerbated by pleurisy.

Although trained as an engineer, Mann worked as a press photographer in Australia, having immigrated to Victoria in 1877. He came to New Zealand from Melbourne to cover the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York’s visit in 1901, and settled in Auckland. He specialised in outdoor photography, and much of his output went to New Zealand illustrated newspapers such as the Auckland Weekly News, although his work was also in demand from British and Australian publications. Despite his professional achievements, however, his deceased estate amounted to just £21 – cash of £11 found on his body, his camera equipment and clothes valued at £8, and jewellery assessed at £2.

But unlike some photographers who were tempted to claim a royal connection on flimsy or barely existent grounds, Mann may have personally been acquainted with the Duke of Cornwall. He grew up on the Isle of Wight where his father (also John Randall Mann) was Surveyor of Works at Osborne House, Queen Victoria's private retreat. The link may have helped facilitate Mann's access to the Duke and Duchess during their tour, and may also account for a telegram of condolence sent by the Acting Premier, Sir Joseph Ward.

Mann was buried at Purewa Cemetery, Auckland on 28 May 1902.


Quite possibly one of the last photographs ever taken by John Randall Mann, this shot appeared in the Auckland Weekly News on 29 May 1902 and was probably supplied by his partner Alfred Jones. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. AWNS-19020529-10-3)