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Monday, 8 December 2014

Which well-known Auckland photographer once took possession of a Pacific island in order to exploit its valuable guano?

Henry Winkelmann, 1860-1931


Despite his Germanic-sounding name, Henry Winkelmann was born in Bradford, England. He did, however, come from Germanic stock. 19th century Bradford was the centre of the English wool trade and cloth manufacturing industry, and was already home to a sizeable German community when Henry’s father Peter moved there from Prussia in the late 1850s with his young wife Louise (Schueller) to become a worsted yarn and stuff merchant.

Henry would probably not have come to New Zealand but for two significant events. One was the death of his father towards the end of 1877 at the relatively young age of 47; the other was the conviction of his brother Charles in April 1875, then just 16 years old, of involuntary manslaughter. On his release from prison Charles took ship to Auckland. Three years later Henry undertook the same journey.

During the next couple of years, Henry drifted between Dunedin and Auckland. The longest he spent in any one place was six months in Hawke’s Bay where Charles had been appointed a master at Te Aute College. Then in 1881 living at a boarding house in Hobson Street, Auckland Henry accepted a job offer from Thomas Henderson of Henderson and MacFarlane. The plan seemed simple enough. Henry and fellow boarder Harold Willey Hudson were to live on the remote Jarvis Island for 3 months to validate the company’s claim to the island and permit the exploitation of its valuable guano. Dropped off by the company schooner Sunbeam, the pair found themselves marooned for almost 8 months. With supplies running low they survived on turtles and birds’ eggs, and by distilling their own drinking water. Their employer Henderson seemed nonplussed by their re-appearance in Auckland, but paid out their agreed wages to the exact penny, fixedly overlooking the hardships they had suffered.

Henry now embarked on a peripatetic lifestyle of a very different kind. As a clerk with the Bank of New Zealand he worked at locations throughout the North and South Islands, in Levuka (Fiji) and in Sydney. In 1892 he purchased his first camera, but pursued photography in tandem with banking until 1895 when he resigned to take up farming on Great Barrier. It was not a success. He rejoined the bank, this time in Blenheim, but quit after just 12 months to run a customs agency on Auckland’s Queen Street Wharf. Four years later, in August 1901, Henry opened a photographic studio in Victoria Arcade. His adventurous spirit continued to manifest itself in his cityscapes taken from the crosstrees of sailing ships on the Auckland waterfront, and in his photographs of yachts, invariably snapped from his “peanut of a boat” on the Waitemata Harbour.

On his retirement in 1928 Henry sold his negatives of Auckland city streets to the Old Colonists Museum. He died at Mount Eden on 5 July 1931. In his will he left the remainder of his glass plates and a sizeable collection of prints to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Henry Winkelmann's view of Freemans Bay, Auckland photographed from the mast of the Jessie Craig, 23 March 1904 (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. 1-W1102)

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