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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Which New Zealand-born photographer is renowned for his portrait of the band from HMS Katoomba taken on the porch of Robert Louis Stevenson’s house at Vailima in Samoa?

Alfred James Tattersall (1866-1951)

On 12 September 1893 Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: ”Yesterday was perhaps the brightest in the annals of Vailima. I got leave from Captain Bickford to have the band of the Katoomba come up, and they came fourteen of ‘em with drum, fife, cymbals and bugles, blue jackets, white caps and smiling faces.”  The celebrated author makes no mention of the presence of a photographer at the festivities, but the scene was captured by his neighbour, New Zealander Alfred James Tattersall.

Tattersall was born in Auckland on 29 March 1866, the son of Lawrence Tattersall, a painter, and his wife, Sarah, both active Wesleyans. He learnt his trade from fellow non-conformist George Redfern, and briefly worked for the Sydney-based Tuttle & Co, probably joining them when their Auckland branch opened in May 1885. In 1886 John Davis, who had recently been appointed postmaster for the Kingdom of Samoa, hired him to run his photographic concern in Apia. Despite Davis giving priority to his postal responsibilities, the studio remained in his name throughout, Tattersall describing himself as “Manager [of] the business of J Davis”, when he informed the British Consul, Thomas Trood, of his employer’s death on 13 September 1903. Only with Davis dead did Tattersall take over the business in name too, erecting a sign outside the studio reading “A J Tattersall late J Davis” sometime between 1903 and 1907.

Tattersall is the only Samoan photographer known to have made a living exclusively from photography. This he achieved in part by continuing to print from his predecessor’s negatives. But he also took hundreds of his own landscape and river views, and is noted for his postcards and souvenir albums. His photo-journalism proved another lucrative source of income, the Auckland Weekly News publishing, amongst others, his pictures of the 1908 volcanic destruction on Savaii, and the New Zealand occupying forces in 1914. He married Samoan-born Blanche Yandall in August 1891, and lived in Samoa until his death in 1951.

Alfred Tattersall was on hand to record the occupation of Samoa by a New Zealand Expeditionary Force that landed at Apia on 29 August 1914. This photograph shows the Union flag being hoisted at the courthouse in Apia on the morning of 30 August. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. AWNS-19140917-43-2)

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