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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)

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The introduction to a travel guide by which New Zealand photographer begins, “The wish for mine enemy to write a book not having eventuated, I have written one myself”?

Charles Spencer (1854-1933)


It may have been a tongue-in-cheek remark, but as a high profile Tauranga businessman Charles Spencer was no doubt sensitive to the petty jealousies of local politics, and the introduction to “Spencer’s Illustrated Guide to the Hot Springs” can be read as a comment on the town’s lively public affairs.

Charles was the eldest son of Thomas Spencer of Parawai who, as one half of Spencer and Hall, ran a lucrative pharmacy and gold-broking business in Grahamstown, Thames. The pair also owned a local stamper-battery. By 1876, doubtless with his father’s financial backing, Charles reputedly paid £1000 for a stake in the Dunedin photographic partnership Clifford and Morris. In 1878, however, he and his brother George were in the employ of Burton Brothers, climbing and photographing in the Southern Alps when they reportedly discovered gold at Waihoa Flat, at the base of Mount Cook. The find was apparently sufficient to induce the brothers to abandon their expedition in favour of further prospecting, if only temporarily.

By April 1879 Charles was in Tauranga, where he opened a photographic studio in a tent next door to Wrigley’s Brewery on Willow Street. Within weeks the enterprise was put in jeopardy when a stove Charles had installed ignited the canvas and reduced his premises to ashes. But the setback proved fleeting, and in September 1879 Charles purchased H C Hoyte’s chemist’s shop on The Strand. By installing a manager, he was able to continue to work as a photographer in a studio he erected at rear of the building. He satisfied his thirst for adventure with photographic excursions to the South Island, occasional visits to the rumbling White Island, and regular trips to the Hot Lakes, one of which provided the basis for his 1885 guide book. Undaunted by the danger, he was also one of first photographers to reach Rotomahana after the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886.

An irrepressible entrepreneur, Charles was probably instrumental in his father’s chartering of the steamer Vivid (under the captaincy of his brother, George) on the route between Tauranga and Te Puke; he experimented with the cultivation of silkworms, and as a director of the short-lived New Zealand Manure & Chemical Company promoted the exploitation of White Island’s sulphur deposits. He was a skilled roller skater, and the first person in Tauranga to own a velocipede (much to the amusement of the locals). He immersed himself in local politics, becoming a borough councillor in 1887, but failed in an attempt to be elected mayor. In 1890 he moved to Auckland to promote a photo-lithographic printing process, collaborating with his brother Percy to publish views of Auckland and Thames.

Tragedy struck in 1894 when Charles’s father, Thomas, drowned in the wreck of the Wairarapa at Great Barrier Island. Charles was a witness at inquest where he criticised the inaction of the Union Steam Ship Co.

He continued to live in Auckland, working as a photographer with the Government Survey Department, and later as chemist with a sideline in landscape photography. He died in 1933.
This photograph of the Whanganui River at Pipiriki was taken by Charles Spencer after his relocation to Auckland in 1890. It is one of at least 9 original Spencer plates in the Richardson Collection at the Auckland Central Library. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. 4-3554)


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Which photographer was the first to visit the Pink and White Terraces?

Bruno Lancel Hamel (1837-?)


When in January 1859 the Auckland Provincial Government prevailed upon the geologist Dr Ferdinand Hochstetter of the visiting Austrian survey ship Novara to abandon his colleagues and undertake an expedition into the province’s vast interior, 21 year-old Bruno Lancel Hamel was recruited to act as the expedition’s photographer.

Hamel, of French Huguenot descent, was born in Tamworth, England in 1837, but had spent some years in Victoria, before returning to Britain in 1855 after the accidental death of his father at the Mt Blackwood goldfield. Unable to settle, Bruno and his mother left for New Zealand on the William Watson in August 1857, arriving in January 1858 in Auckland, where Bruno set up a photographic studio in Edward Street.

Hochstetter’s expedition proved a gruelling 1000 kilometre, 79-day journey by foot, horseback and canoe, and even with the assistance of four Maori porters, sections of the trek were deemed much too rugged to safely transport Hamel’s photographic equipment. Consequently while Hochstetter and his companions took a southerly route from the Waipa Mission Station to the Hot Lakes district via Lake Taupo, Hamel travelled directly eastward, rendezvousing with the rest of the party at Lake Tarawera. Despite this shortcut, Hamel still managed to arrive back in Auckland with a collection of some 60 glass plate negatives.

Within weeks his return Hamel had taken over John Nicol Crombie's former Shortland Street studio, now known as "Hamel's Atelier", and was offering for sale albums of photographic views from his recent trip. But Hamel's advertisement in Laurence's Auckland Almanac for 1860 (published in December 1859) gave as much prominence to his work as a musical instrument repairer as to his activities as a photographer. In March Henry Frith acquired Hamel’s premises, and this may well have spelt the end of Hamel’s photographic career in New Zealand. The following month the expedition camera used by Hamel was put up for public auction.

Bruno had married 17 year-old Caroline Umbers at St Patrick's Church, Auckland on 23 January 1860. But in September 1861 he arrived in Sydney on the Fortune, apparently leaving his young wife behind in Auckland. The following year Caroline, travelling alone, was caught up in the wreck of White Swan, en route for Wellington, where she appears to have settled, if temporarily. As for Bruno, in April 1863 the Maitland Mercury noted the brief appearance in West Maitland (New South Wales) of the photographers Sanders & Hamel. If this was Bruno, it could be the last confirmed sighting of him. In March 1866, Bruno’s mother advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald for her son to contact to her. After her death in November 1873, the family solicitor in Tamworth also advertised for information about Bruno’s whereabouts. Caroline, however, had already decided that Bruno was dead, and she remarried in December 1869, at the time describing herself as a widow. Despite her certainty, no trace of Bruno Hamel's death has ever been found.


In July 1859 the Auckland Provincial Government paid Bruno Hamel £10 for an album of photographic views taken on the Hochstetter Expedition. This album is now in the Sir George Grey Special Collections at the Auckland Central Library, and is prefaced by a portrait of Ferdinand Hochstetter, and by this panoramic view of Auckland – the earliest known view of the city’s waterfront. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. 755-Album-40)