New images of 19th-century New Zealand

Kakepu, a volcanic cone in the Waikato valley, with Waipa Mission station to the right. Artist, Augustus Koch

Kakepu, a volcanic cone in the Waikato valley, with Waipa Mission station to the right. Artist, Augustus Koch

Most historians of art are well aware of the major holdings of 19th-century paintings and photographs of the New Zealand landscape, which are generally well documented. Consequently, it is exciting to be able to publicise a hitherto unknown collection held by the descendants of Ferdinand von Hochstetter in Basel, Switzerland, that contains some works not previously seen by New Zealanders.

Hochstetter was only 29 when he arrived in Auckland in late 1858 as a scientist on the Austrian Novara expedition. He spent eight months in New Zealand, travelling around the Auckland and Nelson provinces with his compatriot Julius Haast, recording and documenting geological features. After his return to Vienna he published books, research papers and maps about New Zealand. Little was known about New Zealand geology before Hochstetter arrived, and he is widely regarded as the father of New Zealand geology.

Until recently most biographical information on Hochstetter has been from sources written in English, overlooking much historical data as Hochstetter and his colleagues, including Haast, generally corresponded in German. Recent research by Sascha Nolden, who has transcribed and translated letters and documents written in German, greatly extends our knowledge of Hochstetter’s work and influence. One of Nolden’s most exciting discoveries has been a large collection of paintings, photographs and maps held in Basel by Hochstetter’s descendants.

Hochstetter collected many images while he was in New Zealand in 1858–59, but he also corresponded regularly with Haast for the next 25 years, and encouraged Haast to send him photographs.

The discovery of the Hochstetter collection at Basel has led to the compilation of an illustrated catalogue by Sascha Nolden and his brother Sandy Nolden. So far two volumes have been published, the first covering paintings and sketches and the second photographs. An additional volume is planned, covering documents and maps. The catalogues include information about every image and biographical details about each artist and photographer.

A few of the paintings and sketches in volume 1 have already appeared in Travels of Hochstetter and Haast in New Zealand 1858–1860 by Mike Johnston and Sascha Nolden (Nikau Press 2011), which also includes some other new images unearthed by Nolden. But most of the 44 images are previously unseen by New Zealand eyes, and include paintings and sketches by H. M. L. Atcherley, C. F. Fischer, Julius von Haast, Charles Heaphy, John Kinder, Augustus Koch, Robert von Lendenfield and T. W. Triphook. Probably of most interest are 20 watercolours and pencil sketches by New Zealand explorer-artist Charles Heaphy, including views around Auckland, Coromandel, White Island, the Pink and White Terraces – and even one of Tara Makau village near Hokitika that Heaphy apparently presented to Hochstetter. One of my favourites in his group shows the detail on a large waka – labelled ‘Kriegscanoe (Vordertheil) in Taupo am Waitemata, Juni 1859′.

Prow of large decorated waka. Artist, Charles Heaphy

Prow of large decorated waka. Artist, Charles Heaphy

Other delights are 11 watercolours by Henry Atcherley of views ranging through New Zealand from Auckland to Dunedin. Dated 1885, they were apparently purchased as a gift when Haast and his wife visited Hochstetter’s widow in Vienna in 1886.

View of Shag Rock at Sumner, near Christchurch.' Artist, Henry Atcherley

View of Shag Rock at Sumner, near Christchurch.'Artist, Henry Atcherley

The second volume, covering photographs, is double the size of volume 1, and includes photographs from all over New Zealand taken by 18 photographers as well as two groups that cannot be attributed.

Panoramic view of central Auckland in 1861. Photographer, J. N. Crombie

Panoramic view of central Auckland in 1861. Photographer, J. N. Crombie

Landscape photography was in its developmental stage when Hochstetter visited New Zealand, and he was one of the first to engage a professional photographer (Bruno Hamel) to document his travels in the central North Island. Hamel’s photographs provide a unique record of Hochstetter’s travels, ranging from the mission stations he visited to the steaming cliffs around Lake Rotomahana and the Pink and White Terraces. Haast was keen to show Hochstetter new displays at the Canterbury Museum, and the collection includes images of reconstructed moas and mounted animals.

Display of mounted animals at Canterbury Museum, 1877. Photographer unknown

Display of mounted animals at Canterbury Museum, 1877. Photographer unknown

These two volumes make a major contribution to the knowledge of 19th-century landscapes, and the authors are to be congratulated on their thorough and dedicated work based on considerable scholarly research that underpins their work. Details of the books are given below:

Sascha Nolden and Sandy B Nolden. Hochstetter Collection Basel. Part 1 – New Zealand paintings and drawings. Auckland: Mente Corde Manu Press, 2011, 69 pages.

Sascha Nolden and Sandy B Nolden. Hochstetter Collection Basel. Part 2 – New Zealand photographs and prints. Auckland: Mente Corde Manu Press, 2012, 211 pages.

The publisher can be contacted at: mente.corde.manu@gmail.com.

One comment added so far

  1. Comment made by Heather Nicholson || January 29th, 2014

    I’m grateful for the opportunity to see these extracts

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