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In May, we began work on an eight month project to digitise part of the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust’s photograph collection. As part of this process, around 7000 images will be scanned and catalogued in preparation for the launch of an online database in 2013. 

The collection is rich in depth and breadth, spanning over 150 years of Hawke’s Bay history and covering a diverse range of subjects including portraiture, the local landscape, and local events. It also includes works by a number of prominent New Zealand photographers, including Percy and Charles Sorrell.

The aim of this project is to improve access to the collection, enabling researchers and members of the public to more easily search the collection.

An area of the collection that has recently been digitised is a group of photographs donated by the family of prominent local architect, J A Louis Hay (b.1881, d.1948).

Portrait of J A Louis Hay as a member of a Highland Pipe Band, circa 1900.
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 8746

Born in Akaroa, Louis Hay settled in Napier in the early 1890s. It was here that he began his career as an architect, undertaking his apprenticeship with a firm owned by Charles Tilleard Natusch. In 1904 he moved to Invercargill, but returned to Napier in 1906 to establish his own architectural practice. His practice gained momentum and the 1930s were a very busy time for him. However, due to ill health he did very little work after 1940.

Consisting of over 90 images, the Louis Hay collection provides an important record of the buildings and structures that he designed throughout his career. Among the many buildings that are represented within the collection is Parker’s Chambers on Herschell Street, Napier. Originally completed in 1929, the building was damaged as a result of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in February 1931 and was subsequently reconditioned, with the Herschell Street façade being reduced from three storeys to two. A series of photographs in the collection records the changing appearance of the building between 1929 and the early 1930s, including the process of reconditioning the facade.

Parker’s Chambers, Herschell Street, Napier, 1929-30 and 1931-32.
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 8795 and 8794

The Frank Moodie Collection is another significant group of photographs. Francis Lizar Moodie was an architect from Auckland. He started a partnership with his former teacher and fellow architect Arthur Pollard Wilson (b.1851, d.1937) in 1910 and by the 1920’s the firm had become Wilson, Moodie and Gillespie.

The collection was donated by an Auckland resident and records in comprehensive detail the buildings damaged in the 1931 earthquake and the destruction that touched the entire Hawke’s Bay region. Moodie’s photographs tend to be taken from a more structural view point; many of them have notes on the back about how the building was constructed. After cataloguing nearly 150 images attributed to Moodie it is possible to see trends in those buildings that survived the quake and the ones that did not. 

While the earthquake is one of the most well documented events of our local history, Moodie’s collection is significant in that it includes images of Hastings and wider Hawke’s Bay, as far south as Te Aute and Waipukurau, giving a wide ranging overview of the damage to the region.

Te Aute College,
In the centre of the image is the College Hall, which was part of the Fergusson block.
Just visible at the right is the Jellicoe (northern) wing.
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 7253 d

The Tavistock Hotel on Ruataniwha Street in Waipukurau after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake on the 3rd of February 1931, it still stands today.
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 7254 b

In contrast to the quintessentially Hawke’s Bay images featured in the collection there are many images whose subject matter lies beyond the district boundaries, often recording events of national historical significance. Settlers and immigrants that participated in events outside Hawke’s Bay have contributed photographs from other regions and these provide a national context to the collection. Many of these early documentarians later settled in the province of Hawke’s Bay and became regional identities.

One such local identity was Dr William Isaac Spencer (b. 1831, d.1897), a contemporary of William Colenso and Augustus Hamilton. Within the larger Spencer Family collection of archival material and objects generously donated by the family is a significant photographic collection. Whilst most of this material portrays the family’s later Napier life, there is a small collection of material relating to the New Zealand Wars. Spencer was an assistant surgeon for the 18th Royal Irish Regiment and was involved in military campaigns in Waikato and Whanganui.

As an amateur photographer he captured many images from this period, typically of landscapes and encampment life. In fact, many of his images appear to shy away from scenes of conflict and its aftermath, or the gritty reality of his work as a surgeon. Instead, his images are often taken from the margin, in moments of stillness and calm, skirting climactic events. Images of camp life appear idealized and are set either against idyllic bush scenes or dramatic landscapes. Few of the images include people.

Spencer’s photographs of this period are largely albumen prints. Albumen paper was the most affordable and widely used photographic material in the second half of the 19th century. These prints use the albumen of egg whites to bind chemicals to a paper surface. As such they are extremely fragile and subject to deterioration.

Rangiriri Redoubt, November 1863, Photographer: Dr William Isaac Spencer.
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 5597 – 41

British Camp at Meremere, November 1863, Photographer: Dr William Isaac Spencer. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 5597 – 13

Ngaruawahia, December 1863, Photographer: Dr William Isaac Spencer.
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 5597 – 35

We are excited that the digitization of these photographs will make them accessible to a wider audience. The scanning will also help preserve the images by reducing handling.

Emma Knowles
Frances Oliver
Kimberley Stephenson

September 2013

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