Recent donations to the Hocken Library include three of the most significant images to come into the Photographs Collection over the last decade. They are interior views of New Zealand’s first international exhibition held in Dunedin in 1865. The sight of the main exhibition building which afterwards became the central block of the Dunedin Hospital has long formed a useful marker for dating early photographs of Dunedin city but modern researchers will delight in these views of the exhibits themselves.
Gifted by a descendant of Alfred Eccles, the main organiser of the exhibition and his son of the same name who wrote an account of the venture in 1925, the glass plate negatives came with labelled wrappings in the son’s hand and are obviously early twentieth century copies of original albumen prints. A fourth glass plate (figure 1) of the exterior of the main building, which was reproduced in the 1925 publication, bears the name of the photographer, J.W. Allen.
Figure 2 was taken just inside the main entrance and shows clocks and pianos in the Otago Court. These were mostly imported goods but the display did include the work of Dunedin inventor, Arthur Beverley, who won praise from the exhibition jurors for his ‘highly ingenious self-winding atmospheric clock’ (Eccles, p. 9) – nowadays on show in the Physics Department of the University of Otago and possibly to be seen here in the far corner in a slightly different case. Unfortunately the photograph does not include a view of the 21-feet high gilded obelisk which first greeted visitors, representing the 1,749,511 ounces of gold that had been exported from the colony up to the end of 1864 (Eccles, p.8).
Figure 3 is of the Furniture Court looking toward the Museum section on the Gallery Floor. The paper hangings offer a valuable sample of wallpaper designs that were fashionable at the time. The museum, organised by Provincial Geologist James Hector, included ‘Rock, minerals, fossils, birds, woods, dried plants, plans, sections, drawings and other objects arranged principally to illustrate the Geology and Natural History of Otago in 15 cases and a wall shelf’ (exhibition catalogue, p.56).
Figure 4 was labelled the Hawkes Bay Court but the display of Maori taonga does not correspond with the list of items in the published catalogue. While Ngati Kahungunu chiefs Karaitiana and Tareha and Pakeha collectors including Donald McLean contributed objects like taiaha and a waka named ‘Takitumu’, the three mere pounamu and hat described in the catalogue as ‘1 Native Mourning Head Dress’ answer only to Sir George Grey’s collection represented in the Auckland Court. High up on the wall samples of Grey’s fern collection may also be visible though again, there were others who contributed similar items for the display.
These newly acquired glass plate negatives add to the archival record of the 1865 exhibition already held in the Hocken and may now be used to illustrate future accounts of this historic event.
Post prepared by Assistant Curator of Photographs, Anna Petersen June 2011