Friday, 12 July 2019

Charles Spencer, photographer – Part II, The Rotorua Connection

Sunset from White Terrace, Rotomahana, N.Z. (32)
Albumen print (161 x 209mm) by Charles Spencer, c.Mar-Apr 1881
Frances Fenwick’s Album of New Zealand Views, Te Papa Tongarewa, Ref. O.027200

From November 1880 Charles Spencer operated a small but neat photographic studio from a light wooden building behind his chemist’s shop on the Strand. Over the preceding year he had found it necessary to offer his services widely throughout the Bay of Plenty and Waikato. This included photographic excursions to the Rotorua and the thermal attractions of the Pink and White Terraces at Rotomahana, which he had first visited in the summer of 1873-1874, when still in his teens. A very successful trip in March-April 1881 met with cooperative weather and resulted in several dozen “remarkably clear and well-defined plates.” Prints soon appeared for sale in his chemist’s shop, in C.G. Carter’s stationer’s on Wharf Street, and further afield.

Lake House Hotel, Ohinemutu, Rotorua
Albumen print (160 x 210mm) by Charles Spencer, c.Mar-Apr 1881
Frances Fenwick’s Album of New Zealand Views, Te Papa Tongarewa, Ref. O.027123

During the same trip he was engaged to take views of the well frequented Lake House Hotel at Ohinemutu by the then proprietor, Robert Graham.

Bellevue House, Tauranga (J. Bodell, Proprietor)
Albumen print by Charles Spencer, c. January 1881
Tauranga City Library, Ref. 05-443

Likewise, he no doubt received a commission to photograph James Bodell’s newly opened temperance hotel, Bellevue House, Tauranga, in January 1881. Since Tauranga was then, as now, a major port of entry for tourists intending to visit the Lakes, he had a ready market for his prints, which subsequently found their way into albums around the world.

Tauranga Waterfront from Victoria Wharf
Panorama carbon print by Charles Spencer, c. 1884-1887
Tauranga Heritage Collection, Ref. 0609/08

Spencer was always quick to try out fresh ideas and adopt new technologies. After a two-and-a-half month-long break in the summer of 1881-1882, Spencer hired an apprentice and reopened his studio, offering “portraits by the new instantaneous process,” presumably a reference to the then relatively new dry-plate techniques, by which glass plates could be prepared in advance, and offered substantially reduced exposure times. He was among the first in New Zealand to employ carbon print technology, which was developed in the late 1870s and reduced the fading which was so characteristic of albumen prints.

The Bay of Plenty Times [Vol XI, Issue 1311, 1 Jul 1882, p2] published the following account, which may relate to the above view:
We have been shown a very excellent view of the town of Tauranga, photographed by Mr Charles Spencer from the end of the Town Wharf. Photographs may be obtained from Mr Spencer’s studio, mounted and unmounted at a very reasonable figure.
It seems likely that Spencer had carried his bulky camera equipment into the rigging of a ship tied up at the wharf.

Tauranga, N.Z., s.s. “Wellington” at wharf
Albumen print (161 x 210mm) by Charles Spencer, c. 1885-1886
Frances Fenwick’s Album of New Zealand Views, Te Papa Tongarewa, Ref. O.027182

Like many other photographers, both before and after him, he also used the excellent southerly-looking vantage point offered by the Monmouth Redoubt for several views. This particular example, from the album of Frances Fenwick, shows the S.S. Wellington at the end of the wharf. It was likely purchased by her after their trip to view the Pink and White Terraces, and shortly before 30 March 1886, when she and her husband boarded that vessel for Auckland (Bay of Plenty Times, 1 Apr 1886).

Menzies' Hotel, Tauranga
Albumen print (99 x 150mm) by Charles Spencer, c. 1879-1886
Frances Fenwick’s Album of New Zealand Views, Te Papa Tongarewa, Ref. O.027399

Mrs Fenwick included this Spencer print of John Menzies’ Tauranga Hotel, and presumably it was purchased as a memento of where they stayed or perhaps dined en route to Rotorua. It is quite possible that she also purchased a copy of Spencer’s Illustrated Guide to the Hot Springs, published in early 1885 after he had a made a series of trips to Rotorua and White Island.

The Rift, extending from the foot of Mt Tarawera to Rotomahana
Albumen print (137 x 204mm) mounted on card (174 x 238mm) by Charles Spencer, July 1886
Te Papa Tongarewa, Ref. O.002111

When Tarawera erupted only a few weeks later, Geological Survey director James Hector and assistant geologist James Park disembarked at Tauranga on 12 June, en route to the Rotorua lakes district to report on the disturbance. He immediately engaged Spencer to accompany the party and record the effects of the eruption. By the time Spencer returned to Tauranga a week later he had accumulated an initial set of plates which he developed and printed. He then returned to Te Wairoa on 8 July and took several more views during a brief spell of decent weather. At the end of the month he made a third visit, accompanying Percy Smith’s surveying party for almost a week, and taking a number of views between the Ruawahia Dome on Tarawera and the craters to the south-west near Rotomahana.

Although no definitive lists exist, it is likely that Spencer produced several dozen views of the Rotorua hot lakes district before and after the eruption, and as a result his are some of the better known images, in collections throughout the world.
(To be continued)


Bay of Plenty Times, on Papers Past
Tarawera: The Volcanic Eruption of 10 June 1886, by R.F. Keam, 1988.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Powhiri at Te Ranga, by Win Lunt

Powhiri at Te Ranga, by Win Lunt
On 1 November 2018 one hundred and twenty of the descendants of Patrick Freeburn Keenan gathered to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of his arrival in Tauranga. Patrick, with his wife and four children, had come from the West Coast of New Zealand to take up the life of a farmer on Pyes Pa Road. His father had left the troubled Ireland of the 1850s and had come first to Australia and later to the West Coast of New Zealand where Patrick and his eight siblings were born. A legacy from an uncle in Australia enabled Patrick and his wife to purchase the Pyes Pa farm.

That farm on Pyes Pa Road was situated about half a kilometre down the road from the battle site of Te Ranga. Patrick's children and grandchildren growing up there were barely aware of the significance of the site where the last major battle of the Land Wars was fought with the loss of over one hundred Maori lives.

As part of the family reunion celebrations Councillor Terry Molloy, a grandson of Patrick Keenan, organized, in conjunction with some of the descendants of those Maori who fought and died at Te Ranga, a powhiri. The powhiri was held as a gesture of healing and reconciliation. It was attended by many of Patrick Keenans descendants and by representatives of the Kennedy family whose family farm was directly opposite the battle site.  Mayor  of the Western Bay of Plenty Gary Webber, and Father Mark Fields were there. Representing the Maori tribes on whose land the battle had been fought were  among others, Tamiti Tata, Puhiraka Ihaka and Peri Kohu. After the ceremony there was an informal gathering and a morning tea at the home of Norman and Patricia Brooks.  Patricia is a grand daughter of Patrick Keenan and their home is situated on the farm that Patrick Keenan had farmed.

Terry Molloy with the recently planted Puriri tree at Te Ranga
Subsequently a puriri tree has been planted on the site of the battle ground  and it is intended that a memorial plaque will be placed near the tree some time in August  this year.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Old Tea Towel in Brain Watkins House

Lying on the  kitchen bench at Brain Watkins House is an old tea towel which seldom receives attention. Yet on closer examination, this item is very interesting. It is an ecru colour, and printed on it are a list of Maori proverbs, surrounded by a border of Maori-related pictures.

There are no distinguishing marks on this article to give a clue as to its age or place of manufacture, except that the cloth is made of natural flax linen.

It would be interesting to learn of any other similar article, and any other identifying features that would give a clue as to the towel's place of manufacture, and approximate era in which it was on sale.

Were the proverbs well known to the Maori? Several of my Maori octogenarian friends who have inspected it, can cast no light on the sayings. For those who find the wording on the article difficult to read, I have printed out the sayings.
Youth talks, age teaches
Little dogs make the most noise
Wishing never filled the game bag
A fine food house doesn’t fill itself
An idle young man - an unhappy old man
A bad thing usually costs a lot
A pigeon won’t fly into an open mouth
Great griefs are silent
The widest mouth has the widest grave
Time to dream when you are dead
Chase two Moas, catch none
Never be late for a battle to win it
An obedient wife commands her warrior
Beauty won’t fill the puku (stomach)
A wise man knows pain
One rotten fish, one fresh fish - two rotten fish
The god of evil and the god of fear are good friends
A warrior without courage has a blunt taiga (spear)
The brighter the clearing the darker the shadows
Todays meal is better than tomorrow’s tangi (feast)
No twigs on the fire - no flame

Friday, 21 June 2019

Kaimai Road (Part 3)

Pile for new Hairini bridge, 80 feet long, weighed 13 tons,
fallen off its trailer on the Kaimai road, c 1950s
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 08-018
When the Minister of Public Works in the first Labour Government, Robert Semple, addressed the Kaimai road labourers in March 1937, he was greeted with enthusiastic applause. And no wonder: he had just told his audience that one navvy was worth ten bankers. (Exceptions to this praise were those the Minister called ‘dissipators’, i.e. drinkers and gamblers, who would be an unwelcome influence in the work camps.) Rather than struggling as relief workers on a stingy dole, the navvies – 40 of them, with the likelihood of an increase to 100 – were being paid a decent wage, and were acknowledged to be doing essential work. Perhaps as a result, progress on the road was described by the Bay of Plenty Times on 19 March 1937 as ‘excellent’ and ‘wonderful’. In December of the same year, the paper stated that the estimated cost of the Kaimai Road would be £63,000, £5,500 of which was to come from Tauranga County Council, and that the works would take about two years to complete.

Kaimai Road, taken by the Richardson family, 17 Nov 1947
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 02-022
This sounds like a happy ending to the story of the Kaimai Road. However, its steep and winding sections, its elevation, and its gravel surface continued to challenge motorists right through the 1960s and 1970s. Even in the 21st century it can be daunting to the timid driver. State Highway 29 now carries heavy freight to and from the Port of Tauranga, and traffic volumes that Bob Semple and his contemporaries could not even have imagined. Closures and delays due to adverse weather, rock falls, or serious crashes still happen. Travellers, take note:

While a novice was driving a car
Down the Kaimais, his son said, “Papa!
If you drive at this rate
We’re bound to be late.
Drive faster!” He did – and they are.
(Please contact us if you know who is responsible for this verse, as we would love to make proper acknowledgement.)

New cutting at the top of the Kaimai road, 1963
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 04-037

Friday, 14 June 2019

The Te Puna Patriotic League stands up for itself – Mary Munro and Florence Lochhead

Plummers Point. Image courtesy of WBOPDC
Uncertainty, fear and controversy characterised not only military issues during World War I.  They were at work on the Home Front as well.

Men of the Farmers’ Union, galvanised by Te Puna settler Tom Lochhead, were not slow to review their stocks of “waggons, horses, and forage” [1] in August 1914. The townspeople of Tauranga, however, seemed reluctant and slow [2] to commit to putting civilian society on a war footing. Ad hoc activities – local committees [3], private donations [4] - got under way, but it was not long before these voluntary efforts came under scrutiny from central authority. Against a background of increasing pressure to recruit volunteer soldiers, and then conscripted ones, the powers that be also bent their attention to the proper regulation, control and “unification” [5] of volunteers running patriotic funds. The War Funds Act 1915 constituted the National War Funds Council to supervise the process.

While the realities of war became starker [6], so the practical energies of the community gained focus. As another Te Puna settler, Mary Munro, was later to say in public, the work of the patriots at home came to be a curious mixture of jollity overlaying more sober emotions, including the constant threat of bad news. In July 1916, the same month that Mary’s son Niol was wounded and her second son Robert went to camp, the Te Puna Patriotic League announced its intention to have regular socials, “as near as possible to the full moon each month”.

Mary became President of the League. The socials took place in the Te Puna Schoolroom, by permission of the School Committee (Tom was its Chairman). Tom’s daughter Florence, known to her family as Flo, became League Secretary. Two of her brothers were now at the Front. And due to the status of the Lochhead home as Te Puna’s Post and Telegraph Office, Florence and her mother Elizabeth were always the first to know of telegrams. The solid community network that existed in Te Puna was put to work, not only on the emotional drain of sustaining morale among its families, but also on maintaining the League’s independent existence.

For the forces of centralised bureaucracy were gathering. In November 1916 a charm attack from a pair of Auckland ladies - Mrs Gunson, Mayoress of Auckland and President of that city’s Patriotic League, and Secretary Miss Spedding - had their invitation to ‘affiliate’ the Tauranga League as a branch of a larger, Auckland, whole accepted after some misgivings [7]. But the Te Puna League was less easy to convince. They were in any event deeply involved in organising their first, very successful, Monster Picnic and Sale of Work on Mr Plummer’s paddock at Te Puna Point (now known as Plummer’s Point). It will have done their cause no harm to show that they were capable of a feat of organisation on a scale that involved stalls, games, raffles, competitions, refreshments, at least one bag-piper, and a launch service from and back to Tauranga [8].

Pressure to ‘affiliate’ continued through 1917. Poor Florence battled gamely on, sometimes calling Te Puna a branch league in advertising its meetings and fundraisers, other times not; a third brother, Tom Junior, went to war in April. By August she had had enough. Te Puna farmer A D Bear took over as secretary of the League.  But by then the implications of s. 40 of the War Legislation Amendment Act had filtered out to Te Puna. This allowed the Minister of Internal Affairs to approve separate, stand-alone funds rather than compelling them to be part of a larger whole.

No doubt impressed by the joint efforts of Mary, Florence, and possibly Mr Bear, the Minister issued the Te Puna Patriotic League with just such approval in October 1917. This was in good time for the organisation of a second Monster Picnic six months later, along similar lines to the first, but bigger and brighter than ever.

Image courtesy of Papers Past
At some point during the tumult and the shouting, Mary Munro was invited to speak. With still a trace of a Tyneside accent [9], she thanked “those present both for their attendance and for the manner in which they had contributed to the sale. All had hoped last year that it would not be necessary to hold another sale, but unfortunately it was still necessary, and maybe again next year. They had to blend pleasure with duty and she felt sure all would help to make the effort a pronounced success.”

Mary’s point was entirely lost on the editor of the Bay of Plenty Times. Without apparent irony, he congratulated her League on exceeding the total raised at the previous event, abjuring them: “Keep at it Te Puna! Next year we shall not let you off with less than £150, so save up your pennies.

It proved, after all, to be unnecessary to hold another sad gala. About June 1919 the Te Puna Patriotic League wound up, as all the other Patriotic Leagues were doing. Work on hand went to local hospitals and homes for the returning servicemen. Niol Munro’s wounds never healed, and both William and Tom Lochhead died in France.  Both Niol and Norman Lochhead died young. Robert Munro was not demobilised until 1920, and he stayed on the farm at Te Puna for the rest of his life.

Florence married George Chapman at the Te Puna Memorial Hall in 1931. Mary Munro was a wedding guest; A D Bear played the music for the ceremony.


[1] Meeting at the Farmers’ Trading Agency,
[2] Letter to the Editor,
[3] Tauranga Ladies Hospital Ship Committee,
[4] Close Bros of Te Puna’s donation of horses,
[5] Speech by J H Gunson, Mayor of Auckland,
[6] Letter from hospital ship “Lan Franc”,
[8] Advertisement,
[9]  Mary was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne on 26 June 1865.  She died in Tauranga in 1951.