Friday, 12 June 2015

Tauranga Photographers: Robert Walter Meers

Probably Ada Kate Teasey nee Brain (1874-1950)
Mounted studio portrait by R.W. Meers, Tauranga, taken c.1909-1915
Image © and courtesy of the Brain Watkins House Collection
This portrait of one of the daughters of Joseph and Kate Brain, probably the eldest Ada, born in 1874, was taken around 1909-1915, and on the reverse is marked with the stamp of Tauranga photographer Robert Walter Meers.

R.W. Meers settled in Tauranga with his wife and three children in 1905, moving from Christchurch where he had operated a successful photographic studio for two decades.  Thomas E. Price, Tauranga's only photographer since 1897, was married to Meers' sister Anne and this may be one of the reasons for Meers removal to Tauranga after his home in Christchurch burnt down in April 1903.

A.E. Hammond's timber yard, Willow Street, Tauranga, c.1910
The back of Meers' studio visible at centre right, with large windows on 2nd story
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 99-1140
Meers bought a property on the Wairoa river and initially operated a private hotel named Bellevue House on Wharf street.  However in November 1909, a month after the death of his father William Denne Meers, a successful Christchurch draper, Robert Meers opened a well appointed new studio behind Norris & Bell's buildings on The Strand.

Norris & Bell Land Agents,
The passage to Hammond's Timber Yard and R.W. Meers' Excelsior Art Studio at right
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 99-1147
The Bay of Plenty Times of 10 December 1909 published a detailed description of the studio premises and the equipment in use.  The photographic studio shown in the photograph below is one used by James McAllister in Stratford in 1905, but would have been very similar to that described by Meers.

Sarah Coombridge and Christina McAllister working in James McAllister's studio in Stratford.
McAllister, James, 1869-1952 :Negatives of Stratford and Taranaki district. Ref: 1/1-010137-G.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
"There is now to be seen in Messrs Norris and Bell's buildings one of the most up-to-date studios to be found outside the large towns. The suite of apartments are occupied by Mr. R.W. Meers, and comprises six rooms on two floors, viz., vestibule, dressing-room, finishing-room, work-room, studio and dark-room. Entrance is obtained from the Strand through a long passage, the customer entering a neatly furnished vestibule. The dressing room is cles [sic] handy, fitted with all necessary conveniences, and immediately adjoining is the finishing and retouching room. A carpeted staircase leads to the studio, 32 feet in length and 12 feet in breadth. This apartment, is of course, the principal one, and is beautifully lit with two skylights having a surface of rolled plate-glass 64 feet square. Two side-lights on the southern side, each measuring 8 feet by 6 feet, are also provided, while in the construction ventilation has received every attention. The skylights are fitted with two sets of blinds - black and white - so as to enable the operator to secure the most delicate lighting for any class of subject. The walls are decorated in neutral green, so as to relieve the glare of light from the sitters' eyes. Linoleum of a design to match covers the floor and shows at once that Mr Meers has blended colours in this most important compartment in a most tasteful manner."

Unidentified child, Gunson Collection, taken c. 1909-1910
Cabinet card by R.W. Meers of Tauranga, mounted on old Christchurch card stock
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection
"Mr Meers possesses a local reputation as an artist and intends to make the vignetting and backgrounds a special feature of the room and to have a complete set of changes in this department. The furniture and accessories are also to be of the very latest designs. In photography the instrument is a prime factor for the production of high class work, and in the Excelsior art studio is to be seen a 'Hare' camera in mahogany of the very latest British make, fitted with an instantaneous shutter, working inside the instrument, which enables the operator to take pleasant and natural expressions without the sitter being aware of the fact that the portrait has been taken, while restless babies are no longer a trouble to the photographer and mother when this instrument is in operation. The lens is an important accessory, the instrument being fitted with a Dallmeyer 3 B instantaneous lens having a 4-inch aperture."

New Patent Field Camera, c.1888, George Hare, London, England
Image © and courtesy of
"Just off the studio is the dark room, which is specially designed and fitted with ruby and orange lights.  In addition there is a special, enlarging apparatus fitted with a Ross' lens, which will throw pictures to full life size up to six feet in height.  This apartment has a water supply laid on, and is connected with the drainage system below.  the above brief description will convey some idea to readers of the establishment where Mr Meers will be pleased to meet customers from now onward.  The construction work has been carried out in a most workmanlike manner by Messrs Krakosky and Appleton, two builders from the South Island who have settled in Tauranga, while the decorations have been executed in a most finished manner by Messrs Stewart and Shaw."

Advertisement for R.W. Meers & Co.'s Excelsior Art Studio
from the Bay of Plenty Times, 7 January 1910
Image courtesy of Papers Past
Meers' studio burnt down in the Strand fire of 12 November 1916, but he resumed operating shortly afterwards, and continued to do so until he sold the business to R.J. Rendell, father of Alf Rendell, in 1926.

Headstone for Robert Walter Meersand Maud Margaret Meers, Anglican Cemetery, Tauranga
Image © 2015 Brett Payne
Robert Walter Meers died on 27 January 1929, and is buried with his wife Maud Margaret in the Anglican cemetery, Tauranga.

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