Friday, 14 August 2015

Tauranga Photographers: James Bodell

James Bodell, Mayor of Tauranga, 1888-1889
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library
James Bodell (1831-1892), one time mayor of Tauranga, never had any difficulty in finding a niche for himself.  His memoirs, published in the Bay of Plenty Times newspaper and later as A Soldier's View of Empire (1982, ed. Keith Sinclair, The Bodley Head) describe numerous entrepreneurial exploits during the course of his military service in the 59th Regiment of the Imperial Forces (1848-1854) and later as a volunteer in the Waikato Militia (1863-1866).  After his discharge from the latter he settled in Tauranga where he started a cordial factory, then reformed his ways and opened a Temperance hotel (the Bellevue) on the corner of Cameron Road and Wharf Street.

Bodell took great care to recount his numerous business ventures, including a brief spell as Tauranga's first resident photographer.  During the late 1860s and early 1870s the settlement's small population was unable to provide enough business to support a permanent studio.  Soldiers, settlers, and no doubt the occasional tangata whenua, relied on the services of travelling photographers passing through, such as Charles Moeller (c1826-1923) who advertised his brief presence in the BOPT in September 1872.  Moeller was of Dutch origin, but had also served in the military during the New Zealand Wars, seeing action at Gate Pa, and it is likely he knew Bodell.

Advertisement, The Bay of Plenty Times, 4 December 1872
From the following account in his reminiscences, it seems likely that Bodell purchased Moeller's photographic equipment, as there is no record of Moeller having continued his practice after leaving the Bay of Plenty.
"The next year I turned Photographer having bought from a Photographer all his appliances and he agreed to stop with me 14 days to learn me the Photo Art.  I built a Studio and succeeded very well.  Had several engagements to photo dead Maori Chiefs and Natives in groups.  These jobs always paid me well."
Although he does not provide dates for this period of his career, events described before and after imply that it must have been in the early 1870s.  Correspondingly, the BOPT published the advertisement shown above on 30 November 1872,
"Photography. J. BODELL'S STUDIO IS NOW OPEN. Photographs at Auckland prices."

Carte de visite portrait by R.H. Bartlett Studio, Auckland, c. late 1870s
Images Collection of Brain Watkins House

The reference to Auckland prices was, of course, Bodell's challenge to the Auckland studio photographer R.H. Bartlett, whose advert appeared directly below his.  In other words, there was no longer any need for a local resident to travel by boat to Auckland or wait for the next itinerant photographer to visit to have your portrait taken, as Mr Bodell would be happy to provide the service.

The advert continued to appear twice weekly for six weeks until 8 January 1873 after which, just as suddenly, it ceased.  Bodell's account continues:
"The following year I bought the lease of the whole of the Land my shop stood on and erected a large Store.  The Studio I shifted to the line of Streets next to my new Store and made additions to the Studio as to make it a shop 30 feet x 18.  This I let for 20/- per week and sold my photo apparatus and gave my attention to merchandise."
It appears that Tauranga still had insufficient numbers of potential clients to support a permanent studio.  The town would not have a full-time resident photographer until the Watkins Brothers arrived in April 1876 and formed another short-lived business, The Tauranga and Hot Lake Photographic Company.


Obituary of Charles Moeller in "Personal Items," Hawera & Normanby Star, 14 August 1923, Courtesy of Papers Past

Auckland Libraries Photographers Database: Robert Henry Bartlett, Charles Moeller, Charles Spencer

Giles, Keith (2013) Unpublished notes on Charles Henry Kennett Watkins (1847-1933), By kind courtesy of the author.

Sinclair, Keith (1982) A Soldier's View of Empire: The Reminiscences of James Bodell, 1831-92, London: The Bodley Head, 216p.

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