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Auckland turns 175: early depictions of the city

Auckland turns 175: early depictions of the city

By Andrea Stevens
Fri, 23 Jan 2015

Many of the beautiful cities of the world began on the edge of a protected harbour. Auckland is no exception. In 1840, the local chiefs of Ngāti Whātua invited colonial governor William Hobson to establish a capital on the banks of their land in Waitemātā. Changes in politics and power led to the capital being moved to Wellington in 1865, but not before Auckland was well-established as a trading, land speculation and mission town.

Among the oral and written histories that record Auckland’s beginnings, are the visual histories: paintings and drawings by professional artists and talented amateurs. We have selected three depictions of the early city and harbour held in our Pictorial Collections to celebrate the city's 175th anniversary.

Amateur artist John Johnson

The creator of these two impressions of early Auckland, John Johnson (1794-1848), was one of the colonial officials, a doctor and amateur artist. In his book Painting the Frontier: The Art of New Zealand's Pioneers, author David Filer explains how Johnson "had been appointed Colonial Surgeon in Sydney and soon after arriving in New Zealand had treated Hobson, who suffered a stroke in March 1840."

Filer notes how the work of the amateur artists showed their fascination with the dramatic landscape, and how they contributed to a body of work that showed "life on the edge of the New Zealand frontier".

Johnson, John 1794-1848. (n.d.) Auckland Harbour [from Ponsonby].

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira. PD-1963-8-9.

View this photo on our library catalogue

Auckland Harbour from behind the Council Chamber.

Johnson, John 1794-1848Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PD-1963-8-8.

View this photo on our library catalogue

Artist and architect Edward Ashworth

Wikipedia records Edward Ashworth (1814-1896) as "an artist and architect from Devon, England, considered to be the West Country's leading ecclesiastical architect". During 1842-46 he travelled to New Zealand and Hong Kong, and drew places and buildings around colonial Auckland. Auckland Art Gallery hold several from this period and even one of a modest house he designed for himself.

This 1843 painting, held in the Museum's collection, shows early Queen Street with its colonial government and private buildings: the Court House, the Stocks, Blue Bell Inn, the Post Office and probably the Wheat Sheaf Inn and Custom House. His building renders are fairly technical, but he shows a softness and sensitivity for the colour and spatial aspects of the landscape.

Queen Street, Auckland, 1843.

Ashworth, Edward.Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PD76.

View this photo on our library catalogue

Further reading

  • Post by: Andrea Stevens

    Andrea is a freelance features writer, author and editor. Her special interests are culture and heritage, architecture and design. She was co-author for the book Beyond the State: State Houses from Modest to Modern (Penguin, 2014).

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