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The objects of colonial Auckland

The objects of colonial Auckland tell the stories of a very different city - one with horse-drawn carriages, gun stores, and trades that have been superseded by modern technology.

Writing Desk, 1860s. Anton Seuffert (1815-1887), carvings by Anton Teutenberg (1840-1933). Made in Auckland City.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 1932.233.

From the world to the South Pacific

After setting down to a new life in New Zealand, the colonists began to crave objects from their homeland (usually Britain). Those who could afford it surrounded themselves with all the creature comforts. It set off a roaring trade in imported goods, with the new entrepreneurs supplying the colonists with imported drugs and chemicals, factory-made toys, and the latest Victorian fashions from the finest London houses. Tobacconist Berwin and Mendelsson even catered to "gentlemen wishing to indulge in a prime Havanna Cigar".

Tradespeople in demand

From shipbuilders to bookbinders, skilled tradespeople were appreciated in the colony. Tradespeople who set up shop in Auckland would import raw materials as well as final products. However, they also found use for materials found in their new land - such as rimu, kauri gum, and even huia feathers and beaks.

Cabinetmaker Anton Seuffert was noted for his use of local flora and fauna as patterns, as well as intricate landscape depictions. His skill, sense of design and proportion made his work highly sought after. Mary Jane Milne was an experienced milliner when she and her sister Charlotte purchased a haberdashery and drapery business, eventually expanding to become the department store Milne and Choyce.

The arts at home

In Victorian times, all manner of natural objects were very popular as ornaments, both artificial and real. It was all the rage for young women in the mid-1800s to make ornaments by hand using materials such as feathers, shells, wool, beads and wax. For sailors, creating scrimshaw - carving or engraving an animal bone, tooth or tusk - provided a way to pass time on long and lonely journeys.

Another artistic pastime was watercolour painting, which was extremely popular in the 19th century due to the mastery of watercolourists like Joseph Turner. No Victorian wall was complete without at least one picture. Wallpapers were also very fashionable - plain was 'out' and fancy was 'in'. 

Learn more about colonial Auckland

Explore the gallery of Auckland 1866 (a replica of an early Queen Street) to learn more about the objects of the period and those who created, traded, and used them.


To enjoy all the interactive elements of the colonial Auckland tour we recommend you use the Chrome or Safari web browsers.

View full screen

Tips for navigating

  • Use the map and icons to jump to a location, or press the grey 'X' above the map to close it
  • Zoom in and out using the scroll button on your mouse, and move around using the on-screen arrows
  • Browse through the shops using the menu in the top right corner
  • Look out for blue outlines - these mean you can click on an object or storefront to learn more about it

Cite this article

Peirse, Allison. The objects of colonial Auckland. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 13 October 2015. Updated: 4 December 2015.
URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/discover/collections/topics/the-objects-of-colonial-auckland

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