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John Watt Beattie's south and western Pacific views

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John Watt Beattie's south and western Pacific views

View photographs of South and Western Pacific life taken by J. W. Beattie in 1906. The original glass plate images are digitised for easy viewing.

Native fishing station. Pirihadi Bay, Ysabel, Solomon islands, 1906.

Beattie, J. W. (1906)Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-NEG-5052.

Preserving 1,300 glass plate negatives

In 1933 Auckland Museum purchased, for the grand sum of £25, a series of some 1300 glass plate negatives from Beattie's Studios Pty. Ltd., Hobart, Tasmania. The negatives were the work of photographer John Watt Beattie, taken during an expedition to the South and Western Pacific in 1906. It is a sad irony that later that year Beattie's Studio was destroyed by fire, leading to the loss of many of his other negatives, such as those documenting Tasmanian history.

Beattie's early studio in Hobart

John Watt Beattie was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. The family came out to Tasmania 1878 where his father John Beattie Senior (formerly an Aberdeen photographer) bought a farm. J. W. Beattie's brother William moved to Auckland in 1894 and opened a studio there. J. W. Beattie's own studio, Beattie's Studios, Hobart had become a substantial photographic studio producing high quality portraits and scenic photography. He died in 1930 but the photographic business continued.

Sharper dry plate photography

J. W. Beattie's images show remarkable clarity and detail having mostly been taken on full-plate (216 × 165 mm) and half-plate (114 × 140 mm) glass. He recorded people and places at a time when few documentary photographs of the region had been made. The advantage of using dry plate photography (his father had originally trained him in wet plate) was shorter, more precise exposures that could capture sharp subjects without as much motion blur. Dry plate photography was also more convenient because the plates didn't have to be prepared or processed immediately.

Norfolk, Vanikolo and Solomon Islands

Subjects range from Norfolk Island buildings and scenery, Vanikolo Island canoes in the Santa Cruz Islands, a vast selection of Solomon Island residents engaged in fishing, food preparation and general village life as well as photographs relating to church work including the Melanesian Mission.

Father and child. Lakona, Santa Maria, Banks Group.

Beattie, J. W. (1906)Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira.

A diary from his 1906 expedition

Beattie described his voyage in a diary he kept on the 1906 expedition. He wrote on 7 November:

I photographed the village church, houses, boys, girls, women, young and old men, and also all the views I could set my eyes on, and then they loaded me with cooked breadfruit, and carried me into the boat when it came back again, in fact did for me more than ever I could ask for or think for, and all for nothing! What more could a man want - I was only sorry I had so few plates left.

- Beattie, John Watt. Diary, 1906, MS-1045, typescript from Royal Society of Tasmania diary, RS29/3.

Photographs published in catalogues

He published several catalogues of his photographs such as, Catalogue of a Series of Photographs Illustrating the Scenery and Peoples of the Islands in the South and Western Pacific and another called Catalogue of Views of Melanesia and Norfolk Island.

Gamal in school village. Te Motu, Santa Cruz.

Beattie, J. W. (1906)Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Our digital versions provide easy access

The original negatives have been individually catalogued and digitised as part of a project to improve access to this large collection of rare and unique images. These beautiful images are now easy to look at despite being kept in cold storage for long-term preservation. Our collection information technician Lucy Gable has meticulously recorded and carefully handled each one, presenting them in both negative and positive (print equivalent) views.

A J. W. Beattie full-plate negative being viewed over a lightbox.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Cite this article

Higgins, Shaun. John Watt Beattie's south and western Pacific views. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 20 May 2015. Updated: 3 July 2015.

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