Auckland Museum is on a quest to discover who the people are in a collection of early New Zealand photographs. Can you help us with our search? Read on to find out more. 

These 110-year-old photographs were discovered recently after some glass plate negatives were digitised at Auckland Museum. The glass plate negatives were donated to the Museum in 2016. 
The images give a remarkable insight into a New Zealand before living memory. They depict a range of people, places and scenes of domestic life that would have been familiar to a cross-section of pākehā society at the time. 
Like all good detective stories, the collection poses more questions than it answers. Who were the people in these pictures? Did they know each other? Why were they taken and what events were being recorded? Did the subjects know the photographer? Why are there only 120 negatives remaining from a period of nearly 15 years? 
When they were donated, Museum staff noted that the negatives had been purchased in the 1970s at Auckland’s City Market, an area which is now occupied by Aotea Square. Unfortunately, no other details about the negatives were recorded and the negatives’ origins became lost over time. 
Auckland Museum Assistant Curator of Documentary Heritage Ian Proctor is turning to the public to help solve this mystery and give back identity to the subjects and their photographer. 
In seeking to identify the people featured, Ian hopes to find the connection between them and finally discover the story behind this collection.
Do you recognise anyone in these images? If so, please contact [email protected] with details. 

Below we've posted some of the images with descriptions and what we can ascertain from looking at them, such as the place and time the photo was taken. 

Regardless of whether you recognise anyone, we hope you enjoy perusing these photos of a bygone era. 

Four women, probably related to each other, pose for a semi-formal photograph in a garden. Portraiture, often taken outside a studio, was common for this photographer. PH-2019-13-4-3

An unknown young man rides a ‘safety-bicycle’ through a garden. Informal leisure scenes are mixed with styled portraits. PH-2019-13-8-7

A baby in an ornate wicker pram. Several generations of one or perhaps several families may be represented in this collection. PH-2019-13-7-16

A women poses with her horse. Animals feature prominently in this collection, with cats, dogs, cows and pigs featuring alongside the horses. PH-2019-13-7-17

(More images below)

The varied quality of the images, along with developing errors, reveal that they were taken by an amateur. However, the staging and arrangement of some clearly suggest the photographer was influenced by and wanted to create photographs in the style of professional studio photographers. Inexperienced technique has also resulted in the condition of the negatives deteriorating over time, which is seen on some of the images.
There is little to identify the photographer or his subjects. Whether there is a connection between the sitters of the anonymous portraits is unknown, especially as they cover a variety of social classes and backgrounds. Some are intimate for the times and hint at a possible family connection between the photographer and sitter. It is these portraits which have given the collection its charm, and which are the most intriguing. 

A distinguished, wealthy couple pose in the living room of a grand house. PH-2019-13-5-4

Three women, and their pet Jack Russell, sit on the back steps of a seemingly more modest house. PH-2019-13-8-2

A young man seated in a chair in a garden. PH-2019-13-8-3

A group of children have a picnic on the beach. PH-2019-13-8-17

A group of people possibly agricultural workers, with their dogs, pose or a photograph in a bush clearing. PH-2019-13-8-19

A young women in summer clothes, walks across a hilly landscape. PH-2019-13-6-1

An unidentified rugby team. PH-2019-13-6-15

Two women and a man, with arms around each, walk up a track, possibly on Rangitoto Island. PH-2019-13-8-16   

Three men relax in a park. The younger of the men cradles a young child between his legs. PH-2019-13-3-13

Three women paddle at the beach. One is cheekily ‘showing some leg’ to the photographer. PH-2019-13-5-9

Despite not knowing the people featured, there are a few tantalizing clues to the origins of the photographs and photographer. Known locations and events have identified the collection as dating from the very early 20th century, approximately 1900-1920. Views of the construction of Auckland’s electric tramway and the return of soldiers from the South African Wars suggest that many date to 1901-2.  Given the concentration of Auckland-based subjects, the photographer was probably a resident of the city.

Image caption: The construction of the Auckland Electric Tramway Company’s power house. This building, now demolished, was built on Lower Hobson Street between September 1901 and November 1902 and provided power to Auckland’s new electric tram network. PH-2019-13-4-2

Built on Jermyn Street (where Anzac Street is now) between June 1901 and early 1902, Admiralty House was intended to be accommodation for the Admiral commanding the New Zealand Station. The lack of landscaping and road layout suggests this photograph was taken soon after its completion. PH-2019-13-4-16

The Auckland Garrison Artillery Band plays on Queen’s Wharf, Auckland, welcoming back soldiers from the South African War c.1902. PH-2019-13-4-9   

Queens Wharf as seen from Queen Street, 1902. Ships are dressed for an occasion, either in honour of returning soldiers or for the Coronation of Edward VII, held in August 1902. PH-2019-13-8-20

A swimming competition at Auckland’s graving (dry) dock, situated on lower Albert Street. This dry dock was used as a swimming pool until the construction of the Tepid Baths in 1914. PH-2019-13-8-4

Intriguingly, photographs taken within the Auckland synagogue hint that the photographer might have had a connection to the Jewish community.

Image caption: The interior of the former Auckland synagogue, situated on Princes Street. Designed by notable Auckland architect Edward Bartley, the synagogue was in use from 1885 until 1969. PH-2019-13-7-7

A rabbi, believed to be Rabbi Samuel Aaron Goldstein seen in the robing room of the Auckland Synagogue. Goldstein was rabbi to the Auckland Hebrew congregation for 54 years, from 1880 to 1934. PH-2019-13-5-1

Images of Takapuna, then a quiet holiday retreat popular with wealthy Aucklanders, suggests that the photographer may have owned a bach by the beach. Yet travel was not always local, and photographs were taken at recognisable locations in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

Image caption: Two young women sit on the rocks below the pier at Takapuna beach. PH-2019-13-5-8

A family group appear to be selling refreshments to passers-by at Takapuna. PH-2019-13-7-9

The Malfroy geyser, a long-established tourist spot, in Government Gardens, Rotorua. Other photographs taken during the visit to Rotorua tell us this holiday took place between 1908 and 1911. PH-2019-13-1-5

The Waikato River seen from the bridge over the Huka Falls. PH-2019-13-1-15 

The full set can be found here: