Daniel Mundy: From Christchurch to HokitikaSeptember 9th, 2020 By Deidra Sullivan
Nineteenth century New Zealand through the lens of Daniel Louis Mundy
When designers Felicity Abbott and Dan Stirt needed visual references for the construction of 'The Luminaries' Hokitika set, they turned to Daniel Mundy’s 1868 photographs of his Christchurch to Hokitika journey.
When first created, the work of nineteenth century photographers such as Mundy played a significant role in shaping settlers’ understanding of their environment, as well as providing evidence of the ongoing industrial and urban development of the new colony.
Inspiration for ‘The Luminaries’ miniseries
Today, these photos extend to communicating the circumstances of nineteenth century life in New Zealand to a contemporary audience through productions such as 'The Luminaries'.
The Alexander Turnbull Library holds four albums of photographs taken by Mundy between 1860 and 1871, as well as individual prints held as parts of other collections. The photographs taken by Mundy in early 1868 on the recently opened West Coast road between Christchurch and Hokitika form a significant part of these albums.
A rugged terrain
By his own reckoning, Mundy travelled 200 miles between Christchurch and Hokitika, before doing the journey in reverse. With him travelled all the chemical and physical equipment required to create photographs in the field using the wet plate collodion process, the predominant photographic process of the time.
His mobile darkroom included a tent, cameras, tripod, chemicals, and glass plates – which had to be coated with chemicals and exposed before they dried.
West Coast road
The endurance and determination required by the wet plate process seem equally matched by the demands the landscape placed on travellers.
While the West Coast road had opened in 1866, for Mundy to travel between Christchurch and Hokitika was still no small undertaking. Giving a presentation to the Photographic Society of Great Britain in London, in 1874, Mundy said of his journey:
…I was ten days camping on the banks of the Otira River, during a heavy fall of snow, hail and sleet, before I dare attempt to cross it, it was so flooded with ice cold water coming down from the Alps. I frequently had to ford one river many times, on one occasion no less than twenty-three times … [and often] had to ride many miles wet to the skin before finding a convenient place for camping down for the night. — Photographic News for amateur photographers v. 18 (1874)
The landscape, however, was immense in its beauty: “…the snow-capped peaks and the gorgeous foliage of the virgin forests, showing the beautiful rata trees in their intense foliage one mass of crimson…”.
Bustling Hokitika in 1868
By the beginning of March 1868, Mundy had traversed the South Island. In 'Looking along Revell Street, Hokitika', he shows us a thriving commercial centre. Commercial premises include the Bull & Mouth Tavern, The London & Paris Shoe & Boot Emporium, and John Lewis Ironmonger, among others.
This commercial hub of Hokitika had not been in existence a mere four years earlier. The discovery of gold in the Taramakau Valley in 1864 caused an influx of prospectors, with the population growing to 6,000 by 1866.
A plan of Hokitika, drawn up by the surveyor John Rochfort and also held by the Turnbull Library, shows sections along the coastline and Hokitika River “to be offered at the first sale.”
The photograph 'Gibson Quay' (the first image in this blog), was taken by Mundy on the same day as 'Looking along Revell Street', and was also a key reference image for 'The Luminaries' set design. While the wharf does not look particularly busy in Mundy’s 1868 photograph, Hokitika was, at this time, one of the busiest in New Zealand with over 40 vessels in port at any one time.
Rotomahana and the Boiling Springs of New Zealand
While Mundy maintained several studios during the 1860s-70s, a large portion of the work he created was of the New Zealand landscape. As well as the ‘Alpine views’ of the South Island, he produced photographs of the central north island thermal areas (later published as Rotomahana and the Boiling Springs of New Zealand, 1875), the goldfields of Thames, many of the major cities, Poverty Bay, Hokianga and the Bay of Plenty.
‘There will be no blanks’
The sale and distribution of Mundy’s ‘scenic’ or ‘views’ photography would have formed a significant part of his income. His photographs were sometimes sold as part of an ‘Art Union Lottery’. An advertisement in The Star (18 May 1868), advises that participants may purchase tickets for one guinea each, with the winner able to choose 36 pictures, and every ticket holder receiving at least one picture.
Mundy’s photographs would also have travelled: the Otago Witness (27 February 1864), writing about an earlier exhibition of Mundy’s scenic work, noted that his “…views are decidedly interesting even to residents, and they would be more so to friends at home. The pictures are of two sizes – some for the stereoscope, and the others fitted for a portfolio or even for framing.”
Mundy often exhibited his work – in the 1870 Canterbury Art Exhibition, for example, as well as in Melbourne during the 1870s, and during his time in Britain in 1874.
Four bound volumes of photographs
Three of the Mundy albums were purchased by the Turnbull Library in a 1970 auction, from London based Antiquarian booksellers Maggs Brothers. They in turn had acquired the material from the estate of Kenneth Webster, a New Zealand born art dealer also based in London.
These three albums all contain labels on the interior front cover, from the London Stereoscopic Company; 110 & 108 Regent Street; "Photographers to the Royal Family". The company operated at the Regent Street address between 1865-1889.
Possibly Mundy had the albums bound there when he visited the United Kingdom in 1874, or they could have been bound by a client or purchaser.
The photographs in Mundy’s albums would have provided a remarkable visual experience of 19th century New Zealand for viewers in the United Kingdom, before returning home nearly a century later to help create another understanding of 19th century New Zealand for a 21st century audience.
See the Mundy albums online
- Album no. 1 — Photographs of New Zealand, both North and South Islands. Ref: PA1-f-039
- Album no. 2 — All but one photo taken in the South Island. Ref: PA1-f-040
- Album no. 3 — Photographs of the North Island taken during the 1860s to 1871. Ref: PA1-f-041
- Album no. 4 — Photographs of New Zealand during the 1860s (some dated 1868), and about 1870. Ref: PA1-f-042
Read part 1 — The Luminaries | Production design and set decoration
In part one of this series we talked to production designer Felicity Abbott and set decorator Daniel Birt about their work on the TV adaptation of Eleanor Catton's award-winning novel ‘The Luminaries’.