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Daniel Mundy: From Christchurch to Hokitika

September 9th, 2020 By Deidra Sullivan
The second of two blog posts looking at how the Turnbull collections informed production and set design of 'The Luminaries' television miniseries. Deidra Sullivan, Curator, Photographic Archive, explores the landscape photography of Daniel Louis Mundy.

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.

At the edge of the water in Hokitika township with wooden jettys and sailing ships at dock.
Gibson Quay is one of several images of Hokitika seen in the fourth album of Mundy's photographs. Ref: PA1-f-042. Alexander Turnbull Library.

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.

Two men appear to stop for tea along a rocky road high in the mountains, their horse is also shown in the frame.
A detail from page 10 of the second album. Handwritten on verso: "Summit of Porters Pass, West Coast road. Canterbury. 3,000 feet above the sea." Ref: Pa1-f-040_10. Alexander Turnbull Library.

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.

Rugged and rocky road beside a creek that leads up and over a pass in the distance. A buggy is on the side of the road on the left of the image.
Detail from page 13 in Mundy's second album, showing the rugged terrain on which he travelled along with his mobile darkroom. Ref: Pa1-f-040_13. Alexander Turnbull Library.

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…”.

A wooden building is seen with horse and carriage out front along with a few men posing for the camera.
Otira Gorge Hotel, with Mundy's travelling darkroom out front, 11 March, 1868. Note on the back of the file print reads: "Otira Gorge Hotel with Cobb's coach leaving for Christchurch. Walter Ray was the licensee. Photo taken by D L Mundy and Shepard driving the coach". Ref: PA1-o-094-39. Alexander Turnbull Library.

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.

On a street lined with wooden buildings a horse and rider stand sideways to the camera, plus there are a number of pedestrians visible on the footpaths.
Looking along Revell Street, Hokitika, 2 March, 1868. The Bull & Mouth Hotel is on the left. Photograph taken by Daniel Louis Mundy. Ref: PA1-f-041-38. Alexander Turnbull Library.

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.”

A faded map of the town showing lots available to purchase.
Plan of the town of Hokitika, drawn by John Rochfort. Christchurch [N.Z.]: Ward & Reeves, lith., 1866. Alexander Turnbull Library.

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.

A black and white photo of the Pink Terraces with a boat and two men in the frame.
The Pink Terrace, Rotomahana, photographed ca 1869 by Daniel Louis Mundy. This image was exhibited in the New Zealand Pavilion at the Philadelphia Exhibition 1876, as catalogue number 27, "The Otukapuarangi or Pink Terrace, Rotomahana". Ref: PA1-f-042-22. Alexander Turnbull Library.

‘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.

Excerpt from the page of a newspapers showing an advertisement.
Mundy's photographs were sometimes sold as part of an ‘Art Union Lottery’ as seen in this advertismenet in The Star (18 May 1868).

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.

Dark green leather bound photo album cover with the words "New Zealand".
The second photo album of Mundy's photographs taken in the 1860s and 1870s of the South Island. Captions have been hand-written by Mundy on verso of each page. Ref: PA1-f-040. Alexander Turnbull Library.
Greenish sticker on the inner cover of the photo album showing where it was bound: London Stereoscopic Company.
Three of the albums contain labels on the interior front cover, from the London Stereoscopic Company; 110 & 108 Regent Street; "Photographers to the Royal Family".

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.

A man seated on a hill overlooking Auckland city with wooden buildings and dirt streets.
A detail from page 2 of the fourth album showing Auckland. Ref: PA1-f-042_02a. Alexander Turnbull Library.

See the Mundy albums online


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’.

The Luminaries | Production design and set decoration

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