Digging for treasure in the photo archives

When I was growing up two photographs of Pitcairn Island adorned the walls in the sunroom of my grandfather’s house. One image showed the Hare family posing with a group of Pitcairn Islanders. The other showed a longboat being pulled ashore by men and women.

Hauling out a Pitcairn longboat in Bounty Bay.Hauling out a Pitcairn longboat in Bounty Bay.

The photographs were taken in 1928 by my grandfather, Luther Hare. A wooden box of glass plate negatives taken at Pitcairn Island were kept in his garage, together with others he took in Collingwood while gold mining and in Napier after the 1931 earthquake. My mother, Margaret, donated the negatives to the Alexander Turnbull Library (PA-Group-00272). Like much of the collections, they have not yet been digitised, so finding these treasures takes a bit of ‘digging’.

Luther (at front) with Pitcairn menLuther (at front) with Pitcairn men.

The Pitcairn connection

Why was he there, taking photographs on Pitcairn Island? The Hare family’s connection with Pitcairn Island began with their early association with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In 1885 my grandfather’s grandfather, Edward Hare, of Auckland, became the first New Zealander to convert to Seventh Day Adventism. His extended family in Kaeo quickly converted to the new faith. The following year, a missionary from the USA also converted the population of Pitcairn Island to Adventism.

In June 1892, Edward Hare’s 16 year old son, Arnold, sailed from Auckland on the newly refitted Adventist mission brigantine Pitcairn. The Auckland Star lists Arnold as one of the passengers in its report of the Pitcairn’s departure. He endured a stormy 37 day journey to Pitcairn Island, arriving on 27 July. From there they carried on to Tahiti and reached their destination, San Francisco, in October 1892.

The reason for Arnold’s journey was to take up a place as a medical student at the Adventist medical college at Battle Creek, Michigan. Maui Pomare was one of his classmates. Sadly, an escapade in the snow while recovering from measles led to a serious illness which damaged his kidneys and forced him to return home to Auckland. Using the Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973 database I found that Arnold left San Francisco in May 1895 on the Royal Mail steamer Mariposa. The Mariposa called at Honolulu and Apia before arriving in Auckland on 19 June 1895.

Having abandoned his dream of becoming a doctor, Arnold instead became an electrical engineer and inventor. He manufactured and sold bicycles, including the first safety bicycles in New Zealand, from a shop at 95 Karangahape Road. A search of Papers Past shows that he advertised regularly in the Auckland Star in 1898, as seen in this example. He patented some designs and won five gold medals at the Auckland Industrial, Agricultural and Mining Exhibition 1898-1899 for exhibits of electrical apparatus made by him.

Arnold was also a talented artist. In 1891, aged fifteen, he won a gold medal for a charcoal drawing at the Auckland Society of Arts Annual Exhibition. It took some time to find evidence of this, with the newspapers misnaming him ‘Arundel’ and ‘Oswald’. He studied painting under Louis John Steele, Charles Frederick Goldie's tutor, and consistently gained higher marks than Goldie.

Arnold married Helen Coppell in 1903 and their first child, Luther Sing Hare, my grandfather, was born two years later in Auckland.

Desperation, bankruptcy and blackmail

Ill-health prevented Arnold from working regularly and, soon after marrying, he became bankrupt. Bankruptcy notices for Arnold, dated 11 April 1907 and 15 January 1909, were published in the New Zealand gazette.

In 1909 he found a potentially damaging letter belonging to a well-known firm and, in desperation, resorted to blackmail. He was charged and found guilty of blackmail and, in June 1910, was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour. I have Papers Past to thank for this revelation; bankruptcy and blackmail are not things that people usually choose to record about themselves and discovering these secrets is part of what makes family history research so addictive.

Arnold opened a shooting gallery and for a few years the growing family travelled through New Zealand. (Luther would later become a New Zealand champion and world record holder in small-bore rifle shooting.) It was probably during this period that Arnold learned the ancient art of sword swallowing. The family stayed no more than a few months at various towns, including Whangarei (1912-1913), Gisborne (1913), Dannevirke (1914) and Timaru (1914).

Restoring health, wealth and reputation

In 1916 Arnold finally had an operation to remove three jagged kidney stones, two as large as bird’s eggs. He carried the stones in his pocket for many years afterward. Arnold’s health and earning potential greatly improved from this point. By this time they were in Kaiti, Gisborne, again, where Arnold and a business partner ran a motor garage for a couple of years.

In November 1917, the Evening Post reported that “the gratifying announcement was made in the Auckland Bankruptcy Court on Tuesday that, since his bankruptcy, 13 years ago, Arnold Hare, engineer, the debtor, had paid his creditors 20s in the pound out of his own earnings. Mr. Justice Cooper observed that it was refreshing to find a bankrupt behave as the debtor had done. To say the least, it was a tribute to his honesty. Hare’s discharge was granted.”

Having found a poem of Arnold’s, published in the Free Lance of 5 September 1914, I wondered if Arnold did not go to war because he was a conscientious objector. I looked at the New Zealand Army WWI Reserve Rolls, 1916-1917 on Ancestry Library Edition and found that he was conscripted into the Second Division of the Reserve. He had an ‘F’ classification because he had five children; Luther, Douglas, Raymond, Robin and Nellie, so the nature and strength of his convictions were never tested. A sixth child, Rene, would be born in 1922.

A quarrel between Arnold and his business partner saw the family leave Gisborne in 1918 and head back up the East Coast, first to Waipiro Bay, then Tokomaru Bay and on to Ruatoria where Arnold opened another garage. Eventually, bad debts and lack of business caused the family to leave the Coast for good and move to Wellington, where Arnold took a position as garage foreman for Munt, Cottrell and Co, the city's largest carrying firm.

They finally settled in Lower Hutt where, in 1924, they built three motorbuses in their back yard. With their ‘Red and White’ buses Arnold and his sons ran a Lower Hutt - Petone - Wellington bus service. The following year the Hares teamed up with the other three bus operators to form the Hutt Combined Service. It was a hugely profitable venture and a turning point in their lives. They were so successful that, in 1927, the New Zealand Government forced the bus owners to sell their businesses to them.

The buses the Hares built and operated from 1924 to1927. L-R: Ray, Nellie, Rene, Arnold and Luther.The buses the Hares built and operated from 1924 to 1927. L-R: Ray, Nellie, Rene, Arnold and Luther.

Holiday on Pitcairn Island

Arnold’s brief visit to Pitcairn Island in his youth had impressed strongly upon his imagination and he had always wanted to go back. So, with his bus business sold, he decided to take his family to Pitcairn for a three month holiday. They placed an advertisement in the Evening Post asking for donations of clothing, books, etc., to take to the Islanders.

View of PitcairnView of Pitcairn.

Rock drawings that pre-date the Bounty’s mutineers arrival on Pitcairn Island.Rock drawings that pre-date the Bounty’s mutineers arrival on Pitcairn Island.

The Hare family sailed on the Ruahine in early July 1928 and arrived off Pitcairn Island on a dark, windy night, after nine days at sea. It took five hours for the longboats to carry the family and the many presents they had brought through the rough sea to the safety of land. Among the presents they brought were the Island’s first piano, stationary benzine engine, honey bees, New Zealand flax plants, Norfolk pines, and grapefruit. Arnold’s uncle, Robert Hare, had served as a Seventh Day Adventist minister on Pitcairn in 1924 and the Islanders welcomed the family warmly.

View of Bounty BayView of Bounty Bay with Adam's rock in the distance.

Houses on Pitcairn.Houses on Pitcairn.

Arnold and his sons attached a gasoline-powered bus engine they had brought with them to a longboat. About 350 gallons of aviation spirit had been left on the Island for a proposed round-the-world flight by famous Italian aviator Francesco de Pinedo: Arnold bought the fuel for use in the boat. Having a motorboat meant that the Islanders could intercept passing ships for trade. They named the boat the Helen Hare and, on 24 August 1928, celebrated by taking 58 people on a cruise around the island.

The motorised Helen Hare.The motorised Helen Hare

Luther used another motor to make the Island’s first wireless transmitter which enabled the Islanders to send signals to ships up to 150 miles away. On 27 August Arnold completed Pitcairn’s first business deal with New Zealand by radio. His message, agreeing to a land sale on Pitcairn on behalf of the owner, was sent by radio and “passed from ship to ship - to the City of Batavia, to the Coptic and the Rotorua, to Auckland, and finally to Wellington”.

While on Pitcairn, Luther, taught at the local school.

Luther leading an exercise class on Pitcairn IslandLuther leading an exercise class on Pitcairn Island.

Pitcairn Island School 1928Pitcairn Island School 1928.

Although it was his connection with the Seventh Day Adventist Church that had originally brought him to Pitcairn, Arnold, his wife and children were not Adventists. The Islanders, however, were dedicated Church goers and these photographs show them wearing their Saturday best.

In Church, Nellie Hare 2nd from rightIn Church, Nellie Hare 2nd from right.

Probably the Saturday School classPhotograph probably taken in the Saturday school class.

In their Saturday bestIn their Saturday best.

On his return to New Zealand Arnold gave a talk called ‘Lovely, lonely Pitcairn’ on Wellington’s 2YA radio. In an article published in the New Zealand Herald on 15 Oct 1928, Arnold stated his intention to return to Pitcairn Island in a few months. They planned to stay a couple of years or “until we get tired of the life”, with Luther and one of his brothers employed as schoolteachers.

Coutts Bros and Hare

The family never returned to Pitcairn Island. Instead they tapped into the property market, buying houses and converting them into flats. You can see advertisements for the flats in the Evening Post . Then, in February 1929, they bought the business of Messrs. Coutts Bros Ltd and formed the carrying company Coutts Bros and Hare Ltd. The business survived the Depression (though in three difficult months their 19 trucks were reduced to three). They later bought out the firm of Fitzgerald and Pearce, with premises at 197 Willis St, Wellington.

The Cocos gold and the family’s own Pitcairn

It was not long before the family was again planning an adventure on the high seas. In the early twentieth century various expeditions had attempted to locate the vast treasure that legend asserted pirates had buried on Cocos Island, off Costa Rica. When, in March 1934, a Mr McVicar claimed to have learned the location of the treasure from a fellow prisoner during a term in Costa Rican prison, the Hare family planned an expedition to find it.

In August 1934 newspapers were reporting that the Hare family would build a 40ft auxiliary ketch, ship it by ocean liner to waters close by Cocos Island, and sail the ketch from there. They planned to enlist two Pitcairn Islanders to help sail the boat. Walter Nash, Finance Minister (and, later, Prime Minister), a close friend of Arnold’s, was asked to go with them. Funding for the venture had already been obtained and in 1935 the Hares built the boat at their Aro St business premises. They named her the Pitcairn.

The PitcairnThe Pitcairn

Perhaps they discovered that McVicar’s story was untrue. Arnold died in 1938: perhaps his health deteriorated before the venture could get underway. Perhaps the family business kept them all far too busy. In 1936, the Labour Government made changes to the licensing of the carrying industry and fixed rates, and from then on Coutts Bros and Hare flourished.

Whatever the reason, the Pitcairn did not sail to Cocos Island. Using Watt’s Index to the N.Z. section of the Register of all British ships, 1840-1950, I found that my grandfather’s brother Ray registered the Pitcairn in 1938. He owned her for many years but, as far as I know, she never left New Zealand waters.

Luther on board the PitcairnLuther on board the Pitcairn

Gifts to, and from, Pitcairn Island

The Hare family maintained their friendship with the Pitcairn Islanders for many years. Mum can recall the gifts the Pitcairn Islanders sent them when she was a child. The presents included handcrafted bamboo back scratchers and oranges - carefully wrapped in the sheet music that the Hares had sent them to use on their piano!

I'll leave you with a selection of Luther's photographs. He took many pictures of the Pitcairn Islanders; some are formal portraits and others show them going about their everyday life. Members of the Hare family appear in some of the photographs but the Islanders remain unidentified. My hope is that their descendants will recognise them and contact the Library so that their names can be recorded for future generations.

From left: Thursday Moses Skelly Warren holding two of his grandchildren (the youngest being Merle), Miriam Warren, Roberta Young.From left: Thursday Moses Skelly Warren holding two of his grandchildren (the youngest being Merle), Miriam Warren, Roberta Young.

Fred and Maimi ChristianFred and Maimi Christian.

Sidney ‘Chips’ Christian and Ethel ChristianSidney ‘Chips’ Christian and Ethel Christian.

A feast on the IslandA feast on the Island.

Boys at the beach (including Douglas 4th and Raymond 6th from left)From left are Ray Young, Ken Warren, Chester Young, Douglas Hare, Sterling Warren, Raymond Hare, and Andy Warren.

Horse working at the millHorse working at the mill.

Teaser image: Thursday Moses Skelly Warren's grandchildren (the youngest being Merle) and Miriam Warren.

By Helen Smith

Helen is a Research Librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Post a Comment

(will not be published) * indicates required field
Edward Smith February 27th at 12:04AM

Thanks for writing that up, it was a great read. Now I would love to see that Island.

I guess one photo of the feast is some cruise ship stopover?

Peter Ireland March 2nd at 2:38PM


This is a totally engrossing and enchanting story, beautifully told. And great to see these freshly exposed images. Well done.

Jocelyn Chalmers March 5th at 4:48PM

Interesting family Helen

Pip Harrison March 8th at 10:57AM

This brings back all my interest in PI. I also remember the name of
Coutts Bros and Hare. Thank you, this is absorbing stuff.

margie starr March 13th at 7:32PM

I saw my mother in these snaps she is turning 94 this year and living in NZ very emotional time as i have never seen her before at such a young age, she knows everybody in the photos she has a marvelous memory even at 94 i do believe she is the oldest person living from Pitcarin Island now.

Caroline Christian March 15th at 10:02AM

Thank you Mathew, for this link! An absorbing story, incredible pictures, emotional response to them. Likely related, perhaps my sister and brother are in the group of children! They're a gift indeed. Thank you, national Library!

Jay BuzenbergNational Library March 29th at 10:57AM

Thank you all for the comments. If you can let the Library know the names of any of the people in the photographs that would be great. You can send information via the online form at: http://natlib.govt.nz/questions/new. -- Helen

Helen Smith March 29th at 1:07PM

Thank you all for the comments. If you can let the Library know the names of any of the people in the photographs that would be great. You can send information via the online form at: http://natlib.govt.nz/questions/new

Janelle Blucher March 31st at 9:36PM

This story is wonderful, you think you've read it all and then there's more. Fantastic. I am currently working on a project to document and research Pitcairn Island Material Culture located in Norfolk Island and New Zealand. I will be travelling to NZ at the end of May and would love to meet you

James Brackenbury March 31st at 11:43PM

amazing story and pictures, If only we knew the names of the people as Caroline said "perhaps my sister and brother are in the group of children!" and mother..

Lesley Walker April 1st at 8:26AM

A wonderful story and extraordinary photographs. Thank you for sharing these with us. It is amazing how much you have been able to discover! I love looking at the faces of the Pitcairn Islanders - researching some of the ones who went to Norfolk Island in 1856 and stayed there, I can see some resemblance with the descendants of the ones who went back.

Helen Smith April 1st at 2:32PM

Thank you Janelle. I would be very happy to meet you if you are planning a visit to the Library.

Meralda Warren April 2nd at 6:17AM

Thank you for this publication about our Island.

Leeann Williams May 7th at 12:40PM

What an interesting family and history. Well told! Thank you for sharing this us. Lovely photographs.

Bev July 22nd at 8:03PM

Are you likely to do a storey about other Christian families who still exist on the Island. My husband's father Eric Petford was raised on Norfolk by his parents Albert and Cora Petford.
Cora's sister Olwen Codogan was married to a Christian.

My name is Christian but my family came from Ireland.

Robert V J Varman March 7th at 2:18PM

Thank you Helen for presenting these wonderful photographs. What a surprise. I found them while checking up on some Pitcairn research. I am preparing a second edition of my 1992 'The Bounty-Tahitian Genealogies' (of Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands in chart form). What a delight to see faces to the names!

Helen Smith March 9th at 11:37AM

Thanks, Robert. I will keep a look out for the new edition of your book. Please let me know if you can identify any of the people in the photographs.

Leah Honeywood August 7th at 11:52AM

Great find! Just a trivial note, you mention that the religion was Seventh Day Adventism. Just noting that on the picture you have mentioned it as Sunday School when I believe it should read Sabbath School. And then one of the pics says Sunday best. If this is relating to the congrigation it would be their Saturday best as that is the Sabbath for the SDA religion, a Saturday not Sunday.
Great pics and story though.

Margaret Smith September 8th at 6:47PM

I am so impressed with the quality of the photos. They are incredible-they are so clear after all the years of neglect in a garage. Congrats Helen on your excellent, skillful and thorough research.

Helen Smith May 8th at 1:39PM

Thanks very much, Leah Honeywood. You are correct, it should be Saturday. We've updated the captions and text to reflect this.

Susan Brodrick November 18th at 1:55PM

Hi Helen
I'm your cousin Susan, Rene's daughter. Well done on this, it was about 8 years ago that I was in touch with Kari Young from Pitcairn and corrected some of the history on their site and sent them many photo, we still have many photos also. I have since been to Norfolk and met many of the descendants there also. The biggest problem was not knowing who the people were in the pictures. Hopefully through this we can name the people. I also typed up a letter Dad had re that trip the 16 year old Arnold did. Through Kari we only missed a couple of words
Kind regards
Susan Brodrick (nee Hare)

National Library of New Zealand November 23rd at 2:21PM

Thanks for your comment, Susan. Helen will contact you directly via email.

Darren Hare May 20th at 5:25PM

My family. Amazing to find this info. I retain much of the family heirlooms. A great read.