New Zealand Edwardian photo albums – part 3

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In my first post on this topic (A NZ Edwardian Photo album) I looked at an album that used to be in my possession but is now in the Turnbull Library – the photos were taken by Sidney Small, who compiled the album and gifted it to my grandparents Walter and Winifred Morrell in 1906.

In my second post (NZ Edwardian photo album – part 2) I tried to compare Sid’s album with others taken around the same time to see if his inclusion of casual shots (a picnic, paddling at the sea, etc) was unusual for its time. I had to conclude that it wasn’t unusual by 1905 – nevertheless it is still a delightful album. My research for that post was limited to what I could find on the Turnbull Library website – so, catalogue entries and the occasional image that (for whatever reason) has been scanned and added to the website. I have now visited Turnbull and looked at some of those albums in their entirety and this is the subject of this post and some subsequent posts.

I also re-looked at Sid’s album, so I’ll start with that. It is 13.4 x 15.7 cm and the cover is olive green (see photos above). The photographs are about 10 x 8 cm and the album contains just 12 photos – it would be tempting to think they were all from one roll of film, but perhaps Sid selected images from several rolls.

In my first post I said there were a few images of Winifred Read and Walter Morrell’s December 1905 wedding, but in fact there is only one – their wedding cake (at least I assume it’s theirs). The first image in the album is of Sid – and he’s labelled it ‘sincerely yours – myself’. DSC07523

All the rest are reasonably casual shots taken outdoors – probably either at Kai Iwi (near Wanganui, which is where the family lived) or on a holiday at New Plymouth (160 kilometres north-west of Wanganui).

These two for example:



The one above is labelled ‘The beach, New Plymouth, June 1906’, it shows his future wife Evelyn Read on the right. I noticed scribbled pencil marks on some of the photos (including this one) so I assume one of Walter and Winnie’s children (perhaps my father or uncle) got to it at some young age. The photo on the left is labelled ‘A Sailor’s daughter’ and is also of Evelyn.

There is only one photo among the 12 that is a landscape with no people in it – it was taken in New Plymouth and labelled ‘A glimpse of Paratutu, New Plymouth’. ‘Paratutu’ is now spelled Paritutu (maybe it always was?) and refers to one of the rocks in the distance.

DSC07535On my foray to Turnbull Library I looked at six albums (including Sid’s). I admit this is not a big sample and so can’t claim to be representative. Martha Langford, in her book Suspended Conversations: the afterlife of memory in photographic albums, McGill Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 2008, looked at many more photograph albums – but she was doing a PhD! I have another relevant book called A Richer Dust: echoes from an Edwardian album, by Colin Gordon, Book Club Associates, 1978, which relates the author’s find in an English market ‘junk stall’ of several hundred photographic negatives and his search to find out more about them. Langford’s book is, not surprisingly, the more academic and representative.

Langford identifies four sub-categories of the personal album: collections, memoirs, travelogues and family history. Sid’s album would probably be ‘memoir’, which Langford describes as “a person’s account of the incidents of his or her life – the figures, transactions and movements that have affected it.” (p. 64). Although this album is a ‘slice of life’ from just two years and contains only one photo of Sid – the ‘donor’ photograph at the start – by his choice of photographs and their titles I think he was probably staking a claim to be part of the Read family. I don’t know if he was engaged to Evelyn at this time – she was only 16 – but by 1907/8 when he was in England he described himself to her relatives as her fiancee. I was told that her family were opposed to their marriage, and they didn’t marry until 1916 – by then she was 26 and he was 37.

Langford said: Voices must be heard for memories to be preserved, for the album to fulfill its function. Ironically, the very act of preservation – the entrusting of an album to a public museum – suspends its sustaining conversation, stripping the album of its social function and meaning. As I once owned this album, but decided it deserved a potentially wider audience, perhaps this post and related ones are my attempt to put back some of the ‘sustaining conversation’ around this album!

Langford notes the first commercial album was designed to hold cartes-de-visite, the small photographs mounted as visiting cards that became very popular after they were patented in Paris by A. Disderi in 1854. The albums to contain them were brought out soon after. “Compilations of snapshots followed the introduction of a simple, roll-film camera in 1888, but slowly; the photographic system had its flaws. The first Kodak camerist had a hundred frames to expose before Kodak could ‘do the rest’. By 1892 a daylight loading roll film had reduced the number of exposures to twelve” (Langford, p. 24). In my second post I noted that ‘advertisements for the Kodak pocket camera first appeared in New Zealand papers from January 1896.’

DSC07747 Langford again: “The introduction of the Brownie in 1900 made picture-taking simpler, cheaper, and more immediately rewarding.” (p. 24). This photo shows a Kodak box brownie camera of unknown vintage that was used by some of my siblings until the early 1970s. The other camera is a German-made Zeiss Ikon which I used for many years that uses rolls of 12 exposures – in fact it still has a film in it; I’ve exposed seven shots and can’t decide whether to take the remaining five and pay whatever it costs these days to develop film; or just to get rid of the film!

Of the five albums (other than Sid’s) that I looked at, two contained similar content to Sid’s album – for example family gatherings, casual holiday shots; but one (Charles Fell’s album, ref: PA1-q-075) contained many more photographs taken 10 to 20 years earlier than Sid’s (i.e. 1885-1895). Another (Charles Salmon album, PA1-o- 455) mostly recorded a holiday in the central North Island taken around 1906, while the James Ring album (no. 2, ref: PA1-o-436) records a visit to the South Island’s west coast by then New Zealand Premier, Richard Seddon. The ‘Wairakei’ album (PA1-o-509) records the first “Motor Reliability Contest” in 1906 in the central North Island.

As the content of these albums varies, I will look at them in separate posts, starting next with the Seddon visit and the motor reliability contest, both events occurring in 1906.


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