Scenes of Victorian and Edwardian life

Sylvia howling

‘Aurora Australis or Sylvia howling’ – Sylvia Fell photographed in 1891, Charles Fell album; Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: PA1-q-075-22-1

In my NZ Edwardian Photo Albums – Part 3 post I said I had recently looked at six photograph albums in the collection of Alexander Turnbull Library here in Wellington. This was part of my attempt to compare Sid Small’s album (Ref: PA1-o-1382) – which I used to own – with some other albums from around the same period (c. 1905/6) or that showed the types of casual scenes that his album includes. My previous post on Richard Seddon’s trip to the west coast, 1906 covered three of the albums – all travelogues; this post covers the remaining two photo albums.

The image above is in the Charles Fell album 1, which the Turnbull catalogue describes as: “Album of portraits, group portraits and landscapes, relating particularly to the Fell family and their family relationships with the Atkinson and Richmond families. Chiefly photographed in the Nelson, Marlborough, Tasman regions. Many of the photographs likely to have been taken by Charles Yates Fell between 1886 and 1900. Ref: PA1-q-074. Album with brown covers, lacking spine, 37.5 x 28.0 cm”. There are actually two Charles Fell album catalogue entries – I believe they may relate to the same album, but am not entirely sure (the other is Ref: PA1-q-075).

Many of the photographs from this album are quite well known and have been scanned and added to the library’s website – 22 photographs are easily found (click here: ‘Fell album’ and another 19 here). The one above was used by the library as a card. The photo of a child in a washtub appears on page 204 of William Cottrell’s book: Furniture of the New Zealand Colonial Era: an illustrated history 1830-1900, Reed, 2006; and the woman and child paddling in the sea I used in my Edwardian Photo Album – Part 2 post.  The photos in this post are a mixture of ones I took and ones available on the Turnbull Library website – where this is the source I have given their reference number.

Saturday night ‘Saturday night, Wellington’ – [Edith] Emily Fell (nee Atkinson) bathing her daughter Phyllis in a tin bath tub watched by sister, Sylvia Fell. Photographed in 1889 by Charles Yates Fell; PA1-q-075-28-1

Paddling in the sea

Edith Emily Fell and her daughter Sylvia paddling at the edge of the sea. Photographed by Charles Yates Fell January 1891. Ref: PA1-q-075-32-2

The Turnbull catalogue description for what I’ve called the ‘MacKay album’ as it came from the MacKay estate (Turnbull simply labels it Family photographs New Zealand ca1900s) says: “Mainly record an Edwardian New Zealand family living in the country, or in a small country town. There are views of the sea shore, ships going by, paddling and sitting on the sand. There are pictures of father driving the gig, in the back yard with the children and feeding the goat. The children are dressed up as adults, or are playing with their mother. There are the houses they lived in and photos of pastureland and cows. Other photos are of more conventional scenic views; c. 1900-1914. Ref: PA1-o-780.”

These two albums are more similar in their content to Sid Small’s album than the three I looked at in last week’s post. However, the Fell album includes photos taken 10 to 20 years earlier than Sid Small took his photos, probably with a Kodak Box Brownie. The Fell album photographs are silver gelatin (a process introduced in the 1870s) and would have been taken by a larger camera on a tripod. Two of the photos in the Fell album include another photographer, seen here in a detail (full image on the right, dated 1890):

detail of camera  DSC07590

And this one, dated Jan 1886

detail 2 of camera  camera detail 2 full image

Charles Fell (1844-1918) was a lawyer in partnership with Arthur Atkinson (1833-1902). His first wife (Edith Louisa Bainbridge , whom he married in London in 1869) died in 1879 leaving him with five young children. His second wife was Edith Atkinson, the daughter of his legal firm partner. His younger brother Walter Fell, a Wellington doctor, married Margaret Richmond[1]. The Richmonds and Atkinsons were early NZ pioneers and some members became prominent in political, legal, artistic and social circles in New Zealand – there are a couple of portraits in the album of Arthur’s wife, Jane Maria Atkinson (nee Richmond), who has a biography written about her: Born to New Zealand: A Biography of Jane Maria Atkinson by Frances Porter (Allen & Unwin, 1989) and a couple of photos of the artist Dorothy Kate Richmond.

Many of the other photographs are of domestic scenes – indoors and outdoors; as well as family group photographs and houses, mostly in the Nelson area. The album is inscribed to Alice Blake from Charles and Edith Fell, January 1892: “In loving remembrance of old times, St John’s, Nelson, N.Z.” The cover is plain except for the initials ‘N Z’.

One of the houses which features is called ‘Fairfield’ [the house built for Arthur Atkinson in Nelson] and this image shows it at Christmas Day 1887; and another house is faintly labelled ‘107 Willis Street, House of Walter Fell, surgeon’. (107 Willis Street, Wellington is now the site of the Duke’s Arcade, although the numbering may have changed over the years – interestingly, Willis/Boulcott Streets seem to have once housed a number of doctors.)

DSC07540 Walter Fell house ATL copy

Left: Fairfield; Right:  Walter Fell house, Ref: PA1-q-075-10-1

On the same page as Walter Fell’s house is a tender scene of what I at first thought was breast-feeding, labelled ‘Margie and Erica, July 86’ – this was Walter Fell’s wife Margaret (nee Richmond) and daughter. However, on closer look, the mother has her little finger in the child’s mouth. Ref: PA1-q-075-10-2 (there is also a man holding a baby sitting on the steps of the Willis Street house.)

Margie and erica There are a number of interior shots where people appear to be play acting and what drew my attention to the album in the first place, scenes on the beach and of a picnic. It is a wonderfully rich album, particularly for its everyday scenes and indoor shots from the later 19th century.

The MacKay album, on the other hand, is not well known – none of its images has been scanned and put on the website. This album also includes a scene of women and children paddling in the sea and a scene of devastation (but one that wasn’t uncommon in New Zealand at the time); with much bush felling occurring to make small towns. The photographer may have been recording ‘progress’. Unfortunately none of the photos in this album is labelled.



So that ends my look at some late 19th /early 20th century photo albums in the Turnbull Library – unfortunately I haven’t reached any brilliant new conclusions! I had already concluded that Sid Small’s album wasn’t unusual for its time. Most of the albums show people enjoying outdoor activities – especially at the beach; also some scenes of tourism in places that are still popular today – such as the central North Island hot lakes and mountains and the South Island’s glaciers and lakes. The Fell album is more unusual in that it shows quite a few indoor scenes. Two of the albums were given away by their compilers (Charles Fell’s album and Sid Small’s) – did that make a difference to what they included? One of the albums (James Ring’s) is like a reference album as he was a professional photographer – the main subject is the New Zealand premier, so this album has clear historical interest, as does the Fell album for a number of reasons. The other three albums are perhaps more representative of their places and times than of interest for the people depicted.

Two photos of Hurworth Cottage in Taranaki – home of Sir Harry Atkinson (1833-1892), brother of Arthur Atkinson. This is a Heritage New Zealand-owned Category 1 cottage built in 1855-56; the interior scene on the right shows various family photos.

DSC08054 DSC08056


[1] From the book Born to New Zealand: A Biography of Jane Maria Atkinson by Frances Porter (Allen & Unwin, 1989). One of the photographs – of a wedding group – is labelled “Walter Fell married Margaret Richmond”. The Taranaki Herald, 29 April 1886, Page 3 reported this ‘fashionable wedding in Wellington’ with its eight bridesmaids! He was described as the son of the late Alfred Fell of Nelson and she was the eldest daughter of Justice Richmond.


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