Recent acquisitions – cabinet card photographs

Recent acquisitions – cabinet card photographs

Woman standing in landscape studio set, circa 1902, Lyttelton. George Hillsdon. Purchased 2014. Te Papa

I am quite fond of some of the new photographs in the collection which are a set of cabinet card format studio portraits from the late nineteenth century. Many of them were taken by photographers working in the South Island in places such as Lyttelton, Ashburton, Gore and Blenheim. I’m interested in the way these humble former personal records give us a sense of the effort and attention to detail some early photographers had, alongside the similarity in expectations that people wanting to be photographed had whether in the bigger cities or in small provincial areas.

Woman standing in landscape studio set, circa 1902, Lyttelton, George Hillsdon, Purchased 2014, Te Papa O.041068

The constructed landscape settings in the two photographs by George Hillsdon (above) suggest a surprising amount of effort on the part of the photographer to contrive an artistic version of the outdoors inside a room in a small town studio. While the relaxed and confident man (below) photographed in Gore by Charles Clayton, and known only as ‘Fred’, looks like a southern version of an urban flâneur about to step out into bustling city streets.

Fred, circa 1895, Gore, Charles Clayton, Purchased 2014, Te Papa O.041071

The lovely portrait of a well dressed woman and child (below) is remarkably well identified with the names – Winifred Hood (maiden name Tweedie) and baby Lawrence Hood – clearly written on the back by someone long ago. Hopefully decedents will be able to locate this digitised version of the original photograph.

Winifred Hood (Tweedie) and baby Lawrence Hood, circa 1902, Ashburton, Halma & Co, Purchased 2014, Te Papa O.041064

Blenheim photographer William Macey’s cabinet cards elevated the cabinet card format to an art form. Compared with the rougher card and stamped studio name of the Ashburton firm (above), Macey’s photograph of a woman wearing a striped blouse and spectacles, is mounted on a high quality white broad with shaped gold trimmed edges – giving the effect of a frame. While Macey’s monogram, name and studio address are all printed in gold lettering along the bottom.

Woman wearing spectacles, circa 1890-1915, Blenheim, William Macey, Purchased 2014, Te Papa O.041067

The portrait of a man (below) by Christchurch photographers, Burrell Brothers, introduces the concept of trick photography to the cabinet card format. The photograph is printed using a trompe d’oeil effect (an art technique) that gives the illusion of the portrait appearing to be on a loose curling page – a picture within a picture.

Man set in trompe d’oeil frame, circa 1895, Christchurch. Burrell Brothers. Purchased 2014. Te Papa

Meanwhile the simple intimacy of two men is captured in the photograph (below) by Wellington studio, Wrigglesworth & Binns.

Two men, 1880s, Wellington. Wrigglesworth & Binns. Purchased 2013. Te Papa

Lastly, from the far north, is a memorial photograph of a grave taken by a photographer based in Whangarei.

Grave of Edouard Eugene Gafler, 1891-1894, Whangarei, Walter Bayne, Purchased 2014, Te Papa O.041062


Lissa Mitchell – Curator Historical Documentary Photography



  1. I think the grave photo is likely to be that of Edward Eugene Cafler. Whangarei has a park named after the Cafler family. Edward Eugene Cafler, born in France 1797, served in the battle of Waterloo and after many adventures around the world, settled in Whangarei in 1855. He was an enterprising businessman who built a majestic home near what is today the Town Basin, and later a cottage in the vicinity of the park. Cafler built Whangarei’s first hotel, first store and first post office. He died in 1893 at the age of 95.

    1. Author

      Hi Cathy – thank you for this information – fantastic. I got the current name by peering at it under a magnifying glass and through the fence. I’ll update the database when I’m back in the office.

    2. Hi, Are you the Cathy Clark who has written the genealogical piece about the Myers/Pickering/Eckersley-Maslin family. If so I wish to email you from the UK
      Sorry this response is not about the photos.

    1. Author

      Well rich enough to spend their money on it if they wanted it enough at least (much like today!). It is pretty hard to tell as obviously people were going to dress as well as possible for the occasion. Also cabinet cards (like carte-de-visite photographs before them) were as cheap as commercial photography got in the 19th century. Perhaps balancing it off by the fact that these small towns were linked to farming and port industries but also there had to be enough business for the photographers not of out of business. Thanks for your comment Patrica.

    2. Author

      Patrica – just thinking about your comment some more. Historian Tony Ballantyne has produced interesting research on how much of a hub of activity with vast connections to the wider British Empire Gore was in this period relating to when these photographs were made -particularly the Gore photographer Clayton and his portrait of Fred. His article on the town is accessible here:

  2. fascinating Lissa. How did Te Papa come by this new collection? Are any of the subjects named?


    1. Author

      Thanks Michael. These cabinet cards came from someone in the Nelson area. Only two have names attached – the one of the woman Winifred Hood (nee Tweedie) and baby Lawrence photographed in Ashburton and the man photographed in Gore known just as Fred.

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