Leslie Adkin: A man of great adventure

Leslie Adkin: A man of great adventure

Madi Ojala is a Museum and Heritage Studies student at Victoria University who has been completing a Summer Internship at Te Papa. She discusses Adkin’s geological excursions and the appeal of working with Adkin’s prints, albums and diaries.

Geological excursions

One of Leslie Adkin’s favourite hobbies as a young man was all-day outdoor excursions. When at home in Levin he would often grab his bike in the early morning (after milking the cows, naturally) and ride an hour or two into the Tararua Ranges, proceeding to describe the lay of the land, take measurements of altitude and of course record what he saw with his camera.

Adkin recorded his initial field observations in 46 geological notebooks throughout his life. He would then most likely return home and write out his observations more eloquently as part of his daily diary entry. It strikes me that his success in almost everything he set out to achieve is due in part to his dedication to recording every aspect of his excursions.

Leslie Adkin. The Tararuas in winter. Mt Dundas and neighbouring peaks with a mantle of winter, 20 August 1909. Gelatin silver print. Te Papa (B.020957)
Leslie Adkin. The Tararuas in winter. Mt Dundas and neighbouring peaks with a mantle of winter, 20 August 1909. Gelatin glass negative. Te Papa (B.020957)
Leslie Adkin. Early morning sunbeams over the Otaki valley. View towards Mt Crawford from West Peak. J.K. Nichols on pinnacle, 29-30 March 1930. Gelatin silver print. Te Papa (B.021011)
Leslie Adkin. Early morning sunbeams over the Otaki valley. View towards Mt Crawford from West Peak. J.K. Nichols on pinnacle, 29-30 March 1930. Nitrate negative. Te Papa (B.021011)

A new vocabulary

Whilst working with Adkin’s prints and diaries I discovered a few new interesting words:

adit (noun) – an entrance to an underground mine used for access or drainage

kopje (noun) – A South African term meaning a small and usually rocky hill. Adkin named a section of his farm Woodside “Kopje”, probably influenced by the spike of the term’s usage in English-speaking countries after the South African War.

ferruginous (adjective) – containing iron oxides or rust, or being rust-coloured

Leslie Adkin. "Tararua coal." Specimens of slickensided carbonaceous slatey shale or argillite on pinched-out cores of greywacke and vein quartz, 9-17 February, 1911. Gelatin silver print. Te Papa (B.026058)
Leslie Adkin. “Tararua coal.” Specimens of slickensided carbonaceous slatey shale or argillite on pinched-out cores of greywacke and vein quartz, 9-17 February, 1911. Gelatin glass negative. Te Papa (B.026058)

Mangahao Hydro-electric Power Station

Throughout his life Adkin also enjoyed frequent visits to the nearby hydro-electric power station at the Mangahao River that brought power to the Wellington region. Still in existence today, construction on the site began soon after the end of the First World War.

Adkin was fascinated by the scheme’s development and took hundreds of photographs of the construction over the years. Many of these prints he sold copies of to popular publications like the Weekly News but also to workmen at the sites who would order prints of themselves posing on the job.

Leslie Adkin. C. Cusack (top) and mate on a Queen St, Levin transmission pole, part of the Mangahao-Wellington transmission line, 14 December 1923. Gelatin silver print. Te Papa (B.023155)
Leslie Adkin. C. Cusack (top) and mate on a Queen St, Levin transmission pole, part of the Mangahao-Wellington transmission line, 14 December 1923. Gelatin glass negative. Te Papa (B.023155)

Adkin took it upon himself to help the site’s engineers by sharing with them his geological knowledge of the landscape. Such was his interest that Adkin wrote a scientific paper in 1921 for the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology entitled, ‘Mangahao Hydro-Electric Scheme: The Structure of Mangahao No. 1 Gorge, and its Bearing on the Construction of the Proposed Dam.’ Shortly after this paper’s publication Adkin became an honorary member of the site team.

By the time the official opening was held in November 1924, he had visited the site a total of 38 times.

Leslie Adkin. Bill Walker and wife Emma in surge chamber no 1, Mangahao Hydro-electric power station, 20 May 1923. Gelatin silver print. Te Papa (B.022979)
Leslie Adkin. Bill Walker and wife Emma in surge chamber no 1, Mangahao Hydro-electric power station, 20 May 1923. Gelatin glass negative. Te Papa (B.022979)
Leslie Adkin. Pipe-line looking down towards the "deep cut" at Mangahao Hydro-electric power station, 1 Jan 1925. Gelatin silver print. Te Papa (A.006205)
Leslie Adkin. Pipe-line looking down towards the “deep cut” at Mangahao Hydro-electric power station, 1 Jan 1925. Glass negative. Te Papa (A.006205)

Endless energy

The greatest mystery to me is where Adkin got all his energy from. In an interview for Anthony Dreaver’s book An Eye for Country: The Life and Work of Leslie Adkin, Adkin’s son Clyde stated, ‘…I’ve seen Dad with a five-barred gate on his shoulders almost running without stop. The man’s energy was almost mechanical…and his drive and enthusiasm. That’s how he did all his hobbies, plus his work. And the work he did was prodigious.’

Leslie Adkin. The excavation for the surge chamber completed and ready for the lining of concrete. The pit is 75ft. in diameter at the top and 75ft. deep, 27 August 1922. Gelatin glass negative. Te Papa (B.022963)
Leslie Adkin. The excavation for the surge chamber completed and ready for the lining of concrete. The pit is 75ft. in diameter at the top and 75ft. deep, 27 August 1922. Gelatin glass negative. Te Papa (B.022963)

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Fascinating material. I would like to read more about him. Will consult Professor Google.
    Alon Shaw

  2. Avatar

    amazing photographs. all that energy, indeed. and a fashion shoot to boot!

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