Portrait of Hemi Pomara as a young man: how we uncovered the oldest surviving photograph of a Māori

Portrait of Hemi Pomara as a young man: how we uncovered the oldest surviving photograph of a Māori

Elisa deCourcy, Australian National University and Martyn Jolly, Australian National University

It is little wonder the life of Hemi Pomara has attracted the attention of writers and film makers. Kidnapped in the early 1840s, passed from person to person, displayed in London and ultimately abandoned, it is a story of indigenous survival and resilience for our times.

Hemi has already been the basis for the character James Pōneke in New Zealand author Tina Makereti’s 2018 novel The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke. And last week, celebrated New Zealand director Taika Waititi announced his production company Piki Films is adapting the book for the big screen – one of three forthcoming projects about colonisation with “indigenous voices at the centre”.

Until now, though, we have only been able to see Hemi’s young face in an embellished watercolour portrait made by the impresario artist George French Angas, or in a stiff woodcut reproduced in the Illustrated London News.

Drawing on the research for our forthcoming book, Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle: the global career of showman daguerreotypist J.W. Newland (Routledge, November 2020), we can now add the discovery of a previously unknown photograph of Hemi Pomara posing in London in 1846.

This remarkable daguerreotype shows a wistful young man, far from home, wearing the traditional korowai (cloak) of his chiefly rank. It was almost certainly made by Antoine Claudet, one of the most important figures in the history of early photography.

All the evidence now suggests the image is not only the oldest surviving photograph of Hemi, but also most probably the oldest surviving photographic portrait of any Māori person. Until now, a portrait of Caroline and Sarah Barrett taken around 1853 was thought to be the oldest such image.

For decades this unique image has sat unattributed in the National Library of Australia. It is now time to connect it with the other portraits of Hemi, his biography and the wider conversation about indigenous lives during the imperial age.

‘Hemi Pomare’, 1846, cased, colour applied, quarter-plate daguerreotype, likely the oldest surviving photographic image of a Māori.
National Library of Australia

A boy abroad

Hemi Pomara led an extraordinary life. Born around 1830, he was the grandson of the chief Pomara from the remote Chatham Islands off the east coast of New Zealand. After his family was murdered during his childhood by an invading Māori group, Hemi was seized by a British trader who brought him to Sydney in the early 1840s and placed him in an English boarding school.

The British itinerant artist, George French Angas had travelled through New Zealand for three months in 1844, completing sketches and watercolours and plundering cultural artefacts. His next stop was Sydney where he encountered Hemi and took “guardianship” of him while giving illustrated lectures across New South Wales and South Australia.

Angas painted Hemi for the expanded version of this lecture series, Illustrations of the Natives and Scenery of Australia and New Zealand together with 300 portraits from life of the principal Chiefs, with their Families.

In this full-length depiction, the young man appears doe-eyed and cheerful. Hemi’s juvenile form is almost entirely shrouded in a white, elaborately trimmed korowai befitting his chiefly ancestry.

The collar of a white shirt, the cuffs of white pants and neat black shoes peak out from the otherwise enveloping garment. Hemi is portrayed as an idealised colonial subject, civilised yet innocent, regal yet complacent.




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Angas travelled back to London in early 1846, taking with him his collection of artworks, plundered artefacts – and Hemi Pomara.

Hemi appeared at the British and Foreign Institution, followed by a private audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. From April 1846, he was put on display in his chiefly attire as a living tableau in front of Angas’s watercolours and alongside ethnographic material at the Egyptian Hall, London.

The Egyptian Hall “exhibition” was applauded by the London Spectator as the “most interesting” of the season, and Hemi’s portrait was engraved for the Illustrated London News. Here the slightly older-looking Hemi appears with darkly shaded skin and stands stiffly with a ceremonial staff, a large ornamental tiki around his neck and an upright, feathered headdress.

An idealised colonial subject: George French Angas, ‘Hemi, grandson of Pomara, Chief of the Chatham Islands’, 1844-1846, watercolour.
Alexander Turnbull Library

A photographic pioneer

Hemi was also presented at a Royal Society meeting which, as The Times recorded on April 6, was attended by scores of people including Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and the pioneering London-based French daguerreotypist Antoine Claudet.

It was around this time Claudet probably made the quarter-plate daguerreotype, expertly tinted with colour, of Hemi Pomara in costume.

The daguerreotype was purchased in the 1960s by the pioneering Australian photo historian and advocate for the National Library of Australia’s photography collections, Eric Keast Burke. Although digitised, it has only been partially catalogued and has evaded attribution until now.

Unusually for photographic portraits of this period, Hemi is shown standing full-length, allowing him to model all the features of his korowai. He poses amidst the accoutrements of a metropolitan portrait studio. However, the horizontal line running across the middle of the portrait suggests the daguerreotype was taken against a panelled wall rather than a studio backdrop, possibly at the Royal Society meeting.

Hemi has grown since Angas’s watercolour but the trim at the hem of the korowai is recognisable as the same garment worn in the earlier painting. Its speckled underside also reveals it as the one in the Illustrated London News engraving.

Hemi wears a kuru pounamu (greenstone ear pendant) of considerable value and again indicative of his chiefly status. He holds a patu onewa (short-handled weapon) close to his body and a feathered headdress fans out from underneath his hair.

We closely examined the delicate image, the polished silver plate on which it was photographically formed, and the leatherette case in which it was placed. The daguerreotype has been expertly colour-tinted to accentuate the embroidered edge of the korowai, in the same deep crimson shade it was coloured in Angas’s watercolour.




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The remainder of the korowai is subtly coloured with a tan tint. Hemi’s face and hands have a modest amount of skin tone colour applied. Very few practitioners outside Claudet’s studio would have tinted daguerreotypes to this level of realism during photography’s first decade.

Hallmarks stamped into the back of the plate show it was manufactured in England in the mid-1840s. The type of case and mat indicates it was unlikely to have been made by any other photographer in London at the time.

‘New Zealand Youth at Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly’, wood engraving, The Illustrated London News, 18 April 1846.

Survival and resilience

After his brief period as a London “celebrity” Hemi went to sea on the Caleb Angas. He was shipwrecked at Barbados, and on his return aboard the Eliza assaulted by the first mate, who was tried when the ship returned to London. Hemi was transferred into the “care” of Lieutenant Governor Edward John Eyre who chaperoned him back to New Zealand by early December 1846.

Hemi’s story is harder to trace through the historical record after his return to Auckland in early 1847. It’s possible he returned to London as an older married man with his wife and child, and sat for a later carte de visite portrait. But the fact remains, by the age of eighteen he had already been the subject of a suite of colonial portraits made across media and continents.

With the recent urgent debates about how we remember our colonial past, and moves to reclaim indigenous histories, stories such as Hemi Pomara’s are enormously important. They make it clear that even at the height of colonial fetishisation, survival and cultural expression were possible and are still powerfully decipherable today.

For biographers, lives such as Hemi’s can only be excavated by deep and wide-ranging archival research. But much of Hemi’s story still evades official colonial records. As Taika Waititi’s film project suggests, the next layer of interpretation must be driven by indigenous voices.


The authors would like to acknowledge the late Roger Blackley (Victoria University, Wellington), Chanel Clarke (Curator of the Maori collections, Auckland War Memorial Museum), Nat Williams (former Treasures Curator, National Library of Australia), Dr Philip Jones (Senior Curator, South Australian Museum) and Professor Geoffrey Batchen (Professorial chair of History of Art, University of Oxford) for their invaluable help with their research.The Conversation

Elisa deCourcy, Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow 2020-2023, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, Australian National University, Australian National University and Martyn Jolly, Honorary Associate Professor, School of Art and Design, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Edward Colston

As Percy Shelley knew when he wrote Ozymandias, the iconic is defined by the iconoclastic. In its brazen or marmoreal defiance of mortality every civic statue to this or that  ‘King of Kings’ already has encoded into it its own death as a negative potentiality waiting to be fulfilled. Those who made history through destruction are already constructing the process which will make them in their turn colossal wrecks. As Shelley knew too, passion and mockery are perpetual. I vote that Edward Colston gets winched out back on to the  Bristol dock. But every year he gets dunked again, in a new exuberant  ritual as regular as the seasonal tides and annual currents of ocean voyages.

Suburban Apparitions: Magic Lanterns at Calthorpes House, Friday 13 March, Canberra

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Waratah Lahy is painting up a storm; Alec Hunter and Charles Martin are composing up a storm; Jenny Gall and our special guest vocalists are limbering up; and Elisa deCourcy and myself are working on new ways of dissolving even weirder slides, some of which would be getting on to 150 years old.

Buy your tickets now!

http://www.historicplaces.com.au/events/contemporary-performance-suburban-apparitions-or-magic-lanterns-at-calthorpes-house

Or google ‘ACT Historic Places Suburban Apparitions’

Remember! there’s a free drink included in the  price.

For lovers of: suburbia, skies piled high with reddening clouds, monsters under the bed, cracker night, that sound you got when you changed stations on the AM dial, insect wings buzzing on a hot summer’s day, going to the pictures without your mum and dad, old songs (really old songs!), dreams…

Our book ‘The Magic Lantern at Work’ has been published.

1.1 Jolly Fig

‘The Tri-Unial lantern illuminated with the Oxy-Hydrogen Light, in the Hall of the Balmain School of Arts’, frontispiece, Catalogue of Optical Lanterns and Transparent Views, with the newest forms of Bi-unial and Tri-unial Dissolving View Apparatus (Sydney: William MacDonnell, 1882).

Our book The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Persuading, Experiencing and Connecting has been published, we’ll be organising a launch at some stage. In the meantime let your librarians know.

https://www.routledge.com/The-Magic-Lantern-at-Work-Witnessing-Persuading-Experiencing-and-Connecting/Jolly-deCourcy/p/book/9780367322564

The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Persuading, Experiencing and Connecting

Edited by Martyn JollyElisa deCourcy

Routledge Studies in Cultural History

1. The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Persuading, Experiencing and Connecting

Martyn Jolly

2. The Magic Lantern as a Creative Tool for Understanding the Materiality and Mathematics of Image-Making

Deirdre Feeney

3. Spirits in the Fairgrounds: Métempsycose and Its After-Images

Evelien Jonckheere and Kurt Vanhoutte

4. ‘We Fighters on the Outposts’: Suffragists and Lantern Slides, 1889-1913

Jane Lydon

5. Magical Attractions: Lantern Slide Lectures at British Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meetings, c. 1850-1920

Jennifer Tucker

6. The Missionaries’ Servant: Babel, Funding and the Bible Society in Australia

Nicolas Peterson

7. The Endless Universe and Eternal Life: Clement L. Wragge’s Magic Lantern Lectures

Shaun Higgins

8. Flights of Fancy: The Production, Reception and Implications of Lawrence Hargrave’s Magic Lantern Lecture Lope de Vega

Ursula K. Frederick

9. Anna Mary Longshore Potts and the Anglophone Circuit for Lantern Lecturing in the Late Nineteenth Century

Joe Kember

10. Sidney Dickinson: ‘One of the Most Entertaining Speakers Ever Upon the Melbourne Platform’

Jane Clark

11. The Difficulties of Witnessing: Armin T. Wegner’s Lantern Slide Show on the Armenian Genocide

Vanessa Agnew and Kader Konuk

Magic Lantern show inspired by Rouse Hill House in the Cell Block Theatre, National Art School, Sydney

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A magic lantern show with chromatropes, Pussy’s Road to Ruin, comic slides dissolving views

In the early 1860s the wealthy family of Rouse Hill House and Farm, situated to the north west of Sydney, New South Wales, acquired a phantasmagoria lantern, several sets of hand-painted glass slides and a music box. This show is inspired by their use of the magic lantern at the house and in the surrounding districts for the next one hundred years. It uses fifty-five magic lantern slides projected through a pair of ‘dissolving’ magic lanterns from the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The Light of the World: transport and transmission in colonial modernity

light of the world

Early Popular Visual Culture, Volume 19, 2019

Taking a photograph from the 1906 Australian tour of William Holman Hunt’s painting The Light of the World as my starting point, I explore the special relationship colonial audiences had with magic lantern shows and related entertainments. I examine the sense of ‘transport’ that audiences felt at collectively witnessing images that had been ‘transmitted’ to them from Britain. I argue that their reactions were more complex than those felt in the metropole, and in many ways anticipate our own contemporary experience of globalized media.

Women in Vogue at the National Portrait Gallery

The curators of the National Portrait Gallery are thoroughly professional. Vogue Australia has been a vibrant part of our visual culture for sixty years. That’s why it’s disappointing that this show never really gets off the ground. By the time we get to Julie Bishop’s shoes it seems to be over. Is it because, as has been mentioned, the Vogue Australia archive was destroyed in a fire in 1982? A national tragedy, but the work of those great photographers, people like Laurie le Guay, Patrick Russell, Dieter Muller and Grant Matthews, was still there in the pages as ink on paper. Visitors were looking at the wonderful covers through the glass cases, how I yearned they would have had more than a few brief opportunities to have those issues opened up for them to see the fashion, design and photographic riches I know are inside. But, although it was so close on the printed page this show didn’t seem to care all that much about the history of Australian photography. Or photographers. Or design. Or fashion. But I think ordinary visitors do, more than is sometimes realised.

Why is an archive when it is lost?

HomeToAustralia.org presents vintage photographs in its busy booth at Sydney Contemporary

Can we ever forgive the hapless Fairfax beancounter who, in 2013, thought he had solved at least one of the troubled news organisation’s many financial problems? Their massive archive of deteriorating photographic negatives and prints was costing a motza to house and maintain, and without a rapid program of digitisation it was going to be hard to monetise it. His answer was to do a deal with an Arkansas sports memorabilia dealer, John Rogers, who said he would buy two million physical items from Fairfax for $300,000 along with the agreement that he would catalogue and scan them. Rogers could sell the physical prints and Fairfax, who always retained copyright, could licence the digital images. In the words of Fairfax executive Garry Linnell, shipping two million negatives and prints overseas would  ‘preserve them for future generations’ of Australians. There were several problems with the deal. As anyone who has done it knows, digitising two million items  is an enormous task, and properly cataloguing them even more so. As it was, Rogers was only ever going to use high speed document scanners, yielding at best low resolution files of little monetary value and little use to our visual heritage. The second problem was that Rogers was a conman.

Shortly after the collection of Australian and New Zealand photographs was shipped off to Little Rock in late 2013, prints which hadn’t even been scanned yet, even at low resolution, were beginning to turn up on eBay. The receiver later estimated that up to a thousand images may have been skimmed off before digitisation even began. Rogers became unresponsive to requests from Australia and then, in early 2014,  the FBI raided him. He was later convicted of fraud, became bankrupt, and a sizeable chunk of Australia’s heritage fell into a legal limbo. In 2015 we in Australia who love photography stared in open mouthed dismay at the ABC’s Glenn Sloggett like images of padlocked warehouse doors beginning to be choked by weeds in the outer suburbs of Little Rock.

Then in 2017 came the news that California’s Duncan Miller Gallery had purchased the entire collection, still estimated to be around two million items.  The new owner of the physical archive, Daniel Miller, reasoned that even though the copyright of images taken after 1955 still resided with either Fairfax or the original photographer, the ’pieces of paper’ could perhaps return him around four dollars each from Australian institutions as a bulk purchase, and considerably more for the ‘name’ photographers who had found their way into the archive, such as Jeff Carter, Max Dupain, Olive Cotton, Wolfgang Sievers and David Moore.

Miller launched a website with the rather Peter Allenesque url of hometoaustralia.org. He sought corporate sponsorship, and came to Australia in 2017 to speak to curators from major collections and go on breakfast TV. In 2018 he had a booth at Sydney Contemporary showing some of the collection in art frames. To aid their repatriation, and the return on his investment, the gallery did a new taxonomic survey of the collection, dividing them into 500 different thematic categories.

So far they estimate that they have sold about 160,000 photographs back to various Australian collections, including the Bradman Museum who have  purchased 24,000 cricket photographs, and Beleura who have purchased 20,000 theatre photographs. Last weekend the Canberra Museum and Gallery announced they had purchased 3,500 Canberra photographs, many from the Canberra Times, at $20,000. A good deal.  They plan to work with the University of Canberra to do the cataloguing that John Rogers promised and didn’t do. They still have to negotiate with the original photographers or Fairfax, which has now been swallowed by the media conglomerate of Nine Entertainment, to reproduce the post 1955 images.

Can we ever forgive that Fairfax executive? No we can’t. But what does this farrago tell us? Firstly that photographs, whether physical or digital are equally vulnerable. Australian photography is full of similar stories at varying degrees of apocrypha — of collodion being cleaned off plates for green house windows, of glass plate negatives being used for road ballast, and so. There are also stories of rescue missions, which is how the Duncan Miller Gallery see their work. For instance in 1929 the bookseller James Tyrell brought 7903 negatives from the Charles Kerry and Henry King studios, which were then sold to Australian Consolidated press in 1980, who donated them to the Powerhouse Museum in 1985. Secondly, it throws into relief the legal separation between the three values that photographs have always had: ownership, display and reproduction. Thirdly it brings to the fore an  increasingly important photographic value — searchability.

Fairfax did eventually got back a set of digital files from Rogers’ receiver in Arkansas. They are probably of low quality anyway, but without even a searchable interface they are next to useless. The physical archive’s current owner, the canny Duncan Miller Gallery, has realised the importance of the interface. While they have certainly capitalised on the short list of proper names of Australian photography in the collection, whose prints can be sold as individual ‘art works’, the gallery also realised they needed a ‘team of archivists’ to generate five hundred new separate categories out of the raw A to Z sequencing of the images. Major Categories, from ‘Aboriginal people’ to ‘Yachting’; Smaller Categories, from ‘Abacus to ‘Witch Doctor’’; and Personalities and People, from ‘Aboriginal people’ to ‘Zoo’. It remains to be seen how useful potential clients in Australia will find these newly generated search terms in approaching the vast opaque repository of images in America. But what is certain is that issues of the archive are only just beginning to come home to us.