Known also as ‘panoramic’ or ‘perspective’ maps, bird's-eye views of cities became popular in many parts of the world during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The idea was to depict street patterns, prominent buildings and other landscape features as if viewed from above at an oblique angle. Sometimes the artists had recourse to hot-air ballons. More often, as was probably the case with this rendition of Auckland, they were reliant on observations made while trudging the city streets and the vistas available from taller buildings.
The inscription on the lower left corner reads: ‘This view is compiled and drawn as from a point one thousand feet above and one hundred feet to the rear of the hospital during the year 1885 and part of 1886, by George Treacy Stevens.’ Little is known about the artist. He might be the ‘George Stevens’ buried in Karori Cemetery, Wellington, in 1916. Founded in January 1870, the Evening Star was a newspaper of four to six pages, retailing for one penny and published every day except Sunday. Its name was changed to the Auckland Star on April 13, 1887. Advertisements of the period reveal that the Star's printing office, which occupied premises between Fort Street and Shortland Street, undertook all manner of work from trade circulars, commercial stationery and labels for canning and bottling to books, legal deeds, auction sale plans, dance programmes and large theatrical posters for outdoor hoardings.
In spite of large changes to the foreshore, Aucklanders will find much that is familiar in the 1886 bird's-eye view. The street names are the same as today with only a few exceptions, such as Alexandra (now Airedale), Abercrombie (now Saint Paul) and Patteson (now Victoria Street West). There are a few traps for the unwary, however. The structure spanning Grafton Gully in the foreground is not the current ferro-concrete Grafton Bridge (which was not completed until April 1910), but the wooden footbridge designed by city engineer William Anderson and erected in 1884.