Henry Winkelmann. Photograph of Quay Street East, 7 August 1906

Henry Winkelmann. Photograph of Quay Street East, 7 August 1906. Henry Winkelmann. Photograph of Quay Street East, 7 August 1906

One of the most talented photographers operating in New Zealand at the dawn of the twentieth century, Henry Winkelmann tried his hand at several occupations before deciding, at age forty, to earn a living from his camera. Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, in 1860, he sailed to New Zealand in 1878, following the lead of his elder brother, Charles, who had emigrated three years earlier. At first he lived in Dunedin, but by the early 1880s he had moved to Auckland.

In 1881, unemployed and desperate for money, he embarked with a companion on an expedition to claim remote, uninhabited Jarvis Island (midway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands) for the merchant shipping company Henderson and Macfarlane, who were keen to exploit the commercial possibilities of guano (the phosphate-rich excrement of seabirds, prized as a fertilizer). The two men were supposed to stay on the island for three months to validate the claim. The rescue ship was very late arriving, however, and they ended up stranded on barren Jarvis, close to starvation, for eight soul-depleting months. It is hardly surprising that Winkelmann opted thereafter for the comparative safety of working as a clerk for the Bank of New Zealand. He supplemented his income by playing and teaching the zither.

He purchased his first camera (a state-of-the-art Lancaster Instantographer, with fast shutter speed and adjustable leather bellows) in 1892 and soon began contributing images to magazines and winning photographic competitions. Resigning from the bank in 1895, he farmed for a while on Great Barrier Island, bought and sold land, invested in the sharemarket, became a customs agent and served as secretary of the Coastal Steamship Company. Finally, in 1901, he opened a photographic studio in Victoria Arcade in central Auckland.

Winkelmann was exceptionally versatile in the assignments he undertook, which ranged from fine studio portraits to maritime scenes shot from ships’ masts. A meticulous recorder of Auckland’s changing streetscape, he was careful to record the dates of all his images in accession registers. Thus his photographs are valued not just for their technical mastery and aesthetic appeal but as a precise visual record of the past.

The skilful composition shown here is angled southwest along Quay Street from the old Railway Wharf. The schooners in the foreground are the Kereru (left) and Waiapu. The Edwardian enterprises that Winkelmann has captured are (in sequence, beginning at far left) the premises of A and G Price, W A Ryan and Company Limited, the Northern Steamship Company Limited, A J Parker and Company, New Zealand Shipping Company Limited, Northern Roller Mills, Endean’s Building, the Gladstone Building and the Auckland Harbour Board offices (at far right).

The Old Colonists Museum purchased a large collection of Winkelmann’s Auckland images from the photographer himself in 1928. These were transferred to the Library after the museum’s closure in 1957. Winkelmann died in 1931.

Related resources: Henry Winkelmann; Heritage Images Online- view our database; heritage photograph collection; overview of the Auckland city area local history

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