In 1840, before leaving England to become Governor of South Australia, George Grey sought an interview with Tyneside tycoon George Fife Angas (1789-1879), founder of the South Australian Company and the most powerful landowner in the new colony, with holdings of about 43,000 hectares. This was the beginning of a warm accord between Grey and the Angas family which extended over many years. When George Fife's eldest son, the talented artist George French Angas (1822-86) visited South Australia early in 1844, Grey not only received the young man hospitably but accompanied him on expeditions to remote parts of the colony.
In July 1844 George French interrupted his Australian explorations to make a side-trip to New Zealand on a South Australian Company schooner. Stopping first at Port Nicholson (Wellington), he travelled to Porirua, where he met the great Ngati Toa warrior chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, then ventured south to Cloudy Bay and the Wairau Valley before sailing to Auckland. He visited the pa at Orakei, where he painted a portrait of Ngati Whatua leader Apihai Te Kawau, then travelled through the Waikato region to Lake Taupo and the volcanic plateau. Fascinated by Māori customs, dwelling-places and attire, he made careful pencil and watercolour sketches during his journey and also kept a detailed journal.
Angas elaborated on these sketches in a series of paintings of New Zealand and Australian scenes that he exhibited in Adelaide and Sydney in the early months of 1845 and in England on his return later that year. The paintings were, in turn, the basis for two large volumes of hand-coloured lithographic plates, South Australia illustrated and The New Zealanders illustrated, published in London in 1847. Angas returned to Australia in 1850. From 1853 to 1860 he was secretary of the Australian Museum in Sydney. He settled in London for good in 1863. He did not revisit New Zealand.
Particularly valued today for the wealth of detail it contains about Māori life during the early colonial period, The New Zealanders illustrated comprises sixty plates with an accompanying page of text on each subject written by Angas. In his preface, dated July 1 1846, he comments, 'Perhaps, at the present moment, no country in the world is more peculiarly interesting than New Zealand; no race of men more singular than its Aboriginal Inhabitants.'
The Library's copy was a gift to Sir George Grey from the Angas family. Pasted into the front of the book is a lithographed portrait of the painter's father, signed 'Yours very affectionately, George Fife Angas'.
Related resources: Rare books collection.