The manuscript that has become known as the ‘Hutchinson sketchbook’ is one of the most beguilingly mysterious items in the Library’s collection. Bound in vellum, it contains sixty-eight leaves of pale blue paper. The contents include a few rough maps and some writing, but of paramount interest are the large number of drawings of homesteads, livestock, landscapes and Māori men, women, carvings and canoes. Some of these were executed directly on the paper in pencil or (much less often) ink. The majority, however, have been pasted in. Several, such as the examples shown here, are finely finished in watercolours.
The sketchbook has been started from both ends, with sixteen leaves left blank in the middle. The inscription ‘C. I. [or possibly J.] Hutchinson, May 1848’ appears on the page behind one cover. The date, early in New Zealand’s colonial history, fits well with the drawings, in which the Māori figures often wear a mixture of indigenous and European attire. The identity of the signatory is not known, however, and it is debatable whether he (or she) was responsible for all of the contents. The writing in the sketchbook seems to be in more than one hand. The level of confidence and skill in the drawings seems also to vary. A few are rather rudimentary, but the best are on a par with Angas, Heaphy and Hoyte and suggest a trained artist.
The maps, which show the Taranaki region and stretches of the Wanganui River, look like quick amateur impressions rather than the work of an experienced cartographer. Possibly the Māori figures depicted in drawings represent Wanganui, Manawatu and Taranaki iwi, but this is by no means certain. The artist (or artists) might have visited many parts of the country.
On one page the signature ‘C. Hutchinson’ appears a dozen times above a simple pencil sketch of a cliffside landscape. The writer seems to have been practising the signature. Yet the handwriting does not look childish. Perhaps a recent bride was accustoming herself to her new surname. This is mere speculation, however. It cannot be said with any certainty whether the sketchbook was owned by an individual, shared by members of a family, or used at different times by more tenuously connected people.
The best conjecture is that the sketchbook came into Sir George Grey’s possession sometime during the latter half of his first term as Governor of New Zealand (1845-1853). It was among the large collection of books and manuscripts that he donated to the Cape Town Library (now the National Library of South Africa) in 1861. In spite of their distance from each other, there has long been an amiable accord between the public libraries of Cape Town and Auckland, as the two main beneficiaries of Grey’s largesse. At various times items clearly of greater significance to one nation than the other have been exchanged. The Hutchinson sketchbook was returned to Auckland from South Africa in 1998.