OUR TREASURES

When collection staff members at Whangārei Museum were assembling a variety of photography equipment recently in response to a request from NorthTec tutors, it presented a prime opportunity to examine these objects in greater detail, some more willing to reveal their stories than others.

While the majority of items identified for viewing were remnants from a local photographer's studio, there were some examples which stood out as superior to the rest which included a brass telephoto lens and additional lenses housed in a small latched container.

These camera accessories form part of a larger collection of photographic paraphernalia donated to the city's Museum in 1968 by Mr R K Pearson and were brought out to New Zealand by the donor's father in 1878.

Shipping records and passenger lists corroborate this story, revealing Mr George Pearson and his wife Elizabeth, both aged 27, along with their infant son George Thomas and baby Lizzie, travelled to London where they boarded the "May Queen" bound for New Zealand on July 20, 1878.

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Geroge Pearson and Harry Isaac in front of carriage in 1905. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library - James McAllister Collection
Geroge Pearson and Harry Isaac in front of carriage in 1905. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library - James McAllister Collection

After leaving Lincolnshire, where Pearson since a young man was engaged in house-painting and decorating, the family arrived in Auckland with over 240 other assisted immigrants to start a new chapter in their lives. Sadly, the couple's son died soon after their arrival in Auckland.

Although George already held a trade which he continued for a further nine years, he had also become a local preacher in his home country at the young age of 16. As a lay preacher, not a formally ordained cleric, Pearson would have been appointed to lead church services in a religious denomination.

This vocation also continued in the Colony where he assisted in preaching work for the Methodist Church.

It appears sermonising was hereditary as George's father and grandfather were both preachers in their native land, an occupation which consumed Pearson for many years.

The brass telephoto lens and additional lenses housed in a small latched container in the Whangārei Museum archives. Photo / Supplied
The brass telephoto lens and additional lenses housed in a small latched container in the Whangārei Museum archives. Photo / Supplied

Employed as a Home Missionary since 1887 initially at Helensville, Pearson later transferred with his family of six, including his son Ralph (donor), from Kaeo to Rawene in 1895. Pearson often journeyed long distances on horseback and travelled by boat which he built himself, to remote settlements.

By the end of the 19th century there were a number of smaller Protestant denominations without clergy which depended on lay preachers such as Pearson to communicate their message, sometimes travelling to outlying areas in a carriage which had evangelising slogans painted on the sides.

Gifted with energy and eloquence, Reverend Pearson impressed his congregations by his vigorous earnestness, breadth of sympathy and good cheer, gaining him wide popularity.

This was not the only talent held by Pearson. The collection of camera equipment in the Museum's possession is a hint of another aspect of Pearson's life which he undertook with equal seriousness and professionalism.

Reported to be an expert photographer, Reverend Pearson probably used these lenses during his time in Northland where he was renowned for his photographic ability by his parishioners and extraordinary illustrations of the northern districts through his camera.

One of the objects in the collection. Photo / Supplied
One of the objects in the collection. Photo / Supplied

The brass telephoto lens and the "Casket Combination Rectigraph Series" of lenses, manufactured by Jas Lancaster & Son Ltd, Birmingham, a prominent photographic company reported to be the largest makers of photographic apparatus in the world during the 1890s, were meticulously made by experienced craftsmen and are a lasting testament to the time and skill required to make them.

While being a faithful helper of the Ministry providing religious ordinances for members of small and distant Northland communities, it is obvious from the Museum objects handed down to his son, that Reverend Pearson was also a devoted and serious photographer.

Furthermore, Pearson had an alternative interest in the tinning of peaches, gaining a silver medal for his exhibit in a Paris exhibition, but that's another story.

• Natalie Brookland is collections curator, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.