Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Hoby print revisited

Composite portrait of the Hoby family, New Plymouth, c.1866
Image courtesy of Philip Duke

In part 5 of my biographical sketch of George Hoby, photographer of New Plymouth and Nelson, I included this image of a composite photograph of the Hoby family, taken around 1866. It was sent to me by Hoby descendant Philip Duke, who told me that it was scanned from an original at the Puke Ariki Museum in New Plymouth.

Taranaki Museum photo index card with "Hoby composite portrait"
Image courtesy of Puke Ariki

I subsequently received a series of images from Kate Boocock, Pictorial Technician at Puke Ariki. The first image, taken from "file card drawers in the research centre," appears to be a Taranaki Museum (succeeded by Puke Ariki in 2003) photo index card with a very similar version of the "Hoby composite image" either printed on or affixed to it. Handwritten in the relevant spaces on the card are a File Number P.2.1436, Negative Number LN 672, the names of the subjects in each of the cameo frames, the number E.C.385 and a note "storage album 2, pg 37." The final note may refer to the location of an "original," but of course this location reference may no longer be valid.

Mounted photographic print of "Hoby composite portrait"
Image courtesy of Puke Ariki

Of much greater interest was a scan of "a black and white copy photograph, mounted on card that was on display in the old Taranaki Museum." I have made the following observations:
- the buff-coloured card mount measures approx. 234 x 296 mm
- the b&w photographic print, slightly smaller than the mount, measures approx. 231 x 293 mm, has three small pin holes at top right, top left and bottom centre, and slight flaking damage to the photographic emulsion at edges and corners
- part of a white rectangular passe-partout frame with rounded corners is visible, internal dimensions approx. 199 x 265 mm
- series of 10 elliptical-shaped cut-out vignetted head-and-shoulders portraits (each approx. 57 x 73 mm) arranged in 2-3-2-3 pattern, and overlapping from bottom to top, on a darker background

Edge of "Hoby composite portrait" frame, compared with typical 1850s/1860s ambrotype frame

The passé partout frame appears to be very similar in design to those sometimes used for ambrotype (collodion positive) photographs in the 1850s and 1860s (example here), probably somewhat more expensive than the standard wooden cases lined with velvet, with the glass positive image mounted behind a brass matt and pinchbeck surround (example here).

The largest format glass plate negative in general use during the 1860s was the full plate, measuring a standard 6½" x 8½" (or 165 x 216 mm). Since the internal dimensions of the frame visible in the photographic print are substantially larger than this, the print is most likely to have been an enlargement. This fact, in combination with the appearance of the photographic emulsion, suggests to me that the print was made some time later than the original composite was produced. It is possible that it was produced when the Taranaki Museum either acquired the original, or had it on loan, perhaps from a family member. The appearance of light and dark patches within the darker background may be due to reflections from a glass behind which the original was mounted.

Detail of "Hoby composite portrait" print
Image courtesy of Puke Ariki

The overlapping nature of the vignetted cameo portraits, as well as the appearance of shadows at the edges of the cameos (see detail above) suggests that the individual head-and-shoulders portraits were originally printed separately using the vignetting techniques that Hoby displayed in other portraits (see Hoby Part 4). They were then cut out and arranged on a plain, darker backgroundbefore being mounted behind glass and in the ambrotype-style frame.

Reverse of "Hoby composite portrait" print card mount
Image courtesy of Puke Ariki

The reverse of the card mount shows a series of label remnants, inscriptions and annotations, obviously created at different times and by a variety of hands, as follows (and not necessarily in the order they were created).
(1) The remnants of a rectangular label are visible close to the top of the mount, its approximate original extent visible from the
(2) What may be the earliest extant inscription is handwritten in pencil:
Mr + Mrs Geo Hoby + family
Mr + Mrs H + the elder members
of family arrived in N.P. from
London, of which they were citizens,
by the "Fatima" in 1851.
The names of family starting from
second row from top + from left to right
Oliver, Amy (Mrs Keeling), George
Clara (Mrs Merridge) Lilla,
Arthur, Percy, Hubert
(3) Handwritten in pencil at the top, probably in several different hands, different again from that of (2) above, is the text "EARLY SETTLERS: groups and reference numbers, "P2/1436" and "LN 672."
(4) Handwritten in black ink, possibly felt tip, at top right, is the number "25."
(5) The list of subjects has been re-written, by a different hand, in black ink.
(6) The reference number E.C. 385, handwritten in black ink, has been added.
(7) A purple stamp, "TARANAKI MUSEUM," is at the bottom of the mount.
(8) A number, possibly "26," is handwritten in black ink close to the bottom edge of the mount, appearing to have been crossed out in slightly different black or brown ink.
(9) A thin, irregularly trimmed rectangle of white paper, measuring roughly 289 x 129 mm and with typewritten text (image above), has been glued by its left hand edge to the back of the card mount. The text - relating to George Hoby junior rather than his father, who died in 1882 - reads as follows:
MR G. HOBY AND FAMILY Page 49 Obituaries
He died on the 4th October, 1927.
The death of Mr. G. Hoby, one of the oldest settlers in the Bell Block, occured in the N.P. Hospital yesterday. Mr. Hoby was in his 85th year. He was one of the earliest settlers in Bell Block and there he had his schooling. As youn g man he found himself in the thick of the Maori War. he immediately joined Captain Deveaux's Mounted Corps and served with it from 1861-1866. Mr. Hoby went right through the Maori War, taking an active part in the famous battle of Waireka.
Trooper Hoby gained the reputation of being one of the most daring fighters in the district. He flirted with danger.
After the way, he continued his military duties, being Captain of the Volunteer Corps at Bell Block for some years after Captain Cornwall had retired. Later in life he carried on a contracting firm and then a land commission business. he was a good type of settler, a fine, hard-working man in his prime, and straight in his dealings. he married Miss H. Chapman whose parent emigrated from England, and who predeceased him by about two years. Mr Hoby leaves eight children, Mrs G.E. Grover (Fitzroy), Mts Motteram (Opotiki) Mrs Wood (Whareroa), Mrs Somerville (Okoia), Mrs Addenbrooke (Ngaere), and Messrs G. Hoby (Nelson), P. Hoby (Tataraimaka), and R. Hoby (Bell Block). Another son Stanley, was killed in the Great War.
Not being familiar with the Taranaki Museum and Puke Ariki cataloguing and refencing systems and practices, I can't comment on the several numbers present, except to say that several different number sequences may have been employed over the years. The handwritten number "26" (8) appears to have been partly truncated, which may indicate that the mount has been trimmed at some stage. The pin holes are probably a relict of its being used for display purposes in the old Taranaki Museum.


An anlaysis of a scan of the mounted photographic print of the "Hoby composite portrait" provided by Puke Ariki has revealed that it is a later copy of a pre-existing composite portrait. The mounted copy print appears to have been produced (possibly by Puke Ariki's predecessor, the Taranaki Museum) by photographing either the framed print or a print of that. The "original" may have been constructed by George Hoby senior himself, by photographing and printing portraits of the family members, cutting out the cameos, and mounting them on a darker background, probably under glass, and then within an ambrotype-style frame. What has happened to that "original" is another matter altogether, perhaps best left to Hoby descendants to pursue if they wish. It may well not have survived, which makes the documentation of this print, possibly the best surviving copy, all the more important.

Treatment of the Photograph as an Artefact

Researching this article has been a timely reminder - to myself as much as I hope it will be to the readers of Photo-Sleuth - that thorough examination and analysis of a photograph as a physical object, or artefact, is often just as important as are discussions about the photographer/originator or the subjects. Such a description will provide a firm base on which all future work can be done, and an analysis will often provide very useful clues regarding provenance, photographers, dates and subjects featured in the photograph. To conduct these examinations, it's obviously best to have the artefact in your hand, suitably gloved, or many details and subtleties may be lost. However, when this is not possible much can be deduced from digital scans, provided they are done properly.

I don't intend to provide an exhaustive list of scanning Dos and Don'ts (perhaps in a later article), but these are the most important things to keep in mind. To produce useful, I strongly recommend that the user familiarise his/herself with the scanner control software, and that the scanning operations be carried out from within the software, rather than using the buttons on the scanner. It just isn't possible to manipulate the scanner parameters when using the scanner buttons.

  • Scan in full 24-bit (or 48-bit) colour, even if the photograph itself is black and white.
  • Always include the full extent of the print, mount and any enclosing folders.
  • Scan the reverse as well, even if there are no obvious marks or inscriptions.
  • Scan at the highest resolution (optical, not interpolated) the scanner can manage; a minimum resolution 300dpi is just acceptable, 600dpi better, but 1200dpi is best. Note that the smaller the original, the larger resolution you need to use to capture detail.
  • Save all files in TIF format, and optionally in JPG format at the same time, although you can easily convert them subsequently.
  • Number and file the scans meaningfully.
Many thanks to Kate Boocock of Puke Ariki and Philip Duke for their assistance in this project.

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