Wednesday, 15 June 2011

George Valentine and the Hot Lakes

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
Mount Tarawera in eruption, 10 June 1886 [1]

At 2.30 in the morning on Thursday 10th June 1886 - 125 years ago last Friday - many Auckland residents were woken by a continuous series of loud, but distant, explosions. Flashes could be seen on the horizon and it was assumed, even by writers compiling the early edition of The New Zealand Herald, that some vessel in the Manukau Harbour had exploded [2]. If George Valentine, his wife Minna and their three children, by some chance, did not wake until a more respectable hour, they would soon have heard the news, even at their home in the borough of Parnell. By nine o'clock the Auckland Evening Star offices had received reports of a "tremendous outburst of volcanic activity ... in the Rotorua District, surpassing anything of the kind ever experienced in New Zealand." [3]

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
Te Wairoa Township, c.1886 [4]

Valentine was familiar with the "Hot Lakes," having visited Rotorua and the nearby Lakes Tarawera and Rotomahana early the previous year on a photographic excursion. George Dobson Valentine (1852-1890) was a son of the renowned Scottish pioneer photographer and publisher of views James Valentine (1815-1880). After his father's death, he and his brother William had continued to expand the photographic business.

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
"In The Tiki Tapu Bush" - January 1885 [5]

However after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, he emigrated to New Zealand with his family in 1884, in the hope that the climate would revive his health. Initially settling in Nelson, he had begun publishing photographic views under his own name, and one of his earliest projects was a photographic expedition to the Rotomahana District, near Rotorua, with Auckland bookseller Charles Chapman.

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
"Rotomahana Hotel, Te Wairoa" - January 1885 [6]

From Auckland, they travelled via Cambridge, Oxford (now called Tirau) and Rotorua over several days in January 1885. The journey to Te Wairoa, on the shores of Lake Tarawera, was a shorter leg, and they were able to spend some time admiring the pristine podocarp forest at Tikitapu. They spent the night at Joseph McRae's Rotomahana Hotel, and obtained permission from the local chiefs to camp at the famous Pink and White Terraces.

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
"White Terrace and Lake Rotomahana" - January 1885 [7]

Early the following morning on 13 January 1885 Valentine and Chapman departed by whale boat across Lake Tarawera to the small settlement of Te Ariki. They were accompanied by Guide Sophia, chief Tamihana Te Keu, a small group of tourists and the crew. A short walk then ensued to the "warm lake" Rotomahana, where the vista opened up to reveal the famed Te Tarata or White Terraces. Coincidentally, artist Charles Blomfield was camped nearby, in the middle of a lengthy stay during which he would paint a number of now well known views of the terraces.

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
"Coffee Cups, White Terraces" - January 1885 [8]
Clik image to read full series of articles

They set up camp close to the White Terraces and remained for several days, during which time Valentine produced over 40 scenic views with his glass plate camera, including this atmospheric image of the almost waxy looking siliceous basins with a fine veil of steam. After his return home to Nelson, these views were later published and marketed by Chapman. One of them was awarded a second prize at the New Zealand Industrial Exhbition in August, pipped at the post by Alfred Burton of Dunedin.

Image courtesy of Papers Past and the National Library of New Zealand
Great Volcanic Eruption. Terror in Hot Lake District
The Auckland Evening Star, 10 June 1886 [3]

The Valentine family had moved to Auckland in October 1885, and had therefore been living there for some eight months on the morning that the dreadful news broke concerning the "terror in the Hot Lake district." News of the tragic loss of life was greeted with dismay, almost matched by the despair at reports of the devastation, affecting both personal property and the countryside, and including the Pink and White Terraces.

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
"Tiki-Tapu Bush, After Eruption" - October 1886 [9]

Photographers were on site recording the devastation within days, but George Valentine did not make it there until early October. He and Chapman were accompanied by Joseph McRae, whose hotel at Te Wairoa had been all but demolished in the ash fall, and guide Alfred Warbrick. The luxurious bush at Tikitapu was now an array of bare wooden tree trunks, sadly stripped of all signs of the green thicket captured so vividly the previous year.

Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand/Te Papa Tongarewa
"Te Wairoa. McRae's Hotel, Sophia's Whare and Terrace Hotel" - October 1886 [10]

They sheltered for the night in what remained of McRae's collapsed hotel before being rowed across the lake to Te Ariki. The scenes which they encountered, and which Valentine photographed, revealed a landscape denuded of all vegetation, and most recognisable landmarks were obliterated with a thick blanket of grey volcanic ash. Smoke and steam were spurting out of the ground in many locations, and when they reached the former site of the White Terraces, the valley had been filled with an enormous lake, several times the size of the original Rotomahana.

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
"Rotomahana, from Hape O' Toroa" - October 1886 [11]

Both the Pink and White Terraces were gone, replaced with the all encompassing tephra field, criss-crossed with erosion gullies and hard to traverse. Valentine returned to the area a month later to take further photographs of the southern part of the volcanic area, near Waimangu, accompanied by government engineer John Blythe. The results were published in several different formats and publications, which is fortunate, as the original glass plate negatives have not survived. The images displayed here are from prints and copy negatives in the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library and Te Papa. The Assistant Surveyor-General later "determined," after surveying the area, that the White Terraces had been destroyed.

Image courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library
"Mnts. Tarawera and Ruawahia from Te Ariki" - October 1886 [12]

Valentine visited the area again in 1887 and 1889, and made further photographic excursions to the Pacific Islands of Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa and Rarotonga (1887), as well as to the previously little known limestone caves at Waitomo (1889). However, his first two sets of landscapes from the "Hot Lakes" region are perhaps better known than the rest. This image of the muddy shore of Lake Tarawera, with the mass of the ash-covered volcano forming a forbidding backdrop, and the lone boatman beaching what is presumably Warbrick's recently launched whaleboat, is one of the most enduring - and for me, haunting - of Valentine's post-eruption photographs.

On 26 February 1890, shortly after his return from photographing Pohutu and other geysers at Whakarewarewa, near Rotorua, George Valentine succumbed to the tuberculosis which had brought him to New Zealand. He was only 38 years old. His wife and children returned to Dundee, Scotland soon after.

Epilogue


The question of whether the Pink and White Terraces had been destroyed during Tarawera's eruption, or whether they were buried under layers of ash, has been revisited several times. The latest boost to this story, nicely timed for the 125th anniversary of the event, is the news that a team from GNS and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have discovered at least portions of both the Pink and White Terraces intact, submerged in Lake Rotomahana. The disappointing one-hour (including adverts) documentary that Prime aired on Sunday evening was long on history and hype, and very short on hard fact and images, with only a few brief underwater clips of the shown towards the end of the hour-long session. However, this web page from GNS includes a 4:37 minute video (click image above) by Dr Cornel de Ronde discussing the discoveries, with plenty of great images (and another YouTube video here).

References

[1] Blomfield, Charles (1886) Mount Tarawera in eruption, June 10, 1886 (From the native village of Waitangi, Lake Tarawera, New Zealand), W. Potts, lithograph after C. Blomfield, publ. Wanganui, New Zealand: A.D. Willis, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. C-033-002.

[2] Hall, Ken (2004) George D. Valentine: A 19th Century Photographer in New Zealand, Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing, 132p.

[3] Anon (1886) Great Volcanic Eruption: Terror in Hot Lake District, The Auckland Evening Star, 10 June 1886, from Papers Past, courtesy of National Library of New Zealand.

[4] Wairoa township, from Te Komiti, Lithograph 313 x 216 mm by unknown artist, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. B-051-009.

[5] In the Tiki Tapu Bush, near Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake), Rotorua, 41, Albumen print, 190 x 289 mm, by George D. Valentine, January 1885, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA7-54-24.

[6] Rotomahana Hotel, Te Wairoa, 38, Albumen print, 292 x 191 mm, by George D. Valentine, January 1885, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA7-60-02.

[7] White Terrace and Lake Rotomahana, Albumen print, by George D. Valentine, January 1885, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA1-q-138-009.

[8] Coffee Cups, White Terraces, Albumen print, 290 x 189 mm, by George D. Valentine, January 1885, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA1-q-212-20.

[9] Tiki-Tapu Bush, after Eruption, 119, Albumen print, 187 x 289 mm, by George D. Valentine, October 1886, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA7-54-03.

[10] Te Wairoa. McRae's Hotel, Sophia's Whare and Terrace Hotel, Albumen print, 292 x 192 mm, by George D. Valentine, October 1886, courtesy of Museum of New Zealand/Te Papa Tongarewa, Ref. O.030859.

[11] Rotomahana, from Hape O' Toroa, 146, Albumen print, by George D. Valentine, November 1886, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA1-q-138-005.

[12] Mnts. Tarawera and Ruawahia from Te Ariki, 129, Albumen print, 290 x 188 mm, by George D. Valentine, October 1886, courtesy of Timeframes & the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA7-54-01.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment

Join my blog network
on Facebook