More than two dozen rare watercolours painted by a former New Zealand prime minister have been found hanging on the wall of an English cottage.
The find has New Zealand historians pleading for the "rare" collection to be reproduced or exhibited, so that Kiwis have the chance to see an "exciting" part of their history.
Waikato Times journalist Chris Gardner stumbled upon the paintings - by English pastoralist-turned-politician Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld - on his native Isle of Wight this month while researching the history of the ruins of an 18th-century mansion where he grew up.
They were painted about a decade after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and about a decade before Weld served as New Zealand premier, or prime minister, from 1864 to 1865.
“I knocked on the door of this cottage, no longer part of the estate, introduced myself and asked if I could swap historical notes with the owner," Gardner said.
"When we had finished he asked me if I had heard of Weld and would like to see his paintings. I was almost speechless when the cultural and historical significance of what I was seeing hit me.”
All the paintings were recognisable New Zealand places, with annotations on the back.
New Zealand's foremost expert on Weld, Waikato Times sub-editor Jeanine Graham, thought Weld might have painted some of the works in October 1854, when he and a parliamentary colleague, James Stuart-Wortley, travelled from the General Assembly in Auckland to Tauranga, Maketu and Rotorua.
Included in the set are paintings of the Thames Valley, at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula, the volcanic Mt Tarawera, its pink and white terraces and a nearby Maori village, which were destroyed when the volcano erupted on June 10, 1886, and Whakarewarewa thermal village.
The paintings were discovered by Weld's great-great-great-grandson in the the family home's attic about 25 years ago.
“They were in a folder kept in a trunk with a lot of family archives, loose leafed in a folder,” he said.
Back then the New Zealand High Commission in London was contacted, and it showed great interest in the find, but neither the family nor New Zealand House could easily place their hands on any correspondence relating to the pictures.
“There are 22 framed and a number of additional watercolours and pencil sketchings we have loose in a large envelope,” a family member said.
New Zealand historians are pleading for the collection to be reproduced because the family have no interest in selling them. The family were open to having them exhibited.
The collection is insured but the family did not want to reveal its value. But experts say it would be tens of thousands of dollars.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongrewa in Wellington knew of Weld's work, but had none, referring the Times to The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Matauranga O Aoteroa, the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Curator of drawings, paintings and prints Marian Minson described the find as "very exciting" because about 200 of Weld's watercolours were known but only about 50 were in New Zealand.
"I would be very interested to look at them. Copying them would be a good thing to do. It's the sort of thing we would talk to the owners about."
After leaving New Zealand in 1866 Weld became a colonial governor in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Straits Settlement of Malaya. He died in 1891, aged 68, in the UK. As well as Graham's biography, Weld's life inspired Michael Wall's detective novel The Temptations of Frederick Weld published in 2003.
SIR FREDERICK ALOYSIUS WELD
As New Zealand premier, Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld met with mixed success.
In 1865 the capital was moved to Wellington, and his proposals for Maori relations were adopted. These generated considerable bitterness, however – Aucklanders were angry about the change of capital, and Maori were angry about the confiscation of more than 400,000 hectares of land in Waikato.
Weld's other success, the withdrawal of British troops from New Zealand, was also controversial, and generated considerable hostility from the governor.
In addition, the government's financial situation was precarious. A little less than a year after taking office, Weld's government resigned.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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