Images of first All Blacks home test found

REWORKED: Athletic Park in 1904 between the All Blacks and British abnd Irish Lions by Chas W Martin.
REWORKED: Athletic Park in 1904 between the All Blacks and British abnd Irish Lions by Chas W Martin.

By his own count, Paul Martin has spent 800 hours digitally stitching together 10 glass-plate negatives of photos snapped by his grandfather Chas W Martin.

Historians are said to be "flabbergasted" by the Waikanae man's discovery of photographs of the first All Blacks test in New Zealand, at Athletic Park in 1904.

"I've taken what image data I can from the various glass-plate negatives and put it together like a jigsaw – that's just putting it very simply," Mr Martin, a former inventor, said. "It's turned out better than I even thought."

One of his aunts had often talked of his grandfather having snapped the historicgame and when he and his siblings inherited the family estate in 2005, they set about finding them.

There were hundreds of old glass negatives of photographs taken around the turn of the century, which had attracted the attention of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Mr Martin said.

New Zealand Rugby Museum manager Stephen Berg said they were blown away when the test match photo first came to their attention in about May this year.

"When Paul sent up a pre-image of it we were flabbergasted. We had no idea," he said.

"It's absolutely unique. That photo's never been seen before and it just came to light this year."

A photo of the first-ever test match in New Zealand would have been "all over the place", if it had been around before, he said. The image's clarity also set it apart.

"It's certainly a beautiful, beautiful quality photo and a very, very special photo."

Mr Berg said lots of material was brought to the museum "and we didn't kind of realise what it was until we looked at it closer and just said: `Oh wow, this is a really special photo.'

"It was unbelievable. And just the fact that it's been out there so long, you know, 106 years and it's never been into the public gaze, is quite remarkable.

"Unearthing these sorts of treasures are always great moments for a museum." Mr Berg said the stitched-together photograph would be blown up to about five metres wide, backlit and coloured and used as a backdrop for an Athletic Park display at the new rugby museum in Palmerston North, which opens in May next year.

The museum had been searching for an image for just that purpose, he said.

"It's like karma – we were looking for a photo and a photo comes out that no-one has ever seen before."

Mr Martin said a limited number of prints would be available for sale soon.

The Dominion Post