The Visitors’ Books at the Lindauer Art Gallery

Tastefully bound in shiny green leather, the two imposing ledgers sat side by side on a table in the gallery that opened in Queen Street in 1901.


Fig. 1 Richardson, James D; Burton Brothers Looking north along Queen St … 1880 Reproduced with the permission of the Auckland City Libraries

Embossed on one is the title 'PUKAPUKA MO NGA MANUHIRI TANGATA MATAKIT[A]KI', today informally known as the 'Māori Visitors' Book'. The other carries the title 'VISITORS BOOK LINDAUER ART GALLERY' (Fig. 1) and is referred to as the 'Pākehā Visitors' Book'. In fact, there were Māori visitors who inscribed their names on the very first page of the Pākehā Visitors' Book and, when the Pākehā book was filled completely in 1908, everyone then inscribed the Māori Book. These hundreds of texts, contributed by Māori and Pākehā visitors, foreign tourists and sundry graffitists, document the bicultural context of what amounted to an extraordinary national portrait gallery of Māori celebrities.

On the very first page of the Māori Book appears the shaky signature of Ruka Aratapu (Fig.2),  the fifth recorded visitor to the gallery and the subject of a portrait on display, who came with a group from Poverty Bay on 3 June 1901. Most of the Māori visitors belonged to the succeeding generations: the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews. Sometimes characterising themselves as the 'morehu', or remnant, they saluted their now-departed elders who were arrayed before them in the gallery. And following the messages of greeting and farewell came fulsome accolades to the 'tohunga', Gottfried Lindauer, and to the generous patron and curator, Henry Partridge, whose initiative in forming the gallery was commended by so many of the Māori visitors.

This rich documentation of Māori engagement with the collection reveals a distinctive reception of ancestral depictions that, while distinct from European notions of art and ethnography, inevitably co-existed with these categories. While portrait paintings had long served important roles within the Māori world, displayed within meeting houses and deployed at tangihanga, such collections emphasised the genealogical connections between portrayed individuals. By contrast, the collection of Lindauer portraits formed by Partridge - encompassing a multiplicity of tribes, both 'rebels' and 'friendlies' - was quite distinct from those extant within the Māori world. This is the point made by Tupotahi Tukorehu of Kihikihi (no. 147): 'The caretaker of these paintings was right to display them at the same place'.

By the 1890s, Partridge's fast-growing collection had achieved considerable fame in both the Māori and Pākehā worlds. Descendants and relatives were regularly welcomed at the Partridge residence in Grafton Road (Fig.3), and it is likely that the facilitation of such visits was a significant motive behind the 1901 opening of the Lindauer Art Gallery. The very existence of the Māori book, in which the Māori-language letterpress invites viewers to contribute, is evidence that Māori access to the collection was central to the planning of the Lindauer Art Gallery. This need not have excluded other motives, such as the provision of secure housing for a uniquely valuable collection of national significance.

Certainly, many of the visitors thought that Partridge's initiative was one made on behalf of Māori. Rameka Poi of Waiapu (no. 124) considered it 'a noble gesture', while Te Kei Paehua of Ngāti Raukawa (no. 145) paid homage 'to the Pākehā who fashioned you in this way to be admired by your future descendants'. Hone Mima Tiuakauamate of Ngāti Porou (no. 157) wrote that 'to my knowledge it is an act of kindness to us from the Pākehā, to take care of things like this so that we will remember our loved ones who have departed from us'.

Mita K. Ngatipare of Raglan visited the gallery on at least three occasions, when he inscribed fulsome messages in the book (nos 125, 154 and 164). Ngatipare shows his awareness that Partridge had created something distinctively new in bringing together individuals of disparate tribes but, together with many Māori visitors, he invokes the gallery as a profoundly Māori space: 'Farewell to you, the noble people of New Zealand, in your house that is remembered as Aotearoa'.

Over and over, the Māori visitors wrote of the 'whakamiharo' - surprise or amazement - provoked by the life-like quality of the portraits, and of how they could sense the spiritual presence of the depicted ancestors. The Rev. Hone Peri Paerata of Ngāti Tuwharetoa (no. 108) writes of Te Heuheu Tukino's 'amazement in relation to the spiritual chiefs [rangatira wairua] present in physical form in this house'. According to Rere Te Kowha of Ngā Puhi (no, 146), 'they are happy living here in the presence of my Pākehā friend, who has done a great job'.

Fig. 4 Apirana Turupa Ngata, ca 1905, b&w copy negative, 35mm-00094-D-F, Timeframes

In an evocative phrase, Apirana Ngata (Fig.4) (no. 84) referred to Lindauer's paintings as 'shadow carvings of the European artist' (te ata whakairo a te tohunga Pakeha), thereby incorporating them within a Māori aesthetic. In 1903, a mother and daughter (nos 189 and 190) wrote 'we the Māori do not know how to make these images of our ancestors, so greetings to you'. Five years later, on 12 June 1908, Kuini Wi Rangipupu of Ngāti Ruanui and Rangitopeora of Te Atiawa expressed their 'great admiration for the Pākehā expert', but also expressed the hope that Māori might take up portrait painting for themselves: 'We sincerely hope the day will come when Māori will acquire this skill as it seems very much akin to the carving work of the Māori'.

It is impossible to quantify the early Māori visitation to the Partridge collection with any precision, in part due to the likelihood that not all visitors inscribed the book. Individual entries were given consecutive numbers until mid-1907, when the Māori book took on a more chaotic aspect following the completion of the Pākehā book with its 7039 numbered visitors over a six-year period. Nevertheless, of the 332 numbered entries made in the Māori book over this same period, the vast majority were made by Māori visitors.


Fig. 5 Cover of the [Pākehā] Visitors' Book

While not yet digitally accessible, the Pākehā book (Fig. 5) is also a crucial source for the reception of the Lindauer Art Gallery. One of the earliest visitors, William Simpson of Sydney, wrote on 31 May 1901 that it was 'more interesting than the public Art Gallery; it is to be hoped that this will never be lost to the public of New Zealand', while an Auckland visitor on 2 July 1901 felt 'bound to say that they are the best I have seen outside the National Gallery, London'. A more measured judgment came from J. A. Baker of London, the special artist and correspondent accompanying the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in 1901 (Fig.6): 'Fine example of disinterested work in interest of education, than which no subject is more important. Kia ora, Mr. Partridge. When New Zealand wakes to a proper interest in its traditions, it will owe you much.' Another informed foreign visitor was Allen Hutchinson, a British-born sculptor who produced a bust of Lindauer for Partridge's gallery (Fig.7). Hutchinson characteristically stressed the ethnological importance of the collection: 'The value of Mr Lindauer's work can hardly be estimated by this generation. The time when such types can be procured is rapidly passing. It will be the generations to come who will understand the full value of such a collection.'

Fig. 9 Te Māori Te Hokinga Mai The Return Home at the Auckland City Art Gallery, 1987

James Cowan (Fig. 8)1  published a selection of visitors' comments in an appendix to his Pictures of Early New Zealand, the 1930 book that documented the entire Partridge Collection. While these excerpts have been known to New Zealand art historians, until recently the ledgers themselves remained hidden in a basement storeroom of the Auckland Art Gallery. As it turns out, they are much more than a roll-call of famous names, recording their visits to Auckland's latest attraction. Instead, they reveal an astonishing intensity and intimacy of engagement on the part of a wide range of relatives and descendants, who speak to and sometimes hear from the portraits, and provide compelling evidence of the spiritual presence that Māori visitors sensed in the collection. This same presence was felt by successive generations, who continued to pay such visits after the collection became available at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1915. Perhaps the greatest occasion in their subsequent history was when the great-great-grandchildren assembled before the entire collection of portraits in 1987, at the opening of Te Māori: Te Hokinga Mai (Fig. 9) at the Auckland City Art Gallery.


Roger Blackley, Victoria University of Wellington Te Whare Wānanga o te Upoko o te Ika a Māui


  1. David Colquhoun, ‘Cowan, James 1870-1943’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007, accessed 13 April 2010.
Tāia tēnei whārangi | Print this page
Etahi atu whakaahua
Ako ano
  • Whakaahua Mūori | Mūori Portraits

    View the portraits of Māori painted by Gottfried Lindauer in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Search for specific portraits by iwi or keyword and view the painting in detail through the zoom viewer.

  • Tangata pūkenga | The Artist

    Learn about Gottfried Lindauer, one of the best-known painters of Māori portraits. Read about his painting techniques, why the works were painted, and the role of his patron Henry Partridge.

  • Documentary series | Behind the Brush

    The Māori Television series Behind the Brush brings alive the stories of descendants and to uncover the lives of the artist, the patron and tupuna Māori.

  • Pukapuka manuhiri | Visitors Book

    Turn the pages, view the hundreds of comments and signatures, read the transcription and translation, and search by name and place. A digitisation of an historical legacy.