Scoop Review of Books

The father of New Zealand geology

Hochstetter Collection Basel, Part 1: New Zealand Paintings and Drawings by Sascha Nolden and Sandy B. Nolden (Mente Corde Manu Publishing, $124, available from
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

Ferdinand Hochstetter was just 29 when he arrived in in New Zealand at the tail end of 1858 as the geologist on Austria’s scientific expedition around the world. He spent the next eight months travelling widely around Auckland and Nelson provinces with his compatriot, Julius Haast, recording and interpreting the biological and geological features of the country they passed through.

After Hochstetter returned to Vienna, he published books, research papers and maps about New Zealand, and encouraged his scientific colleagues to work on his New Zealand collections. For the 25 years after his visit he corresponded regularly with Haast, who stayed in New Zealand, and followed developments Downunder with interest. Hochstetter’s work is still held in high regard, and he is widely regarded as the father of New Zealand geology.

Until recently most information on Hochstetter has been from sources written in English – a distinct handicap, as Hochstetter and his colleagues generally wrote in German. Recent research by Sascha Nolden, translating and transcribing German documents and letters (many held in Austrian archives), greatly extends our knowledge of Hochstetter’s work and influence. One of Nolden’s most exciting discoveries is the unearthing of a collection of papers and images held in Basel by the owners of part of the Hochstetter estate.

That find has led to the publication of this beautifully-produced book. It is the first part of a catalogue of the Hochstetter collection in Basel, covering New Zealand paintings and drawings. Revealing material that had hitherto been overlooked, it is a publication of first-class quality, with excellent reproduction of the colour images, and owes much to the photographic skills of Sandy Nolden.

A few of the images reproduced here have already appeared in Travels of Hochstetter and Haast in New Zealand 1858-1860 by Mike Johnston & Sascha Nolden (Nikau Press, 2011), which also includes other images discovered by Nolden. But most of the 44 images are previously unseen by New Zealand eyes. Probably of most interest are 20 watercolours and pencil sketches by New Zealand explorer-artist Major Charles Heaphy VC, including of views around Auckland, Coromandel, White Island, the Pink and White Terraces – and even one of Tara Makau village near Hokitika that Heaphy apparently gave to Hochstetter. One of my favourites in this group shows the detail on the prow of a large waka – labelled “Kriegscanoe (Vordertheil) in Taupo am Waitemata, Juni 1859”.

Other delights are 11 watercolours by Henry Atcherley of views ranging from Auckland to Dunedin. Dated 1885, they were apparently purchased by Haast as a gift when he and his wife visited Hochstetter’s widow in Vienna in 1886. Other artists represented in this collection are C.F. Fischer, Julius von Haast, John Kinder, Augustus Koch, Robert von Lendenfeld and Thomas Triphook. The book provides biographical information on each of the artists, and details of each paintings and drawing.

Future volumes are planned to cover the catalogue’s photographs and documents, and the next instalment will encompass New Zealand photographs from a number of sources, collected by Hochstetter. No doubt it, too, will appeal to readers interested in New Zealand history, art and culture.