Title: Early New Zealand Botanical Art

Author: F. Bruce Sampson

Publication details: Reed Methuen, 1985, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: F. Bruce Sampson

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Early New Zealand Botanical Art

XII — Mrs Hetley's Native Flowers

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Mrs Hetley's Native Flowers

The Native Flowers of New Zealand. Illustrated in colours in the best style of modern chromo-litho art, from drawings coloured to nature, by Mrs Charles Hetley (Georgina B. Hetley), first appeared in three parts in 1887 and 1888. It is remarkable that three books of paintings of native plants by three resident women artists, each first published in three separate parts, then as single volumes, should appear within approximately a year of one another — one of them wholly printed and published in New Zealand (Featon), another printed in England but published in New Zealand (Harris), and the third printed and published in England (Hetley). Native Flowers was published by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington of London. The chromolithographs were by Leighton Brothers, a London firm with a high reputation, who produced coloured illustrations for the Illustrated London News.

In 1888 the three parts were issued as a single volume. Some forty-five species of plants were illustrated (eighty species appeared in the Featons' Art Album and thirty-five species in Emily Harris's three books). It was noted earlier that a copy of Art Album was presented to Queen Victoria on her Jubilee in 1897. She received a copy of Native Flowers a decade earlier, "Dedicated by Special Permission to Her Most Gracious Majesty, Victoria, Queen of Great Britain & Ireland and Empress of India".

No other book on New Zealand plants can claim a French edition. Fleurs Sauvages et Boix Precieux de la Nouvelle-Zelande. Ouvrage illustre a profusion de magnifiques planches en couleur representant 46 plantes en fleurs, presque toutes non figurees jusqu'a ce jour, plantes et fleurs dessinees et peintes d'apres nature (Wild Flowers and Valuable Timbers of New Zealand. A work illustrated with a profusion of magnificent plates in colour representing 46 plants in flower, almost all not illustrated until now, plants and flowers drawn and painted from nature) appeared in 1889. It was co-authored by Edouard Francis Armand Raoul (1845-98). This edition was published jointly by Sampson-Low, etc., and Galignani's Library, Paris, under the editorship of Challamel and Company and Charles Bayle, Paris. The French edition must now have considerable monetary value, for, of fifty copies printed, only fifteen were for sale. Two copies are in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Edouard Raoul was a nephew (not a grandson as stated in A. G. page 103 Bagnall's New Zealand National Bibliography, 1980) of Etienne Raoul (1815-52). He met Mrs Hetley when he visited New Zealand in 1886 and suggested the French edition. At that time he was a member of a scientific mission on a voyage around the world. The main purpose of the expedition was to introduce commercially important plants to French overseas territories. The French edition contains an extra Plate illustrating the large common vegetable sheep, Raoulia eximia. Raoulia, a member of the daisy family (Compositae), consists of twenty New Zealand species and a few New Guinean and Australian ones and was named after Etienne Raoul, which explains why it was included in the French edition. The Plate was lithographed by A. Millot, Paris; the Leighton Brothers' lithographs were used for the other plates. Mrs Hetley's entertaining preface was omitted from this edition and replaced by one written by the French editors. At the end of the book some sixteen pages are devoted to a section on New Zealand trees ("Bois precieux de la Nouvelle-Zelande"), which is absent from the English version. Sixteen trees, mostly of economic importance, including rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), kauri (Agathis australis), totara (Podocarpus totara), red beech (Nothofagus fusca) and puriri (Vitex lucens), are described, with information on wood density, tensile strength, and so on. Only two of these species are illustrated in the plates.

The French edition, on the other hand, does not contain the three pages of uncoloured sketches of flowers and floral dissections. It was suggested to Mrs Hetley, when she arrived in London to arrange for the publication of her book, that she should include floral sketches and dissections. She did this work at Kew Gardens; some sketches were traced from books in the Kew Library, others were made from dried specimens in Kew Herbarium. Most but not all species shown in the thirty-five plates are illustrated in these three pages.

The text of Native Flowers is, apart from the eight-page preface, brief; a page preceding each plate gives, in a few sentences, details of distribution, size, characteristic features and time of flowering.

Georgina Hetley was first inspired to paint plants "growing in their native state" after hearing a talk in Auckland by Thomas Cheeseman about a collecting trip he had made to mountains near Nelson, Arthur's Pass and the Otira Gorge, Canterbury. By 1884 she had made a start, and Cheeseman helped to identify the plants she had painted. Thomas Kirk also gave assistance. The Government gave aid in the form of free travel passes on the railways, and the Union Steamship Company issued her with passes for their steamers. Sir Robert Stout, Premier and Minister of Education, promised to purchase copies of the book for public schools and libraries.

The trials and tribulations of travel around New Zealand in the 1880s are vividly described in the preface. "Every new flower was a delight and wonder; and the scenery, which I might otherwise never have seen, and the delightful excursions with kind friends to help get flowers for 'The Book', was enough to repay all my fatigue."

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Plate 35 Libertia ixioides

This member of the iris family (Iridaceae) is widespread from Northland to Stewart Island, especially on banks, rocks and stream edges. With its tussocky form and regular white flowers, it has become a popular garden plant. In shaded situations leaves are green; when exposed to full sunlight they turn brownish-yellow. There are three other native species of Libertia. Although "ixioides" is incorrectly given as "exioides" on the plate, the correct spelling is used in Mrs Hetley's text.

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Plate 35 Libertia ixioides (Forst. f.) Spreng Georgina Hetley

Plate 35 Libertia ixioides (Forst. f.) Spreng Georgina Hetley

Plate 36 Hoheria lyallii (mountain ribbonwood or lacebark)

Hoheria lyalli (which has also been known as Plagianthus lyalli) is one of the few deciduous trees in the New Zealand flora. A member of the mallow family (Malvaceae), it is common in mountainous regions of the South Island. Hoheria lyalli is closely related to another deciduous species, Hoheria glabrata, which occurs on the wetter western side of the Southern Alps and has darker green, less hairy leaves. Current opinion seems to favour combining the two species into one, Hoheria lyalli, and regarding them as separate varieties. A few years ago mountain ribbonwood was discovered in the North Island on Mt Egmont. The terms "lacebark" and "ribbonwood" derive from the fact that the inner bark contains a lacework of fibres. These were used by the Maoris to make string, which could be plaited into a variety of articles. The three other species of Hoheria, all evergreen, are restricted to New Zealand. The white flowers of mountain ribbonwood, some three centimetres in diameter, are formed in abundance in summer, when trees of mountain ribbonwood are easily recognisable at a considerable distance.

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Plate 36 Hoheria lyallii Hook. f. (mountain ribbonwood) Georgina Hetley

Plate 36 Hoheria lyallii Hook. f. (mountain ribbonwood) Georgina Hetley

Plate 37 Metrosideros fulgens (climbing rata)

In Native Flowers this species is labelled Metrosideros florida. Under the international rules of botanical nomenclature, this name is invalid as fulgens has priority, being the first name to be used for the species. Another plant, northern rata, Metrosideros robusta, was once also termed M. florida. Metrosideros fulgens occurs in coastal and lowland forests throughout the North Island and in parts of the South Island, where it reaches as far south as Westland. It is found also on the Three Kings Islands.

The artist has accurately depicted the yellow-green tinge that petals have in the bud stage (at top) and the characteristic woody capsules (lower right) of this species. The small, drab petals are compensated for by the scarlet stamens, with their terminal, yellow pollen sacs, and the single, scarlet style, which sits on top of a sunken ovary in the centre of each flower. Metrosideros fulgens is the only rata to flower over the winter. Flowering begins in February and continues into July or even August. In her description Mrs Hetley stated: "it clothes the lower part of the tree and becomes a tree itself, killing the one which assisted it to climb." This is incorrect, for this species remains a climber, with stems that do not exceed about ten centimetres in diameter.

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Plate 37 Metrosideros fulgens Sol. ex Gaertn. (climbing rata) Georgina Hetley

Plate 37 Metrosideros fulgens Sol. ex Gaertn. (climbing rata) Georgina Hetley

Plate 38 Ferns

The three preceding plates were taken from the chromolithographs in Native Flowers. This illustration is from a watercolour now in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. The four small ferns, Hymenophyllum sanguinolentum (1), Trichomanes (Cardiomanes) reniforme (2), Blechnum membranaceum (3) and Hymenophyllum flabel latum (4) are common in lowland forest throughout the North Island. They are, excluding Blechnum membranaceum, which is restricted to localised regions of the South Island, common too in lowland forests of the South Island and Stewart Island.

Courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

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Plate 38 Hymenophyllum sanguinolentum (Forst. f.) Swartz; Tricbomanes remforme Forst. f.; Blechnum membranaceum (Col.) Mett.; Hymenophyllum flabellatum Labill. Georgina Hetley

Plate 38 Hymenophyllum sanguinolentum (Forst. f.) Swartz; Tricbomanes remforme Forst. f.; Blechnum membranaceum (Col.) Mett.; Hymenophyllum flabellatum Labill. Georgina Hetley

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She deplored, as did Emily Harris, "the smoke of the burning 'bush'. The beautiful forest with its flowers and ferns is fast disappearing before the tide of cultivation, and many will only be known by their dried and shrivelled remains" — this with reference to Taranaki. On then to Wellington:

After a twelve hours' journey by train to Palmerston, I started at six the following morning on my overland journey by coach to Wellington, going through the famed Manawatu Gorge, sleeping one night on the way, then starting at 4 o'clock a.m., and on through miles and miles of forest with some good bits of mountain scenery to Masterton, then by train to Wellington, zigzag up the Rimutaka Mountain, with the great engines (four I think), puffing and snorting as if they hardly could get up. We looked down on the beautiful scenery, the trees red with Tetoki [sic] berries, passed the place where a train, engines and all, was blown down the hill by the wind, and then went through the tunnel and down the other side to the Hutt Valley.

The going got tougher in the South Island.

The roads ... are very narrow, with only just room for the coach, and no wall or anything to prevent one going over the precipice. Once as we were at the top of a mountain range, and had gone round a sharp curve, one of the traces broke. Some evil disposed men had wantonly set fire to the forest all along the road, burning whole sides of mountains and destroying some of the most magnificent scenery, we were several days in going through, it was still smoking and occasionally blazing up, and there was the risk of burnt trees falling on us. After leaving the coach we were driven by buggy twelve miles to the station, and had to pass over a burnt wooden bridge, which it was hoped would not give way.

Along the banks of the Buller River,

Your heart is in your mouth most of the way. At one place in particular, the road is built outside the cliff, and supported on piles, which are inserted somehow into the rock. The cliff rises perpendicularly above you, and there is only just room for the coach to pass round without touching, and there is hardly an inch to spare on the outside edge which has no wall or fence. If one of the horses shied or fell, coach and all would go over into the river, which rushes along two hundred feet below, and we saw all this from a turn in the road before we came to it, which made it worse. I kept my face turned to the cliff, but my niece, who was with me and had a stronger head, kept calling my attention to the magnificent scenery.

Then, at one river

we left the coach and entered a kind of wooden box, hung on a rope, which was wound up by a small steam engine on the other side. We slid down one side and up the other. It was not an unpleasant but a very curious sensation to find oneself suspended from one to two hundred feet above a broad rapid river. On one occasion the rope which pulled the cage on one side broke, and the passengers were dangling by the other over the roaring torrent until assistance came. When we landed at the opposite side we entered a bush tramcar drawn by one horse, a very primitive arrangement, on rails of wood.

On to Greymouth, then the bush tram again towards Hokitika

and enjoyed the quiet, smooth, plodding along through a narrow lane in the bush, always the same avenue stretching away in the distance, whether we page 106 looked behind or ahead, there were tall forest trees, and masses of creepers, ferns, mosses, lichens and flowers, which I longed to gather, but we could not stop.

Heading towards the Otira Gorge,

We drove through beautiful scenery till we reached the Taipo, or Devil River, where we had to leave the coach and cross by a long narrow swinging bridge, which was rather a trial, as it oscillated so much. We got into the coach again on the other side, and to judge by the way the luggage was mixed up in the inside, it was well we had some other means of crossing.

They stayed at Arthur's Pass for four days. Though it was late in the season, edelweiss (Leucogenes grandiceps) was found in flower and painted for the book. Georgina and her niece obtained "baskets full to overflowing with flowers, only a few of which I could paint at the time, others we packed in tins and took with us to Christchurch. Some we pressed, as well as the ferns." They reached Christchurch and Mrs Hetley spent six weeks painting the flowers she had collected and then "some out of the native garden (the best in the colony), in the beautiful Botanical Gardens, where the Armstrongs, father and son, have cultivated the indigenous flora with great successs, collecting the plants from the mountains, and also from Stewart's and the Chatham Islands." A two-day visit was made to Dunedin, where she met John Buchanan. "Mr. Buchanan, who, when he was the Government botanist, drew for the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute all the newly discovered plants" had by then retired, "a martyr to rheumatism, the usual result of exposure to our climate." Buchanan, in fact, painted a plate for Native Flowers (Plate 20) consisting of two senecios (Senecio robust a and S. hectori), both of which he had originally described.

Soon after her return to Auckland, Mrs Hetley sailed to England with her paintings to find a publisher. She spent some time at Kew then, while waiting to receive proofs to correct from the printer, she went to live in Madeira. She was able to make the corrections to proofs for part one, but parts two and three were sent to press before she could return corrected proofs. The reason for this was that Portuguese authorities in Lisbon had detained a parcel of proofs for two months (the Madeira Islands are Portuguese). The end result was, as Mrs Hetley noted in her preface, that the colouring in plates 18, 25 and 26 is not quite accurate.

Mrs Hetley's husband, Charles, must have died some time before publication of Native Flowers, for there is no reference to him in the preface. Georgina Hetley acknowledged assistance from a brother, Henry, Secretary and Inspector of Customs, New Zealand, and a brother-in-law, Dr Hetley "of Norbury Lodge, Upper Norwood". At Kew she had assistance from Sir J. D. Hooker, now retired, and the new director, his son-in-law, Sir W. T. Thiselton-Dyer.

It may seem strange that Georgina Hetley should have chosen to live in the Madeira Islands (the first port-of-call on Cook's first and second voyages). The explanation is that she had, in fact, lived in Madeira with page 107 her mother, older sister and four brothers before they (the McKellar family) had emigrated to New Zealand in 1852. They arrived in New Plymouth on 2 December — accompanied by two servants, Mr and Mrs Emmanuel De'Castro, who were, presumably, Portuguese — on board the St Michael. The ship had sailed from London, but called at Madeira to collect not only the McKellar family and servants but also another family (Mr and Mrs Mace and their eight children) and their two servants. Georgina s father, Dugald McKellar, was a medical practitioner and, I presume, died before the family moved to New Zealand. Although Madeira was under British jurisdiction for only a few years early in the nineteenth century, trading contacts between the two countries had existed for many centuries. British expatriates had settled there, many hoping that the milder climate would improve their health. It could be then, although I have no evidence, that Dugald McKellar moved with his family to Madeira for health reasons and died there. Certainly, Georgina, who was about twenty when the family moved to New Zealand, had been born in London in about 1832.

In 1856(?), when she was twenty-four years old, Georgina Burne (some records spell this Barne or Barnes) McKellar married Charles Hetley. Hetley had arrived, without relatives, in New Plymouth in September 1853, on board the Joseph Fletcher from London. Charles and Georgina farmed in Taranaki, "where we went through the war and had houses burnt, and sheep, cattle, and horses carried off" by the natives." They moved to Auckland, but I have been unable to discover exactly when. Georgina Hetley died there, aged sixty-six, of heart disease on 29 August 1898. She was survived by a son, aged forty-one.

The chromolithographs in Native Flowers are quite similar to those in Mrs Featon's Art Album, although many of the latter are more brightly coloured (or over-coloured). Most of Mrs Hetley's plates show the plants against a beige-coloured background, strengthening the resemblance to Mrs Featon's plates, which have, excluding the frontispiece, a grey or brownish-grey background. Some of Mrs Hetley's plates, however, have no background colour.

The general style of the two artists is very similar, but several critics have considered Mrs Hetley to be the better artist. Admittedly, the plants in some of her paintings do have a more natural appearance, but other illustrations could be taken for the work of either artist.

The Turnbull Library has, as well as watercolours of New Zealand plants (none of which appeared in Native Flowers), some botanical paintings that Georgina Hetley did when visiting Madeira and Australia. The Auckland Institute and Museum, The Hawke's Bay Art Galley and Museum, Napier, and the Hocken Library, Dunedin, own some of her paintings too. Georgina Hetley exhibited at some of the same exhibitions as Emily Harris, including the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London (1886), and won first prizes at the New Zealand Industrial Exhibition (Wellington, 1885) and Auckland Art Students' Exhibition (1885).

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Georgina Hetley, Sarah Featon and Emily Harris continued to paint native plants in the hope that public response would be encouraging enough for them to produce sequels, but further publications did not materialise.