Henry Winkelmann

Henry Winkelmann (1860-1931) was one of the most talented photographers operating in New Zealand at the beginning of the twentieth century. Henry tried several occupations before deciding, at the age of forty to earn a living from his camera.

In 1878 he sailed to New Zealand following his elder brother, Charles, who had emigrated three years earlier. Winkelmann lived initially in Dunedin, before moving to Auckland in the early 1880s. Times were hard though and in 1881, unemployed and desperate for money, he embarked with a companion on an expedition to remote, uninhabited Jarvis Island (midway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands). The purpose was to claim the island for the merchant shipping company Henderson and Macfarlane, who were keen to exploit the commercial possibilities of guano (the phosphate-rich excrement of seabirds, prized as a fertilizer).

The two men were supposed to stay on the island for three months in order to validate the claim. However, the rescue ship was very late arriving, and they ended up stranded on the barren island, close to starvation, for eight long months.

Ref: AWNS-19131002-52-4, boat wrecked on Jarvis Island, 1913, Sir George Grey Special Collections

Afterwards, Winkelmann took a safe job as a clerk for the Bank of New Zealand. He supplemented his income by playing and teaching the zither. He bought his first camera (a state-of-the-art Lancaster Instantographer, with fast shutter speed and adjustable leather bellows) in 1892 and soon began contributing images to magazines and winning photographic competitions.

He resigned from the bank in 1895 and tried his hand at various lines of work including: farming on Great Barrier Island, buying and selling land, investing in the sharemarket, taking up a job as a customs agent and then as secretary of the Coastal Steamship Company. Finally, in 1901, he opened a photographic studio in Victoria Arcade in Auckland Central.

Ref: 1-W1194, looking North over the Harbour to Devonport, Photographer: Henry Wiklemann, 1905, Sir George Grey Special Collections

Winkelmann was exceptionally versatile in the assignments he undertook, which ranged from fine studio portraits to maritime scenes shot from ships’ masts. Luckily for us, he was a meticulous recorder of Auckland’s changing streetscape and was careful to record the dates of all his images in accession registers. His photographs are therefore valued not just for their technical mastery and aesthetic appeal but as precise visual records of the past.

The Old Colonists Museum purchased a large collection of Winkelmann’s Auckland images from the photographer himself in 1928. These were transferred to the library after the museum’s closure in 1957. These photographs are held in the Sir George Grey Special Collections. You can search for these image online using the Heritage Images database (enter the keyword Winkelmann) and for more information about Winkelmann, search the Photographers database (enter the keyword Winkelmann, this will also bring up information about Henry's brother) and the Auckland Libraries catalogue.

Ref: 1-W1741, Old Government House, Photographer: Henry Winkelmann, 1921, Sir George Grey Special Collections