Mysteries in the archives

Late last year Keith Stuart (Senior Archivist, Auckland Council Archives), made an intriguing discovery. While he was looking through a box containing Tuakau Borough Council committee minutes, Keith found a framed map of Tuakau on waxed linen. He guessed that as the map was framed, it had probably once hung on a wall at Tuakau Borough Council’s office.

The map is of the Tuakau Town District showing the location of roads requiring construction work. It is dated 9 January 1924 and was drawn by Harrison and Grierson, a well-known engineering firm which is still in business today. According to an article in the Franklin Times on 11 January 1924, at a meeting of the Tuakau Town Board, consulting engineers Harrison and Grierson forwarded plans and specifications for the formation, re-grading and metaling of Dominion Road, Bollard Road, Carr Street, Church Street and Whangarata Avenue. 

Sketch plan showing location of roads to be dealt with township of Tuakau, drawn by Harrison and Grierson, road engineers. 9 January 1924. Auckland Council Archives.


Tuakau Town District had been established in 1914 and eventually became Tuakau Borough Council in 1955. At the time the map was produced, the members of the Tuakau Town Board were: W J Taylor (Chairman), J C Self, G S Lapwood, F G Woolley, J Logan, G Arrowsmith and A H Tapper (the town clerk).

The map itself was a great find and Keith decided to take the map out of its frame to store it better by housing it in a mylar sleeve. Surprisingly, behind the map was a piece of carbon paper and beneath that was a stunning picture of a woman. The print of the woman measures 20cm by 25cm and has been heavily retouched. Keith showed the print to Keith Giles, Principal Photographs Librarian, to see if any further information could be gathered about the photo. Keith Giles noted that while the technique is like that used by Herman Schmidt, the photographer could not be identified. Does anyone know who this mysterious beauty might be? 

Photograph of ‘mystery’ woman found underneath the Tuakau map, photographer unknown, n.d Auckland Council Archives

Besides the curious photograph of the woman, Auckland Council Archives also has a bust of a mystery man that they are keen to identify and learn the provenance for. The bust is currently recorded in the Auckland Council Civic Gifts and Artefacts database with no information about where it originally came from, who donated or purchased it and why. All we know for certain is that the bust was first registered in the Auckland City Council civic gifts database back in 2003. There are also notes in the database to indicate that it may have come into the collection as early as 1978 or perhaps 1997. But with no further evidence to support those dates, we cannot be completely certain about when this artwork was received into the collection. The Archives team has looked through files on council artworks, but these tend to be mainly about the large-scale public artworks or donations to the Art Gallery and there was no mention of this bust. 

Bust of the ‘mystery’ man, artist unknown, n.d GA 2003 101 1, Auckland Council Archives

The bust stands about 270mm high, it is quite heavy and is made from cream coloured marble. The bust appears to be carved rather than cast, as the sculptor’s chisel marks can be seen. However, on close inspection the carving of the bust does not appear to be very refined. There are no identifying marks on the bust to indicate who the man is or who the artist was. The base of the bust has staining, indicating that it may have been previously glued to a stand or fixed to a plinth. The Archives team thinks he may be someone of importance as ordinary citizens tend not to have marble busts carved of themselves. Perhaps it had once been on display an Auckland City Council building and then moved into storage during a refurbishment or office relocation? Can anyone help us to identify who the subject of this bust is or provide some background information about it? 

Base of the bust GA 2003 101 1, Auckland Council Archives

It is not uncommon to for libraries, archives and museums to happen upon items with curious origins. Despite strong efforts nowadays to maintain accurate record keeping and adhere to best practices, this has not always been the case historically. These two peculiar cases are a testament to that. Now, with the wide reach of social media, we may have a chance at solving some mysteries! Can you help? Share this post far and wide so we can hope to identify these two figures of the past, and connect them to today. 

Author: Vicky Spalding, Senior Archivist