Artful advertising: chromolithographic views of Tāmaki-Makaurau Auckland from 1894

When Aucklanders opened their copy of the New Zealand Herald at their breakfast tables on Monday 30 April 1894 they would have found a colourful addition. That morning’s newspaper included a supplement containing four views of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland printed at Wilson and Horton’s Lithographic and Colour Printery. The chromolithographic posters feature views taken from four different elevated spots around the central isthmus, and are surrounded by vignettes of local businesses who had paid to be included in the posters. In the months leading up to publication the Weekly News and Herald had been advertising this issue and the posters as a “Special Extraordinary Chromolithographic pictorial supplements” and pitching them as of interest to tourists, potential migrants and as a memento for those who had spent time in the city and moved on. The posters would “give people at a distance an idea of the character and capabilities of our city.”  Auckland Libraries have recently acquired, digitised and catalogued copies of these posters – available through Kura Heritage Collections Online.

Image: View of Auckland from the Grand Hotel, 1894. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Eph-Post00425.

The contemporary dress and transport, window displays, interiors of the shops and factories, and the people at work and patronising them are a real treat for our modern eyes. These are precious illustrations of buildings long since demolished. Although familiar names can be found: Yates seed merchants, Smith & Caughey importers and Eady music sellers. The images in the posters are taken from the Ponsonby ridge; Partington’s Windmill (current site of the Cordis Hotel); the Harbour and the Grand Hotel (Princes Street). 

Image: Detail from View of Auckland from Ponsonby, 1894,  Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Eph-Post00427.

Chromolithography and colour printing in New Zealand

The technological advance of colour printing, the growth of advertising and growing colonial parochialism led, in the late nineteenth century, to elevated or bird’s eye views and panoramic maps becoming a popular commercial artform. A. D. Willis was a pioneer of the use of chromolithography in New Zealand and produced a number of views in this style. 

Chromolithography is a method for making multi-colour prints using stones or metal plates – based on the fact that oil and water do not mix. Chromolithography laid the foundation for colour printing and the technology was embraced for its commercial uses. Chromolithography allowed the creation of large posters and much larger print runs. The four posters printed by Wilson and Horton measure 630mm x 975mm and 48 000 were contracted to be produced.

Image: Two men working on lithographs for The Press newspaper. Presants, Philip Robert, 1867-1942 :Photographs of the printing section of The Press, Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-8763-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/38879272.

The idea of offering high quality colour posters with copies of the newspaper was relatively new in Aotearoa at the time. The Auckland Weekly News published the first presentation chromolithograph with their Christmas number in 1888. It was intended to be hung on walls like an artwork and was billed as ‘the great advance in art illustration in Auckland’. The response was such that the next year the proprietors were encouraged to “still more liberal efforts”. That chromolithograph, a view of the Tainui waka under a Pohutukawa tree, was printed in 14 colours on enamel paper.

For chromolithographs from ten to fourteen colours a different stone is used for each colour. The artists’ drawing or engraving gets transferred to the surface of the stone. In Wilson & Horton’s print works the stones were then sent by a lift to the machine room and the process of printing commenced. Note the stone that the lithographer is working on in the image above.

Image: View of Auckland from Harbour, 1894, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Eph-Post00426.

The style was popular at the time, with panoramic maps, bird’s eye views and views of towns and cities with inlaid images of local buildings being a common production. The late nineteenth century saw enormous economic development and urban growth in cities and towns throughout places like North America, Australia and New Zealand. It is estimated that in the USA around five thousand lithographs of this type were produced. Such was the demand a Melbourne firm sent their agent around Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific soliciting businesses to contribute to views of their towns or cities.

F. W. Niven & Co. of Ballarat and Melbourne.

F. W. Niven was a large and prosperous firm known for its illustrative work and employed about 70 staff by the 1890s. The founder Francis Wilson Niven ran away to sea at the age of 13. He taught himself to draw while he was a seaman, and arrived at the Victorian goldfields in 1852. After seven years without luck as a digger at Ballarat, he bought a small lithographic plant- 'a hand press, a few lithographic stones, a copper-plate press, a few cans of ink...' for forty pounds and drew and printed scenes of the diggings.

Their agent or canvasser was a man named Wellesley A. Parker. A busy man, as the agent for the firm he travelled far and wide with his specimen views and examples from other towns. In February 1892 he’s in West Maitland in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. By the time he arrives in Wellington he’s being described as the ‘king of advertising contractors’ in the New Zealand Times. In 1894 his name turns up in the Honolulu newspaper Pacific Commercial Advertiser connected to the production of a history of the Hawaiian revolution.

Image: Detail from: View of Auckland from the Grand Hotel, 1894, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Eph-Post00425.

Parker’s modus operandi was to pitch up to a place, station himself in a hotel near the centre of town and, using the local newspapers, invite prospective advertisers to see samples of views produced previously for other towns. For the production of the Auckland sheets Parker used Oram’s Hotel where the Sky City Theatre can now be found. He was not always completely successful – for instance Kirkcaldie & Stains don’t appear in the Wellington set of posters. 

These four views of Auckland are part of a larger series initiated by Parker on behalf of F. W. Niven. There are a number of these views from around the country held in various institutions. A brief search yields F. W. Niven produced views of Ashburton, Oamaru, Invercargill, Nelson, Eltham & Stratford, Wellington and Dunedin. Even taking into account the numbers printed it’s not surprising that the holdings in libraries is patchy, as it was common library practice to strip out and dispose of inserts in newspapers and journals.

Image: Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Ltd. Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand :Invercargill from J G Ward's, the Farmers' Association of New Zealand Limited. F W Niven & Co, lith, Melbourne & Ball[ara]t. Gratis supplement to the "Weekly times", Friday 16th June, 1893. Lithographed and printed for the "Southland times" Co. by F W Niven & Co., Ballarat and Melbourne, and published by Robt Gilmour at the Co.'s registered office, Esk St., Invercargill.. Ref: Eph-E-BUILDINGS-Invercargill-1893-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22487583.

They are all recognisably produced by F. W. Niven & Co. and all except the Tāmaki posters state they were printed by them. As well as having Parker’s name on them - the ubiquitous Union Line Steamship advertisements and recognisable style and colours provide the link.

In her thesis on the history of colour printing in Aotearoa New Zealand Rosslyn Johnston writes that these views are in a stipple style and the colour in the posters was built using warm tones of yellow and orange, both light and dark, with blacks and greys employed to add shading and darker tones.  

Given that Wilson & Horton believed the premises of the Herald and Weekly News to be “the finest newspaper and printing offices in the Southern Hemisphere” it is not surprising that they printed the sheets themselves. By 26 June 1897 the New Zealand Herald printing works employed upwards of 200 hands. Including, in the lithography department, draughtsmen and engravers – the former “occupied in designing or drawing either direct upon the stone or on transfer paper, from which the work is transferred to the stone for printing form. Labels, showcards, coloured wrappers, posters are produced in an almost endless variety.” A big part of the business was the production of coloured labels for tinned goods – “for the adornment of jam, fruit and meat tins of our day.”

Image: Cover of Wellington at work, 2009, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 331.25 P94.

In Wellington at work in the 1890s (2009) Beverley Randell and Hugh Price cleverly combined the four Wellington posters with text from the Wellington edition of the Cyclopedia (1897) to recreate what commerce was like in late-Victorian Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. The acquisition, cataloguing and digitisation of these posters makes it possible to now do similar for Tāmaki Makaurau. 

Author: Andrew Henry


·         The art of advertising / Julie Anne Lambert ; with contributions by Michael Twyman [and four others]

·         Colour Printing in the Uttermost Part of the Sea : a Study of the Colour Print Products, Printers, Technology and Markets in New Zealand, 1830-1914 / Johnston, Rosslyn Joan

·         History of chromolithography : printed colour for all / Michael Twyman

·         Wellington at work in the 1890s : with illustrations from posters held in the Alexander Turnbull Library / Hugh Price, Beverley Randell

·         A great colonial newspaper in the supplement to "Auckland Weekly News", 26 June 1897, pages 9-12.

·         New Zealand Memories, issue 155, April/May 2022, pages 50-51.

·         Paperspast


  1. Interesting article, thanks Andrew 👍


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