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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


BREES, Samuel Charles


Artist, engineer, and surveyor.

A new biography of Brees, Samuel Charles appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Brees was born in England in 1810 and was practising as an engineer and surveyor in Gray's Inn, London, when he was appointed in 1841 as successor to Captain W. Mein Smith as the second Surveyor-General to the New Zealand Company for a period of three years.

He came to New Zealand on the Brougham's second voyage to the colony, arriving in Wellington on 9 February 1842 accompanied by a “suite” of young gentlemen engaged by the company as surveying cadets for the three-year period. Brees resided in the vicinity of the present Hawkestone Crescent, Wellington, at that time a rural area. On 22 February 1843 Brees returned from a surveying trip to the Wairarapa by way of the Hutt Valley, taking this direction for the purpose of ascertaining the practicability of carrying a road inland up the Hutt Valley to connect the Wairarapa with Wellington as an alternative to the then existing coast road round Pencarrow Head. Brees made some of the best-known maps of Wellington in 1843 and a map of the city reserves in 1844. He left New Zealand with reluctance at the conclusion of his contract, and resumed the practice of his profession in London, this time at 43 Lincoln's Inn Fields. He later lived at Croydon and Brighton. During his life he published several books on engineering and surveying – namely, Railway Practice, Glossary of Terms in Civil Engineering, and Present Practice of Surveying and Levelling. He died at sea on 5 May 1865.

Brees is best known for the book he compiled from sketches he made while in New Zealand. Many of these were published in England in 1847 by John Williams and Co., London, as a portfolio of engravings, and entitled Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand. The set contained 64 engravings on 20 plates, and three panorama plates. The introduction and descriptive matter was written by Brees, who considered that so many conflicting reports of the country had appeared that he regarded it his duty to lay the results of his experience before the English public. The publication soon became popular and the large panoramas of the Port Nicholson and Hutt district in particular did much to attract emigrants from Britain. On 27 November 1849 an exhibition of his panoramic painting of the Port Nicholson, Wellington, and Hutt districts was opened in the Town Hall, Brighton. In December of the same year his panoramic views were exhibited at No. 6 Leicester Square, London.

Brees must be considered as more than a topographical artist of town and bush, for some of his views, such as the “Hutt Road Taken at the Gorge, Looking Towards Wellington”, or his “Kai Warra Warra Saw Mill” have considerable artistic merit; but the real value of his work lies in its unique historical interest. For Brees has given us an accurate pictorial record of the colonists of his day, their dwellings, farms, and clearings, as well as glimpses of the customs of the Maoris, their pas, habitations, canoes, and dress.

by Thomas Esplin, D.A.(EDIN.), Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Home Science, University of Otago.

  • Guide and Description of the Panoramas of N.Z., Brees, S. C. (1849)
  • Catalogue of the Centennial Exhibition of N.Z. Art, 1940
  • Early Wellington, Ward, Louis E. (1928)
  • Early New Zealand Engineers, Furkert, F. W. (1953).


Thomas Esplin, D.A.(EDIN.), Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Home Science, University of Otago.