Photography both as a hobby and as a profession came to New Zealand with many of our earlier settlers and, through these and those who have followed them in the practice of this art, much of our history has been preserved in photographs. Collections of prints and negatives are deposited with the Turnbull Library in Wellington, with the metropolitan and provincial museums, and with the Tourist and Publicity Department. Many still remain in private hands. Through accident or negligence many more, no doubt, have been lost.
Amongst these pioneer photographers, mention should be made of the Burton brothers of Dunedin who established themselves there in 1859, taking photographs of the early development of that city. The Burton brothers continued recording the scenery and settlement of New Zealand, travelling extensively all over the country until about 1891 when the firm was taken over by Messrs Muir and Moodie, also of Dunedin. The new firm continued in the tradition of the Burton brothers, and made frequent journeys up and down the country at regular intervals, photographing the magnificent scenery of the mountains, hot springs, lakes, and forests of New Zealand as well as recording the growth of our towns, cities, and industries. Their original collection of negatives, now in the Dominion Museum in Wellington, shows that Muir and Moodie continued to function until 1910 under their own names and the older name of Burton Bros., as negatives produced between 1891 and 1910 can be found in the collection still bearing the label “Burton Bros.”. Towards the turn of the century, however, “Muir and Moodie” appeared to be more commonly used. The latest authenticated negatives of the firm appear to be dated about 1915. This negative collection includes magnificent 8 × 10 in. collodion wet-plate negatives of the Pink and White Terraces, Lake Rotomahana, as well as of other scenes from the Rotorua district prior to, and after, the great eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.
Both Muir and Moodie and the Burton brothers worked mostly with whole-plate cameras but, in addition to the 8 × 10 in. already mentioned, they also used 12 × 10 in. and 15 12 in. cameras for some of their more special assignments. Their collection contains some wonderful 15 × 12 in. negatives of the Mount Cook and Milford Sound regions made on some of the earliest dry plates. Most professional photographers today would cavil at carrying a 15 × 12 in. camera, loaded with glass negatives, to the summit of the Mackinnon Pass on the Milford Track but the Burtons apparently did just this on at least two occasions.
Within the sphere of recording Maori lore and customs, several photographers were active quite early in the development of New Zealand. James McDonald, who later travelled the Wanganui River and Urewera Country with the noted ethnologist Elsdon Best, is especially worthy of mention for his collection of many thousands of negatives dealing with the Maoris. Augustus Hamilton and, later, his son Harold, also paid particular attention to photographing Maori carvings and other articles. The negatives from these early photographs have found their way into the archives of the Tourist and Publicity Department and the museums.