Last week Michele and I contacted our Nelson correspondents/field researchers Belinda Fletcher and Iain Sharp with a small photo from the Harris family album. The photo is a street view with a row of three houses to the right behind a picket fence, a big tree after the second house, 8 figures on the road (mostly men or boys), and a mountain range behind. Michele asked me if any of the houses looked like 34 Nile Street, as per Hugh Scott’s painting and Belinda’s recent photos, but I couldn’t tell. So, turning to those who know the area well, we asked if they could identify the location as Nile Street.
On the back of the photograph is the professional studio’s stamp: ‘English & Continental Photographic Artist, Nelson, New Zealand,’ along with the inscription: ‘Mary with Ellen’s love.’
We think Mary is Mary Weyergang, and the photo is inscribed by her sister Ellen Harris who lived in Nelson with Edwin, Emily and Frances. Ellen died in 1895, so the photo must pre-date that year.
Belinda replied with a positive ID:
‘Yes I think it is the corner of Nile and Trafalgar square which borders the Church Hill so looking from either Dr Bett or the Church Hill down toward 34 Nile street which is hidden I think by the large tree.’
She recalled a few paintings and photographs in both Te Papa and Nelson Provincial Museum collections that captured a similar vista, but which always seemed to miss the house at number 34. She said at least 28 and 34 Nile Street were demolished and rebuilt after 1895, so the facades would have changed over time.
Iain agreed with Belinda, adding:
‘It’s interesting to compare the photo with this detail from the right side of Edwin Harris’s 1876 painting of Nile St and Trafalgar Square (NPM AC831). The hill contours look much the same and so do the two houses closest to the foreground (A-frame with filigreed next to more cube-like structure, both with awnings).’
Iain also sent through a link to a photo, a view of Nile St, looking east from Church Hill (NPM 315336). If, as in Edwin’s painting, we focus on the right side, we can see that the scene is the same. There is the road, three houses behind a picket fence, a large tree before the last, and the mountain range in the background.
Thanks to our friends in sunny Nelson, our research imagination continues to grow:
Why is Ellen sending this particular photo to Mary Weyergang?
Were Mary’s sons staying at their aunt Emily’s house in Nelson?
Are they the small figures – Herman (1872-1932) and Otto (1878-1918)?
When was the photo taken?
Are there more views of 34 Nile Street to be found in Edwin Harris’s sketchbooks?
Lead writer: Betty Davis
Research support: Michele Leggott, Makyla Curtis, Belinda Fletcher, Iain Sharp