NZ Flowers, Berries and Ferns

title pages of NZFBF

Emily Harris published her three books of lithographed drawings, New Zealand Flowers, New Zealand Berries and New Zealand Ferns (NZFBF), in Nelson in 1890, with the assistance of local bookseller HD Jackson. Jackson made the initial approach to printers John Walker and Company of London in 1888. In the following year he seems to have been responsible for ordering the specimen proofs of Emily’s drawings that led to the decision by himself and Emily to go ahead with the project, Jackson underwriting costs and sharing proceeds of sales with Emily:

Memo: of agreement between Miss Harris & H.D. Jackson re the publication of drawings from Books.

The Books to be published by H.D. Jackson, Miss Harris supplying the Drawings. All expenses to be charged to the Book, after these are paid, the profits to be equally divided. (Emily Harris Diary, 11 July 1889)

36 drawings plus three cover designs were finalised and dispatched to London in July 1889. Proofs arrived in Nelson early in 1890 but there were delays and the shipment of stock did not reach Nelson until October 1890. There is no record of the print run or how many sets Jackson gave to Emily. We haven’t been able to find many advertisements for the book in NZ or Australian papers, though Jackson distributed the books in both countries. The New Zealand price was 7s 6d per set, though Emily reports that booksellers in Melbourne were charging 10s. Emily reports 40 subscriptions for the books in New Plymouth and says also that many copies were sent to England in 1890 as Christmas gifts. We know also that she sent the books to English relatives. Sets of the three books are reasonably common across libraries in New Zealand and elsewhere, sometimes bound into a single volume by previous owners or a library. Most sets have foxing and ink transfer between pages. Those in the best condition, without foxing or transfer, are at the British Library in London.

We don’t know when Emily decided to handcolour sets of NZFBF. The first reference to handcoloured sets occurs in an exhibition notice for 1896: ‘It may also be mentioned that the books of New Zealand ferns, berries, and wild flowers, published by Miss Harris some years ago, are still available, and they are in constant circulation for presents, Miss Harris undertaking to paint the. specimens to the life in the books.’ (Nelson Evening Mail 23 Dec 1896: 2) The first confirmed date for a coloured set of NZFBF is 1899, when Emily reports to collector Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull that she has completed a set he has ordered: ‘I have just finished colouring the three books for you, Flowers Berries & Ferns, and am sending them by this mail, I am sorry to have kept you waiting so long but have been hard at work painting ever since my return from Wellington, some of the books being wanted to send to England for Christmas presents. Books of New Zealand Flowers Berries Ferns 10/ each, £1 1s.’ (1 Nov 1899) The second confirmed date for a handcoloured set is 1900, when the Kew Gardens Library in London accessioned the bound set which is still the best we have located in terms of technique and preservation. In 1910 Emily’s letter to New Zealand politician George Fowlds discloses details of the handcolouring process and indicates that she was still taking orders for colouring NZFBF:

34 Nile street, Nelson, May 17th 1910.

Dear Mr Fowlds,

I received your letter & enclosed money order, for which I thank you & will be pleased to send you the three books New Zealand “Flowers Berries nd Ferns” as soon as I can get a set coloured. Also I will send some of my paintings of New Zealand flora so that you may be better able to make a selection.

The paintings are direct from nature and wherever I could have given the natural surroundings. The books are lithographs from my drawings & then coloured by hand (by myself) so are better than printed in colours. People seem to like them very much if I may judge from the number sent to England & other parts of the world. I finished an order yesterday & have begun a set to send to you to day.

It takes rather more than a week to colour the three, but will send as soon as possible the books & paintings at the same time with price for each and when you have made a selection the others to be returned.

Trusting this is as you would wish I remain

Sincerely yours,

Emily C. Harris.

Fowlds ordered two more coloured sets of NZFBF and paid £3 12s for his three sets. It seems that Emily did not raise her prices for colouring the 39 separate pages of NZFBF between 1899 and 1910, charging around one guinea per set.

We present Puke Ariki’s handcoloured New Zealand Flowers, New Zealand Berries and New Zealand Ferns as an example of a signed set. Look for Emily’s signature in black ink in the shadow of the artist’s palette in the cover design of each book. The two extant outer covers (Flowers, Berries) have been inscribed by New Plymouth librarian Judith Valintine, who donated all three books to the Taranaki Museum at an unspecified date. Beneath each of Judith’s signatures is a faint pencilling, ‘Dawson’s Falls,’ which perhaps indicates some detail of previous ownership. We also present the bound set from the Library at Kew Gardens as an example of Emily’s colouring  that does not carry her signature under the artist’s palette. The set came to Kew in August 1900 as a gift from William Robert Ogilvie-Grant of the Zoological Department at the British Museum. All three signatures were found, one of them with Emily’s Nile St address, written vertically in red pencil along the gutter of each book’s back cover. It is not always possible to locate this kind of signature, and in some instances it seems that Emily did not sign her coloured sets under the palette or on any other part of the book. What we can say with confidence is that each of the sets we have been able to examine is clearly the work of Emily Harris across more than 14 years, providing a fascinating glimpse of the artist at work on a labour of some complexity, determined to bring reproductions of her New Zealand flora to as wide an audience as possible.

Here are some of the stories we have posted about New Zealand Flowers, New Zealand Berries and New Zealand Ferns:

New Zealand Flowers, New Zealand Berries and New Zealand Ferns are reproduced with the permission of Puke Ariki, New Plymouth, and the Library at Kew Gardens, London.

Michele Leggott
November 2020

Puke Ariki

Inner title page

inner title page Ferns inner cover

New Zealand Flowers (Puke Ariki)
New Zealand Berries (Puke Ariki)
New Zealand Ferns (Puke Ariki)


kew flowers title inner page kew berries title inner page

New Zealand Flowers (Kew)
New Zealand Berries (Kew)
New Zealand Ferns (Kew)