Leslie Adkin: Farmer Photographer

Page 1

Leslie Adkin Farmer Photographer

Athol McCredie
Athol McCredie
Leslie Adkin Farmer Photographer

6 Foreword

9 Chapter 1 The photographer

25 Chapter 2 Farm life

67 Chapter 3 Maud

103 Chapter 4 The family years

177 Chapter 5 The land

213 Chapter 6 Recognition

224 The archive

226 The albums

232 Notes

235 Credits

236 Acknowledgements

238 About the author

239 Index

Chapter 1

The photographer

Aboy plays the role of photographer, his head under the dark cloth as he views an upside-down image on the focusing screen of a glass-plate camera. The real photographer has abandoned his task of photographing a stretch of winding road to chat up a nanny taking a group of children for a walk. She, too, has literally turned her back on her task. Chaos reigns. The boy at left has pulled apart the photographer’s plate holders, ruining his exposures, and the youngest child has fallen out of her pram. Meanwhile, the two older children appear to be turning the tables on the adults by taking an incriminating photograph of their irresponsible behaviour.

The photographer of this comedy tableau was Frank Denton, who would develop a reputation as a commercial photographer in Whanganui from 1899 to 1927.1 The boy under the dark cloth was his nephew, George Leslie Adkin, known as Les or Leslie, who went on to farm near Taitoko Levin, north of Wellington, from 1905 to 1946. His name would be made as an amateur geologist, ethnologist and Tararua Range tramping pioneer, and as the author of two books on regional Māori place names and their history, two of geological compilations and around thirty-three scientific papers.2

Leslie Adkin also became a photographer, though of a different sort to his uncle and without attracting much recognition for his skill in his own lifetime. He often used the medium as a visual recording tool that supported his scholarly pursuits and general interests, but alongside such photographs were his more personal images of family and friends. At first glance these might look like snapshots of everyday situations, but rarely are they snapshots in the original hunting sense of hurriedly grabbed images. Adkin was far too methodical and particular to make impulsive, unposed, throwaway images. He was a detail man, an observer

Frank Denton
Abandoned camera and children, c.1897
The children in the foreground are Gilbert, Leslie, Clare and Dora Adkin.
Gelatin silver print, 107 x 152mm, courtesy John B Turner, TMP043912
Gilbert Adkin with a giant cauliflower at Cheslyn Rise, c.1910
Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.022534
Winter store of apples at Cheslyn Rise, July 1908
Gelatin glass negative, quarter plate, A.006633
Mrs Windmill and Clifford Adkin, 11 September 1904
Mrs Windmill was the Adkin family midwife. Gelatin glass negative, quarter plate, A.005992

25 December 1908

The height of her ambition,
Dora Adkin at Cheslyn Rise.
Gelatin glass negative, quarter plate, A.005951

port in a storm, 8 April 1912

Sheltering from the rain at Hokio Beach. Inside porch: John Herd, Alice Herd, George Denton, Maud, Dora Adkin, Olive Herd, Clare Adkin, Agnes Denton, Vivian Adkin, Gertie Herd, Miss M Bennett. Outside: Ralph Herd, Clifford Adkin, Gilbert Adkin, Robert Denton. Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.020974
Salt winds keen, 8 April 1912
Adkin, Denton and Herd family members at Hokio Beach.
Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.022792


The bathers, 26 December 1912
Hokio Beach. Women standing nearest camera: Dora Adkin, Marjorie Adkin and Maud. Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.020981
Arrival at the Hydrabad, 27 December 1909
Waitārere Beach, with the wreck of the Hydrabad in the background. Back row: Clifford Adkin (paddling), Gilbert Adkin, Jimmy Cameron, Reggie Thurlow (both farm workers for the Adkins), Dora Adkin, Will Herd, Marjorie Adkin, Gertie Herd. Front row: Miss Main (housekeeper), Alice Herd, Olive Herd, William Adkin, Maud, Clare Adkin, Ralph Herd, Kate Denton, Vivian Adkin, John Herd?, Elizabeth Herd, William Herd, Hugh Herd.
Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.022783
Nancy and Clyde’s dolls’ tea party, 9 October 1921 Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.022884
Playmates, 9 November 1920
Nancy and Clyde on Clyde’s second birthday.
Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.022882
Maud reading on the verandah at Woodside, 26 January 1930
Maud’s book is The Pride of Eve (1914) by Warwick Deeping. Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.023342
Tennis players, Paekākāriki, 26 December 1924
Maud at far left and Nancy centre.
Gelatin glass negative, quarter plate, A.006530

Transporting material for the

proposed Waiopehu Hut, Tararua Range, 24 October 1927
Group with loads of corrugated iron for the Waiopehu Hut: W Poad, W Bignal, W Ransom, G France, Ernest Lancaster, HD Richards, – Spooner, W Stewart, – Ransom, WR Harris, Joe Logan, Peter Stewart. Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.020659


On the Waiopehu track at the second lookout, 4 March 1928
En route to the opening of the Waiopehu Hut. GH Field, WH Field (MP); WFC Vine, JR Smith, AJ Hilkie, HA Mealand (all Tararua Tramping Club); WN Pharazyn, FW Vosseler (president, Tararua Tramping Club), E Phillips-Turner (secretary, State Forest Service), Joe Logan (Levin-Waiopehu Tramping Club).
Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.020878
Pipeline construction: rendering the joints of the pipes watertight by means of pneumatic caulking machine, 24 August 1923
Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.022994
Diver J Feldt and crew, Mangahao hydro-electric scheme, 6 September 1923
Gelatin glass negative, half plate, B.022990


A book of Leslie Adkin’s photographs has been one of several long overdue publications on historical New Zealand photography. So I was very pleased when the Te Papa Press publisher, Nicola Legat, expressed her support of this project from the very beginning and was willing to make it a physically more generous book than first discussed.

We all owe a debt to Leslie Adkin for taking his wonderful photographs in the first instance, but also one to the many people who have cared for and helped make his work available over the sixty years since he died. This began with members of the Adkin family – Maud, Clyde and Bruce Adkin and Derek and Phil Noble –who had the wisdom to see that Adkin’s work belonged to the nation. Thanks are especially due to Phil Noble for his long-term interest in the Adkin collection at Te Papa.

The public-spirited gifts of the Adkins and Nobles were followed by the efforts of people such as John B Turner, Trevor Ulyatt, Jean Stanton, Ian Hunter, Eymard Bradley and Kirstie Ross, who saw the value of Adkin’s work and helped make it known to the public. The hard backroom work of researching and improving catalogue data enabled the photographs to become more findable and meaningful. This was undertaken over many years by Karen Quinn, Anita Schrafft, Amber Baldock, Christina Hardy, Ashleigh James-McKenna, Hannah Thompson, Maddie Ojala, Danielle Campbell, Kirsty Lillico and Annie Barnard. Acknowledgement should also be given to Dorette Hodge, Adkin’s niece, who helped identify subjects in his photographs before this work began.

Making digital images of Adkin’s photographs aided access too and was carried out by Te Papa’s imaging team over an equally long period. It is pleasing that nearly all of Adkin’s photographs held by Te Papa can now be viewed in digital form. And

finally, six years of diary transcriptions were created by crowd-sourced volunteers in a project run by Melissa Bryant, and facilitated and promoted by Kirstie Ross, Adrian Kingston and Sunita Mahat. Kirstie made additional transcriptions, and Te Papa hosts Steve Keig, Anna Abernethy, Isabella Dennett, Anna Sheffield and Norrie Gibson, as well as summer scholar Maddie Ojala, wrote later ones.

My research and selection of images has been enabled by the cumulative work of all the people above. But my greatest single debt is to Anthony Dreaver for his book An Eye for Country: The life and work of Leslie Adkin. Without Anthony’s hard slog over many years of researching Adkin’s life, and setting it out in organised form, my job would have been immeasurably more difficult.

Many thanks to the descendants of those photographed on pages 186–188, 205–208 and 211 and who have given their permission for these images to be reproduced. Te Papa welcomes more information from the descendants of those individuals where names currently are not known.

Where I needed to do my own research I would like to thank Louise Garrett, David Hodge, Natalie Marshall, Michael O’Neill, Kirstie Ross, Paul Thompson and Leeann Williams for their advice or assistance. Thanks also to Vicki Robson, Lizzie Bisley and Rebecca Rice for feedback on my image selection and sequencing. And to Justine Olsen, Lizzie and Rebecca for helping me solve the many puzzles around dates and people in Adkin’s photographs. Readers of my draft text –Anthony Dreaver, John B Turner and Eymard Bradley – all contributed with information and suggestions.

Producing an illustrated book is a complex business, with many moving parts. Thank you to Neil Pardington for the design, Yoan Jolly for the pre-press image work, Imogen Coxhead and Nicola Legat for editing, Olivia Nikkel and Olive Owens of Te Papa Press for production, Haley Hakaraia for iwi liasion, Matt Turner and Emily Goldthorpe for proofing and Brian O’Flaherty for indexing. Each has applied an impressively high level of attention to detail in their contributions. As a detail man himself, Leslie would have approved.


RRP: $70

ISBN: 978-1-99-116550-3

PUBLISHED: September 2024

PAGE EXTENT: 244 pages

FORMAT: Hardback

SIZE: 2247 x 290 mm

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO ORDER https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/about/te-papa-press/contact-te-papapress


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