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Lantern Slides by Beattie & Sanderson

Georgia Kerby - Exhibitions Curator


As you may have read in our current exhibition Magica Lanterna, magic lantern slides were affordable and widespread mediums for distributing news of famous people and important events through all reaches of the country.  Specific sets of slides were produced for public shows or topical lectures.  New Zealand slide makers either used images published in newspapers, or their own photographs if they were also a photographic studio, like Josiah Martin of our article a few weeks ago.

Three lantern slides in Whangarei Museum’s collection are labelled Beattie & Sanderson, Auckland. They depict scenes of a significant New Zealand event - the presentation of the original military Colours to the First Auckland Battalion.  Set in the Auckland Domain, 1899, the ceremony attracted a large crowd, to witness the Colours being handed over by the women of Auckland and finally presented to the volunteer infantry by Lady Ranfurly.  Lord and Lady Ranfurly, are shown in two of the lantern slides and in one are received by the Primate of the Anglican Church.

Beattie & Sanderson are best known as a photographic firm.  William Beattie himself was born in Scotland and moved to Tasmania at age 14.  There he learnt photography skills from his brother, which he brought to Auckland, New Zealand, in 1894.  While Beattie set himself up as a photographer, his new partner, Sanderson, seems to have been the owner of an Auckland stationary shop on Ponsonby Road.  His shop was the ideal setting to produce and sell Beattie’s prints after they joined in business around 1897.  Less is known about Sanderson but perhaps he helped with certain stages of photo development and printing as the pair advertised together as ‘Beattie & Sanderson Photographers’ until 1901 when Beattie went independent.

The 1870s to 1890s was a period of public institutionalisation of magic lanterns.  With improvements in the lighting of large sturdy lanterns, these decades saw the magic lanterns as instruments of education via big group shows.  After decades of audiences being wowed by the illusions and wonders of the lantern show or sciopticon, colonial-era New Zealanders had seen it all before and were more interested in what exactly was being shown rather than the wonder of the technology itself.  Polytechnics and scientific institutions put on shows by travelling showmen, who were often also scientists or photographers.

Set against this background of changing consumer tastes, Beattie & Sanderson followed local interests and produced photographs of current political events, such as land meetings between Prime Minister John Seddon and Maori King Mahuta Tawhiao and the travels of Premier Richard Seddon.  Our three lantern slides were likely to have been made as part of a larger set of photos to be distributed to schools or lecturers.  They highlight the photographic quality and political interests of our burgeoning photographic market.  Soon after the turn of the century, William Beattie left the partnership and expanded his photographic business while remaining in Auckland.
Many modern collectors still hunt for postcards from Beattie’s sets of Real Photo postcards (as opposed to his reproduced printed postcard series) made in the early 1900s.  Both types of postcard series were produced on pre-printed blank postcards, sourced from the UK, Australia and Germany. For these series Beattie continued to favour images of the ever popular New Zealand scenery; locations like Rotorua, North Auckland and the Coromandel.  His body of work was also significant in its record of current events like the building of the North Island Main Trunk railway line.  Like the postcards, our lantern slides provide glimpses into concise points in New Zealand history where our country’s tourism and photographic markets were just getting started.
The “Magica Lanterna” exhibition is open throughout the summer until 28th March, 10am to 4pm daily, at the Whangarei Museum, Kiwi North and is included in general admission.