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Beautiful painting an important part of history

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At the end of 2023, the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust was successful in acquiring, through auction, a small oak-framed painting by well-known colonial artist Charles Decimus Barraud. This beautiful, evocative, and yet delicate watercolour is titled “Reverend Samuel Williams Residence, Lake Te Aute, Hawke’s Bay”. Like many of Barraud’s paintings, it’s an important social commentary on Aotearoa’s history and in this case, the Te Aute region, and missionary Samuel Williams.

A trained chemist, Barraud emigrated to Aotearoa with his wife Sarah on board the “Pilgrim” which anchored at Port Nicholson, Wellington, 24 August 1849. Two months later he established a chemist shop on Lambton Quay, followed quickly by a second, the “Pill Box”, at the corner of Manners and Herbert Streets.

In June 1860, Barraud, keen to extend his business concerns and encouraged by Napier agents Newton & Browne, boarded the “White Swan” bound for Ahuriri to set up a pharmacy in partnership with Thomas Bridge. Two months later Barraud & Bridge’s Pharmacy on Emerson Street opened. By the end of 1862, the pharmacy had moved into newly built premises on Hastings Street. Thomas Bridges died within two years and the partnership was legally dissolved. By mid-1864 the pharmacy, ably managed by John Bowerman “a gentleman in every way qualified to dispense medicines” had been renamed Barraud & Co.

In subsequent years Barraud became one of Wellington’s most respected citizens, renowned for his kindness and involvement in community matters. In his spare time, he was an enthusiastic amateur artist who won recognition as a talented landscape painter. As his business interests prospered, Barraud took every opportunity to travel throughout Aotearoa faithfully recording its beauty in watercolor and oil. His artistic ability was ranked second only to that of John Gully, both of whom “emerged from the ranks of mere amateurs”.

Those who travelled between Napier and Waipukurau during the 1870s would have readily recognised Barraud’s depiction of Samuel Williams residence and the landscape surrounding it - particularly Lake Roto-a-Tara and the island in the centre. Today Lake Roto-a-Tara and the swamp (which were Samuel Williams only direct purchase of land from Māori) no longer exist as he had both areas drained.

In the spring of 1853, Governor George Grey urged Samuel Williams, a missionary, educationalist, pastoralist and farmer to move from Ōtaki to Te Matau-a-Māui / Hawke’s Bay promising him land and money for a Māori School. Rangatira Te Hāpuku and 44 others gave Samuel land at Te Aute to set up a school and farm – the school opened in 1854 with 12 scholars. It was forced to close in 1859 because of a disastrous fire and lack of Government financial support. Samuel in turn focused on fundraising and breaking in the estate to ensure a permanent income for the school until it re-opened in 1872 with James Reynolds as headmaster and Samuel Williams as provider.

When Samuel and his wife Mary arrived at Te Aute, there was no accommodation available so they were forced to live in a pātaka / Māori storehouse as temporary shelter. Soon after Samuel built a raupō hut consisting of two rooms, with thatched roof - a year later another room was added - and for five years this became the couple’s home.

By 1859, it become evident that no financial assistance would be forthcoming from the Christian Missionary Society towards the construction of a missionary house, so Samuel arranged and paid for the carpentry work. With the help of local Māori, native trees were felled, pit-sawn into lengths and a substantial two-storied house surrounded by an open veranda built. Known locally as “The House”, it was situated approximately 100 yards from Te Aute School.

Although the house was large, the Williams family lived a very simple and spartan life. Furniture was restricted to bare necessities and the walls were covered with unbleached calico, being much cheaper than wallpaper. Samuel planted hundreds of trees around the property, lawns were sown, a tennis court built and a large woodland garden containing masses of bluebells, laid out. 

“The House” became the centre of the thriving Te Aute community, with both Māori and Pākehā being welcomed into its fold. On 6 March 1884, Edith Webb, daughter of Reverend Anthony Webb (Ormondville) wrote to her Aunt Mary: “I have been staying at the Sam Williams, they are very nice and kind, they have an awful lot of visitors, and keep a visitors book, just to see how many people stay with them”. She continued “We went over the Maori College at Te Aute, it is such a splendid place beautiful rooms with long rows of white beds; the boys all make their own beds and wash their own clothes, they seem to do it very well”.

No one was allowed to leave “The House” empty-handed. When Reverend Webb was preparing to return for Ormondville after administering the Sacrament at Te Aute, Samuel sent him home “rejoicing with 50 eggs, a sack of turnips and a nice pen of a St Brahma cock & 5 pullets.”

Although the painting has the appearance of being a small working sketch, as distinct from Charles Barraud’s finished watercolours, the subject matter tells a myriad of social history stories about Te Matau-a-Māui making it a significant addition to the collection and giving it great exhibition potential.

Published in the Hawke's Bay Today newspaper on 20 January 2024 and written by Gail Pope, Social History Curator at MTG Hawke's Bay.

Image: “Reverend Samuel Williams Residence, Lake Te Aute, Hawke’s Bay” by Charles Barraud.


23 January 2024

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