|William Mulready (1786-1863) designer, John Thompson (1785-1866) engraver, Postage one penny letter sheet (1840). Relief engraving.|
K & C Philatelics
The short extract from the Review article was restricted to a description of the symbolism of Mulready's image, which observed the figures 'were emblematical of British commerce, and communication with all parts of the world'. It's hard to imagine what this twenty-four line text would have meant to colonial readers of the Gazette as, few would have received or even seen a postage stamp let alone a Mulready letter sheet as both had only been introduced some five months earlier; for example, Samuel Revans, the editor of the Gazette, had left London in September 1839. In fact, the discussion was in part redundant as, in the face of furious lobbying by private stationery manufacturers, the letter sheet was withdrawn from sale by the General Post Office, less than eight weeks after its release. It was a decision in keeping with the British state's long-standing deference to private interests. British commerce had trumped efficient communication; consumer utility was abandoned in favour of profit, no matter how inefficiently it was acquired.
|Unidentified maker, Swinging cradle (1840). A contemporary image indicates a number of features|
noted in news reports of 1840 were removed when the cradle was modified in 1894.
Royal Collection Trust (RCIN 42508)
|'Front of the Great Exhibition building exterior of the south' Illustrated London News (1851) |
An exhibition of the industry of all nations is intended to take place upon a most superb scale in London in the course of the year 1851. The prizes are to be princely ones, upwards of £20,000 being to be awarded (sic); the largest amount, it is stated, will be a prize of £5,000.
|John Nicol Crombie (1827-1878), [Looking east from Constitution Hill towards Parnell] (1861). In March 1850 Robertson's Ropewalk,|
Mechanics Bay, (rear centre) was the site of the second annual show of the Auckland and New Ulster Agricultural and Horticultural Society.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (4-1117)
The advantage to be derived by such a contribution must be obvious to every one, since, however comparatively obscured by the more gorgeous displays of the arts and industrial skill of wealthy and populous Europe, the very fact of the productions of the Colony being admitted into such gay and goodly fellowship must prove to be an instrument far more effective than the most elaborate Standing Advertisement, the most powerful Leading Article, or the most painstaking Book. It will be a standing reference at the command of the friends of the colony to point to, and say, –'Look here! Behold the fruits of the soil –the produce of the sea–and the arts and industrial capacities of New Zealand during the first year of her second decade!"By June 1850, the size and scope of the exhibition was becoming increasingly comprehended; newspapers in Auckland, Wellington and Nelson reported (under 'Latest English News') that:
A circular has been sent to the Mayors and official Authorities throughout the country, with the urgent recommendation to appoint local committees to carry out the object of the great Arts Exhibition. The appointment of local commissioners was also insisted upon, so that each branch of the industry of the town may receive representatives. The French government are expected to allow the export of their own articles, and the transit of articles of other countries through territory without official payment.By July the minuscule New Zealand press was in a positive frenzy about the exhibition, with the New Zealander publishing columns of lists of objects eligible for display; in August the Nelson Examiner reprinted extensive discussions concerning the aims and purpose of the exhibition and its governance. The New Zealander weighed in, observing that:
The extent to which this subject has engaged the public mind at home [...] would warrant our devoting considerable space to it [...] The movement, however, is in itself so important – so fraught with prospects of universal benefit, in which, if it not be our own fault, we in New Zealand may fully participate – that we deem it a duty to keep it before the view, and so far as we can, to press it upon the practical consideration of our fellow colonists.But it wasn't just the press; as Charlotte Godley, wife of the leader of the Canterbury settlement, commented in a May 1851 letter to her mother:
I suppose London is now nearly mad with the Great Exhibition just opened [...] I think we are rather well out of it; it makes me feel quite tired only to think about going to see such a monster exhibition. But, perhaps, after all, the grapes are sour. <C Godley, Letter from early New Zealand, 1850-1853 (Christchurch: Whitcomb & Tombs, 1951), p. 202>But despite popular agitation little could be done by local authorities to ensure that the exhibition commissioners were cognisant of colonial desires. Nonetheless, the exhibition commissioners hadn't forgotten the colonies – their existence was, ultimately, a compelling rationale for the event – but, as Jeffery Auerbach observes, 'One of the most monumental tasks facing the commissioners was to organise the British colonies, dominions and dependencies and make them part of the exhibition, and fittingly, the imperial displays at the Great Exhibition were located at the very centre of the Crystal Palace.' <J Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851; a nation on display (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), p. 100>. Finally, on 6 September 1850, colonial authorities issued a Government Gazette primarily comprising information received from the exhibition commissioners and stating that those items that were to be selected to represent the colony must be received at the Customs Warehouse in Shortland Street, Auckland by 1 October, 'and then transmitted to London at the expense of the Colony.'
|John Alexander Gilfillan (1793-1864) artist, Edmund Walker (1826-1892) lithographer, Interior of a native village or 'pa' in New Zealand, |
situated near the town of Petre, at Wanganui.
Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand (C-029-001)
|Joseph Nash (1808-1878), 'Colonial produce' (1852), from Dickinson's comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition (London: Dickinson Bros., 1854).|
The location of the New Zealand display in the colonial court is suggested by a suspended waka at the left rear.
Victoria & Albert Museum
It is unclear who was responsible for the production of this luxurious furniture – ' sliding secret panels, fluted with green silk', but it is probable it was the cabinetmaker Johann Martin Levien (1811-1871), described in the New Zealand Gazette as 'a highly respectable German, and an excellent cabinet-maker', worked in Wellington from 1840 before moving to London in 1843 where he not only established what appears to have been a bespoke furniture business based in Davies Street – about 500 metres from the premises of the Messrs Lucas – but also 'a warehouse for the manufacture and sale of New Zealand wood.' Levien developed a considerable reputation in Europe for his use of New Zealand timbers and he showed at the Great Exhibition under his own name, but located in the United Kingdom section; he was accorded an Honourable Mention. But he was more than a cabinetmaker, albeit one with a royal warrant granted in 1846. As an importer into Britain of exotic New Zealand timbers, it was in his interest to expose them to the widest possible audience: displaying furniture made from New Zealand timbers under the imprimatur of their colony of origin enabled him to do just that.
|[Johann Martin Levien (1811-1871)], Cradle ().|
The sort of integration Auerbach seems to envisage is encapsulated in another cradle with an alleged royal provenance attributed to Levien and produced around the time he received his royal warrant. The cradle, which was listed for sale by the Australian auction house Mossgreen earlier this year, was executed in a Renaissance revival style and made extensive use of veneered New Zealand timbers. While lacking a documented provenance (the possible royal connection could be easily confirmed or dismissed through the Royal Archives at Windsor), it is not entirely fanciful to suggest that the boat-shaped cot not only evokes Māori waka but also echoes the account published in 1841 in a Wellington newspaper concerning an earlier 'royal' cradle, one made for the 'Child of the Ocean Queen'.
But Levien's furniture also represents the disconnection of empire; the tension inherent between ruler and ruled. While Levien made good use of his time in New Zealand, his continued location in the colony would have never enabled him to obtain the level of recognition and wealth – his estate was sworn for probate purposes at less than £5,000 (the equivalent economic status today of £3 million) – that he achieved in London. In part, this design hiatus between metropolis and frontier resulted from inefficient communication. If the first mention of design in the New Zealand press had been prompted by British postal reforms of 1840, so too the status of design in the colony was compromised by a continued failure in the way Britain connected its economic, cultural and social networks. As the Southern Cross fumed in a frustrated editorial in September 1851 'let the advocates of expedition in this era of rapid communication, fancy upwards of eight months elapsing between the posting of a letter in London and its receipt in Auckland.' Such reforms would only occur with the reform of the corrupted British civil service following the gradual implementation of the Northcote -Trevelyan reforms from 1854. But, more significantly, in design terms at least, the disconnection of empire ensured that while the periphery provided raw materials and a small consumer base, the design, production and mediation of commodities remained primarily a metropolitan concern.