|William Henry Mudge (1831-1920), Kauri chest of drawers, 1891.|
A recent auction in Auckland listed a plain Kauri chest-of-drawers of nineteenth century date. Unlike much of the furniture that turns up in auctions, this piece retained its original shellac finish. It was exceptionally well made and its design exhibited a sophisticated understanding of geometric proportion, from the square ratio of the whole to the reductive proportions of the five drawers. There were other subtle refinements, including the stepped vertical corners, the raised plinth and the cock-beading of the drawers. It was a handsome example of functional furniture and its timber and location attested a New Zealand origin.
|Detail of inscription on the fielded dust slip of the upper left hand drawer.|
New Zealand electoral rolls for 1890 list three W Mudges in the country: one, a tailor, in Port Chalmers; another Otago resident, a carter, in Mount Ida; and the last and most likely identity, a carpenter residing at Marjoribanks Street, Wellington. William Mudge appears as a freeholder on the Wellington electoral rolls from 1878-79, initially at number 27, and remains on them until 1919, when he is still listed as a carpenter living at 41a Marjoribanks Street in Wellington East.
|Excerpt from City of Wellington electoral roll 1890|
|[Unidentified photographer, The eight-hour day committee, Wellington, (1890), re-photographed by Winifred Gladys Rainbow (1890-1960). Samuel Parnell is seated in the centre of the front row. It is possible that William Mudge, as president of the Wellington branch of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners was a member of the committee.|
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (PAColl-2324)
The Mudge's move to New Zealand was made possible by the provisions of Julius Vogel's Immigration and Public Works Act, a piece of legislation designed not only the bolster settler presence in New Zealand but also to diversify its political economy. In reporting the arrival of the Avalanche in Wellington, the Evening Post noted that it carried 225 immigrants comprising 180 adults and 45 children. Beyond increasing settler numbers, Vogel's immigration programme sought to expand and diversify the colony's skills base. Mudge's skills as a carpenter and joiner were highly sought after by New Zealand immigration agents in Europe: migrants required housing and houses in New Zealand were, more often than not, constructed of timber.
|Excerpt from the 1841 census return for the Borough of Devonport|
|Except for the 1851 census return for the village of Gunnislake|
|Excerpt of the 1871 census return for the Civil Parish of Pancras|
|42 Mornington Crescent, Camden Town, London in 2012.|
|41a Marjoribanks Street, Wellington in 2015.|
William Mudge made his chest-of-drawers in his sixtieth year, at the end of what appears to have been a highly successful presidency of his union. While it's a design he could have made as an apprentice in Cornwall forty years earlier, its construction demonstrates that he was a craftsman of considerable talent and skill. But more than anything, the chest-of-drawers is a physical manifestation of Julius Vogel's attempts to bolster settler society by providing opportunities for 'decent working people' to enhance and improve their life in the Britain of the South.