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Diary of New Zealand Artist & Horse Trader

 
Diary of New Zealand Artist & Horse Trader by WEBSTER, Harold Bullock (1883)

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Author: WEBSTER, Harold Bullock
Title: Illustrated New Zealand Diary 1883
 
Year: 1883
Publisher: N/A
Place: New Zealand
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: No
 
Price: £3500
 
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pp 150 [46] watercolours. Remarkable illustrated diary of the New Zealand emigrant, commercial artist and horse trader Harold Bullock-Webster (1855-1942). Following a stint in Canada (his Canadian diaries are held at the University of British Columbia) Webster emigrated to New Zealand where he worked as an artist and farmer's agent and wrote this diary which details his time at the Herald Printing Office in Auckland, black-face theatre in the town and his rackety life as a horse dealer and would-be lothario (other notebooks by Webster are held at National Library of New Zealand). This volume is illustrated with 46 naive watercolours, around 30 of these occupying a full page. The diary is contained in a black roan bound volume of unlined paper, marbled endpapers and a newspaper article (New Zealand Herald) by Webster covering 'The Close of the Hunting Season' tipped onto the front endpapers - initialled in his hand. The diary is entitled humorously: 'Vol X Now Ready - Selling Off. Alarming Sacrifice, The Author Bankrupt', this text framed on a sandwich board carried by a raggedly dressed man in a street scene - Webster acknowledges at the end of the volume that 'I little knew when I began this book how it would... end up so satisfactorily for yours truly H-B-W.' Webster's diary begins in a jocular tone, written clearly for public consumption: 'Here begineth (some fastidious people may prefer 2 n's in that word - I think it looks better with one) the 10th Vol.' on August 14 1883 'dark and dismal and blowing a gale' as he said goodbye to a friend on the mail steamer which is homewards bound from Auckland harbour. Webster's business at the time was a mixture of commercial illustration work and horse dealing with dozens of images of himself and his friends inspecting, riding, tending to and bring thrown from horses as he travelled around the wider Auckland district buying and selling, once losing his own steed and publishing a newspaper advertisement (tipped in) to secure its recovery. Though untrained as an artist it is his watercolours of Auckland life in the 1880s that are perhaps the highlight of this document, providing a highly individual accompaniment to his jaunty narrative. After undertaking some illustration work for an almanac Webster toured the Herald Printing Office at the invitation of 'The "boss" of the concern Mr [Alfred] Horton' taking particular time over the 'wood engraving and lithograph departments'. Webster gives a vivid description of 'endless dingy rooms smelling very strong of newspaper, printers ink and small boys with considerable steam and noise and machinery everywhere from ceiling to floor.' The writer recounts his conversation with Alfred Horton and the commentary offered him by the proprietor: 'This is where the papers are made up and folded & - Here you see in this next room are the type setters at work - (and dirty looking work it seems, they look very inky and unhappy).' There are two pages of watercolours of the Herald Printing Office which offer six vignettes, to include Webster's arrival at the front desk where he met the top hatted Mr Horton who appears in one subsequent watercolour, followed by images of 'The Artist', 'The Engraver' and 'The Engraver at Work' in the illustration department. As Webster's fortunes improved through the volume so his cultural life became more varied, with a visit to 'the Theatre' (p 102) in Auckland after a 'splendid dinner and Champagne' where he 'saw the "Court Minstrels" rather an amusing Entertainment. The corner men had their faces blacked and were got up comme il faut, bones [?} and tambourene, while the rest of the troupe excepting the "middle man" were women dressed in old English dresses and powdered hair (or wigs)' though Webster judges that there was too much singing! The writer's temperament shines through when as he resists being buttonholed by a young women campaigner for abstinence from alcohol while dining in Onehunga (now an Auckland suburb) 'at Cap. Daveney's. Pretty girl there who was an enthusiastic Blue Ribbonite... Even removed the 'bit of blue' from her dress and pinned in to my coat lap. I promising to abstain from all spirituous and intoxicating liquors for ever... only that I added a rider to the effect that I should be allowed a little refreshment when I felt a "sinking"'. On another visit to evaluate a farm's potential for horse breeding in Mangere Webster stumbles into a bedroom with 'the prettiest of 2 or 3 month old babies lying in a cot... and begins immediately to yell blue murder. Now I know that must be a mistake on its part for all babies (and dogs) like me...' and Webster quickly worked his charm on both mother and baby. Whereas most emigrant diaries stop at the moment when they leave the boat, this document provides a lively and visually arresting account of day to day life in the swiftly developing colony. Close to the end of his long life, in 1938 Webster published his 'Memories of Sport and Travel, Fifty Years Ago: From the Hudson Bay Company to New Zealand'.

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