MaC IV ‘MAORI ART’: Augustus Hamilton and the book that’s always open

 Rangihīroa Panoho 2016-2021. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author without his express permission. Details for writing to Rangihīroa are as follows:

The opinions expressed are mine and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.

A U G U S T U S  H A M I L T O N

104 years on: the book
that is always open


The following entry is an updated version of an article written for a LinkedIn audience in 2013 after documenting the Christ Church yard, Russell with Mark Adams. We were returning to Tāmaki, 22 September 2013, after photographing the Kaitaia Gateway (photo: Mark Adams, Pihirau collection),   in Te Ahu Heritage Museum, Kaitaia for MAORI ART . I realised I needed this essay as a point of reference in the ‘Future Flowerings’ essay, MAORI ART Curator II so I have decided to publish it ahead of schedule. This essay helps explain the longer legacy of trying to write a history of Māori art and it has within it a range of lessons for current generations of writers wanting to write Māori art. It could be considered an extension of ideas covered in ‘Future Flowerings’ and Bulls and Territory This post on the pioneering Dominion Museum ethnologist helps better prepare the ground for a discussion regarding intellectual/curatorial territory and the ongoing delineation of space in the Polynesian Art/museum world – the focus of the next post: MaC V Headlands: unpublished responses

Down the end of a central access path to one of New Zealand’s oldest surviving ecclesiastical buildings – Christ Church, Kororāreka – resides a plump, largely unadorned, funerary stone. Its two simple bronze plaques facing the path remember Augustus Hamilton, (1853-1913). He died a century ago in the summer months researching church records in the North. The kohatu sits as if on outdoor museum display duty. Its own pedestal reminds the viewer a tribute worthy of study lies above. 5 carefully machined marble blocks hold the massive weight. A plaque in English reads indifferently to another in te reo below – the predicament of translation. The Māori text sits horizontally on the face of a plinth block facing out towards the path. The English plaque describes the deceased ‘Director of the Dominion Museum, Wellington, [as] ‘An Eminent Student of Māori Lore, A lover of Nature, an Earnest Seeker after Truth.’

Michael Illingworth, portrait of Augustus Hamilton, bronze statue five years before the ethnologists death in 1908. Behind Hamilton are kōwhaiwhai images reproduced in his voluminous Art Workmanship of the Māori Race


Hamilton’s grave is central foreground. Far left is a memorial to loyalist Hokianga rangatira Tamati Waaka Nene. Although Hamilton died at the early age of 50 (while researching in Northland) this particular, now relatively remote, graveyard seems an entirely appropriate resting place for the scientist with a passion for Māori art. Local Māori gifting the land in the early nineteenth century required the church cemetery allow for the burial of both Māori and Pākehā alongside one another. One can pick out the resting place in White’s image. Follow its perspectival entry point leading along the path to the west face of the church. In the left background of the image sits the slightly rough, pocked top edge of Hamilton’s grave. It is positioned against another pou whakamaharatanga ‘memorial.’ A lofty Celtic medieval cross emblazoned with the nomina sacra IHS – the Greco Roman abbreviation for Jesus – stands out. It is dedicated to prominent nineteenth century Hokianga rangatira Tamati Waka Nene.

The Mark Adams photograph below details the accidental connection between the two. Is it perhaps more the interest of the eye behind the lens that sets up a dialogue. His view is at right angles to that of White and deliberately explores the different visual dynamic aesthetic in the two memorials from very different eras. In contrast to the vertical of Nene’s cenotaph Hamilton’s colleagues selected a more rustic block low to the ground. There is no religious iconography only the bronze text that celebrates a great man. The graves seem odd visual neighbours.

If Nene’s gravestone is the tallest in the yard Hamilton’s feels the most voluminous and textural. It also stands out because it features an odd rustic appreciation of natural materials in a colonial churchyard that celebrates very conservatively crafted marble. It is different from the other older conventionally designed shapes planted in thin, weather-worn slabs of marble. By contrast it’s surface is largely unmodified apart from its face, its reverse and its plinthe. The stone still looks as if it has just been hewn from its rockface. Marks showing its original surface have been left on its top and its side faces. These tell-tale signs, commissioned by members from the New Zealand Institute who funded the funerary stone, seem part of the intended impression. Hamilton was a great man. Hamilton was a New Zealander. Hamilton was someone whose monumental achievements are foundational. Like the rock, his legacy will stand the test of time.

Not coincidentally the grave is located in Kororāreka near Ōkiato ‘Old Russell’, the earliest capital of New Zealand (1840-1841). This is a fiercely nationalistic site. Although the intentions of those who gifted its land are clear the site seems to speak another narrative. It bears the wounds of Māori and Pākehā differences within its white picketed fence boundary. There are signs…

…both outside and inside the church, within speaking distance of Nene’s grave, that colonial rule was extremely fragile, and at times violently contested, as in Ngā Pakanga Whenua o Mua and the Northern Wars 1845/1846. A number of Māori and Pākehā died defending Kororāreka from ancestral cousins Kawiti and Heke and their sacking of the small town in 1845. The church was one of three protected by attackers. Ironically the church commemorates in a plaque within sailors who died defending the site. Visitors can, and still do, quizzically poke fingers into the musket ball holes (above image) that pock the weatherboard walls of the protected heritage church. As with other sites like ominous Ruapekapeka, involving powerful Northern leaders like Kawiti, it doesn’t take much to imagine the resistance. Despite the symbolic presence of Nene guarding Christ Church today this was not an early, uncontested seat of colonial power.

There is as much point trying to ignore Hamilton’s funerary rock at Christ Church as there is his publication Art Workmanship of the Māori Race. Many books on Māori art have not performed as well as that by Hamilton. I have watched a number suffer the indignity of the bargain bin. However, it would appear that Art Workmanship of the Māori Race continues to be a collectable classic even after more than a century since its original publication. I have a copy myself, one of a number of reprints by Holland Press in London. It was a koha ‘gift’ from colleagues at NYU where I was running a couple of workshops in conjunction with the Departments of Anthropology and Film and Religion. It still carries the label within it, ‘Oceanic Primitive Arts 88 East 10th Street.’ Were he alive Hamilton might well be chuffed. There is an awareness of his work even in the Atlantic facing Big Apple.

Augustus Hamilton, Maori Art, published New Zealand Institute, Wellington, 1901. Collection: Otago University Research Heritage

It is still the largest book yet produced on Māori art. It continues to dominate its territory as a benchmark. It is some 439 pages long. Its page dimensions are 312 x 243 mm. It has in its original published form red cloth boards with gilt Maori design on spine and front board. It has 65 plates (including 7 in red and black of rafter patterns). It is not unusual to see original books carrying inscriptions indicating gift presentation.



Books on Māori art and Māori artists though, from the turn of the twenty first century, also appear to be getting bigger and more lavish. Mark Amery makes some interesting points regarding the effort by the Christchurch Gallery to market The Hanging Sky: Shane Cotton. Interestingly the writer who questions the mural sized images by the Māori artist in the show praises the scale of the book as a better way of seeing or experiencing the artists work. It’s specifications are proudly outlined – ‘192 pp., hardback, foil-stamped cloth cover, blue edge page edges, 72 full colour plates, 390 x 294 mm; weight 4.10 kg.’ I can vouch for the last measurement when I tried to lift the publication from its perch on an Auckland Gallery bookshop shelf a few years back. To put the Cotton book in perspective, although its page dimensions are larger, it is more than half the size of Hamilton’s work.

New Zealand institutions and a number of overseas museums have now curated large complex and important landmark exhibitions of Māori art. Te Māori was one such pioneering exhibit in both its prestigious American and New Zealand museum venues. I mentioned, in the last essay, Taikaka Anake Kohia ‘contemporary’ Māori art exhibition in the early 1990s referencing size (i.e. the largest), as a marketable point of difference. Eventually some institution is going to create a bigger, larger publication on the artform. However, the important issue (in case there is concern with this focus on scale) is not so much the size of the thing as the foundational nature of Hamilton’s original work. His publication remains a starting point.

In 1913 the ethnologist HD Skinner in his obituary to Hamilton in the ‘Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand’ made an important claim. It may very well help explain a legacy of aesthetics and formalism that has hitherto not been fully understood in its New Zealand context. Skinner describes this formalist bias as deliberate, admirable and even scientific.

Hamilton was, Skinner said,

a collector and systematizer…of objects throwing light on the life, industry, and art of the ancient Maori... In a stimulating chapter on Maori art, Max Hertz affirms it the chief defect in Hamilton’s work that he advanced no theory as to its origin or affinities. But in truth this avoidance of all theory was one of his greatest merits. It is not rash to say that the bulk of the writings on Maori ethnology have been warped by the influence of preconceived theory. It needed strength of purpose to resist an influence which thus flowed in from every quarter. Hamilton knew that facts enough had not yet been recorded to form the basis of scientific theory, and he resolutely set himself to the accumulation of facts. It is from such a groundwork that students of the future will be able to venture with some certainty into the region of hypothesis.


Augustus Hamilton’s collection of Maori artifacts on display at the Napier Athenaeum. Early 1880s. Collection: National Library of New Zealand


Image as re-produced small almost a footnote) by Dr Roger Neich in his book CARVED HISTORIES: Rotorua Ngāti Tarawhai Woodcarving, AUP, 2001: 215

Neich had a lot to say about Hamilton beginning with his Masters thesis on Ngāti Tarawhai carving. Often one finds the author in his theses and subsequent writing  remarking on Hamilton’s patronage of Māori Art. Hamilton, Neich believed, viewed himself as an expert and as the authority on Maori Art. I discuss aspects of this directed legacy (i.e. cultural paternalism) in MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory.

I share with Skinner an acknowledgement of the foundational nature of what Hamilton created in his work on Māori art. I have difficulties with the substance of Hamilton’s thesis but I accept that it was pioneering work and that it has been influential. Importantly one can only admire the scale of Hamilton’s vision. He was ambitious for Māori art at a time when few others had the drive to seek such an understanding or made any kindred attempt to accumulate, centralise and control a growing national collection of Māori material. This energy and commitment gave the former Director of the Dominion Museum the right to try to establish a foundational narrative.

Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) once said of his Espozione Missionaria exhibition of indigenous objects (including sacred taonga from the Pacific in the Vatican collection) that it: and will remain like a great, an immense book; every object is a page, a phrase, a line in this book…the Espozione Missionaria will close, but the furnishings will not disperse, they will remain as the Museo Missionario, as a school, as a book, which is always open.

Hamilton’s book, and the vigorous curatorship that drove it, continues to remain open, available and collectable.



Colonial, MaC V illustration
Next Post: Looks at the debate that generated around New Zealands export to MCA, Sydney – the  Headlands exhibition and its 1992 accompanying catalogue 

As promised this is a memoir looking at two key figures read as central in Māori academic and Pacific curatorial history in this country as MaC V: Headlands unpblished responses as Māori Art Curator continues.





















IOU ‘Māori Art’ the book + the exhibition. Writing the book Māori Art, then painting and curating it. 21 March 2016

An attempt to clarify what these three approaches (i.e. writing/painting/curating) might mean in the gallery context.

Map of ancestral mountain, ko Whatitiri te maunga, ko Te Uriroroi te hapū, Maungārongo te mārae, Porotī te hau kāinga

Oxford Definition of ‘indebtedness’.

IOU Māori Art the book + exhibition (currently on display at Tivoli, Waiheke Island) is an experimental look at what it might mean to write a book and then paint and curate a show about that book. I could perhaps have retreated into the easy response a number of artists make quoting senior Māori painter Ralph Hotere. His aphorism suggests art should speak for itself. Perhaps it might be said that a book should be left to do the same. In my particular case the publication Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory co-published with David Batemans Ltd is certainly large and detailed enough (352 pages, a large body of images including many specially commissioned ones) in itself to create its own satisfying world.

However, what I found in visually working with key ideas in the book was that there are so many ways to explore and open up text and narrative that art potentially takes the published work in lots of exciting new directions. Curatorially the labelling of the show along with compositional elements in the painting help provide a whole range of other layers with which to read the book. Text in the exhibition space refers the viewer as reader back to particular points in the book. Art brings a whole other level of enquiry to the writing.

Sometimes the technical approach of specific artworks provided a rich interface with published ideas. In Māori Art, for example, I was working with the key idea of palimpsest as an ambitiously local way of reading Māori art within a 5 – 6000 year timespan that included its proto Polynesian, Austronesian and proto-Austronesian beginnings in the Pacific, Island Asia and earlier in Southern China. The layering I maintained had to be translucent and accumulatively luminous. I referenced the idea in chapter 2 ‘Te Hana’. I also drew on other histories. I love the oil technique developed by the Northern European painters and in particular that pioneered by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. The palimpsest metaphor that I worked with leant itself to encaustic (i.e raw natural ground pigments mixed with purified and heated beeswax). This is a much quicker version of the oil glazing I have also admired in works like the Ghent Altarpiece whose centrepiece I featured in chapter 2. What I liked about encaustic was that it physically described what I was alluding to in the text. It also, in its layered process, demonstrated the idea of obscuring and at the same time transmitting in part information from deeper layers into the final painting surface.

 Rangihīroa Panoho, Pao pao te wai, Waipao te awa, acrylic on canvas, 2016. ‘Waipao is the river in which my illustrious ancestors used to drink and immerse themselves. Today it is shallow’, encaustic on Oregon pine, 2016, photograph: Haruhiko Sameshima

The river with which Te Uriroroi identify is named after the flush of water in summer from the Whatitiri puna that was so powerful the motion caused boulders and rocks to clash and clatter into one another. Pao refers to the striking smashing motion of the water.

I created a book on a broad ranging art historical topic with a specific whānau ‘family’ and tribal kaupapa ‘foundation’. Painting and the broader exhibition is letting me tell other connected stories that, while not appropriate in a general publication, are entirely suited to the intimacy of exhibition space. A viewer can walk around an interior and visually discover those connections. I found that there were many ways to open up the sacred landscape sites in my Tai Tokerau rohe that I had only been able to document, in collaboration with the photographers Mark Adams and Haruhiko Sameshima, in the book. There is, for instance, a big difference between showing the public a published image of our sacred maunga Whatitiri and by contrast presenting it as a physical object that brings with it a more tangible human history. Currently my Te Uriroroi hapū are, for example, having their historical grievances over land and water loss and rights of ownership heard by the Waitangi Tribunal.

Water and an ancestral connection with protest is part of the videographer whānaunga Nova Paul’s 2018 work that looked at both the centrality of Waipao river to Te Uriroroi and the 1895 sit in of our ancestor, our namesake Henare Panoho atop Okoihu (our Te Parawhau tūpuna Kūkupa’s pā tūwatawata at the feet of our ancestral maunga Whatitiri – see painting below) to protest the Crown’s breaking up of our ancestral lands on Maunga Whatitiri (see map above) into 15 farms sold to colonial settlers.

Paul adopts the Te Ātihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi approach to the legal personhood of their matua awa Whanganui , Ko te awa ko au, ko au te awa.

I see Henare Panoho as part of the fabric of the water at Kawanui puna where Mark Adams and I photographed.

rangihīroa, Ko Henare te tūpuna tāne, Kawanui te puna, Whatitiri,  2017

Mark Adams, Kawanui, Whatitiri, 26 October 1998

Wai 2058 pops up as regularly in the painting as Yueh (the reference to the ancient ‘axe’ peoples who occupied Southern China prior to the Han invasion).

Rangihīroa Panoho, Yueh, ‘The People of the Axe’, encaustic on board with kauri villa window frame, 2016

Art can become a refreshing way with which to resonate the importance of this local grid of identity and the more ancient layers of symbol and pattern that connect Asia\Pacific peoples. Art potentially can help both the reader and the gallery viewer to move between antiquity and the everyday realities that face a contemporary indigenous people struggling with the burden of their recent ‘colonial’ histories. The three dimensional nature of a gallery is helpful in this regard. Accumulatively the photographs and paintings in IOU completely surround their viewer with their interconnected narratives. They demonstrate an instantaneous awareness that I have always loved about curated imagery. The kaupapa of an artist, a curator and a gallery (sometimes including the architecture) can be read through the experience of the unity of the objects within their exhibited space. I am not claiming that this happens with all shows. What I am saying is that with carefully thought through and well executed exhibitions it is conceivable that a viewer can immediately grasp the essence of a show.

It would be interesting to know whether any of these issues resonate with the curatorial, artistic and publishing efforts of other business people out there. For those wondering what art shows have to do with books and why a book might not speak for itself one point might be worth noting. In New Zealand there are very limited marketing opportunities to showcase publications in a sustained and meaningful way that connects a book with a reader or with an institution (i.e those who will eventually purchase the product). Downtown Auckland has 1 small bookshop (Unity Books) that helps showcase, among other publications, New Zealand books.  The ratio of 1 small central store per 1.5 million people (in a country of only 4.6 million) perhaps helps clarify an urgent need for creative thinking around how to connect a market with a publication. Getting people to meet authors is a key way of selling a work to the public. Following this line of thinking exhibitions are a useful way of introducing an audience to a book. If you are local come and visit the IOU show and test some of my ideas at Tivoli on Waiheke. You may even want to tie a trip in with one of the many festivals (international jazz, wine and food…) on what is still a beautiful and unique part of the Auckland coastal region. Good things can come from small places.

Mark Adams, Te Wairere a Miru, Wairua Falls, Mangakāhia valley, near Porotī, near Whāngārei, 6 January 1995, collection: author

Rangihīroa Panoho, Te Wairere a Miru, 2 September, 2012, acrylic inks and watercolour on board