The Colonial Family Album : Photography and Identity in Otago, 1848-1890

Author: Haley, Jill Marie

Date: 2017

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

Link to this item using this URL:

University of Otago


This thesis looks at photography and album culture in Otago, New Zealand, between 1848 when the first Otago settlement colonists arrived and 1890 when snapshot cameras became widely available. It builds on work by Elizabeth Siegel and Martha Langford on nineteenth-century photograph albums, looking at their use as oral devices for self-representation. Additionally, it investigates album culture in a colonial context and situates photography in Otago within broader discussions on nineteenth-century immigration, identity and modernity. A material culture approach, which uses objects as evidence for exploring human behaviour, has been applied to 89 carte de visite and cabinet card albums holding approximately 6,000 photographs in the collection of Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. These have been supplemented by albums and photographs from other collections. This thesis examines in-depth two albums from the 1880s; one compiled by an Otago-born woman of Scottish ancestry and the other owned by a Māori (Kāi Tahu) family. It argues that during the late nineteenth century immigrants to Otago, their Otago-born children, and local Kāi Tahu used photographs and albums to create and communicate their colonial identity and community. The first photographer began working in the colony in 1855, and by the Otago gold rush of 1861, several professional photography studios had been established in Dunedin, the settlement’s urban centre. Shortly after carte de visite albums were commercially available overseas, they were being sold in Dunedin. Much of Otago’s photographic activity paralleled developments overseas. However, local practices emerged that were shaped by the colonial experience. Through their albums the residents of Otago portrayed themselves as members of a successful colonial society and part of a modern world that extended across and beyond the British Empire. By engaging in such activities as compiling albums and collecting photographs of celebrities, they positioned themselves as part of a global imagined community of photographic consumers. Through exchanging photographs and viewing albums, they built, maintained, consolidated, and demonstrated their local connections and membership in real communities. For colonial-era Kāi Tahu, albums illuminated their “middle ground” lives and identities that blended aspects of customary and colonial life. The title “The Colonial Family Album” summarises the argument that albums were used to create a new form of colonial family of connected people in the local Otago context.

Subjects: Photograph, photography, photographer, nineteenth century, Victorian, album, New Zealand, Otago, Dunedin, Maori, Ngai Tahu, Kai Tahu, modernity, community, colonial, settler, imagined community, album culture, carte de visite

Citation: ["Haley, J. M. (2017). The Colonial Family Album : Photography and Identity in Otago, 1848-1890 (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from"]

Copyright: All items in OUR Archive are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.