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‘Unidentified’ no more

There are many unidentified photographs in the Museum’s History collection and until recently this image was just one of them (QVM:1991:P:1832).

PhD student, Jai Paterson, has been researching the life of Eliza Adams who lived in Longford during the early 1860s. Eliza’s family had a small farm and her father was not rich, but he gave his children the best education he could. Like most young ladies of the day she could speak French and play the piano. She also had practical skills – she had a cheerful disposition, was good at sewing and an excellent horsewoman. It was for these reasons that her older brother asked her to travel to New Zealand, to help him in his work as a surveyor.

In one of the letters to her Tasmanian friend Kate Weston, Eliza said she was enclosing a photograph of herself that had been taken as she passed through Wellington. This was one clue. The other clue was that Eliza apologised because she was only wearing her ‘travelling dress’ – she had been in a hurry as she was leaving town that afternoon with her brother.

Proving that you never know what you are going to find until you start looking, Jai decided to search through the old photograph albums in the Museum’s collection. On the back of this carte-de-visite was the name of a Wellington studio and on the front was a young lady in her travelling dress (Eliza’s identity has been confirmed since by her descendants). This photograph was taken at the beginning of 1866 and for the next year, until she fell in love and married Charles Powles, Eliza travelled on horseback through the New Zealand bush keeping her brother company, organising his supplies and repairing his clothes.



Jai Paterson, PhD student and Museum Volunteer

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