The great mass of information now available on New Zealand's railway history is sufficient to suggest that a new generation of researchers will find little left to unearth, study and catalogue, but in fact there are still many avenues left unexplored. In this article Allen Shaw outlines the life and work of E G Child, a pioneer photographer who recorded much of the early railway construction in the Upper Rangitikei.
In the Manawatu, E G Child is remembered as the founder of the road transport firm which still bears his name - hopefully this article will establish him also as a skilled photographer who recorded a fascinating era in the railway history of this country.
The part played by Edward George Child in photographically recording and preserving numerous events relating to the construction of the North Island Main Trunk railway in the Upper Rangitikei area in the 1890s is outlined here as a tribute to his efforts. As a former resident of the Ohingaiti district E G Child comes within the scope of a detailed local history project commenced in 1962. It is hoped that the following information will assist others in identifying further examples of his work and enlarge the known extent of his collection.
Because he departed the district before the opening of the Makohine Viaduct in June 1902, the strength of E G Child's collection lies in his recording of earlier construction events often missed by others. A detailed record of the construction does exist in official publications, such as The Appendices to the Journals, but the quality of these sources does not match that available from glass plate negatives and prints from these. The better known photographs of the viaduct generally represent the final stages of construction which show the project at its best. Newspapers and other publications of the day were keen to illustrate the progress of the Main Trunk railway and particular attention was given to the Makohine Viaduct highlighting the engineering problems encountered and solved.
The long delay between approval and completion of the Makohine viaduct project placed the adjacent townships of Ohingaiti and Mangaonoho in a unique situation. Between the opening of Mangaonoho to rail traffic in 1893 and the completion of the viaduct in 1902, a thriving transit and accommodation service existed from the railhead. Ohingaiti's three hotels, together with numerous boarding houses and coach lines, did a roaring trade. After 1902 these two settlements suffered a commercial decline which continued as other construction projects were completed and, later, as the sawmilling industry of the area also declined.
Family details. Arrival in Halcombe
Edward George Child was born at Chelsea, Middlesex, England in 1860(l), the fourth of seven children to Edward George Child (senior) and Sarah (nee Worsfold). His paternal Grandfather James Child was a tea merchant and paternal Grandmother Louisa (nee Stamp) was born in Jamaica, the daughter of a plantation owner.
Edward and Sarah and family departed England by assisted emigration on 17th December 1875 aboard the 'Waipa' and arrived in Wellington on the 2nd April 1876. After transferring directly to Wanganui the family moved to a newly established settlement at Halcombe near Feilding(2).
Halcombe Hotel. Milling.
At the time of his marriage to Mary Couls in Wellington on August 19th 1885 Edward Child's occupation was described as 'painter'. Prior to this time his father had operated the Halcombe Hotel and advertisements also refer to Childs Refreshment Rooms(3).
ATL Catalogue No. (32341)
E. G. Child-a self portrait of the photographer in his "pioneer studio" attached to his Ohingaiti residence. Photograph take late 1890s.
The death of his mother in 1885 saw the hotel operation ended and the family move to a Halcombe property on Stanway Road. In-laws of the Child family were involved in this property's development and operation and it was here that the first of Edward and Mary's four children, Edward W.H., was born in 1887. E.G.C also appears to have established himself in the timber industry of the district at this time. Being mechanically inclined he took an interest in the operation of mill steam engines and this ultimately became his livelihood. His younger brothers Fred and Walter became able bushmen and continued in this industry for many years.
E.G.C's interest in photography developed during the 1880s and was perfected to a
professional level before moving to Rata around 1890. A print on hand-made paper has survived from this time. Depicting a bush setting with two slab buildings this early photograph is most likely to be an early Child family residence near Halcombe or on the property at Stanway.
To Rata c. 1890. Engine Driving at Bell's Mill
Edward and Mary with two children, Wally and Iris, moved to Rata around 1890 where Edward worked as a mill engine driver for Sawmiller Alexander Bell. His Father, Edward Child Snr, brother Fred Child with his wife Carrie (nee London) and children, and brother Walter Child followed. This family group was to remain together for the next 11 years. With Mary Child operating a home bakery business (4), Edward's photography also became an important addition to the Child family activities away from the sawmill. Two more sons, John and William, were born into the family during their time in Rata.
With his residence close to the line and Rata railway station E.G.C's photographic views recorded general rail activity (5). To a small community the railway was a place of some social importance. The often impassable roads were by-passed by the new smooth rails affording group travel for shopping in the larger neighbouring settlements of Hunterville and Marton. The arrival of goods and visitors and the dispatch of timber and farm produce created a hive of activity in the station area, A sawmill and railway station were at the commercial heart of tiny settlements such as Silverhope north of Rata.
To Ohingaiti in 1896.
Location and Employment.
Following the purchase of the Omuia Block in 1890 and sale of Ohingaiti township by auction in 1892, sawmiller Alexander Bell soon established milling operations there. Bell later opened a second mill on flats adjacent to the Rangitikei River and close to the Makohine ravine. It was to here that the Child family moved in 1896(6), occupying two small cottages near the present Ohingaiti cemetery. The land and cottages had been purchased from Bell by E.G's brother-in-law, John Eustace, from Halcombe(7). At this site E.G.C established the 'Pioneer Studio' from which he promoted a successful photographic business.
Photographic Studio and travels.
E.G.C's home-based studio acted as the district centre for family photographs, portraits and recording of family and social group gatherings, railway workers, school events, club committees, weddings, bush and…(continues below photographs.)
The three photographs on this page show various stages in the construction of the Makohine Viaduct. All are taken from the Taihape side of the gully, looking towards the tunnel on the Hunterville side. The tunnel was opened out ("daylighted") at the time of the electrification of the central North Island Main Trunk.
ATL Catalogue No.(35462)
An early stage in the construction of the viaduct - an inclined track has been built down the western face from the tunnel mouth. Ironwork for the bridge was fabricated at a temporary workshop at Mangaonoho a short distance beyond the other portal of this tunnel.
ATL Catalogue No. (35461)
Catalogued as "1897-98", this photogrpah, taken from a similar vantage point to the preceding one, shows work on the viaduct pier foundations nearing completion. Possibly the photograph was taken to mark completion of the concrete pour.
ATL Catalogue No. (7762)
Ready for the steelwork-the boxing has been removed, and the site has been cleared up. Men can be seen shifting spoil about half-way up the hillside towards the tunnel mouth - quite likely they are preparing foundations for the temporary timber piers (falsework) erected to support the end spans during construction. The Makohine is not a simple trestle such as the Makatote. Instead, its two end spans are supported by extensions of the central span cantilevered out from the piers, hence the need for temporary supports which would not have been necessary in the case of a trestle viaduct.
This photograph is dated 6.10.1898.
(From page one.) ...scenic views and noteworthy events were all included in a thriving trade.
The completion of road links to the central Hot Lakes District in conjunction with the rapid advancement of railway formations created a steady flow of tourists along the route. These tourists purchased photographic mementos of their visit and local residents purchased these views for sending to friends or adding to albums. Acquiring a library of saleable prints for this trade required E.G.C to travel extensively and constantly throughout the Rangitikei, Manawatu and Wellington districts. This included major photographic trips to Wellington in 1898 and the Taupo thermal area in 1899.
Although no members of his immediate family worked on the railway construction, or the Makohine Viaduct in particular, the Child family home and studio were within lkm of that viaduct and in direct sight of activities there. This close association with events and people on that project presented E.G.C with opportunities not readily offered the casual visiting photographer.
The Makohine Viaduct eventually towered over an accommodation house, stables and a small tent village near its base. Because of a settlement policy promoted by Richard Seddon's Liberal Government, land near the viaduct site and south to the iron workshops was surveyed into sections and sold to Public Works employees. Known then as the Makohine Village Settlement this land has since reverted to farming leaving almost no trace of its former use.
ATL Catalogue No. (35463)
This is the cement shed gang - cement came in barrels in those days before multi wall paper bags. The photograph was taken at the Manganoho portal of the Makohine Tunnel.
ATL Catalogue No. (35464)
A fascinating insight into 19th century construction methods.
Here, in a photograph taken about 1897, work has started on concreting. Note the huge timbers used in the boxing. In front of the right-hand pier, blurred figures show where concrete mixing has started, using shovels and a mixing board. Barrels of cement are stacked nearby and the blurred figure of a horse and wagon may indicate the arrival of another load of shingle from the tramway leading down to the stream. Two water tanks are sited between the cement stockpile and the mixing board.
The left-hand pier seems to have almost reached the same stage. The mixing board stands waiting, and already some cement barrels have been stacked in readiness. The viaduct required over 12,000 tons of concrete.
Surviving plates relating to the Makohine construction cover the 1896-1901 period. Detailed views of the foundation construction, formal and casual worker groups, general area views and the ironworks fabrication site are all covered. Events at Mangaweka, Utiku,
and Taihape to Turangarere were included in E.G.C's area but unfortunately few of these have survived in the current collection.
However there are prints still to be identified and details itemised below may assist readers to locate further examples of his work.
Publications such as 'The Auckland Weekly News'(8) were willing to reproduce E.G.C's photographic views and events from the district, particularly items related to the railway and its construction. (It is hoped that more of these will also be identified in the future as a part of on-going research work.)
To Wellington in 1901 - Rangiotu later.
The departure of Edward and Mary Child from Ohingaiti to live in Wellington in 1901 coincided with Fred Child and family, with brother Walter and Grandfather Child, leaving to follow the milling industry further inland. They worked at mills at Kawhatau, Utiku, Ohutu and Wainui in the Mangaweka-Taihape area before arriving at Gardiner's mill at Oio near Ohakune. The closure of 'Pioneer Studios' resulted in a substantial proportion of the stored glass plate negatives being
abandoned on site, ultimately to be disposed of over the adjacent cliff face. A selection of plates was taken on departure but this was limited to a small box which was easily moved and stored. The original Child family cottages were eventually dismantled after brother-in-law John Eustace took up his leased land for farming.
E.G.C's photographic activities continued after moving to Wellington where he developed an interest in lantern slides and established himself as a travelling projectionist or 'Picture Show Man'. He also appears to have involved himself with the early 'movies' of the time. Moving back to the Manawatu with his growing family E.G.C was employed as an engine driver in a flax mill at Rangiotu. His sons entered this industry and by gaining the necessary experience eventually managed a number of mills throughout the area.
ATL Catalogue No. (35465)
Dated 25 October 1897, this photograph is taken from the Taihape (Ohingaiti) side of the Makohine Valley and shows the road crossing the stream and heading south towards Hunterville. Present-day travellers on State Highway 1 should recognise this scene as the road still follows a similar alignment. Note the tramway passing under the bridge at the foot of the photograph. Presumably this tramway was used to haul shingle from the river to the viaduct site for concrete making.
ATL Catalogue No. (38748)
More horse-drawn equipment a couple of earth-moving gangs in the cutting leading to the Manganoho portal of the Makohine Tunnel. Today's Main Trunk travellers often don't reallse that most of the earthworks along the route were carried out by hand.
World War I and Child Bros. Truck Company
The advent of World War I saw E.G.C's three sons enlisted and serving overseas. Wally (E.W.H. Child) was the last to return to New Zealand, but before his return in 1919, E.G.C and son William returned to Palmerston North and purchased a small transport company.
Extracts from a report published in the Manawatu Evening Standard, May 1940, on the occasion of 21 years in business, summarise the progress of E.G.C and his family in the years following World War 1:
21 YEARS IN THE MARCH OF TIME
Child Bros. Come Of Age
"It was in May 1919, that Mr E.G. Child launched his business and took his first(carrying) job, trading as Child Bros., with his two sons W.J. and E.W.H. Child, the last-named only returning from the war in December of that year. In July of 1919 the carrying business of Mr Sam Bramberry, of McGriffert Street, was acquired, there being at this time several horse-drawn lorries and one motor lorry. The horses were disposed of in 1925 and the motor fleet made its appearance, gradually increasing to 21 vehicles. Dealing in coal and firewood, which had commenced in 1921, was also being developed, various privately owned yards having been acquired.
Further expansion was denoted by the establishment of the metal-crushing depot and plant in Albert Street. Taking over the business of the New Zealand Express Company, Child Bros. moved their head offices to George Street, from where the business, its 21 motor trucks and its staff of 31 are all directed."
Some Personal Details.
Died in Palmerston North-1949
In his old age E.G.C is remembered for his continued interest in things new and mechanical. As a young man living at Stanway he built and operated his own telegraph system and in later years built a wireless set. After any trip away the family would gather about on his return to see what new item of interest he had acquired. He had to know what made things 'tick' but would then lose interest before moving on to something new. As a photographer he extended his artistic skills by 'painting in, portraits. In later years he undertook the painting of Child Bros. commercial vehicles and the signwriting on them. He had a reputation for taking on any job and doing it well ... from paper hanging and bricklaying to steam-engine driving. E.G.C and his immediate family were also keen musicians and their band at Ohingaiti was remembered in that district as being "very good''(9). This talent has carried through to a number of his grand and great-grand children who are skilled musicians.
As an old man E.G.C lived in a small cottage he built for himself on the company property in McGriffert Street (Palmerston North). In this tiny residence he surrounded himself with a collection of his favourite books, records, tools, photographs, documents and memorabilia of a lifetime. E.G.C died on the 15th September 1949 aged 89 years and was buried at Kelvin Grove Cemetery.
Remnant collection in storage - relocated 1964 - Alexander Turnbull Library as
'Child Loan Collection'
The small but historically significant remnant of E.G.C's glass plate negatives and prints remained in the building at the McGriffert Street depot until relocated in 1963 as the result of research being done on the Ohingaiti district. The collection covers an area from Oroura Downs, Palmerston North, Apiti, Kimbolton and Marton then north through to Rata, Ohingaiti, Mangaweka, Utiku and Taihape with a selection in the National Park and Taupo area. Wellington is represented by a selection taken mostly at a later date and some experimental and art work is included in the range of topics. This material is now in a safe resting place at the Alexander Turnbull Library (now part of The National Library of New Zealand) where it is housed as The Child Loan Collection.
A final look at the Makohine Viaduct. In this 1900 view, the two piers have almost reached their full height and a start has been made on temporary staging which will be used to support the spans during assembly. This photograph is also by E G Child, but is from the author's private collection.
The identification of commercial prints produced by E G Child has not been completed. Numerous prints exist in private and public collections which can be attributed to him if the appropriate signature or marking is recognised. There are those prints with an obvious stamp but many are less recognisable. The following points are noted:
Reverse side, early version
Graphic__oval stamp inscribed :
Outside edge… EG CHILD & CO PHOTOGRAPHERS & ARTISTS
Centre… OHINGAITI No.
E. G. CHILD
E. G. CHILD Photographers
E. G. CHILD Photo
C & Co.
E. G. C. & Co.
E. G. C. & Co, Pho. Ohingaiti
Most unsigned but inscribed plates have a recognisable style. A few distinctive letters are: A and N
Many inscriptions also end with the abbreviation: N.I.N.Z.
A selection of prints have elaborately scrolled inscriptions which vary in structure from print to print. The remaining inscriptions are mostly basic capital letters with some lower case subtitling. Some series are listed with a sequence such as No4.
Identification and notification of other E.G.C prints based on the above data would assist in extending knowledge about this collection. Additional information available from readers and researchers is most welcome and can be directed through this magazine or by writing directly to:
P.O. Box 1215
Mount lsa 4825
(1) The late Mrs M. Child (nee Knight), Correspondence.
(2) "Pioneering to Prosperity'' 1874-1974, A Centennial History of the Manchester Block, Chapter 8, Pg.77, Davies and Clevely.
(3) Mrs J. Pritchett (nee Child), Waikanae. Pers. Com. and Documentation.
(4) Files of The Rangitikei Advocate 1892, General Assembly Library.
(5) Child Loan Collection (photographic), National Library of New Zealand.
(6) Ohingaiti Primary School Admission Register.
(7) The late Mr Donald Eustace, Correspondence.
(8) The Auckland Weekly News, July 1899, Copy-Mr Ken Smith, Mangaweka.
(9) The late Mrs Emily Maher (nee Lilley). Correspondence.
With one exception photographs illustrating this article come from the E G Child collection which is held on loan at the Turnbull Library, Wellington. The numbers in brackets at the end of each caption refer to the Library's catalogue number.
RAILS, January 1992