Portrait of Henry Winkelmann taken pre-1920s. Photo / William Henry Macey

Island Icons: Henry Winkelmann – Capturing Great Barrier’s Hidden Moments

In the latest installment of our “Island Icons” series, we turn the lens toward Henry Winkelmann, a name synonymous with pioneering photography in New Zealand and a figure of significant historical intrigue on Great Barrier Island. His extensive body of work across the Pacific, coupled with his unique personal story, has cemented his place in the annals of our local heritage.

Photograph by Henry Winkelmann depicting the main entrance to the gold mine on Ryan’s Freehold claim, operated by the Barrier Reefs Gold Mining Company. Photo / Henry Winkelmann

Winkelmann’s journey from a bank clerk to a renowned photographer is as fascinating as the images he captured. Arriving from Bradford in 1878, he embarked on an early adventure—a daring guano expedition to Jarvis Island. Left marooned for months when his boat failed to return, this episode set the stage for a life dedicated to exploration and documentation. The guano yarn alone would be enough for most of us to dine out on for years. However, it was upon his return to Auckland and his shift to full-time photography that Winkelmann truly left his mark.

An image titled ‘What our artist faces to get good pictures’, an extract from the Weekly News. The man with the camera is Henry Winkelmann. Photo / Auckland Weekly News, 16 June 1899, p.6.

Winkelmann is best known for his exceptional time-lapse panoramas capturing Auckland’s evolution, now being restored as national taonga. However, his photographic talent extended beyond urban landscapes.

Winkelmann’s time on the Barrier, specifically at Rosalie Bay, began in 1895. He arrived at the bay with another gentleman, Richard Harrington, whom papers of the time perhaps euphemistically termed a ‘companion’ and ‘business partner’.

Rosalie Bay, Great Barrier Island in 1895. This picture gained second prize in the New Zealand Graphic Photographic Competition. Photo / Henry Winkelmann via  Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-18951221-762-2.
Rosalie Bay, Great Barrier Island in 1895. This picture gained second prize in the New Zealand Graphic Photographic Competition. Photo / Henry Winkelmann via Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-18951221-762-2.

The venture was short-lived (2 years), highlighting the difficulty of cultivating the island’s limited arable land—a challenge that many settlers faced. Despite the setback, Winkelmann’s photographic endeavors flourished, turning his lens toward capturing the essence of island life. His images of the Island’s communities during the pigeon post days where little info got in or out, preserve a unique period in our history.

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The entrepreneurial Blair family outside their oitsawn timber home in a photograph taken by Henry Winkelmann in 1896. In entrepreneurial mode, the Blairs purchased a cutter in the mid-1870s, named The Three Brothers, which conveyed firewood to Auckland from the Barrier.

From detailed shots of daily life to community gatherings and family portraits, Winkelmann’s photographs are a treasure trove of historical documentation, capturing the essence of life in a bygone era. During his short stay, he traversed much of the island, his archives featuring homes, businesses, and their inhabitants from Fitzroy in the north, to Medlands, Tryphena, and beyond.

The yacht ‘Viking’ with the Governor aboard, 30 November 1912, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. Photo / Henry Winkelmann

Beyond capturing landscapes and daily life, Winkelmann’s photography also reveals aspects of his personal life. Among an archive are photographs of him and friends bathing together in the hot pools on Aotea, sharing a bed, and even making out. The archive also features photographs of well-known cruising spots in Auckland. Punishments for homosexual acts were severe at the time, including imprisonment.

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Pa Beach Cafe, 82 Blackwell Drive, Tryphena, Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

Winkelmann’s work gained recognition for its artistic merit and historical significance, it featured in the New Zealand Herald, but his panoramas of Auckland, in particular, are celebrated and surveyed today for their detailed portrayal of the city’s evolution.

“There are quite a few landmarks on the skyline of the panorama that we would recognize today…” according to Keith Giles, Heritage Photographs Librarian of Auckland Council.

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Pa Beach Cafe, 82 Blackwell Drive, Tryphena, Great Barrier Island (Aotea)
Labour Day Parade, Queen Street, 1904. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1-W1163-PAN. Photo / Henry Winkelmann.
Captain Sullivan at the helm, 1900s, Auckland, by Henry Winkelmann. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (O.020672)

The panoramas, meticulously stitched together from glass plates, are a testament to precision and dedication according to Giles.

“He made sure he had enough overlap between the images because very often you’ll find that the images don’t quite line up exactly. But he’s been very precise in what he’s done,” Giles explains.

Parnell, Remuera and Hobson Bay from Mount Hobson, 1904. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.
Parnell, Remuera and Hobson Bay from Mount Hobson, 1904. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Upon his retirement in 1928, Winkelmann sold his collection of Auckland city negatives to the Auckland Public Library, ensuring that his visual documentation of the city and its surrounds would be preserved for future generations. His decision to retire to Swanson, where he lived until his death on 5 July 1931, marked the end of a remarkable career that spanned photography, adventure, and a deep connection to the landscapes and communities he captured.

In 1927, 23 years after her took his original image (above) of Parnell, Remuera and Hobson Bay from Mount Hobson. Winkelmann repeated the shot. One of several timelapse panoramas he completed across Tāmaki Makaurau. Photo / Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Giles says Winkelmann’s photographs of Great Barrier Island and beyond serve not just as historical records but as enduring works of art.

“Henry Winkelmann was very prescient with his thinking… The Auckland Library staff who made this purchase in 1928 were very forward-thinking as well,” he notes.

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Blind residents, outside the Ranfurly Veterans’ Home in Mount Roskill, Auckland. Photo / Winkelmann, Henry 1860-1931
Henry Winkleman’s house at Rosalie Bay circa. 1895.
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