Burton Brothers

Last updated

Burton Brothers (1866–1914) was one of New Zealand's most important nineteenth-century photographic studios and was based in Dunedin, New Zealand. It was founded by Walter John Burton (1836–1880) in 1866 as the Grand Photographic Saloon and Gallery [1] and was situated in Princes Street, Dunedin.

Burton was a member of a prominent family of printers, bookbinders and photographers based in Derby, England, whose firm (John Burton and Sons) was founded by their father John Burton, and also included his other brothers, Alfred Henry (1834–1914), Oliver (born 1841), and John William Burton (born 1845). In 1856, Alfred emigrated to New Zealand, where he worked initially as a printer in Auckland before moving to Sydney in 1859 and from there back to England in 1862.

In 1866, Walter followed his brother's lead, moving with his wife Helen to Dunedin, at that time prosperous from the recent Central Otago Gold Rush, and founded a photographic business. The business proved successful, so in 1868 Walter asked his brother Alfred to join him in the venture. Alfred travelled to New Zealand with his wife Lydia and daughter Oona, and the two brothers formed a business partnership under the name Burton Brothers. The firm proved a major success, with Alfred travelling throughout the country to take landscape photographs while his brother Walter concentrated on portraiture in Dunedin. The firm became very successful, providing both a studio portraiture service for the settlers and images of New Zealand landscapes and scenes of ethnographic interest including Maori portraiture, which were in high demand by tourists and travellers to New Zealand and by other collectors around the world. Images were sold individually as prints and postcards and also as series in albums through agents and distributors.

The Burton Brothers pioneered the use of travelling darkrooms, commissioning a special photographic van to be built in 1869 which served both as a mobile darkroom and as a safe method for transporting their heavy and delicate equipment.

Despite the partnership's success, it ended as early as 1877, largely through personal differences caused by Walter's heavy drinking. Alfred was joined by his younger brother John and employed other talented photographers such as George Moodie and Thomas Muir, while Walter set up an independent studio. In 1880, Walter committed suicide, and John, saddened, returned to England. Alfred Burton continued to business with Moodie and Muir as his partners until retiring in 1898. He died in Dunedin in 1914. Moodie and Muir continued to run the firm under the same name until its eventual closure in 1916.

Alfred Burton, in particular, is considered one of 19th-century New Zealand's most notable photographers, and his series of images of Maori in the southwestern North island is of major significance. [2] This series, "Through the King Country with a camera: a photographers diary", was published in the Otago Daily Times in 1885. His spectacular images of Fiordland were in part responsible for the New Zealand Government naming the region as a National Park.

During the 1880s Alfred travelled extensively through the South Pacific, photographing scenes of village life in Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga. [2] He also produced a series of images of the devastation caused by the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera, rephotographing locations which he had previously visited some years before the eruption.

Many of the Burton Brothers' works and much of their original equipment were collected by Dunedin photographer and historian Hardwicke Knight, and are now housed in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.

Related Research Articles

New Zealand photography first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, and over time has become an important part of New Zealand art. A number of photography associations exist to support photographers in New Zealand.

Shona Rapira Davies is a sculptor and painter of Ngati Wai ki Aotea tribal descent. Currently residing in Wellington New Zealand.

Kurī Dog breed

Kurī is the Māori name for the extinct Polynesian dog. It was introduced to New Zealand by the Polynesian ancestors of the Māori during their migration from East Polynesia in the 13th century AD. According to Māori tradition, the demigod Māui transformed his brother-in-law Irawaru into the first dog.

Alfred Henry O'Keeffe, was a notable New Zealand artist and art teacher, who spent the majority of his life in Dunedin. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, he was one of the few New Zealand artists to engage with new ideas while staying in New Zealand. At this time most adventurous New Zealand painters, such as Frances Hodgkins, went overseas. He has sometimes been described as a Vasari - a recorder of artists and their doings - based upon his published recollections, which are the only first hand published account of that milieu.

Laurence Geoffrey Aberhart is a New Zealand photographer.

Theo Schoon New Zealand artist

Theodorus Johannes Schoon was a New Zealand artist, photographer and carver of Dutch descent.

Mark Adams is one of New Zealand's most distinguished photographers.

Alfred Henry Burton New Zealand photographer

Alfred Henry Burton is a nineteenth-century New Zealand photographer.

Walter John Burton New Zealand photographer (1836–1880)

Walter John Burton (1836–1880) was a New Zealand nineteenth-century photographer.

Frederic Hardwicke Knight, QSO was a London-born photographer, historian and collector who emigrated to New Zealand in 1957 to take up a medical photography position in Dunedin. He lived at Broad Bay until ten months before his death at a Dunedin nursing home. His publications include New Zealand's first comprehensive photographic history, many compilations of early Dunedin and Otago photographs, biographies of several early New Zealand photographers and of British photographer William Russell Sedgfield, three books of architectural history and a seminal history of the Otago Peninsula. He was awarded a QSO in 1991. An eccentric polymath, Knight was well known for his striking appearance, his ramshackle Broad Bay cottage crammed with his collections and his self-proclaimed exploits, most notably his claim to have found timbers on Mount Ararat that might have been Noah's Ark.

Thomas Andrew (photographer) New Zealand photographer

Thomas Andrew was a New Zealand photographer who lived in Samoa from 1891 until his death in 1939.

James Ingram McDonald was a New Zealand painter, photographer, film-maker, museum director, cultural ambassador film censor, and promoter of Maori arts and crafts.

Fiona Pardington

Fiona Dorothy Pardington is a New Zealand artist, her principal medium being photography.

Margery Isobel Blackman is a New Zealand weaver.

Suzanne Tamaki is a New Zealand fibre-based artist of Te Arawa, Ngāti Maniapoto and Tūhoe descent. She operates under the label Native Sista and was one of the founding members of the Pacific Sisters. Informed by indigenous concerns of Aotearoa, New Zealand, Tamaki's jewellery, fashion and photography portrays a reclamation of colonised spaces. As Megan Tamati-Quenell writes of her work 'They are created conceptually, provocatively and with political intent'.

Kate Sperrey New Zealand artist (1862—1893)

Eleanor Catherine Sperrey, also known as Kate Sperrey, was a noted portraitist from New Zealand who flourished at the end of the nineteenth century. She painted portraits of many of the most noted statesmen of New Zealand and has works in the permanent collections of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Alexander Turnbull Library, Auckland Art Gallery, and the Whangarei Art Museum.

Molly Morell Macalister was a New Zealand artist. Known for painting, woodcarving, and sculpture, her work is held in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Adrienne Martyn is a New Zealand art photographer. Her work has been collected by numerous art galleries, museums and libraries in New Zealand including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Dowse Art Museum, the Auckland Art Gallery, the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Hocken Library.

Gladys Mary Goodall was a New Zealand photographer whose work was used for scenic postcards of the country. Her photographs are held in the collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Library of New Zealand.


  1. "Page 4 Advertisements Column 3, Bruce Herald, Volume III, Issue 169, 27 September 1866". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 12 July 2018 via Papers Past.
  2. 1 2 Te Papa Burton Brothers article Archived 2012-02-07 at the Wayback Machine