Search our collections

Advanced Search

Object: Hot Water Cups, White Terrace

This image is No known copyright restriction.

Title Hot Water Cups, White Terrace
Production Spencer, Charles (photographer), 1880-1885, Tarawera, Lake
Unknown (printer), 1890 s, New Zealand
Medium summary black and white photograph, gelatin silver print on printing-out-paper
Materials silver, photographic gelatin, printing-out paper
Classification photographic prints, gelatin silver prints, black-and-white prints, vintage prints
Technique black-and-white photography
Dimensions Image: 151mm (Height) x 201mm (Width)
Support: 151mm (Height) x 201mm (Width)
Credit line Acquisition history unknown
Registration number O.000766/1

In the nineteenth century the Pink and White Terraces were considered the eighth wonder of the natural world, attracting tourists from afar in search of the exotic. New Zealand painters and photographers produced myriad views that were widely exhibited both locally and internationally and that served as advertisements and souvenirs. Photographs such as this view by Charles Spencer entranced viewers with their depictions of the unique ‘crystal and coral cups, bowls and basins set in stalactic filigree worked by Mother Nature in the vanished ages’.(1)

Spencer was an active promoter of the Rotorua region. In 1885 he published Spencer’s illustrated guide to the hot springs of Rotorua and Taupo. This advertised his photography and included, for the benefit of tourists and invalids, a report on the medicinal properties of the hot springs by James Hector, government geologist and director of the Colonial Museum.

Coincidentally, Spencer had some of these photographic views on display at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London when on 10 June 1886 Mount Tarawera erupted, destroying the natural ‘wonderland’ and killing one hundred and five people. While the eruption may have had negative implications for New Zealand’s international image, it provided immediate, if somewhat dubious, benefits to those exhibiting in London. Visitors were encouraged to rush to the exhibition to see those ‘pictures of famous scenes that will never again be beheld in reality’ and that were available for ‘modest’ prices.(2)

Artists and photographers in New Zealand quickly capitalised on the opportunity to document the radically affected landscape of the hot springs region. On 12 June 1886, Spencer was recruited by Hector to make ‘a series of well-selected views of the eruption and its effects’.(3) These were published in the Illustrated London News, along with Hector’s reports, and were praised as ‘the most precise and authentic information concerning those wonderful effects of volcanic forces’.(4)

The desolation recorded in Spencer’s posteruption photographs provides a stark contrast with the magical landscape of the Pink and White Terraces he had captured in earlier photographs such as this.

Rebecca Rice

This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).

1. ‘The New Zealand tourist’, New Zealand Mail, 8 November 1879, p. 7.

2. ‘Volcanic eruption in New Zealand’, Illustrated London News, 2 October 1886, p. 374.

3. James Hector, ‘Preliminary report on the recent volcanic eruptions’, Annual Journal of the House of Representatives, H-25, 1886, p. 1.

4. ‘Volcanic eruption in New Zealand’, Illustrated London News, 2 October 1886, p. 686.

Related information

Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.