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Object: Portrait of James Alexander Matheson and Ethel Louisa Matheson

This image has No Known Copyright Restrictions.

Title Portrait of James Alexander Matheson and Ethel Louisa Matheson
Production Berry & Co (photography studio), 1917, Wellington
Materials photographic gelatin, silver, sheet glass, photographic plates
Classification black-and-white negatives, gelatin dry plate negatives, portraits
Technique black-and-white photography
Format half plate (1/2)
Credit line Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds
Registration number B.047163


Portrait of James Alexander Matheson and Ethel Louisa Matheson.

This portrait shows a man in the uniform of a Regimental Sergeant-Major of the New Zealand Army, with a young woman.

The  negative is inscribed with the name 'Sergt-Major Matheson.'   The man depicted  can be identified as James Alexander Matheson, service number 3/2266.  James Matheson served in the New Zealand Dental Corps, and his  promotion to Regimental Sergeant-Major was published in the Evening Post newspaper on 28 May, 1917.   The promotion took effect from 1 April, so the photograph was probably taken shortly afterwards, given the brand-new appearance of his uniform to which he has not yet attached his Dental Corps collar badges. Perhaps the Mathesons had come into Wellington from Trentham for an appointment with one of the city tailors who specialised in uniforms?

The woman is his wife, Ethel Louisa Gertrude Matheson, nee Williams, who had married James on 24 February 1917.   Their daughter, Monica Ethel Matheson, was born on 21 December 1917.

James was born in Dunedin on 11 July 1881. His pre-war occupation was as a Theatrical Agent.  He was  employed by the Kinemacolor Company of Melbourne,  promoting films made in  'Kinemacolor' which was  the first successful colour motion picture process, used commercially from 1908 to 1914.

James volunteered for military service in early December 1915.  He was medically examined on 6 December, but due to a problem with his left foot, he was graded as 'Fit for home service'. He joined the Dental Corps at Trentham Camp as an orderly the next day with the rank of Private. He was promoted Corporal on 6 February 1916 and to Sergeant-Major on 17 April 1916.

James served with the Dental Corps until 6 February 1919, when he was demobilised.    He died in Auckland on 23 June 1942.   We do not at present know when and where Ethel died.

I know who this is

The Berry Boys
During World War I, around 120 Kiwi soldiers had their photograph taken at Wellington’s Berry & Co photography studio before they left New Zealand to fight in the war. These portraits are now in Te Papa’s collection.

In the lead-up to the World War I centenary (2014-18), Te Papa is working to identify these soldiers and the loved ones they are pictured with. We want to make contact with their descendants, and to record their stories.

Some soldiers have already been identified. For others, we only have the surname etched on the glass negative.

Contact us
If you have any information you can share about the Berry Boys - either a soldier or someone they are photographed with - please use the online form above. You can also email or leave a phone message for us on 04 381 7129. You can also write to Berry Boys Project Team, Te Papa, PO Box 467, Wellington 6140.

To aid identification, please be sure to include the Te Papa registration number (B.044366, for example) for the photo in question.

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.