Story: Winkelmann, Henry

Page 1 - Winkelmann, Henry

Winkelmann, Henry

1860–1931

Bank clerk, photographer

This biography was written by Vivien Edwards and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Henry Winkelmann was born on 26 September 1860 in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, one of eight children of Louise Schüller and her husband, Peter Winkelmann, a stuff and yarn merchant. He spent parts of his childhood in nearby Gomersal, Bramley and Manningham and appears to have attended school in Doncaster, and in Neuwied, Germany. He played the piano, the organ and the zither.

Henry's younger brother died in infancy and his father died in 1877. His elder brother, Charles, had sailed to New Zealand in 1875, where he became a schoolteacher then later a chemist and photographer. In October 1878 Henry arrived at Port Chalmers on the sailing ship Calypso. His mother, Louise, and five sisters came to New Zealand in the mid 1880s.

In 1881, unemployed and living in Auckland, he took a job with a fellow boarder, Harold Willey Hudson. The two men were to claim uninhabited Jarvis Island near the equator (valued for its guano), in the name of Thomas Henderson of Henderson and MacFarlane. They sailed on the schooner Sunbeam, which dropped them off in August, intending to return at the end of the three-month period necessary to validate their claim. However, when the ship failed to arrive, the men had to struggle to survive. They built a still, caught turtles and preserved and ate birds' eggs. They were finally rescued by Henderson's firm in March 1882.

That year Winkelmann joined the Bank of New Zealand. He worked in branches in New Zealand, Fiji, and Sydney, supplementing his income by teaching the zither and playing in concerts. He began his photographic career in 1892, purchasing a Lancaster Instantograph camera. His income as a photographer was at first inadequate, for he continued his work at the bank until 1895 and then left to farm at Great Barrier Island. He also bought and sold land, played the sharemarket, and by 1897 had begun a customs and indent agency on Queen Street wharf, Auckland. In 1898 he became secretary of the Coastal Steamship Company.

In 1901 Winkelmann left Queen Street wharf and set up his photographic studio in Victoria Arcade. His photographs were published in New Zealand periodicals and overseas publications. They were often successfully exhibited. At home he won the New Zealand Graphic photographic competition in 1895 and the Auckland Weekly News competition in 1908. Overseas his most notable award was the grand prix at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Henry Winkelmann's photographs covered a wide range of topics. He photographed well-known individuals and their families and residences, workers and their workplaces, and significant events. His pictures sometimes showed humour, as in his portrait of Captain John Whitney at Wenderholm with a dog wearing spectacles. Perhaps best known for his maritime scenes, Winkelmann photographed yacht race days and often climbed the masts while sailing, for aerial pictures. He photographed New Zealand while on yachting, launch and steamer cruises and journeys throughout the country: in 1899 he travelled overland through swamp and bush from Whakatane to Rotorua. In 1903 he accompanied, as photographer for the Auckland Weekly News, a party of members of the General Assembly visiting New Zealand's Pacific islands territories. He was also photographer on expeditions to view solar eclipses at Flint Island in 1907 and 1908, Port Davey, Tasmania, in 1910, and the Vava'u group, Tonga, in 1911.

During his peripatetic lifetime, Winkelmann joined a number of organisations. He was a member of the Canterbury Freehold Land Association, the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, the Auckland Savage Club, the Auckland Yacht Club (later the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron), and the New Zealand Power Boat Association. He was also a Freemason.

In 1928 Winkelmann sold his Auckland city negatives to the Auckland Public Library. He retired to Swanson and Ponsonby, and died at Mount Eden on 5 July 1931. He had never married. In his legacy he left his extensive collection of photographs and glass-plate negatives to the Auckland Institute and Museum. Meticulous and thorough, he had recorded the dates of his photographs in accession registers. His pictures are therefore valuable, not just for their technical excellence, creativity and artistry, but as a precise visual record of the past.