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Sleuthing mission: Solving the puzzle of 126-year-old glass plate photos are Glenorchy Heritage Group member Corinne Davis, left, and chair Leslie Van Gelder

By LUCY WORMALD

Detective work can be added to the skillset of the Glenorchy History and Museum Group.

The story starts in the 1930s when Lloyd Veint found a set of glass plate photos in a Paradise shed.

Sensing their importance, Veint held on to the plates, handing them down to his daughters before a set came to the museum group in 2019.

‘‘It was so exciting,’’ group chair Leslie Van Gelder says.

‘‘As we were able to turn the plates into positive images, suddenly we saw places all  over the district come to life.’’

Since then, the committee’s been piecing together clues to reveal 126-year-old local history — and solve the mystery of the snapper’s identity.

Working from the name ‘Finch’, scratched in the corners of the photos, the group discovered they were taken by early Queenstown settler Frederick Finch, one of the
district’s first photographers.

 

Finch was also a master carpenter — he built the Eichardt’s staircase, the old Glenorchy library, and parts of the hospital and Paradise, before retiring to Paradise where he died in 1920.

‘‘After we pieced together who he was, we discovered a lot of Bullendale shots in our collection, including what we think is the first photo of a power pylon in the southern
hemisphere coming off the dynamo near Bullendale,’’ Van Gelder says.

A Cromwell family who inherited a set of Bullendale photos, all shot by Finch, heard about the project and shared their collection with the committee.

Inspired by his dedication to documentation and passion for the region, the museum
group set off on their own expedition to Bullendale, hoping to understand the challenges Finch would have faced as a photographer in the late 19th century.

“Come to life”: The Phoenix mine stamper battery, photographed by early Queenstown settler Frederick Finch

Supported by Department of Conservation Whakatipu and funded by Creative Communities Scheme, the committee recreated some of Finch’s original Bullendale photos from 1896 with both a modern and a 100-year-old camera, creating a ‘‘then and
now’’ comparison showing how life’s changed.

‘‘It was so exciting to stand in the same places and try to work out, now where was he
standing?’’ Glenorchy photographer and committee member Corrine Davis says.

‘‘He had to work on glass plates and carry them in on horseback — how’d he manage that?’’

The committee’s working on an outdoor exhibition later this year, hoping to display the ‘then and now’ series.

Meantime, they encourage the community to have a look at their old photos, and to get in touch if the name ‘Finch’ is etched into the corners.

lucy.wormald@scene.co.nz