Augustus Earle’s pedestrian tour in New Zealand
Or, get off the beach
in Worlding the south

This chapter outlines a model for re-reading European-authored travel texts of the nineteenth century (and potentially travel writing more generally) that aims to move beyond an approach to their aesthetics shaped by moments of arrival and meeting, and prospect views. It takes a mobilities studies approach and focuses on the example of the ‘pedestrian tour’ in Augustus Earle’s Narrative of Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand, in 1827 (1832). The chapter asks what different understandings of history and coeval ‘life worlds’ might emerge when we pay attention to mundane, local, and embodied movements within texts such as Earle’s – movements of both the European traveller(s) in the text and of Indigenous peoples, in this case Māori. It pays particular attention to what happens when we read mobility within prose travel texts alongside – and to an extent against – the more dominant worldings evoked by the visual art of pre-colonial and early colonial periods.

Dubbed the ‘wandering artist’, Augustus Earle briefly studied at the Royal Academy in London before, in the words of the Quarterly Review of 1832, he

perambulated America, North and South, from Canada to Paraguay: he has passed the Alleghanies and the Andes, and made sketches of numberless cities and harbours, which subsequently, being transferred to the panorama-limners, have enlightened most of us either in Leicester Fields or the Strand. He has wandered all over India in like fashion, and brought home the materials for panoramas of Madras, Bombay, and we know not how many more places in our Eastern empire.1

During this life of global mobility, Earle also lived in New South Wales, Australia, and, most pertinently for this chapter, in Aotearoa New Zealand, writing the travel book A Narrative of Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand, in 1827 (1832).2 Although Earle’s works were originally produced primarily for a metropolitan audience in London, they have since made him one of the most important European visual artists of Aotearoa New Zealand working immediately prior to formal colonisation, as well as a key figure in early colonial Australian art. Earle’s many sketches, watercolours, oil paintings, and hand-coloured lithographs of New Zealand scenes and of Māori people have become instantly recognisable to those with even a casual interest in the history of New Zealand, even if they could not attribute them to Earle. His prose narrative, too, was republished in the 1960s as an early contribution to New Zealand literary culture in English.

In this chapter, I want to suggest ways by which we might go about re-reading the various ‘worldings’ that emerge from imperial-era travel books such as Earle’s by applying greater scrutiny to how movement is figured within them. This mobilities studies approach calls for a range of scales to be treated alongside one another, from the global movements of transoceanic travel such as that evoked above, to mundane ‘embedded material practices’ such as a day’s walk in the bush in company.3 Here I heed recent calls made in fields as diverse as mobilities studies and postcolonial ecocriticism to pay attention to competing epistemologies of nature and place, and of different possible relations not only between peoples, but between peoples moving in place.4 My contention is that the methods of postcolonial ecocritical literary humanities can be enriched by being brought into closer relation with work on mobilities that treats the minute alongside the global. I am particularly interested in what happens when we read mobilities within prose travel texts alongside – and to an extent against – the perhaps more dominant worldings evoked by the visual art of precolonial and early colonial periods.5

What I hope to do in this chapter, more specifically, is to outline a model for approaching European-authored travel texts of the nineteenth century (and potentially travel writing more generally) that helps to move beyond an approach to their aesthetics shaped by moments of arrival and meeting, and prospect views. A scholarly focus on arrival and prospects in relation to European-authored travel writing about the southern hemisphere, and in particular about the Pacific, still leans towards producing readings that highlight explicit moments of cultural encounter. This in turn lends itself to a focus on the development in these texts of what Mary Louise Pratt and others term the ‘imperial eye’6 – that is, a European eye and accompanying discourse that works to organise and process information for ‘a society intent on both territorial and epistemological mastery of new lands’.7 Using the example of Earle, I am interested in what happens when we approach texts such as these, instead, by pushing beyond moments of explicit encounter to pay attention to more mundane, local, and embodied movements within them – movements of both the European traveller(s) in the text and of Indigenous peoples, in this case Māori.

Writing on the middle ground

Earle’s work is especially relevant to those concerned with the ‘contact zone’ as evoked in travel writing because it was composed when the geo-political balance of power had not yet shifted in New Zealand, and organised European colonisation was not a certain outcome. I approach this work as a Pākehā New Zealander of British descent, a position of culpability that makes the continued consideration of this moment especially important. In the 1820s, New Zealand was among the places in the Pacific still least known to Europeans.8 Even the first Anglican mission was not established until 1814, and the ship on which Earle arrived in 1827 was bringing to Aotearoa New Zealand one of the first groups of Wesleyan missionaries and their wives. There were small communities of Europeans living in the north of New Zealand by this stage, such that Earle’s account of the early days of his visit reads like so many house calls. At one point, he is pleased to come across a ‘snug little colony of our own country’.9 However, Europeans had no jurisdictional authority in New Zealand in 1827 and were exponentially outnumbered. The estimated population of 100,000–160,000 Māori when James Cook’s Endeavour first made landfall in 1769 had dropped to 70,000–90,000 by 1814, mostly due to the new diseases Europeans brought with them. Even by the later date, however, the resident European population in Aotearoa New Zealand, consisting of sealers, shore whalers, traders, escaped convicts, and missionaries, is estimated to have been only in the vicinity of 1,200.10 It cannot be understated, then, ‘the degree to which this world peculiarly, and predominantly, belonged to and was controlled by Tangata Whenua [people of the land]’.11

In part as a result of such demographics, Earle’s text is not saturated by the sense of an ‘Old New Zealand’ (read: Māori culture) strategically evoked as already being lost that tends to mark even very early colonial-period texts of subsequent decades. Large-scale land seizures leading to Māori dispossession were still to come, while the rapid and violent transformation of New Zealand’s nonhuman environments by the ‘ecological imperialism’ of forestry and pastoral agriculture was only just beginning.12 Written in the late 1820s, Earle’s Narrative of a Residence in New Zealand can be seen as inhabiting what has been called in other contexts ‘the middle ground’, a phrase drawing on the model of American historian Richard White. This model has been applied to a very specific phase in the contact and encounter (and invasion) process, which historian Vincent O’Malley argues in New Zealand ran from around 1814 to 1840 and, at its best, was characterised by efforts towards mutual accommodation and understanding.13 It is a space that ideally allowed for the creation of diverse, hybrid, and mobile practices and understandings.

Given this context, it is unsurprising that leisure travellers to New Zealand such as Earle were a new and still rare, although not unknown, phenomenon in the 1820s. In not having an explicit aim for his visit, Earle as author is distinct from the majority of his predecessors and near contemporaries. Unlike James Cook, for example, he had no letter from the Admiralty instructing him to assess possible new territory for the Empire, nor was he an official voyage artist like William Hodges. He was not an evangelical missionary like William Yate and William Wade, who wrote books based on their experiences in New Zealand in the 1830s. Nor was he travelling for clear financial reasons like Richard Cruise, who wrote a book about his ten months in New Zealand in 1820 in charge of the military detachment on a convict ship from Australia commissioned to replace its human freight with a cargo of spars for the return journey to England.14 Nor was Earle a naturalist like his friend Charles Darwin, who visited in 1835, or Joseph Banks or the Forsters before Darwin, in New Zealand to collect botanical specimens.

The original introduction to Earle’s work presents him, instead, as someone driven by ‘“a love of roving and adventure”’.15 He stayed for such a length of time in New Zealand, for the most part living with local Māori, because he was effectively stranded when his ship was commissioned for other work. His New Zealand narrative was published alongside his shorter work of travel about his time shipwrecked on Tristan da Cunha. This framing of Earle as adventurer, artist, and travel writer, combined with the particular historical moment in which he visited, by no means removes his narrative from the discourses of imperialism or mercantile capitalism. In fact, as Elizabeth DeLoughrey reminds us, the accidental arrival is a ‘powerful and repeated trope of empire building and British literature’ in this moment, so should be treated with scepticism.16 It does, nonetheless, when combined with the historical moment of his visit, subtly shift the emphasis of Earle’s narrative nonfiction text and thereby the kinds of ‘apprehensions’, to use Rob Nixon’s term, that prove possible within his narrative.17

Arrival and first encounter

Although I will ultimately argue that we need to move beyond it, the arrival scene in such texts remains the obvious place to start, both because it is such a marked feature of travel texts of this sort, and because it has underpinned so much conceptual thinking about the history of encounter and colonial history. Since Mary Louise Pratt’s influential work on the ‘contact zone’ and the rhetoric of travel texts, the arrival scene has rightly been understood as a key trope in travel writing (particularly nineteenth-century travel writing), and an important place to look for how such texts work.18 In relation to the Pacific in particular, the Australian historian Greg Dening’s related metaphor of the beach as a zone of transcultural contact, and of encounter and exchange, emerged from the 1990s as a useful analytical tool for understanding the complexity of early European texts about the Pacific and the histories they have influenced.19 To complete a triumvirate of influential conceptual imaginings, the ‘two worlds’ metaphor for examining New Zealand history, exemplified by historian and anthropologist Anne Salmond’s work, is also structured by attention to arrivals and explicit moments of encounter between two peoples.20 Earle’s own work has in fact provided useful visual representations for this historiographical imagining. Emblematically, his canonical oil painting and related lithograph, ‘The Meeting of the Artist and Wounded Chief, Hongi [Hika], Bay of Islands, November 1827’, depicting a meeting with the powerful Ngāpuhi Rangatira (chief) and members of his iwi (tribe) on a beach near Kororāreka, appears on the cover of Salmond’s Tears of Rangi: Experiments across Worlds (2017).21 Earle’s narrative account of his arrival in the Hokianga area, depicted visually in Figure 5.1, in October 1827 works in a similar way, as a touchstone, to readings of his A Narrative of Nine Months’ Residence.22 I want to look at this account of arrival, in order to, on the one hand, suggest the kinds of understandings that emerge from this critical approach and, on the other, briefly to suggest its potential limitations.

Earle’s account of the moment his ship arrives in New Zealand neatly exemplifies the structure of what we have become attuned to find in such textual representations. He presents his readers with the kind of utopian arrival scene troped repeatedly in literature about the Pacific (in particular Tahiti) in which European visitors are greeted not with any suspicion or potential resistance, but are enthusiastically welcomed:23

As the arrival of a ship is always a profitable occurrence, great exertions are made to be the first on board. … others very soon coming up with us, our decks were crowded with them, some boarding us at the gangway, others climbing up the chains and bows, and finding entrances where they could. All were in perfect good humour, and pleasure beamed in all their countenances.24

Earle presents a scene of sympathy and commercial exchange (‘profitable occurrence’) and carefully positions himself as a controlling eye/I observing the scene, beginning (in an often cited passage): ‘I examined these savages, as they crowded round our decks, with the critical eye of an artist.’25 If science and the discourse of natural history worked as one way to underwrite claims to disinterested innocence in much of the early voyage literature (as well as in accounts of interior journeys in Africa and South America), Earle’s claim to being an observer is founded on his role as artist. The message of the textual scene for readers back home in Britain is clear: there is nothing to fear in such encounters for either party. The Indigenous people are welcoming and the European narrator is in control of the interaction.

Charles Darwin was famously put out when this kind of scene failed to unfold for him when he visited New Zealand in 1835.26 In fact, even Earle’s own arrival did not quite work out this way. Having established the friendly terms of the encounter, Earle then reveals (as if incidentally) that he actually experienced the encounter quite differently himself: ‘The first thing which struck me forcibly was, that each of these savages was armed with a good musket.’27 These are armed men climbing aboard. However, by the time the reader is presented with this fact within Earle’s text, Māori have already been figuratively disarmed. Once we consider this, the rhetorical work being done by scenes of arrival or landfall such as this one becomes clearer, along with the very particular representation of the relationship between the visitors and those in whose land they are arriving. Reading the arrival scene in Earle’s text yields, then, roughly what we have come to expect: a naturalising of colonial capitalist discourse, a vision of imperial expansion seemingly welcomed by Indigenous people, an opportunity for a generalising comparison between the ‘natives’ and the ‘Indians’ of other nations, as well as, when we look still closer, an undercurrent of unease which belies European claims to comfort and mastery of the situation.

This trope of arrival reinforces one of the most abiding metaphors of the imperial project – the imagining of Indigenous peoples and far-flung lands as static and in place, while the European, transoceanic explorer (a Crusoe-like figure) is mobile, visiting, as it were, from the future. This is part of the sleight of hand by which empire turns geography into history, and space into time.28 It is also visually repeated in the many images of Māori by Earle, and even more so in the works of more explicitly colonialist artists such as George French Angus, which depict Indigenous people sitting or crouching on the ground, involved in domestic or ceremonial tasks, static and in place, and so waiting to be visited, observed, and eventually colonised by the traveller-artist-anthropologist-colonist.29 The Enlightenment mode of thought – deeply enmeshed with Whiggish and stadial models of history – that such visual depictions evoke is one that makes it difficult to recognise what Doreen Massey calls ‘the real challenge’ of the ‘radical contemporaneity’ of ‘coeval others’, and the co-presence of simultaneous, diverging narratives.30 Or to use the terms of this collection, it makes it hard to reinstate a sense of ‘mixed temporalities’ and the ‘historical uncanny’ that Sarah Comyn and Porscha Fermanis, quoting Harry Harootunian, call our attention to in their introduction. In essence, arrival can only get us so far.

Pedestrian touring

What different understandings of history and coeval ‘life worlds’ might emerge when we push beyond arrival scenes and other explicit moments of meeting that recur in European encounter narratives, to seek out and examine accounts of more quotidian activities such as walking? In the example of Earle, this takes us most directly to an extended prose depiction of a pedestrian tour taken in company early in his time in New Zealand. This is the first and most structured of many accounts Earle gives of having ‘rambled’ ‘about the country’, mostly in peaceful circumstances, but at one point fleeing from a situation of local warfare in worn-out shoes.31 In the account of his first tour, he narrates a three-day journey he and his Scottish companion Mr Shand took with an unnamed local rangatira (chief), who also provides two men to carry their baggage. Along the way, a number of other Māori men join them, to guide and ‘bear us company’.32 The walk takes the group across the top of the North Island from the Hokianga on the west coast to Keri-keri on the east.

This part of Earle’s text is different in tone from his opening examination of a new people and place with ‘critical eye’. Despite the domesticating phrase ‘pedestrian tour’, which suggests a pleasant walk in the Lake District more than an imperial adventure narrative, once this companionable group reach the head of the Hokianga river and switch from canoe to foot, Earle quickly becomes unable to frame the scene with any authority:

We travelled through a wood so thick that the light of heaven could not penetrate the trees that composed it. They were so large, and so close together, that in many places we had some difficulty to squeeze ourselves through them. To add to our perplexities, innumerable streams intersected this forest, which always brought us Europeans to a complete stand-still.33

These passages of difficult movement through a landscape present an embodied account of a terrain and nature that the European traveller is almost unable to traverse. They must ‘squeeze’ themselves to pass, contracting in space rather than observing and expanding as happens with the arrival scene and prospect eye; and they are often brought to a ‘complete’ halt. At times during this first walk the European travellers are passively ‘seated’ on top of the Māori men’s loads. They are carried across ‘such places’, Earle writes, ‘as I dared scarcely venture to look down upon’.34 Earle’s narrative voice moves in and out of what seems to be self-parody in such moments. In this instance, the vision and bravery suggested by the verb ‘venture’ is reduced to a kind of fearful peering, and the narrating traveller hardly dares even do that. Notably, such passages do not amount to the kind of visual set pieces or ‘word pictures’ for which Earle’s text is noted and which scholars have read as linguistic versions of his paintings.35 In these moments (parody or not), Earle’s visual perspective is rendered unworkable by the difficulty of navigating this new, immersive situation.

Paying attention to how the narrative develops reveals that in such passages two different ways of being in a particular nonhuman ecology emerge. The contrast between the tentative, limited capacity of the European visitor in this space and that of familiar Māori mobile inhabitation materialises most strongly in Earle’s account of the second day’s journey. After a night in which the group is hosted by local Māori en route, Earle writes that at daybreak, they

proceeded on our journey; we had eight miles more of this thick forest to scramble through, and this part we found considerably worse than that we had traversed yesterday. The roots of the trees covered the path in all directions, rendering it necessary to watch every step we took, in order to prevent being thrown down; the supple jacks, suspended and twining from tree to tree, making in many places a complete net-work; and while we were toiling with the greatest difficulty through this miserable road, our natives were jogging on as comfortably as possible: use had so completely accustomed them to it, that they sprung over the roots, and dived under the supple jacks and branches, with perfect ease, while we were panting after them in vain. The whole way was mountainous. The climbing up, and then descending, was truly frightful; not a gleam of sky was to be seen, all was a mass of gigantic trees, straight and lofty, their wide spreading branches mingling over head, and producing throughout the forest an endless darkness and unbroken gloom.36

Here, the ‘toiling’ Europeans are in constant danger of being ‘thrown down’ and the experience as a whole is characterised by a lack of light and an inability to get a sense of the space. For Earle’s narrator it is a ‘truly frightful’ experience of ‘endless darkness’ and ‘unbroken gloom’. In contrast, however, Māori are depicted as ‘comfortably’ negotiating and traversing this space, ‘jogging on’, springing and diving with ‘perfect ease’, ‘accustomed’ to this kind of movement.

The effect of the scene is that the experience of the sublime evoked – a discourse in which Earle’s paintings show he was well versed – is explicitly isolated to the Europeans.37 In the process the European experience of place is rendered subjective and even comical. Earle’s text in such moments presents the reader with two simultaneous experiences of the same landscape: cutting through the ‘frightful’ European experience, which may have been hyped up to fit the survival strand of travel writing popular in Earle’s day, is Māori familiarity, and their sense of ease and being at home in this ecology. This familiarity is reinforced by the many chance encounters Earle describes with Māori, even in the densest parts of the bush. At one point, ‘in the midst of this wood’, they meet a man and his family busy planting a cleared patch of land. This is likely an area to which the family have ancestral rights and use through the practice of ahi kā (burning fires of occupation). At other points they meet ‘groups of naked men’ moving through the bush with whom the Māori members of their own party exchange what Earle calls ‘barbarous songs of recognition’.38 Again, Māori familiarity – here ‘recognition’ – emerges, while ‘barbarous’ only serves to underscore the European literal lack of comprehension.39 Although Earle was in New Zealand during a period of increased tension between different tribal groups in the north, in general the 1820s was a period of peace and prosperity among northern Māori, allowing them to move safely and freely, as seen here, around the complex networks of pathways within their overlapping territories.40

What emerges from paying attention to a textual moment such as this ‘pedestrian tour’ in Earle’s narrative, then, is a vision of a space almost untraversable to Europeans – and certainly so without guidance – and at the same time fully inhabited (and inhabitable), in use, and familiar to local Māori. At one point Earle describes a ‘beaten footpath’ ‘worn so deep as to resemble a gutter more than a road’.41 The same physical space in the text is uncannily and simultaneously depicted as dense forest (as experienced by the European visitors) and as familiar garden (as experienced by Māori). Māori are not fused with wilderness or nature here but rather an ecology is glimpsed to which they are integral, genealogically and literally at home. Two experiences of this ecology, two simultaneous realities, in some sense partially co-exist at points like this in Earle’s text (if always at one remove from Indigenous experience). They exist not as a face-to-face encounter (as in a scene of meeting) but implicitly and in parallel. Or to use other terms, Te Ao Pākehā (the world of strangers) and Te Ao Māori (the familiar, everyday world) are both partially present in the text, not as explicit, verbalised ‘world views’ but as coeval states of existence in place. The pedestrian tour in Earle might be understood to work as an embodied, narrativised gesture towards the kind of cartographic exchange between Indigenous people and European explorers discussed by Comyn and Fermanis, coming close to Margaret Jolly’s notion of ‘double vision’.42

Such scenes, which seem to be relatively rare in travel texts from contact zones, are especially worth seeking out because of the generic conventions of the travel writing of exploration, which frequently create what Pratt calls ‘textual apartheid’, either in the form of a separation of people from landscapes or via ethnographic accounts of inhabitants abstracted from the spaces they inhabit.43 This occurs most explicitly in the way in which travel books, including early books about New Zealand, are most often structured by separating the ‘narrative’ from ethnographical accounts with titles such as ‘Inhabitants’ or ‘Manners and Customs’, and then again from sections on ‘Geography’. Such generic conventions make the representation of mobility textually difficult, as well as failing to account for the mobilities of the various peoples who inhabit both land and text.

It is interesting to note in the case of Earle that even though he produces a prose narrative account of walking in the bush, there seem to be no available visual depictions by him of such moments. The closest thing to a pedestrian tour in his wider oeuvre, in fact, is the narrative series of four watercolours he did of an overnight camping trip in the Cabbage Tree Forest in the Illawarra, south of Sydney.44 However, in this case, the European figure in the depicted scenes is evidently travelling by horse, a mode of movement that makes a significant difference to how place is experienced, while the Indigenous peoples depicted, here the Indigenous people of the Illawarra region, are stationary, predominantly represented, once again, as seated on the ground. These are scenes in the bush, but they are scenes of meeting more than of movement.

In the evolution of representations of a single or particular moment within the work of George French Angus, the artist who most closely followed Earle in producing a substantial body of work featuring New Zealand, we find an example of the visual-art equivalent of ‘textual apartheid’ in the process of being actioned. Angus spent time in New Zealand in the years immediately following the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, and so the formal beginning of colonisation, and he produced an illustrated account of his travels, Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand: Being an Artist’s Impressions of Countries and People at the Antipodes (1847). At one point in his text, Angus, like Earle, gives an account of a walk, this one from what was by then a European settlement in Wellington to Porirua harbour. Like Earle, Angus had a local guide (the nephew to the chief Te Rauparaha), but unlike Earle he makes no mention of whether this man traverses the ‘mountainous’ ‘narrow track’ or ‘Maori footway’, in ‘some places knee-deep with mud’, with any more ease than the European members of the party do. In fact, Angus’ written account of the walk is pure description of ‘scenery’ that is ‘exceedingly picturesque’.45 These pages of Angus’ book contain an engraving based on his drawings of the walk, ‘Scene in a New Zealand Forest’, a rare forest image in his oeuvre. However, as in all Angus’ images, Māori represented in the scene appear posed and still, one figure seated in the foreground, with another two figures standing further back along what may or may not be a path. They sit and stand awkwardly in the bush rather than seeming to inhabit, much less own, or be of it, so that it is more like a staged photograph than a scene of action. More tellingly still, when a hand-coloured lithograph of the image appeared in the accompanying large and expensive pictorial work, New Zealanders Illustrated (1846), the actual New Zealanders were removed into separate images altogether, sectioned off from what became merely picturesque scenery, both aesthetically and materially available for habitation by Europeans.46

A strikingly similar hand-coloured engraving, ‘The Hutt Road taken at the Gorge looking towards Wellington’, appeared in the lush large-scale illustrated travel book of Angus’ direct contemporary Samuel Brees, a surveyor for the New Zealand Company in the more explicitly conflictual later nineteenth-century moment (Figure 5.2).

Again, this is almost a stand-alone depiction of figures in the bush in the artist’s oeuvre. And, again, Māori are posed and stationary, here standing outside a small whare (dwelling). However, in this case there is also a European figure in the image, depicted in action, cutting down a tree. As if the message were not clear enough, the engraving appears on a page of Brees’ book along with two idealised engravings of colonial houses and farms, with Indigenous humans and Indigenous nature equally absent.47 This context of Indigenous removal makes Earle’s distinctive textual representation of Māori in motion all the more poignant.

The prospect

Finally, I want to turn to the prospect view, while keeping mobilities still in frame. As with the arrival scene, understandings of the dynamics of travel narratives such as Earle’s have been shaped by the critical attention paid to prospect views, as well as by how we have been taught to read the authority of the prospect within British imperial discourse.48 Earle’s work provides us with an example of what happens when visual images shape what receives most attention within written texts rather than vice-versa. Arrivals and prospect views within the discourses of imperial and colonial travel are in some ways the same: both invoke a moment of stasis and consideration enacted within the movements of the mobile European traveller. Their corollary is that the Indigenous people encountered, viewed, or overseen are conceived of as static.

Earle’s watercolour ‘Distant view of the Bay of Islands, New Zealand’ (Figure 5.3) depicts the moment in which his party emerged from the bush above the Bay of Islands near the end of their pedestrian tour. As often happens in Earle’s paintings, a figure that seems to be identified with the artist is depicted as a ‘spectator figure’.49 Here he seems to be the only figure actually looking out across the landscape.

One reading of the posture of his guides/companions is that they are bent under their loads, in some way still involved in the act of walking and so not taking in the wider prospect which only the white man views. Most starkly, Francis Pound reads the Māori figures in this painting as ‘European’s beasts of burden’, their movement opposed to the single European figure’s stillness as a sign of their lack of aesthetic sensibility. At first glance, then, this could be seen to be a quintessential representation of Pratt’s ‘“seeing-man” … the white male subject of European landscape discourse – he whose imperial eyes passively look out and possess’.50

However, this seems to greatly oversimplify this puzzling image. While scholars such as Pound have seen Earle’s many visual representations as simplistically mapping the European picturesque on to Aotearoa New Zealand (and adding imperial power structures to the power dynamics already inherent to the picturesque), others have seen a more nuanced artistic practice, in particular one that works, to quote W. J. T. Mitchell’s brief but brilliant reading of this painting, to ‘represent the Maori gaze as a presence in the landscape’ in a way that enacts ‘an encounter that leaves us in an odd, disturbing, liminal space’.51 Mitchell and Alex Calder both draw attention to the Māori carving in the image and the way in which this introduces another viewpoint, ultimately creating an allusion within the image to a space, and a way of seeing, that seems unseen by the European figure within Earle’s image: a kind of double prospect.52

Art historian Leonard Bell has observed that the ‘halted traveller’ and the ‘back-to-the viewer’ figure is a leitmotif in Earle’s travel art in general, paralleling (and possibly predating) the use of this figure as a trope of experience in the work of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich. Moreover, Bell notes how often this figure in Earle’s images is distinctively off-balance, suggesting not, Bell argues, an omniscient eye, but rather a figure encountering and seeking some way into the new. Bell suggests that in Earle’s travel art the prospect is an inherently unstable position: the prospect viewer depicted taking in the view frequently looks almost preposterously out of place in the environment in which he finds himself.53

Earle’s Brazilian prospect viewer, shown in Figure 5.4, looks quite close to a direct satire on Friedrich’s most iconic image, ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ (1818), painted four years earlier. The prospect viewer appears even more off-balance in two of Earle’s New South Wales paintings. In one, he is literally kneeling, looking fearfully down over the sea; in another, the tiny prospect figure stands on a rocky outcrop so extreme it looks about to break off (Figure 5.5).54 Rather than enacting dominance or ownership, the unstable prospect viewer, we might say, highlights the contingency of subjectivity in Earle’s work.

Shifting mobilities

Paying attention to the figure of the ‘toiling’ mobile subject within Earle’s written narrative, as well as to the movements of his Indigenous mobile counterparts, allows us to build on and further complicate understandings of the ‘halted traveller’ in his visual art. Earle’s verbal description of the view captured in his ‘Distant view of the Bay of Islands’ (Figure 5.3) consists only of the words: ‘Having at length attained the summit of a hill, we beheld the Bay of Islands, stretching out in the distance.’ This description, however, comes at the end of the paragraph beginning ‘[a]fter three or four hours of laborious struggling’, and containing his account of the deep worn footpaths ‘most painful’ for a European to walk, but which pose ‘no inconvenience’ to Māori members of the party. Earle describes his Māori companions singing as they walk.55 Coming at the end of this paragraph, Earle’s brief allusion to reaching the ‘summit of the hill’ seems more a gesture of exhaustion than what could rightly be called a linguistic prospect view with its associated claims to mastery or ownership. It is as though all that embodiment, all that traversing of the landscape, all that hybridity of experience, has exhausted the travelling narrator.

The narrative framing of the prospect in Earle’s written text, represented not only by the embodied labour of the subject-in-motion within a dense and difficult landscape but also by depictions of the European subject as off-centre and uncomfortable in his journey, works to unsettle claims to vision or mastery that in other circumstances such prospective moments might be expected to signify. So too does the co-presence of Māori on the hilltop alongside the European traveller, neither the subjects of his gaze, nor following where he looks, but seemingly involved in their own trajectory, views, thoughts, and stories-so-far.

It seems no coincidence, then, that two Earle paintings painted close in time to his ‘Distant view of the Bay of Islands’ are unusual for him, neither fitting his practice of depicting Māori sitting, either at rest at the end of the day or involved in ceremonial or domestic chores. In one, ‘Entrance to the Bay of Islands New Zealand’, two Māori figures are seen walking, seemingly on their way between places – a rare sight in such work. The other is a prospect, looked down over by a single Māori man, while another man sits resting nearby.56 Given my re-reading of Earle, it is not entirely surprising that in the ‘Distant view’ watercolour the European figure may appear to be standing still but is in fact on a path distinctly curved to form the shape of a Māori waka (canoe).

If Earle’s Māori companions do not pause in their movements (and are not brought to a ‘complete standstill’), then maybe this can be read as evoking a sense in which this is their narrative – a narrative that is ongoing and at this point in history fully in possession of the meaning-making and stories of this particular place. Colonialism and ecological imperialism, to use Alfred Crosby’s term, are not yet fully in play.57 A mobility-focused critical approach allows us to see Māori members of the party as the more successful travellers in this text, inscribing their landscape step-by-step through the material practices of their everyday movements. This is their pedestrian tour. As Pacific historian Nicholas Thomas observes of voyage literature, if we can see these early moments of representation as ‘replete with contradictions and contradictory possibilities, if their uncertainties meant that other things easily could have happened, it is perhaps easier to imagine that other things can happen now’.58 One way to help us see the ‘other things’ that can happen now is the further development of conceptual models such as that of mobility. Part of what attention to mobility offers is a reminder of the different ways in which it is possible to imagine – and to enact – relationships between peoples and peoples in place: another small gesture towards decolonising our histories.


I would like to acknowledge my students at Massey University who discussed Earle with me; the audiences at Princeton University, the University of York, University College Dublin, and Victoria University, who gave me useful comments on early drafts; and Philip Steer, Nikki Hessell, and Sarah Ross for reading.


1 ‘Review of A Narrative of Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand’, Quarterly Review, 48 (October 1832), 133.
2 Augustus Earle, Narrative of a Residence in New Zealand, in 1827; Journal of a Residence in Tristan Da Cunha, ed. E. H. McCormick (1832; Oxford: Clarendon, 1966). Like many nineteenth-century travel texts this prose work has predominantly been treated as a historical source (in Earle’s case, as a somewhat unreliable one) rather than as an aesthetic work in its own right. Notable exceptions to this appear in Lydia Wevers, Country of Writing: Travel Writing and New Zealand 1809–1900 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002), still the best book on nineteenth-century European-authored travel writing about New Zealand; and Alex Calder, The Settler’s Plot: How Stories Take Place in New Zealand (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2011). The widest contemporary dissemination of Earle’s visual depictions of New Zealand took the form of a series of ten hand-coloured lithographs published as Sketches Illustrative of the Native Inhabitants and Islands of New Zealand (London: New Zealand Association, 1838), in which ‘The Wounded Chief Hongi and His Family’ appeared as the second plate.
3 Doreen Massey, For Space (London: Sage, 2005), p. 9. For an overview of the mobilities framework, see James Faulconbridge and Allison Hui, ‘Traces of a Mobile Field: Ten Years of Mobilities Research’, Mobilities, 11 (2016), 1–14.
4 Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur, and Anthony Carrigan, ‘Introduction: A Postcolonial Environmental Humanities,’ in Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur, and Anthony Carrigan (eds), Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 2–3.
5 This is not so much in relation to visual works published within the Narrative itself, which number only six and are crude engravings by J. Stewart after Earle, but rather Earle’s wider oeuvre, in particular his watercolours.
6 Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2008).
7 Wevers, Country of Writing, p. 86. In relation to Earle, this is to an extent the case even in work such as Wevers’, which is attuned to Earle’s ‘humanism’ and sympathy for Māori and to the ways in which his uncertainties emerge as he works ‘constantly to understand what has happened, what border he has crossed, and what the meaning of his territorial journey is’ (pp. 85–6).
8 Earle addresses himself to an audience imagined, much like himself, as being familiar with New Zealand through the literature surrounding James Cook’s voyages of the eighteenth century, but little beyond that (see, e.g., p. 58). The extended review of Earle’s narrative in the Quarterly Review in 1832 was still referencing the ‘Boyd incident’ of 1809 in Whangaroa and referring to New Zealand as ‘the land of bloodshed’ (p. 135).
9 Earle, Narrative, p. 66.
10 Damon Ieremia Salesa, Racial Crossings: Race, Intermarriage, and the Victorian British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 54, 66.
11 Salesa, Racial Crossings, p. 88.
12 Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Eric Pawson and Tom Brooking (eds), Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand, new edn (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2013).
13 Vincent O’Malley, The Meeting Place: Māori and Pākehā Encounters, 1642–1840 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2012), pp. 7–8; Paul Monin, ‘Maori Encounters and Colonial Capitalism’, in Giselle Byrnes (ed.), The New Oxford History of New Zealand (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 125–46.
14 Ingrid Horrocks, ‘A World of Waters: Imagining, Voyaging, Entanglement’, in Mark Williams (ed.), A History of New Zealand Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 17–30.
15 Earle, Narrative, p. 49.
16 Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Island Literatures (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010), p. 13.
17 Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 15. In using Nixon’s term ‘apprehension’ here, I by no means put forward Earle as a ‘writer-activist’. However, I do mean to activate Nixon’s sense that narrative nonfiction is capable of carrying creative perceptions not easily explained directly.
18 Mary Louise Pratt, ‘Fieldwork in Common Places’, in James Clifford and George E. Marcus (eds), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of Berkeley Press, 1986), pp. 33–7.
19 Greg Dening, Mr Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power, and Theatre on the Bounty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
20 Anne Salmond, Two Worlds: First Meetings between Maori and Europeans, 1642–1772 (Auckland: Viking Press, 1991), and Tears of Rangi: Experiments across Worlds (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2017), p. 54.
21 On Earle’s shaping of depictions of this encounter and others, see Leonard Bell, ‘Augustus Earle’s The Meeting of the Artist and the Wounded Chief Hongi, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 1827, and His Depictions of Other New Zealand Encounters’, in Alex Calder, Jonathan Lamb, and Bridget Orr (eds), Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769–1840 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1999), pp. 241–63.
22 Wevers, Country of Writing, pp. 80–1.
23 Pratt, ‘Fieldwork’, pp. 35–7. See also Vanessa Smith, Intimate Strangers: Friendship, Exchange and Pacific Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). This can be seen as part of what DeLoughrey has written about as ‘repeating islands’ (Routes and Roots, pp. 11–12).
24 Earle, Narrative, p. 57.
25 Earle, Narrative, p. 57.
26 Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary, ed. Richard Darwin Keynes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 381.
27 Earle, Narrative, p. 58.
28 Massey, For Space, pp. 7–11; DeLoughrey, Routes and Roots, p. 16.
29 George French Angus wrote that in his writing and painting his ‘aim has been to describe faithfully impressions of savage life and scenes in countries only now emerging from a primitive state of barbarism; but which the energy and enterprise of the British colonists, and the benign influence of Christianity combined, will eventually render the peaceful abodes of civilized and prosperous communities’. Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand: Being an Artist’s Impressions of Countries and People at the Antipodes, 2 vols (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1847), I:vi–vii.
30 Massey, For Space, pp. 6–9.
31 Earle, Narrative, pp. 122, 172.
32 Earle, Narrative, pp. 67–8
33 Earl, Narrative, p. 69.
34 Earl, Narrative, p. 69.
35 E. H. McCormick, ‘Introduction’, in Narrative of a Residence in New Zealand, p. vi.
36 Earle, Narrative, p. 72.
37 The presence of the sublime in Earle’s imagination at this point in his writing up of his journey is demonstrated by the explicit reference to Salvator Rosa in his account of the previous night in a hut in a Māori village. However, in the hut, surrounded by curious men (described as ‘savage spectators’ [p. 70]), Earle is careful to reassert mastery, much as he does in the arrival scene: ‘All my fears had by this time subsided, and being master of myself, I had leisure to study and enjoy the scene’ (p. 71).
38 Earle, Narrative, pp. 69, 73.
39 Although Earle does seem to have eventually acquired some knowledge of the Māori language, he would have had little at this point.
40 Salmond, Tears of Rangi, pp. 321–2. Later in his narrative Earle does tell of having to escape back across the island after the chief who had given him protection was defeated and the missionaries refused him sanctuary (p. 168).
41 Earle, Narrative, p. 72.
42 Margaret Jolly, ‘Imagining Oceania: Indigenous and Foreign Representations of a Sea of Islands’, The Contemporary Pacific, 19 (2007), 532.
43 Pratt, Imperial Eyes, p. 60.
44 The series consists of two watercolours inscribed ‘Cabbage Tree Forest, Ilawarra [Illawara] New South Wales, 1827’, and two watercolours inscribed ‘A Bivouack, day break, on the Illawara Mountains, 1827’, Solander Box A33 #T75–78 NK12/37–40, National Library of Australia,;;; (accessed 20 October 2019). To see the works in context, see Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones, Augustus Earle: Travel Artist: Paintings and Drawings in the Rex Nan Kivell Collection National Library of Australia (Martinborough: Alister Taylor, 1980), pp. 18, 105–6.
45 Angus, Savage Life, pp. 244–6.
46 ‘Scene in a New Zealand Forest near Porirua’, New Zealanders: Illustrated by George French Angas (London: Published for the Proprietor by Thomas Mclean, 1846), plate 7, n.p.
47 ‘Residence of the Honourable Major Richmond at Wellington’ and ‘Residence of the Honorable Frances Molesworth at the Hutt’, in Samuel Charles Brees, Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand (London: John Williams, 1847), n.p.
48 John Barrell, English Literature in History, 1730–80: An Equal, Wide Survey (London: Hutchinson, 1983), p. 35; Pratt, Imperial Eyes.
49 Francis Pound, ‘Spectator Figures in Some New Zealand Paintings & Prints’, Art New Zealand, 23 (1982), 40–5. There is also a possibility that this is not a stand-in for the artist at all, but a depiction of his rather taciturn and endlessly disappointed travelling companion, Mr Shand.
50 Pratt, Imperial Eyes, p. 9.
51 W. J. T. Mitchell, ‘Imperial Landscapes’, in Landscape and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 27.
52 Calder, Settler’s Plot, pp. 45–7.
53 Bell, ‘Not Quite Darwin’s Artist’, p. 65. See also Bell, ‘To See or Not to See: Conflicting Eyes in the Travel Art of Augustus Earle’, in Julie F. Codell and Dianne Sachko Macleod (eds), Orientalism Transposed; The Impacts of the Colonies on British Culture (Aldershot and Brookfield: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 117–39.
54 Augustus Earle, ‘Near Sidney [Sydney], from the Summit of the South Head close to the light house, used as a blacksmiths shop, N. S. Wales’, c. 1825, PIC Solander Box A33 #T74 NK12/36; South Head Light, New South Wales [1825?], PIC Solander Box A35 #T97 NK12/59, National Library of Australia,; (accessed 20 October 2019).
55 Earle, Narrative, pp. 73, 72.
56 ‘Entrance to the Bay of Islands New Zealand’ (1827), NK12/66; ‘Ranghe Hue [Rangihoua] a Fortified Village New Zealand’ (1827), NK 12/141, National Library of Australia,; (accessed 20 October 2019).
57 See Crosby, Ecological Imperialism.
58 Nicholas Thomas, ‘Liberty and License: The Forsters’ Accounts of New Zealand Sociality’, in Alex Calder, Jonathan Lamb, and Bridget Orr (eds), Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769–1840 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1999), p. 134.

Worlding the south

Nineteenth-century literary culture and the southern settler colonies


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