Friday, December 30, 2011

George Pulman - lithographer, photographer, and artist

"Pulman's Register Map of the City of Auckland, 1863", NZ Map 4475-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries

This map is often overlooked, in favour of the slightly later 1866-1867 Vercoe and Harding map of our city, mainly because while this does show the allotments and sub-lots ... 

the military barracks, a proposed Ponsonby Park which never came to be ...

and a gorgeous rendition of the William Mason-designed Government House -- it doesn't show building footprints or detail of construction of same as the later map does. It is, though, easier to read than Heaphy's 1850s plan.

Photography historian Keith Giles, in an article "Fairs & Steel: their impact on Auckland photography" (published in NZ Legacy by the NZ Federation of Historical Societies, Vol. 19 No. 3, 2007), traces George Pulman's origins to Manchester. He arrived in Auckland sometime before late 1862, setting up residence on Grafton Road, and while still working for the Lands Department, was already impressing the locals with his artistic abilities.

"The Fern Well."
We have seen a painting in water colours, by Mr. George Pulman, of the lands office, to which he gives the name of “The Fern Well," and which reflects very great credit upon him as an artist . From Mr Pulman's house, on the Grafton Road, a view is had of a sequestered spring, shaded by fern and the crooked branches of a few trees. From this will the inhabitants of the neighbourhood procure supplies of fresh water, during the greater part of the summer months. It is a spot of great natural beauty, and cannot fail to charm every lover of the picturesque who visits it. In the picture, the peculiar charms of New Zealand scenery are faithfully preserved by Mr. Pulman. The ragged stems, withered branches, and foliage clad top boughs of the trees, are characteristic of New Zealand, the reality being heightened by the luxurious undergrowth. We are glad to find that there are gentlemen of talent residing among us, with sufficient time at their disposal, to re produce a few of the wild charms of the natural scenery of their adopted country, before the hands of utilitarians have entirely changed the face of the country. The picture may be seen at Mr. Varty's. 

Southern Cross 23 September 1862 

The following year, he struck out on his own, setting up a printing and lithography business on Shortland Street -- apparently competing head-on with the New Zealander newspaper printers.

Southern Cross 10 August 1863

Ornamental Drawing. 
Our attention has been called to a very beautiful specimen of ornamental drawing, by Mr. Pulman. It is a business card, bordered by fern trees, the vacant space at the bottom being filled up by a very well executed and faithful sketch of the Waitemata and heads taken from Mr. Pulman’s office in Shortland-street. This is by far the best drawing of the kind we have seen in Auckland. As Mr. Pulman has gone into business for himself we hope he will be as successful as he deserves to be. 

Southern Cross 6 April 1863

Masonic Address to the Prince of Wales —We had the opportunity of inspecting last evening an address which is to be presented from the Masonic Lodge Ara to the Prince and Princess of Wales. The address has been beautifully engrossed on parchment in the illuminated style by Mr Geo Pulman of Shortland-street. At the bottom of it there is a coloured sketch of the North Shore from Official Bay, showing the flag-staff and Rangitoto. In the fore ground on the left is a graceful fern tree similar to that which may be seen at the bottom of the Domain and clusters of Indian corn and flax are entwined about its stem. The engrossing is admirably done, the words "lrish Constitution” being set off with the shamrock, and that of the Princess with a wreath of roses. It must have involved much labour, and is certainly very creditable to Mr Pulman … 

Southern Cross 30 June 1863

Then, by fate's quirky coincidence, a fire which began in the New Zealander offices spelled disaster for Pulman's business.
We have little to add to the particulars already published relative to the destructive fire at the premises of the New-Zealander newspaper, which broke out about 11 o'clock on Monday night, and continued to burn until the establishment was reduced to debris. At the time we wrote yesterday morning there was every probability the flames would be confined to the building, and we are glad to find such was the case. The volume of flame gradually diminished and about 3 a.m. was fully under the control of the Fire Brigade, who kept a continuous play on the building throughout. The destruction of property was not confined, however, to the premises of the New-Zealander, as we intimated yesterday. The loses sustained by persons in the neighbourhood are very considerable. On the west side, the premises of Mr. Pulman, draftsman and stationer, have sustained the greatest injury, owing chiefly to the recklessness of the people, who broke in to and gutted the shop, regardless of the remonstrances of the owner. There were, however, great doubts respecting the salvation of these premises during the height of the fire. The roof itself caught at an early stage of the fire, but through the prompt action of a captain of the hose, who directed his attention to the spot when brought under his notice by an insurance agent present, the buildings were preserved… In the case of Mr. Pulman, the loss is very distressing. The labour of years has been destroyed in an hour, and a valuable plant torn down and trodden under. A plan of a reduction of the Waikato lands, which cost the artist weeks of labour, was picked up in the street yesterday morning in an almost worthless state, whilst every vestige of property has been damaged or destroyed. We trust some steps will be taken to assist Mr. Pulman in the restoration of his business. The shop adjoining, which was held on a lease by Mr. Pulman, together with his own, was occupied by Mr. Shepherd as a boot and shoe warehouse, and was also ransacked. Both shops were uninsured. 

Southern Cross 9 May 1866

However, Pulman picked himself and his business up, and continued until an early death in 1871, aged just 45. His widow Elizabeth, faced with caring for 8 children alone, 6 under the age of 11, picked up where Pulman left off, defended her late husband's work against plagiarists and copyright thieves, and came to employ noted photographers Thomas Armstrong Fairs and George Armstrong Steel in the Shortland Street photographic studios. She remarried, and as Elizabeth Blackman died in 1900, aged 64.

There are quite a few of George Pulman's other lithographed plans and maps available to view at Auckland Libraries' Heritage Images Online webpages.

The vicarage for St Paul's, Emily Place. George Pulman card, dated 1870s. Ref 4-12, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries


  1. Would I be correct in assuming that in the last image showing the vicarage, the top right hand corner would be where Princes St meets Shortland St and Eden Cres? I am trying to find out as much as I can (for an impending family reunion) about two brothers that I believe had a store on that corner, and this image is as close to that time and place as I have been able to find so far.

    1. That two-storey house up there is at the western side of the Princes/Shortland Street junction, yes. Take a look at the 1908 map which might be a help.

      Also -- check out TW Hickson's map (at Heritage Images Online). Hope this helps.

  2. I really enjoyed this blog, I am gathering information about the Pulmans and their use of Maori as photographic subjects. Im also becoming rather interested in George Pulman's talent as an artist. I wonder if he tried his hand at Maori art at all. I shall be back, I am hoping to cite you on a number of interesting points you have made.

    1. I live in Lymm in Cheshire where Elizabeth Pulman was born and raised. I have a quite a lot to add if anyone is interested. I am keen to find out more about her time in Auckland in return ... I am at

  3. I live in Lymm in Cheshire where Elizabeth Pulman was born and raised. I have a quite a lot to add if anyone is interested. I am keen to find out more about her time in Auckland in return ... I am at

  4. Kia ora all, I am a descendent of Elizabeth and George. my koro is a Pulman and I whakapapa to George and Liz that way. I have a keen interest in this side of our family history but myself and my koro know little to not much. If anyone has any links or resources we can look into as a family we'd be very grateful.

    Ngā manaakitanga
    Pulman Whānau.

    1. Contact Keith Giles at Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library. He is a photography historian and has written articles on Pulman and his work.

    2. I have researched Elizabeth's family in Lymm where I live. Feel free to contact me at