Monday, 30 April 2012

Lithographic stone discovered in NZ by early surveyors


SS Waipara loading lithographic stone in Pawa Rika Harbor./Abbey Rocks. N.Z. 
Harrison & Sons, Lith. St. Martins Lane, W.C. 
159 x 213mm. Lithograph in tints (EPNZ 766). 

The scarce print shown here illustrates one of the more interesting and lesser known adventures in early New Zealand printmaking. In the 1860s the Abbey Rocks, midway between the Paringa and Moeraki Rivers on the west coast of the South Island were discovered by two surveyors (Arthur and Docherty) to be of lithographic stone.

In the mid to late 19th century there was increasing demand for printing on NZ subjects beyond simple letterpress. News of the wars fought during the 1860s was crying out for illustration. Grayling's "The War in Taranaki" is notable for this period as it was printed locally rather than published in England and contained several pages of wood engravings. 

Within a very short time, however, there was a rapid increase in the number of presses operating in New Zealand. Population growth alone demanded the ready dissemination of news, and though letterpress was still predominant the majority of the pictures drawn, engraved and printed in New Zealand were lithographs.  According to Early Prints of New Zealand "lithography was a form of reproduction more easily learned than wood or metal engraving: provided the artist remembered to reverse his subject, or used transfer paper, the process was little more difficult than drawing on paper, and the equipment necessary was less complex and expensive for the printer."

A development company was launched, and a large sum of money spent on cutting and shipping several tons of the polished stone to London. Tests carried out there threw doubts on the quality of the stone, and later experiments nearer home, in the printery of Sands & McDougall of Melbourne, proved the stone to be full of flaws. At the time (1866-67) the Melbourne International Exhibition was open and had attracted several German printers. They were shown the Abbey Rocks stone, but were not prepared to use it, and the venture failed. 

The print shows the S.S. Waipara loading stone off the Abbey Rocks. The ship herself fared no better than the enterprise she is pictured in: a West Coast trader, she ran aground ten times and was finally wrecked in 1898. The print is undated, but shows the ship as she appeared between 1867 and 1871, when a third mast was added. 

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