William Bambridge 1819-1879
Review of W. S. Bambridge's life as an early missionary in Waimate, New Zealand.
WILLIAM BAMBRIDGE (1819-1879)
SCHOOLMASTER — MISSIONARY — ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHER — ARTIST
by Ruth Etherington
Extract from Auckland Waikato Historical Journal No 41, Sep 1982 ISSN:0111-7653
It was not long after returning to London from a holiday in New Zealand that I learnt that there was in the town of Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, a house named 'The Waimate'. Having seen the restored Mission House of this name at Waimate North, New Zealand, I was curious to know who had named an English house thus, and why?
In the Waimate Mission settlement was the house occupied by Bishop Selwyn, his wife, servants and two clerics (Whytehead and Cotton), on their arrival in 1842. That much I knew from reading the Historic Places guidebook, but what was the connection between these people and this house with distant Marlborough?
Amongst Selwyn's party in 1842 was a young schoolmaster, William Bambridge, twenty three years old, newly married, and not well equipped physically or mentally to face the rigours of pioneer life, nor to being a first-time father a year after arriving in New Zealand.
The Bambridge's first child, William Samuel, born at Waimate in 1843, lived in New Zealand for only the first four years of his life. His mother had never taken to the demands of a spartan existence and longed for England, so they returned in 1848 to their home town of Windsor, where Selwyn had been curate before being appointed Bishop of New Zealand. Bambridge was recruited by him, as were most of the other clergy and ordinards from the surrounding area of Eton, where Selwyn had very close connection with the College.
THE WAIMATE: By A. J. Farqiharson
The building depicted in this sketch was demolished in the 1960's and a small estate of well designed houses built on the site. There is still a 'Waimate meadow' used by the College.
Sketch by courtesy of Mrs Whitehorn, London.
Through researches in Marlborough, I discovered that it was the Waimate born son who had perpetuated the name of his New Zealand birthplace in this delightful Wiltshire market town. But for the moment, let us return to his father and the contribution he made to the work Selwyn was trying to do in the Bay of Islands in 1842. Waimate was to be the Anglican ecclesiastical centre for the whole of New Zealand, and to that end Selwyn had planned for the training of ordinands; a school for Maori and missionary children; farming and agriculture; workshops for printing and carpentry, all with a view to becoming self-supporting, and all to be under the name of St John's College. It was in fact to be a power house to fuel the spread of the Gospel throughout New Zealand and the Islands beyond.
Bambridge would have had plenty to do in the schoolroom teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, drawing, singing and religious knowledge. His contributions to the Rev William Cotton's Journal testify to his beautiful copper-plate hand writing and facility in drawing. Although every member of Selwyn's staff had a tightly scheduled and lengthy day it did not prevent them having fun when the opportunity occurred, and Cotton saw to it that none was missed. Music figured largely in Bambridge's life while in New Zealand as it formed a means of escape and enjoyment in an otherwise strict and comfortless environment. He was a flautist of some competence and savoured the delight of finding a congenial and musical spirit in a violin-playing solicitor named Outhwaite. Together they attracted other amateur musicians to play chamber music or to sing glees and part-songs. Various young offspring chasing around and getting up to tricks seemed not to disturb them, and who is to say that the children were not subconsciously absorbing the music and the enjoyment of their elders.
These musical evenings were a respite from the makeshift conditions coped with daily by all the Mission staff, and especially for a family man like Bambridge who necessarily had more responsibilities than the bachelors. The domestic gaffes of the latter make amusing reading. It is recorded that at one of these bachelor singing parties to which Bambridge had been invited, farm manager Fisher, the host, regaled them with coffee and pancakes . . . 'the former made in the proportion of a quarter of a pound of coffee to a quarter of a pint of water. The first consequence was that it would not pass through the strainer; the second that we could not drink it, so it was disposed of outside. Excellent tea was substituted.'
When the Mission's occupancy of Waimate was no longer welcome Selwyn decided to shift to Auckland. In 1982, even with the strong arm of an international removal company, moving just one family plus goods and chattels over land and sea is hazardous enough. In 1844, to move a whole community, plus livestock and hives of bees, from the Bay of Islands to Auckland must have been chaotic indeed, and it is not surprising to learn that goods and their owners did not come together immediately. One has visions of poor little Bambridge (he was under five-feet in height) chasing up hill and dale like a demented pixie, in search of a cask of potatoes or parts of a bed, or a tea-pot, and returning to his wife, 'dear Soph', in a state of exhaustion and collapse.
Things were constantly happening to him. He missed appointments, and to those kept waiting, said, 'Young bachelors did not know how difficult it was to get babies ready to a time-table.' He suffered accidents. One of them happened whilst mending his axe on his door-step. Knocking a wedge into the axe handle, his hammering dislodged his jack-plane from a shelf above the door, and, '. . . its fall called at my back', he recorded. Soph suffered with him as she applied a vinegar-soaked compress. Mrs Selwyn was another of his ministering angels. What with the intolerable heat and discomfort on the brig 'Victoria' when the Mission moved south, and the rushing around settling in his family, Bambridge was so overcome with nervous prostration as to need to rest on Mrs Selwyn's bed, whilst she too, applied soothing potions to his throbbing head.
In spite of his seeming ineptness, Bambridge's contribution to the lighter side of Mission life was considerable. His musical ability, draughtsmanship and sensitivity were part of a creative personality which included manual dexterity too. In 1846, for a Twelfth Night party, organiser Cotton had detailed him to be responsible for the music and balloons, one of which he managed to make almost twice as high as himself.
This nine-foot monster was fashioned entirely of "... forty sheets of tissue paper pasted alternately pink and white," which he named "The Royal Nassau". He also spared no trouble to get the music right for this occasion. Mr Outhwaite's piano was manhandled by five stalwart Maoris and brought on Mr Steele's handcart to the college tent at Purewa where some of the festivities were to be held- About 60 people enjoyed the orchestral music and the pianoforte solos, cakes and wine. Later that day when the piano had been moved again to the College hall, dancing started and apparently went on until the early hours. One wonders to what state of exhaustion Bambridge was reduced by quarter to five that following morning, when ". . . the sun was not far from the horizon." By the time everyone left "... the tops of the highest hills were gilded by his beams. " However tired he may have been, he had the satisfaction of having seen his beautiful creation soar to the hills and sink beyond the horizon, no doubt to the cheers and admiration of the assembled revellers.
Whilst Bambridge was expending so much energy in his school mastering and extramural activities, poor Soph, his 'dear and delicate wife' was coping with a growing family under makeshift conditions. At Purewa in 1846, there were two boys, Willie and George, and one does not wonder that she felt ill and depressed with a longing for England. Bambridge was in a quandary. He was in debt to Selwyn financially, and could see no way of going home, in spite of his wife's attempts to persuade him to approach Selwyn about the matter. However, wisdom, shrewdness and knowledge of men were some of Selwyn's many attributes, and he had already guessed the situation they were in. He therefore in kindness, suggested that Bambridge did clerical work for him in payment for the current debt, and that their passage money would be advanced if they would stay until 1847 and return home at the same time as Cotton. To this they agreed.
Tn the five years in New Zealand, Bambridge's early diffidence in Selwyn's presence had developed into respect and love, and after an emotional farewell he said, 'Thus 1 left one whom I love, and although I despair of meeting with his like, the nearer any future employer of mine comes up to his standard, the more happy I shall feel serving him. "He was not to know then that one of his future employers would be a 'she' and not a 'he'; in fact it was to be the Queen of England herself.
Whilst Bambridge in New Zealand had been recording Mission buildings, occupants, scenery and activities by the lengthy process of drawing and water colour, the marvel of photography was gaining the enthusiastic participation of many people in England and France. Before Selwyn left England in 1841 the Frenchman, Daguerre, had made public in 1839 his method of photography, and Fox-Talbot at Lacock Abbey in England had discovered as early as 1833 the same principles, but did not publish his findings until Daguerre had made his known.
It is no surprise therefore that Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were interested; Victoria in the end product, her husband in the technical processes involved. Being a clever and well-educated man, interested in science, in the Arts, in inventions, he lost no time in setting up a studio in the Castle at Windsor. It was to this studio that Bambridge was destined to come, and where Mrs Colenso was to bring the Pomares and their baby to meet the Queen and be photographed by him.
In the few years between returning to Windsor and taking up the Royal appointment in 1854 he must have applied himself to mastering the techniques of photography, the 'new wonder', as Lewis Carroll called it. Instruction was available in the studios which were mushrooming everywhere and especially in London. As early as 1843 James Hogg had produced his ' 'Practical Manual of Photography'' so that would have been another source of instruction.
Sophia Bambridge and baby William, in their home at St John's College, Auckland. Sketch by William Bambridge (Snr)from his Journal held at the Alexander Turnbull Library; reproduced with their permission.
One wonders how it was that this little man from a comparatively humble background could have obtained this Royal appointment, sharing commissions with more eminent and experienced practitioners. One is also tempted to imagine what Bambridge looked like when operating the cumbersome camera, his 4'11" enveloped in the necessary voluminous black head-cloth. Victoria was not exactly easy to please, so he must have given satisfaction in the fourteen years in her employ, achieving a Royal pension at the end. Having been privileged to see his work in the Royal Photographic Archives at Windsor, one can only admire the quality, evident even at the distance of over a hundred years. Not only were his subjects members of the family, babies in their frills and furbelows, but still life too figured in the albums; dead stags and pigs, spoil from the Royal hunts, but perhaps the most striking full-length portrait I saw was of Hare Pomare, in splendid braided tunic, polished shoes, short smooth well-barbered hair, his white-banded hat on the table at this side. Certainly a far cry from the feathered cloak, the mere and the whare.
Hare Pomare photographed by William Bambridge.
And now the wheel comes back full circle to the point of origin of a seven year absorbing search, to Marlborough. In 1864, the New Zealand born William Samuel Bambridge became Director of Music at Marlborough College, one of the foremost Public Schools in England. He was as tall as his father was short, extremely athletic, full of energy, good humour and ferocious pianistic ability, and a great cricketer. After retiring in 1911, he lived on in Marlborough for another twelve years, still continuing to give to town and college the benefits of his talents. As his first home in Marlborough was named after his birthplace, Waimate, so his retirement home was called 'Purewa', from the fact that Purewa, Auckland, was his second home in New Zealand. His only son was killed in the 1914-18 war, apparently unmarried.
Photographer William Bambridge, his father, lived on until 1879 and is buried in Clewer churchyard, along with his brother George, and his father. Their descendants are carrying through the artistic traits evident in their forebears, but it is sad to think that William Bambridge's work is largely unknown in New Zealand and in England. It is also sad to realise that he died as he lived, exhausted. His death certificate carries the disturbing evidence that he died from 'Exhaustion and Paralysis'.
Sources and acknowledgements:
Geo. de P. Bambridge, invaluable help in family history. Berkshire Record Office, Reading.
Librarian, Simon Brett, E. Kempson, Marlborough College. F. Dimond, Curator, Royal photographic Collection, Windsor Castle.
Winifred Macdonald and John Webster for unfailing help and information .
U. Platts, The Lively Capital', Public Record Office, London,
Rev. D. Shaw, Rector of Clewer, who found the Bambridge graves.
J. Stacpoole, 'Waimate Mission House', guidebook.
Somerset House, London.
J. Tasker, Librarian, New Zealand House Library, London.
Mrs Whitehorn, London, for the Waimate house sketch.
Windsor Reference Library.
Ruth Etherington is a retired schoolteacher living in Southall, London. She visited New Zealand in 1973, Within six months of returning to England her interest in Rev. W.C. Cotton, and subsequently his companions, was aroused. Her search for information has taken her to numerous churches, vicarages, libraries, private homes, universities, the BBC and Windsor Castle. An article by Mrs Etherington on Rev. W.C. Cotton appeared in Journal No. 36, April 1980. We are very grateful that she has allowed us to print these articles as in each case they have supplemented the existing knowledge of the men and how they helped shape New Zealand's ecclesiastical history.
Additional Note 1:
Elizabeth Colenso records in her diary, 'Fri. 4 December, 1863 . . . Mr Bambridge, formerly of Waimate, Bay of Islands, now appeared, having received the Queen's command to take Hare Pomare's likeness, which he did, taking him away with him for the purpose.'
Photograph reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen.
Additional Note 1:
Rev. Alfred Lush, younger brother of Rev. Viceslmus Lush, was assistant curate at St Mary's, Marlborough from 1872 to 1874. When he was leaving Marlborough to go to another area to write to Vicesimus Lush, then vicar at Thames, that, 'Before 1 left Marlborough 1 went to the Organist of the College. Mr Bambridge, Mus. Bac. Oxon., and asked him for his candid opinion as to whether 1 could intone the service. He gave me a certificate that I could 'intone well', but that my voice was not 'too strong'. —R.E. &J.W.