Yay it’s time for Volcanoes lectures at the Museum again

3 April 2007

I’m booked in for them all, and I just got home from the first entitled The Eruption of Tarawera by Prof Ron Keam of the University of Auckland. It was cool!

I was particularly interested in this lecture because I have worked with a moody painting entitled The Phantom canoe: a legend of Lake Tarawera, 1888, at the Auckland Art Gallery by a gentleman called Kennett Watkins (New Zealand, b.1847, d.1933) that pictures the phantom waka that was apparently seen in the days before the Eruption of Mt Tarawera and the explosion of Lake Rotamahana. This picture I have borrowed from the gallery website strictly for research and educational purposes…


I really like this story, and it is interesting that not only Maori people saw the waka, but Pakeha people in the area did too, it was even reported in local papers.

Here is the blurb from the gallery website:

Ten days before Mount Tarawera erupted spectacularly in 1886, destroying the famed silica terraces of Rotomhana, a number of people witnessed a disturbing sight – a ghostly, fully-manned waka gliding across Lake Tarawera in the shadow of the mountain. Interpreted as an omen of impending death and disaster, the sighting was reported in local newspapers and after the eruption received much attention from artists and writers. One of the better known representations of the apparition is this grandiose composition by Kennett Watkins, a leading nineteenth century exponent of Mori history painting. Although the spectre was seen in broad daylight, Watkins presents it in a dramatic nocturnal setting illuminated by a full moon amidst billowing clouds, foreshadowing the volcanic blast to come. Conforming to European conventions for the sublime landscape, a lone, fearful spectator in the foreground witnesses the vast canoe passing under the looming peak. More specific sources in European art include representations of Vesuvius in eruption in the Bay of Naples and spectacular Alpine scenes by artists such as J. M. W. Turner. Born in India, Watkins studied art in Switzerland and France before emigrating to New Zealand in 1873. He worked as a photographer and schoolteacher in the Bay of Islands then moved to Auckland where he became principal of the Auckland Free School of Art. (from The Guide, 2001)

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