British photographic history

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Samuel Carnell of Nottingham, pioneer New Zealand photographer

The Press described him as “a fluent, rapid speaker, of extreme Radical views, verging on downright Socialism… He is, however, out of politics a genial, though excitable man, but very suspicious of the motives of those opposed to him”. He was a sharp and forthright speaker who rattled the conservatives by maintaining the backbone of the country was the working class and the small settlers.

This was Samuel Carnell who became Member of the House of Representatives for Napier and later its Mayor.

He was born in Nottingham into a family of lacemakers. As many lacemakers did, his family worked in France for a time and that experience moulded his liberal values. He and his brother would both become photographers - his brother in Nottingham and Samuel in New Zealand.

He married, the Carnells had two sons and they sailed for New Zealand. Samuel tried his hand in the goldfields but soon turned to photography, working for a time with other photographers in Nelson and Auckland before settling in Napier.

Carnell is famous for his portraits of the Maori tribe, Ngati Kahungunu and other prominent Hawke’s Bay people of the late nineteenth century but his influence went much wider than just his photographs. He was prohibitionist at a time when the struggle for women’s suffrage was very clearly identified with the temperance movement and he was elected Member for Napier in the 1893 election, the first to include women, swept up in a great wave of liberal sentiment. 

A biography of Carnell can be downloaded free from

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Thanks for your generosity in making this available. I research Australian and New Zealand photographers and collect cdvs and cabinet photos from both sides of the Tasman and have looked into Samuel and have examples of his photography. I am also a researcher for the photographers of GB and Eire database so I am aware of Samuel's brother Edward Abraham Carnell of Nottinghamshire. Cheers! Marcel, Brisbane

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