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Images of the kauri timber and gum industries of the Far North are an essential ingredient of any selection of New Zealand historical photographs. The prominence of these industries in our national consciousness is due mainly to the work of the Northwood brothers, a family of talented photographers who operated in Northland from the 1890s to the 1940s.


Richard Arthur Northwood was born in Sydney in 1854 and came to New Zealand in the mid 1860s. He served as a pharmacist with the Armed Constabulary from 1874 to1881 in Taranaki. He married Mary Jane Harrison, the daughter of a New Plymouth settler. Their first son, Arthur James, was born in August 1880 at Pukearuhe, a military settlement on the north Taranaki coast. Their two other children, Richard Alfred and Hubert Charles (Charles) were born in Omata, in August of the two following years.


In the early 1890s, the family moved north. Richard Arthur Northwood had TB and needed a warmer climate to live in. He worked as an industrial chemist in fish factories at Batley, on the Kaipara harbour, and at Mount Camel, Houhora Harbour. They finally settled at Pukenui on the Houhora Harbour where, after the closure of the fish factory at the turn of the century, they worked together at fishing, store-keeping and gum digging. They were also interested in maritime trade and operated their boat Ark as a tender for visiting steamers. All four held masters and engineers certificates for small vessels. The family, were all prominent in the sporting, social and musical life of the region.

Photography was a natural outgrowth of pharmacy in the 19th century, and it is not surprising that Richard Northwood encouraged this interest in his sons. He arranged correspondence courses in photography and accountancy for the boys. Their home contained a studio and darkroom (as well as a smoke-house for curing fish) and the brothers rode around Northland taking photographs, usually advertising their arrival in local newspapers.


During 1909 the family moved in different directions. Arthur, the eldest, established a studio in Kaitaia in 1909. He was known mainly as an outdoor photographer and from his cameras has come most of the views of timber, flax and gum industries which form such an important part of the collection. He also started a cinema in Kaitaia, with which he was involved until his death in 1949.


Richard Alfred Northwood worked as an accountant in Kohukohu where from 1910 until 1919 he ran the Northwood brothers' studio with his brother Charles. After this, he managed the Maori Affairs store in Te Kao, and in 1941 he shifted to Kaitaia to retire. He died in 1955.


Charles Northwood operated a studio in Gisborne in the early 1920s. In 1925 he established himself in Auckland's Queen Street, operating as the Bellwood Studios. He died in 1940 and the business was inherited by Amy Harper who had managed the studio for a number of years. It is believed that most of his negatives were destroyed when equipment was shifted from the studio.

The Northwood Family: A Brief History

Richard Arthur Northwood, the father, shifted from Pukenui to Kaitaia in 1924 to live in a small cottage built behind Cammish’s shop located in Commerce Street. He died in 1926 during a visit to Auckland and only recently his grave was located in the Waikumete Cemetery where a headstone has now been placed by family.


Today, the Alexander Turnbull Library holds a number of glass plates and prints called the Northwood Collection. This Collection is the work of Arthur James, Richard Alfred, and Hubert Charles Northwood. They came to the Library for safe keeping in the mid 60’s from the Northwood family collection in Kaitaia. The Far North Regional Museum, Kaitaia, holds a collection of cameras and studio equipment used by the brothers. The esteem in which the work of this talented family is held in the Far North is a happy reflection of the care and affection which they brought to the documentation of the people and landscape of the region. 

Richard Alfred Northwood

1881 - 1955

Hubert Charles Northwood

1882 - 1940

Arthur James Northwood

1880 - 1949

Richard Arthur Northwood

1854 - 1926