This is the true story behind what I suspect might be the earliest known photograph of a waterspout or tornado in New Zealand. As I’ve stated many times before, every photo, postcard or piece of paper has a story to tell, however this one really will blow you away. Today’s story has everything – an extreme weather event, a windswept far-flung island, a budding pioneer botanist and a cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo.
Our story starts on the remote Chatham Islands on November 10th 1912. A local sheep farmer looks across the bay and spies a peculiar funnel-shaped cloud forming at the base of a menacing bank of clouds. This sheep farmer has survived a war, travelled the world and called this far-flung island home for nearly half a century but he has never witnessed anything like this. The water beneath the funnel is whipped into a frenzy and starts reaching up to the heavens, meeting the funnel cloud and forming a violent waterspout. It is followed by a second waterspout, and then unbelievably a third.
Our spectator fetches his camera and takes a photograph unlike any taken before in New Zealand. The image he captures will travel the world, be reprinted in academic journals but alas, be all but forgotten for a century…
This is a postcard copy of the photo that sheep-farmer took little over a one hundred years ago. When I bought this example for my collection I had seen a couple of other copies of it on the marketplace so knew that while it wasn’t exceedingly rare it always fetched a high price – and no surprise really as this card is an absolute beauty! It is one of my all time favourites. The back of the image includes a handwritten note from a Chatham Island local.
“This is a photo taken of a water spout, it lasted for about 2 hours. We can see where it was from our whare”.
Armed only with this postcard I set out to find as much as I possibly could about this extreme weather event and the farmer that took the photo. Both are remarkable stories. Continue reading