James Beattie
University of Waikato

As Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths observe, Australians and New Zealanders have tended to keep their backs turned to the Tasman Sea, preferring instead to foster relations with other areas rather than with each other.[2] Such an attitude – combined with nationally distinct scholarship – masks the dynamic trans-Tasman connections that intertwined the lives and ecologies of Australia and New Zealand at various points from the late eighteenth century. Large-scale human migration exchanged not only people, but also ideas, plants and practices; while correspondence and plants also snaked across the Tasman.[3]

This article seeks to provide a brief overview of scholarship on trans-Tasman environmental connections. Second, it explores some Australasian transfers of environmental ideas and matter using the case-study of Alfred Sharpe.

Trans-Tasman scholarship on environmental connections

Robin and Griffiths examine what could be termed parallel yet separate environmental histories. They note that both Australia and New Zealand, for instance, faced similar environmental problems, but due to diverse social and environmental factors experienced and dealt with such problems differently. It is, I think, important to emphasise the differences, as much as the similarities, between these areas.[4] Australia is, as Libby Robin and Mike Smith note, ‘a lean landscape, with shallow soils, deficient in nutrients and trace elements, where the legacy of the last Ice Age is salt and salinised soils.’[5] New Zealand by contrast is, for the most part, an island country, much younger tectonically, and with an overall far greater rainfall than its Tasman cousin.[6]

In examining people’s interactions with such environments, a significant body of work has explored the comparative environmental dimensions of these areas, particularly during the settler period. Thomas R. Dunlap’s pioneering study, for instance, situates the experiences of the ‘English Diaspora’ (one might wonder about the Scots, Irish, and others) in the comparative context of settlement of the ‘neo-Europes’: North America and Australasia. Dunlap’s conceptualisation of ‘neo-Europes’ was drawing upon Alfred Crosby’s innovative work that ushered in a re-assessment of interpretations of European imperialism. Crosby argued that the plants, animals and pathogens Europeans brought to ‘neo-Europes’ like Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa played as significant a part in their colonisation as imperialists’ guns and technical know-how. More recently, Don Garden’s somewhat apocalyptic comparative environmental history of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific firmly situates Australasia in the wider Pacific region – an important reminder of its oft-forgotten relationship to the Pacific so firmly established by Alfred Wallace and others.[7] Whether situated in relationship to the Pacific or North America, these works have examined both broad-based and finely grained comparative histories of Australia and New Zealand. But what, one may ask, of the connections between these geographical areas, connections that waxed and waned over the nineteenth century?

Many of the papers heard at the ‘Developing Trans-Tasman Perspectives’ Historical Geography Workshop 2009, held at Massey University on 19 November 2009, examined the fascinating environmental interconnections that tied together Australia and New Zealand at different points over the past 200 years. Papers there, as well as some of those presented at the 2007 Forest History Conference held at the University of Canterbury, examined a variety of Australasian contrasts and interactions. Scholars explored the Trans-Tasman timber trade, recruitment and use of prison labour in plantations, emergence of forestry schools in Australia and New Zealand, and burgeoning trans-Tasman plant trade.[8] These works firmly suggest the dynamic relationships of various kinds – material, intellectual and economic – that intertwined parts of Australia and New Zealand. The present article therefore adds to this growing historiography, as well as trying to provide some framework for situating these connections.

Approaching Australasian connections

Analysing these interconnected relationships can prove difficult, particularly when researchers examine extremely complex multiple pathways of knowledge or plant exchange.[9] With these challenges in mind, I wish here to discuss two ways of conceptualising Australasian connections and whose utility I will apply to the case-study of an individual and his environmental views and plant introductions.

The first model relates to the conceptualisation of knowledge connections within and beyond empire. Beginning in the 1960s, scholars have put forward a variety of models to describe the flows of knowledge between different areas. One of these was George Basalla’s now classic model from 1967. Basalla conceived of scientific knowledge radiating from a European core to a colonial periphery. Others challenged his paradigm. Historian of science Roy MacLeod argued for what he termed the ‘moving metropolis’ to explain colonial scientific development. For MacLeod, colonial scientific ideas and institutions developed in stages, leading eventually to the emergence of an independent scientific research culture. While such a model usefully highlighted the existence of ‘cores’ and ‘peripheries’ within regions and explained well Australia’s scientific development, it did not adequately account for scientific development in regions such as India or Africa, where scientific cultures already existed prior to European imperialism.[10] Much more recently Tony Ballantyne, an imperial historian, has introduced the notion of ‘webs of empire’. Unlike for example a simple diffusionist or core-periphery model, Ballantyne’s model acknowledges the emergence at different times and different places of multiple nodes and centres for facilitating the exchange of information, policies and objects. It is a model that also acknowledges the dynamic, ever-changing nature of connections between places and people.[11]

Webs of course do not operate in an ether. They were initiated, sustained and broken by individuals. A focus on individuals can provide particularly rich ‘insight’, as David Lambert and Alan Lester note, ‘into the heterogeneity of the empire’. It can also demonstrate ‘how ideas, practices and identities developed trans-imperially as they moved from one imperial site to another’.[12] To refer to these trans-imperial connections, Lester and Lambert have coined the term ‘careering’. This term, they note, ‘captures a sense of volition, agency and self-advancement, but also accident, chance encounter and the impact of factors beyond the control of the individual’.[13] Investigating an individual’s environmental ideas is particularly valuable. It provides a sense of the complexity of views on nature and hints at the importance of particular places and intellectual influences in a person’s intellectual development. Contextualised within wider flows of knowledge or plant transfer, it can illustrate the complexity of idea formation and the multi-dimensional flows of environmental knowledge into and beyond empire.

The imperial ‘careering’ of Alfred Sharpe

The individual whose imperial ‘careering’ I examine is the artist and environmentalist, poet and park designer, Alfred Sharpe[14] (1836–1908). Sharpe spent his first twenty years in Birkenhead, England, his next (nearly) thirty in the Auckland area, and his remaining twenty in Newcastle, New South Wales (NSW). Sharpe’s life offers a fascinating case-study of someone whose environmental views responded to multiple influences much in the way that Lambert and Lester have identified. Sharpe’s environmental views were fashioned by the particular places he lived in, his experience of their local physical environments, and the interaction between these places and his romanticism.

Investigating Sharpe’s developing – but also sometimes constant – environmental views between these three different sites is significant for a number of reasons. First, Sharpe has left behind a treasure trove of sources through which to explore his changing environmental ideas. Second, the written testimony of Sharpe’s rich environmental ideas allows examination of the complexities and contradictions inherent in individuals. Such complexities and contradictions are rarely presented in studies of social groups or mass movements, simply because it is difficult to do so. A fine-grained analysis of Sharpe’s views therefore allows a rich picture of one settler’s viewpoints to emerge.[15] In time, a number of studies of individual environmental views will accumulatively build up a more complex picture of such trans-Tasman ‘careering’. Third, many existing studies of environmental ideas and policies in the nineteenth century neglect the actions of private individuals, instead focussing on officials or official organisations as agents of environmental transformation or policy direction.[16] Fourth, studies of private individuals are very important. For one thing, much of the environmental transformation of Australasia took place through non-state efforts financed by private capital and energy. Many of New Zealand’s present landscapes exist because of the actions of individuals in the colonial period.[17] The role of such private actors is also particularly apparent, for instance, in the vigorous acclimatisation movements that swept through the Australasian lands.[18] As the case of Alfred Sharpe further underlines, private individuals were also responsible for significant trans-Tasman plant introductions and for articulating a consistent aesthetic critique of colonial policies.

Sharpe’s environmental influences

First and foremost, Sharpe’s environmental views and painting style owed much to his Birkenhead upbringing. It was there that he came under the sway of romanticism, and specifically, of the ideas of John Ruskin (1819-1900), that most influential art critic and vehement opponent of industrialisation. In Birkenhead, Sharpe was coming to maturity just as romanticism was reaching its heady height in the mid-nineteenth century. Romanticism infused European society. Artists, poets, writers and politicians responded in different ways to its calling, exclaiming wonder at the power and majesty of the natural world. Romanticism forced a passionate and heated reaction, or so its proponents believed, to the cool reason and cold humanity of the Enlightenment.[19] Better understood as a ‘mood rather than a movement’, romanticism influenced fashions, art, writing, and intellectual life – even the way Europeans saw non-Europeans.[20]

In Australasia Sharpe expressed disgust at the destruction of plants and landscapes that he considered beautiful. In expressing such criticisms, Sharpe was guided by romanticism and in particular by his interpretation of Ruskin’s admonitions both to hold in trust the environment for future generations and to accurately depict aspects of the natural world before they changed irrevocably. Directed by these criteria, Sharpe judged local Australasian landscapes according to their congruence with European picturesque conventions. The picturesque accorded significance to the composition of a picture, valuing framing trees, distinct plains and pastoral settings.[21] Sharpe’s painterly technique also followed closely the realism or naturalism (such as the use of bright colours and an attention to minute detail) of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of young artists formed in 1848 whom Ruskin famously admired.[22]

Sharpe found the picturesque environments he so appreciated readily enough around Auckland, luxuriating in lonely rambles in the New Zealand forest – behaviour consistent with a devotee to romanticism. His poetry clearly attests to the romantic aesthetic at work. In ‘The Forest Temples of New Zealand’, Sharpe wrote of his visit to New Zealand’s forests as an act of devotion. ‘He to forest temple goes’, he declared, ‘…gives God service there’. A forest was holiest: ‘Where man’s foot hath seldom trod’.[23] Such concern for what Sharpe regarded as untouched nature reflected the romantics’ regard for the natural world as a retreat from the artificiality and corruption of urban living. This is further evident in his poem, ‘Earth is Fair’. Recognising that ‘man, His creation, hath dimmed’ the ‘bright tone’ of the natural world created by God, regardless Sharpe held that ‘this bright earth’ existed both for the enjoyment and uplift of humanity and as a ‘shadowy type, of what heaven will be’.[24] The originality of the romantic message was that observers made this connection with the divine through their experience and sensitivity towards nature.[25] Romantics ‘believed that God’s presence was revealed through an aesthetic awareness of nature’s beauty.’[26]

Decrying the deforestation around Auckland and later Newcastle, where he moved to in the late 1880s, Sharpe fought for the preservation of certain indigenous and introduced species growing in selected areas. In 1876, he attacked ‘the substitution of karaka trees for the fine old oaks so wantonly destroyed in Government House grounds’, Auckland ‘The oak’, he wrote,

is always picturesque, – whether in winter, with its gnarled and twisted branches; in spring, with its lovely green frondage; in summer, with its massive leafage and shade, and in autumn, with its rich colouring of russet and yellow. To compare that with the never varying, stiff, awkward looking, dark green karaka is an absurdity.

Oak trees, he continued, harboured strong memories ‘endeared to us by old associations as reminiscences of old England’. They had ‘taken 25 years to grow, and are unique in the colony and irreplaceable in our generation, while karakas…can be seen by groves any day, in many parts of the country.’[27] Sharpe valued trees according to their rarity and appearance, and whether they stood as living symbols of past memories. For centuries Europeans have esteemed trees – and particularly oaks – as important repositories of memory and meaning.[28] For Sharpe, the age, appearance and memories of homeland the unique oak grove at Government House evoked, demanded preservation.

On another occasion in Auckland, Sharpe attacked ‘the monstrous vandalisms now being perpetrated in the Domain, under the name of arboriculture’.[29] Sharpe highlighted the cropping of ‘hundreds of fine young oak trees into imitation cauliflowers, and generally…[turning] the loveliest part of the [Auckland] Domain…into the similitude of the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet’.[30]

Sharpe brought his criticism of city deforestation from New Zealand to Australia.[31] Assailing a new Australian arboreal attacker, in 1893 he railed against ‘a horde of larrikins’ who had destroyed the trees along Newcastle’s Pacific Street.[32] Sharpe’s environmental protection of urban areas is significant historiographically. Environmental historians, as Eric Pawson has observed, have tended to focus attention almost exclusively on rural areas,[33] while only recently have scholars of Australasian environmental history begun to investigate the richness its urban environmental histories.[34]

Urban pollution

Sharpe extended his concern about the visual pollution of urban environments to pollution of their waters and airs. His concern with health arose, as I have argued elsewhere, in response to the broader aesthetic and health concerns of Ruskin.[35] Ruskin loudly decried the pollution and despoliation of nature, believing that any form of environmental pollution – whether visual or physical – broke humanity’s duty of stewardship passed onto it by God.[36]

In Auckland and Newcastle Sharpe threw himself into campaigns against water and air pollution. In 1882, for instance, Sharpe penned a vicious parody of the ineffectual efforts of the various Auckland sanitary boards to improve the city’s health:

Flaunts Fever’s scarlet banner

O’er Newton and Parnell.

The gutter whiffings fan her,

While “Boards” cry, “All is well.”

The foul putrescence lieth

On each side of the street,

And, in each festering backyard,

Slops welter in the heat.

The cess-pits belch forth gases

On fever-laden air,

And fever-damp unrolleth

From sewer-gullies there.

Death grins, ‘twixt each fence paling,

Upon each passer-by,

And the earthless privy boxes

Cry out, “Prepare to die.”[37]

The poem clearly and wittily articulates Sharpe’s concern. Its style is of additional interest: it has the rhythmic consistency of a hymn while its first line is a play on a nineteenth century jingo, ‘Fever’s/Freedom’s scarlet/sacred banner’.[38] Although he wrote no further poems on the topic, Sharpe maintained his battle for Auckland to have a better water supply, even recommending, in 1883, the establishment of an Auckland-wide water corporation, though apparently without much success.[39]

Sharpe brought these concerns to Newcastle. Beginning in the 1890s, Sharpe crusaded against the pollution of Newcastle’s beaches.[40] In 1902, for instance, he penned a number of letters drawing attention to this disgrace. When attempts to stop pollution began early that year, he initially nodded appreciatively at how ‘the power of public opinion…can rattle the dry bones of parochial obstruction and private animosity’.[41] Triumph, however, soon turned to tribulation. A couple of weeks later, Sharpe reported irritably that ‘about ten loads of street filth have been deposited there during the last two days’.[42] Later still, winds blowing more rubbish onto the beach prompted Sharpe to ask breathlessly and with great frustration: ‘Why? and why? and why?’[43] ‘Can anything be done to check this howling nastiness? Must the citizens be left to apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction?’, he asked in a subsequent letter.[44] After a brief and angry discharge of salvoes against the mayor’s (Mr Cann) description of the beach pollution as ‘harmless’, Sharpe wrote in to the paper again on 19 February. He expressed satisfaction with Cann’s decision to ‘stop the deposit of garbage on our sanatorium [the beach]’.[45]

Localism, aesthetics and nationalism

As Thomas Dunlap and many others have argued, by the 1890s settlers were beginning to see in their country’s nature a symbol of their own nationalism and independence.[46] Central to emerging settler nationalisms from the late nineteenth century were settlers’ growing identification with native nature. Employed in various ways – on stamps, in literature and poetry, music, the visual arts, in politics – aspects of native nature as well as aspects of indigenous culture became symbols of new found nationalism. As Paul Star notes, near the end of that century, ‘the indigenous remnant had begun to capture the hearts of the settlers.’[47] Across Europe, America and Australia, societies were also emerging with the aim of creating parks and preserving aspects of the natural environment. Ruskin’s romanticism inspired a number of conservation movements in Britain.[48] For most of these, a division often developed between the protection of nature and the betterment of urban environments.[49]

Sharpe’s views, however, complicate the dating, inspiration and formulation of such settler nationalisms. Sharpe demonstrates that settler concerns about environmental change sometimes rested solely at the local level and at other times extended beyond this. In one sense they reinforce Nicholas Thomas’ assertion that nationalisms arose in response to local nature, but challenge them in others.[50] Sharpe’s campaigns were essentially local in vision, although sometimes national in appeal.

Throughout his time in northern New Zealand and eastern Australia, Sharpe expressed concerns about local nature that he considered picturesque, but never participated in any national campaigns to save forests or to prevent pollution, either in Australia or New Zealand. He occasionally made national appeals, but only to the extent of wanting to save local areas. In 1886, for instance, Sharpe wrote imploringly to the Observer and the Free Lancet of the national need to preserve kauri trees, citing the example of the United States Government and its reservation of Yellowstone. Many kauri trees are being lost, he wrote, thanks to the ‘short-sighted greed of landed proprietors on the Waitakerei [sic], who have exterminated almost every accessible kauri tree of any value as a show tree’. Surely, he asked, ‘our Government might reserve a single beggarly square mile of about the only existent uncontaminated kauri forest we have’?[51] Sharpe echoed his occasionally nationalist appeals in Australia when it suited him to have local areas conserved. In 1890, for instance, Sharpe re-published his ‘Hints for Landscape Artists in Water Colour’ in the Newcastle Morning Herald…, giving it an Australian or trans-Tasman bent by substituting references to New Zealand with those of Australia or a trans-Tasman identity through use of the term Australasia.[52] In 1901, too, he labelled his watercolour, The last dying remnant of the grand ti tree forests, between Adamstown and the Glebe, as an area ‘which should have been preserved and reserved as a fine park when the Government appropriated our 3,000 acre reserve.’[53]

Sharpe also sometimes struggled to aestheticise some areas around Newcastle into European artistic conventions. He found its ‘open gum forests around’ particularly challenging, describing them as ‘unutterably wearisome in their unchanging monotony’.[54] This attitude probably led him, in 1895, to recommend using ‘the illimitable quantities of timber at our doors’ either for paving Newcastle’s streets or for exporting overseas.[55] These sentiments seem greatly at odds with his advocacy of the protection of certain forested areas around Newcastle and around Auckland, but can be understood within the framework of his support for the picturesque. Anything which did not conform to its parameters, did not justify preservation. This provides another example of the significant ways that different environments could challenge environmental ideas and elicit different responses.

Together Sharpe’s concerns reveal the importance of local and international factors in shaping his ideas about nature and nationalism. As Rollo Arnold notes of the 1880s and 1890s, settler identity was complex. Provincial attachments, along with a ‘continuing affection for the distant homeland, remained stronger than the various other competing frames of reference, which included federation, nationalism, even provincialism and Pacific federation.’[56] Settlers could reference multiple identities. An individual could identify at once as a Presbyterian and a New Zealander but so too express pride in being a Scot and a proud member of the British Empire, for instance.[57]

Like many Australasian settlers, experience of local environments shaped Sharpe’s understanding of his world. Deforestation around Auckland and later Newcastle spurred his concern with local nature. Sharpe also drew his frames of reference from the local worlds of his youth as well as the international ideas of romanticism and specifically those of Ruskin. These views validate Rollo Arnold’s observations that the 1880s New Zealand ‘settler community was essentially a village world, but a village world that was responding to ideas and influences that were global in the scope of their origins.’[58]

Urban conservation

Historians of conservation in this period have primarily focussed on the reservation of native forests and areas in New Zealand symptomatic of growing nationalism. They present earlier conservation initiatives teleologically, as leading towards the emergence of nationalism and settler appreciation of ‘native’ nature. This has led them to ignore settler conservation and appreciation of non-native nature.[59] It has also led them to ignore battles over urban conservation that took place before the late 1880s, and to underplay the role of individuals such as Sharpe in articulating anxieties about urban environmental change.

Paul Star and Lynne Lochhead, for instance, have studied urban preservation societies in New Zealand, beginning with the first of those, the Dunedin and Suburban Reserves Conservation Society (1888).[60] Sharpe’s endorsement of protection for both introduced and indigenous plants in the 1870s predates the formation of these groups, and indicates longer-standing concerns about urban protection.[61] Sharpe also demonstrates that some settlers sought to protect introduced as well as indigenous nature. This complicates portrayals of settlers as solely concerned with the preservation of indigenous nature. Finally, the timing of concerns – coterminous with continuing destruction – challenges many historians’ arguments that, towards the end of the nineteenth century, early settlers’ actions of conquest and destruction were giving way to appreciation of native nature.[62] Sharpe suggests that appreciation for the natural world existed at the same time as its destruction.


As a re-designer of most of Newcastle’s city parks, Sharpe also introduced into that city some of his favourite New Zealand trees, most notably karaka and pohutakawa, thereby neatly demonstrating, as Lambert and Lester observes, the manner in which ‘other places could [also] be present’ with such mobile individuals.[63] Such activities highlight the degree to which he incorporated some of New Zealand’s species into his European aesthetic. Finally, they illustrate the crucial manner in which private individuals could transfer plant species between Australia and New Zealand.

Placed in context, the acclimatising activities of Sharpe serve to modify the dominant historiographical interpretation of the process of settlement and acclimatisation, formed by Crosby’s influential Ecological Imperialism.[64] Crosby’s work raised two important points about the nature and direction of acclimatised plant species. First, Crosby argued that plant material flowed in a one-way direction to the neo-Europes from Europe. Second, he presented non-European people and plants as passive victims of European colonization and the organisms they brought with them. More recently, Eric Pawson has challenged Crosby’s analysis, presenting a sophisticated series of case studies and models to illustrate the complexity of plant transfers. He notes, for instance, that such transfers created ‘hybridised landscapes and plants’ and that certain New Zealand species successfully acclimatised elsewhere.[65] Other authors have investigated in detail certain aspects of plant exchanges involving New Zealand in this period. Both John P. Adam and Alan Grey, for instance, have independently highlighted the significant environmental connections between New Zealand and North America.[66] My own work has investigated the ties connecting New Zealand with worldwide transfers of Asian plants.[67]

Sharpe’s example of the acclimatisation of karaka, pohutukawa and other New Zealand species exemplify wider and long-standing Tasman plant transfers. In 1834, for instance, the traveller George Bennett recorded the cultivation of New Zealand species around Sydney. He noted that Cordyline terminalis ‘grows and flowers well not only in these gardens, but is frequently seen planted in front of the dwelling houses in and about Sydney’. On Mr H. McArthur’s property, the “Vineyard”, he found karaka in ‘thriving condition, having reached the elevation of from six to nearly fourteen feet, and borne fruit.’ [68]

Australia proved important as a node in the introduction of Eurasian species into New Zealand, underlining the complexity of environmental exchanges. Wellington surveyor Robert Stokes, for instance, enumerated an impressive list of vegetable and ornamental species growing in the nascent New Zealand Company settlement, and ended by noting that ‘I find there cannot be less than 2000 fruit trees in the Colony…The greater part of these have been brought from Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land but some have been sent from England.’ He enumerated an important list of vegetables and fruit acclimatised into Tasmania and then sent onto New Zealand:

An ample supply of vegetables, rhubarb, strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry, black, white and red currants, the peach, nectarine, apricot and fig, several varieties of plum, several varieties of apples and pears. Also cherries, filberts, mulberries, and quinces, magnolia, camellia, daphne, oleander, passionflower, honeysuckle, jasmine, ranunculus, tulip, picotee and a very nice collection of roses, also elder, privet, watercress, a few blackthorns, a good sized asparagus bed (plants of which were raised from seed and will be ready for cutting next spring)

All of these, he concluded, ‘were mostly obtained from Sydney and I have every reason to think they will do well.’[69] As for his own purchasing, Stokes bought trees directly from Sydney Botanical Gardens, arranging in September 1842, for instance, for six cases of plants to be shipped.[70]

The case of Stokes, Sharpe and others point to the importance of the private Hobart and Sydney plant trade. This interpretation is reinforced by plant advertisements of the time. As Charlie Challenger’s research on colonial Canterbury in the period 1840s to 1860s demonstrates, Australian nurseries advertised extensively in New Zealand, often having agents or auctioneers working in New Zealand on their behalf.[71] Later still, Australian nurseries supplied collectors with many of the rarer Asian species, such as from the remarkable Australian nurseryman, Thomas Lang (1815-1896).[72] In 1875, for instance, the Auckland nursery firm of Mason Bros bought from Messrs. Lang and Co., a ‘very superior’ collection of ‘30 varieties’ of conifers – thuja, auracaria (sic), penela (sic), junipers, retinosporus, taxus, abies, cupresses, podocarpus.[73] The acclimatisation of New Zealand trees in Newcastle by Sharpe also reinforces the interpretations of historian of science Jim Endersby. Examining botanical exchange as in Sydney Botanic Garden, Endersby argues that plant exchanges played a crucial role in maintaining colonial scientific connections through their role as gifts.[74]


The ‘imperial careering’ of Alfred Sharpe highlights the complexity of settler identification and engagement with different colonial natures. It points to the manner in which an individual’s environmental ideas changed and interacted with the local environments of Birkenhead (England), Auckland (New Zealand) and Newcastle (NSW). Examining the environmental webs sustained by one individual challenges important historiographical assumptions about settler environmental interactions and the formation of conservation movements. The case-study of Alfred Sharpe contests both the timing of urban conservation in New Zealand and interpretations of settler nationalisms, complicating too models of information and plant transfers. Finally, Sharpe’s imperial ‘careering’ hints at the rich possibilities for exploring individual environmental views and their changes over different colonial sites.[75]


This article has been peer reviewed.

[1]  I sincerely thank Roger Blackley who, a number of years ago now, encouraged my interest in Alfred Sharpe. Roger collected Alfred Sharpe’s writings and generously deposited them in the E. H. McCormick Research Library (RC 2000/7), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki. I also benefitted immensely from discussions with colleagues in my former department, of History, Art History and Theory, University of Otago: especially Associate Professor Mark Stocker, Dr. Roger Collins, Dr. Peter Stupples, Dr. Peter Leech, Associate Professor Tony Ballantyne; and Professor Eric Pawson, University of Canterbury. Part of this article, with permission, has appeared in Alfred Sharpe’s forest consciousness in New Zealand and Australia, 1859-1908″, in Michael Calver et al., eds., Proceedings of the 6 th National Conference of the Australian Forest History Society Inc. (Rotterdam: Mill Press, 2005), 17-25. Finally, I thank the anonymous comments of the peer reviewer for helping to improve this paper.

[2] Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths, ‘Environmental history in Australasia’, Environment and History, 10, 4 ( November, 2004), 440.

[3] On some Australasian political, social and medical connections, see Donald Denoon and Phillipa Mein-Smith with Marivic Wyndham, A History of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000); Denis McLean, The Prickly Pair: Makinging Nationalism in Australia and New Zealand (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2003); Tasman Relations: New Zealand and Australia, 1788-1988, ed. by Keith Sinclair (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1987). A recent project explores these connections. See the most stimulating book that has resulted from this project: Remaking the Tasman World, ed. by Philippa Mein-Smith, Peter Hempenstall and Shaun Goldfinch, with Stuart McMillan and Rosemary Baird (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2008).

[4] Robin and Griffiths.

[5] Robin and Mike Smith, ‘Australian Environmental History: Ten Years On’, Environment and History, 14, 2 (May, 2008), 136.

[6] See Eric Pawson and Tom Brooking, eds. Environmental Histories of New Zealand (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2002)

[7] Thomas R. Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: the Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Don Garden, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific: An Environmental History (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2005). On the Pacific connection, note: Timothy Fridtjof Flannery, The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People (London: Secker & Warburg, reprint, 1996); and earlier, O.H.K. Spate, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956).

[8] Environment and History, 10, 4 (November, 2008).

[9] On which, note William Beinart and Karen Middleton, ‘Plant Transfers in Historical Perspective: A Review Article’, Environment and History, 10, 1 (February 2004), 3-29; Eric Pawson, ‘Plants, Mobilities and Landscapes: Environmental Histories of Botanical Exchange’, Geography Compass, 2, 5 (2008), 1464-1477.

[10] Roy MacLeod, ‘On Visiting the “Moving Metropolis”: Reflections on the Architecture of Imperial Science’, Historical Records of Australian Science, 5, 3 (1982), 1-16; MacLeod, From ‘Imperial to National Science’, in The Commonwealth of Science: ANZAAS and the Scientific Enterprise in Australasia 1888-1988, ed. by Roy McLeod (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1988), 40-72

[11] Tony Ballantyne, Orientalism and Race: Aryanism in the British Empire (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), 13-17; Ballantyne, ‘Empire, Knowledge and Culture: From Proto-Globalization to Modern Globalization’, in A.G. Hopkins, ed, Globalization in World History, London, 2002, pp. 115-140; Ballantyne, ‘Race and the webs of empire: Aryanism from India to the Pacific,’ Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 2, 3 (2001), 1-25.

[12] David Lambert and Alan Lester, ‘Imperial Spaces, imperial subjects’, in Lambert and Lester, eds., Colonial Lives Across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2.

[13] Lambert and Lester, ‘Imperial Spaces’, 21.

[14] On Sharpe’s life, note: Roger Blackley, The Art of Alfred Sharpe (Auckland: Bateman and Auckland Art Gallery, 1992).

[15] On some fascinating environmental history biographies of note for New Zealand, see: Ross Galbreath, Scholars & Gentlemen Both: G.M and Allan Thomson in New Zealand Science and Education (Wellington: The Royal Society of New Zealand, 2002); Jennifer Robin Hodge, ‘Nature’s Trustee: Pérrine Moncrieff and Nature Conservation in New Zealand 1920–1950’ (Ph.D. Diss.: Massey University, 1999); Mary McEwen, Chalres Fleming: Environmental Patriot (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2005).

[16] Note, for instance, Michael Roche, History of Forestry (Wellington: New Zealand Forestry Corporation in association with GP Books, 1990); Ross Galbreath, A History of the New Zealand Wildlife Service (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books and Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1993); David Young, Our Islands, Our Selves: A History of Conservation in New Zealand (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2004).

[17] On which, see Paul Star, ‘Tree Planting in Colonial Canterbury, 1850-1890’, Environment and History, 14,  4 (November, 2008), 563-582; Roche briefly discusses private afforestation, noting its significance: Roche, Forest Policy in New Zealand: An Historical Geography, 1840-1919 (Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1987), 54-57.

[18] For a brief history, note: Paul Star, ‘From Acclimatisation to Preservation: Colonists and the Natural World in Southern New Zealand, 1860-1894’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Otago, 1997).

[19] Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilizations, translated by Richard Mayne (New York: Penguin, 1993), 26.

[20] Peter Gay, The Naked Heart: The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud, vol. 4 (Glasgow: Harper Collins, 1998), 37-102; The Cambridge Cultural History: Volume 6: The Romantic Age in Britain, ed. by Boris Ford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

[21] Gina Crandell, Nature Pictorialized: “The View” in Landscape History (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 109-160. 

[22] On Ruskin’s influence on Sharpe, see Beattie, ‘Alfred Sharpe, Australasia, and Ruskin’. On the Pre-Raphaelite landscape tradition, note Allen Staley, The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973). 

[23] New Zealand Herald (henceforth, NZH), 12 June 1888, 2.

[24] Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (henceforth, NMH), 20 February 1888, 2.

[25] Gay, Naked Heart.

[26] Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991), 99.

[27] NZH, 24 August 1876, 6.

[28] Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (London: Harper Collins, 1996); Daniels, Stephen, ‘The political iconography of woodland in later Georgian England’, The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 43-82.

[29] NZH, 5 October 1880, 6.

[30] NZH, 12 October 1880, 6.

[31] NMH, 7 September 1891, 5.

[32] NMH, 9 March 1893, 9.

[33] Eric Pawson, ‘On the Edge: Making Urban Places’, Environmental Histories of New Zealand, 200-213.

[34] Beattie, ‘Colonial Geographies of Settlement: Vegetation, Towns, Disease and Well-Being in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 1830s-1930s’, Environment and History, 14, 4 (November, 2008), 583-610.

[35] Beattie, ‘Alfred Sharpe, Australasia, and Ruskin’.

[36] David Carroll, ‘Pollution, defilement and the art of decomposition’, in Michael Wheeler, ed., Ruskin and the Environment: The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1995), 58-75.

[37] NZH, 11 March 1882, 6.

[38] Thanks to Dr. Julian Kuzma for this information.

[39] ‘Our Water Supply’, NZH, 17 April 1880, 6; ‘The Water-Supply’, NZH, 24 April 1880, 6; ‘The City Water Supply’, NZH, 19 December 1883, 3. On Sharpe’s suggestion for a water corporation, see ‘The Water Question’, NZH, 15 December 1883, 37.

[40] See, for instance, ‘Sea bathing’, NMH, 3 January 1894, 7.

[41] ‘On Beach Reserve’, NMH, 15 January 1902, 7.

[42] Incidentally, in perhaps the greatest irony, Sharpe also refused to reply to the correspondent ‘Bather’, since, as Sharpe explained, he did ‘not wish to enter into unprofitable discussions with people who make wild assertions under cover of a non de plume’! ‘Baths and Beach’, NMH, 24 January 1902, 6.

[43] ‘The Rubbish Tip’, NMH, 29 January 1902, 7.

[44] ‘The Ocean Beach’, NMH, 31 January 1902, 3.

[45] ‘The Mayor and the Beach’, NMH, 13 February 1902, 6; ‘Beach Sanitation’, NMH, 19 February 1902, 3.

[46] Dunlap,  Nature and the English Diaspora.

[47] Star, ‘From Acclimatisation’, 246.

[48] See also James Winter, Secure from Rash Assault: Sustaining the Victorian Environment (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 189-208; Konrad Ott, Thomas Potthast, Martin Gorke and Patricia Never, ‘Über die Anfänge des Naturschutzgedankens in Deutschland und den USA’ [On the beginnings of the Concept of Nature Protection in Germany and the USA’], ed. by E.V. Heyen, Jahrbuch für Europäische Verwaltungs geschichte. Naturnutzung und Naturschutz in der europäische Rechts- und Verwaltungsgeschichte [Yearbook for European Administrative History. Exploitation and Protection in the History of European Law and Administration] (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1991), 1-55; Tim Bonyhady, The Colonial Earth (Carlton South: Melbourne University Press, 2001), 219-247.

[49] Ott et al., ‘Über die Anfänge’, 48.

[50] Nicholas Thomas, Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 12.

[51] Observer and Free Lancet (OFL), 2 January 1886, 11.

[52] For instance, in the version of ‘Hints’ published in Australia, he changed ‘from a New Zealand standpoint’ to ‘from an Australasian standpoint.’ ‘Hints’, NMH, 11 March 1890, 8. ‘Hints’, 131.

[53] quoted in Blackley, Art of Alfred Sharpe, 116. Image on 107. Note, too, 2 January 1886. Observer and Free Lancet (OFL), 11.

[54] ‘Hints: General Notes’, NMH, 8 April 1890, 6. 

[55] ‘Newcastle Resources’, NMH, March 1895, 3. 

[56] Rollo Arnold, ‘Some Australasian Aspects of New Zealand Life, 1890-1913’, New Zealand Journal of History, 4, 1 (April, 1970), pp.54-76. Quote from p.54.

[57] On settler life narratives and assessments of their own histories, note Rosalind McLean, ‘ “Writing my history”: Seven Nineteenth-Century Scottish Migrants to New Zealand revisit their pasts’, Migrations & Identities, 1, 1 (2008), 45-73.

[58] Rollo Arnold, New Zealand’s Burning: The Settlers world in the mid 1880s, Wellington, 1994, 118-121. Quote from 118.

[59] See, Beattie ‘Wilderness found, lost and restored: the sublime and picturesque in New Zealand, 1830s-2000s’, The Future of Wilderness in Aotearoa New Zealand, ed. by Richard Reeve and Mick Abbott (publisher not yet confirmed: forthcoming).

[60] Paul Star and Lynne Lochhead, ‘Children of the Burnt Bush: New Zealanders and the Indigenous Remnant, 1880-1930’, Environmental Histories, 124-125.

[61] On which, see Beattie, ‘Colonial Geographies of Settlement’.

[62] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora.

[63] Lambert and Lester, ‘Introduction’, 26.

[64] Crosby, Ecological Imperialism

[65] Eric Pawson, ‘Networks of Botanical Exchange and the Production of New Landscapes’, Meeting of New Zealand Historical Geographers, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 14 September 2007.

[66] Alan Grey, ‘North American Influences on the Development of New Zealand Landscapes, 1800-1935’, New Zealand Geographer, 40, (1984), 66-77; J.P. Adam, ‘“True California Gardens…” and the Australian connections’, Twenty Fifth Annual Conference of the Australian Garden History Society: “Browned Off”. Old Gardens in a New World, 15 October, Sydney, 2004.

[67] Beattie, ‘Acclimatisation and the “Europeanisation” of New Zealand, 1830s-1920s’, ENNZ: Environment, Nature and New Zealand, 3, 1 (February, 2008), 1-25.

[68] George Bennett, Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore, And China; Being the Journal of a Naturalist in those countries during 1832, 1833, and 1834, vol. I (London: Richard Bentley, 1834), 336.

[69] Robert Stokes, New Zealand Journal, 1842, quoted in Winsome Shepherd, Wellington’s Heritage: Plants, Gardens, and Landscape (Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2001), 155.

[70] Shepherd, Wellington’s Heritage, 158.

[71] Charlie Challenger, ‘Pioneer Nurserymen of Canterbury, New Zealand (1850-65)’, Garden History, 7, 1 (Spring, 1979), 25-64; R. Polya, Nineteenth Century Nursery Catalogues of South-East Australia, A Bibliography (Bundoora: La Trobe University Library, 1981), 17, 26.

[72] Paul Fox, Clearings: Six Colonial Gardeners and Their Landscapes (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2004), 35-59; Beattie, J. Heinzen and J.P. Adam, ‘Japanese Gardens in New Zealand, 1850-1950: Transculturation and Transmission’, Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, 28, 2 (April-June, 2008), 219-236.

[73] Daily Southern Cross, 24 November 1875, 3.

[74] Jim Endersby, ‘A Garden Enclosed: Botanical Barter in Sydney, 1818-39’, British Journal for the History of Science. 33, 118 (September, 2000), 313–334.

[75] Ian Tyrrell, True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860-1930 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: California University Press, 1999); Beattie, Empire and Environmental Anxiety, 1800-1920 (Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming, 2010).