Image 'Ballarat Street, Queenstown', 1878

TLF ID R4227

This is a black-and-white photograph showing the partially flooded Ballarat Street in Queenstown (Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand) in 1878. Buildings line both sides of the street and in the background a boat can be seen on Lake Wakatipu, with the snow-capped Remarkables Range behind. Groups of men are gathered mainly on the left-hand side and at the bottom of the street, where some men appear to be standing in a flat-bottomed boat. The street shows evidence of retreating floodwater and there is an extensive area of silt and debris. The photograph was probably taken by William P Hart of Hart Campbell and Co (1876-89). The glass negative measures 16.5 cm x 20.3 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows some of the consequences of the great Clutha flood of 1878 - it caused many thousands of dollars of damage to public and private property and many towns were inundated in Central and South Otago.
  • It shows the effects of a severe spring thaw in the surrounding mountains together with heavy spring rains, which caused the Clutha River to rise to unprecedented levels in early October, carrying houses, bridges, timber, furniture, farm equipment and livestock down to the sea, and inundating every town in its path.
  • It shows the impact of the flooding on Queenstown, where Lake Wakatipu rose to alarming levels - when snow from the encircling mountain ranges melted, it caused the lake to rise so that parts of the town were under 2 m of water, making movement around the town virtually impossible and sparking a general evacuation.
  • It hints at the devastating impact of the flood on newly established settlers, many of whom were ruined - the floodwaters inundated the wide, fertile lowland farming country of South Otago, causing enormous loss of farm livestock; the damage to this newly developed land had severe consequences for the towns.
  • It is most likely an example of the work of the photographer William P Hart - he used a wet plate collodion process, which required a travelling darkroom for on-the-spot instant processing after exposure, a common procedure in use before 1880.
  • It is an example of a documentary photographic tradition exemplified by the Burton Brothers in New Zealand in the latter half of the 19th century - this tradition contributed to an extensive visual representation of life in colonial New Zealand.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 1878
  • Organisation: Hart Campbell and Co
  • Remarks: photographer
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 02 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
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  • Image
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements