Douglas Summerland


A lesser figure of the same period as Captain Robert Falcon Scott was Douglas Summerland a merchant mariner and photographer whose story had been swallowed by history. Born in 1891, it is speculated that Summerland’s father was involved in pastoral activities on Phillip Island Australia before the family relocated to Whangarei on the North Island of New Zealand.  At some stage Summerland left the family farm to take up a life at sea.

All other knowledge about Summerland’s life lies within the artefacts and photographs that were discovered stuffed in a plastic shopping bag in the archives of the Port Chalmers Regional Maritime Museum in 2004.

The Douglas Summerland archive consists of an album of vernacular images of life onboard several sailing ships from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the Dorothy H Sterling and the William Mitchell (renown as the worst designed square rigged sail ship in maritime history). Other items such as glass slides taken on the Whanganui River, a reel of 17.5mm movie film, some letters dated 1913 and a small collection of personal effects including a porcelain pipe were retrieved from the bag.

The album of photographs indicates that Summerland had a sister, and that in 1912 he traveled down the spiritual Whanganui River, his camera lens drawn to the dancing light on the water and through the mysterious landscape.

All that remains of the images taken by Summerland are four photographs found on the back page of the album, a collection of glass slides and some crude filmstrips. The purpose of the expedition is unclear however the images captured contain sacred Māori sites along the river.

In 2006 I pieced together Summerland’s footsteps using the images and notes that appear in the discovered album.