George French Angas

(1822—1886) artist and zoologist

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(1822–86), was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and educated in Essex. He became one of the great Victorian travel-writers and artists and was a talented naturalist. His first book, A Ramble in Malta and Sicily in the Autumn of 1841 (1842), was written before he was 21. He was in Adelaide from January to July 1843, when he sailed to New Zealand, returning to South Australia in January 1844. These six months in the country were extremely fruitful for New Zealand art and ethnology. He travelled 1300 kilometres mainly on foot but partly by canoe, sketching and writing every day ‘however much exhausted by fatigue’. In 1847, after returning to Britain, he published two impressive folio volumes, South Australia Illustrated, and The New Zealanders Illustrated, as well as a written account of his travels, Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand (in two volumes). Superb facsimile editions of the first two books were produced by A.H. & A.W. Reed in 1963, together with a large volume of previously unpublished work in the same format. Other books arising from Angas's travels illustrate the lives of South African natives, the natural life of the Barossa Range and the goldfields of Australia. From 1853 to 1860 he was secretary to the Australian Museum in Sydney, where he carried out pioneering work as a conchologist. He went to London in 1863 and stayed there till his death, publishing numerous papers in Proceedings of the Zoological Society. Among his writings are Australia, a Popular Account (1865) and Polynesia, a Popular Description (1866), the latter including notes on New Zealand natural and human history. His Wreck of the ‘Admella’, and Other Poems (1874) is said to have little merit. Pomara, a Tale of Real Life may well have been published in 1848, but no copy has survived (Angas took Hemi Pomara, the son of a Chathams Island chief, to Sydney and England in 1845). Angas wrote copiously, largely in the style of his paintings: he is a visual writer, carefully observant of small details but not concerned with inner realities. His notes on the Taupo chief Te Heuheu, for example, concentrate on his enormous size and the whiteness of his hair. Angas's drawings and paintings are admired for their portrayal of Māori ‘material culture’ before it was radically altered by European influence, but have also been called sentimental. This mixture of careful observation and a romantic eye for the ‘sublime’ is also found in his writing.

From The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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