DAVIES, William Charles

William Charles Davies
buried 8 October 1952 Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson, block 21 plot 002  [1]

 William Charles Davies
from New Zealand Native Plant Studies by William C. Davies
A. H. & A. W. Reed, 1956.

For over two hours last night a large audience was held enthralled by Mr. W. C. Davies when he lectured in the Dominion Farmers' Institute on "Photography in the Service of Science." Mr. Davies is the curator and photographer at the Cawthron Institute, Nelson, and has just recently been honoured by being elected a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a distinction which has been accorded to only three other New Zealanders. The lecture was given under the auspices of the Wellington Philosophical Society, Dr. J. Henderson presiding. Amongst the audience was His Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe.

In introducing his subject Mr. Davies referred to the remarkable progress in photography that had been accomplished during recent years, particularly since the Great War. He contrasted the old "wet plate" process, with its attendant bulky apparatus and paraphernalia, with modern methods. Both the old wet collodian plate and the modern dry plate to start with were colour-blind, being sensitive to practically only blue light. Gradually, however, there had been evolved the panchromatic plate, which was sensitive, to the visible colours of the spectrum. The photographs of early days had been conspicuous for their white and cloudless skies, and lack of detail in shadows, while red, yellow, and even green appeared as black. It was not until the beginning of the present century that plate makers had availed themselves of the possibilities afforded by the action of certain dyes. The first of these to be so used, erythrosine, extended the range of sensitiveness to green and yellow, making possible the so-called orthochromatic plates, while later the use of isocyanine dyes had produced an emulsion capable of recording in monochrome all the colours of the visible spectrum.

These points the lecturer illustrated by a number of lantern slides, and some particularly interesting and beautiful slides were thrown on the screen illustrating the corrective action of various colour filters in photography. Most of these slides were selected from the wealth of material produced in the ordinary course of work at the Cawthron Institute.

One of the most interesting sections of the lecture dealt with photography by the infra-red rays, made possible by the recently introduced plates sensitised by a new dye known as neocyanine which increases the sensitivity of plates to over 11,000 Angstrom units, approximately 4000 units beyond the range of visible light. A series of very remarkable pictures was shown, illustrating the extraordinary power exercised by the long wave-lengths in eliminating haze and recording detail in distant mountains quite invisible to the naked eye. An astonishing wealth of detail is shown even when the photograph is taken in heavy fog. Very noticeable features of these slides, a contrasting pair of which is reproduced on another page, were the almost snowy white foliage of the trees with light green leaves, the extraordinary definition of distant objects, and the lack of detail in the shadows. The typical red house to be found in New Zealand hardly shows in such photographs, (which remind one of imaginary lunar landscapes), which prompted His Excellency the Governor-General, when proposing a vote of thanks to the lecturer, to remark that this new photographic process seemed to have the advantage of being able to overcome the "inferiority complex" so noticeable in New Zealand's domestic architecture. Other slides showed how photography by means of infra-red rays was useful in astronomy, since pictures were obtained of the planets themselves and not merely of the atmosphere surrounding them.

Turning next to the invisible rays at the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Davies dealt briefly with the nature of ultra-violet radiation, illustrating his remarks with experiments in fluorescent with a mercury-vapour lamp, and with a number of slides taken through a quartz lens. He gave illustrations of the practical use of such photography in many branches of science and industry, and in the detection of forgery. In conclusion, a number of exquisite photographs in natural colours were thrown on the screen. At the close of the lecture many amateur photographers present felt that it was about time they sold their apparatus and donated the proceeds to some charitable purpose, adopting some other hobby in the pursuit of which they could keep pace with modern advances. To nearly all those present such protography as displayed by Mr. Davies was a revelation, and all were provided with much food for thought as to the future possibilities of the photographic art.

Mr. Davies, on the motion of His Excellency the Governor-General, was accorded a very hearty vote of thanks, by Acclamation. 

Evening Post, Volume CXIV, Issue 54, 1 September 1932, Page 9

1. Paryphanta hochstetteri - Saddle Hill, Nelson
2. Paryphanta hochstetteri - Takaka Hill, Nelson
3. Paryphanta bushyi - Hokianga
attributed to William Charles Davies

Paryphanta superba
from near Rocks Point
attributed to William Charles Davies

Eggs of Paryphanta bushyi (x7)
by William Charles Davies

Wainuia Edwardi x2
by William Charles Davies

Pterodroma Pycrofti (Pycroft's Petrel)
photographed at night, Hen Island, January 1943
attributed to William Charles Davie

Exhibition of Photographs
Work of Mr W. C. Davies
Institute of Horticulture Delegates Attend
Delegates to the annual conference of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture yesterday afternoon attended an exhibition of photographs of the New Zealand flora and vegetation by Mr W. C. Davies, Hon. F.R.P.S., late curator of the Cawthron Institute Museum.  The Mayor of Nelson, Mr J. A. Harley, who is resident off the Nelson District Council of the Institute, introduced Mr E. R. Neale, M.P. who officially opened the exhibition at the Suter Art Gallery.

Mr Neale paid a warm tribute to the photographic work of Mr Davies who was the first photographer appointed to the Cawthron Institute staff. Mr Davies' work as a scientific photographer was well known throughout New Zealand and overseas. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, an honour gained only for distinguished services in photography.

Mr Neale, who is chairman of the Cawthron Trust Board, said the delegates, when they visited the Cawthron Institute would see Mr Davies' photographs on glass and in the speaker's opinion that was the finest photography he had ever seen. Since Mr Davies officially severed his connection with the institute staff he had been working on the preparation of a book entitled "New Zealand Native Plant Studies." Most of the photographs in the exhibition would be included in the book, the script for which was now nearly ready. Mr Neale hoped the work would encourage more people, particularly the younger ones to takes a greater interest in the native flora and vegetation.

After thanking Mr Neale, Mr Davies extended a welcome to the visitors. He said he had a definite idea in his mind in starting his work. It was clear to him that the native vegetation was as disappearing so quickly that within a few years it would be impossible to secure photographs which could be obtained now.

Mr Davies gave a short explanatory talk on the photographs in the exhibition which enabled those present to view them with greater appreciation and understanding. The exhibition included 80 big enlargements and 160 illustrations which had been prepared for publication in his book.

Mr Harley commented that Nelson was fortunate in having people of Mr Davies' skill and knowledge, who made their services and talents available to the public for exhibitions and lectures.

In the middle room at the Art Gallery a series of 21 reproductions of masterpieces by German artists of the sixteenth century, Durer and Holbein, was exhibited.

The exhibition will be open each day this week and on Sunday afternoon.
[from cutting from unknown Newspaper] 

Mr W. C. Davies, Hon. F.R.P.S., who had a reputation which extended beyond New Zealand for plant photography, died at Hamilton on Saturday at the age of 79. He was curator of the Cawthron Institute from 1920 to 1945 when he retired. He had been engaged for some years on a photographic illustration of New Zealand native flora as a whole.

More than 50 years ago when engaged as a school teacher, Mr Davies acquired a microscope lens and built himself a camera with which he took photographs to illustrate his lessons. The experiment was a great success and after being a hobby, then a sideline, scientific photography became his life work. He was a New Zealand pioneer in microscopic photography, or photo­micrography as it is technically called.

It was as headmaster of the Mauriceville West School that Mr Davies introduced school gardening on a scientific basis for the first time in New Zealand. His experiments attracted the attention of the authorities and, in 1903, he was made organising instructor in rural science for the Wellington district. In this work he found his photography a great help in illustrating, various subjects and he was frequently called on to supply illustrations for scientific reports and papers. After returning to school-teaching as head master of the Greytown District High School for a period he took up his appointment with the Cawthron Institute. Photography is used at the institute for many purposes but for some years before his retirement Mr Davies' major task was a photographic survey of the native flora of the northern section of the South Island.

Mr Davies was a regular Royal Photographic Society exhibitor and was awarded a fellowship of the society in 1934. In 1932 he gained the society's medal — the only one awarded that year — for a photograph of New Zealand native flora. An honorary fellowship of the society, an honour reserved for distinguished photographers who have been instrumental in developing the art or science of photography, was conferred on him in 1937.

Mr Davies was educated at St. Stephen's Maori School, Parnell, of which his father, Mr J. E. Davies, was headmaster for many years, and the Auckland College and Grammar School, and took science courses at the Auckland University College. He was in the service of the Auckland and Wellington Education Board from 1888 to 1920, including 7 years as organiser of agricultural subjects to teachers under the Wellington Board.

He was appointed curator of the Cawthron museum, and photographer to the Institute in 1920. He was a member of the Quekett Microscopical Club, of London, and also of the British Ecological Society.

Mr Davies was a widower and leaves a son and two daughters.
[from cutting from unknown Newspaper

Some photographs by W. C. Davies were published in The Vegetation of New Zealand, by Leonard Cockayne, Hafner Publishing Company, 1958, London

[1] Nelson City Council Cemeteries Database.

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