Project Ark collection photographer Eve Welch, left, and technician Sam Chandler with an ambrotype, which is a family photo of famous Scottish painter George Henry that was discovered in Riverton.
While sifting through old microfiche, a cardboard package with a fragile inscription was found in the old Riverton courthouse safe.
Inside the package was an ambrotypic photo of the Fisher family, with “Mr. & Mrs. GE Fisher on the back” written on the back.
Of the six people looking at the black and white photo, the youngest was famed Scottish painter George Henry, from the cohort of artists known as “Glasgow Boys”.
Project Ark collection photographer Eve Welch said after finding out that the couple standing in the back were George and Margaret Fisher, she was eager to learn about their connection to New Zealand.
She had only made the connection to George Henry when she came into contact with one of George and Margaret’s descendants, Michael Turner, in Auckland.
Old Southern weather Chief reporter Michael Turner was able to reveal to Welch that the little boy in the photo was four-year-old Henry.
Turner told Welch that the Fisher couple were his great-great-great-grandparents and the couple married in 1862 and likely emigrated to New Zealand the same day.
Margaret and George were both born in Sorn, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1839 and worked in the cotton mills.
“Michael told me an anecdote that passed down through the family… it’s about George, who came to New Zealand; he was walking to church on Sunday with his family and the owner of the cotton mill rode his way to church on his horse and cart and splashed mud on them, ”Welch said.
“And that was a catalyst for him thinking” well things are terrible here we are not going anywhere the person we work for doesn’t care about us we are leaving we are going to make a new life ”Welch said.
The Fisher couple arrived in Dunedin and legend has it that George walked to Invercargill and Margaret followed him by boat afterwards.
“They worked for a short time at Invercargill and then bypassed Tuatapere,” Welch said.
Welch had no idea how important Henry was until she spoke to her colleagues.
“I guess that’s one of the pleasures of… family research when things like this pop up out of the blue,” Turner said.
Turner had no idea of his connection to George Henry until about 10 years ago, when an American descendant of Henry’s family contacted him.
“You just have to google the boys from Glasgow, and that was a pretty famous group of painters who… rose to prominence in Glasgow between the 1880s and 1890s, it was really their period of point.
“They challenged the more traditional painters who… based in Edinburgh, there was some kind of starchy art, I guess.
“They came up with their own take on art, and it was pretty innovative at the time,” Turner said.
Project Ark is a project to catalog and share Southland heritage collections online. This is a collaboration between Invercargill City Council, Southland District Council and Gore District Council.