Edmund Norman

British, b.1820, d.1875

Burkes Pass

Many of New Zealand’s early artists, including Edmund Norman, were surveyors. It was an occupation that required the ability to draw accurately, something Norman excelled at. He was one of the best draughtspersons to work in Aotearoa New Zealand during the 1850s and 60s, and his drawings are breathtaking in their detail. Unfortunately Norman had a drinking problem and in the early 1850s was arrested for drunkenness in Ōhinehou / Lyttelton. By the 1860s he was living a reclusive life working as a station hand in the Te Manahura / Mackenzie Country inland from Timaru. One winter’s morning he was found dead on the side of the road near the Burkes Pass Hotel. It was thought that, in a drunken state after a session at the hotel, he had collapsed on his walk home and succumbed to exposure in the cold night air. Legend has it that he had a bottle of whiskey in one pocket and sketchbook and pencil in the other. His drawings of both Ōhinehou / Lyttelton and Te Manahura / Mackenzie Country remain some of the most accomplished images of the province from this time.

(Pickaxes and shovels, 17 February – 5 August 2018)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Burkes Pass is in the Mackenzie Country area of South Canterbury. Edmund Norman arrived in the area in 1862 when he was hired as a boundary-keeper by the Teschemaker brothers who ran sheep at Haldon Station.

    Norman’s drawing is detailed and accurate, qualities that he would have perfected when he was employed as a surveyor in Wellington and the Manawatu region during the early 1840s.

    Born in Devonport, England, Norman came to New Zealand as a surveying cadet with the New Zealand Company, arriving in Wellington in 1842. Along with all the other surveyors in Wellington, Norman’s employment was terminated in 1845. He spent time in Kaikoura and then settled in Lyttelton in 1854. Although he later worked on the sheep-station, Norman continued to sketch and paint in his spare time and travelled widely with his sketchbooks. On 3 June 1875 he was found dead on the side of the road just south of Burkes Pass where he had been visiting.

  • On the 3 June 1875 Edmund Norman was found dead by the roadside just a kilometre or so south of Burkes Pass. He had spent the previous day and night at the Burkes Pass Hotel. By his side was the sketchbook he always carried. This work initially came from one of these books. At the time of this drawing Burkes Pass Hotel was at the centre of a thriving village. The hotel had been opened in 1861 by James Norman, who, on the day he received his hotel licence, was drowned while crossing the Tangawai River. The hotel was initially operated as the 'Three Creeks Accommodation House'. In 1866, when a rival hotel was established in the village, they changed its name to the 'Burkes Pass Hotel'. In this careful pencil drawing with its faithful attention to the details of the local topography and vegetation Norman has demonstrated his characteristic style. His technique gives careful attention to detail captured with accuracy and precision.