Walter Wright

The Burning of the Boyd, Whangaroa Harbour, 1809

The Burning of the Boyd, Whangaroa Harbour, 1809 by Walter Wright

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Depicting one of the most notorious events in the early European trade with New Zealand, this painting demonstrates a turn-of-the-century focus on local history subjects to foster national identity in art. En route to Cape Town from Sydney in 1809, the Boyd anchored in Whangaroa Harbour, Northland, to load kauri spars and allow Māori passengers to disembark. Contemporary accounts suggest that the flogging of a rangatira during the voyage prompted the events that followed. The captain and crew were lured ashore and massacred, the ship was looted and an exploding barrel of gunpowder killed more people. The artist represents this dramatic moment in an image which successfully integrates two traditional subjects of European art - the battle at sea and the coastal landscape. By using a low viewpoint and placing the waka in the foreground, Wright enhances the impression of a ship under attack, a symbol of civilisation and Christianity succumbing to the dire forces of pagan savages. The symbolism of good and evil extends to the contrast between the Māori, who are shown in shadow, and the Boyd, in clear sunlight. Naturalistic rendering of detail and refined technique are characteristic of Wright and derive from his study at Heatherly's in London and with Stanhope Forbes in Newlyn, Cornwall. (from The Guide, 2001)

The Burning of the Boyd, Whangaroa Harbour, 1809
Production date
oil on canvas
1248 x 1770 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Auckland Picture Purchase Fund, 1908
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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