But, who was E.H. Atkinson?

Cortinarius porphyroideus was a fungus we thought we knew well. It was first described as Secotium porphyrium and later becoming Thaxterogaster porphyreus before its most recent transfer to Cortinarius.  But, as usual, as new techniques and more species are discovered older species concepts are being reviewed. This revision includes Cortinarius porphyroideus and it was found that the type material had not weathered its almost century in storage well and it was almost impossible to extract DNA from it. Now, it so happens the type locality, that is the place that the type specimen was collected from, is in Wellington and I was asked if I could try and collect a fresh specimen of Cortinarius porphyroideus.

Cortinarius porphyroideus, at the type location York Bay, Wellington [photo Geoff Ridley]

G.H. Cunningham described Secotium porphyreum, in 1924, based on a collection made by himself and E.H. Atkinson sometime in 1922. I had first encounter E.H. Atkinson’s name on a number of collections when putting together a list of the larger fungi of the Wellington region part of which, the East Harbour Regional Park list, was used in the  in the Department of Conservation’s Native Plants of the Eastbourne Hills report.

Looking from the beech forest across York Bay to Lower Hutt, May 2019 [photo Geoff Ridely]

But who was E.H. Atkinson? And why was he collecting fungi with G.H. Cunningham in the 1920s? After playing “connect he dots” on the internet …

Mr Esmond Hurworth Atkinson, photographed circa 1928 by S P Andrew Ltd. [photo held National Library]

Esmond Hurworth Atkinson (1888-1941) is best remembered today as an early 20th century New Zealand artist. The Auckland and Christchurch Galleries New Zealand artists database said that he was an artist and a botanist of York Bay, Eastbourne, Wellington. A botanist!

Baring Head – Afternoon, Wellington [watercolour EH Atkinson]

That he was born in Wellington and that he was grandson to Sir Harry Atkinson. As an aside Sir Harry served as the 10th Premier of New Zealand on four separate occasions. Back to Esmond, his parents where  E. Tudor Atkinson and Ann (née Richmond). So his maternal grandfather was the pioneering New Zealand water-colourist James Crowe Richmond (1822-1898), and his aunt who greatly influenced him was the artist Dorothy Kate Richmond (1861-1935).

York Bay 1927 [watercolour Dorothy Kate Richmond]

This is from his grandson:

When Es was seven years old, the family moved to ‘Rangiuru by the Sea’ near Otaki, where the children spent the next five years ‘messing about in boats’, and Es furthered his interest in painting and the natural world. His schooling included a spell at Wanganui Collegiate School, later returning to Wellington College.

On leaving school, he joined the Department of Agriculture, Biological Section, and studied towards a BSc degree. In 1916, he worked his passage to England to enlist in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. On the way he enjoyed short botanising trips ashore at Albany in Western Australia.

In England, he married Alison Burnett, a long-time family friend, and viewed the works of his artistic heroes, Frank Brangwyn and especially JMW Turner, while in officer training.

As a Lieutenant, he served as a signals officer, first in a seaplane carrier, Riviera, on a Mediterranean voyage, and then on the light cruiser Constance, from the deck of which he witnessed, and later painted, the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in the Firth of Forth.

Lieutenant E.H. Atkinson [photo The Lampstand 2015]

Returning to New Zealand in 1919, he transferred from the Biological Section to the Dominion Museum as official artist, but afflicted by epilepsy, he was retired in 1932.

Metrosideros scandens in New Zealand Plants and their Story 1919 [illustration Esmond Atkinson]

He continued to roam back country New Zealand, often with his wife and two sons, and paint many landscapes, until his death in 1941 from an accident resulting from his illness.

Sunrise, Wellington Heads 1927 [watercolour EH Atkinson]

So, as a botanical artist working in Wellington, the centre of biological sciences at that time, for the Department of Agriculture and the Dominion Museum he was mixing with the founding fathers of mycology, G.H. Cunningham, and botany, Leonard Cockayne.


ANZAC Stories: WWI in Watercolours and Ink. The Lampstand: The Annual Magazine for Old Boys and Friends of Wellington College 25 (November 2015): 20  https://docplayer.net/61547509-Lampstand-the-issue-25-remembering-our-fallen-100-years-on-the-annual-magazine-for-old-boys-and-friends-of-wellington-college.html

Atkinson, Esmond Hurworth. Find New Zealand Artists: a database of artist names. This website is a collaborative project between the libraries at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū  https://findnzartists.org.nz/artist/486/esmond-hurworth-atkinson

Atkinson, Esmond Hurworth, 1888-1941. The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa  https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22401763

Cockayne, L. 1919. New Zealand Plants and their Story. 2nd ed. Government Printer, Wellington. Biodiversity Heritage Library https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/12016#/summary

Esmond Atkinson (1888-1941) New Zealand. Australian Art Auction Records  https://www.artrecord.com/index.cfm/artist/3590-atkinson-esmond/medium/2-works-on-paper/?order=1&io=1&count=10&Submit=Refresh

Mr Esmond Hurworth Atkinson. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-013441-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22557798

Sunrise, Wellington Heads. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/42048

Three Generations: J.C. Richmond, D.K. Richmond, E.K. Atkinson. Cristchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū  https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/exhibitions/three-generations-j-c-richmond-d-k-richmond-e-k-at

290, Dorothy Kate Richmond, York Bay, Wellinton. 291, Esmond Atkinson, Baring Head – Afternoon, WellingtonFine and Applied Arts 14 and 15 November 2018. Dunbar Sloane catalogue page 77  https://issuu.com/bravemedia/docs/artnovweb/77



Nature, art, and commerce

When I finished my PhD I had this internal discussion about what I was. Was I scientist or a natural historian. At the end of the day it was politic to a scientist but I knew I was a natural historian. So, when I started this blog I took the opportunity to make it about the natural history of fungi and not just mycology. I was reminded about this over Christmas as I read of Alexander von Humbolt and Ernst Haeckel (see My book reading list), both natural historians, and how they saw art in science and science in art and that the two could not be separated. In Haeckel’s case, he went on to publish Art Forms in Nature, in ten instalments between 1899 and 1904, and it’s said that this publication was a source of inspiration for art nouveau designs as in the advertisement below. Haeckel’s scientific art work has been rediscovered and now features on calendars and greeting cards.

Discomedusae [by Ernst Haeckel]

beer advert [by Alphonse Mucha]

Having been made receptive to this idea by my reading I suddenly noticed the use of fungi in New Zealand “commercial art”.

Big Fresh

When the Big Fresh supermarket opened in Rotorua in the mid 1990 it was a big event. I remember taking my young sons to the opening and queueing to get in. You entered through fresh produce area and around the walls above head height were the animatronic fruit and vegetables singing and dancing to a backdrop of the Pink Terraces (I can’t find a picture of these). What brought this to the front of mind was my son getting me to watch a tongue-in-cheek documentary, Get it to Te Papa, where in episode two they go looking for the lost animatronic fruit and vegetables.

Advert [by The Spinoff]

They manage two find two sets of the them but the owners are reluctant to part with them. However, they final get the mushroom and take it to Te Papa to try and get it into the national museum as a national icon. Te Papa was reluctant to accept it. I must admit I don’t remember the mushroom but I loved seeing it make the journey to Te Papa.

Hayden Donnell and the alternate Te Papa [The Spinoff]

Looking at the two photos above you can see the two mushrooms are bespoke and were unique to each supermarket.

Watch the Big Fresh episode of Get it to Te Papa

Advert [The Spinoff]

Mama Nature

I go walking in the morning before work and I pass several bus stops with lit advertisements. I’d been passing this one every morning for a week when I stopped and looked at it properly. And there on the ground in front of Mama Nature where fungi! The ones on the left look like Russula but not certain about those on the right.

Bus stop hoarding [Keep NZ Beautiful]

Russula and other fungi [Keep NZ Beautiful]

This is an advertisement for Keep New Zealand Beautiful. Going to their website I got the whole advertisement which also included Morchella and some other fungi down by Mama Natures feet.

Russula, Morchella, and others [Keep NZ Beautiful]

Its nice to see fungi being used as something beautiful rather than something disgusting. As well as being used in a positive environmental message. Read about the campaign or watch Mama Nature.