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



The First Photo

Last month I took possession of set of approximately 300 slides that were part of the Levin Native Flora Club slide library – E.F.A. Garner fungi collection. The oldest photograph in this collection is from 1964. This got me wondering what was the oldest photo of a New Zealand mushroom. So, I went looking but with the criteria that the photo had to :

  • Be of what is often called the “larger, fleshy fungi” so excluding brackets and corticioid fungi
  • Have the mushroom as the subject
  • Be of a fresh mushrooms and not of dried herbarium/fungarium specimens

So, going through my books and papers the oldest photos that I know of are in G.H. Cunningham’s The Gasteromycetes of Australia and New Zealand published in 1942. This book contains a number of black and white photos that fit the criteria. There are twenty-five plates/pages of photos taken in the laboratory, and not in the field, and in many cases, it is difficult to tell whether they are fresh or dried. So, I’m only showing the first two plates. In some cases this may be the second publication of a particular photo as Cunningham’s books where compilations of his papers published in the 1920s and 30s. I have noted the earlier dates where I know them and provided the currently accepted name.

Plate 7 has five photos: 1 & 2) Phallobata alba (as Hysterangium lobatum), first published in 1926. 3) Clavogaster virescens (as Secotium virescens), previously published?, 4) Rhizopogon rubescens, previously published?, and 5) Rossbeevera pachydermis (as Gautieria novae-zelandiae), not previously published.

Plate 7 [from Cunningham 1942]

Plate 8 has four photos: 1 & 2) Cortinarius porphyroideus (as Secotium porphyreum), first published 1924, 3) Leratiomyces erythrocephalus (as Secotium erythrocephalum) previoudly published?, and 4) Clavogaster virescens (as Secotium virescens), previously published?.

Plate 7 [from Cunningham 1942]

The next photo was published by the French mycologist Roger Heim who visited New Zealand in 1949. The photo is small and part of a plate of three photos published in 1951. They show Cortinarius elaiochrous (as Cuphocybe olivacea) and Cortinarius alboroseus (as Cuphocybe alborosea) having been collected and laid on log for the photo. This is at The Paradise, north-east of Glenorchy on Lake Wakatipu in beech forest.

[from Heim 1952]

The next photo is from a paper by John Gilmour in 1954. Its shows a cluster of Armillaria sp, probably A. novae-zelandiae but labelled a A. mellea as it was thought at the time, at the base of a eucalypt. The photo is interesting in being the first field photo. I like it as it uses a coin for scale but interestinging a British penny (with Britannia) rather than a New Zealand penny which would have had a tui perched in a kowhai. In the same paper, there is also photos of Armillaria disease symptoms where he uses a New Zealand half crown for scale.

Armillaria sp. [from Gilmour 1954]

The use of and availability of photo of fungi is a recent phenomenon that can be attributed to the easy availability of digital cameras and mobile phones. Before that you hardly ever saw a photo of a fungus in New Zealand.