Page 5 – Joseph Divis, Waiuta's photographer

Joseph Divis (1885-1967)

Joseph Divis was born on 28 February 1885 at Orlik, near Prague (in what is now the Czech Republic). Details of his early life are uncertain, but it is believed that he spent some time working as a miner in Germany, sending money home to his family. It is likely that this is where he gained experience in photography.

He arrived in New Zealand in February 1909 on the SS Fifeshire, and soon found work as a coal-miner at Blackball on the West Coast. He apparently had his own camera and was soon taking photographs. The first recorded publication of his photographs was in the Auckland Weekly News of 23 May 1912. Over the years he produced many postcards, stereograms and pictures that were sold and published in illustrated magazines.

Later in 1912 Divis moved to Waiuta to work at the Blackwater mine, the first of several spells in the town that would eventually become his home. In June 1913 he visited Germany, where his family was then living. He returned to Waiuta in May 1914, and later moved to the nearby Big River mine.

From 1919 to 1924 he worked at the Martha mine at Waihi in the North Island, before returning to Waiuta. In 1926 he again sailed for Europe, and spent the next four years in Czechoslovakia. After a short spell as a travelling salesman in the Bay of Plenty, selling paintings and photographs, he returned to Waiuta in November 1930, and remained there for the rest of his life. Most of his surviving photographs of the town and mine were taken in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Divis was naturalised in 1936. On his application he recorded, evidently with some satisfaction, that:

I own my own house at Waiuta, it is a four roomed wooden cottage. I am a shareholder in a gold mining enterprise on the West Coast and I am in comfortable circumstances financially.

In March 1939 Divis suffered head injuries in an accident at the Blackwater mine, and spent a considerable period in Reefton hospital. After some time convalescing in a Hanmer sanatorium, in 1940 he was interned as an enemy alien on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour. The reasons for his internment are unclear, as it is hard to see what threat he posed: he had a blameless record, was a naturalised British subject, had not been interned during the First World War, and had still not fully recovered from his head injuries. He was released in 1943 and returned to Waiuta.

Divis worked at the Blackwater mine for several more years, apparently on light duties, but did not undertake any further serious photography. After the mine closed in 1951 he was one of the few people who remained in Waiuta. For a time he acted as the settlement's postmaster; he signed a 1957 letter with the words 'Joseph Divis, Telephonist of this Mystic Ghost Town'

Joseph Divis died in 1967 and is buried in the Reefton cemetery.

How to cite this page

'Joseph Divis, Waiuta's photographer', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/waiuta/joseph-divis, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 28-Apr-2023