John Crombie


The lure of gold brought thousands of men to the Antipodes in the 1800s. Glasgow-born John Crombie arrived in Melbourne at the height of the goldrush in 1852, but unable to find work as an engineer took a job with Meade Brothers, an American photographic firm. In 1855 he disembarked in Auckland and opened his own daguerreotype studio in Shortland Street.

By all accounts Crombie had a meteoric rise as a professional photographer, claiming that he took over 1,000 portraits during his first 15 months in Auckland. A superb marketer, he claimed that the governor granted him the right to call himself ‘Photographer to His Excellency’, and advertised himself as such during his two year ‘Southern Provinces’ tour.

On his return to Auckland in 1859 he set up a new studio on Queen Street – ‘a most perfect studio of photographic art’. Within three years he had returned to Europe, for both business and pleasure, learning about recent advances in photography and marrying Harriet Berry (with whom he had seven children) prior to returning to New Zealand in 1864.

With his carte-de-visite trade flourishing, Crombie invested in real estate and mining operations, and was one of the first photographers in Auckland to record outdoor scenes, always keeping an eye on events that might catch the public's imagination.

Crombie sold his studio to one of his competitors, J. Cater, in 1872 and returned to England. He died in Melbourne in 1878 on a trip to check out his New Zealand investments.

Adapted by Andy Palmer from the DNZB biography by William Main

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