Herman John Schmidt

Information about his life, career and the collection held at Auckland Libraries.

Life and career

Portrait of Private Flanton of the New Zealand Maori Pioneer Battalion - 1917.Herman John Schmidt was born in 1872 in Auckland, where he received his photographic training. By 1905 he had acquired the business of Charles Hemus in Queen Street, and in 1906/07 won several awards for his portraits at the Christchurch International Exhibition.

Over the next 37 years he had work accepted for exhibitions in New Zealand and abroad, and won numerous international awards. Schmidt was also a contributor to various publications like the Auckland Weekly News and the New Zealand Home Pictorial. His portraiture was held in such high regard that at one time he was Vice-Regal photographer.

He died in 1959 aged 87.

The Herman John Schmidt collection

Auckland Libraries holds a collection of around 26,000 half plate and whole plate negatives, saved from the attic of a building about to be demolished in Queen Street. It is likely the building housed Schmidt's studio.

About 4,500 of these form the First World War Soldier Portrait series, which have been scanned and are now available in Heritage Images Online. Where possible these portraits have been identified, by careful checking of Nominal Rolls and Schmidt's own registers. This is a magnificent collection showing brave young men leaving for and returning from the battlefield.

The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington also holds a collection of 889 of Schmidt's whole plate negatives.

Identifying the soldier negatives

Most of the negatives have at least a surname scratched onto their edge, many with an initial. This is of the person who booked the sitting and in most cases it is presumed to be the person in the portrait. Most of the soldiers have badges or insignia that can be identified. In addition, the photographs can not have been taken after the date they were entered into Schmidt's accession register, which the library also has. This information was used to cross-reference with entries in the Nominal rolls of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to find the full name, rank and serial number of the soldier.

In many cases this was not possible for a number of reasons: soldiers may have used their nicknames or middle names to book a portrait, but will be in the roll under their given names; they may have changed rank or the unit they were with, or they may have a different spelling for their name. Because of this, it is important to check alternate spellings of names; e.g. Whitly, Whitely, Whitley or Whiteley. Also if you are not certain about a person identified they can be checked in the roll for their next of kin.

We have tried our best to be accurate but please do not hesitate to get in touch if we have wrongly identified your relative, or if you are able to identify properly someone we could not.

We would also be pleased to hear from you if you can identify, or provide further information on, any of the non-military portraits taken by Herman Schmidt.

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