Landscape and studio photographer, James Raglan Akersten spent many years living and working around Havelock and Nelson and many of his photographs are in collections at the Nelson Provincial Museum and the Marlborough Museum. James was born in London on the 8th August 1855. His family travelled steerage on the Water Nymph, arriving in Nelson on 16 December, 1865 to join his uncle William.
Around 1869, James began working as an assistant to William Davis, a Nelson photographer. Photography was very new in the 1860s but evolving rapidly. James owned his own photography studio in Nelson for a short time in the early 1880s and then went to work for William Tyree. Here he received excellent training, particularly in outdoor and scenic photography. In 1898 Tyree set up a moveable studio in Havelock and James became its local manager. However he was fired.
With his wife Catherine and four children, James decided to try his luck in Wanganui, where it seems he got a job with a local photographer. The family moved to Auckland and then back to Blenheim where James and Catherine broke up and eventually divorced in 1908. Catherine said James had had a serious alcohol problem for many years, going on long drinking binges.
While he had ongoing problems with alcohol, James’ career progressed well. He was based in Blenheim from 1900 to 1912 and then moved to Havelock permanently where he was manager of the ‘Macey Photographic Studio’. He was to undertake a commission to photograph Brownlee’s Carluke sawmill, with about 30 of those photographs surviving and still in the Marlborough Museum. In 1913 he won the Auckland Weekly News competition for the best collection of ‘New Zealand views’. His work also featured in books and calendars which were published as printing technology developed.
James died on Christmas Day 1928 and was laid to rest in the Havelock Cemetery. It is thought that two or three thousand of James’s photographs may still exist and about 400 of them can be found online.