Augustus Koch – Mapmaker

Rolf W Brednich


Complete with Koch’s own memoirs, this book illuminates the exploration and documentation of early New Zealand.

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Augustus Koch was born in Berlin in 1834. After the 1848 democratic revolution and blacklisting by German secret police he fled to England, became a seaman and fell in love with a passenger en route to New Plymouth. In 1858 he married her and settled in New Zealand.

Koch brought with him one of the country’s first lithographic printing presses and became one of the finest mapmakers in the colony. During his career as a draughtsman for the Department of Lands & Survey in Napier, he produced hundreds of plans, sketches and maps of all kinds. He printed some of his maps on his own press; later, in Wellington, they were often printed by the Government Printing Office. Of the multitude of maps he drew for Public Works only a fraction have survived, but they form an impressive collection, mirroring the process of colonisation and the technical advancement of mapmaking.

Mapmaking has always had a political or at least bureaucratic dimension. In the mapmaker’s work we can see how topographical mapping played an important symbolic role in the attempt to colonise, civilise and extend power over the lands Pakeha had acquired or confiscated from Maori. Koch’s maps — and the illustrations he provided for books by Hochstetter, White and Mackay — formed a significant part of New Zealand’s transition into a Western-dominated dependency.

Read Simon Nathan’s review here.

About the author

Rolf  W Brednich is professor emeritus of cultural anthropology at the University of Göttingen, Germany, having studied anthropology, history and Germanic studies at the universities of Tübingen and Mainz. He was head archive curator and associate professor at the University of Freiburg until 1980, when he became professor and director of the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at the University of Göttingen. He has been the general editor of the Encyclopedia of Folk Tales and the associated periodical Fabula: Journal of folktale studies.

Rolf came to New Zealand in 2000 and worked at the Stout Centre for New Zealand Studies on projects about New Zealand history and culture. He was appointed senior honorary research fellow at the Stout Centre and visiting professor of anthropology at Victoria University in 2002. He has published widely on anthropology and folklore, history and media studies, and has been awarded the prestigious Brothers Grimm Prize from the University of Marburg, Germany, for outstanding research into folklore.

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