Anon. [for THE WORKING MEN'S EDUCATIONAL UNION]
Interior of a Māori marae
London : The Working Men’s Educational Union, n.d. [circa 1854]. Coloured lithographic wall hanging printed on calico, 1190 x 900 mm, wet stamped lower right ‘PUBLISHED BY WORKING MENS EDUCATIONAL UNION / 43, SKINNER ST. SNOW HILL LONDON / 1852’, and ‘M 10’; original brass eyelets at each corner; old folds, scattered foxing (mostly confined to upper and lower sections of the design), verso with a few small closed tears at top left corner, otherwise a well preserved example, the hand colouring still strong and vibrant.
The Working Men’s Educational Union was a philanthropic organisation founded in London in 1852. One of its aims was to provide free education for the working classes through public lectures at numerous venues across the city. During the 1850s it published at least 400 different large format lithographic wall hangings, which it called ‘Diagrams’, that were designed to illustrate lectures on a wide variety of subjects. They were produced on calico (inexpensive, unprocessed cotton) – apparently to avoid paper duty – and were available for purchase at the Union’s premises in Skinner Street, Clerkenwell and King William Street, near London Bridge. In 1854 the Union advertised a series of these Diagrams titled Missionary Scenes, ‘Being twenty coloured Diagrams upon Missionary Trials, Perils, and Insults, Heathen Superstitions, Cruelties, etc. ; suited for Missionary Lectures. Price, to subscribers, £1 10s., to non-subscribers, £2 5s’ (advertisement contained within the pamphlet The progress of locomotion; being two lectures on the advances made in artificial locomotion in Great Britain, by Benjamin Scott. London, Published by F. Baron, for the Working Men’s Educational Union, 1854).
It is likely that the present Diagram, of which we can trace no other extant example, formed part of this Missionary series. Indeed, it seems reasonable to posit that the ‘M’ preceding the sequence number ’10’ at lower right stands for ‘Missionary’. Although its artist is unidentified, the image is possibly after a published lithograph, perhaps one which appeared in a journal such as the Illustrated London News. Not uncommonly for this period, the image contains a number of inaccuracies. It depicts a Māori chief within a marae, his face with moko, his head adorned with white feathers (tākapu or toroa), a wreath of small flowers, and a pōhoi toroa (a ball-shaped ear ornament made of albatross feathers); he wears a flax cloak with black fringes. Apparently in heathen spiritual reverie, the figure rests with his back against a pou (carved post), the skulls and bones of cannibalised enemies on the ground beside him, their mokomokai displayed on the stakes around the marae enclosure. At lower right, two weapons hang from the plaited textile wall of the enclosure: a Māori whalebone patu, and a Tongan hand club.
The Alexander Turnbull Library (National Library of New Zealand) holds in its collection fifteen lithographic Diagrams produced by the Working Men’s Educational Union. These depict scenes in New Zealand, Australia, the Torres Strait, the Pacific Islands, and South Africa.