From Rags to Riches

Oct 7, 2021

A fascinating ‘rags to riches’ story is the life of Henry Edward Partridge, who joined the Navy in England aged 13 with minimal education to become the wealthy owner of a large collection of Gottfried Lindauer paintings of Maori.

Partridge, who is buried at Purewa Cemetery, was born in London in 1848 and aged 10, began working ten-hour days, six days a week at a cocoa factory. In 1861 he escaped to join the Navy but his career was short lived by injury.

He returned to sea crewing merchant ships working the tea trading route between London and China before sailing to Australia, attracted by the gold rush there, and shortly after, the Buller and Otago goldfields in the South Island.

After a very cold and fruitless search for gold he arrived in Auckland at the end of 1868 where he met his wife, Miriam Antoinette Odlum, with whom he had nine children, though two died in infancy. Henry then moved to Thames to go gold mining making friends with James Mackay, the Government Agent in the Waikato. He accompanied Mackay to Maori settlements and became interested in Maori culture and customs.

Back in Auckland Partridge established a very successful business selling tobacco in Queen Street, and later merging his H E Partridge & Co, General Merchants, with WD & HO Wills (NZ) Ltd in 1919. He met the European painter Gottfreid Lindauer in 1874 and purchased four paintings commemorating the older generations of Maori.

Henry was one of Lindauer’s earliest clients and grew to be his most dedicated patron. Their professional relationship lasted almost 40 years, with Partridge amassing a collection of more than 70 paintings, later known as the Partridge Collection. By 1888 the family was living in a home known as “Aropiri” in Grafton which overlooked the Domain. There he exhibited his love of collecting both paintings and many foreign curiosities.

Between 1901 and 1912 Partridge exhibited his Lindauer collection in a gallery above his Queen Street shop. In 1913 the Partridge Collection, now enlarged to 62 portraits and eight other works,  was loaned to the Auckland Art Gallery. Three years later he gifted the collection to the gallery on condition that 10,000 pounds be raised for the relief of Belgian war refugees. He supported this cause because he had been in Europe at the outbreak of WW1 and greatly admired the Belgian stand against the German forces.

More than 60,000 pounds was raised for the Auckland Belgian Relief Fund by June 1915. Henry Partridge died at his Grafton home on September 12 1931 and is buried at Purewa in Block A, Row 7, Plot 68B. Though he had little formal education he had a great appreciation of literature and art, and is remembered by his family as a loving, hard-working and civic-minded man.

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