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Emma Cheeseman

Painter and taxidermist (1846-1927/28)

When the Cheeseman family arrived in Auckland in 1854, an eight-year-old Thomas Cheeseman rushed forward to collect a tree fern frond growing on the foreshore.1 How his sisters Emma, Ellen and Clara became interested in New Zealand botany is less known. Women were generally excluded from scientific botany, but were often members of small enthusiast societies. When Thomas Cheeseman became the founding secretary of the Auckland Naturalists Field Club in 1882, his sisters were also members.2

Emma Cheeseman was a talented artist, and her brother – curator of the Auckland Museum for nearly 50 years – would ask her to draw specimens for him. One example was her paintings of sea slugs, done because it was impossible to preserve their colour. The museum also had difficulty in finding any taxidermists to prepare animal specimens, and Emma took this on. She would prepare and sometimes even mount the birds3,4; an unusual occupation for a young woman in the 19th century.

Image: Emma Cheeseman. Source: Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-NEG-C27066


1. ‘Thomas Cheeseman (1846-1923) | NZETC’, accessed 30 July 2017, http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-SamEarl-t1-body1-d14-d3.html.

2.  Catherine Field-Dodgson, ‘In Full Bloom: Botanical Art and Flower Painting by Women in 1880s New Zealand’, 2003, p.  57, http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/handle/10063/4681

3. Rewa Glenn and Elizabeth Johnston, The Botanical Explorers of New Zealand (AH & AW Reed, 1950), p. 162.

4. B.J. Gill, ‘Bird Collections Made by the Cheeseman Family: A Record of the Avifauna of Auckland, New Zealand, in the Late 19th Century’, Notornis 54 (2007): 189–96.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary