George Owen's Brightside, Owens Road Epsom, Auckland NZ

Brightside - a family link

Our ancestry has an enduring genetic fingerprint and if allowed free rein, leads us to endeavours we are passionate about and derive serious enjoyment from pursuing. I did not take up architecture as a career, spending many years engaged in New Zealand’s horticultural industry, during this time becoming a keen amateur photographer.


George was my Great,Great,Grandfather and one of George’s grandsons, Joseph Osbourne Owen (Ossie Owen) was my Grandfather. After his (George's) arrival to New Zealand in 1841,Brightside, in Epsom’s Owens Road, was established by George Burgoyne Owen in the 1850s with the residence built under the guidance of New Zealand Colonial Architect William Mason. Brightside started out as a colonial home and as the Owen family grew to 4 boys and 4 girls more bedrooms, a ballroom and a billiard room were added. Brightside became a fashionable nucleus of 19th century Auckland social life. The land had been a wedding gift from his future Father-in-law, Joseph Osbourne .  George, a silversmith from Sheffield,  had an enduring passion for horticulture and many of the mature trees in the area date from George’s original plantings. After George’s death in 1893 and Selina’s (his widow) death in 1904 the property was sold and became the private Hospital Awanui, before being purchased by the Southern Cross Society and becoming Brightside Hospital. The original house was eventually demolished in the late 20th century to make way for a modern hospital building for Southern Cross.


Ossie Owen qualified as an architect in 1919 and was elected as an Institute Fellow in 1945, practicing in Auckland for many years and becoming quite well known for his traditional English residential designs. Some of Auckland’s commercial buildings of note have his signature also. Ossie Owen lost his practice in the 1930s depression and like many others in the world at that time took whatever work was available in order to feed his family. He later restarted his architectural office in partnership with 2 architect friends and continued successfully until his retirement.


My other Great Grandfather, Alexander Donald Esq. was in the horticultural business establishing the well known Auckland based trading company, A.B. Donald Ltd in 1868. Alec signed off his ship at Dunedin in the 1850s after 8 years at sea on the Atlantic run. He had heard about gold in Gabriels Gully but luck did not favour him and making his way to Auckland he found work with an undertaker, spending his first night resting  in a coffin. He quickly saw opportunity supplying the many large and small trading ships docking at the Auckland wharves. His trading enterprise, which lasted more than 100 years was born. After Alec's death in the UK in 1922, A.B. Donald Ltd was owned and managed by his 5 sons and 1 daughter, James, Agnes, Norman, Alan, Jack and John. The Donald and Owen family paths crossed when my father, John's son Alexander (Bob) Donald married Ossie Owen's daughter, my mother Patricia Owen, in 1946.


As the decades went by, my specialty became vegetable variety development and trialing. Of course photography was a big part of this process recording trial results. Film and macro lenses were the combination then. Early digital showed promise for this work through the 1990s however low resolution and expensive gear limited it’s application. Film still had its place.


Photography took over my professional life in the early 2000s and with my 19th century ancestry coming through strong interest was sparked in Auckland’s built heritage – regretfully too late for Brightside, but able to record much of today’s Auckland. Recording on film what exists around us today has become very important to me as lots of our built history is at risk of destruction through neglect or demolition.

I love vintage cameras and working with film -  discovering 40 year old lenses which are capable of image results surpassing the modern glass of today. I have used and worked with most brands of 35mm and medium format equipment, getting to know, along the way that some are exceptional picture making instruments, whilst others only pretend to be.


 If I can be of assistance to your photographic endeavours in any way please contact me through this website.