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Samuel Carnell

The Press described him as “a fluent, rapid speaker, of extreme Radical views, verging on downright Socialism… He is, however, out of politics a genial, though excitable man, but very suspicious of the motives of those opposed to him”. He was a sharp and forthright speaker who rattled the conservatives by maintaining the backbone of the country was the working class and the small settlers.

The conservative Hawke’s Bay Herald wrote, “His gospel is a simple one. Every man who has by thrift acquired greater wealth than Mr. Carnell, and invested it inland, is a blood-sucking scoundrel, to be treated as a social pariah and taxed out of existence. All iniquity lies on the side of wealth; all virtue in poverty and thriftlessness. The well-to-do must be robbed and dragged down, though how that is to benefit those below is not clear to ordinary minds, though it may be to Mr. Carnell”.

This was Samuel Carnell who became Member of the House of Representatives for Napier and later its Mayor.

He was born in Nottingham into a family of lacemakers. As many lacemakers did, his family worked in France for a time and that experience molded his liberal values. He and his brother would both become photographers.

 He married, the Carnell’s had two sons and they sailed for New Zealand. Samuel tried his hand in the goldfields but soon turned to photography, working for a time with other photographers in Nelson and Auckland before settling in Napier.

Carnell is famous for his portraits of Ngati Kahungunu and other prominent Hawke’s Bay people of the late nineteenth century but his influence went much wider than just his photographs. He was prohibitionist at a time when the struggle for women’s suffrage was very clearly identified with the temperance movement and he was elected Member for Napier in the 1893 election, the first to include women, swept up in a great wave of liberal sentiment. 

He was a faithful supporter of Seddon, allegedly to the point of sycophancy, and Seddon, confidant of his support, gave him little in return. He was replaced at the next election, but continued in public life, accepting the Napier mayoralty soon afterward.

Samuel Carnell
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