The Phantom Canoe: A Legend of Lake Tarawera

Kennett Watkins1888

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Auckland, New Zealand

A phantom canoe was sighted on Lake Tarawera just days before the eruption of Mount Tarawera in June 1886. The Māori guides and tourists who witnessed it told of a waka ‘being vigorously paddled’ towards the mountain. Hailed by the guides, the crew gave no response and then vanished. The apparition was seen as a sign of imminent death and disaster.

Kennett Watkins’s interpretation, two years after the event, dramatically enriches the narrative. While eyewitness accounts varied in their detail, they all claimed that the event occurred during the day. Watkins turns it into a spectral vision at night, the mountain ominously surrounded by cloud and silhouetted by the moon. A zigzag of lightning cuts through the sky, adding to the sense of danger. The sole witness sits in his canoe in the shadows.

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  • Title: The Phantom Canoe: A Legend of Lake Tarawera
  • Creator: Kennett Watkins
  • Date Created: 1888
  • Place Part Of: New Zealand
  • Physical Dimensions: w1858 x h1175 x d70 mm (Without frame)
  • Event: Lake Tarawera, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
  • Artist biography: Kennett Watkins was born in India in 1847. He studied art in France and Switzerland, arriving in New Zealand in 1873, where he first earned his living through photography. Watkins died in 1933.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915
  • External Link: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
  • Medium: oil on canvas

Additional Items

The Phantom Canoe: A Legend of Lake Tarawera (Supplemental)

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