In 1885, the Dunedin-based photographer Alfred Burton travelled up the Whanganui River and through the King Country. He was one of the first Europeans to do so after the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s.
Burton’s King Country photographs were made at a pivotal historical moment. The Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) that controlled the area had only made formal peace with the government as recently as 1881. By 1883, the King Country was made accessible to Europeans and within two years construction of the main trunk rail line from Auckland to Wellington began in the area. Burton was travelling with C E Rochfort, who had been a surveyor for the main trunk rail line and was now engaged in surveying a river steamer route to connect with the railway.
Burton's Whanganui/King Country journey resulted in a series of photographs called The Maori at home. Few photographs of Māori had been taken outside of the portrait studio until this time. Burton was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Geographic Society for The Maori at home and photographs he had taken in the Pacific in 1884. As a result of such journeys, the Dunedin firm of Burton Brothers built up one of the largest, and certainly most comprehensive, photographic records of 19th century New Zealand.