By all accounts Sam Feaver was a kind and considerate man, often putting the needs of others, including animals, before himself. He was also man of unlimited patience - a very good trait in a photographer. A chemist, vet, optician, insurance agent and professional shutterbug, Samuel was known for his rhyming doggerel which was often published in the Opunake Times.
“A short time ago, boys, an Irishman
Was elected to the senate by a very
He was so related that he sent for Dennis
Who owned a barum of a very large
Sam often drove his car at the same speed as his singing, which produced a wild and woolly ride. It's said that when he hit a high note he sometimes closed his eyes, and people hid in ditches in case he offered them a ride.
“He said to Cassidy, 'Go over to the
Order up a keg of beer and give it to the
Go over to the butcher shop and order up
a ton of meat,
See that the boys and girls have all they
want to drink and eat…”
As a father, Sam was imaginative and fun, with thirteen kids in his brood. “He never kept count of his children and often arrived with his Model T loaded up with a few too many strangers or a couple of his own kids missing” his daughter Pat Rogers once said. “I loved to travel to cases with him, every mile an entertainment and an adventure. He had a fine singing voice and gift of the muse, composing comical jingles about anything we saw along the way, even a frog squashed on the road. We sailed along at an uneven pace, the rate of progress depending on the metre of the song, while his foot tapped up and down on the accelerator. We made frequent stops to investigate all Nature's little quirks and marvels, engendering in us a love of our surroundings…”
Once, after boasting how little petrol his car used to go round the mountain, a crowd of people turned out asking Sam to prove it. Sam took to the road and after many hours of journeying was back again. According to Pat, his calculations were perfectly correct. “He wasn't into hyperbole,” she said.
Born in 1878 in England, one of seven children of John Feaver and wife Kate, Sam was educated in Hastings, UK, where he began a pharmacist apprenticeship. After the family immigrated to New Zealand in 1895, they arrived in Wellington before setting sail for New Plymouth. From there they moved to Opunake, where John bought a pharmacy and a bush section on Ihaia Rd.
For a while, Sam worked on the farm with his brother Richard, clearing and turning the bush into pasture. The pair lived in a tent until a homestead was built and the rest of the family moved in. In 1900, Sam's mother and father moved to a house in town they bought from the Newman family. Sam married Catherine Lousa Gwladys Layard and took over the farm.
As a man Sam seems to have been one of a kind, someone who would treat a sick animal with the same compassion as he would an ailing human being. With no doctor in the district he often treated people, sometimes as a dentist. When a horse stuck his head into his bedroom while Sam was on his deathbed, he hardly blinked. Instead, he raised himself on an elbow and treated him on the spot.
It seems that Sam Feaver filled every role that opened for him, accidentally or by design. During the terrible flu epidemic of 1918, he and a hospital matron ran a 28-bed hospital and administered to the sick in surrounding districts:
The Chemists in many places in Taranaki have had to take a pull and lay up owning to the stress of hard work in attending to epidemic orders. In Opunake, we are blessed with a hardy dispenser and we know for certain that many nights his rest was scant and his meal hours more erratic than the weather.”
He joined the Opunake Mounted Rifles for a year and became Commissioner of the Opunake Town Board. A member of the Home Guard during the Second World War, Sam was also director of the Opua Road Co-operative Dairy Company for more than 20 years. He became a foundation member of the Opunake Hibernian Society and joined St Joseph's Church committee and choir. It was rumoured the only time Sam Feaver slept was in church.
But it was his skill as photographer that made curators jump for joy in 1974, at the offer of some 10,000 Feaver negatives for their archives. The negatives, which had long been stored in a corrugated iron shed next to the original chemist shop, formed what is now known as The Feaver Collection.
Many date back to when Sam's father first offered studio photographs at his shop in 1896, through to when Sam took over the business in 1912. They follow the partnership until John died in 1938 and Sam alone took photos till 1942 when the business closed.
Mr J. Feaver notified that during the Fancy Fair he will take cabinet photographs, taking each sitter in two positions for 5s per doz.”
Along with the plate glass negatives came four catalogue books donated by the Cavaney family in 1993. The Taranaki Museum, published some unidentified photographs in the Opunake and Coastal News in the hope they'd be identified - and they were. “That's me!” Edward Bayliss cried when he recognised himself in a 1939 photograph taken with his sister Marlene.
A $60,000 Lottery board grant went towards the cost of cleaning, printing and re-housing the negatives and while many negatives were processed into prints, those that weren't can still be requested from an index that lists them by name and date.
Though Samuel Russell Feaver died of cancer in 1946, his vivid photographs can still be found in nearly every Taranaki history book. The Feaver Collection is still pored over, by locals and historians alike. Without it, entire generations would have no idea of what the early coastal settlement of Opunake and its inhabitants once looked like.
Puke Ariki Heritage Collection: Feaver CollectionLink