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Based on text from the original book: Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988
Gael Newton, 1988 Australian National Gallery


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The daguerreotype and collodion photography in the 1850s-1860s

The discovery of gold in New South Wales and Victoria in the early 1850s brought another influx of people from the Northern Hemisphere. Between 1850 and 1860 the population almost trebled from under half a million, to well over a million, although Australian society remained solidly Anglo-Saxon. Lacking friends and family, people came together, often in short-lived odd partnerships, to dig for gold or exploit the business opportunities of the fields. It was a socially dynamic era in which a certain egalitarianism and laconic humour in the Australian national identity may have begun.

Professional photographers also arrived with the tide of immigrants, and quite a few unsuccessful diggers turned to that new growth industry, photography, to make a living. Itinerant and professional studio photographers were sustained by the new affluence, by their clients' desire to send likenesses 'home', and by the overseas interest in what was happening in Australia.

This period in Australian photography saw the finest production of the intimate, richly cased daguerreotype, and also its eclipse after 1858 in favour of the new wet collodion glass negative and albumen paper print which proved an irresistible commercial combination, especially since both processes were patent free. The glass negative gave the detail of the daguerreotype and the reproducibility of the negative-positive calotype process. The new albumen-coated paper also overcame the poor definition of the earlier paper photographs

By the mid-1850s many studios could provide collodiotypes, or 'glass pictures' as they were variously called, although some like the Freeman Brothers in Sydney found clients preferred the older daguerreotypes for portraiture(1).

The potential of the new multiple print system called forth what can only be described as a campaign for paper photography. It was as if the future of photography was unquestionably perceived by the professional and amateur alike, to lie in the new method. This in turn gave rise to two major forms: the private portrait album and the trade in views.

The period was enriched by two variants around 1854; the introduction of stereoscopic photography, and the collodion positive or ambrotype, as it is known. The latter was rich in detail and cased like the older daguerreotype. It was made by converting the wet plate negative into a unique positive image by the addition of a black backing.

An enthusiasm for paper photography and a new alliance of amateurs and professionals also characterise the I850s. It was the era of lectures on photography, societies and exhibitions. Overseas more specialist photography journals appeared, and locally there was a steady increase in the use of photographs in the illustrated publications.

A new market for urban views and landscape photographs was opened up with the growth of the illustrated papers and newsletters of the 1850s, whose illustrations often carried the by-line 'From a photograph'(2).

A number of American daguerreotype photographers arrived in the I850s and setup some of the leading studios of the next few decades. One of the earliest immigrants was Samuel Evans who arrived in Western Australia in 1853, the second photographer there since Robert Hall's pioneering visit of 1846. He set up a Daguerrean Gallery, first at Fremantle, then Perth. His brother-in-law, the Englishman Alfred P. Curtis (1830-1902) who arrived in 1852, took a position as a teacher at Perth Boys' School. By 1858 Curtis was working as a photographer out of school hours.

Evans later worked as a clerk, perhaps because the size of Perth and environs were insufficient to support a fulltime daguerreotype studio. Curtis continued to work into the 1860s when he made views of the city on the collodion process. No examples of Evans' or Curtis' daguerreotypes have been identified. A good scattering of daguerreotype portraits, and one view of a Perth street, exist in collections in Western Australia(3).

Thomas Glaister (w.1854-1870), who claimed to have started photography in 1841, came from the New York studio of Meade Brothers & Co, and set up the American Australian Portrait Gallery in Sydney in April 1855, after spending a year in Melbourne. Glaister brought the technical sophistication, size and style of American photography to his Australian work, both in the daguerreotype and collodion processes.

Shortly after his arrival in Sydney, Glaister claimed to have introduced stereoscopic photography to the country. He made a particularly fine stereo daguerreotype portrait around 1858 of Professor John Smith, himself an early wet-plate process amateur photographer(4).

As early as 1852, Douglas T. Kilburn's brother William, in London, had sent him examples and information on stereoscopic photography. The former then demonstrated the process in Hobart in 1853. Stereo daguerreotypes were made in Sydney the following year. Stereoscopic photography was first developed in 1849 and became popular after improved methods were displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Stereographs on paper were well established by 1858.

The American brothers Perez (Mann) (1818-1873), Benjamin (1826-1891) and Nathaniel (1827c.-1860) Batchelder worked chiefly in Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s and 1860s. Perez had previously worked as an itinerant photographer making daguerreotypes on the Californian goldfields(6). He and Benjamin Batchelder set up the Melbourne studio of P.M. Batchelder in 1852 and by 1860 Benjamin also opened a branch studio in the important goldfield's town of Sandhurst (now Bendigo).

Alexander Fox from England (w.1856-1870), had already been at work in Bendigo, having opened a daguerreotype studio there in 1856. He switched to collodion and made a series of views of the town in 1857 which were later sold as an album and used for a number of lithographed illustrated newsletters drawn by Arthur J. Stopps (1833-1931)(7).

Townsend Duryea (1823-1888) from New York, arrived in 1852 as an experienced professional photographer. He worked in partnership with Alexander McDonald (w.1853-1897), in Melbourne, and then in Hobart, before forming Duryea Brothers with his brother Sanford (w.1855-1859) in Adelaide in 1855. From this base the Duryeas toured the regional towns, and Sanford worked in Perth and surrounding districts from 1857-1859. The Duryea studio, which Townsend operated alone from 1863, was a leading one in Adelaide until 1875. Only one daguerreotype by Townsend has been identified(8).

Perez Batchelder recruited into his studio other immigrants such as Walter B. Woodbury (1834-1885) who arrived from Manchester, England in 1852, intending to work on the goldfields. To make a living he turned to the usual round of odd jobs available to the floating work force, and later worked as a surveyor's assistant using his training as a mechanical draughtsman. By 30 January 1853, Woodbury had acquired a camera obscura and could 'take a good likeness'(9). These were probably collodiotypes, as he is recorded as having learnt this process in England before departure(10).

By 1854 Woodbury had opened a studio in Melbourne and in the same year was awarded a medal for 'nine collodion views on glass' (possibly ambrotype or positive transparencies) at the exhibition in Melbourne of works to be sent to the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. Perez Batchelder employed him part time in 1855 as 'the best glass artist' in Melbourne(11).

Woodbury's only surviving Australian work is an album dated 1853-1857 that is held by the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England. These are some of the earliest wet plate images made in Australia. His panoramic sequences of two and eight views of Melbourne dated 1853 and 1854 respectively, previously thought to be the earliest photographic panoramas made in Australia, appear to have actually been taken in 1857(12). Woodbury's album contains small prints, many from stereographs, and includes some very lively portraits and views of the goldfields and surrounding towns. He left Australia in 1857 and later achieved fame for his technical wizardry that included in 1864 the development of the Woodburytype, a photomechanical reproduction process. The only known view daguerreotype of the 1850s related to the gold rushes is a view of the post office at the major gold mining town of Beechworth, Victoria, taken in 1857 by local studio of Ackeley & Rochlitz(13). It was one used for a series of lithographs of the town, which like Stopps' lithographs of Bendigo were probably used as illustrated letter paper(14).

Bela Rochlitz was Hungarian, and had tried his luck on the gold fields before turning to photography around 1855. Rochlitz later recorded his experiences as an itinerant collodion photographer in New South Wales in the early 1860s. He described how he tracked potential business by heading for the nearest thread of smoke on the horizon hoping it meant people not bushfires(15). Rochlitz' account also shows how itinerants eking out a precarious trade could survive by relying on the tradition of bush hospitality.
Most properties were far apart, and still are off the beaten track of twentieth-century photo-historians. It is likely that our picture of rural daguerreotype work in Australia will improve as more works are unearthed in pastoral homes. Ambrotype views of properties such as Rochlitz took in the early 1860s are quite numerous.

None of the daguerreotype photographers who worked in Australia after Goodman are known to have bothered with licences from Beard. Englishman James Freeman (1814-1890) arrived in Sydney in 1854 to join his brother William (1809-1895) who had arrived the year before. He had previously purchased the daguerreotype licence for Somersetshire from Beard in 1848(16). However, by around 1855 Daguerre was dead and Beard and Talbot had ceased to prosecute infringers of their respective daguerreotype and calotype patent rights.

The daguerreotype in the balance

George Goodman made some ten thousand portraits and view daguerreotypes in his four and a half years in business. Some two hundred photographers were at work in Australia from the 1840s to the early 1860s, although few studios after 1855 were exclusively daguerrean galleries. The number of daguerreotypes produced in these years probably reached one hundred thousand, of which only a few hundred are known to have survived.

We know from newspaper advertisements and exhibition catalogues that view daguerreotypes were consistently made from 1843, when Goodman depicted 'the rising metropolis' of Hobart. These records of the growth of settlements and the modification of the landscape were not as numerous as the portraits and unfortunately their inherent historical value has not ensured a better fate for them than the private portraits.

The expense of daguerreotype portraits limited them to members of the landed gentry or professional class. Few clerks, artists or shopkeepers seem to have had their portraits taken. One publican, Edward McDonald, in Sydney, was photographed by J.W. Newland in 1848, and Hobart auctioneer and parliamentarian, Thomas Lowes, was most unusual in sending a portrait of himself in his undershirt to relatives in New South Wales around 1850(17).

Most daguerreotypes were made at the client's request. No examples of officially commissioned portraits or views are known. The celebrated dancer Lola Montez (1818-1861) was photographed during her sensational tour of Sydney, the goldfields and Melbourne in 1855-1856, but only one daguerreotype thought to be her image is known in Australia(18).

Australian daguerreotypes also tend to be on the smaller ninth, sixth, and quarter plate sizes and are typically of single subjects or couples shown head and shoulders or to the knees. A member of the Murray family of the Yarralumla property, New South Wales, was portrayed full length in what appears to be his working garb of knee-high leather gaiters and boots(19). Professor John Smith of Sydney University went to the trouble of assembling his chemical equipment in Thomas Glaister's Sydney studio for his portrait of c.1858. Such references to a sitter's work are rare.

Family group portraits were quite common and regardless of the plate size, studios like Thomas Bock's often charged as much as ten shillings extra per head(20). It was most unusual for a group of men to have themselves photographed at a gathering, as the unknown subjects of a half-plate appear to have been. Perhaps they were actors for their apparently informal poses and expressions would have to have been held for some time. The party scene is also taken outdoors, suggesting it was specially set up for the photographer.

In an age of high mortality, regardless of social level, photographs of children had a special appeal beyond the natural desires of parents to fix the image of their offspring at their most innocent, charming and dependent. Children presented great problems to portrait painters and photographers alike, as both required holding poses for long periods(21). Many babies are shown asleep in family portraits.

Mortuary portraits of children or adults were regularly advertised by studios, but none were located for this account.

One previously little known collection of daguerreotype and ambrotype portraits c. 1855-1860 related to the Mortlock family of South Australia, illustrates the way in which new discoveries can change our image of early Australian photography. The collection contains over a dozen daguerreotypes whose quality and unusual subjects are rarely seen in individual portraits, let alone grouped in specific collections(22).

The most striking of the portraits are of Jemima, the wife of Jacky-Master Mortlock (it seems some Aboriginal servants were described thus in terms of their masters). One shows her in a beige crinoline with baby, William Mortlock squirming and laughing on her knee, suggesting she was perhaps a nanny, and another on her own in an equally fine frock.

Studio advertisements in the nineteenth century consistently implored clients to avoid light-coloured dress in favour of dark materials which showed up better. The combination of Jemima's dark face and expanse of light frock, the laughing child, and the fact that in one shot she was photographed alone, indicating her importance to the family, are all situations which by definition seemed outside the range of Australian daguerreotype work.

The existence of the Mortlock collection is a testament to one or more photographers' talents and willingness to push beyond the accepted limits of the profession. Other portraits, including a triple portrait of Margaret Mortlock, her sister Elizabeth Haigh, and John Love c.1860 also feature light frocks and fine toning. Another of Mrs Margaret Mortlock and her daughter Mary, of c. 1855, confirms that a fine standard of work could be maintained in one of the main cities over a number of years.

Other genres such as narrative tableaux, still-life studies, nudes, and humour are as rare as scientific applications in Australian daguerreotype work. Daguerreotype records of events are also extremely unusual, the only known example being a small daguerreotype held by the National Gallery of Victoria showing the laying of the foundation stone for the new clock tower in the square at Geelong, Victoria in 1856. More unusual still is an 1856 daguerreotype of Mr and Mrs W.H. Walker's newly erected pre-fabricated house Rose Cottage, in Alexander Street, Prahran, Victoria(23). The Walkers are shown in their backyard, and the rooster moved a little too fast to become one of the first animals recorded in an Australian photograph. This is a rare picture of domestic life.

Only a handful of outdoor daguerreotypes are known, of which the Newland view of Murray Street, Hobart, of 1848, is both the earliest and most impressive(24).

The ambrotype 1854—1862

Often seen as a poor relation to both the unique daguerreotype and the reproducible paper print, the ambrotype is not given its due. Far more of these were made than daguerreotypes, or have survived from the brief decade of popularity. The ambrotypes were cheaper being on glass plates, clearer as they had no reflections like the daguerreotype, and could be more easily coloured.

Thomas Glaister was the master of the ambrotype portrait in Australia. He made finely dye-coloured enamelled portraits (on plates up to 43 by 56 centimetres) including topical ‘news' pictures such as the portrait of the lone survivor of the wreck of the Dunbar in 1857 who was shown close-up(25). The ambrotype was quite often used for recording pastoral and domestic properties, and some ambitious townscapes were also undertaken. In 1861 Charles Dicker, storekeeper and prominent citizen of Dunolly, Victoria, made or commissioned at least twenty-four views of the township(26). This burst of local civic pride parallels the trade in views on paper, which grew from the 1860s to become a massive industry turning out thousands of prints of town halls, botanical gardens, banks and institutions, which were bound into elaborate albums.

Paper photographs were made from collodion negatives from their introduction, but ambrotypes were, it seems, preferred until the late 1850s especially as their detail was greater. As the ambrotype could be developed and cased on the spot it suited itinerant photographers.

Some urban views were commissioned for specific purposes. The Bank of Australasia shifted headquarters to Melbourne in 1858 and purchased a large vacant block for 22,250 pounds on the corner of Queen and Collins Streets. In 1861 three consecutive views of the site and all the nearby competitors' banks were photographed as a case for erecting a new and grand building(27).

As the ambrotype was cheaper because of the glass support, it opened portraiture to a broader range of clients than the daguerreotype. The portrait of rather a self-conscious family has an air of what must have been a thrilling new sense of middle-class self-importance. The notion of having a likeness made was no longer something which one 'deserved’ only as a member of the elite.

The formality of most daguerreotypes seems to relax in the ambrotype era due to the shorter exposures. Glaister's large family groups have slightly more expression than earlier portraits and the greater ease and subtlety of colouring in ambrotypes also added life to the images. The ambrotype was still a professional's process, although the means to make them were less complex than for the daguerreotype. Even if made by professionals a new informality appeared in the ambrotype(28) as in the view of Mr and Mrs George and Jane Crouch's wedding breakfast in Hobart of 1861. Children's portraits greatly benefited from the more comfortable procedure of being photographed on short exposures.

The dazzling success of the cheap and reproducible paper photographs from around 1858 onwards consigned both the daguerreotype and ambrotype processes to redundancy. Paper photographs were more flexible in size, easier to colour, suited to illustration, and accessible to the amateur. After the introduction of the small carte-de-visite portrait in the 1860s, photography achieved the destiny predicted for it as the medium of the people.

An early showcase for photography was provided by the exhibitions held in Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne in 1854 of works to be sent to the Paris Universal Exhibition scheduled for 1855. Australia had sent agricultural products to the Great Exhibition of 1851 but the invitation to exhibit at Paris provided one of the earliest opportunities to show the Australian colonies' progress in an international context. The Australian commissioners complained of local indifference to the exhibition, and the final display seems not to have been particularly impressive(29).

By the time of the 1862 International Exhibition in London, however, the colonists began to understand how to present themselves better. A huge pyramid covered in gold leaf was on display representing the amount of gold mined in Australia in the preceding decade.

The potential for photography as a convenient means of providing information about Australia in exhibitions was inaugurated at the Paris preparatory exhibitions. Daguerreotype, collodiotype and calotype views were shown at the three venues.

None of the photographs from any of the 1854 exhibitions have survived. Artist F.C. Terry (1825-1869) made a commemorative lithograph of the Sydney exhibition at the Museum Building based on a daguerreotype of the hall by James Gow (w.1855-1869)(30). Interior views such as the Gow picture were most difficult and rarely attempted.

Although it was a tentative start to the role photography would have, the Paris exhibitions were the most significant early demonstration of the illustrative potential of the medium. It was the era of public exhibitions and also of associations for the promotion of the arts. The Great Exhibition of 1851 had been one of the earliest important displays and from that date photographs were included in public exhibitions. In Paris in 1851 the Société Héliographique had been formed, and the new Photographic Society of Great Britain held their first purely photographic exhibition in London in 1854(31).

The view photographs in the Paris exhibitions were all by professionals whose income was still based on portraiture. Photography was profoundly altered in the late 1850s by the development of the commercial sale of views on paper and the serious practice of photography for its own sake by the new class of collodion amateurs who henceforth became a force in Australian photography.

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List of illustrations used in the original publication (captions may be abbreviated):

P.15: Charles Dicker: London Chartered bank of Australia, Dunolly. 1861

P.16: unknown: Family Group c.1860

P.17: A.J.Stopps:Bruce's quartz crushing machine, Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo c.1857

P.17: Thomas Glaister: Family Group. c.1858

P.18: Walter B. Woodbury: Self-Portrait. 1857

P.18: Walter B. Woodbury: On the road to the diggings, nr Melbourne.c.1865

P.20: unknown: Group of men and women around a table. c.1848

P.20: unknown: Jemime, wife of Jacky, and William T Mortlock. c.1860

P.21: unknown: Southern or back view of Rose Cottage, Prahran. c.1856

P.22: unknown: Wedding breakfast of George Crouch and Jane Brown, Hobart. 1861




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