photo - web

photography - australian - essays - books - collections - asia pacific  - & more.    Contents Page



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


Chapter 6    Expeditions, Excursions and Expositions


footnotes  |  contents  next chapter  |  search-shades


Photography on the move and on display, 1850s-1900

Photography arrived in Australia too late for the heroic first expeditions into the interior of the continent. However, the medium did play an increasingly important role in satisfying European and local curiosity about the country during the nineteenth century.
At mid-century much of Australia still had not been explored or mapped. A number of rivers seemed to flow inland and it was hoped a sea existed in Central Australia. However, exploration had already indicated the heart of the land was a desert. In 1846, in response to the vagueness of exploration narratives from Australia, the English Art Union magazine pointed out that:

were Talbotypes taken of some of the spots where water had been discovered, we should, ere long, have plans organised for a systematic exploration of Central Australia(1).

A jolly vision - despite its naivety about the difficulties of both exploration and photography in regions of minimal rainfall. Indeed, only a few expeditions into the interior of Australia even had artists attached to the party(2).

Little progress was made after 1845 in exploration or photography of the far interior. There was a proposal to assign a photographer to Augustus Gregory's (1819-1905) Northern Australian Expedition of 1855-1856, but painter Thomas Baines (1820-1875) was appointed instead(3). Given the difficulties the expedition had with supplies of drinking water, it is unlikely any water could have been spared for photographs to be made. Nor could they have been as action filled as some of the scenes Baines included in his copious records of the expedition. As late as 1858 the Sydney Magazine of Science and Art noted that the continent still 'refused to yield its secrets'. Undeterred, the writer scorned the notion that the centre was an arid stony desert and recalled the proposal of English aeronaut, Charles Green (1785-1870), to fly across the territory in a balloon(4).

None of the great expeditions into unknown territory in Australia had official photographers, although explorers had their photographs taken, as in the case of Robert Burke and William Wills prior to their departure into the interior in 1860. Theirs was the most lavishly equipped and funded expedition of its day and ended in the death of the two leaders and other members of the expedition but, curiously, no particular record of the grand departure of the expedition was made(5).

One of the earliest known applications of photography was on more modest scientific expeditions undertaken by Polish naturalist and artist William Blandowski (1822-1883) in his capacity as Government Zoologist in charge of the Museum of Victoria. Blandowski carried a camera on his first expedition to central Victoria in 1854 (as did Mr Brown, another member of the party), and on his third expedition to the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers. Photographs appear to have been used as the basis for several engravings in Blandowski's rather poetic portfolio Australia terra cognita of 1855-1856. Scientific use of them for illustration is known although most of Blandowski's work has been lost(6).

Richard Daintree

Geologists were among the earliest scientific groups to use photography in their fieldwork(7). Alfred Selwyn's display of daguerreotypes in connection with the Geological Survey of Victoria in 1854 has been noted. By 1859 two other members of his staff, Richard Daintree and Charles Wilkinson (1843-1891) were using photography. Their photographs were subsequently used as the basis of illustrations in reports or for displays(8).

In the late 1850s art could fulfill documentary, scientific and aesthetic functions simultaneously, as is well illustrated in the evolving career of Richard Daintree. Landscapes with geological features had been included in his commercial views album Sun Pictures of Victoria of 1858.

He used his own geological photographs for official reports, other specialised publications and in the illustrated papers. As well he sold views to commercial stereograph companies(9).

In 1859, the painter George Gilbert was employed by the Museum of Victoria to colour some of Daintree's photographs for display purposes. Daintree must have been pleased with the response to these enlivened images as he consistently had his photographs coloured for exhibitions for the rest of his career.

Daintree moved to Queensland in 1864 to try life on a pastoral property but soon took up his geological explorations, first privately, then from 1867 as Government Geologist for northern Queensland. During his extensive travels in search of gold and other mineral resources, often in remote districts, Daintree energetically pursued his photography. Lugging all the equipment for wet plate work, which could amount to over twenty-two kilograms, cannot have been easy to fit in with his pastoral or official duties. Daintree made a 'dry' preservative solution of his own from the resin of the eucalyptus tree, which extended the life of his plates and dispensed with the need to carry chemicals and trays(10). Daintree's photographs are well represented in the Oxley Library and Museum of Queensland and the La Trobe Library in Melbourne. His Queensland work is the largest and earliest body of views of the northeast.

Daintree's technical innovations are attested to by the different cameras and processes he used over the years which included standard plate, stereoscopic, and Sutton panoramic cameras, handcoloured prints and positive and transmission views on glass, as well as elaborate painted-over enlargements made for him by the Autotype Company in London in 1875. The energy Daintree expended on making his photographs more appealing was recognition of the value of the medium for promotion and public communication(11).

In 1870 Daintree organised a highly successful display on Queensland for the London Exhibition of Art and Industry of 1871, using his photographs and collection of mineral samples. As a consequence he was appointed Agent General for Queensland in London, where his responsibilities included promoting emigration to the underdeveloped colony.

Photography was a major resource in achieving this objective. In 1872 Daintree published a guide for emigrants, Queensland, Australia, with collotype illustrations from his photographs and another folio of his Queensland views was published with autotype illustrations called Twelve Illustrations of Life and Scenery in Queensland, c.1872(12). His photographs illustrating life in Queensland were shown at a number of international exhibitions, including the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876.

One image which Daintree used on several occasions was Bush Travellers, Queensland c.1864-1870. It was one of the enlargements made for him by the London Autotype Company and was heavily painted over in oil colour, stretched onto canvas, and probably originally framed to resemble a painting(13). The composition in fact resembles a famous painting of 1863 by French artist Edouard Manet (1832-1883); Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. Daintree is not known to have had a particular interest in painting but he was using the same popular iconographic tradition of the picnic, or féte champetre, which influenced Manet(14).

The picnic is a civilised man's dream of being 'at home' in the landscape, and a very potent image to a pioneer generation involved in taming the land and its native inhabitants. Daintree's scene seems staged, if not, enlargement and colouring have helped convert a document into an idyllic lure for prospective emigrants.

The flies, fevers, infant mortality, economic depression and tense relations with the Aboriginals, which were all aspects of life in Queensland, are absent. In this image the pale 'new chum' sits up straight awaiting his drink. He will learn to help himself and keep his hat on in the sun and landscape just like his lounging fellow travellers. In many ways this was Daintree's own experience. He had left England in 1852, seeking a warmer climate and new experiences on the goldfields. He developed a career as a pioneer Australian geologist and photographer and ended as a passionate advocate of the development of the young colony in the north.


Other photographers in the 1860s made expeditions in search of picturesque views for commercial sale, or personal pleasure. One traveller, Paul Ricochet, reported to the English Photographic News of his 1861 visit to Lake St Clair in the highlands of Tasmania(15). He was the first photographer known to have visited this spectacular region. The painter John Skinner Prout had made expeditions there as early as 1845,

Ricochet adopted 'dry' collodion plates and a stereoscopic camera for convenience and to avoid the discomforts of a wet plate tent in the Australian heat. He appears to have been a gentleman amateur, serious and competent at his photography. He was followed by Morton Allport, his wife and others in their party who visited the Lake in 1863. They also used stereoscopic cameras and preservative processes(16).

Tasmanian amateur photographer, Bishop Francis Nixon and Reverend John Fereday (1813-1871), an Episcopalian clergyman at George Town, were among the earliest to record the Aboriginal people of Tasmania. Nixon made the only photographs of the groups on the reserve at Oyster Cove in 1858 and, with Fereday, accompanied Archdeacon Thomas Reiby on mission voyages to the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait in 1862-1863. Both used stereoscopic cameras for expedition work. Nixon's portraits were copied and widely circulated(17). Fereday's are in poor condition and only recently were rediscovered in the St David's Church archives in Hobart.

Burnell and Cole on the Murray

In South Australia around the same years, photographers George Burnell (1831-1894) and E.W. Cole (1832-1918) were two English emigrants who drifted into photography in the 1860s, having tried the diggings.

In 1862 Burnell conceived a plan to voyage down the Murray River in a flat-bottomed boat, taking views. These had not been made earlier due to difficulties caused by the movement of trees and water. Using a stereoscopic camera the team were able to make a large number of views during their four-month journey down the 2,414 kilometres of the river from Echuca to Wentworth, then on to Point McLeay which they reached in May, and finally to Goolwa on the coast.

At Point McLeay, Burnell's brother-in-law the Reverend George Taplin (1831-1879) ran an Aboriginal mission on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. He took an enthusiastic interest in their trip and suggested Burnell and Cole tour the main cities giving lectures on the trip down the river, illustrated with their photographs(18).

The two men were tired of each other by the time they reached Goolwa and attempted nothing as grand as an American-style diorama. However, Burnell marketed a two-box set of sixty stereograph views from the journey which were praised by the newspapers as both informative and artistic and seem to have been regarded as the first views of the river scenery(19).

The Murray River stereographs survive as a set and demonstrate the flexibility of the stereoscopic camera(20). The sequenced set also introduces the important narrative dimension which stereographs could achieve.

Whereas the portrait trade had sustained photography studios in the 1840s and 1850s, in the 1860s specialist landscape and views photographers could support their work by sales to the public, particularly of sets of stereographs. These involved expeditions of some difficulty into remote regions, or excursions to local points of interest. Aboriginal missions set up in the 1850s in most areas, functioned as convenient locations for making portraits for sale as part of the 'views' trade.

Thousands of photographs were made of Aboriginal people in the nineteenth century but this was not an extension of the portrait trade, since few of the subjects requested their images, or even had any real power to refuse. It was a new application of photography in which some genuine anthropological study was mixed with plain curiosity and even nostalgia for the loss of the wilderness and the presumed fate of native peoples as Western civilisation spread over the globe.

Charles Walter

Charles Walter (w. 1864-1874) from Mecklenberg Germany, was one of the new breed of photographers. He specialised in landscape work and, from the mid 1860s, made extensive expeditions into remote areas of Victoria. On his journeys he contributed articles to the illustrated papers, possibly on commission, anticipating the photojournalism of the twentieth century. By the early '70s Walter had quite a profile in these papers for, in 1873 the Illustrated Australian News included a drawing of 'our artist' off to work in the bush with neat pith helmet, axe and camera bag(21). The following year the Australasian Sketcher showed 'our artist' at work in the bush in rather more realistic comfortable clothes but with an Aboriginal shown as a pin-up girl(22). Earlier in October 1866 the editors of the News had shown how impressed they were with the efforts made by Walter to get pictures. They informed their readers that he travelled alone, 'with his apparatus and tent upon his back - the whole weighing about fifty pounds,' and that on a recent journey, 'he walked the whole way from Andersons Creek to Mount Buller, the most western culmination of the Australian Alps, and had to cross all the intervening ranges'.

Having described the artist hacking his way through the landscape 'to get the nearest and best views', the writer concluded:

Mr Walter deserves the highest praise for his exertions in so ably illustrating the romantic and picturesque which nature has scattered so lavishly about us and not the least important result of the publication will be to direct the lovers of nature to places hitherto unknown, where they will be able to gratify their admiration to the full(23).

Walter sold his views and stereos through agents in Melbourne(24). These included views of Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission, whaling at Twofold Bay, the diggings and settlers huts and pastoral scenes. His subject matter was the standard fare of the illustrated papers. A group of more sober ethnographic portraits with detailed notes of their ages, taken by Walter, are held by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the Museum of Victoria.

In 1869 Walter travelled with the Geodetic Survey to Cape Howe in Victoria. He was later selected to accompany the Victorian Government Astronomer R. L.J. Ellery (1827-1908) to Cape Sidmouth in northern Queensland to make photographs of the eclipse of the sun, due on 12 December 1872. The Australian Eclipse Expedition was the earliest and most serious application of photography to science. Over thirty people travelled to Cape Sidmouth, the principal members were Ellery and H.C. Russell (1836-1907), the recently appointed Government Astronomer in New South Wales. He was assisted by Beaufoy Merlin of the American and Australasian Photographic Company. Rain obscured the eclipse, preventing any photography(25).


Both Government Astronomers had already introduced photography to their respective observatories' work. Ellery had started photographing the moon around 1867 before the installation of the Great Melbourne Telescope and had sent for specialised photographic apparatus that was received in 1871. Photographs of the moon made under Ellery's supervision by assistant Joseph Turner (w.1873-1883) were considered some of the best made to that date(26).

H.C. Russell had begun to photograph the Milky Way by 1869. He later gained international recognition for his photographic results as part of the worldwide program to observe the transit of Venus across the sun in 1874(27) and for his photographs of Southern Hemisphere nebulae in the 1890s.

Northern Territory

Photographs were taken in the Northern Territory, then under South Australian rule, by Arthur Hamilton and Charles Hake, surveyors on the expedition to Adams Bay (Escape Cliffs) to establish a northern capital near to the present-day Darwin. This part-private, part-official expedition was a disaster and the settlement was abandoned at enormous cost. A few images exist of the canvas town attempting to find a toe-hold in the tropics(28).

A later expedition under George Goyder (1826-1898), Surveyor General of South Australia, was sent in 1869 to establish a new capital at Port Darwin. Joseph Brooks was both surveyor and official photographer and some of his stereographs were sold through the Adelaide Photographic Company(29).

Captain Samuel Sweet

Adelaide photographer Samuel Sweet (1825-1886) had applied unsuccessfully to be official photographer for the Goyder Survey. Instead he resumed service in the merchant marines in 1869 as commander of the Gulnare the supply ship for Goyder's survey and the new settlement at Port Darwin, He was never official photographer but assumed some of Brooks' duties as the latter was occupied with surveying. On returning from his trips to the north, Sweet gave lectures and organised exhibitions of his views as well as sales of prints through Williams' Stationery(30).

In 1870 Sweet was commissioned to supply the northern construction teams racing to complete, on schedule, the British-Australian overland telegraph link from Darwin to Port Adelaide. His views of the men and camps, and the ceremony of laying the first telegraph pole in Port Darwin, are the only records of a momentous leap in Australia's communication with the world. The desperate nature of the work is not evident in Sweet's views. He was probably restricted in his movements due to his responsibility for the Gulnare. Sweet was only the third photographer to visit the north, yet his work far outstripped the quality of his predecessors. His finely composed, large, well-printed images of the new settlement in the north were encouraging to those who still hoped that settlement would one day cover the continent, and the pictures of the electrical umbilical cord connecting Australia with Europe were a promise of the future(31).

New Guinea (D'Albertis)

At the same time as Sweet was portraying progress in the wilder northern regions, Luigi D'Albertis (1841—1901) the explorer and naturalist, was in western New Guinea with Odoardo Beccarri. Despite ill health D'Albertis took photographs in the difficult tropical conditions, some of which were used for engravings in his two-volume book New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw (1880). D'Albertis' belief in the camera as a tool for natural history is clearly stated:

a mere glance at the photographs of the Kiwai skulls, and then at those of the interior of New Guinea, is better than any description, and brings out vividly the great differences between the three types(32).

D'Albertis visited the Clarence River district of Australia in 1872 where he met the local photographer J.W. Lindt who subsequently produced a portfolio of twelve portraits of Aboriginals taken in his studio. The settings were elaborately designed to convey some sense of the subjects' tribal life and customs. Lindt's portfolio was one of the earliest to show any anthropological interest in the customs of the natives and may have been influenced by D'Albertis’ work(33).

Another foreign expedition photographer to visit Australia was Frenchman Désiré Charnay (1828-1915) who came in 1878, principally to photograph the Aboriginal people(34).

In the Northern Territory in the 1870s, Police Inspector Paul Foelsche (1831-1914) was an amateur photographer who found his work in demand for views of the area and its peoples. His work illustrated anthropological studies and other publications(35).

Antarctic - Challenger Expedition

In the same years, at the other end of the continent, a British Naval Expedition under the command of Captain Nares in the Challenger was conducting hydrographic research. This expedition was equipped with photographic apparatus after a complaint from Thomas Sutton of the Photographic Society of London. Fred North, the paymaster was the photographer(36).

The earliest photographs of Antarctic icebergs and islands were made during the 1874 Challenger Expedition(37). Photographs of the Antarctic continent proper were made later in 1895-1897 on a Belgian expedition aboard the Belgica, under A. Gerlache de Goméry(38). Louis Bernacchi (1876-1942) wrote an account of the British Antarctic Expedition in 1899-1900 under C.E. Borchgrevink (1864-1934), aboard The Southern Cross, entitled To the South Polar Regions: The Expeditions 1898-1900. It was one of the earliest publications illustrated with reasonable quality Antarctic photographs. Bernacchi, who was from Tasmania, was the first Australian to visit the Antarctic(39).

On magnitude as an element of attractiveness in photography

Mammoth and Panoramas - Holtermann and Bayliss

The principle of using photographs to promote Australian products was established as early as 1854 with the exhibits at the Paris Universal Exhibition. The views trade, which developed in the 1860s, then provided the means for widespread documentation of civic progress and for testaments to the beauties of the Australian landscape. In the early 1870s, Richard Daintree pioneered the specific use of photography to promote emigration.

At some time during 1872, Beaufoy Merlin in Hill End made contact with German emigrant B.O. Holtermann (1838-1885), and discussed with him a project for illustrating the colony's progress via photography. Bernard Holtermann was the manager and a major shareholder in the Star of Hope Gold Mining Company. He had recently been enriched by the discovery of a monster 286 kilogram nugget of gold in the Star of Hope mine. Holtermann must have identified strongly with the symbol and source of his good fortune in Australia, for he had a montage photograph made of himself standing beside it, which he used for later business ventures and projects(40).

Holtermann's Exposition as it was called, was announced in detail in early 1873 and Merlin was appointed official photographer and collector of specimens. He was aware of the success of Daintree's displays on behalf of the Queensland Government, and urged the New South Wales people to support Holtermann. It was hoped the exposition would encourage migration to Australia, instead of the more convenient meccas in the Northern Hemisphere, chiefly America, or other British colonies like Canada(41). The details of the financial arrangement with Holtermann are not known but few, if any, photographers had ever been given such a wide brief in the history of the medium in Australia.

By August, Merlin was back in Sydney making views of the city and surroundings specifically for the exposition and working on the large positive transparencies on glass that were to be coloured, just as Daintree's were(42). Sadly Merlin died of respiratory inflammation following an epidemic of influenza, in September 1873. His assistant, Charles Bayliss, inherited the role of official exposition photographer and proved equal in vision and ability to the task. He executed for Holtermann the star attractions planned for the exposition: a series of large-format panoramas of Sydney and other cities in the colonies.

By October 1875, Holtermann and Bayliss had succeeded in producing a number of panoramas including a giant panorama of Sydney taken from a camera built on the top of Holtermann's mansion on the north shore of Sydney Harbour. The glass plates for this camera were 152 by 91 centimetres. A number of other panoramas were also made on smaller plates. The newspapers were impressed that a home-grown effort could rival 'Our Yankee friends who are proverbial for big things'(43).

Ernest Docker reported on the latest progress of the project to the British Journal of Photography, predicting that the ‘enterprise ought to have a beneficial effect in dispelling many erroneous ideas concerning the colonies'(44). The giant panorama, of which the negatives have survived, was indeed the largest example of wet plate negatives yet recorded(45).

In 1876 parts of Holtermann's Exposition were included in the New South Wales Court at the Philadelphia Centennial and he was awarded a bronze medal. Holtermann himself travelled to America and Europe with the giant negatives and a large roll of canvas mounted with photographs from the project. He later exhibited panoramas at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878 where he was awarded a silver medal.

In one sense, Holtermann's Exposition never took place in the grandiose form first described by Docker to the British Journal of Photography in November 1873. It was planned to have 5,000 photographs, mostly in albums, covering the colonies, with some 1,000 being made into glass transparencies for projection in a graphoscope.

Apart from his roll of canvas, Holtermann did not independently exhibit his exposition outside several international exhibitions.

An issue of the British Journal of Photography of 18 February 1876 included an article titled 'On magnitude as an element of attractiveness in photography' in which the English author Mr Sratham declared that 'these are the days of gigantic designs' and hoped that the Americans would build a brobdignagian camera for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. This unpatriotic call to a foreign country was in recognition that America was 'the country of inventions as of scenery on a grand scale'. The writer had already seen large plates of the Yosemite Valley and hoped through the efforts of a rich patron and opticians that even more striking results could be achieved(46).

Unfortunately for Holtermann, the Philadelphia Centennial was indeed supplied with giant photographs. One reviewer noted that 127 centimetre plates were common(47). There was a separate wing for photography as an art in its own right and here the mammoth landscapes by the American West photographers were shown. It seems the giant Holtermann panoramas were not displayed at Philadelphia. The smaller panoramas were obviously more likely to sell than the big ones which could only have been supported by official purchases by the colonial government but these were not forthcoming.

It could not be said that Holtermann received a particularly warm response for his grand patronage, variously estimated at 5 to 15,000 pounds. His later attempts to promote emigration from Germany were also rebuffed(48).

Mammoth and Panoramas - The Blue Mountains

B.O. Holtermann was not the only patron with a vision of how to use photography to promote Australia. In 1866 the editors of the Illustrated Australian News had suggested readers might like to follow photographer Charles Walter into the remote but picturesque regions of Victoria.

In the spring of 1875 a truly determined attempt was made to lure tourists into the wilds and to improve what was felt to be a lack of public appreciation of the beauties of the Australian landscape, both at home and abroad. For some six weeks in late September and October, up to twenty-four men and youths were engaged in trail-blazing, sketching and photographing in the valley floor near Govetts Leap Falls and the junction of its creek with the Grose River, in the Blue Mountains 129 kilometres west of Sydney(49).

The mastermind behind the camps was Eccleston Du Faur (1832—1915), chief draughtsman in the Office of the Occupation of Crown Lands in Sydney who had recently developed a public profile as a patron-promoter of the arts and sciences(50).

Du Faur owned property in the mountains and organised the clearing of an old survey track in order to set up the artists' camps in the floor of the valley. The availability of tile camps was advertised through the New South Wales Academy of Art to any artists or other interested parties. Du Faur also engaged the professional photographer Joseph Bischoff (w, 1874-1895) to execute landscape views on a quantity of mammoth plates on behalf of the commissioners for the forthcoming Philadelphia Centennial(51). He also sought the participation of leading wilderness painter William Piguenit (1836-1914)(52). Du Faur hoped the images from the expedition would encourage an appreciation of the scenic wonders and that the camps might develop into a permanent resort(53).

The reports of the participants in the Grose Valley Expedition could not he said to have taken the project very seriously and their discomforts on the trip, despite cook, guide and packhorse, loomed large to the city bred ‘explorers'. Nor was Du Faur impressed with the results, as he conceded when exhibiting photographs by Bischoff and Alexander Brodie (w. 1867-1891), another photographer who had been working at the top of the steep escarpments of the valley at the same time(54).

Du Faur's aspirations for the artists' camps were made clear at the conversazione held at the Academy of Art, and brought out by his disappointment with what was produced. Brodie’s pictures were admitted to have given the details perfectly but 'his plates were not of a size worthy of the subject' and Bischoff's were limited by the lack of 'a single dull, still day, with diffused lights, by which alone satisfactory results can be obtained in such scenery. Yet as Du Faur stressed 'some of the wildest, grandest and most beautiful scenery in New South Wales is within a few hours journey from Sydney by rail', scenery which he declared rivalled the best in Now Zealand, Tasmania and Victoria and the Yosemite Valley in America(55).

Mammoth and Panoramas - Vs USA

However, only a few images by Bischoff in any way match the grandeur of American West scenery or the already renowned photographs of the 'pioneer generation of 1865' specialist landscape photographers: Timothy O'Sullivan. Edward Muybridge, Charles Weed, William Henry Jackson and A.J. Russell(56). In general, Bischoff's works lack the classic monumentality of the American contemporaries, and his handling of figures trivialises the images(57).

How familiar the Australians were with the mammoth prints of some of the American photographers is not clear, although the scenic wonders of the American West were well known(58). The seeming failure of the Grose Valley expedition and the lack of any comparable monumental school of landscape photography in Australia can only be partly attributed to the more modest dimensions of the landscape and the lack of population and wealth to support official expedition photographers. In fact, there were grand landscapes and the chasms of the Grose Valley had attracted artists since its discovery in the early nineteenth century. Perhaps Du Faur was not ultimately unsuccessful, tourism to the Blue Mountains did increase and the Valley became a National Park. A railway guide to the area was issued in 1879, illustrated with photographs(59). Artists and photographers since have rarely bothered with the difficulties of the narrow valley when all the drama required can be had more comfortably from above(60).

In the mid 1870s it seems that many connoisseurs of photography felt the desire for a grander, more artistic level of work but there was perhaps insufficient awareness of the photograph as a separate pictorial entity for the Australians to be able to produce grand photographs from grand scenery. The Americans were further ahead in this regard. At the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, the American West photographers were shown in a separate hall for the art of photography(61). The Australians, locked into the promotional use of the visual arts, combined their exhibits in colonial subsections and thematic groups.

In the I880s there is evidence that a more sophisticated understanding of the autonomy of the photographic picture was exploited by both government instrumentalities and the views trade photographers of the period.

Picturesque New Guinea

In 1885 the New South Wales Government Printing Office published an album commemorating the proclamation on 6 November 1884 of a British Protectorate over the southeast coastal region of New Guinea. Titled Narrative of the Expedition of the Australian Squadron to the South East Coast of New Guinea October to December 1884, the book contains a short text by Commodore James Erskine (1838-1911) in charge of the squadron, some chromolithographs and thirty-five photographs showing the ceremonies, the localities and the native villages. The Colonial Secretary for New South Wales, William Dalley (1831-1888) had 500 copies prepared for presentation to 'distinguished Queen Victoria, a keen supporter of photography, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India', in whose name the Protectorate was announced, was given a special copy(62).

The New Guinea Album is an outstanding Australian case of both nineteenth century expedition photography and books illustrated with original photographs. Its preeminence in the latter arises from the fact that it has ‘more photographs, larger photographs, and a more integrated combination of text and image' than any other of the 200 works of this genre(63). Many documents had been made in photography, but few events were provided with a visual reportage, as in the New Guinea Album.

The photographs have been attributed to Augustine Dyer (w.1873-1923), then sub-overseer of the photomechanical branch of the New South Wales Government Printing Office(64).

The text of the New Guinea Album reads like a travelogue, with the sights being assessed in terms of their colours and atmosphere. New Guinea was declared, somewhat picturesque(65). The sequencing of the images to show both ceremonies and locations is an integral part of the 'Narrative' implied in the title. The Album as a whole shows the degree to which government instrumentalities had learned the power of photography through the views trade and the public exhibition.

The production of the New Guinea Album was carried out by the New South Wales Government(66) so that its message of future responsible administration of New Guinea was meant to reflect well on Australia as much as on Britain. The prints were widely exhibited and used in other publications that were also rushed into print to capitalise on the public interest in New Guinea. Interestingly, these unofficial records counter the impression of disinterested imperialism of the main album.

Charles Lyric, a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald who accompanied the expedition (there were no press photographers), published an account in his book New Guinea (1885) and used nine of Dyer's photographs. He renamed one of a native chief being photographed beside the flagpole 'a Motu Motu Dandy' and derided the native ‘queen' Koloki for her lack of regal bearing(67).

J.W. Lindt

Settlers and traders were not permitted to stream into New Guinea unchecked after the Protectorate, but enterprising photographer J.W. Lindt was able to secure an honorary appointment as official photographer to the expedition of Sir Peter Scratchley (1835-1885), the newly appointed Special Commissioner for British New Guinea. The expedition left in July 1883 with Lindt, a darkroom and 400 dry plates on board. During his six weeks in New Guinea, Lindt took several hundred negatives and built up a collection of artifacts. On his return Lindt had sufficient images to prepare a five-volume album series for sale. Most of these images have fine tone with good shadow detail and graceful figure groups. The natives and members of Scratchley's expedition are often taken deep within the landscape and few have the staring confrontation and discomfort of subjects which Dyer could not eliminate from his coverage(68).

Lindt's New Guinea pictures are distinguished by their naturalism and contextual settings. Since making the portfolio of Aboriginals and shearer-miner types of 1872, Lindt had not been particularly associated with Aboriginal subject matter, but he had dreamed of going to New Guinea since his meeting with D'Albertis in 1872. Perhaps New Guinea excited his imagination, or he saw it as a place where his experience with dry plates could be fully exploited.

The response to Lindt's New Guinea work was overwhelmingly positive and created for him a new persona as a serious ethnographic researcher. In 1887, Lindt travelled to London to arrange publication of Picturesque New Guinea. His written account of his trip included fine illustrations by the London Autotype Company. A number of prints were enlarged by the process for display purposes(69). In his preface he remarked on the general absence of illustrated travel books, noting that he had only seen John Thomson's China and its Peoples and Stuart Wortley's illustrations for Lady Brassey's book on Tahiti of 1882(70). There had been photographs taken in New Guinea before the New Guinea Protectorate Album but these had not been as widely published as Lindt's and lacked the close portraiture of the New Guineans and their world which Lindt's work provided. On the basis of his New Guinea work Lindt was elected to the Victorian Branch of the Royal Geographic Society and by 1893 was a councillor. Through the Society he became friendly with pioneer Australian anthropologist Baldwin Spencer.

As with the Aboriginal portfolio, Lindt's New Guinea pictures were in continual use being exhibited, reproduced and copyrighted. As late as 1909 the art critic Blamire Young (1865-1935) in reviewing an exhibition at the Victorian Artists Association Gallery, spoke with evident emotion of Lindt's earlier works:

Who does not know Lindt's New Guinea studies? The sustained excellence of the series is phenomena]. The art of photography was young when these plates were exposed: but with all the improved facilities of modern times they still remain in their class, the despair of the operators of today(71).

This was said after Baldwin Spencer's Aboriginal photographs had been widely published.

The consistency of response to Lindt's work suggests that it was not just that the exotic subject matter was stimulating to an urban population, but that the aesthetic impact of his prints was considerable. In awarding him a gold medal at the Centennial Exhibition in 1888 the judges declared in the Official Record:

It has often been a matter of discussion how far, or whether at all photography may be considered as a fine art. By the works of Mr Lindt this question is decided in a way that is a triumph for his profession(72).

New Guinea remained topical as did the Pacific Islands, with other fine photographs being taken by George Bell and Langford in 1887(73) and the Burton Brothers of New Zealand had extensive catalogues of the Coral Islands as early as 1884(74). The islands remained popular with later views trade photographers in the 1890s and at the turn of the century(75).

The Australian colonies' involvement in the proclamation of a Protectorate over part of New Guinea in 1884 was followed by an even stronger expression of nationhood in 1885. On 3 March a contingent of some 700 volunteer and permanent artillery soldiers departed Sydney to join the British Expeditionary Force in the Sudan in southern Egypt. Acting Premier of New South Wales, William Dalley had negotiated this first instance of a self-governing British colony sending troops to an Imperial war.

The public turned out in force to farewell the troops, and the photographers to chronicle the preparations and departure. It was one of the most visually well documented episodes in Australian history since the introduction of photography. Several news correspondents were permitted to accompany the contingent and the newspapers were supplied with sketches of the troops in the Sudan. However, Dalley did not send an official photographer as had been provided for the Protectorate ceremonies, nor publish a commemorative album on the return of troops (having seen no action) in July. This was perhaps due to the unending satirising of the campaign by those opposed to participation, such as in the Bulletin in Sydney(76).

Sydney photographer, Barcroft Capel Boake constructed a huge mosaic of portraits of the contingent after its return, which was mounted on canvas painted in black and gold. Smaller copies were sold to the public and families of the soldiers(77).


Expeditions: 1885-1900

Charles Bayliss

A commission undertaken by Charles Bayliss in 1886 illustrates the forces of change which would influence photography in the future. Bayliss was appointed to accompany the New South Wales Royal Commission into Water Conservation team on their investigation of the Darling River, then in a rare flood(78). The expedition down the Darling River from Bourke to Wentworth, was written up by Gilbert Parker (1862-1932), a Canadian journalist employed by The Sydney Morning Herald. His lively word pictures as published in Round the Compass in Australia (1892) contrast with the essentially static photographs by Bayliss(79).

The Darling River pictures taken by Bayliss are unusual amongst his works for the degree and complexity of organisation of figures. They go far beyond the simple direct groups of people photographed for the A & A Co in the I870s. Rowers are arranged with their sculls forming zigzags and a thousand bullocks in numerous teams arc arranged in similar patterns(80).

The introduction of the gelatin dry plate in the 1880s cased the difficulties of expedition photography, so that in 1885 the British Journal of Photography could declare 'No expedition nowadays can be considered complete without photography(81). William Tietkens (1844-1933) led an expedition from Alice Springs mounted by the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia in 1889 which included a visit to Mount Olga and Ayers Rock, the great monolith called Uluru by the Aboriginals and discovered by Europeans in 1873(82). Tictkens' journal records his systematic photographing of the scenery and the Aboriginals, and his frustration at the inadequacy of his small plate size equipment and his prior training for its use. From the lack of published images or prints, it seems his negatives turned out failures on later development in Adelaide(83).

Explorers, naturalists, and the new breed of professional scientists made a far more concerted use of photography in the 1890s, beginning with the Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition of 1891. This was an elaborately funded expedition which was largely a failure, although without the tragic outcome of Burke and Wills' expedition(84). Dr Frederick Elliot (c.1855-1897) was official photographer. Two volumes of his original photographs were released after the expedition and contain a few evocative images that convey something of the highly charged atmosphere of early contact between Europeans and Aboriginals. The photographic records of the expedition gave substance to the otherwise disappointing scientific results.

Baldwin Spencer

Negatives and a small group of original prints by Baldwin Spencer survive from the W.A. Horn Scientific Expedition of 1894(85). These were surpassed by the latter's collaboration with Frank Gillen (1855-1912), postmaster at Moonta, South Australia, in anthropological expeditions into northern Central Australia. These resulted in the pioneer publication The Native Tribes of Central Australia of 1901(86).

Spencer was both dedicated and energetic in his use of photography, cinematography and photographic recording for ethnographic fieldwork(87). He was not the first anthropologist to combine photography, film and sound recording in fieldwork. A.C. Haddon conducted research in the Torres Strait area for Cambridge University in 1889 and had pioneered this concerted scientific approach. He recommended the method to Spencer(88) who fully grasped the promotional value of his photographs, the precedence for which was established by Lindt and earlier views trade photographers(89).

Some of the grandest natural history photography was done by English naturalist William Saville-Kent (d.1908) whose book The Naturalist in Australia of 1897 was illustrated with collotypes from his own photographs, including humorous montages of native birds(90). His earlier book The Great Barrier Reef of 1893 was illustrated with beautiful autotypes of the corals and bêches-de-mer(91).

One of the few explorers to have talent as a photographer was Richard T. Maurice (1859-1909) who led the Transcontinental Expedition in 1904 for the South Australian Government, and a number of private expeditions at the turn of the century(92). Maurice used a panoramic camera, the spatial characteristics and odd composition of which he exploited well. His images of a vast horizontal landscape in which people and trees appear rather insubstantial or transitory aptly match the lack of landmarks and spatial references of the desert.

Contrary to the hopes of armchair explorers, over half a century elapsed before photographs of Central Australia were achieved and an aesthetic appreciation of the desert awaited later generations of painters and photographers in the 1930s as the nation approached its sesquicentenary(94).


next chapter

footnotes  |  contents  search-shades

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

P.45: Richard Daintree: Upper paleozoic resting,....... above Bachuus Marsh, 1859

P.46-47: Richard Daintree: Bush Travellers, Queensland c.1864-1870

P.49: Bishop Francis Nixon: Flora, An Aborigine of Tasmania. Oyster Cove.1858

P.49: E.W.Cole and George Burnell: 3 - from series Stereoscopics views of the River Murray.1862.

P.50: Charles Walter at work - engraving 1874

P.51: Charles Walter: Open Air Service, Lake Tyers c.1868

P.51: Capt Samuel Sweet: S.S. Tararua on roper River. 1872

P.52: NSW Govt Printing Office: Laying the Cable Botany Bay.1876

P.52: Wood Engraving after Luigi D'Albertis: from New Guinea book 1980.

P.53: J.W.Lindt: Porttrait of Aboriginal woman. c.1874

P.54-55: B.O. Holtermann & Charles Bayliss: Panorama Sydney Harbour 1875

P.55: NSW Govt Printing Office: Govett's Leap. NSW c.1880

P.56: Timothy O'Sullivan: Camp Beauty, Canon de Cheille. 1873

P.57: Joseph Bischoff: Valley of the Grose. 1875

P.58-59: NSW Govt Printing Office: Aygyll Bay. 1885 (New Guinea)

P.59: NSW Govt Printing Office: New Guinea Chief, Motumotu 1884

P.60: J.W. Lindt: Koiari Chiefs. Sadara Makara 1885

P.61: Thomas H Boyd: Departure of Sudan Contingent. 1885

P.62: B.C. Boake: NSW Contingent Sudan Campaign 1885

P.63: Dr Frederick Elliot: Native girl surprised in the desert, Camp 40. 1891-1892

P.63: William Saville-Kent: autotype method of photographing, Great Barrier Reef. 1893.

P.64: Richard T Maurice: Sturt Creek - Sheep and cattle yard. c.1901




photo-web Contents Page       or      Search photo-web

to make contact : click here - to use our online contact form

photo-web  /  asia-pacific-photography-home   /  Paul's Blog   /   Gael's Blog   /  Paul's essays  /   Gael's papers /  about us

SEARCH       contacts - copyright notice - sharing information - permissions - other stuff

photo-web • photography • australia • asia pacific • landscape • heritage • exhibitions • news • portraiture • biographies • urban • city
views • articles • portfolios • history • contemporary • links • research • international • art