Being the story of the
association of Bernard Otto Holtermann with Beaufoy
Merlin and with Charles Bayliss
and of the
photographic collection which resulted therefrom.
"In the great days of the gold rushes, many a photographer
left behind studio and darkroom to join in the great
search - but sure Holtermann must have been the only
gold-miner who neglected his gold-mining in favour of photgraphy.
He can be ranked perhaps as Australia's first and greatest
amateur of photography, using that word in its original
French sense. He liked the art for its own sake yet
reallsed perhaps more than he knew, its great documentary potentialities.
Furthermore, he did not hesitate to spend a vast sum
upon a great series of photographs designed to convey
to the world at large the story of the colony's extraordinary
material progress. He believed that by doing so he
could, in some small measure, repay his adopted landfor the
many favours it had conjurred upon him."
quotation is from some unpublished mss. by Jack Cato
in connection with his forthcoming work "The
Story of the Camera, in Australia."
one fateful day during the winter of 1922, two distinguished
Egyptologists stood outside a doorway in Egypt's
famed Valley of the King. For them it was an anxious
knowing that that doorway had been sealed for three
thousand five hundred years. Would this be just another
disappointment?-with nothing disclosed but a few
discarded trifles left behind'in haste by some early
two were not to know that soon they would be gazing
in awe and in rapture upon a storehouse
treasures the like of which the world had never before
thirty years later two Sydneysiders were destined to
stand outside a small suburban backyard
it had been locked for more than a generation,
almost forgotten, its key long since lost. Their
anticipatory feelings were hardly on the same plane
as their predecessors
but at any rate there was to be no doubt as to
value of their discovery-the dramatic revelation
of a life and culture almost as forgotten as Tutankhamen's.
neatly stored in fitted cedar boxes were incredible
numbers of negatives, records that were
in due course
to disclose every detail of the lives of our
gold-fields pioneers-the men, the women and the children,
homes, their business enterprises, and their
the populous towns and larger cities.
* * * * * * * * * * *
all the arts of mankind, that of the photographer
both the most lasting and the most
perishable. Marble and canvas possess some
degree of physical strength
but the cameraman must entrust his treasures
to perishable paper and film or fragile glass.
is likely to be treasured as an heirloom
or possible "Old
Master," but only too often are old photographs "just
old photographs" to someone charged with "tidying-up." Occasionally
Fate intervenes, as she is also so apt to
do in the lives of mortals, but seldom has
so watchful as in
the present instance; those who have followed
this story since its inception still have
some little difficulty
in believing that it is all true, that this
marvellous thing can possibly have happened-and
may well share that view. It is a long story
and one dependent
on many, many fortunate coincidences-each
one more astonishing than the preceding.
But of all
these happenings we recognise
as the most important the part played by
photographer Beaufoy Merlin.
One Beaufoy Merlin
Beaufoy Merlin we wish we could tell more than we can.
eighty years the written records have become
scanty. We have his portrait, made perhaps a year
before his death; it shows a sensitive, artistic nature,
one not lacking in purpose and driving force. Above
all, we have his life's work - or, at any rate, a
substantial portion of it. The images carried on those
of carte-de-visite wet plate negatives show that
he was a born photographer, one who combined an excellent
technique with a documentary outlook that is astonishingly "modern" by
to-day's view. One thing is certain, and that is
Merlin's photography was not just a matter of "bread-and-butter";
he was a born artist and one who always gave of his
Beaufoy Merlin was born in 1830, the son of an English
chemist by name Frederick Merlin - the
being perhaps his mother's maiden name; by the time
he arrived in Australia he was nineteen years of
his young manhood we know little, but it can be suggested
that his interest in photography arose from the family
association with chemical science, for in those days
almost every chemist dabbled in photography. That
interest may also have been reinforced from another
is a strong family tradition of association with Ballarat,
and it is certainly a fact that there were
Merlin families living in that city as far back as
the mid-fifties. The Post Office Directory for 1868
an entry for T. Merlin, Photographer. It may well be
that these folk were relatives and that they afforded
young Beaufoy when he first landed.
appears to have established himself as a field
operator under the trade-name of the American & Australasian
Photographic Company and to have travelled
throughout Victoria. On these trips he made numerous
of the scenery, but his specialty seems to
have been house-by-house
photography. The scheme was to give a few day's
notice to the householders of the area so that
array themselves, ready for the camera, in
1863, then being thirty-three years of
age, he married Louisa Elliott Foster and
the marriage, all of whom appear to have
had interesting and adventurous careers-but that
is another story.
first documentary information regarding Merlin comes
from a Vice-Regal letter still in the possession
of family descendants. As was the custom of the photographers
of those days, he had presented the Governor of Victoria,
Sir John Henry Manners-Sutton, with an album of photographs,
and it is clear that this letter of acknowledgment is
no perfunctory routine, but one of real appreciation.
The date is October, 1869, and it shows Merlin to have
been well established as a travelling photographer; of
value to us is the fact that it refers to Merlin's plans
for the extension of his sphere of activities to other
parts of Australia.
7th April, 1869.
I am directed to convey to you the thanks of His Excellency the Governor
for the very handsome book of Photographs which you have presented to
him, and which he especially values as containing so many interesting
views of the places which he visited in his tour through the Western
District last year.
Governor desires me to request that you will
let me know the name of your agent in Melbourne
through whom His Excellency may be able to
procure copies of the views which you propose
to take in other parts of Australia.