Keast Burke
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Charles Bayliss

Australasian Photo-Review #7 1953

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Gold and Silver

By Keast Burke

Chapter Three - Charles Bayliss

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Bessie Salier Patterson and Eric Edward Bayliss.

Our first word of Charles Bayliss goes back to 1854 when we hear of him as a child of four, with his parents, landing in Melbourne aboard a sailing ship from England, his birthplace having been in Hadleigh, near Ipswich in Suffolk - to this day, a quaint town of old-world houses.

The turning point of his life was to come to him at the early age of sixteen; surely there was something of the touch of destiny that brought to the gateway of his mother's home in a Melbourne suburb the wet-plate' caravan of travelling photographer Beaufoy Merlin. Young Charles, always old for his years, must have realised, in a flash, as it were, that he wanted to be a photographer and to learn the trade from his newly-found acquaintance with the friendly and magnetic personality.

For a lad to make such a decision is one thing but to gain a mother's consent is another. As we can well imagine, it was many days before she eventually gave way before his unending pleas. We learn of his duly joining up with Merlin as his assistant and of the pair going off to the "diggings" - which perhaps would be the Gippsland fields which rose to fame in the sixties. It was to be a year before his mother was to see him again; when he did return home he was a young man and one imbued with a deep love of Australia's great out-of-doors and more than ever convinced that photography meant everything to him.

The next year or so (c.1867-1869) embraced further field trips, one of which we know from the Manners-Sutton letter(1) to have been to the, Western District of Victoria. The association must have been a pleasant one for both of them. Merlin learnt to place the utmost trust in the young assistant who proved so apt and clever a pupil, while Bayliss was only too happy to be in the company of his mentor as the pair spent days and nights in the open occupied with their beloved photography.

The hour of parting was to come only too soon and it was destined to be forever. After nearly twenty years Merlin must have felt that he had pretty well completed the coverage as far as his particular house and residents type of photography in Victoria was concerned, and that fresh fields must be sought. It speaks volumes for his estimation of young Charles that he should have been satisfied to leave him in charge of his interests when he crossed the border northwards.

The story of Merlin's' photography in New South Wales has already been told; we have learnt of his great work for Holtermann and of his early passing, of how that wealthy man summoned Bayliss to Sydney with a view to bringing his immense enterprise to completion.

By early 1874, Bayliss must have been entirely engaged on the 'Holtermann project; some of the year's pictures were made in Sydney but the greater number represent Victorian subjects.

Of these quite the most outstanding is the great 9-exposure panorama of Ballarat, made from the tower of the Ballarat City Hall, photographed around about February or March(2). Both coating and exposure are perfect and so is the clarity of detail throughout; to make sure that there would be no vibration he arranged for the authorities to have the clock and its carillon (which had been installed during the previous year) stopped during the progress of the panoraming.

Next followed his photography on the 10" by 12" plates, these numbering about two hundred and ten(3); Melbourne is listed first with about 115 views, then Bendigo with about 30, Ballarat with 13 and Geelong with 10, to say nothing of odd scenes at Stawell, Castlemaine and elsewhere-in all a most comprehensive coverage. The individual identification of these has barely been commenced but already one point is quite clear - that all are marked by first class technique and that all would enlarge splendidly; perhaps some day they will be, when there has been settled the practical, problem of an available 10" by 12" enlarger.

The highlight of the following year was the making of giant. Sydney panoramas; so unique a project may well have taken several months. The period was almost certainly during the late winter and early spring, for the successful completion received some newspaper publicity during October while, in addition, we have the evidence of the Commodore Goodenough funeral picture(4).

Work for the year 1876 included a number of Melbourne views made in the 18" by 22" format, a size decided upon perhaps because 20" by 24' represented the largest size in which the albumen printing paper was readily available; subjects included The Bank of Victoria, Scots Church and the not-altogether-successful panorama from the tower of Government House in the Botanical Gardens. In addition, Bayliss would have spent a good deal of time in Sydney printing, assembling and mounting the material destined for exhibition at Philadelphia, as well, there would be the great roll of prints which Holtermann was to take along with him for display en route.

An 1876 negative of especial interest appears to be a record of the opening day of the extension of the railway to Beechworth (Victoria); if so, this photograph may be accurately dated to September of that year. The picture may well represent Bayliss' last exposure on behalf of Holtermann and so take us to the threshold of his work as an independent photographer, for two years later we hear of him and his set-up moving permanently to Sydney.

His home was in the western suburbs and his place of business, as shown in Sands Directory for 1879, was at 348 George Street. This would be near the corner of Angel Place. (Some years later he moved across the road to No. 335A).

We do not know exactly what was the appeal which brought Bayliss to Sydney. It may have been some act of encouragement or generosity on the part of his wealthy sponsor; on the other hand his interest may have been stimulated by hints of the untold glories of the forthcoming Sydney International Exhibition of 1879.

Meanwhile, he lost no time, after setting up his brass plate as "Charles Bayliss, Landscape Photographer", in commencing to get together a large collection of stock negatives of all the 'best sellers' of the day(5), street scenes and public buildings, the harbour and its shipping, the (empty!) beaches, the beauty spots of the Blue Mountains and so forth.

The east side of George Street, Sydney, looking south from the King Street intersection.

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photographs copied from Gold And Silver (Australasian Photo-Review #7 1953)