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Charles Bayliss

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

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And now it is 1879, the year of the opening of the Sydney International Exhibition in the "Garden Palace", a vast structure of ornate design, situated in the Botanical Gardens (facing central Macquarie Street), just inside the Hunter Street gates. The organising genius of the enterprise was one Jules Joubert and it would take a full dozen A.P.-R.'s to reprint all the eulogistic contemporary descriptions of its many 'marvels'. More important to us today is the fact that it did inspire two lasting achievements: It inspired Henry Kendall to write a fine prize-winning ode(6); it also inspired Charles Bayliss to undertake and to carry through to completion one of the world's most difficult photographic undertakings, that of executing a complete panorama from the 'lantern' of its dome.

As noted in current newspaper reports this spot was accessible from the interior of the building during the period of the construction of the building but once it was completed the ascent had to be made from the outside. So it was that, to obtain his panorama, Bayliss "had to perform the astounding and risky feat of climbing up and balancing upon the dome of the tower"(7). The finished panorama was all that could be desired; "the result of his labours constitutes the best panorama of Sydney we have ever seen. The work of art to which we allude consists of a series of pictures taken on 18" by 22" plates, forming an extensive representation of the city and its suburbs, measuring 20 feet in length by 22 inches in breadth. As a specimen of photography it is almost faultless . . . the clearness and completeness of the picture is surprising.

There is some probability of the panorama being placed in the Exhibition, and it is decidedly to be wished that an opportunity may be given to the lovers of beauty in art to see this, the cleverest work, that has for a very long time issued from a colonial gallery". Though panoramas of Sydney can hardly be said today to appeal "to the lovers of beauty in art", nevertheless this series of pictures must represent a most valuable record of the condition of the city's growth at that time.

Some six or seven months later, Bayliss secured another picture(8) of the "Palace". This time it was from the eastern side of Farm Cove, just after the Exhibition had closed and, incidentally, just after the completion of the harbour wall around the Cove. It was another link with Kendall for it was here that the poet used to walk in the period 1866-1876 on many an afternoon at the conclusion of his labours with the Government Surveyor and the Colonial Secretary. For a number of years afterwards a rock near Mrs. Macquarie's Chair was pointed out as "Kendall's Rock", and this spot must have been very close to the viewpoint selected by Bayliss for his photograph some fourteen years later.

But there was one "Palace" photograph which Bayliss unfortunately did not capture though he would most certainly have done so had he been passing down Macquarie Street in the very early morning of 22nd September, 1882. For that was the day on which the great structure was burnt to the ground(9).

At the ensuing enquiry "carelessness with matches" was suggested, or, at any rate, "rats nibbling at vestas", but the more cynical opinion favoured the suggestion of arson-this at the instigation of some person or persons unknown who might well have liked to know that the contents of the building (then used as a repository for old government records) were safely reduced to ashes. No one was heretical enough to say that the 'arson' might have been at the hands of some lover of beauty who considered the massive structure to be a blot on the beauties of the gardens and of the harbour foreshores!

As to the fire, the journalists of the day found in the event something that provided the fullest scope for their descriptive powers(10).

Meanwhile, Bayliss was carrying on with his various commercial assignments and with his stock views of Sydney. About this time he appears to have developed something of a "news" or documentary outlook, especially with regard to buildings under construction, and it is to this trend that we owe a number of fine pictures.

Three of these are reproduced - we see the master mason at work on one of the columns of the Pitt Street wing of the G.P.O. (mid-1882); the workmen putting the final touches to the great dome of the Queen Victoria Buildings (c.1897); and, most interesting of all to our (lamenting) Sydneysiders, the G.P.O. clock tower under construction, with Sir Henry Parkes and officials paying a state visit - this would be towards the end of 1885.

 


Foundations and elevated cranes for the building of The Australia Hotel (Castlereagh Street frontage, c. 1891).

 

Sir Henry Parkes (r.) pays an official visit to Sydney's G.P.O. tower under construction; the date would be towards the end of 1885. (Enlarged detail from the full-page portfolio reproduction.)

That year, 1885, was responsible for two other fine series of documentary records. March 3rd saw the embarkation of the Australian volunteers for the Sudan aboard the troopships Australasia and Iberia.

It was an occasion for a tremendous outburst of national pride and, in those happy days before the onset of 'security', the photographers had a field day.

Bayliss not only photographed the troops but he also recorded the animated scene at Circular Quay where civilians were boarding every possible type of craft for the trip to Chowder Bay and other harbour vantage areas from which, a farewell could be paid as the ships passed through the Heads(11).

Nine months later, on December 12th to be exact, he was again down with his camera at Circular Quay for another important occasion it was the arrival at the Prince's Steps(12) of the State Governor-elect His Excellency Baron (later Lord) Carrington together with his wife and the Hon. Miss Harbord.

This picture turned out excellently with plenty of local colour in the shape of waiting carriages and the excited populace, elements of which are seen to have climbed to the topmost rigging of the P. & O.'s Dharwar, most conveniently moored for the purpose.

The following year was marked by yet another Bayliss 'scoop' - the making of the first 360° panorama from Sydney's G.P.O. tower, now completed, yet destined to remain clockless until September 1891.

Like its "Palace" predecessor the panorama is a magnificent technical, job with every one of its frame's' depicting respective sections of the city's buildings with a clarity that could hardly be equalled today.

It is a fascinating picture to study and thereby appreciate the changes that have occurred in nearly seven decades.

In those days for instance, the hall portion of the Town Hall was still a-building; there was no Queen Victoria Markets; the roof of Her Majesty's Theatre was uncompleted;we had no 'Australia' or 'Metropole'; and the plinth at Queen's Square stiR lacked its bronze Queen ('she' was to be unveiled in 1888)-this was the second statue, the earlier one having been destroyed in the "Garden Palace' holocaust.


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