Keast Burke
photographer, photo historian, editor of the Australian Photo-Review


Introduction / Processes / Holtermann / Merlin / Bayliss / Iconography / the Plates / Bibliography

Charles Bayliss              

>> see also A. P-R.  1953

To an extraordinary degree the course of Holtermann's life was steered by random meetings. Louis Beyers appeared at the Hamburg Hotel at a time of indecision and guided him to Tambaroora; Mark John Hammond's determined intuition found him a fortune. A persuasive catalyst, in the form of Beaufoy Merlin, activated that which had previously been only a vague wish.

And then, at the time of Merlin's death, there remained Charles Bayliss, last link in the chain - a young man still in his early twenties whose vision, confidence and driving force were to establish his patron as world pioneer in the field of ultra-large format photography.

Our first word of Charles Bayliss goes back to 1854 when we hear of him as a child of four, with his parents, disembarking at Melbourne from a sailing ship. His birthplace had been in Hadleigh, near Ipswich in Suffolk -to this day a small town with many timber-framed and pargeted houses.

The turning point of his life came early, when he noticed, at the doorway of his home in a Melbourne suburb, the caravan of a travelling photographer whose name was Beaufoy Merlin. The lad had seen its owner at work, been fascinated by this new magic which enabled pictures to be produced, quite incredibly, merely a few moments after they had been taken.

He had decided in a flash that he wanted to be a photographer; Merlin was attracted by the lad's enthusiasm and interest and a mutual friendship resulted.1

In due course Merlin and the young Charles went off to the diggings and thence through the western district of Victoria and parts of New South Wales. It is clear that the association was a highly satisfactory one.

Merlin came to place the utmost trust in his youthful assistant, while Bayliss was able to gain considerable experience in the practice of photography.

The story of the coming of the members of the A. & A. Co. to Hill End and Gulgong, and the commencement of the Exposition photography up to the completion of the Sydney coverage has already been told. Merlin's untimely death must have been a great shock to young Bayliss, for they had been working together for seven years.

By this time Bayliss had earned the full confidence of Holtermann, who wrote in his 1876 holograph

`Mr Merlin died suddenly; he engaged Mr Charles Bayliss of Melbourne, formerly with Mr Merlin and we are proud to state that he has turned out to be as good a Photographer, if not even better than many ... As a finishing touch, he has taken with Mr Bayliss a splendid Panoramic View of the whole of our city and Suburbs, Harbour and North Shore on direct negatives of 18" by 22" forming a length of 33 feet joined and embracing little more than half a circle showing distinctly All the Principal Buildings of Sydney & Suburbs for a distance of 4 miles and more accurately than can be seen with the naked eye. ..'

Charles Bayliss (far right). Taken in the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, 1886. (Private collection)

A Gulgong carte-de-visite initialled by Bayliss, provides one of the few exposures which can be positively identified as the work of either Merlin or Bayliss. (18226)

A great opportunity had come to Charles Bayliss - that of carrying Merlin's project to a practical conclusion. Some additional Sydney subjects were taken, but after that the majority were Victorian. Of these, quite outstanding is the magnificent nine-frame 360° panorama of Ballarat taken from the tower of the Ballarat City Hall.

This can be accurately dated to the autumn of 1874 by the inclusion in the view of campaign posters of two rival candidates for the electorate of Ballarat West, Joseph Jones and Robert Malachy Sarjeant who fought it out on the hustings of 22 April 1874. Both coatings and exposures are perfect, and so is the clarity of detail throughout.

To ensure that there would be no vibration, Bayliss arranged with the authorities to have the clock and its carillon stopped during the progress of the photography. Also of note is Bayliss's photography on 10" by 12" plates of more than two hundred views of Melbourne, Stawell, Castlemaine and elsewhere, in all a most comprehensive coverage.

Bayliss returned to Sydney and took over the entire responsibility for Holtermann's great panorama venture-setting up a light- and storm-proof room, lenses, glass coating supports in a wide range of sizes, chemicals and varnish. In the end it was to cost Holtermann $1,000 but he always regarded the sum as well spent.

Exactly when the camera-room was finished is not known but it must have been some months before the taking of the mammoth panorama in late September or early October 1875.

Holtermann's 1876 holograph, as previously mentioned, refers to the problems of the ambitious enterprise : `The greatest difficulty to be contended with was the collodionizing, both in regard to make the collodion flow evenly over the large glass plates and to run it off before any Portion of it is dried ... after a few trials this was accomplished.'

In addition to the giant panorama and the thirty-three foot version, two others were taken - one of five feet and another of `twelve feet long and very handsome'.

As mentioned earlier, Bayliss was associated with the stained glass window. It would appear that this episode was the first use in Australia of photography in the service of industrial design. The approach to the problem was very practical, for there was already in the files a close-up of the giant specimen, so all that was needed was a second picture, one showing Holtermann posed as though he actually had his hand resting upon an object about 4'9" in height (the specimen had a convenient small shoulder about 9" from the top).

Holtermann was accordingly posed with his palm resting upon a studio stand of the required height, a photograph taken, and the nugget montaged into position. Several full-length portraits were taken and of these the one with the head turned slightly to the right was eventually handed to the glass designer.

Undertakings for the year 1876 included a number of 18" by 22" views of Melbourne buildings and a panorama from the tower of the recently completed Government House - this latter was not altogether a pictorial success owing to lack of any foreground interest. Back in Sydney, plenty of work awaited Bayliss -the printing. of the `progress of the colony' individual pictures, the printing and assembling of the thirty-three foot Harbour panorama, and the exhibits for mounting on Holtermann's personal eighty foot canvas roll, which we know he was planning to exhibit throughout the continent in support of his immigration speeches.

The foregoing represents the conclusion of the close association of photographer and patron - a brief but photographically memorable three years. The career of Charles Bayliss now passes outside the scope of the present volume, but, in bringing it to a conclusion, reference is made to some of his other achievements.

By 1878 he was well established as `Landscape Photographer' with a large stock of attractive subjects for retail sale. On 17 September of the following year, the Sydney International Exhibition, familiarly known as the `Garden Palace' in the Botanical Gardens (along the Macquarie Street frontage, a little north of the Bent Street gates), offered another opportunity for the panorama-minded Bayliss and one in which he achieved another success.

It was reported in the press as follows

`... 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,2 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 photographs must represent a most valuable record of the city's growth at that time.

The year 1885 was marked by two excellent coverages. The first of these was the embarkation, on 3 March, of the New South Wales volunteers for Suakim in the Sudan, aboard the troopships Australasia and Iberia.

The second was on 12 December when the incoming Governor of New South Wales landed at the Princes' Steps, then situated in the centre of Circular Quay. Bayliss secured, as ever, an excellent record of the animated scene. Clearly recognisable is His Excellency Baron Charles Robert Wynn Carrington, Lady Carrington and the Hon. Miss Harbord, together with much supporting local colour in the form of waiting carriages and excited populace.

About April 1886, he photographed a 360° panorama from Sydney's just-completed General Post Office clock-tower, incidentally to remain clockless until September 1891. It is fascinating to study this photograph and appreciate the changes that have occurred in just over eight decades.3

Bayliss's most important assignment of this period began on 18 September 1886, when he accompanied the Royal Commission on the Conservation of Water, as official photographer, travelling the Darling from Bourke to Wentworth. Commissioner John Boyd Donkin, a man of great enterprise and initiative, and one with a great love of photography, not only secured the services of Bayliss, a personal friend, as photographer, but also invited Gilbert Parker (later Sir Gilbert, the distinguished Canadian man of letters, then on the literary staff of the Sydney Morning Herald) to accompany the party as historian.

During the summer of 1888-9, Bayliss was commissioned by Lawrence Hargrave, Australian pioneer in the field of heavier-than-air flight, to prepare for posterity an album depicting models of those of his inventions which he considered most important. The album was presented by Hargrave to the Engineering Association of New South Wales, Sydney, in March 1889.

Detail from Bayliss's great panorama of Sydney, looking north from the dome of the Garden Palace to Bennelong Point. On the left can be seen a Palace tower under construction; to the right Government House Stables (now the Sydney Conservatorium of Music); in the middle distance, Government House. (Private collection)

According to family tradition, Charles Bayliss was one of the earliest process-engravers in Sydney and made the illustrative plates for the Sydney Mail of that period. In support of this claim there is some circumstantial evidence in the issues of 22 June 1895 and 5 September 1896, which refer respectively to `illustrations produced by various new processes', and `great advances [which] have immensely popularized certain forms of pictorial art'. This evidence is supplemented by the tradition that `he had men continuously engaged on making blue-prints and on other work for architects and engineers'.

On 1st September, 1883, Bayliss married, at Petersham, Sarah Christiana Salier. Miss Salier came from Tasmania and secured a position of colourist at the well-known portrait studios of Freeman and Co., 36o George Street, situated only a few doors from his own establishment at 348. There were to be seven children of the marriage -five sons and two daughters.4

The early nineties are marked by some happy family `snapshots' showing some of the children at play on a sturdy seesaw and a dummy coach, perhaps home-made gifts of the previous Christmas.

He wrote delightful letters to his wife on occasions of temporary separation; there is a particularly charming one dated 30 December 1895 when she and the children were holidaying at Thirroul.
Neither happy family life5 nor photographic achievement were to last much longer; on 4 June, at the age of forty-seven Charles Bayliss died.

The A.P.-R. 19 June 1897 included this obituary

`As a man, he was ever genial and kindly; as a landscaper photographer, he had few equals and no superiors.... The work he did in every direction was of the best quality and it is too well-known far and wide to be improved by eulogy.

`Death came to him suddenly as the result of a short illness.... He leaves a widow and a family of young children for whom the warmest sympathy is felt by all who knew and liked Charlie Bayliss, and to do one was of necessity to do the other.... His memory is honoured in the hearts of his friends.'

Today's photographers will also wish to honour the name of Charles Bayliss.


  1. Grateful acknowledgement is made to the late Bessie Salier Patterson, to Emily Annie Dudley (daughters) and to Eric Edward Bayliss, sole surviving son, for matters of family tradition. Mrs Patterson, in a letter to the author, makes mention of `the very generous salary Mr Merlin paid to my father' on this first trip to the diggings-£4 per week.

  2. The Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, by its vision and, novelty, brought before the Australian public a vast assembly of previously unheard-of manufactures, inventions, natural products and works of art.

  3. The hall portion of the Sydney Town Hall was still being built; there were no Queen Victoria Markets; the roof of Her Majesty's Theatre was uncompleted; there was no Australia or Metropole Hotel; and the plinth at Queen's Square still lacked its bronze statue of Queen Victoria (unveiled in 1888).

  4. Raymond Charles (1884-1945); Alfred John (1886-1917); Charles (b. 1887); Bessie Salier (1888-1970); Emily Annie (b. 1891); Walter Norman (1893-1916); and Eric Edward (b. 1896). Charles died in infancy.

  5. In a letter to the author, the late Bessie Salier Patterson described her father as `enthusiastic and always happy. I have never heard of his having an enemy. He had a magnificent tenor voice, with which he would beguile us on many a long journey, and, when home, it was continually delighting all who heard it.'

continues: Bibliography


Introduction / Processes / Holtermann / Merlin / Bayliss / Iconography / the Plates / Bibliography

>> see also A. P-R.  1953

The text and notes to the plates: copyright © Keast Burke 1973

The original GOLD AND SILVER plates were taken from the Holtermann negatives, Mitchell Library Sydney.


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