Henry Beaufoy Merlin
1830 - 1873

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Beaufoy Merlin

&

The American and Australasian Photographic Company

 

The American and Australasian Photographic Company is recognised as the company established by Beaufoy Merlin in Melbourne in the mid 1860s. They also used the title: American and Australian Photographic Company.

The accounts usually state that Merlin operated under this international title with no evidence of any connection beyond Australia. However, Merlin indicated that the A&A had offices in San Francisco and New york on the back of his CDVs - not evidence of these offices has surfaced. No doubt this American connection added prestige to his company's profile.

It was into this company that Merlin ushered in Charles Bayliss to be his assistant as they travelled throughout Melbourne and the Victorian towns to photograph every building.

In 1870, Merlin moved to Sydney with Bayliss now entrusted with the Melbourne operation. In 1872, Merlin moved to the NSW goldfields around Hill End and Gulogong with a shop front in Hill End with the company name above the door.

While the majority of statements about Bayliss during this period refer to him as Merlin's assistant and place him alongside Merlin in the NSW goldfields. There is evidence that just maybe Bayliss spent more of his time in Melbourne managing the A&A studio or even out working as a travelling photographer. So while Bayliss is definitely recorded as being with Merlin at times in the NSW goldfields, the speculation is that maybe he was not there full time, but rather on visits from their Melbourne studio.

The majority of studio photos in Hill End and Gulgong, while taken under the directorship of Merlin (or Bayliss) as the A&A Photographic Co, it is most likely that this day to day work was done by the studio manager, Clark. Whereas it is most likely that the house to house (and business and events) photos were taken by Merlin with the assistance of his driver/assistant (seen standing behind Bayliss below).

 

 

After Merlin's death in late 1873, the American and Australasian Photographic Company fades from view. Bayliss took over the commission for Holtermann, but the rest of the studio and its photographs and negatives seem not to have been taken over by Bayliss. He instead went to work on Holtermann's commission till around 1876 when he established himself in Sydney under his own name.

In 1951, Keast Burke was introduced to a well preserved but ignored photographic collection in the garden room of one Mrs Holtermann. this is the collection, now in the Mitchell Library (Sydney) which has now been called the 'Holtermann Collection'. In fact much of the work pre-dates Holtermann's commission and is the work of the American and Australasian Photographic Company. One can surmise that B O Holtermann must have taken possession of the studio's contents after Merlin's death.

The story above is pretty much as largely reported, but now to open up a few more queries.

There is some speculation that he may have learnt his photographic trade through a photographer, possibly a relative, T Merlin of Ballarat. His own father had been a chemist, and this could have also been an influence given the then close link between chemical sciences, with almost all chemist dabbling in the new art of photography. Maybe he learnt his new trade in London when he returned and married. All this is of course speculation, well informed, but it remains speculation.

So the question is was there in fact an American connection? Did he travel back to California, something quite easy to do given the shipping routes of the day and the attraction of people to gold rushes on both sides of the Pacific. Or did someone from California form part of the Melbourne operation of the American and Australasian Photographic Company ?

Of interest to the history of this company are entries in Sandy Barrie's seminal work in putting dates on the movement of Australian photographers. Sandy has the first entry as: Melbourne (73 Little Collins) 1869-1870. This matches the entries for Merlin, which have him operating around Victoria from 1865 to 1870, and for Charles Bayliss for the period 1870-1873. However, the more interesting information is that another photographer, James P Lind while operating in Melbourne from 1866, is identified by Barrie as being the American and Australian Photographic Company from 1872-1876, this overlapping with Bayliss's time with the Victorian branch of the American and Australasian Photographic Company.

Then there's the Queensland Branch. Sandy Barrie has a photographer, named Edward H Forster, operating under the title the American and Australasian Photographic Company, Queensland branch from the mid 1860s.

What was the connections here? Remember that Merlin travelled along the same Queensland coast in 1870 so may have met up with the local photographers. And Bayliss is reported to have taken a journey later to the same region.

Marcel Safier, Brisbane based photohistorian and collector, has a web page devoted to Forster - click on the graphic below:

Marcel introduces the connection that maybe Merlin saw the opportunity for expansion of the American and Australasian Photographic Company into Queensland when he passed through the South East of Queensland on his boat trip to the north in 1871. The other 'coincidence' is that Forster married in Sydney in 1871 then moved back to Maryborough and opened the studio for the American and Australasian Photographic Company, named the American and Australian Photographic Company.

All the while, as stated by Marcel, there was also a similarity in the style of photography as being practiced by Merlin, Lind and Forster, to be later expanded by Bayliss.

Evidence points to some form of east coast network of entrepreneurs and photographers. In this context, the linking of Merlin's craft with Holtermann's ambitions makes more sense.

For the moment, we await further research and possible information..

by all means make contact:

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Photo-web pages devoted to:

Charles Bayliss;   Merlin; and Holtermann

and to Keast Burke and the three Australasian Photo Reviews

 

 

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