John Deazeley’s backdrop
Here’s an object that tickles my interest in three branches of history—photography, lighthouses, and the region where I live.
It’s a cabinet photograph made in the 1880s by John Deazeley, a photographer with a studio in Queen Street, Brisbane. Queen Street was, and still is, the main commercial street in the city. Three other Brisbane photographers had Queen Street studios then—Thomas Mathewson, Albert Lomer, and Eddie Hutchison.
The photo shows a young woman lounging on a sheepskin rug draped with leaves, as if at a seaside picnic. She’s wearing a dress with many ruffles, and holding a dainty basket. It’s a pleasing photograph, and a departure from the usual upright Victorian pose with curtains, columns and overstuffed chairs. The background is a painted seascape with waves breaking on a rocky shore, a cloudy sky, and a schooner on the horizon. In the middle distance is a headland with a lighthouse. I’m guessing it represents Cape Moreton, a fondly remembered landmark for immigrants arriving in Brisbane. Perhaps John Deazeley chose to have this backdrop painted to locate his subjects in their new place.
The back of the photo reveals another local connection—in fine print, the name of the firm that printed the card. Watson, Ferguson & Co was a big business in Brisbane in the 1880s—a lithographic and letterpress printer, a book seller and importer, a stationery retailer and manufacturer, a bookbinder.
Of the four Queen Street photographers, only Deazeley went to the local printer for his carte-de-visite and cabinet cards. The others ordered theirs from Marion & Co of Paris and London.