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Marking time

Marking time in November 2010

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Town gas

Gentle reader, if you know where this photograph was taken, please send me a message. The picture shows a small town gas­works, newly built or under construction. In front of the camera is the gas holder with five blokes sitting or standing on the empty vessel. Behind on the left is a shed (for storing feed stock?) and in the centre a brick building (the retort house?). No chimneys are visible (odd?). The style of the photographic print sug­gests a date in the 1870s, ’80s or ’90s. The name of the photographer sug­gests the place shown may be one of the 61 former gasworks sites in New South Wales. Any ideas?

The albumen print is trimmed to 152 x 76 mm and mounted on a 166 x 106 mm card.

The photo is an albumen print mounted on a landscape cabinet card. The otherwise plain back is marked with a rubber stamp: Chas. Hedley, Photographer.​—​probably the C Hedley who was operating in 1896 in Uralla, New South Wales, according to The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900. The use of the rubber stamp (rather than a smart litho-printed back­mark), along with the lack of a studio address on the photo, sug­gest that Mr Hedley was an itinerant photographer in a ten­ta­tive mode of business. But I expect whoever received this print as a seasonal gift was happy to have it, as proof that the town was going ahead​—​whatever town that was.

(I have a fondness for municipal gasworks, those once-smelly markers of nineteenth-century civilization. I look at their re­main­ing fragments wherever I see them. Recent sightings in­clude examples in Florence, Venice and Rome. Closer to home, the one I saw a year ago in Dunedin is especially noteworthy.)

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