Marking time on history
In 1972, while I was getting ready to go travelling, my mother’s mother came to stay for a few weeks. Granny took an interest in my preparations. Together we reviewed the kit I had started to assemble—a sturdy canvas H-frame backpack with leather straps, homemade cloth bags with drawstring closures for organising the contents of the backpack, a down-filled japara sleeping bag, a pair of hiking boots, and so forth. I wanted to take only what I would need, and I wanted everything to be fit for purpose.
She asked me what socks I intended to take. I didn’t have an answer, but she did: I would need hand-knitted woollen socks, and she would make them. She specified the size of knitting needles she needed (a set of three, pointed on both ends) and the right kind of wool. Once she had these things she set about producing the socks, while we continued to talk.
My grandmother Vera Alice Nixon was born in Orbost in Victoria in 1894 so she was a young woman at the time of the Great War. She saw the young men of the district, and of her family, go off to the war. Some of them came home horribly damaged. And some never came back.
Vera had joined other women who knitted socks for the soldiers—an act of solidarity and support for the men. She told me about receiving a letter from a soldier at the front who was grateful for the socks, but who was troubled by the small stones that got inside his boots when he ran across rocky ground. Vera and her friends had the idea of adding a skirt attached to the sock just above the boot-top, which could be folded over the boot and stop those pesky stones getting in.
Who was the motorist? Solved.
I acquired this charming snapshot photo in 2007. Back then, ten years ago, I asked here whether any of my readers knew anything about it. Silence.
George Verney turns professional
My search for knowledge about my great-great-grand-uncle Daniel Marquis has boosted my interest in the other photographers who were at work in Brisbane in the 1860s and ’70s.
Daniel Marquis set up his photographic studio in Brisbane around 1866, in George Street, opposite St John’s Pro-Cathedral. He was already a competent operator, with ten years’ experience in Scotland, and he found a ready market for his work in Brisbane. By 1868 he was advertising his position as photographer by appointment to His Excellency Colonel Blackall, the Governor of Queensland. A vice-regal appointment was a mark of competence and respectability.
Governor Blackall lived in Government House at the smarter end of George Street, several blocks southeast from Daniel’s studio, past the upmarket Harris Terrace, the Bellevue Hotel, the Botanical Gardens and the Houses of Parliament.
Blackall’s aide-de-camp was an army officer, Lieutenant George Verney—an amateur photographer. Photography in the wet-plate era was technically difficult, expensive, and mostly the province of professionals.
As an amateur Verney photographed Government House, its residents and visitors. Some of his photographs have survived in an album, now in the National Library of Australia, that give an intimate and personal picture of life in the house. He and Daniel Marquis must have known one another, and I like to imagine them discussing the art and craft of photography.
Governor Blackall stood on the top rung of the social ladder in colonial Queensland. The rank of the principal members of his staff, including George Verney, was elevated by their connection with the person and functions of the governor.
Funeral for a house
Each year in the city of Philadelphia almost 600 houses are demolished—houses imbued with meaning for the people who lived in them or were otherwise connected to them. Here are two documentary videos about an attempt to properly mark the demolition of one of those houses.
Sending those Parthenon marbles home
British newspapers are reporting that a group of MPs will introduce a bill—The Parthenon Sculptures (Return to Greece) Bill—on the 200th anniversary of the removal of the so-called Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in Athens.
A sad end for Bourne & Shepherd
One of the longest-running photographic studios in the world has come to an end. The business began in 1840 when a studio was established in Kolkata (or Calcutta, as the British called it then). It grew into the most successful commercial photographic firm in India, called Bourne & Shepherd from 1866 until its closure the other day.
At its peak the business had studios in Shimla (Simla), Kolkata (Calcutta) and Mumbai (Bombay), and did tremendous business in studio portraiture, views of places, and records of social and political events. It passed through a long series of owners before its sale to the last one, Jayant Gandhi.
In 1991 a fire in the building the studio had occupied in Kolkata since the nineteenth century destroyed a large part of the valuable archive of negatives—a huge setback for the business. Mr Gandhi was able to keep going by doing film processing and printing but, with the move to digital photography and online display of images, that business has shrunk and the aging owner cannot continue. So Bourne & Shepherd, Artists & Photographers has closed.
Collapse of the campanile
Since I wrote the piece about St Mark’s Square I have added some old postcards to my collection, and discovered more about the events that lead to the collapse of the campanile in 1902.
These events were reported in detail by the Venice newspapers as they happened, and a modern journalist has compiled a detailed chronology.* Here is my summary—with acknowledgments to Google Translate and to my daughter Sally for their help in translating from Italian.
Our story begins when water was seen leaking through the roof of the small loggia at the foot of the eastern side of the tower. The Office for the Preservation of Venetian Monuments appointed the architect Domenico Rupolo to direct repair work. In June 1902 workers began to replace the lead roof sheeting of the loggetta.
Recalling the view across St Mark’s Square
I’ve been reading Carrying off the palaces: John Ruskin’s lost Daguerreotypes, a book by Ken and Jenny Jacobson about Ruskin’s use of photography for observing and analysing the architecture of Venice.
The book reveals the deep scholarship the Jacobsons have applied to a box of 188 Daguerreotypes they bought at an auction sale in 2006. This box contained a significant set of photographs collected, commissioned or taken by John Ruskin in the 1840s and ’50s. I’m making slow and pleasant progress through the text, the photographs, and the copious footnotes.
Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
Yesterday, at the annual general meeting of the Australian Garden History Society, Queensland, the guest speaker was Dale Arvidsson. Since March of this year he’s been the curator of both the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha (opened in 1976) and the City Botanic Gardens (established as a botanic reserve in 1855).
This appointment, as curator of both gardens is a good thing. It hints at the possibility that the city gardens might recover some of their former botanical attributes. Since the new gardens were established at Mount Coot-tha the city gardens have became a general-purpose civic park—over-trampled and under-maintained.
Passing close to the rocky coast
This might be the day for quiet perusal of a diary entry from a long time ago.
Doing wet plate photography
To go with the exhibition The view from here the Museum of Brisbane put on a one-day workshop on the wet-plate (collodion) photographic process last Saturday. The workshop was taught by photographer Craig Tuffin and organised by Hilary Perrett from the museum. It was limited to three participants and I was one of them. The other two were photography students at the Queensland College of Art where the workshop was held. There we had the use of well-equipped and well-ventilated darkrooms.
Barcaldine and the Artesian breakthrough
Just posted on the John Oxley Library blog—a piece by Thom Blake—17th December 1887—a significant day for Queensland, in which he tells the story of the first government-sponsored artesian well in Queensland.
That well was sunk at Barcaldine, one of my favourite country towns, and was a big factor in the success of the town—an early success that is still marked by a magnificent set of pubs, their shady verandahs lined up along the southern side of the main street. Their names record their old associations: the Union, the Railway, the Commercial, the Shakespeare*, the Globe—and the Artesian.
Noel Pearson remembers Gough Whitlam
Thanks to the ABC for recording Noel Pearson’s powerful address at the state memorial service for Gough Whitlam in Sydney Town Hall today. The whole address is in the video below. Pearson spoke of Whitlam’s government as the textbook case of reform trumping management. Here’s a taste:
I met him just once, and heard him speak several times, and feel the expected sadness at his passing. Many of his accomplishments made a direct difference to me, to say nothing of their effect on so many other people.
One of the best things about the recent refurbishment of the Brisbane City Hall is the new accommodation for the Museum of Brisbane. The museum is up on the roof of the building, hidden neatly behind the parapet, with views of the central dome.
What Alex Symons did next
I have kept searching for information about Alex Symons, the purser of the steam yacht Merrie England. Two accounts have turned up, both written by men who worked with him in British New Guinea in the 1890s.
The first is the diary of Henry Mitchell, a crew member on the Merrie England in 1893–1895, now in the John Oxley Library.
To go with the carte-de-visite of the SS Denmark with its cabin plan on the back, I have acquired another—showing the SS Hibernian. Perhaps this is the start of a collection.
The rowdyism and brutality of the uneducated and ill-bred
As I was searching for references to the Merrie England in the Australian newspapers, I turned up a piece of moralising titilation which connected that steam yacht with stories of Victorian scandals. The commentary was prompted by the death and life of George Baird, one of Lillie Langtry’s lovers, but it also mentioned Mr Bailey for whom the Merrie England was originally built.
More about the heliograph
For the record, I have identified the heliograph my father is using in the photo I showed here the other day.
It is a British Mance type heliograph, mark V. On the web are pictures, more pictures, a copy of the 1905 handbook, and the memoirs of a Second World War British army signaller—who remembers the special excitement of using the heliograph during a training session on the golf links overlooking the Firth of Forth in the early 1940s, when with the aid of a bright moon the heliograph worked well and the signals could be read clearly.
Best of all, here is a set of cigarette cards published in 1911 that explain the whole business—something we will not see again, in this new era of plain packaging…
The purser of the steam yacht ‘Merrie England’
Since Papua New Guinea is in the news, I’ll mention a cabinet photograph I recently bought from a dealer in England. It’s a portrait of a handsome young man wearing a naval officer’s cap and coat. It suggested a few lines of inquiry.
Moon signals at Bustard Head
I found this in the Queensland Figaro newspaper, 24 September 1903. The same story also ran in the Launceston Examiner, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, the Melbourne Argus, the Hobart Mercury, the Zeehan & Dundas Herald, and the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin:
It was while locum tenens at the rectory of Gladstone, Queensland (says a writer in Chambers’ Journal for August) that I became aware that moon-signals could be used in the same way as those of the sun. It was my duty to go to Bustard Head Lighthouse every few months to hold service and visit the Sunday-school and people of the station. I usually went by land, and rode 30 miles to Turkey Station; and as soon as I arrived Miss Maud Worthington, the daughter of the station owner, would at once heliograph the news of my arrival at Bustard Head, and enquire by use of an 8 in looking glass at what time a horse could be sent to meet me on the other side of the swampy ground, over which it was wiser to walk. There I was met by Mr Rookesby and his wife, who piloted me to the lighthouse station. Mr Rookesby is a well-known inventor in Queensland. He erected the heliograph between Turkey Station and the lighthouse, but failed to make communication with Gladstone, 84 miles off, either because an 8 in mirror was too small, or because of other conditions peculiar to the lie of the country. He then experimented with signalling by moonlight, and discovered that—notwithstanding the feeble light of the moon as compared with sunlight—owing to the darkness of the night, the moon’s reflections were quite powerful enough to carry the intervening 10 miles between the two stations.
Advice to doorknocking politicians
Social media, 19th century style: This article in the South Australian Weekly Chronicle for 16 July 1859 shows that using the latest technology for electioneering is no new thing.
TO MEMBERS ABOUT TO VISIT THEIR CONSTITUENTS.»more»
A member can pay a visit now to his constituents either in person or in the more elegant form of a visiting card, that not merely contains his electioneering address, but also his name and physiognomy in full. This is a new feature, that has never yet been put on the canvass of an election. For instance, we are informed by an advertisement that—
“Messrs. A. Marion & Co. think it will be of great advantage to candidates who cannot possibly wait personally upon all their constituents to use their Photographic Visiting Cards, which will prove a great saving of both time and trouble in canvassing. They will also afford the electors an opportunity of having a correct portrait of the hon. gentleman seeking their suffrages.”
In this way are likenesses brought home to every man’s door. What a boon, too, conferred on those delinquent M.P.s, who, conscious of having voted wrong, hav’nt the courage to face their constituents in any other form than that of photography. If they are not gifted with the call of eloquence, such a visit saves them an infinity of stuttering and stammering ; and yet, the little they so say is spoken strictly by the card, and must go home, if left at the right house. The boon would be further increased if Messrs. Marion would take off the entire supporters of Lord Derby, and take them off so effectually, that we should never see them again.
I have scanned a pair of timber price lists from my collection. See the PDFs here. They were produced in the 1930s by timber merchants in Queensland and New South Wales. They allow some interesting comparisons.
A sawyer’s no robber
I have been working on a project at Fairview, a farm house near Maleny. The house was built around 1907 for Emily and John Robert Pattemore by their four sons. They felled the trees (with an axe and cross-cut saw), cut the logs to length (with a cross-cut saw), ripped them into boards (with a pit-saw), seasoned the boards (stacked criss-cross on a trestle), then planed and moulded the boards (with hand planes). Then they built the house in the usual way. It adds up to a vast amount of hand labour. That’s the bad news.
Now the good news. In the scrub—soon to be cleared to make way for cattle pasture—were enough white beech trees to build the house. White beech (gmelina leichhardtii) is a rainforest hardwood that saws easily, and is buttery smooth to plane by hand. The old timber handbooks recommended it for planking boats, for pattern-making, and called it the premier carving timber in Queensland.»more»
Renaming the Great War
This is a fitting day to mention some clever projects that Tim Sherrat has done to extract and process information from a mass of digital data. He describes in his blog how he worked with the Trove archive of Australian newspapers to see when people stopped talking about the Great War and started talking about the First World War. He discussed a wider range of work concerning the Great War in a keynote address.»more»
The real face of White Australia
The White Australia Policy was about people - people whose lives were monitored and restricted because of the colour of their skin. This experimental browser enables you to explore the records of the White Australia Policy through the faces of those people.»more»
These portraits were extracted from a range of government documents using a face detection script. We’ve tried to weed out the mistakes, but you may still notice a few oddities. Many portraits are duplicated, as multiple copies of the forms were often kept.
Cairns Railway Red Cross Guild
My grandfather John Victor Marquis-Kyle (1897-1981) believed in doing volunteer work for the common good. During the Second World War, working at weekends and evenings with a small group of men in a workshop under his house, he made crutches for the Red Cross. I can remember him talking about this, and it sounded like he enjoyed both the companionship of working together and the feeling of ‘doing something useful’. Making a pair of crutches for an injured soldier was a very personal and practical help.»more»
Chelsea Physic Garden
Roger Dean, London photographer and partner of Penny, an old friend of my sister’s, compiled a list of places we should see while in London in September 2010. Chelsea Physic Garden was on the list, and Roger and Penny took us there for lavish cakes, tea, and a wander around.»more»
Millions of carte-de-visite photographs were produced in the second half of the nineteenth century. Almost all of them were studio portraits, but there were also a few topographic subjects like buildings and landscapes. Even rarer were cartes produced as commercial advertisements, and here is an example.
After the flood
When I was a child in primary school an old man gave me a stack of photographs—a couple of dozen whole-plate contact prints with scenes of the 1893 Brisbane River flood and its aftermath. At the time, I thought those pictures were wonderful, and I still do. They started my interest in the history of photography, and they were the beginning of my own little collection.»more»
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?
Climbing Brunelleschi’s cupola
In Florence, at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, tourists are welcome to climb to the top of the dome. The other day we joined the horde queueing in the piazza outside, bought tickets and threaded our way through a turnstile and along passages and up stairs. Many, many stairs. Stone stairs spiralling up inside the walls until I was giddy. Stone stairs stepping up the curve of the inner dome. Stone passages low and narrow, patinated with the sweat of visitors accummulated since the completion of the dome in 1436, and decorated with mundane graffiti.»more»
New year’s resolution for 2010
I have resolved to compile a checklist of lighthouses I would like to visit some time. I have already said I want to visit Muckle Flugga. Next on the list is in Chennai (formerly Madras) in southern India. The postcard below shows an amazing architectural mashup of lighthouse and courthouse. The building, described as an exquisite example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, incorporates the lighthouse lantern room and optical apparatus in the top of its highest dome. Flickr user NavneethC took a nice telephoto shot that shows the Chance Brothers lantern grafted into the Indo-Saracenic dome.»more»
On 24 August 1942 R A Cook, wheelwright and blacksmith of Goondiwindi, wrote a note on his printed invoice paper. I can’t be sure of the name of the recipient, but the note went like this:
Just a line to ask you if you can supply me with some river oak billets for bullock yokes. They want to be 4ft 11 long by 6 x 6. If you can, let me know what price for same. I require (15) Fifteen and I want them quick.
David Malouf at West End Library
My local public library opened in 1929, and today we marked it’s 80th birthday with a talk by David Malouf, and a birthday cake.»more»
Artist Tim Schwartz illustrates on his website his installation piece Geohistoriography.
This show captures how America views the world as seen through the lens of the American media. All data was collected from the New York Times, namely the number of articles written about a certain country for each year.»more»
The two wall drawings are representations of the 2008 state of America’s view of the world. In one piece countries were morphed and expanded or contracted if they were written about more or less than average. In the pyramid piece, countries were organized in a ranked fashion depending on this same data.
The animation shows how America’s perspective changed over the last 150 years.
The other day I went to the State Library of Queensland to see Panoramic Queensland, an exhibition of panoramic photographs from the John Oxley Library collection. This is a fine showing of several dozen panoramas of Brisbane and other Queensland places.»more»
Lighthouse life in Queensland
It was my pleasure today to talk to members of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association on the subject of lighthouse life in Queensland. The association hosts morning talks each month at Miegunyah, its house museum at Bowen Hills. Before the talk we gathered on the verandah for introductions and chat. There were white table cloths, tea in china cups, and platters of dainty sandwiches. It was a warmish day, and kind ladies handed out fans to the members as they filed into the dining room for the talk.
My audience really enjoyed seeing a series of photographs of the Byrne family, taken at Sandy Cape Lightstation between 1903 and 1913. The photos are now in the John Oxley Library collection, and published on the web. The Byrne family story is also told as one chapter in the library’s virtual exhibition Travelling for love.»more»
Merry and happy, again
As a sequel to a previous greeting card here is another nineteenth century photographic greeting card from Tasmania. This one is not an ordinary carte-de-visite, but a somewhat larger card measuring 125mm by 82mm. The Loebenstein Company of Vienna produced more than two dozen sizes of cards for mounting photographs. This size was known by the charming name of Elisabeth.»more»
Timber and iron in the smart colony
Yesterday I gave a talk at the Queensland Museum, part of a series called Queensland Connections. In this series, speakers about cultural heritage subjects are teamed with Queensland Museum staffers who talk about natural environment subjects. The result is short talks and odd double-bills.»more»
Where is this?
I’m intrigued to know the identity of the Queensland bush township in this old lantern slide.»more»
Who was the motorist?
Could the car in this photo have belonged to the intrepid adventurer Francis Birtles?»more»
Just found in the National Library picture collection: a stereo photo of a welcome arch built in Hobart for the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. This little object tickles my interest in stereo views, lighthouses, and celebratory arches.»more»
Enjoy the fabulous collection of historic circus ephemera at circusmuseum.nl. There are thousands of colour lithographic posters from the Hamburg printing firm of Adolph Friedländer, each one catalogued, digitised, and available on the web. The website nicely explains, in Dutch and in English, the provenance of the collection.»more»
In June 1972 I took a TAA flight from Darwin to Portugese Timor, as it then was. To me, it was a wonderfully strange and exotic place, a time-warped colonial leftover. A great start to my adventure.
Today, with Australian troops on the way to Timor again, I am thinking about the people I met there, and the hard times they have had.»more»
John Ruskin’s Daguerreotypes?
From an article in the UK Telegraph newspaper yesterday:
A small country firm of auctioneers has been left embarrassed but elated after selling a box of photographs it valued at £80 for £75,000.»more»
How the other half lived
Snakes and spiders
From Samuel Pepys’s diary entry for this day in 1661:
To Westminster Hall, where it was full term. Here all the morning, and at noon to my Lord Crew’s, where one Mr. Templer (an ingenious man and a person of honour he seems to be) dined; and, discoursing of the nature of serpents, he told us some that in the waste places of Lancashire do grow to a great bigness, and that do feed upon larks, which they take thus: They observe when the lark is soared to the highest, and do crawl till they come to be just underneath them; and there they place themselves with their mouths uppermost, and there, as is conceived, they do eject poyson up to the bird; for the bird do suddenly come down again in its course of a circle, and falls directly into the mouth of the serpent; which is very strange. He is a great traveller; and, speaking of the tarantula, he says that all the harvest long (about which times they are most busy) there are fidlers go up and down the fields every where, in expectation of being hired by those that are stung….
Over the top
For Remembrance Day, a reminder that arguments about the authenticity of the photographic record are not new.
Frank Hurley, in France with the Australian troops in 1917, wrote about the problems of recording what was going on around him:
I have tried, and tried again, to include events on a single negative but the results have been hopeless. Everything is on such a wide scale … Figures scattered, atmosphere dense with haze and smoke—shells that simply would not burst when required. All the elements of a picture were there, could they but be brought together and condensed. The battle is in full swing, the men are going over the top—I snap. A fleet of bombing planes is flying low, there is a barrage bursting all round. But on developing my plates there is disappointment. All I find is a record of a few figures advancing from the trenches and a background of haze.»more»
It’s hard to imagine what 87 Billion US Dollars is. That’s the amount the US government plans to spend to finish a mission of securing peace and eliminating terrorist threats in Iraq and Afghanistan»more»
Paris photographed and rephotographed»more»
Denis O’Donovan’s library
In 1874 Denis O’Donovan became Queensland Parliamentary Librarian. He was an unlikely arrival in the colonial frontier town of Brisbane — capital of the state of Queensland, separated from New South Wales 15 years before. O’Donovan was a cultivated man, educated in Ireland and France.»more»
When the Duke and Duchess of York visited Australia in 1901, the loyal colonists turned on a special welcome. See this little gallery of stereo photographs. Of the six triumphal arches, my favourite is the one made of butter boxes.»more»
I enjoy the messages I get from people who don’t know me, responding to things I write on this website—like one today from Suzanne Charlé, mentioning a story she wrote for the New York Times: Tiny treasures leave big void in looted Iraq:»more»
Blogging Australian historiography
My thanks to Dr Cathie Clements for pointing out her post on the Australian Council of Professional Historians Forum (14 January 2003). She starts with an annotated list of blog entries, signposting recent arguments about The Truth of what happened between Aborigines and Europeans.»more»
Signs of discrimination
The US Library of Congress houses the work created in the 1930s by Farm Security Administration photographers—Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and others. On the library website is a collection of photographs of signs enforcing racial discrimination. From the web page intro:»more»
Rewriting Australian history
Gary Sauer-Thompson’s public opinion weblog carries a piece by Dr Cathie Clement — here’s an excerpt:
Australia’s past is under the microscope. Allegations are flying thick and fast as scholars endeavour to defend “orthodox” history against the tabloid version preferred by Keith Windschuttle and his supporters. The term “orthodox”, as it is being used in the press, is misleading because, until the battle over Aboriginal history began, the historiography now targeted by conservative commentators was generally viewed as left-wing rather than orthodox.
Lest we forget
Alec Campbell died on Thursday at the age of 103. He was the last surviving veteran of the First World War Gallipoli campaign.»more»
The Nixon tapes
New Yorker columnist Paul Slansky writes: One of the happiest things about life in America is the certainty that, every year or two, a fresh batch of Nixon tapes will be released to the public. In the past few weeks, students of the thirty-seventh President have been busy working their way through four hundred and twenty-six more hours of very special Presidential conversations, bringing the total to 1,779. Slansky has sieved thirteen quizz questions out of those hours of talk. Can you answer this one?:»more»