19th century photographs online: Australia

Work is continuing to digitise early photographs held in Special Collections. Recently, we added digital images and detailed descriptions to our online information about two photograph albums, Dougan 103 and Dougan 104. Dating from the 1870s, they contain over 70 images of south-eastern Australia, taken at a time of rapid economic and population growth. They document the rising cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the surrounding landscape and the expansion of railways between them.

Railway station, Sydney 1870s (Dougan 104 Item 11)

As well as their social and economic history interest, these photographs are impressive due to the technical difficulties involved in producing them. They are all albumen prints (a popular photographic process in use from the 1850s to the 1890s) and appear to have been contact printed from wet collodion glass plate negatives. The plate had to be prepared immediately before use, exposed while still moist and developed directly afterwards. Away from the studio, photographers had to make do with a portable darkroom or even, in wilder places, a ‘dark-tent’. As noted in a previous blog post, this was no mean feat given the large size of the glass plates.

New South Wales, 1870s (Dougan 103 Item 24)

Photographers often include people in landscape shots to add scale. Some of the images show tiny figures of men dwarfed by mountainous backdrops or half-hidden in dense forests. Thanks to Roddy Simpson, photographer and writer on the history of photography, who has digitised and described the images, it has been possible to identify many of the locations and work by Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), Charles Pickering (fl 1870) and Charles Nettleton (1826-1902).

Roddy has recently completed work on an album of photos from Italy and is now working through photos of Egypt. More details will follow. 

Related blog post:
Early photograph of the ‘Wild West’ discovered in Special Collections



Categories: Special Collections

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5 replies

  1. Thanks for your comment Ellie. And yes, you’re quite right. Sorry about the typo. Now amended!

  2. Enjoyed “19th century photographs on line: Australia” very much but slightly puzzled by-
    “Dating from the 1870s, they contain over 70 images of south-western Australia,”
    I believe you mean “south -Eastern” Australia. South-western Aus is a few thousand kilometres away

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