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  • Title
    Collection 1: Holtermann Collection : photographs of goldfield towns in N.S.W. and Victoria; Sydney and Melbourne streets and buildings, 1871-1876
  • Creator
  • Level of description
  • Date

    between 1871 and 1876
  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Issue Copy
  • Physical Description
    3477 negatives - glass

    A meeting between gold miner Bernard Otto Holtermann and photographer Beaufoy Merlin in Hill End in 1872 resulted in one of the most astonishing photographic documentations ever undertaken.
    Holtermann had been associated with the recent discovery of the world’s largest specimen of reef gold, weighing 145 kilograms, extracted from the Star of Hope mine at nearby Tambaroora. Merlin, an itinerant photographer, had just opened a temporary studio in Hill End. In January 1873, the two announced their plans for Holtermann’s great International Travelling Exposition, which would publicise the potential of their adopted country to the world through photography.
    Merlin and his assistant Charles Bayliss had already photographed some of the gold producing towns of the colony and Holtermann’s patronage enabled them to continue the undertaking, using a larger camera.
    Merlin had begun his photographic career in Victoria in 1866 and within a few years had developed a unique style of outdoor photography. Charles Bayliss joined American & Australasian Photographic Company in Melbourne and the pair headed north into New South Wales, photographing towns along the way.
    When Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss arrived in Sydney in September 1870, they had already completed an extraordinary documentation of “ almost every house in Melbourne, and the other towns in Victoria.” They were aware that their venture was unusual and contemporary advertising by the American & Australasian Photographic Company reflects a considered understanding of the photographic medium and an intellectual approach to their work.
    “The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of the Company’s style of work, is the introduction of figures into the photograph – the most complete and life-like portraits of individuals who happen, or may choose to stand outside, being incorporated in the picture.
    The A&A Photographic Company desire further to remind the public that these negatives are not taken for the mere immediate object of sale, but that being registered, copies can at all times be had by or of those parties residing in any part of the colonies wherever the Company’s operations have extended, thus forming a novel means of social and commercial intercourse.”
    Nevertheless, it is not surprising that Merlin and Bayliss headed west in 1872 with the new gold rushes. The cry “Rush-O!” meant money for businesses, including photographers. A studio for the A&A Photographic Company was built on land owned by Holtermann in Hill End and excursions were made to surrounding areas by horse drawn caravan.
    The photographic process of the day required the photographer coat each plate just before use and develop it immediately before it lost sensitivity. For the itinerant photographer, this meant taking a portable darkroom wherever he went. Despite the difficulty of the wet plate process, the comprehensive goldfields photography of Merlin and Bayliss has provided a unique documentation of frontier life.
    Merlin fell ill and died from pneumonia in 1873, leaving his assistant the task of documenting towns for Holtermann’s Exposition. Consequently, Bayliss toured Victoria the following year, but returned to Sydney in 1875 and began making giant panoramas of the city from Holtermann’s house in North Sydney. The venture was to cost Holtermann over ₤4000, but resulted in the production of the world’s largest wet-plate negatives and several panoramas. One, measuring 10 metres long, astonished audiences overseas and received the Bronze award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle Internationale in 1878.
    Only a small percentage of the A&A Photographic Company’s output has survived, but 3,500 small format wet plates negatives (including extensive coverage of the towns of Hill End and Gulgong) and the world’s largest wet plate negatives, measuring a massive 1 x 1.5 metres, are held by the Library.
  • Collection history
    In 1951, Keast Burke, editor of Australasian Photo Review, wrote to Mitchell Librarian Phyllis Mander Jones, enquiring about Bernhardt Holtermann, a name associated with several nineteenth century panoramas he’d seen in the Library. She replied that his daughter-in-law, Mary Holtermann, lived in Chatswood and might have his photographic plates. The negatives were donated to the Mitchell Library in 1952 by Bernhardt Holtermann's grandson, Bernhard, and became known as the Holtermann Collection.
  • Scope and Content
    The Holtermann Collection is the name given to a collection of over 3,500 glass-plate negatives and albumen prints, many of which depict life in New South Wales goldfield towns. It also includes numerous photographs of Australian rural towns and the cities of Sydney and Melbourne taken between 1871 and 1876.

    This collection is arranged by size of negative, from quarter plate to whole plate, then imperial, mammoth and finally 3 of the world’s largest wet plate negatives. The original negative numbers have been retained. Each negative has been catalogued individually.

    BOX 1-5
    Views of Gulgong
    Includes some views of Hartley and Hill End

    BOX 6-13
    Views of Hill End

    BOX 14-31
    Studio portraits taken in Hill End

    BOX 32-37
    Stereographic views of Melbourne, Sydney and country towns

    BOX 38
    Portrait of Sophia and Esther Holtermann ; Machinery of Pullen's battery, Hill End

    BOX 39
    Transparencies of clipper ship Aviemore and corvette Atalante; Views of Woollahra and Watsons Bay; The Moon, taken with the Great Melbourne Telescope

    BOX 40
    Views of Wellington

    BOX 41
    Views of Orange

    BOX 42-43
    Views of Hartley, Turon Valley, Gulgong, Hill End including Tambaroora Cemetery

    BOX 44
    Includes studio portraits and outdoor images of Holtermann’s child on horse with Aboriginal groomsman Fred Grunway and man on horse

    BOX 45
    Studio portraits, including group portraits

    BOX 46
    Studio portraits and group portraits
    Includes a view of Beechworth, Victoria

    BOX 47
    Studio portraits and group portraits
    Includes interior views of Weir & Embleton's cordial factory, Hill End

    BOX 48
    Studio portraits and group portraits
    Includes portrait of Holtermann’s daughter

    BOX 49
    Views of Hill End including gold mines and batteries

    BOX 50-54
    Views of Rockley, Trunkey, Montefiores, Carcoar, Blayney, Wellington, Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo

    BOX 55-61
    Views of Sydney and suburbs

    BOX 62-66
    Views of Melbourne and suburbs

    BOX 67
    Views of Bendigo (Sandhurst)
    Includes panorama taken from St. Paul’s tower, quartz crushing machinery, gold mines and batteries

    BOX 68
    Views of Ballarat, Heathcote and panorama of Beechworth
    Includes image of a group camping beside a river

    BOX 69
    Panorama of Beechworth, views of Bright, Wagga Wagga, Goulburn, Young, Ironbarks, Dubbo and panorama of Yass district
    Includes State School No. 1560, Victoria and Melbourne Lodging House

    BOX 70
    Panorama of Melbourne taken from Government House tower

    BOX 71
    Hill End views and panorama including gold mines and batteries.
    Portraits of B.O. Holtermann with the Holtermann nugget

    BOX 72
    Views of Geelong
    Miscellaneous - includes images from panoramas of Melbourne and Sydney; Warship Atalante in dock, Sydney; Presbyterian Church, Hill End; Servant bells and gas making machine at Holtermann’s residence, Sydney; Streetscape Trunkey; The Moon, taken with the Great Melbourne Telescope; Mount Erin Convent, Wagga Wagga; Sketches of Nepean Towers, Douglas Park

    BOX 73
    Nine miniature portraits of an unidentified Freemason; View looking east towards Circular Quay from Princes Street, The Rocks

    BOX 74
    Holtermann’s residence, North Sydney; Views in Goulburn district; Photographic cart at Heathcote and Orange; Sydney streetscapes; Mansions, Elizabeth Bay; Panorama of Bathurst

    BOX 75
    Victorian scenery

    BOX 76
    Panorama of Ballarat taken from the Town Hall tower

    BOX 77
    B.O. Holtermann at the Middle Head fortifications, Sydney
    Panorama of Sydney taken from tower of Holtermann residence, North Sydney
    Interior and exterior views of Exhibition hall, Prince Alfred Park, Sydney

    BOX 78
    Melbourne - Bank of Australasia, Bank of Victoria, Scots Church, Government House.
    Sydney - Funeral cortege of James Goodenough, North Sydney; Holtermann's residence, North Sydney; Holtermann family and their Post Office Hotel, York Street, Sydney
    Sandhurst (Bendigo) - Pall Mall

    BOX 79
    Panorama of Melbourne taken from Government House tower
    Views of Geelong and [Stawell ?]

    BOX 80-83
    Panoramic views of Sydney
    Includes image of gold mines and Holtermann shooting party camp in the bush

    XR 45a
    XR 45b
    XR 46
    Three photographs of Sydney Harbour from the Holtermann residence
  • System of arrangement
    This collection is arranged following the order the negatives were found in. The negatives were grouped in 83 boxes, with a number, understood to be contemporaneous and inscribed by the photographer, present on each negative. These numbers are retained in the call numbers of each item.
  • Copying Conditions
    Out of copyright:
    Please acknowledge:: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
  • Finding Aids
  • Published Information
    For an account of `Holtermann's Exposition' by the photographer, Beaufoy Merlin, see 'Town and Country Journal', 27 September 1873
  • Description source

    A guide compiled by Library Society Volunteers, 1980-1985, is available at PXD 533 and MAV/FM6/854
    This guide was used to catalogue the Holtermann collection and includes maps

    Guide to the Holtermann Collection / compiled by Mr Len Reid and Mr Otto Neumann, Library Society Volunteers, 1980-1985.
  • Variant title

    Holtermann photographic collection
  • General note

    Reference 35mm positive microfilm copies (3 reels) are located at CY 817 (BOX 1-9), CY 818 (BOX 10-14, 38, 40-60) and CY 819 (BOX 61-74). Copy negatives are at ONCY 25.
    Master copy prints are filed at PXA 4998
  • Conservation note

    Negatives cleaned, rehoused and rescanned 2011-2012 for digitisation project and exhibition "The greatest wonder of the world"
  • Creator/Author/Artist
  • Subject
  • Place
  • Exhibited in

    The Greatest Wonder of the World - State Library of New South Wales (23 February - 12 May, 2013)

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