- 22 Feb 2013
- The Sydney Morning Herald
- Tim Barlass
Early images of the gold rush era and ‘‘promotional’’ shots of Sydney and Melbourne were commissioned by German-born entrepreneur Bernhardt Holtermann who, as every school kid knows, was credited with the discovery of Australia’s largest gold nugget.
They were taken by photographer Beaufoy Merlin and assistant, Charles Bayliss, with a make-shift dark room on the back of a horse-drawn carriage. They would exhaustively photograph houses and premises along the way using cumbersome and fragile large glass plate negatives.
Now, 100 of the images from the collection of 3500 will go on show for the first time from Saturday at the State Library of NSW.
It is remarkable that the entire collection survived – it was discovered in boxes in a garden shed in Chatswood in 1951.
Alan Davies, the State Library’s curator of photographs, said: ‘‘Electronically nowadays we can make the images look as good as new.
‘‘For the first time, we are able to see what Merlin and Bayliss saw. With posters 100 metres away down the street you can actually read the date.’’
Holtermann planned an exposition overseas to encourage immigration to Australia. He envisaged that his images would be displayed as big coloured transparencies.
Mr Davies said: ‘‘The sad thing was that Merlin died and he was the guy that could handcolour big transparencies. In large measure, the dream died with him.
‘‘He was a long way ahead of his time. He had been documenting towns by recording them systematically one building after the next and that’s virtually what Google Street View does today.’’
There was, however, another side to Holtermann. He was a small man with a big ego. He would do good works but then put his foot in it. His strong German accent meant he was widely mimicked, even in Parliament.
Mr Davies added: ‘‘Why would you, for instance, buy the governor’s showy horse and carriage when he left the colony?
‘‘He took it up to Hill End and had his town band march in front of it like the conquering hero. Hello? It didn’t go down well with the workers.’’ The Greatest Wonder of the World free exhibition runs from 23 February until 12 May.