Newly digitised images of some of the first photographs ever taken in Australia highlight how the country has transformed from colony to nation over the past 140 years.
The State Library of New South Wales is exhibiting the first digital images of one of Australia’s greatest photo archives, the Holtermann Collection. The collection, discovered on 3,500 plate glass negatives in a garden shed in 1951, captures the goldfields of New South Wales and Victoria and the rapidly emerging cities of Sydney and Melbourne in the 1870s.
German-born entrepreneur Bernhardt Holtermann made his fortune as a gold miner in New South Wales, allowing him to follow his true passion – photography. He commissioned photographer Beaufoy Merlin and his assistant Charles Bayliss to capture life in the goldrush boom towns, in the hope of enticing other immigrants to Australia. Merlin and Bayliss began work in 1869, hauling their photographic equipment and darkroom from town to town on the back of a horse and cart. The towns they recorded, although muddy and dirty, were flush with cash – stores selling imported clothing and luxury goods in particular did a roaring trade.
Staff at the State Library of New South Wales have spent 4 years digitising the entire Holtermann Collection and a selection of the images have been previewed by Simon Crerar of News Limited Network. Some of them are below. Hovering over the centre of the image to reveal the slider which reveals the old images and what the same locations look like today.