early Australian Daguerreotypes

These days we take for granted our ability to record images of anything and everything with the click of a shutter or touch of a smart phone. In the mid-19th century, the Daguerreotype Process, with long exposures and complex processing, enabled the creation of still photographs where miniatures had traditionally been an accessible way, for those of some means, to have a portrait of a family member.

For technically savvy readers, there’s an impressive and comprehensive description (including visuals) of the process at Sussex PhotoHistory.

Mr George Goodman began promoting his new “means and appliances” creating likenesses that were revealed by “the sacred radiance of the sun” in Sydney.  The item continues here in The Australian – 6 February 1843.

Mr Goodman

And in The Sydney Morning Herald – 14 January 1845

THE DAGUERREOTYPE – Nearly three years ago, the daguerreotype portrait system was introduced into Sydney by Mr Goodman, who erected a temporary laboratory on the leads of the Royal Hotel. Mr Goodman had no reason at that time to complain of the amount of patronage he received ; but there was a want of life in the portraits, and a sameness in all, which made many prefer the ordinary miniature painting.

Recently, however, the improvements which have been made in the system in Paris and at  home, have been effected by Mr. Goodman here, and the dagerreotypes are now all that could be desired. Various specimens may be seen at establishments in George-street and other places – portraits such as Dr Bland’s, Dr. Bennett’s, Mr Mort, and others well-known to most of the inhabitants of the city, which will prove how superior the system now adopted is to that which two years ago excited their astonishment. Another advantage is, that the sitter is not now exposed, as under the old system, to a trial of his nerves in a purple glass case, on a burning lead roof – a trial which was too great for many. Those who can, in these times, afford a guinea for a lasting memorial, will readily do so when they have seen the specimens we have alluded to.

This is the a link to a Daguerreotype image of Dr William Bland photographed by George Goodman.  It is in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales who hold reproduction rights. The catalogue record indicates that this is the earliest known surviving photograph taken in Australia.  Bland was a naval surgeon who, in 1813, mortally wounded the purser of the ship Hesper and found himself transported to Australia as a convict. Dr Bland proved himself to be somewhat of a renaissance man – inventor, politician and philanthropist.  The link will take you to the Australian Dictionary of Biography for more of his story.  Goodman is credited with being Australia’s second photographer.

In some cases, the portraits became a lasting memory of a son or daughter.  This photo (again per the State Library of New South Wales and unable to be reproduced here without permission) of Eleanor Elizabeth Stephen was taken when she was around 15 years old.  At the age of 21, she died of gastric fever. The loss was such a great shock to her maternal grandmother that she herself expired within an hour of Eleanor’s death.

By way of example, with an out of copyright image per the State Library of Victoria, this Daguerreotype of Mrs John King with her son Philip Gidley King was made circa 1855 (photographer not credited).

Mrs John King



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