Imagine my surprise when they told me he was a she

Take a look at this carte de visite.

Dr Henry Slade

Looks pretty ordinary doesn’t it. This carte of of the spirit medium Dr Henry Slade is from an album of spiritualist photographs compiled in Melbourne in the 1870s and acquired by the National Gallery of Australia about ten years ago. To my knowledge the NGA has never exhibited any of the 36 cartes from this fascinating album.  I used some of its pages in my book Faces of the Living Dead, and wrote about the whole album a while ago. Me and Craig Tuffin and Lisa Clunie even had a crack at reproducing one of its most interesting images, of Dr Richardson (on whom  Henry Handel Richardson’s  The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is based) with a spirt in London.

I thought I knew about Slade, who appears in the album. I thought I knew he  was an American slate writer who placed a piece of chalk between two slates sealed together. As they were held on the underside of the séance table spirits supposedly wrote messages on the slate. He visited London in 1876 when he was exposed by Professor Lankester who paid the usual pound fee for the séance but grabbed the slates from the medium’s hands before the spirits had supposedly commenced writing. Opening the slates he found the writing already there. Slade was sentenced to three months hard labour for obtaining money under false pretences. There was an appeal, the conviction was quashed on a technicality, and Slade fled for the continent and then Australia. In Australia he did slate writing but also levitated his sitters clear off the ground. But Dr Samuel Knaggs from Sydney secreted a mirror into the séance and held it between his knees. He saw Slade remove his foot from his kid slippers and rap on the table and write on the slate with his toes, while his body remained still.

Imagine my surprise when the historian David Waldron from Federation University told me that his student Dr Greg Young had discovered that Slade was a woman! As the Australian newspapers gleefully reported in 1879, after his successful mediumship in the Australian colonies Slade was returning home on a mail steamer to San Francisco. Half way across he was stricken with paralysis and the ships’s doctor was called. As the doctor loosed Slade’s necktie, vest and shirt to restore his circulation he made the discovery that Slade was a woman. When this was reported back in Australia many newspapers gleefully conjectured on what they called ‘The Slade Sensation’, while Australian spiritualists, such as W H Terry, whose carte is also in the NGA album, leapt to his defence.

W H Terry

Looking at the carte again after this revelation it’s easy to see a woman behind the moustache, but where does the moustache come from? According to the Australian newspapers Slade confessed that she had been shaving since she was a girl, and that had induced the facial hair to grow. Sydney’s Evening News of 1 October 1879 countered that scientific men had declared this to be impossible. But all images of Slade sport a magnificent moustache, so if it’s stuck on, she must have done it every day, religiously. But the advantages, in terms of her independence, must have been great, as all the other nineteenth century ‘passers’ attest. Ah the nineteenth century, the century that just keeps on giving! It would be lovely if the NGA could show these cartes some day.

An Australian Spiritualist’s personal carte-de-visite album

my chapter from:

Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850 – 1920

Edited by Anne Maxwell and Josephine Croci

Australian Scholarly Publishing

Melbourne 2015

At first glance it’s an unassuming album, barely twelve by fifteen centimetres in size and about six centimetres thick. The anonymous owner purchased the blank album for three shillings in Melbourne in the early 1880s. The thirty-six carte-de-visite portraits that she slipped into it were taken in Australia and overseas from the late 1850s onwards.

So far there is not much to distinguish this album, which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, from the hundreds of other carte-de-visite albums that were assembled in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Such albums visually located their owners within widening concentric circles of immediate family, social groups and political classes. They were oral, as well as visual, documents because their owners narrated them as they were shown to family and friends in the parlour. But, although they were domestic objects, the images they contained opened out onto the whole world.

In most nineteenth century albums portraits of intimate friends rubbed shoulders with portraits of famous personages, but in this album these images also rubbed shoulders with portraits of spirits. The album documents one person’s passion for the religion of Modern Spiritualism. Its owner was probably a member of the Victorian Association of Spiritualists, and her album uses cartes-de-visite to map the spiritual, social and political world the Victorian Spiritualists created for themselves.

Looking through this album now we are missing the owner’s all-important narration, but it is possible to recover some of the knowledge she would have recalled about each subject as she slid their photograph into its pocket. The portraits were inserted into the album in no particular order and most are, in themselves, visually unremarkable. However analysing the album as a complete object is still worthwhile, because, when we know some of the things the album’s original owner knew about each portrait, the disparate images begin to network together into a complex world-view made up of succeeding spheres of the local, the famous, and the disincarnate. Biographical information can be found for all but one of the portraits in the album. Of these only a couple are Melbourne locals. Of the rest, approximately a third are of Spiritualist mediums and lecturers who visited Melbourne on their round-the-world tours, another third are international luminaries of Modern Spiritualism, and a final third are of well known spirits returned from the dead. A description of even a small representative sample of the these four groups gives an indication of the extent of the album’s reach, all the way from Melbourne, to Britain, to the United States, and on to the Beyond.

The Network of Portraits

The album contains a couple of portraits of Melbourne spiritualists who its owner probably would have known personally. Perhaps she even obtained their portraits in exchange for her own. Most significant is a portrait of William H. Terry by the Melbourne photographers Stewart & Co. Terry was Melbourne’s most prominent Spiritualist. A vegetarian teetotaller, Terry was a spiritual healer, diagnosing ailments through what he called a ‘spiritual telegraph’ with the Beyond. Throughout the 1870s, popular interest in Spiritualism and séances continued to grow so that by 1878 a reporter for the Melbourne Age was confessing:

Though I do not profess to being a Spiritualist, I own to having been infected with the fashionable itch for witnessing ‘physical manifestations’ as they are called, and accordingly I have attended several séances with more or less gratification[1]

By 1881, at about the time this album was being compiled, the membership of the VAS had climbed 853 members, at a time when Melbourne’s population was barely 300,000.[2]

The VAS sponsored the visits of many prominent international spiritualists to Melbourne, and their cartes-d-visite were placed into the album. The glamorously bearded American lecturer, Dr J. M. Peebles, who came to Melbourne in 1872 and again in 1878, visited the same Melbourne photographer as Terry, Stewart & Co, to have his portrait made. He lectured to standing-room-only crowds of up to 3000 people every Sunday for three months about progressive vegetarian diet reform.[3]

One of the most high-profile mediums to visit Australia was J. J. Morse. Supposedly an uneducated barman, he suddenly became full of erudition when entranced. He also appeared to be able to withstand fire and physically elongate his body. [4] His carte in the album was taken by the photographer James Bowman of Glasgow. The album also features a Bowman portrait of Morse’s spirit guide, Tien Sien Tie. (Figure 1) Supposedly a Chinese philosopher who had lived on Earth in the reign of the Emperor Kea-Tsing, Tien Sien Tie first ‘controlled’ Morse in 1869. The spirit portrait is in fact a photographic copy made by Bowman of a trance drawing produced by the Glasgow medium David Duguid. Duguid would take a plain card and breathe on it and rub it between his hands in order to ‘magnetize’ it. He would then place it in a sealed envelope in the centre of the séance table, while the sitters placed their hands on the envelope and sang hymns in order to protect the fine mechanisms of the spirits from outside influences as they worked. When the envelope was eventually opened a spirit drawing was found on it.[5] Duguid’s trance drawing is a stilted piece of proto ‘photo-realism’, however it was adapted to being turned into a carte-de-visite, allowing the spirit to take his place amongst the other personages in the album.

James Bowman (Glasgow), J J Morse’s Controlling Spirit Tien Sien Tie, c1874, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

James Bowman (Glasgow), J J Morse’s Controlling Spirit Tien Sien Tie, c1874, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Conventional cartes-de-visite of many of the senior figures of the international movement, who never visited Australia, were also placed in the album. For instance it contains a thoroughly unremarkable portrait of Modern Spiritualism’s first and most famous medium, Kate Fox, who as a young girl in 1848 had first established a code of raps for communicating with a spirit that haunted her house in upstate New York, thus sparking the growing craze for Spiritualism which spread across the world.

These cardinal figures are supported in the album by a range of lesser known writers, proselytisers and investigators for the movement. However without doubt, the highlights of the album are the spirits themselves. The world’s first spirit photographer was William Mumler of Boston, and his photographs were circulated widely throughout the global Spiritualist community as visual testimony to Spiritualist truths. Perhaps the most famous testimony came from Moses A. Dow. The faded, desiccated spirit we see slipped into the Melbourne album today gives the contemporary viewer little indication of the intense emotions and complex interactions that surrounded the photograph. Dow had taken a talented young woman, Mabel Warren, under his wing and eventually came to regard her as a dearly beloved daughter. She was suddenly taken ill and quietly passed into spirit land, leaving Dow grief stricken. The spirit stayed in touch with Dow through several different Boston mediums before announcing that she wished to give Dow her spirit picture via Mumler’s photographic mediumship. Dow described the result of Mumler’s photographic séance with him:

Her right hand passes over my left arm and clasps my hand. Her left hand is seen on my left shoulder, and between the thumb and forefinger of this hand is held an opening rose bud, the exact counterpoint of the one I placed there while she lay in the casket at her funeral.[6]

For three shillings sixpence for a packet of three, spiritualists living in Britain and Australia were able to order copies of these photographic proofs that the dead lived from Spiritualist magazines, such as Boston’s Banner of Light, and London’s Spiritual Magazine. However in this album all traces of that rose bud have finally leached out of the photograph.

The other key photographer in Spiritualism was the London photographer Frederick Hudson. His 1872 group portrait of two mortals and a spirit is inserted into the album’s first page. (Figure 2) The medium Charles Williams, who is seated, could supposedly produce fully materialized spirits while he sat tied up and entranced in a curtained-off cabinet. He benefited from the patronage of Samuel Guppy who is photographed standing beside him. The wealthy Guppy had married the medium Agnes Nichols in1867and they became London Spiritualism’s ‘first couple’. In this portrait the top half of a shrouded spirit appears to be materializing in front of the two men, assertively looking towards the viewer and raising his hand in a biblical gesture.

Frederick Hudson, Samuel Guppy (left), the medium Charles Williams, and a spirit, c1872, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Frederick Hudson, Samuel Guppy (left), the medium Charles Williams, and a spirit, c1872, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Some Spirits were known by name. The best-known spirit of the day was John King, who spoke in direct voice through a floating trumpet and said he was Henry Owen Morgan, the buccaneer. Many mediums claimed to be able to materialize him, including Charles Williams, and with his trademark turban King frequently appeared at séances in London. He even posed behind some studio scenery in substantial form (though with suspiciously similar facial features to Charles Williams himself) for his carte-de-visite, which is in this album. (Figure 3)

Unknown, The spirit John King, c1870s, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Unknown, The spirit John King, c1870s, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Hudson’s fame quickly grew amongst Spiritualists and he began to accept many clients into his studio, producing draped spirits on the plates for them as well. However his most important collaborator was Miss Georgiana Houghton, an accomplished upper class women who in 1859 found her true passion in Spiritualism and ebulliently developed her own amateur mediumship.

She had read the first reports of William Mumler’s spirit photographs in the Spiritual Magazine of December 1862. She at once believed, and purchased one of the packets of Mumler photographs that the magazine offered to its readers. Ten years later the Guppys introduced her to Frederick Hudson. She recounted her subsequent four years of experimentation with him in a book illustrated with fifty-four miniaturised cartes-de-visite called Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye. In the preface to the book Houghton granted her photographs a privileged role in proving Spiritualism’s truths:

I send them forth in full assurance that they carry a weight of evidence as to the substantiality of spirit being far transcending any other forms of mediumship.[7]

Houghton travelled across London every Thursday to Hudson’s backyard glasshouse studio, meeting Mrs Guppy for a regular appointment at which Hudson would coat, sensitise and expose three plates of her. Hudson wholesaled his photographs of Houghton back to her, and she retailed them to her Spiritualist correspondents around the world, thus increasing his clientele as well as making enough profit for Houghton to cover her own costs. Miss Houghton and Mrs Guppy took turns to be photographed after mesmerizing the other in a ‘cabinet’ — a curtained-off part of a room which supposedly collected and concentrated the psychic energy of entranced mediums. The mesmerized women acted as batteries of stored-up spirit-power which could be drawn upon by the spirits to supplement their own spirit-power as they materalised themselves. To Houghton the draped figures could not possibly be Hudson’s collaborators dressed-up, they were too flat and unfilled-out. Their draped appearance was the result of the spirits using the women’s spiritual power with wise economy. Spirits told the lady experimenters to preserve their magnetism by wearing clothes that they had had about their person for a considerable time, and to avoid wearing clothes that had just been laundered. Houghton went a step further, using one of her black satin petticoats to construct her own dark-cloth for Hudson to cover and uncover the lens of his camera.

For Houghton, what was most genuine about the shrouded figures in her photographs was the simple, unassuming modesty of their attitudes (poses we would now see as stilted eschatological theatrics). In contrast, she noted, living people usually wanted their portraits taken in order to exhibit their ego, and photographers were paid to make the most of any good feature. For her, the hundreds of cartes-de-visite displayed in shop windows, where the sitters were full of self-consciousness and had an air of self-gratification, contrasted badly with the air of peaceful repose of the spirits that she saw in Hudson’s photographs.

In a photograph taken in May 1872 a spirit appeared whom she recognised as her Aunt Helen who had died thirty years before of heart disease brought on by grief at the loss of her husband. Aunt Helen had left half her fortune to Houghton who had gratefully spent it all on her Spiritualist enthusiasms. She appeared now standing right behind Houghton to indicate that she continuing to support her from beyond the grave. The Melbourne compiler of this album purchased this double portrait for her album. (Figure 4)

Frederick Hudson, Miss Houghton and spirit of her aunt, c1872, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Frederick Hudson, Miss Houghton and spirit of her aunt, c1872, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

A key Hudson portrait from the album is of Dr Walter Lindesay Richardson, father of the future famous Australian author Henry Handel Richardson who based her book The Fortunes of Richard Mahony on him. Richardson was a successful doctor in Ballarat and became the first president of the Victorian Association of Spiritualists, while also holding other eminent posts in colonial society such as on the Senate of Melbourne University. He was so successful in business he was able to return to Britain for a tour of the Continent with his family in 1873 and 1874. Whilst there, he wowed British Spiritualists with an address that connected progressive Spiritualism to the manifest destiny of the colonies. He said:

I come from a far country where […] the Teuton and the Celt and the Anglo-Saxon are founding a new republic and […] the great wave of modern Spiritualism is spreading over the length and breadth of the land. It is sapping the foundations of ecclesiastical Christianity; it is splitting asunder corporations based on self-interest and human greed […] It is, amid much ridicule and denunciation, proclaiming the brotherhood of the human race and the absolute and unconditional freedom of each immortal soul.[8]

When in London Richardson also attended séances with London’s leading mediums including Charles Williams, Mrs Guppy and Miss Houghton. He witnessed the materialization of London’s most celebrated spirits as well, including John King. In early 1874 he visited Frederick Hudson, as so many others were doing. After cleaning the plates himself and followed every stage of the process through to development, he received spirits on three out of the four plates, sending prints back to William H. Terry in Melbourne. The most remarkable of the three successes is in the album. (Figure 5) Terry, writing in his magazine the Harbinger of Light, tried to wrap his head around exactly what he was seeing:

Frederick Hudson, Dr Richardson and spirit of his sister, 1873-74, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Frederick Hudson, Dr Richardson and spirit of his sister, 1873-74, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

…a Gothic chair is standing before the sitter with its back in close proximity to his knees; a female figure which is kneeling in front of him seems to permeate the chair, portions of the chair being visible through the form, as though the matter of the chair offered no obstruction to the more refined material of the Spirit form.[9]

So, Terry reasoned, this form must be a transition stage to full materialization…..

As far as we understand it, the Materialized Spirit form which appears on these occasions, is a condensation of sublimated matter, brought about by a scientific process known to Spirits who have studied Chemistry. The power used is Electricity, brought to bear through the magnetic emanations of the Medium, and but few Media (sic) have the necessary emanation to enable the spirits to complete the process.[10]

Richardson also sat in on several séances with the leading matron of London Spiritualism, Mrs MacDougall Gregory, who was also the widow of his old Chemistry professor. Hudson’s carte-de-visite of Mrs Gregory is also in the album. (Figure 6) The shrouded spirit who has joined her, identified in the caption as the sister of her departed husband, has eschewed the self-conscious formal poses of the standard carte-de-visite, and instead sits comfortably cross-legged on the floor beside her, imitating the sitting conventions of the American Indians and Orientals who were often Spirit Controls for British mediums.

Frederick Hudson, Professor Gregory’s wife and spirit of his sister, c1873, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Frederick Hudson, Professor Gregory’s wife and spirit of his sister, c1873, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Spiritualism and Nineteenth Century Science

For us, merely knowing bare facts such as these about the subjects of the portraits may have only succeeded in filling the album with bewildering chatter from the procession of grifters, hucksters, naifs and idealists who crowd its pages. But, if we could hear how its owner would have narrated it in the 1880s, this silent collection of now-faded cartes-de-visite would become full of the urgent discourse, the very presence, of all of the key protagonists in the Spiritualists’ world. These personages formed themselves into series of conceptual concentric circles around her: local campaigners such as Terry and Richardson; celebrity proselytizers and mediums who had visited and performed in Melbourne such as Morse; famous mediums and writers from overseas who she had only read of or heard about; and finally, in the outer circle, the spirits themselves, such as Charles Williams’ tall and turbaned John King or Georgiana Houghton’s stalwart Aunt Helen.

This structure of progressive elevation and etherealization was also how, in a cross-pollination of their Swedenborgian and Copernican cosmologies with progressive ideas of political progress and social evolution, the Spiritualists conceived of this life and the afterlife — as a series of concentric spheres through which mortals and spirits gained more knowledge as they continued their ascent towards God.

Not only were developments in politics and social philosophy shaping the movement’s progressive social agenda, but developments in science were also structuring its metaphysical imagination. Nineteenth century advances in evolutionary biology, geology, physics and chemistry, which emphasised that matter and being changed incrementally over time, were crucial to Spiritualism. The new technologies arising from these sciences not only provided tangible evidence that science was progressing and opening up hitherto unknown worlds of knowledge, which the Spiritualists were confident already contained confirmed examples of spirit communication, but they also provided enabling metaphors and analogies which were joyfully inhabited and extrapolated upon by the Spiritualist imagination — an imagination which had the capacity to stretch far beyond the breaking point of incredulity other people had.

The reigning metaphors were electricity and the telegraph, the wonders of the age, which allowed communication over vast distances. For instance in the 1850s two separate magazines called themselves The Spiritual Telegraph. Spiritualism was therefore a theory of communication as much as it was a conventional religion. It was not a faith in a deferred redemption, but an active belief in the current opportunities provided by supposed communication with those who already had higher knowledge — the spirits.

Mediated Intimacy

If Spiritualism was a theory of technological communication, can contemporary theories of the media cast any light on the activity of this anonymous compiler of carte-de-visites? In his 1995 book The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media, John Thompson argues that, because of today’s new technologies such as TV and the internet, our social relationships and sense of ourselves are increasingly characterised by what he calls ‘mediated intimacy’, an intimacy exemplified by the real sense of closeness many fans feel with the stars they idolize. He says:

It is this new form of mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space, which underlies, for example, the relationship between fan and star. It can be exhilarating, precisely because it is freed from the reciprocal obligations characteristic of face-to-face interaction. But it can also become a form of dependence in which individuals come to rely on others whose very absence and inaccessibility turn them into an object of veneration.[11]

Fans create their own customised worlds by taking up, transforming and incorporating media products into a structured symbolic universe inhabited only by themselves. Because of media technologies, Thompson says, we are all living in a mediated world in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time, but only at the cost of the displacement of immediate ‘lived’ experience:

If we compare our lives today with the lives of individuals who lived two or three centuries ago, it seems clear that the structure of experience has changed in significant ways. […] While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.[12]

Perhaps we can see the owner of this album, who lived a mere one hundred and thirty years or so ago, as a pioneer of both the pleasures, and the pitfalls, of this use of mediated experience for a project of self formation. She probably never left Melbourne, but through the global interchange of cartes-de-visite, and through the global reach of Spiritualist networks, she assembled a coherent world for herself out of fragments of photographically mediated experience.

She probably did this by sending money overseas to spiritualist magazines, as well as to individuals like James Bowman from Glasgow, and Georgiana Houghton from London. In addition she brought cartes-de-visite off visitors to Melbourne, and probably exchanged her own image for cartes-de-visite of her fellow Melbourne Spiritualists. They all come together in her little parlour album — from Melbourne, from London, and from Boston — all assembled in the ready-made pockets of her album.

These cartes-de-visite constructed an entire world, with the compiler’s firm place at the centre of it implied, but never stated. Some of the images were drawn from lived experience in the colony of Victoria, and some were drawn from the higher planes of the spirit world, where celebrity spirits such as John King perpetually hovered, intimately near, but yet always out of reach — very much like a contemporary fan’s relationship to their favourite celebrity. As media objects they were all flattened, delocalised and mobilised by the globalised conventions of the various photographic studios around the world, which produced cartes-de-visite in a standardised format, in standardised glass-house studios, with standardised photographic conventions. (The Glasgow photographer Bowman even transduced trance drawing of supposed spirits into conventional cartes-de-visite.) They were all brought together into the compacted space of the album, where they were available for instant retrieval and sharing. In many respects they are like a page on a contemporary social networking site such as Facebook. In these virtual spaces close intimates, social acquaintances and favourite celebrities are all similarly flattened into ‘friends’, which orbit around the empty centre of us, constructing what we now call our ‘profile’ through our connections, rather than our innate selves.

Conclusion

Thompson warns us that there are both strengths and dangers in mediated intimacy, both pleasures and pitfalls. Did our compiler experience any of these pitfalls? Was this album, and the extraordinarily intimate, yet mediated, world it constructed simply the product of a passing enthusiasm? Did the owner, perhaps with too much money and time on her hands, simply jump on the bandwagon at the height of the fad, collecting cartes-de-visite indiscriminately before eventually getting bored with Spiritualism’s breathless rhetoric of progress and revelation, or perhaps disillusioned with its charlatans? Did the interpenetrating spheres she built up in her album all suddenly collapse in on her like a house of cards? Or, did she remain one of the social, spiritual and technological pioneers of Australia, expanding on the conventions of the portrait album to describe both the palpable and the evanescent world she lived in. Did she seriously manage to incorporate the worlds she constructed in her album, although they were ultimately built only within her imagination, into a sustained, and sustaining, personal commitment to her new religion?

We will never know.

Martyn Jolly

[1] Emma Hardinge Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles: or Spirits and their work in every country of the earth: A complete historical compendium of the great movement known as ‘Modern Spiritualism’ (New York: William Britten, 1884), 238.

[2] Alfred J. Gabay, Messages from Beyond, Spiritualism and Spiritualists in Melbourne’s Golden Age, 1870-1890, ( Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2001), 70.

[3] Ibid, 83-86

[4] Nandor Fodor, Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science, (London: Arthurs Press, 1933), 246.

[5] ibid, 97.

[6] Martyn Jolly, Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography, (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2006), 19.

[7] Georgiana Houghton, Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye, Interblended with Personal Narrative, (London: E. W. Allen, 1882), np.

[8] Dorothy Green, ‘Walter Lindesay Richardson: the Man, the Portrait and the Artist’, Meanjin Quarterly 29.2 (March 1970): 5.

[9] William H. Terry, Harbinger of Light, 1 July 1874, 651.

[10] ibid, 651.

[11] John Thompson, The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), 208.

[12] ibid, 233.

Delicious Moments: The Photograph Album in Nineteenth Century Australia

 

Published in The Photograph and Australia, edited by Judy Annear, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015

Photographs were never just images, they were always also things: objects to be touched or held, given or received, hidden or revealed, kept or destroyed. Photographic historians are paying increasing attention to objects such as photographic albums, and as they do so new insights into the way people once loved, shared and remembered are opening up to us.[1] But, as we look afresh at these old albums, connections with the way we use photographs today are also emerging, even though photographs are no longer the things they once were.

On 18 October 1860 a Sydney merchant announced: ‘We have received per mail a few photographic portraits of The Queen, the Prince Consort, and all members of the Royal Family. They have been taken from the life by Mr Mayall of Regent Street and are highly interesting from their truthfulness and unexaggerated appearance’.[2] The royal portraits were in the new carte-de-visite format – full-length portraits photographed in sets of eight by special multi-lens cameras and glued onto small mass-produced visiting cards. By early 1862 Sydney stationers were advertising another new commodity, the carte-de-visite album.[3] These albums had thick, decorated pages with pre-cut slots to hold cartes de visite. By July that year the Sydney photographers Freeman Brothers were announcing that they had ‘arranged a series of variable and appropriate backgrounds, so as to produce increased effect and add interest to the pictures […] in order to meet the increasing demand for these elegant varieties of the photographic art’.[4] The global carte-de-visite craze had hit Australia – the product of the coming together of an international postal service, a modular album, and a standardised photographic format. A popular poem that was placed on the first page of many Australian albums instructed the reader on how to use this new object:

Yes, this is my album

But learn ere you look:

That all are expected

To add to my book.

You are welcome to quiz it

The penalty is,

That you add your own portrait

For others to quiz[5]

 

The album was therefore a site of mutual obligation and reciprocal exchange. Mayall’s portraits, which reportedly sold in their hundreds of thousands around the empire, set up the royal family as the template for all the other families in the colony, while carte-de-visite albums became a physical manifestation of one’s place in a rigid social system. As she tucked images of the famed, such as those of the royal family with their ‘truthfulness and unexaggerated appearance’, into the same intimate pockets as the portraits of people she knew, each album’s owner stitched herself tightly into her immediate family as well as concentric social circles extending all the way up to the stratospheric reaches of royalty. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted one satirist who poked fun at the ‘claims to gentility’ the carte-de-visite album had unleashed; but his social vignette also points to how tactile the albums were, how startlingly immediate the portraits were, and how the combination of portraits was animated by a compiler’s narration:

 You place it in your friend’s hands, saying, ‘This only contains my special favorites, mind’, and there is her ladyship staring them in the face the next moment. ‘Who is this sweet person?’ says the visitor. ‘Oh that is dear Lady Puddicombe’, you reply carelessly. Delicious moment![6]

 There was much that was formulaic about the carte-de-visite’s iconography. The ‘series of variable and appropriate backgrounds’ Freeman Brothers arranged for their clients would have been necessarily limited, and the repertoire of poses, derived from paintings, equally formulaic.[7] But cartes de visite allowed the middle classes to ‘perform’ themselves as they wanted to be seen, then socially articulate themselves within the juxtapositions of the album, and finally even to see themselves ensconced in global networks. These were all powerful forces so, not surprisingly, albums themselves began to appear as talismanic objects within carte-de-visite portraits. Townsend Duryea, for instance, photographed a young Moonta woman gazing wistfully off into the distance; we don’t know whom she is thinking of, but we are certain their portrait is in the album which sits open in front of her (p xx).

Not all nineteenth-century albums followed the modular conventions of the pre-made carte-de-visite album; some were surprising informal. Around Christmas-time 1858 Louisa Elizabeth How, the wife of a wealthy merchant, briefly took up photography.[8] Her photographs of visitors to her harbourside home provide an insight into the day-to-day social life of friends in a domestic space. The settlers John Glen and Charles Morrison lounge with stereoscopes and stereo cards – an earlier photography craze – while William Landsborough, just returned from opening up new land for pastoral claims in southern Queensland, sits stiff-leggedly. His young Aboriginal companion ‘Tiger’ has obviously been told by How to wedge his elbow on the back of Landsborough’s chair in a fraternal gesture. He loosely holds his doffed cap in one hand, but hovers his other hand just above the explorer’s shoulder, barely touching it with his stiff fingers.

Albums such as How’s, which take us so closely into the bodily interrelationships of colonial Australians, are extremely rare. More common are the large, elaborately hand-painted, collaged scrapbook albums that became popular among middle- and upper-class women in the late 1860s.[9] Mrs Lambert, the compiler of one of these albums, Who and what we saw at the Antipodes, not only records the social circles of Sydney’s colonial elite, but also their houses and drawing rooms. For one photograph she flung open the curtains to her own drawing room at 46 Phillip Street. Though the streaming sun reduced the exposure time, Edith Gladstone, the young sister of Countess Belmore, the Governor’s wife, still has to hold her head to keep it from moving while she is photographed reading at a desk. There is an air of casual immediacy to the image, and a domestic informality is revealed as our eye wanders through the clutter of novels, albums and knick-knacks.[10]

Another album, from the Lethbridge family of Queensland pastoralists, contains a lovely, and remarkably modern-looking, portrait of a fresh-faced young girl leaning back in her chair and looking frankly into the camera with her fingers laced behind her head. Somebody, at a later date, has added the necessary metadata in pencil: ‘Effie Dalrymple, sister to Florence Lethbridge’. Thanks to those worker-bees of history, the family genealogists, and the digitisation of photographic collections, it only takes Google 0.45 seconds to find me another image of Effie, this one taken in 1900 after she had been married for twenty years and borne four children to the Mayor of Mackay, David Dalrymple. In the image that Google delivers, her face is now set hard and her hair tightly drawn back.

To jump from a nineteenth-century portrait album to the internet is now an automatic leap. And plenty of people have noticed the structural similarities between carte-de-visite albums and Facebook.[11] This comment from 1862 about the process of being turned into a carte de visite seems remarkably familiar today:

 

you have the opportunity of distributing yourself among your friends, and letting them see you in your favorite attitude, and with your favorite expression. And then you get into those wonderful books which everybody possesses, and strangers see you there in good society, and ask who that very striking looking person is?[12]

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Slide02 Slide06 Slide05

Nineteenth-century albums mediated between the private and the public, allowing people to invent themselves and to feel connected with each other over vast distances of space and time, networked into global, virtual communities. Just like online photo-sharing today.

 

[1] See, for example: Geoffrey Batchen, Forget me not: photography and remembrance, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2004; Martha Langford, Suspended conversations: the afterlife of memory in photographic albums, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 2001; Elizabeth Edwards, ‘Photographs as objects of memory’, in Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward & Jeremy Aynsley (eds), Material memories, Berg, Oxford, 1999, pp 221–36; Deborah Chambers, ‘Family as place: family photograph albums and the domestication of public and private space’, in Joan Schwartz & James Ryan (eds) Picturing place: photography and the geographical imagination, IB Tauris, London, 2003, pp 96–114; and Verna Posever Curtis, The album in the age of photography, Aperture/Library of Congress, New York, NY & Washington, DC, 2011.

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, 18 October 1860, p 8. For more on carte-de-visite albums in the 1860s see Warwick Reeder, ‘The stereograph and the album portrait in colonial Sydney 1859–62’, History of Photography, vol 23, no 2, summer 1999, pp 181–91.

[3] Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 1862, p 2; Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Apr 1862, p 7.

[4] Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1862, p 2.

[5] A carte-de-visite copy of this poem appears in an album in the papers of Isobel Mackenzie, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 2996/SPG/1; another is in the State Library of Tasmania, TL.P 779.POR. The poem is also cited in Reeder 1999, p 182; Deborah Chambers 2003, p 99; and Risto Sarvas & David M Frohlich, From snapshots to social media: the changing picture of domestic photography, Springer, London, 2011, p 41.

[6] Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1862, p 8.

[7] For more on carte-de-visite conventions see Geoffrey Batchen, ‘Dreams of ordinary life’, Photography: theoretical snapshots, Routledge, London, 2009, pp 80–97.

[8] Isobel Crombie, ‘Louisa Elizabeth How: pioneer photographer’, Australian Business Collectors Annual, 1984; and Joan Kerr (ed), Dictionary of Australian artists: painters, sketchers, photographers, engravers to 1870, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992, pp 375–76.

[9] For international examples of these albums see Elizabeth Siegel, Playing with pictures: the art of Victorian photocollage, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 2010.

[10] Martyn Jolly, ‘“Who and what we saw at the Antipodes”: who and what?’, martynjolly.com/writing/nineteen-century-albums/, accessed 30 June 2014.

[11] See Martyn Jolly, ‘A nineteenth-century Melbourne spiritualist’s carte de visite album’, in Anne Maxwell (ed) Migration and exchange, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2014 (forthcoming); Esther Milne, ‘Magic bits of pasteboard: texting in the nineteenth century’, M/C Journal, vol 7, no 1, Jan 2004, media-culture.org.au/0401/02-milne.php, accessed 30 June 2014; Simone Natale, ‘Photography and communication media in the nineteenth century’, History of Photography, vol 36, no 4, Nov 2012, pp 451–56; and Risto Sarvas & David M Frohlich 2011, pp 35-42.

[12] Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1862, p 8.

A Melbourne Spiritualist’s carte-de-visite album

‘A Melbourne Spiritualist’s carte-de-visite album’,

 

 Migration and Exchange Symposium, Potter Gallery, Melbourne University, 29- 30 November, 2012.

 

At first glance it’s an unassuming album, barely twelve by fifteen centimetres in size and about six centimetres thick. It’s made up of only eighteen cardboard leaves between morocco covers, and each page has a pre-cut pocket so the owner could slide in a carte-de-visite photograph. The anonymous owner purchased the blank album for three shillings in Melbourne, Australia, in the early 1880s, and the thirty-six cartes-de-visite she slipped into it were originally taken in Australia, Britain and the US from the late 1850s onwards.

 

So far there is not much to distinguish this album, which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, from the hundreds of other carte-de-visite albums which were assembled in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Cartes-de-visite were portrait photographs, mounted onto pieces of card of about six by ten centimetres, which were used as the visual currency for extended networks of social exchange. Thousands of photographic studios around the world printed them in multiples of eight and sold them cheaply. Album owners would fill their albums by exchanging cartes of themselves with their friends and families, as well as buying cartes of celebrities such as politicians, actors and royalty. Carte albums visually located their owners within widening concentric circles of immediate family, social groups and political classes. Carte albums were oral objects as well as visual objects, they were narrated by their owners as they showed them to their family and friends in the parlour. Although they were domestic objects, the images they contained opened out onto the whole world.

 

In most carte albums portraits of intimate friends rubbed shoulders with portraits of famous personages, but in this album these images also rubbed shoulders with portraits of spirits. The album documents one person’s passion for the religion of Modern Spiritualism. Its owner was probably a member of the Victorian Association of Spiritualists, and her album uses photographic portraits to map the spiritual, social and political world the Victorian Spiritualists created for themselves. Recently, photographic historians have become increasingly fascinated by spirit photography. (For instance see my book Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography) However hitherto our focus has tended to be on the mysterious ‘extras’ which appeared within the emulsion of the image, which seemed to hyperbolize the indexicality of the photograph; or our focus has been on the moment of the photographic séance, where a thaumaturgic medium-photographer photographed the sitter in the act of channelling their lost loved ones, which seemed to hyperbolize the ritual of portrait photography; or our focus has been on the body of the medium, which in its ability to manifest phantoms and extrude ectoplasm seemed to hyperbolize the fertile power of the female body. But this album, full of its faded carte-de-visite portraits, enables us to expand our focus to the ordinary Spiritualist herself, and the personal, social and metaphysical world she constructed for herself. The world she constructed may, in fact, even share some characteristics with the mediated worlds we construct for ourselves in contemporary media spaces such a social networking sites.

 

Looking through this album, 130 years after it was compiled, we are missing the all-important narration its owner would have provided, but it is possible to recover some of the knowledge she would have recalled about each subject as she slid their photograph into its pocket. The portraits were inserted into the album in no particular order and most are, in themselves, visually unremarkable. However analysing the album as a complete, integral object is still worthwhile, because when we know the things the album’s original owner knew about each portrait the disparate images begin to network together into a complex world-view made up of succeeding spheres of the local, the famous, and the disincarnate. A description of even a small representative sample of the thirty-six portraits in the album still gives an indication of the extent of the album’s reach, all the way from Melbourne, to Britain, to the US, and on to the Beyond.

 

The Network of Portraits

The album contains portraits of Melbourne spiritualists who its owner probably would have known personally. Perhaps she even obtained their portraits in exchange for her own. Most significant is a portrait of William H. Terry by the Melbourne photographers Stewart & Co. Terry was Melbourne’s most prominent Spiritualist. In 1859 at a Melbourne séance he received evidence that his brother had survived death. He wrote:

 

Never shall I forget the eventful night when I realized the grand truth of man’s continuous sensuous existence after death. I felt the presence of my brother, and it was indeed a happy reunion. (Gabay, p31)

 

A vegetarian teetotaller, Terry became a spiritual healer, diagnosing ailments through what he called a ‘spiritual telegraph’ with the Beyond. He opened a bookshop and herbal emporium, importing some of his herbs from the Banner of Light organization in Boston. In 1870 he set up the Victorian Association of Spiritualists and established the long-running Spiritualist magazine the Harbinger of Light. The magazine’s title came from a vision a young medium had, when she saw a spirit holding a scroll inscribed with the words ‘Harbinger of Light’ and the motto:

 

Dawn Approaches, error is passing away; men arising shall hail the day

 

Throughout the 1870s, popular interest in Spiritualism and séances continued to grow so that by 1878 a reporter for the Melbourne Age was confessing:

 

Though I do not profess to being a Spiritualist, I own to having been infected with the fashionable itch for witnessing ‘physical manifestations’ as they are called, and accordingly I have attended several séances with more or less gratification. (Britten, p238)

 

By 1881, at about the time this album was being compiled, the membership of the VAS had climbed 853 members, at a time when Melbourne’s population was barely 300,000.

 

The VAS sponsored the visits of many prominent international spiritualists to Melbourne, and their cartes-de-visite were placed into the album. The glamorously bearded American lecturer, Dr J M Peebles, who came to Melbourne in 1872 and again in 1878, visited the same Melbourne photographer Terry had, Stewart & Co, to have his carte-de-visite made.  He lectured to standing-room-only crowds of up to 3000 people every Sunday for three months. His greatest enthusiasm was for progressive vegetarian diet reform. He styled himself as a ‘Professor of Ontology and Biodynamics’ from the Eclectic Medical College of Battle Creek, Michigan, where he had previously been pastor at a Free Church. The small town of Battle Creek, with its strong Freethought and Seventh Day Adventist culture, was world famous amongst progressives. For example it was where John Harvey Kellogg was born, and where, from 1875, he ran the Battle Creek Health Reform Sanitarium, which eventually led, by the late 1890s, to Kellogg and his brother inventing the corn flake. (Gabay pp83-86)

 

One of the most high-profile mediums to visit Australia was J J Morse. Supposedly an uneducated barman, he suddenly became full of erudition when entranced. An investigator put to him the most difficult questions in psychology, and received wise and eloquent answers, however when released from the trance he appeared to be at a loss for sufficient language in which to express a commonplace idea. He also appeared to be able to withstand fire and physically elongate his body. (Fodor p246) His carte in the album was taken by the photographer James Bowman of Glasgow. The album also features a Bowman portrait of Morse’s spirit guide, Tien Sien Tie. Tien Sien Tie, supposedly a Chinese philosopher who had lived on Earth in the reign of the Emperor Kea-Tsing, first ‘controlled’ Morse in 1869.  The spirit portrait is in fact a photographic copy made by Bowman of a trance drawing produced by the Glasgow medium David Duguid. Duguid would take a plain card, previously identified by a sitter, and breathe on it and rub it between his hands in order to ‘magnetize’ it. He would then place it in a sealed envelope in the centre of the séance table, while the sitters placed their hands on the envelope and sang hymns in order to protect the fine mechanisms of the spirits from outside influences as they worked. When the envelope was eventually opened a spirit drawing was found on it. Duguid’s trance drawing is not the swirling abstract vortexes of energy produced by other trance drawers of the period, rather it is a stilted piece of proto ‘photo-realism’. However as a drawing it is adapted to being turned into a carte-de-visite, allowing the spirit to take his place amongst the other personages in the album.

 

Conventional cartes-de-visite of many of the senior figures of the international movement were also placed in the album. For instance it contains a thoroughly unremarkable portrait of Modern Spiritualism’s first and most famous medium Kate Fox, who, as a young girl in 1848, had first established a code of raps for communicating with a spirit that haunted her house in upstate New York, thus sparking the growing craze for Spiritualism which spread across the world. She held many séance sittings, but by1888 had confessed to making the noises with her toe joints. (Fodor, pp146-148)

 

These cardinal figures are supported by a range of lesser known writers, proselytisers and investigators for the movement such as the industrial chemist Professor James J Mapes who had set down the three basic principles of modern Spiritualism:

 

First, there is a future state of existence, which is but a continuation of our present state of being…Second, that the great aim of nature, as shown through a great variety of spiritual existences, is progression, extending beyond the limits of this mundane sphere…Third, that spirits can and do communicate with mortals, and in all cases evince a desire to elevate and advance those they commune with. (Fodor p,215 and http://www.aspsi.org/feat/life_after/tymn/testimonials.htm#Mapes)

 

However without doubt, the highlights of the album are the spirits themselves. The world’s first spirit photographer was William Mumler of Boston, and his photographs were circulated widely throughout the global Spiritualist community as visual testimony to Spiritualist truths. Perhaps the most famous testimony associated with Mumler’s photographic mediumship came from Moses A. Dow. The faded, desiccated spirit we see slipped into the album today gives the contemporary viewer little indication of the intense emotions and complex interactions that surrounded the photograph. Dow had taken a talented young woman, Mabel Warren, under his wing and eventually came to regard her as a dearly beloved daughter. She was suddenly taken ill and quietly passed into spirit land, leaving Dow grief stricken. The spirit stayed in touch with Dow through several different Boston mediums before announcing that she wished to give Dow her spirit picture. At the studio Dow sat for five minutes before the camera, while Mumler stood with his back to him with his left hand resting on the camera. As the exposure was finishing Mumler’s wife, who was also a medium, came into the room and, immediately falling into a trance under the control of Mabel said: ‘Now I will give you my picture, it will be here in a few minutes. … I put into it all the magnetism I possess.’ As Mrs Mumler came to herself, Mumler re-entered the room with the developed plate. Dow took the plate and looked at it:

 

Mabel stands partially behind my right shoulder, dressed in a white well fitting robe. Her hair is combed back, and her head is encircled by a wreath of white lilies. Her head inclines forward so as to lay her cheek on my right temple, from which my hair is always parted. Her right hand passes over my left arm and clasps my hand. Her left hand is seen on my left shoulder, and between the thumb and forefinger of this hand is held an opening rose bud, the exact counterpoint of the one I placed there while she lay in the casket at her funeral. (Jolly p19)

 

For three shillings sixpence for a packet of three, spiritualists living in Britain and Australia were able to order copies of these photographic proofs that the dead lived.  However in this album all traces of that rose bud have finally leached out of the photograph.

 

The other key photographer in Spiritualism was the London photographer Frederick Hudson. His 1872 group portrait of two mortals and a spirit is inserted into the album’s first page. The medium Charles Williams, who is seated, could supposedly produce fully materialized spirits while he sat tied up and entranced in a curtained-off cabinet. He benefited from the patronage of Samuel Guppy who is photographed standing beside him. The wealthy Guppy had married the medium Agnes Nichols in1867and they became London Spiritualism’s ‘first couple’. The Guppys had reportedly discovered Hudson’s powers of spirit photography when they received, supposedly by chance, an extra image of a draped figure on the plate when they visited him for a photograph on a whim in March 1872. In this portrait the top half of a shrouded spirit appears to be materializing in front of the two men, assertively looking towards the viewer and raising his hand in a biblical gesture.

 

Some Spirits were known by name. The best-known spirit of the day was John King, who spoke in direct voice through a floating trumpet and said he was Henry Owen Morgan, the buccaneer. Many mediums claimed to be able to materialize him, including Charles Williams, and with his trademark turban King frequently appeared at séances in London. He even posed behind some studio scenery in substantial form (though with suspiciously similar facial features to Charles Williams himself) for his carte-de-visite, which is in this album.

 

Hudson’s fame quickly grew amongst Spiritualists and he began to accept many clients into his studio, producing draped spirits on the plates for them as well. However his most important collaborator was Miss Georgiana Houghton, an accomplished upper class women who in 1859 found her true passion in Spiritualism and ebulliently developed her own amateur mediumship. In the 1860s she produced vertiginous abstract spirit paintings and drawings, quite unlike Duguid’s stiff portraits, which were exhibited in Melbourne.

 

She had read the first reports of William Mumler’s spirit photographs in the Spiritual Magazine of December 1862. She at once believed, and purchased one of the packets of Mumler photographs that the magazine offered to its readers. Ten years later the Guppys introduced her to Frederick Hudson. She recounted her subsequent four years of experimentation with him in a book illustrated with fifty-four miniaturised cartes-de-visite called Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye, which joined her previous work Evenings at Home in Spiritual Séance. In the preface to the book Houghton granted her photographs a privileged role in proving Spiritualism’s truths:

 

I send them forth in full assurance that they carry a weight of evidence as to the substantiality of spirit being far transcending any other forms of mediumship.

 

Houghton travelled across London every Thursday to Hudson’s backyard glasshouse studio, meeting Mrs Guppy for a regular appointment at which Hudson would coat, sensitise and expose three plates of her. Hudson wholesaled his photographs of Houghton back to her, and she retailed them to her Spiritualist correspondents around the world, thus increasing his clientele as well as making enough profit for Houghton to cover her own costs. Miss Houghton and Mrs Guppy took turns to be photographed after mesmerizing the other in a ‘cabinet’ — a curtained-off part of a room which supposedly collected and concentrated the psychic energy of entranced mediums. The mesmerized women acted as batteries of stored-up spirit-power which could be drawn upon by the spirits to supplement their own spirit-power as they externalised themselves. To Houghton the draped figures could not possibly be collaborators dressed-up, they were too flat and unfilled-out. Their draped appearance was the result of the spirits using her reserve spiritual power with wise economy. Spirits told the lady experimenters to wear clothes that they had had about their person for a considerable time, and to avoid wearing clothes that had just been laundered. Houghton went a step further, used one of her black satin petticoats to construct her own dark-cloth for Hudson to cover and uncover the lens of his camera.

 

What, for Houghton, was most genuine about the shrouded figures in her photographs was the simple, unassuming modesty of their attitudes (poses we would now see as stilted eschatological theatrics). In contrast, she noted, living people usually wanted their portraits taken in order to exhibit their ego, and photographers were paid to make the most of any good feature. For her, the hundreds of cartes-de-visite displayed in shop windows, where the sitters were full of self-consciousness and had an air of self-gratification, contrasted badly with the air of peaceful repose of the spirits which she she saw in Hudson’s photographs.

 

In a photograph taken in May 1872 a spirit appeared standing very close to Houghton. She thought she recognised who it was, but since they had passed away over thirty years previously she couldn’t be sure. Her sister, however, confirmed her recognition. It was her Aunt Helen who had died of heart disease brought on by grief at the loss of her husband. She had left half her fortune to Houghton who had gratefully spent it all on her Spiritualist enthusiasms. She appeared now standing right behind Houghton to indicate that she continuing to support her from beyond the grave. The compiler of this album purchased this double portrait for her album.

 

A key Hudson portrait for the album is of Dr Walter Lindesay Richardson, who was a successful doctor in Ballarat and became the first president of the Victorian Association of Spiritualists, while also holding other eminent posts in colonial society such as the Senate of Melbourne University. He was so successful in business he was able to return to Britain for a tour of the Continent with his family in 1873 and 1874. Whilst there he wowed British Spiritualists with an address that connected progressive Spiritualism to the manifest destiny of the colonies. He said:

 

I come from a far country where […] the Teuton and the Celt and the Anglo-Saxon are founding a new republic and […] the great wave of modern Spiritualism is spreading over the length and breadth of the land. It is sapping the foundations of ecclesiastical Christianity; it is splitting asunder corporations based on self-interest and human greed […] It is, amid much ridicule and denunciation, proclaiming the brotherhood of the human race and the absolute and unconditional freedom of each immortal soul. (Green, p5)

 

When in London Richardson also attended séances with London’s leading mediums including Charles Williams, Mrs Guppy and Miss Houghton. He witnessed the materialization of London’s most celebrated spirits as well, including John King. In early 1874 he visited Frederick Hudson, as so many others were doing. After cleaning the plates himself and followed every stage of the process through to development, he received spirits on three out of the four plates, sending prints back to William H Terry in Melbourne. The most remarkable of the three successes is in the album. Terry, writing in the Harbinger of Light, tried to wrap his head around exactly what he was seeing:

 

…a Gothic chair is standing before the sitter with its back in close proximity to his knees; a female figure which is kneeling in front of him seems to permeate the chair, portions of the chair being visible through the form, as though the matter of the chair offered no obstruction to the more refined material of the Spirit form. (HoL July 1st 1874, p651)

 

So, this form must be a transition stage to full materialization…..

 

As far as we understand it, the Materialized Spirit form which appears on these occasions, is a condensation of sublimated matter, brought about by a scientific process known to Spirits who have studied Chemistry. The power used is Electricity, brought to bear through the magnetic emanations of the Medium, and but few Media (sic) have the necessary emanation to enable the spirits to complete the process. (HoL July 1st 1874, p651)

 

Richardson also sat in on several séances with the leading matron of London Spiritualism Mrs MacDougall Gregory, who was also the widow of his old Chemistry professor. Hudson’s carte of Mrs Gregory is also in the album. The shrouded spirit who has joined her, identified in the caption as the sister of her departed husband, has eschewed the self-conscious formal poses of the standard carte, and instead sits comfortably cross-legged on the floor beside her, imitating the sitting conventions of the American Indians and Orientals who were often Spirit Controls for British mediums.

 

Spiritualism and Nineteenth Century Science

For us, one hundred and thirty years later, merely knowing bare facts such as these about the subjects of the cartes may have only succeeded in filling the album with bewildering chatter from the procession of grifters, hucksters, naifs and idealists who crowd its pages. But, if we could hear how it would have been narrated by its owner in the 1880s, this silent collection of now-faded cartes-de-visite would become full of the urgent discourse, the very presence, of all of the key protagonists in the Spiritualists’ world. These personages formed themselves into series of conceptual concentric circles around her: local campaigners such as Terry and Richardson; foundational elder members of the movement; celebrity propagandists and mediums who had visited and performed in Melbourne such as Morse; famous mediums and writers from overseas who she had only read of or heard about; and finally, in the outer circle, the spirits themselves, such as Charles Williams’ tall and turbaned John King or Georgiana Houghton’s stalwart Aunt Helen.

 

This structure of progressive elevation and etherealization was also how, in a cross-pollination of their Swedenborgian and Copernican cosmologies with progressive ideas of political progress and social evolution, the Spiritualists conceived of this life and the afterlife — as a series of concentric spheres through which mortals and spirits gained more knowledge as they continued their ascent towards God.

 

Not only were developments in politics and social philosophy shaping the movement’s progressive social agenda, but developments in science were also structuring its metaphysical imagination. Nineteenth century advances in evolutionary biology, geology, physics and chemistry, which emphasised that matter and being changed incrementally over time, were crucial to Spiritualism. The new technologies arising from these sciences also formed a specific context for Spiritualism. They not only provided tangible evidence that science was progressing and opening up hitherto unknown worlds of knowledge, which the Spiritualists were confident already contained confirmed examples of spirit communication, they also provided enabling metaphors and analogies which were joyfully inhabited and extrapolated upon by the Spiritualist imagination — an imagination which had the capacity to stretch far beyond the breaking point of incredulity other people had.

 

Nineteenth century spirits were much more chaste and eschatological than the bizarre bodily eruptions of ectoplasm through which they manifested themselves in the twentieth century. The reigning metaphor was the telegraph, the electrical wonder of the age, which allowed communication over vast distances. For instance in the 1850s two separate magazines called themselves The Spiritual Telegraph. In the faraway Australia of the 1870s the telegraph was a particularly potent piece of technology. Australia was finally connected to the outside world via telegraph in 1871, when a cable from Java was pulled ashore at Darwin and subsequently connected via the overland telegraph line to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. In 1880 a home séance circle, which included employees of the New South Wales Magnetic Telegraph Office, began to use a disconnected telegraph key as the means of communication with the Beyond. They would place it in the middle of the séance table and it would automatically begin to tap, transmitting from the Other Side in Morse Code while ‘spirit lights’ hovered around the key.  (Britten, p254-255) Spiritualism was therefore a theory of communication as much as it was a conventional religion. It was not so much a faith in a deferred redemption, as an active belief in the current opportunities provided by supposed communication with those who already had higher knowledge — the spirits.

 

Mediated Intimacy

If Spiritualism was a theory of technological communication, can contemporary theories of the media cast any light on the activity of this anonymous compiler of carte-de-visites? In his 1995 book The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media, John Thompson argues that, because of today’s new technologies such as TV and the internet, our social relationships and sense of ourselves are increasingly characterised by what he calls ‘mediated intimacy’, an intimacy exemplified by the real sense of closeness many fans feel with the stars they idolize. He says:

 

It is this new form of mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space, which underlies, for example, the relationship between fan and star. It can be exhilarating, precisely because it is freed from the reciprocal obligations characteristic of face-to-face interaction. But it can also become a form of dependence in which individuals come to rely on others whose very absence and inaccessibility turn them into an object of veneration. p208

 

Within modernity the sense of ‘self’ is regarded less as something innate to the individual, and more as the product of an ongoing symbolic project that the individual actively constructs. In one sense the availability of media products enriches this reflexive organization of narratives of the self, because it gives individuals more choice over the sort of self they want to be. But in another sense, Thompson warns, it makes them more dependent on larger systems over which they have little control. This may lead to a kind of symbolic overload which can eventually absorb the self, so that what he calls ‘mediated quasi-interactions’ become ends in themselves, rather than a resource individuals can choose to draw on and incorporate reflexively into their developing narratives of the self.

 

Thompson warns us that celebrities, which are taking up more and more space in the daily discourse our lives, can begin to overshadow and redefine other aspects of our social interactions. For Thompson, the state of being a fan is rooted in a ‘non-reciprocal relation of intimacy with distant others’. Fans create their own customised worlds by taking up, transforming and incorporating media products into a structured symbolic universe inhabited only by themselves. So, for a while, being a fan may seem to be an effective strategy of the self, because it enables individuals to tap into a rich source of symbolic materials which can be used to cultivate non-reciprocal bonds which are incorporated reflexively into a project of self-formation. But, beware, because fandom can become addictive and take over. When this occurs the individual may find it difficult to sustain the distinction between the world of the fan and the practical contexts of daily life. The two worlds become inextricably entangled, and the project of self becomes inseparable from, and increasingly shaped by, the experience of being a fan. (Thompson p222—225)

 

Because of media technologies, Thompson says, we are all living in a mediated world in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time, but only at the cost of the displacement of immediate ‘lived’ experience:

 

As these mediated experiences are incorporated reflexively into the project of self-formation, the nature of the self is transformed. It is not dissolved or dispersed by media messages, but rather is opened up by them, in varying degrees, to influences which stem from different locales. […]. If we compare our lives today with the lives of individuals who lived two or three centuries ago, it seems clear that the structure of experience has changed in significant ways. […] While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation. P233

 

Perhaps we can see the owner of this album, who lived a mere one hundred and thirty years ago, as a pioneer of both the pleasures, and the pitfalls, of this use of mediated experience for a project of self formation. She probably never left Melbourne, but through the global interchange of cartes-de-visite, and through the global reach of Spiritualist networks, she assembled a coherent world for herself out of fragments of photographically mediated experience.

 

She probably did this by sending money overseas to magazines like Boston’s Banner of Light and London’s Spiritual Magazine, as well as to individuals like James Bowman from Glasgow, and Georgiana Houghton from London. In addition she brought cartes off visitors to Melbourne, and probably exchanged her own image for cartes of her fellow Melbourne Spiritualists. They all come together in her little parlour album — from Battle Creek, from London, and from Boston — all assembled in the ready-made pockets of her album.

 

These cartes construct an entire world, with the compiler’s firm place at the centre of it implied, but never stated. Some of the images were drawn from lived experience in the colony of Victoria, and some were drawn from the higher planes of the spirit world, where celebrity spirits such as John King perpetually hovered, intimately near, but yet always out of reach — very much like a contemporary fan’s relationship to their favourite celebrity. As media objects they were all flattened, delocalised and mobilised by the globalised conventions of the various photographic studios around the world, which produced cartes-de-visite in a standardised format, in standardised glass-house studios, with standardised photographic conventions. (The Glasgow photographer Bowman even transduced trance drawing of supposed spirits into conventional cartes-de-visites.) They were all brought together into the compacted space of the album, where they were available for instant retrieval and sharing. In many respects they are like a page on a contemporary social networking site such as Facebook. In contemporary social networking close intimates, social acquaintances and favourite celebrities are all similarly flattened into ‘friends’, which orbit around the empty centre of us, constructing what we now call our ‘profile’ through our connections, rather than our innate selves.

 

Conclusion

Thompson warns us that there are both strengths and dangers in mediated intimacy, both pleasures and pitfalls. Did our compiler experience any of these pitfalls? Was this album, and the extraordinarily intimate, yet mediated, world it constructed simply the product of a passing enthusiasm? Did the owner, perhaps with too much money and time on her hands, simply jump on the bandwagon at the height of the fad, collecting cartes indiscriminately before eventually getting bored with Spiritualism’s breathless rhetoric of progress and revelation, or perhaps disillusioned with its charlatans. Did the interpenetrating spheres she built up in her album all suddenly collapse in on her like a house of cards? Or, did she remain one of the social, spiritual and technological pioneers of Australia, expanding on the conventions of the portrait album to describe both the palpable and the evanescent world she lived in. Did she seriously manage to incorporate the worlds she constructed in her album, although they were ultimately built only within her imagination, into a sustained, and sustaining, personal commitment to her new religion?

 

We will never know.

 

Martyn Jolly

 

Bibliography

 

Alfred J. Gabay, Messages from Beyond, Spiritualism and Spiritualists in Melbourne’s Golden Age, 1870-1890, Melbourne University Press, 2001

 

Alfred Russel Wallace, On Miracles of Modern Spiritualism: Three Essays, Spiritualist Press, 1874

 

Georgiana Houghton, Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye, Interblended with Personal Narrative, E. W. Allen, 1882

 

Dorothy Green, ‘Walter Lindesay Richardson: the Man the Portrait and the Artist’, Meanjin Quarterly, March 1970

 

John Thompson, The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media, Cambridge Polity Press, 1995.

 

Emma Hardinge Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles: or Spirits and their work in every country of the earth: A complete historical compendium of the great movement known as ‘Modern Spiritualism’, William Britten, New York,1884

 

Nandor Fodor, Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science, Arthurs Press, 1933

 

Harbinger of Light, Melbourne.

 

Martyn Jolly, Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography, British Library, 2006

 

Captions:

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Samuel Guppy (left), the medium Charles Williams, and a spirit, c1872, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Miss Houghton and spirit of her aunt, c1872, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Dr Richardson and spirit of his sister, 1873-74, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Professor Gregory’s wife and spirit of his sister, c1873, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Unknown, The spirit John King, c1870s, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

James Bowman (Glasgow), J J Morse’s Controlling Spirit Tien Sien Tie, c1874, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

 

 

 

“Who and What We Saw at the Antipodes” – who and what?

Unpublished manuscript for a talk on the album Who and What We Saw at the Antipodes, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. Written circa 1983. No citations. c1983

This album was assembled from photographs taken mainly in Australia between 1868 and 1870.  It was purchased by the Australian National Gallery and is one of a pair of albums.  The other, directly attributable to a Lady Fanny Jocelyn, is concerned with the domestic life of a British aristocratic family in the 1860s.

Viscountess Jocelyn was born Lady Frances Elizabeth Cowper around 1820, the younger daughter of Earl Cowper.  The invalid Earl died in 1837, and two years later her mother, Amelia Lamb, remarried the man with whom she had been having a well-publicised and glamorous love-affair for many years, Viscount Palmerston.  (There is speculation that her younger children, perhaps even Lady Fanny, were the daughters of Viscount Palmerston rather than the invalid Earl.) Viscount Palmerston was one of Queen Victoria’s closest advisers and a powerful force in British politics.  Lady Fanny herself was one of Queen Victoria’s ten bridesmaids and later a Lady-in-waiting.  In 1841 she married the dashing Viscount Jocelyn, who had recently returned from a six month expedition to the Chinese Opium War.  In her thirteen years of marriage, before her husband’s untimely death in 1854, she bore four children.

It was probably as a widow that Lady Fanny took up photography, which was becoming a very fashionable pass-time amongst the wealthy, educated and leisured classes.  Although women would have been discouraged from taking up the hobby, they were not absolutely precluded, particularly if they were wealthy and had fulfilled the Victorian obligations to their large families and their husband’s careers.  Other aristocratic women photographers of the period were Lady Clemintina Hawarden and the better known Julia Margaret Cameron (not strictly an aristocrat).

It was probably as a girl, that Lady Fanny acquired her watercolour skills, which would have been part of her education as a Lady.  A common pass-time for women of the period was the assemblage of elaborate albums and scrap-books containing poems, illustrations, sketches and drawings by themselves and others.  After the invention of photography, carte-de-visites of their friends, family and the famous were likewise assembled into elaborate, morocco-bound, brass-hasped, albums.  More rarely, the albums were embellished and decorated by hand, and more rarely still the purchased carte-de-visites were joined by photographs taken by the album’s owner.

The style, technique and predominant concerns of the two albums are closely related, and the album in the Gallery’s collection appears to have been owned by Lady Fanny Jocelyn. It may even have been assembled and decorated by her, but none of the photographs in our album were taken by her, quite simply because she is not recorded as being in Australia at the time.

In fact the exact identity of the person initially responsible for the Gallery’s album, and their connection with Lady Fanny Jocelyn, continues to evade my researches.  However by carefully analysing the album’s contents we are able to precisely locate their class, cultural and ideological position, which is just as useful for a deconstruction of the album.

The title page of the album shows Government House in Sydney and the vice-regal suite of the late 1860s.  They are most probably, from left to right:  Mr F.B. Toulmin, private secretary to the Governor; the Governor and his wife, the Earl and Countess of Belmore; and Mrs Beresford and Captain Beresford, aid-de-camp to the Governor.

The title is illuminated with ‘typically Australian” motifs: around the word ‘antipodes’ we see a grass-tree, a kangaroo, an aborigine, a boomerang, some parrots, a goanna, a ring-tailed possum and a snake.  This is the closest this album ever gets to showing non-European Australia, there are few photographs of such things elsewhere in the album, although they were freely available at the time.  The person who assembled the album, even though they stayed in Australia for three years, doesn’t appear to have encountered, or have been interested in encountering, any of these things first hand.  But nonetheless they remained acutely aware of their existence as signifiers of antipodality.  They were aware of the exotic charge the decorations gave to the word ‘antipodes’.  Other decorations in the album are similarly constructed within the paradigm of the ‘typically Australian’ but they exist, for the most part, only as decorations, as exotic embellishments to what remains, fundamentally, a stoically British existence in the colonies.  As will become clear, this is a profoundly insular and dissaffected album, one that shows Australia’s British masters’ poverty of experience of anything outside their own narrow society. Below the four carte-de-visites we have a photograph of Government House itself, showing the boathouse at the bottom and the masts of ships moored in Sydney Cove in the background.

The concurrence of the word ‘we’ with photographs of these five people, on the one page, would tend to suggest that one of them, or more, is the album’s originator.  To this question I shall return.  However it is immediately apparent that who ever the originator was, they were closely involved with the vice-regal family, as is demonstrated on another page which shows the Earl and Viscountess of Belmore and their four daughters dangling off a gum-tree branch.

The vice-regal suite arrived in Sydney on 7 January, 1868, after voyaging from England on the Sobraon.  The Earl of Belmore, on Eton and Oxford graduate, was only 32 when he took up his post, which he retained for four years before returning to Britain to attend to his estates and his career in British politics.  He and his wife are reported as making a very impressive vice-regal couple:  he being described as tall, and his wife as tall and dark.  Here she is pictured, at about the age of 25, with her first four daughters, she was to have six more daughters and three sons.  Her daughters are, from left to right:  Lady Therese, about 6; Lady Madelin, about 3; Lady Mary, about 1; and Lady Florence, about 4.

The Belmores, unlike many colonial governors, took a great deal of interest in the colony they governed, making sixteen arduous tours of its country areas.  On one tour of southern New South Wales and Victoria, undertaken in July 1868, the Countess was thrown bodily from her coach during an accident outside Goulburn.  But she was not hurt and continued on the tour, later removing her crinolines to descend a gold mine, the managers of which presented her with some nuggets when her attempts at panning proved unsuccessful.  However, despite her obvious devotion to her duties, she does not seem to have had much of a taste for Sydney’s social life, she is often recorded as not attending very important balls and picnics. One of the reasons for the Belmore’s return to England in 1872 was her failing health.  She obviously had an exhausting life in the colonies. On another page we have a photograph of Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, flanked by his two equerries, Lord Newry and Elliot Yorke.  The photograhs were taken in Sydney in January 1868.

This was the occasion of the first Royal Tour of Australia, with Queen Victoria’s second son travelling to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and Launceston over six months, being shot at, and raising the patriotic emotions of colonial Australians to fever pitch.  The papers of the day are full of detailed accounts of the Prince’s every movement -his possum shooting parties, his visits to the theatre, etc. As well, they reproduced at tedious length all the speeches given in his honour, and all of his replies.

The Sydney Morning Herald even reported on the execution of this particular photograph.  It wrote: “The Duke of Edinburgh honoured Mr W. Bradley with a visit to his photographic establishment.  His Royal Highness afforded the artist on opportunity of taking seven very excellent likenesses”.  It goes on to describe the seven photographs, including this one, in which “His Royal Highness has assumed a slightly recumbent position near a sideboard.  His eyes are fixed upon an open book.  The face is what artists call three-quarter, and the expression more than that of any of the other photographs will remind some of the face of his Royal mother in her youthful days”.  The article concludes with “It is said that the Prince has expressed his approbation of the portraits.  Like others produced in this city, they are far before any which have been imported.  They will find a place, no doubt, in many albums, and tend to keep fresh in the remembrance of thousands the features of our Royal Sailor, and the festive days when his visit to this colony was commemorated”.  No doubt this portrait did feature in many albums, but few would have been privileged enough to have direct access to the Prince to have him sign this page himself.

Prince Alfred toured the colonies as Commander of the Royal Navy’s H.M.S.S. Galatea.  The Galatea arrived in Sydney Harbour from Melbourne on 21 January 1968.  The ceremonial welcome that had been planned for it, complete with flotillas of steamers in formation, welcome banners, and nine and seven gun salutes, was spoiled by a torrential and continual downpour of rain. The following day the Prince was welcomed to Sydney by a procession through Sydney’s streets, around Hyde Park and under no less than four triumphal arches.  That night, still in torrential rain, there was a display of fireworks and illuminated transparencies (large patriotic paintings, mounted in windows and on the fronts of buildings, lit from behind by gas lights). One of the most impressive displays was a fire-spitting winged dragon of over 30 metres that silently moved across the surface of the harbour.  It consisted of a steamer, entirely covered with detailed transparencies, trailing twenty-two smaller boats festooned with lanterns.  Men at the front of the steamer shot fireworks out of the dragon’s mouth and moved its jaws. Unfortunately, photography was not yet sufficiently technically advanced to record these events; although woodcuts made from sketches were included in the Illustrated Sydney News.

The album also contains two photographs of Clontarf, a popular picnic spot on Sydney’s Middle Harbour.  It was on this spot that, on 12 March, 1868, the Duke of Edinburgh was shot by a Fenian whilst attending a picnic to raise funds for a Sailors’ Home.  The would be assassin, James O’Farrell, fired into the Prince’s back from less than two metres, but the bullet’s republican progress was impeded by the several layers of rubber at the cross-over of the Royal Braces, so the Prince was not badly wounded.  Loyal Australians, however, were outraged, and over reacted in a way only colonists trying to prove their loyalty to the Empire can.  Some extremely Draconian legislation was enacted in New South Wales which, amongst other things, provided for up to two years imprisonment with hard labour for anyone “using language disrespectful to the Queen, or expressing sympathy with certain offenders”. Over a year later another picnic at Clontarf was not attended by Lady Belmore, the Governor’s wife, reportedly because she was too overcome with thoughts of the outrage she had witnessed there.

These images appear to have had wide circulation in Sydney. The top image most probably formed the basis of a chromolithograph by Thomas Picken, a resident of Sydney, which was published in “The Cruise of the Galatea” in 1868.  There was undoubtedly a high demand for pictures of the actual spot of such a dastardly attempt on the Prince’s life whilst he was in the very bosom of Sydney’s loyal economic and social elite. Picken was associated with the Royal Party through the watercolourist Oswald Brierly, who travelled on the Galatea as a guest of the Prince, and some of whose watercolours Picken had previously turned into chromolithographs.

The photograph of Mrs Susan Macleay, Miss Tiny and Miss Nelly Deas Thomson and Lord Newry (the Prince’s equerry) was taken in Sydney at Elizabeth Bay House, the home of William Macleay, probably during March or April 1868. The women in the photograph are three of the five daughters of Sir Edward Deas Thomson, a wealthy and powerful Sydney politician.  Susan Macleay, the woman standing on the left, was twenty-nine when this photograph was taken.  She had married William Macleay at the age of 18, but they had only been living at Elizabeth Bay House for three years.  William Macleay, besides pursuing the normal gentlemanly occupations of grazing and politics, was also, like his father-in-law, a keen naturalist,specializing in entomology.  Elizabeth Bay House was, at this time, a favourite meeting place for the colony’s leading scientists. Susan Macleay’s sisters were also frequent visitors to the House.  They lived close by, at “Barham” in Forbes Street Darlinghurst, only a mile or so through Kings Cross from Elizabeth Bay. “Barham” is now the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School.

Lord Newry seems to have stuck up a particularly close friendship with the Deas Thomson sisters during his stay in Sydney.  On the fourth of April 1868 he wrote to their mother, inviting her and her daughters on board the Prince’s ship that Sunday for Divine Service.  The relationship must have flowered because in August that year, safely back in England, he again wrote to the sisters thanking them for the birthday present they had sent him.  Unfortunately the letter does not mention what the present was.

Fancy dress was, of course, a favourite occupation of the Victorian leisured classes.  On Tuesday, 10 March, at the Prince of Wales Theatre, a public fancy dress ball was held in honour of the Duke of Edinburgh.  1,000 members of Sydney’s most fashionable society, from the Governor, Lord Belmore, down, attended.  The enthusiasm was so great that the next day a list of the costumes worn was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Tiny went as Evangeline, a French Canadian peasant character from a popular Longfellow poem; Nelly came as a Roman peasant; and Lord Newry came in the uniform of a volunteer.

The costumes in the photograph, however, seem to have a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean flavour, though of indeterminate country or class.  Viscount Newry’s monk costume, complete with false beard and bare feet.could perhaps relate sufficiently closely to those of the women to form some sort of ambiguous narrative, though nothing immediately suggests itself.  Any potential narrative is made more ambiguous by the pumpkin and grape vines, painted in watercolour, that surround the composition.  The grape vines may have been suggested by another of William Macleay’s gentlemanly pursuits -viticulture.

Lord Newry appears to have had a predilection for dressing-up and amateur dramatics.  On 2 March 1868 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that “There was a large and fashionable audience on Saturday evening [at the Prince of Wales Opera House] to witness the amateur performance given by Lord Newry and the officers of H.M.S. Charybidis in aid of the fund for the establishment of an Australian branch of the Royal Dramatic College.  The programme consisted of the comedietta “A Morning Call” and two farces “To Paris and Back for £5” and “Box and Cox”, the whole of which were played very creditably.

The band of the Galatea was present during the evening and played several pieces of popular music in an excellent manner”. However, this photograph does not appear to be related to either the fancy dress ball or the amateur performance.  It is probably just a tableau arranged and photographed for its own sake, perhaps illustrating a line of poetry.  The performance of tableaus was a popular pass-time throughout the nineteenth century.  It involved those with artistic pretentions dressing-up and disporting themselves in front of an audience for as long as they could remain still or keep from giggling. Tableaus were often viewed by the audience through a piece of dark gauze stretched inside a large gilt frame to give the impression of an old master painting, on which they were frequently based.  With the invention of photography a new impetus was given to the craze, the artistic efforts of the participants could now be immortalised and compared.

The background watercolour view in this composition is a topographically accurate portrayal of Sydney Pleads as seen from the front balcony of Elizabeth Bay House.  However, the photographic Dart of the composition is not of the morning room windows, the windows that actually frame this view, but is of some ground-floor windows towards the back of the house on the south-eastern side.  The photograph is actually taken outside the house, looking in to the butlery.  The doors and sandstone walls of the house have been cut out from the photograph to allow the painting of the background view, but the door architrave, wall-skirting and paving-stones have been retained and cleverly turned iside-out to act as ‘interior’ architectural features, perhaps to form a pseudo-verandah. This photographic conceit was necessary to obtain sufficient strong, even light for a good, sharp figure study.  A chair has been brought outside and covered with drapery to compositionally balance Lord Newry, and Tiny and Nelly have elegantly disported themselves over a grating leading to the cellars. The camera was located approximately one metre off the ground when this photograph was taken, this rather unusual camera position was chosen to ensure that the edges of the doorway remained parallel.

If this watercolour was done by Lady Fanny Jocelyn, it must have been painted in England, in which case of photograph of Sydney Heads taken from the front balcony of Elizabeth Bay House would have been needed.  Such a photograph is not in the album and has not been located elsewhere. (Tf, for that matter, the other floral decorations in the album were painted by Lady Fanny in England, actual specimens or other drawings would have, of course, been necessary; however this is not beyond the realms of possibility.)

Alternatively, the watercolour could have been provided by one of the Deas Thomson daughters themselves, their mother, Lady Anne Maria Deas Thomson, was known to paint in oils.

There is a further image of Mrs Susan Macleay later in the album, it was undoubtedly taken on the same occasion as the previous photograph.  Here she is posing as odalisque in a more obviously Ottomanesque setting.

It is interesting to note that the album, towards its end, contains carte-de-visites of ‘the real thing’, purchased in the Middle East on the return journey to Britain.  This interest in the natives of the Middle East contrasts with the disinterest shown in the natives of Australia, who were constructed within the paradigm of the ‘primitive’, rather than the ‘exotic’, and thus failed to appeal to refined tastes, even as parody.  Of course, Middle Eastern exotica was thoroughly inscribed within the iconography of nineteenth century art and literature . Another image from further on in the album is possibly also of the Deas Thomson sisters.  Here the watercolour background has been left uncompleted.  It may perhaps be of the sisters in their fancy dress ball costumes, because here they do seem to have a more peasanty flavour.

Lord Newry’s evening of amateur dramatics may possibly provide an explanation, in the absence of any other, for another page of the album which purports to show a Count Von Attems incarcerated in a convict’s cell by order of the Governor. Count Von Attems is probably a fictional name.  The Australian War Memorial suggests that the uniform may be Austrian, or it, too, may be fictional. The ship the Challenger was also photographed in Sydney Harbour.  It was the flag ship of the Royal Navy’s ‘Ships of War at the Sydney Station’ which usually numbered about five or so ships of various tonnages, classes and fire-power.  The album devotes many of its pages to these ships and the officers who came to Australia on them.  These officers formed a sort of portable social elite in which ever colony they happened to be stationed.  The photographs are carte-de-visites taken, most probably, by an enterprising Sydney photographer and sold to the general public.  The fact that there was a market for such photographs, in such a small city as Sydney,  is indicative of the adulation with which these embodiments of British power were treated in the Colony. The typographical details are cut from the navy List, an annual publication that recorded where every naval ship and officer was located within the Empire.

The commodore of the Challenger, as well as all the Royal Navy’s ships in Sydney, was Commodore Rowley Lambert who we see at the centre of this page surrounded by meticulously detailed watercolours of native Australian flora.  His wife, Mrs Lambert, is the person most under suspicion for originating the album.  The album has a strong naval flavour and Mrs Lambert was at many of the events the album records. She was also well acquainted with the vice-regal suite, and is often reported attending official functions with them.

Above and below Commodore Lambert are two gentlemen of Sydney. At the bottom we find Sir William Macleay, the entomologist of Elizabeth Bay House, who was a pillar of Sydney’s educated society. At the top of the page we find William Bede Dalley, described at the time as “short and thickset, with a jovial and often glowing countenance”.  He set trends in colonial dress, featuring colourful cravats and buttonholes.  He was renowned as the most scintillating conversationalist and after-dinner speaker in the Colony.  The son of Irish convict parents he quickly rose to prominence in politics and law.  He defended the bushranger Frank Gardiner and, at the time this photograph was taken, defended James O’Farrell, the would be assassin of the Duke of Edinburgh.

There is a very faint pencil inscription under three rare interior views in this album which reads “My drawing room, Phillip Street, Sydney”.  In 1870 two of our suspects for the origin of the album lived at Phillip Street.  Commodore and Mrs Lambert lived at number 46, and the Governor’s aid-de-camp, Captain Beresford and his wife lived across the street at number 45.  Phillip Street was obviously a preferred address, as well as being handy to Government House, Circular Quay and Farm Cove.

I think that the ‘my’ in the caption must refer to either Mrs Lambert or one of the Beresfords, most probably Mrs Lambert. The women whose small portrait appears above one of the photographs and who is also featured in the photographs themselves (holding her head to keep it still during an exposure of what must have been at least fifteen seconds) is Edith Helen Gladstone.  She was the younger sister of Countess Belmore and accompanied her on many vice-regal tours.  In 187 0, at the age of twenty, she married William Dumeresq, whose mother was cousin to William Macleay and whose father was a prominant public servant and landowner – one of the new generation of European immigrants who amassed huge fortunes in Australia by manipulating its governments.  For a bourgeois such as this the prospect of his son marrying into the British aristocracy must have been delicious indeed.

In one image Edith appears to be looking at a portfolio of photographs, or maybe chromolithographs.  Are they of the Blue Mountains?  Beside her a capacious handbag sits on a chair,most of the chairs are well covered, and there are fans and more photographs on the mantle piece.  Fern arrangements and books also decorate the room.

Interiors such as this would have been extremely difficult  photograph successfully because of the low light levels, and they are very rare.  We can, at this stage, only speculate as to who took them, most probably a local advanced amateur or willing professional was especially hired for the assignment.

Another photograph which may be by either a professional or an amateur is this rather charming scene of two women and a boy looking across Farm Cove to the Botanic Gardens from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.  The italianate building on the left is Victoria Lodge, which still stands at the westerly gates to the Gardens.

The Flying Squadron consisted of six ships from the Royal Navy that circumnavigated the world between 1867 and 1870, doing little more than showing the Imperial flag.  They arrived in Sydney Harbour on 12 December and anchored in Farm Cove the following day, where we see them now.

The Commander of the Flying Squadron was Rear-Admiral G.T. Phipps Hornby, commander of the Squadron’s flagship, the Liverpool.  Another page contains a fine photograph of what is most probably the Liverpool. The Flying Squadron was a P.R. exercise that served the Empire in two main ways:  it gave its Naval Reserves some training, and it made its distant Colonies feel like loved and protected parts of the great British Empire.  As a Sydney journalist from the Empire gushed on the day of the Squadron’s arrival. “The arrival of the British Squadron, under Rear-Admiral Hornby is proof, if any were wanting, that England has a long arm and is able to protect her colonies if necessary. Probably not half of the twenty or thirty thousand people who saw the fleet coming in yesterday had ever witnessed anything so magnificent as those stately ships coming quietly through the water, with all their deadly armament, as it were, slumbering, but ready to pour out its terrific fire, if need were”. The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ took a more pragmatic view.  “The visit of the Flying Squadron will divert the popular mind, in some measure, from political discussions, especially as the elections for the metropolis are past.  It may serve as a useful interruption in that kind of debate which tends toexasperate people against each other.”  This article is specifically referring to riots that occurred in Sydney, particularly the working class suburb of Balmam, in the lead up to the election.  The article ended with “the community may find satisfaction in the new evidence of British power”.

But the stately progress of the Squadron often bordered on farce.  Because it was largely manned by reserves it is unlikely that it could have protected anything, let alone Britain’s’ .flung colonies.  The six ships were constantly loosing each other at sea, or else running into each other at port.  During the voyage there were a total of 73 spars carried away, and 22 men died, four from falling from aloft. 16 men fell overboard of which only 10 were saved.  A total of 300 men deserted, a staggering 158 in Melbourne alone. However, details such as this didn’t mitigate the adulation of the colonists one bit, they remained totally besotted by these representatives of the British Empire.  There was another burst of sales of carte-de-visites of the Flying Squadron’s officers, as this page from the album testifies.

On leaving Sydney the Flying Squadron sailed to Hobart before continuing on to New Zealand.  They had on board with them Mrs Lambert and Captain Beresford, who they took as far as Tasmania.  A substantial portion of the album is devoted to the Flying Squadron’s Tasmanian visit, and other travels in Tasmania.

One page features Mr Charles Du Cane, Governor of Tasmania from 1869 to 1874.  On the right is his wife Georgina, who he married in 1863.  Between them is Mr Chichester, Du Cane’s private secretary.  Du Cane was a very popular Governor, mainly because he was fond of public appearances, he liked nothing better than giving speeches and opening things. Below is Mrs Du Cane’s boudoir in Government House, Tasmania, of which they were the first occupants.  Again we have a classic Victorian interior featuring, in common with the Sydney interiors, fern arrangements and portraits of friends and family, etc.  In addition are an inordinate number of figures and other representations of dogs – Mrs Du Cane was very fond of dogs.

On another page we have two views of Hobart, and one of a cricket match.  The Cricket match was played on 6 January, 1870 between the Southern Tasmanaian Cricket Association and the Flying Squadron, which had arrived from Sydney four days before.  The captain of the first team was Mr Du Cane himself, who was a keen cricketer; the captain of the second team was Rear-Admiral G.T. Phipps Hornby.  The day was described thus: “The weather was propitious, but rather windy.  A large number of spectators assembled both inside and outside the enclosure, and several carriages and equestrians on horseback.  In the pavilion were seated a goodly number of ladies and gentlemen. At the south-west end the governor’s tent was pitched, in which was a row of American arm chairs, in which sat His Excellency, the Hon. Mrs Du Cane, Mr CM. Chichester, A.D.C.; Mrs Lambert, Sir Valentine and Lady Fleming, Sir Francis Smith, Hon. T.D. Chapman, and other notabilities.  The fine band of Her Majesty’s ship “Endymion”, in a marquee, performed during the day.  A spacious refreshment booth for the cricketers and the public stood on the north-east side of the cricketers’ storehouse, erected and kept by Mr Courburn, of the Jolly Hatters, Melville Street, who had also in close proximity a booth for the dispensing of liquids”.

In the first innings of the Flying Squadron was, true to form, soundly beaten by the Association.  The loyal Tasmanians humbly excused their victory by claiming that the ship-bound Flying Squadron team had insufficient opportunity for batting and fielding practice. Obviously the photograph on the bottom of the page was not taken on the same occasion as the cricket match.  It would have been purchased from a photographer’s stock, perhaps to show how European Australia could look during the winter time.

On another page we have a photograph which was probably taken at a garden party held by Mrs Du Cane at Government House two days after the cricket match.  In the background is the Flying Squadron moored in the Derwent, Mrs Lambert looks at Mr Du Cane, Rear-Admiral G.T. Phipps Hornby leans on a chair over Mrs Du Cane who sits on the ground, finding herself incapable of holding her head still for the required exposure, Mr Chichester stands behind her.The garden party was described thus:

“the next afternoon (Saturday) being the last weekday, a general meeting took place to celebrate Mrs Du Cane’s garden party on the terrace of Government House, and there were gathered together all the youth, beauty and fashion for miles round, giving it an appearance of unusual animation, muslin and midshipmen being in great force.  Music, secluded paths, croquet, and other outdoor feminine amusements were largely patronized for some time, until a west wind, that had been inclined to be boisterous all the afternoon, began to blow the gauzy frocks about to such an extent as to imperil modesty … there was a general rush to the ball-room, where in the excitement of whirling to Flying tunes, and utterly regardless to the price of silk, the time was pleasantly wiled away till six o’clock, when there was a general break-up, to meet at the theatre afterwards, where the Squadron Amateurs appeared again, this time for the benefit of the Organ Fund”.

Another page contains two views of Melton Mowbray Hotel, near Jericho, on the road from Hobart to Launceston.  A Mr Blackwell. had turned the Hotel into a Hunting Lodge whose fame had spread across Australia and the world. Prince Alfred had lunched at the hotel on his way to Launceston two years before.

The next page features. Mona Vale, further up the road towards Launceston.  The house had been completed just two years at this time.  It was built by Robert Quayle Kermode, son of a wealthy land owner.  Prince Alfred stayed there on his way to and from Launceston.

We see Robert Kermode on the right, he was very ill at this time and was to die that year; on the left is his second wife Emily.  Mona Vale wa one of Australia’ s\grandest houses, set in extensive grounds with even an attempt ast landscape gardening in the eighteenth century manner:  the house overlooks an ornamental lake surrounded by willows.  The maintenance/of the house and grounds kept 100 people busy. These phonographs are cart-de-visites, indicating that they were probably taken by a local photographer for sale to the general public and tourists of Tasmania.  Kermode was proud of his house and would have been flattered by this popular attention.

At some stage during their visit to Australia either Mrs Lambert or Captain Beresford probably visited the Governor of Victoria.  There are two pages in the album devoted to the Victorian vice-regal suite. The Governor of Victoria was John Manners Sutton, who in 1869 became the Viscount Canterbury.  Like the Earl of Belmore he was an Eton and Cambridge graduate.  In 1839 he was unseated from the House of Commons for bribery, but this didn’t prevent him from receiving several Colonial Governmental appointments. He was an impoverished peer and relied on his salary to make ends meet.  He married his wife Georgina in 1838, and they are illustrated with three of their pudgy children, John, Mabel and Robert, along with the family dog.

There is another shot of the pair above Toorak, which was the Victorian Government House from 1854 to 1879.  The original site of Toorak covered 108 acres, and extended as far as the Yarra.  Considerable changes were made to the house after this photograph was taken, a balcony with a cast iron balustrade was added above the verandah, and a classical stone balustrade was added to the top of the tower.  Interestingly, the two gum trees standing in front of the house were cut down, and replaced by two much tidier and more European looking poplars. One of the gentlemen pictured on either side of the vice-regal couple is probably Lt. Rothwell, aid-de-camp to the Governor.

After describing for you who and what was seen at the antipodes the obvious question to ask, in conclusion, is how was it seen. Any deconstruction of the album must begin from the premise that it is an authored text.  The fact that the album follows a particular geographical route, orientates itself around a particular social elite, is extensively hand-worked, and shows strong interests and disinterests in certain themes, clearly indicates an author.  Further, we can safely say that the author was British with aristocratic associations who regarded themselves as merely sojourning in the exotic antipodes.

Finally, I think it is reasonable to assume that the author was a woman, simply because the practices of album assemblage and watercolour decoration were part of the nineteenth century construction of middle class femininity.  In addition, the person most implicated as the album’s originator is a woman -Mrs Lambert.

That being said, we can begin to see the whole album as being contrapuntally scored between the two themes of an antipodean ‘exotica’ and a specifically British ‘civilization’.  The first theme is carried primarily by the decorations, which are botanically accurate depictions of largely Australian flora: falling into the tradition of scientific naturalism within which Australia had first been perceived by Europeans on the scientific voyages of discovery that eventually led to the British invasion.  There are also, occasionally, photographs of antipodean exotica:  a stuffed Tasmanian devil, the Tasmanian bush, and a frontier station (complete with a carte-de-visite of its owner whose gentlemanly demeanour contrasts strongly with his brutally dishevelled piece of property).

The second theme, of British civilization, is carried exclusively by the photographs and the patterns of their placement on the album’s pages.  In this album British civilization is consciously separated from the ‘Australian’. Refuge is found in the replication of British familial, social and property structures as well as specifically British cultural practices.

The predominant social unit described in the album is the nuclear family, indeed it is the album’s recurring motif.  The portraits of family members are invariably laid out on the page to describe, in graphic terms, the filial relationships between them.   Often, by the inclusion of a photograph of the family house, property relations are directly inscribed within the family relations.  The depiction of these large Europeanized estates, safely encircled by their British owners, are further evidence of the clear distinction the album makes between ‘British civilization’ and ‘Australian antipodality’.

The comfortable interior photographs of rooms that were largely the domain of women – drawing rooms and boudoirs, were likewise intended as evidence of how tasteful life in Australia could be made to be.  The fern arrangements are the only immediately evident things that distinguish these interiors from European interiors.  The fern arrangements perform the same function for the interiors as the botanical decorations do for the album as a whole:  they provide an antipodean accent.

The rest of the album is largely made up of groups of carte-de-visite portraits grouped on the album’s pages.  These are rigorously arranged according to social circle.  We have Politicians of Sydney, Gentlemen of Sydney, Officers of the Ships of War at the Sydney Station, and Officers of the Flying Squadron.  In most of these pages the layout of the carte-de-visites establishes the relations of power and precedence within the group.  Usually the portraits rotate around a central, dominant figure.

Other pages, containing groups of largely unidentifiable women, tend to be arranged more rectilinearly, probably because the power relations between them were not as institutionalised.  The women are often integrated with children; and there are also pages devoted exclusively to children, often decorated with watercolours of botanical symbols of fecundity.

Finally, we have many pages devoted to naval ships moored in Sydney Harbour.  These potent symbols of British Imperial power were what initially brought the album’s author all the way out to the antipodes and were also what, after a brief sojourn safely ensconced in Sydney’s miniature replication of British social and political institutions, would return her home.

Martyn Jolly