Australia Felix: Douglas T. Kilburn’s daguerreotype of Victorian Aborigines, 1847


The earliest, and certainly one of the most intriguing, nineteenth-century Australian photographs in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection is a daguerreotype of three Victorian Aborigines taken by Douglas T. Kilburn in 1847 (fig. 1).1The daguerreotype was probably re-cased at some later stage, as the kind of stamped gilt preserver that surrounds it was not commonly used until after 1851. Another less likely proposition is that the Melbourne daguerreotype is a photographic copy of the 1847 original, and that it was produced by Kilburn in the mid-1850s, in response to several orders for the same image. This daguerreotype, which is part of a series of at least five,2Illustrations of five of Kilburn’s daguerreotypes of Aborigines appeared in various publications during the nineteenth century. William Westgarth reproduced wood-engravings of ‘Australian Aboriginal Native and His Wife’ and ‘Australian Aboriginal Group of Women and Children’ in his Australia Felix; or, A Historical and Descriptive Account of the Settlement of Port Phillip, Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, 1848, frontispiece, and plate opposite p. 43, while the Illustrated London News reproduced the following wood-engravings after daguerreotypes by Kilburn: ‘Aboriginal Australians – Young Men’, ‘Aboriginal Australians – Old and Young Man’, ‘Lubra, a Young Australian Woman’ (Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53). See figs 3 and 5. is the first known photograph of this state’s Aborigines and the earliest extant photograph taken in Australia of indigenous people.3The earliest known daguerreotypes of Aboriginal subjects were taken by Robert Hall in South Australia around 1846 and were listed in A Catalogue of the Exhibition of Pictures, the Works of Colonial Artists, G. Dehane, Adelaide, 1847. They were: ‘S.A Native, Daguerotype [sic]’, ‘Four Aborigines, Daguerotype [sic]’, and ‘S.A. Native, Daguerotype [sic]’. These photographs are not extant. Artists had of course portrayed Aborigines long before the invention of photography; however, the widely held belief in the objectivity of the photograph gave Kilburn’s daguerreotypes an empirical edge, which perhaps accounts for the considerable contemporary attention they attracted. 

One of the interesting features of the Kilburn daguerreotypes is the manner and context in which they were subsequently used by other artists. The Melbourne daguerreotype, along with others in the series, was copied on at least four occasions by artists in both Australia and Great Britain. These copies, which in several cases subtly transform Kilburn’s original, provide an interesting example of the relationship between photography and other media in the mid-nineteenth century and clearly reveal aspects of the prevalent attitudes towards Australian Aborigines in this period. Of equal importance is the fact that the Melbourne daguerreotype is a fine and very rare example of this early Australian photographer’s talents, and its fortunate presence in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection affords an opportunity to examine some of the details of Kilburn’s life and career. 

Douglas Thomas Kilburn (fig. 2) established Victoria’s first professional photographic studio in 1847. He was probably inspired to do so by the burgeoning photographic business that his brother William operated in Regent Street, London.4See David A. Wooters, ‘Daguerreotype Portraits by William E. Kilburn’, Image, vol. 33, nos 1–2, Fall 1990, pp. 21–9. My thanks to Mr Warwick Reeder for drawing this information to my attention. William Kilburn, who was commissioned to take photographs for Queen Victoria on several occasions,5Douglas Kilburn used his brother’s royal connection as a means of promoting his own work. He also frequently received from his brother photographic supplies and news on developments in the photographic medium. opened his studio in 1846 and it was no doubt from him that Douglas received instruction before setting sail for Port Phillip later that same year.6There is conflicting evidence as to Kilburn’s date of arrival. He is believed by some sources to have arrived in Australia in November 1840 (see D. J. Mickle, Victorian Pioneers Who Signed the Loyal Address to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867, Genealogical Society of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1970, p. 13); however, as he does not appear in the post-office directories until 1847, Mickle’s date could have been a misreading (i.e. he may have read November 1846 as November 1840). ‘Kilburn Brothers’ appear as custom-house agents in the Melbourne directories from 1842; these entries probably refer to Douglas Kilburn’s brother Charles, in association with another brother, or in financial arrangement with family members still in London. 

Douglas Kilburn’s decision to leave London appears to have been health-related – he suffered from consumption and was seeking clean, dry air.7See Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1955, p. 8. It is not known where Cato derived this information. Australia was chosen as his destination presumably because another brother, Charles, had settled in Melbourne around 1842. Charles Kilburn was a custom-house agent and had involved himself in the economic and cultural life of Melbourne. In 1845 he joined the Melbourne Mechanics Institution and School of Arts – an association to which many of the more influential members of Melbourne society belonged. He also kept in touch with art activities in Great Britain through his subscription to the Art Union magazine. Douglas Kilburn followed his brother’s lead, and shortly after arriving in Melbourne also joined the Mechanics Institution, where he became an active member.8See Committee of Management of the Melbourne Mechanics Institution and School of Arts, Annual Report for 1848, S. Goode, Melbourne, 1848, p. 5. 

In February 1847 Kilburn bought property in Little Collins Street, where he opened a photographic studio some months later.9See Hall’s Index BDM (unpub.), Melbourne, 1927, in La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria. This list contains details of the first land sales in Melbourne, at which Kilburn bought three lots. In August he began to advertise his business, stating: 

Mr Douglas Τ Kilburn will be happy to take likenesses by the Daguerreotype as soon as the fine weather sets in. A room in the central part of the town will be fitted so as to soften the day-light, and thus protect sitters from the painful glare of the sunshine and the publicity of an open courtyard.10Argus, 27 August 1847, p. 3. 

Although the main purpose of Kilburn’s business was to take portraits of members of the emerging colonial society, one of his first and most unusual projects was his series of daguerreotypes of Victorian Aborigines. At least some of these photographs – including Melbourne’s daguerreotype – were taken before October 1847, in Kilburn’s first few months of operation.11It is believed that the Melbourne daguerreotype was taken between February and October 1847. There is no evidence that Kilburn took daguerreotypes in Australia before he established his photographic business in Little Collins Street, while the later date is based on the fact that the Melbourne work was taken to Glasgow by December 1847 – the month William Westgarth wrote his preface to Australia Felix, in which he refers to Kilburn’s daguerreotypes. Given sailing times between Australia and Great Britain, it is not unreasonable to assign October as the latest date the present daguerreotype could have been taken. In an article about the photographs that was published three years later in the Illustrated London News, it was noted that Kilburn had been motivated to take the series because he ‘felt anxious to portray the curious race of Aborigines by aid of the Daguerreotype’.12Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53. 

Presumably, Kilburn also expected that his daguerreotypes would be commercially popular, both with the general public as souvenirs and with the scientific community as anthropological data.13The use of photography within an anthropological framework, such as is evident in Kilburn’s work, was less prevalent in Australia than in other countries in the late 1840s. Even as late as 1859 the English journal the Photographic News was exhorting Australian practitioners to make more extensive studies of Aborigines. For anthropological studies of this kind, the journal promoted photography above life-drawing, for instance, because it was only the former which would ‘produce plates in which the exact proportions of the osseous and muscular parts, the tension or relaxation of the skin, the gloss of the body, and the whole gait (Portamento) will appear in a manner to afford instruction to the anatomist and ethnographer’ (‘Australian Nature – and the Art of the Photographer’, Photographic News, 19 August 1859, p. 280). He no doubt also considered the series to be a means of promoting his fledgling business and of helping to establish his reputation as a photographer. 

He was pleased to recount to the Illustrated London News the problems he had encountered in taking the photographs, the newspaper observing: 

Mr Kilburn had much difficulty in prevailing upon any individual to sit, from some superstitious fear that they possess, imagining that it would subject them to some misfortune. He lost no opportunity in persuading them, by small bribes, when they wandered into Port Phillip, usually for the purpose of begging; but in return, they appeared always willing to render any assistance in chopping wood, etc. At length, Mr Kilburn succeeded; and the result is here presented to the reader.14Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53. 

Some years later, at a meeting of the Royal Society of Van Diemen’s Land in 1853, Kilburn again described the problems inherent in taking these portraits, and noted ‘the extreme difficulty in getting [the subjects] to sit a second time’.15Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Van Diemen’s Land, vol. 2, 1850–53, Hobart, 1853, p. 504. Given the unique nature of the daguerreotype – which unlike paper photographs did not allow multiple copies – it would appear that Kilburn anticipated the series’ commercial appeal by making two, or even more, photographs of the same subjects. 

However, the number of Aboriginal daguerreotypes still in Kilburn’s possession some years after they were taken suggests that the series was not the commercial success he had hoped for. Although photographs of Aborigines were popular in the latter part of the century, the general lack of interest by most locals in such photographs in the 1840s is not surprising given the often bloody resistance to pastoral expansion that many European settlers had encountered.16Artists working in other media chose Aborigines as their subjects in the 1830s and 1840s. Most notable among these artists were Charles Rodius, who produced lithographs of Aborigines in Sydney in the mid-1830s, and Thomas Bock, who painted portraits of Tasmanian Aborigines in the early 1830s. Bock, who also worked as a photographer in Tasmania, is not known to have produced any daguerreotypes of Aboriginal subjects. For information on Thomas Bock, see Diane Dunbar et al., Thomas Bock: Convict Engraver, Society Portraitist, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, & Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1991. Although such resistance had largely ceased by the late 1840s it was no doubt still fresh in the minds of many. 

At least one European settler did have an interest in Kilburn’s daguerreotypes. Robert P. Cunningham, who owned Cairn Curran station near Maldon in Victoria, purchased two or more of the photographs and took them with him when he returned to Glasgow in late 1847. It is one of these daguerreotypes which is now in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection. 

Cunningham lent his daguerreotypes to an Australian merchant, politician and historian, William Westgarth, who saw them while in Great Britain on business in 1847. Westgarth used two of the photographs as illustrations for his book Australia Felix, much of which he wrote on the voyage back to Australia. In his preface to the book, which was published in Edinburgh in 1848, Westgarth comments that Kilburn’s photographs are ‘the only productions of this sort yet in this country, and afford of course a very accurate picture of Australian natives’.17Westgarth, Australia Felix, [i, ii]. 

Despite Westgarth’s assertion of realism, neither Kilburn’s daguerreotypes nor, to an even greater extent, the copies made for Australia Felix, present a true indication of the condition of life for Victorian Aborigines. Kilburn’s photographs, in common with many other artists’ views of the period, present a romanticised view of Aborigines, evoking a time before white contact profoundly altered their way of life. 

As Nicolas Peterson has noted in his analysis of early twentieth-century photographs of Australian Aborigines, the following features identify an image as being part of a romantic framework: decontextualisation (that is, locating the subjects against a neutral background); portraying the models naked or in traditional attire; self-conscious posing; and the absence of any sign of European culture.18Nicolas Peterson, ‘The Popular Image’, in Seeing the First Australians, eds Ian Donaldson & Tamsin Donaldson, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1985, p. 179. Although Peterson’s comments are directed towards photographs of Aborigines produced in the first two decades of the twentieth century, they are equally applicable to photographs from earlier periods. All these criteria are evident in the Melbourne daguerreotype, a tightly composed image that shows three unnamed Aborigines (a middle-aged man and woman and a young child) against a plain studio backdrop. Subtle use of handcolouring on the daguerreotype is evident in what is otherwise a rather austere photograph.19Douglas Kilburn, like his brother William, frequently coloured his daguerreotypes. See, for instance, the reference to his coloured daguerreotypes in his advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 1849, p. 1. 

The Aborigines wear traditional possum-skin cloaks, the upper chest of the man and woman being bared to show their cicatrices or ritual scars. It is quite possible that the clothing used in this and other photographs in the series was not the models’ own, as by the late 1840s the majority of Aborigines who travelled into Port Phillip or lived in or around the township would have dressed in European garments. It is not possible to ascertain the tribe to which the Aborigines in the daguerreotype belonged, as members of at least five Victorian tribes frequented Melbourne in the 1840s.20My thanks to Mr Ian Clark, of the Victoria Archaeological Survey, for this information. 

The inclusion in Westgarth’s Australia Felix of wood-engravings after Kilburn’s daguerreotypes is grimly ironic. The arcadia suggested by that book’s title had, for Australian Aborigines, been thoroughly transformed by introduced disease, alcohol, dietary changes, and inter-tribal disputes. In addition, a large proportion of Aboriginal deaths – perhaps as many as 2000 – had occurred in conflicts with settlers eager to expand their pastoral holdings. As a result of these factors it has been estimated that in Victoria the Aboriginal population fell from over 11,500 at first European contact in 1834 to around 6000 by 1850.21See M. F. Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria 1835–86, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1979, p. 78. 

Westgarth did not condone the plight of Aborigines in Victoria. Indeed he was one of a small group of more liberal-minded people who adopted a compassionate approach when writing about the situation of the Aborigines in this state. While not objecting to the colonial process as such, these writers did at least actively refute the generally held position that Aborigines ‘were a type of non-men, whose extermination was a law of nature or a decree from heaven’.22ibid., p. 153. Christie points to the contrasting view expressed in Westgarth’s Report … on the Australian Aborigines, Melbourne, 1846 and A Plea on Behalf of the Aborigines of Victoria, a pamphlet reprinted in the Argus, 2 April 1856. Given these views it is not surprising that Westgarth chose to illustrate Australia Felix, which contains several chapters on Aborigines, with images that conveyed a positive – if inaccurate – view of Aboriginal life. 

It is almost certain that the daguerreotype that is now in Melbourne was used as the basis for the frontispiece to Australia Felix (fig. 3).23However, given the evidence that Kilburn probably produced several daguerreotypes using the same subjects, there is a possibility that a variant copy (that is, a rephotograph) of the Melbourne daguerreotype was used. The unknown artist who copied the daguerreotype has significantly altered the original so that the wood-engraving appears as a vignette. In ‘Australian Aboriginal Native and His Wife’, the child is absent and the possum-skin coverings of the man and woman have been transformed into cloth-like cloaks. In the case of the woman, in particular, the draping of the material, along with her pose, suggests a regal quality. Furthermore, the composition of the print, with the woman standing to the left of her seated husband, is reminiscent of the poses adopted in European courtly portrait paintings. It is significant that the man no longer holds what appears to be a walking-stick – as in the daguerreotype – but instead carries a waddy or traditional weapon, ready to defend himself. It is surely a sign of the Victorian Aborigines’ subjugation that the artist could feel free to interpret the man as a powerful, heroic figure posed ready to defend himself and his territory.24As Bernard Smith has noted, engravers often ‘elevated the conception and refined the drawing’ of an original work of art. To illustrate his point, Smith considers an engraving by William Blake of an Aboriginal family group, a work said to be based on a sketch by Governor King. In his engraving, A family of New South Wales, c.1793, Blake has transformed the documentary-style subject of the original sketch into an archetypal ‘noble savage family’ (Bernard Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 2nd edn, Harper & Row, Sydney, 1984, p. 173). 

 

Another artist to present a romanticised view of Aborigines was Eugene von Guérard. While it is apparent that von Guérard was aware of conditions for many Aborigines, particularly those living in and around Port Phillip, his early Australian landscapes in which Aborigines appear ‘present a stereotype of arcadia – an idle existence with abundant food – in which the Aborigines are lithe and classically proportioned’.25Tim Bonyhady, Images in Opposition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, p. 36. Von Guérard was well aware of the situation for Aborigines in Port Phillip. In 1856, for instance, he noted that Aborigines appear as ‘miserable remnants of a once numerous and powerful race … seen wandering from their wild encampments to visit the town. The men present a most motley aspect, being for the most part dressed in left-off clothes they have obtained from the European colonists’ (Illustrated London News, 15 November 1856, p. 491, quoted in Bonyhady, p. 35). 

It was perhaps the ‘classical’ qualities of Kilburn’s photographs which prompted von Guérard to use the Melbourne daguerreotype as the basis for a watercolour sketch he made around 1854 (fig. 4). It is not known how von Guérard obtained access to the daguerreotype; however, his use of it would certainly have pleased Kilburn, who regarded photography as being of great value to artists because it provided them with ‘accurate’ study aids. Kilburn particularly liked the daguerreotype process for its ‘extreme minuteness of detail and sharpness of outline’.26Douglas T. Kilburn, ‘On Sun Pictures, by the Calotype Process’, in Papers and Proceedings, p. 457. According to Robert Holden this article is believed to be the first ’scientific’ paper presented on photography in Australia (Robert Holden, Photography in Colonial Australia: The Mechanical Eye and the Illustrated Book, Hordern House, Sydney, 1980, p. 16). 

 

Von Guérard was largely faithful to the Melbourne daguerreotype in his watercolour, producing a detailed and almost monochrome copy of the original. An interesting, and revealing, alteration is the rendering of the Aboriginal couple’s cicatrices, which the artist has misread as open wounds rather than scar tissue. This mistake is indicative of von Guérard’s apparent lack of interest in, and knowledge about, Aboriginal culture.27This has been noted by Tim Bonyhady, who remarks that in spite of his contact with Aboriginal people ‘von Guérard apparently had little interest in the Aborigine’s way of life. His sketchbooks contain only few drawings of Aborigines or their material culture; his paintings convey little specific information about the Aborigines’ traditional existence’ (Bonyhady, p. 35). For further information on von Guérard’s watercolour, see Marjorie Tipping, An Artist on the Goldfields: The Diary of Eugene von Guérard, Currey O’Neil, Melbourne, 1972, plate xx; and Jennie Boddington, ‘Daguerreotype Portrait of Aborigines’, Photofile, vol. 2, no. 4, Spring 1984, p. 5. 

It is also likely that John Skinner Prout used at least one of Kilburn’s daguerreotypes as the basis for a group of five watercolours of Victorian Aborigines that he made around late 1846. One of these watercolours bears a striking resemblance to the National Gallery of Victoria’s daguerreotype. Family group, Australia Felix shows the same group of three Aborigines with the man holding a walking-stick; however, Prout’s composition is exactly reversed, with the child on the right rather than the left side. In addition, the Aborigines are dressed in European rather than traditional clothes. Eugene von Guérard later produced a copy of Family group, Australia Felix in the same style as that of Prout.28For further information on Prout’s Family group, Australia Felix, see Tony Brown & Hendrik Kolenburg, Skinner Prout in Australia 1840–48, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 1986, pp. 67, 78. For a reproduction of Aboriginals from Victoria – Port Phillip (1855), von Guérard’s copy of Prout’s Family group, Australia Felix, see Tipping, plate xix. 

Perhaps the most accurate copies of Kilburn’s daguerreotypes were wood-engravings made by an unknown artist for the Illustrated London News in 1850 (fig. 5). The daguerreotypes were probably lent to the artist for illustration when Kilburn visited London that year. 

 

Despite their fidelity as reproductions, the interpretation of the wood-engravings would have been directed by the text that accompanied them. Along with Kilburn’s own story of how his photographs were produced, the newspaper ran a pseudo-scientific account by Dr J. B.  Clutterbuck, titled ‘Port Phillip in 1849’. The doctor impressed on his English audience the degraded state of Australia’s original inhabitants, using their apparent inferiority as justification for the process of colonial expansion. As Clutterbuck so cheerfully notes in his description of Port Phillip: 

Some twelve years ago, the land on which a city now stands was a wilderness – a wilderness inhabited by innumerable tribes of savages; and where also the sportive kangaroo, emu, and wild dog appeared in such numbers as to oppose a barrier to the inroads of civilisation. What a change has taken place since that period! What has not been achieved in this once barbarous region by England’s indomitable and noble spirit of enterprise!29Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53. Kilburn’s work may have come to the attention of the paper through his brother William, who was a frequent contributor of photographs. 

The use of prints after Kilburn’s photographs in this context serves not to ennoble the Aboriginal people, as in Australia Felix, but to reinforce the view of their so-called primitive state and to illustrate Clutterbuck’s views on European cultural and racial superiority.30For a theoretical discussion of colonialism and primitivism, see Edward Said, Orientalism, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1978. 

This pejorative interpretation of the photographs was either not understood or not accepted by a writer for the Geelong Advertiser, whose comments on the Illustrated London News article refer only to the accurateness of the reproductions: 

By a late number of the London Illustrated News, we observe the publisher has been favoured by Mr Kilburn, the daguerreotypist lately resident in Melbourne … with daguerreotype likenesses of the aboriginal males and females of Port Phillip. As they appear in the London News in wood-cut [sic], the artist has certainly been faithful to his copy, the features and tout ensemble of the several characters portrayed being strikingly accurate.31Geelong Advertiser, 19 June 1850, p. 2. This article also appeared in the Argus, 24 June 1850, p. 2. 

Not only did Kilburn’s daguerreotypes reach a relatively wide audience in both Australia and Great Britain through published copies; they also provided the impetus for at least one project along similar lines. John Cotton, a settler on the Goulburn River and early amateur photographer, conceived of a plan to sell portraits of Aborigines in London.32Gael Newton was the first to note Cotton’s interest in Kilburn’s work (see Gael Newton, Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839–1985, Collins, Sydney, & Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988, p. 12). He was well aware of Kilburn’s daguerreotypes and may have met Kilburn in Melbourne at meetings of the Mechanics Institution where both were members. However, the choice of Aboriginal subject matter did not receive approval from all quarters. In particular, Cotton’s project met with disapproval from his brother William, with the latter writing to a friend in December 1849: 

I do not believe there would be any sale whatever for photographic portraits of the ugly natives of South Australia in London, however well they may be executed … I do not really think a purchaser would be found, if we may judge of the Australian beauties by the photographic portraits published in Westgarth’s ‘Australia Felix’.33Quoted in George Mackaness, The Correspondence of John Cotton, Victorian Pioneer, 1842–1849, vol. 3, 1847–49, privately published, Sydney, 1956, p. 64. 

Nonetheless, it is clear that for Kilburn his series on Victorian Aborigines was an achievement of which he was proud. For years after the photographs were taken he continued to refer to them. In 1853, some months after his arrival and settlement in Hobart,34Kilburn left Melbourne in 1849 and for a short period ran a photographic business at the corner of Hunter and O’Connell Streets in Sydney. The business folded by January 1850, when he returned to Great Britain. Kilburn and his new wife, Anna Maria Patterson, settled in Hobart in 1853. Kilburn continued to photograph while in Tasmania but did not operate a photographic studio. He returned to Melbourne in 1855 and worked for the Argus newspaper. By 1861 he had settled again in Hobart. he ‘presented two framed Daguerreotype pictures of three Aborigines of Victoria’ to the Royal Society of Van Diemen’s Land,35Papers and Proceedings, p. 504. while four of the daguerreotypes were included in the Art-Treasures Exhibition in Hobart in 1858. 

By the mid-1850s Kilburn had given up professional photography, turning instead to property buying. He also played an active role in the public life of Hobart in the 1850s as a Justice of the Peace, Paymaster for the Hobart Artillery Corps, and member of the Hobart City Council.36See Scott Bennett & Barbara Bennett, Biographical Register of the Tasmanian Parliament 1851–1960, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1980, p. 92. A measure of his public profile was indicated in a long poem published in the Hobart Mercury in 1856 satirising his sudden rise to fame.37Mercury, 23 July 1856, p. 3. My thanks to Mr Chris Long for drawing this information to my attention. 

Kilburn’s career as a photographer in Australia was relatively brief. In the four years that he operated professional photographic studios he took many fine portraits of European settlers. However, his greatest achievement was not in this area but in his remarkable series of Aboriginal portraits, of which the Melbourne daguerreotype is an outstanding example. Given Kilburn’s evident attachment to these works, it would no doubt have pleased him to know that 140 years after they were taken one of his daguerreotypes still survives in a public collection and is prized as one of our most significant early Australian photographs. 

Isobel Crombie, Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (in 1992).

Acknowledgements 

I would like to sincerely thank the following for their generous assistance with the research for this article: Mr Chris Long, Mr Alan Davies (Mitchell Library, Sydney), and Ms Gael Newton and Mr Roger Butler (Australian National Gallery, Canberra). I am also most grateful to Mr Andrew Hopkins for his comments on the text. 

 

Notes 

1          The daguerreotype was probably re-cased at some later stage, as the kind of stamped gilt preserver that surrounds it was not commonly used until after 1851. Another less likely proposition is that the Melbourne daguerreotype is a photographic copy of the 1847 original, and that it was produced by Kilburn in the mid-1850s, in response to several orders for the same image. 

2          Illustrations of five of Kilburn’s daguerreotypes of Aborigines appeared in various publications during the nineteenth century. William Westgarth reproduced wood-engravings of ‘Australian Aboriginal Native and His Wife’ and ‘Australian Aboriginal Group of Women and Children’ in his Australia Felix; or, A Historical and Descriptive Account of the Settlement of Port Phillip, Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, 1848, frontispiece, and plate opposite p. 43, while the Illustrated London News reproduced the following wood-engravings after daguerreotypes by Kilburn: ‘Aboriginal Australians – Young Men’, ‘Aboriginal Australians – Old and Young Man’, ‘Lubra, a Young Australian Woman’ (Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53). See figs 3 and 5. 

3          The earliest known daguerreotypes of Aboriginal subjects were taken by Robert Hall in South Australia around 1846 and were listed in A Catalogue of the Exhibition of Pictures, the Works of Colonial Artists, G. Dehane, Adelaide, 1847. They were: ‘S.A Native, Daguerotype [sic]’, ‘Four Aborigines, Daguerotype [sic]’, and ‘S.A. Native, Daguerotype [sic]’. These photographs are not extant. 

4          See David A. Wooters, ‘Daguerreotype Portraits by William E. Kilburn’, Image, vol. 33, nos 1–2, Fall 1990, pp. 21–9. My thanks to Mr Warwick Reeder for drawing this information to my attention. 

5          Douglas Kilburn used his brother’s royal connection as a means of promoting his own work. He also frequently received from his brother photographic supplies and news on developments in the photographic medium. 

6          There is conflicting evidence as to Kilburn’s date of arrival. He is believed by some sources to have arrived in Australia in November 1840 (see D. J. Mickle, Victorian Pioneers Who Signed the Loyal Address to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867, Genealogical Society of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1970, p. 13); however, as he does not appear in the post-office directories until 1847, Mickle’s date could have been a misreading (i.e. he may have read November 1846 as November 1840). ‘Kilburn Brothers’ appear as custom-house agents in the Melbourne directories from 1842; these entries probably refer to Douglas Kilburn’s brother Charles, in association with another brother, or in financial arrangement with family members still in London. 

7          See Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1955, p. 8. It is not known where Cato derived this information. 

8          See Committee of Management of the Melbourne Mechanics Institution and School of Arts, Annual Report for 1848, S. Goode, Melbourne, 1848, p. 5. 

9          See Hall’s Index BDM (unpub.), Melbourne, 1927, in La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria. This list contains details of the first land sales in Melbourne, at which Kilburn bought three lots. 

10        Argus, 27 August 1847, p. 3. 

11        It is believed that the Melbourne daguerreotype was taken between February and October 1847. There is no evidence that Kilburn took daguerreotypes in Australia before he established his photographic business in Little Collins Street, while the later date is based on the fact that the Melbourne work was taken to Glasgow by December 1847 – the month William Westgarth wrote his preface to Australia Felix, in which he refers to Kilburn’s daguerreotypes. Given sailing times between Australia and Great Britain, it is not unreasonable to assign October as the latest date the present daguerreotype could have been taken. 

12        Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53. 

13        The use of photography within an anthropological framework, such as is evident in Kilburn’s work, was less prevalent in Australia than in other countries in the late 1840s. Even as late as 1859 the English journal the Photographic News was exhorting Australian practitioners to make more extensive studies of Aborigines. For anthropological studies of this kind, the journal promoted photography above life-drawing, for instance, because it was only the former which would ‘produce plates in which the exact proportions of the osseous and muscular parts, the tension or relaxation of the skin, the gloss of the body, and the whole gait (Portamento) will appear in a manner to afford instruction to the anatomist and ethnographer’ (‘Australian Nature – and the Art of the Photographer’, Photographic News, 19 August 1859, p. 280). 

14        Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53. 

15        Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Van Diemen’s Land, vol. 2, 1850–53, Hobart, 1853, p. 504. 

16        Artists working in other media chose Aborigines as their subjects in the 1830s and 1840s. Most notable among these artists were Charles Rodius, who produced lithographs of Aborigines in Sydney in the mid-1830s, and Thomas Bock, who painted portraits of Tasmanian Aborigines in the early 1830s. Bock, who also worked as a photographer in Tasmania, is not known to have produced any daguerreotypes of Aboriginal subjects. For information on Thomas Bock, see Diane Dunbar et al., Thomas Bock: Convict Engraver, Society Portraitist, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, & Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1991. 

17        Westgarth, Australia Felix, [i, ii]. 

18        Nicolas Peterson, ‘The Popular Image’, in Seeing the First Australians, eds Ian Donaldson & Tamsin Donaldson, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1985, p. 179. Although Peterson’s comments are directed towards photographs of Aborigines produced in the first two decades of the twentieth century, they are equally applicable to photographs from earlier periods. 

19        Douglas Kilburn, like his brother William, frequently coloured his daguerreotypes. See, for instance, the reference to his coloured daguerreotypes in his advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 1849, p. 1. 

20        My thanks to Mr Ian Clark, of the Victoria Archaeological Survey, for this information. 

21        See M. F. Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria 1835–86, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1979, p. 78. 

22        ibid., p. 153. Christie points to the contrasting view expressed in Westgarth’s Report … on the Australian Aborigines, Melbourne, 1846 and A Plea on Behalf of the Aborigines of Victoria, a pamphlet reprinted in the Argus, 2 April 1856. 

23        However, given the evidence that Kilburn probably produced several daguerreotypes using the same subjects, there is a possibility that a variant copy (that is, a rephotograph) of the Melbourne daguerreotype was used. 

24        As Bernard Smith has noted, engravers often ‘elevated the conception and refined the drawing’ of an original work of art. To illustrate his point, Smith considers an engraving by William Blake of an Aboriginal family group, a work said to be based on a sketch by Governor King. In his engraving, A family of New South Wales, c.1793, Blake has transformed the documentary-style subject of the original sketch into an archetypal ‘noble savage family’ (Bernard Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 2nd edn, Harper & Row, Sydney, 1984, p. 173). 

25        Tim Bonyhady, Images in Opposition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, p. 36. Von Guérard was well aware of the situation for Aborigines in Port Phillip. In 1856, for instance, he noted that Aborigines appear as ‘miserable remnants of a once numerous and powerful race … seen wandering from their wild encampments to visit the town. The men present a most motley aspect, being for the most part dressed in left-off clothes they have obtained from the European colonists’ (Illustrated London News, 15 November 1856, p. 491, quoted in Bonyhady, p. 35). 

26        Douglas T. Kilburn, ‘On Sun Pictures, by the Calotype Process’, in Papers and Proceedings, p. 457. According to Robert Holden this article is believed to be the first ’scientific’ paper presented on photography in Australia (Robert Holden, Photography in Colonial Australia: The Mechanical Eye and the Illustrated Book, Hordern House, Sydney, 1980, p. 16). 

27        This has been noted by Tim Bonyhady, who remarks that in spite of his contact with Aboriginal people ‘von Guérard apparently had little interest in the Aborigine’s way of life. His sketchbooks contain only few drawings of Aborigines or their material culture; his paintings convey little specific information about the Aborigines’ traditional existence’ (Bonyhady, p. 35). For further information on von Guérard’s watercolour, see Marjorie Tipping, An Artist on the Goldfields: The Diary of Eugene von Guérard, Currey O’Neil, Melbourne, 1972, plate xx; and Jennie Boddington, ‘Daguerreotype Portrait of Aborigines’, Photofile, vol. 2, no. 4, Spring 1984, p. 5. 

28        For further information on Prout’s Family group, Australia Felix, see Tony Brown & Hendrik Kolenburg, Skinner Prout in Australia 1840–48, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 1986, pp. 67, 78. For a reproduction of Aboriginals from Victoria – Port Phillip (1855), von Guérard’s copy of Prout’s Family group, Australia Felix, see Tipping, plate xix. 

29        Illustrated London News, 26 January 1850, p. 53. Kilburn’s work may have come to the attention of the paper through his brother William, who was a frequent contributor of photographs. 

30        For a theoretical discussion of colonialism and primitivism, see Edward Said, Orientalism, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1978. 

31        Geelong Advertiser, 19 June 1850, p. 2. This article also appeared in the Argus, 24 June 1850, p. 2. 

32        Gael Newton was the first to note Cotton’s interest in Kilburn’s work (see Gael Newton, Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839–1985, Collins, Sydney, & Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988, p. 12). 

33        Quoted in George Mackaness, The Correspondence of John Cotton, Victorian Pioneer, 1842–1849, vol. 3, 1847–49, privately published, Sydney, 1956, p. 64. 

34        Kilburn left Melbourne in 1849 and for a short period ran a photographic business at the corner of Hunter and O’Connell Streets in Sydney. The business folded by January 1850, when he returned to Great Britain. Kilburn and his new wife, Anna Maria Patterson, settled in Hobart in 1853. Kilburn continued to photograph while in Tasmania but did not operate a photographic studio. He returned to Melbourne in 1855 and worked for the Argus newspaper. By 1861 he had settled again in Hobart. 

35        Papers and Proceedings, p. 504. 

36        See Scott Bennett & Barbara Bennett, Biographical Register of the Tasmanian Parliament 1851–1960, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1980, p. 92. 

37        Mercury, 23 July 1856, p. 3. My thanks to Mr Chris Long for drawing this information to my attention.  

fig. 1, Group of Victorian Aborigines, now known in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria as No title (Group of Koorie men).