Old Photographs Tell
Story Of Gold Rush
Henry Lawson underestimated the power of the camera when he asked wistfully: "Oh, who would paint a goldfield, and limn the picture right?" He was remembering the Gulgong goldfields of the 1870s—but forgetting a photo-
grapher, Beaufoy Merlin, who had limned the picture of those roaring years on thousands of negatives.
MERLIN 'S photographs, recovered from a Chatswood shed where
they lay neglected for more than 40 years, will be shown at the Mitchell Library next month.
They belong to a collection gathered in the 1870s by Bern- hard Otto Holtermann, the Hill End miner who found the world's largest specimen of reef gold in 1872.
After this find—a 630lb lump of metal which yielded 11,000 ounces of gold—Holtermann could afford to hire a photo- grapher, Beaufoy Merlin, to
[By A STAFF
gather material for an exhibition of Australian photographs which he planned to hold in Britain.
Merlin, who had already taken , hundreds of photographs in Gulgong during 1871, accep- ted this commission and took his photographer's caravan to Hill
Although his health was fail- ing, Merlin worked hard at Hill End before returning to Sydney in April, 1873. Five months later, at the age of 43, he died of "an inflammation of the lungs."
His assistant, an able photo- grapher named Charles Bayliss, carried on Holtermann's project during the next three years by photographing streets, buildings and industries in Sydney, Mel- bourne, Ballarat, Geelong, Car- coar and Dubbo.
Bayliss's photographs were fine examples of large wet-plate photography; but Merlin's smaller negatives taken on the goldfields of Gulgong and Hill End form the more interesting section of the Holtermann collection. Bay- liss photographed panoramas of cities; Merlin focused his wet plate camera on people.
Story Of Find
In 1876, Holtermann success- fully exhibited many of these photographs in England. They attracted much attention; but little was heard of them after Holtermann's death.
Credit for recovering the photographs belongs to Mr. Vyv- yan Curnow, a member of the staff of the Australasian Photo-
["There is the genially ferocious butcher, holding knife and steel and wearing a striped shirt . . ." One of the Holter- mann photographs of Mayne Street, Gulgong, in 1871.]
Review, a magazine published by Kodak (Australasia) Pty. Ltd.
During 1951 Mr. Curnow was preparing an article on the Hol- termann collection. He found some photographs from the col- lection at the Mitchell Library and was told that Holtermann's daughter was still living at
In December, Mr. Curnow visited the Holtermann home and found that Mrs. Holtermann had died two months before. Her son, Mr. Bernhard Holtermann, told Mr. Curnow that there were some photographs in a shed be-
hind the house.
Mr. Curnow and Mr. Holter- mann broke the lock on the shed and found the Holtermann collec- tion—3,000 negatives neatly packed in cedar boxes.
Mr. Holtermann decided to donate the negatives to the Mit- chell Library. Kodak (Austra- lasia) Pty. Ltd. developed and en- larged selected negatives which will be exhibited during March at the library.
The 1870s, as Henry Lawson has written, were years "when finds of wondrous treasure set all the South ablaze."
The calm solitude of Gulgong was broken in April, 1870, when a man named Tom Saunders gal- loped down to the police station at the Two Mile Flat to report the discovery of gold.
By June, 500 people had camped on the diggings at Adam's Lead, and by January of the fol- lowing year the population had grown to 3,000.
Other discoveries followed at Happy Valley, Caledonian and Canadian Leads and Home Rule, and by the end of 1872 there were 20,000 people on the fields.
Within four years the miners had won 300,000 ounces of gold which fetched £3/17/6 an ounce. The name Gulgong—cor- rupted to Goolgong, Gilgong, Gulegong or Golgong—was on every miner's tongue.
Hub Of World!
"Why, man, there is nothing like it!" said a young English clergyman on first seeing the gold town. "The scene from here is immense, exhilarating. Yes, Gul- gong is the hub of the world!"
'And another clergyman from Sydney: "It fills me with amaze- ment. The order and good tem- per of these rough-looking men, the continual motion, the noise, the glare and glitter in your main thoroughfare, the picturesqueness of it all and the untold possibili-
For all this, Gulgong was a primitive community. One visi- tor described the town of poles
and box-bark as the ugliest-look-
ing town he ever saw. "It might have been picturesque, but it was abominably mean looking." he
Ugly or picturesque, Gulgong and Hill End were alive and vig- orous. The cry of "Rush oh!" had attracted Bulgarians, Greeks, Scots, Americans, Canadians,
Irishmen and Chinese, as well as native-born Australians.
It was a long trip from Sydney to Gulgong; but the trip was worthwhile for hundreds of miners. They travelled by train from Sydney to Wallerawang, by mail coach to Mudgee, and by Tom Tarrant's coach or horse- back to Gulgong.
Gulgong's 30 hotels did a roaring trade in beer and whisky. One miner gained a reputation by taking 80 nips of whisky in a day; another achieved the same fame by drinking 10 gallons of
The click of billiard balls came from saloons and the sound of concertinas, accordions, flutes and tin whistles filled the night air. Miners crowded into Saw- bridge's "cafe chantant" to be served cafe au lait by girls dressed in shorts and tights.
The theatres offered burlesque ("Aladdin the Wonderful Scamp"), drama ("Oliver Twist") and lectures (Mrs. Constable re- plying to "Edith O'Gorman, the Escaped Nun"). But housing conditions were poor. Most min- ers were content to live in bark shanties for a few years before moving on to another field.
New South Wales was swollen with the profits of gold and wool at the start of the 1870s and its citizens could feel the latent vig- our of their new continent stir- ring around them. Cockiness and self-confidence are perhaps the most striking features of Merlin's photographs.
There is the genially ferocious butcher, holding knife and steel and wearing a striped shirt, leather apron and Stetson hat.
A customer, striped-trousered legs apart, thumbs in belt and hat pulled down over one eye at a jaunty angle, stands grin- ning outside L. J. Hart's tobacco shop at Hill End. A mother stands with her children outside a rude bark hut which she has tried to improve with lace cur-
Merlin took the only known photograph of an Australian gold-strike. The members of the syndicate are standing in front of the forge, their leader hold- ing a pan in which three nuggets are clearly visible. A neatly dressed mining warden's clerk, who has obviously just arrived, holds a shovel and looks offi- ciously at the camera. Behind the forge, near the shaft, a red flag has been hoisted to indicate that a strike has been made.
Fossickers still chance upon gold at Gulgong to-day; but the time of red flags has passed. "But golden days are vanished, and altered is the scene," wrote Henry Lawson, "The diggings are deserted, the camping-grounds are green."
But Beaufoy Merlin and Bern- hard Holtermann have helped to preserve the picture.