In 1951 3,500 glass plate negatives in cedar boxes were found in a shed in Chatswood.
This extraordinary discovery turned out to be the most complete record of the goldfields era anywhere in the world.
Bernhardt Holtermann commissioned the photographs after finding the world’s biggest specimen of reef gold at his Star of Hope mine in 1872. The plates were donated to the Mitchell Library in 1952 by Bernard Holterman’s grandson and became known as the Holtermann Collection.
The Collection is one of the world’s unique photographic records capturing a generation of people, from every corner of the globe and almost every walk of life, caught up in the social and environmental upheaval that was the Australian gold rush.
The collection also includes the world’s largest wet plate negatives, including two measuring a massive 1.35 x 0.94 metres, which together make up a huge panoramic photograph of Sydney Harbour taken in 1875.
It was Holtermann’s intention was to produce a photographic record of the gold mining areas of New South Wales and Victoria to attract other miners to share the good fortune he had found in Australia – a land of opportunity and his new homeland.
He hired two photographers Merlin and Bayliss to do this but this was just the start. Holtermann built a studio for the A&A Photographic Co. in Hill End and the men also made excursions to surrounding areas.
The photographic process of the day was complex. It required photographers to coat each glass plate with a wet emulsion just before use and develop it immediately afterwards, before it lost sensitivity. When travelling, this meant taking a portable darkroom wherever they went.
Despite the difficulty of this ‘wet plate’ process, the comprehensive goldfields photography of the A&A Photographic Co. has provided a unique documentation of frontier life.
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