Sydney, Australia magic lantern slides

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These two magic lantern slides probably date from the late 1890s. Australia held a particular fascination for British Victorians. It was part of our Empire, on which it was said that the sun never set. We’ve handed most of it back now and it certainly sets on the few bits that are left. In fact, here in the north of England, the sun sometimes doesn’t bother to make an appearance at all. We populated it with our criminals (Australia, not the north of England) for crimes as heinous as stealing a sheep or a loaf of bread. It was also a land of adventure and opportunity but only for those who weren’t exhausted and penniless from earning a crust of bread which, if they stole instead, could lead to deportation to Australia!

There were a couple of prominent Sydney based photographers producing magic lantern slides, Henry King and  Charles Henry Kerry and their slides turn up occasionally in the English collections. Mostly, though, we see high quality (but not very interesting) photographic slides made by the Aberdeen based company founded by George Washington Wilson. The firm may have employed its own photographers in Australia or perhaps they bought photos from freelancers or licensed them from Australian firms. Does anyone know?

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The acquisition / exchange of early photographic images has an interesting history. For instance, in the American stereoscopic (3D) photograph industry, which was huge around the turn of the 20th century, some firms weren’t too fussy about how they acquired their images and simply copied and reproduced those of their competitors. Copyright law in relation to written material has existed since the 1700s but protection for photos is a relatively recent phenomenon.

The first slide is hand tinted and shows Sydney Town Hall, the second Sydney General Post Office.

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