Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The greatest wonder in the world

‘The greatest wonder of the world’ was the description given to the world’s largest specimen of reef gold which was discovered by Bernhardt Holtermann at nearby Hill End in 1872. Within months of the find the mining settlement was transformed into one of the largest inland towns in New South Wales. But, by the 1880s most of the gold had been found and the community went into terminal decline. Apart from contemporary press reports little was known of the appearance of Hill End until a large cache of glass plate negatives were discovered in a garden shed owned by the Holtermann family in Chatswood in 1951.

Hand coloured photo of James Jaye's
tinsmith shop in Bathurst (1873)
Holtermann collection, State Library of NSW

It soon became apparent to historians that these 3,500 negatives – known as the Holtermann Collection - were the work of travelling photographers Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Baylis of the American and Australasian Photographic Company who visited Hill End and other Central Tablelands mining towns in the early 1870s.

Short Street, Hill End (1872) 
Holtermann collection, State Library of NSW

Recent developments in computer digital imaging have allowed the State Library of NSW to scan the Holtermann Collection images so they can be clearly enlarged to gallery size prints. A sample of these astonishing images is now on view at the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street, Sydney, until 12th May 2013. Works at The greatest wonder of the world show include house and street scenes of Sydney, Bathurst, Hill End and Gulgong. There are also images of other local mining communities such as Home Rule and Canadian Lead.

As well as the images of the mine workings and the townscapes there are also many studio portraits  of the diverse residents of these communities. These include family portraits as well as images of children. My favourite child portrait is of a bewildered looking boy named August Gondolf who is seated on a tricycle. One sad image is a post-mortem photograph of an infant girl laid out with flowers in preparation for her funeral.

Studio portrait of August Gondolf
Holtermann collection, State Library of NSW
This exhibition will delight all with an interest in nineteenth century Australian history. Make time to visit this free exhibition next time you are in Sydney.

Exhibition opening hours:
9 am to 5 pm Monday to Thursday (Tuesdays open until 8 pm), 9 am to 5 pm Friday, 10am to 5 pm weekends
Closes 12th May 2013

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