Wednesday, 1 May 2013

An aerial mystery

In Bruce Jefferys' local history, The Story of Capertee,  a shot of an early aeroplane flying over a hilly bush landscape was reproduced. The image was titled 'Wolgan Valley' and Jeffreys' credits the photo to local photographer Henry (Harry) Mow who was active in the Capertee area during the early years of the last century. On first inspection Mow's photo looks like a tricked-up image, and this was certainly the view of Jefferys. Fake montages of more than one image to create a new composite picture is a common trick used throughout the history of photography. While this undated image is most likely a montage the photo, possibly, refers to early local contact with aeroplanes in the area.

Henry Mow photo of an aeroplane over the Wolgan Valley

In early March 1926, the Windsor and Richmond Gazette reported on a aerial survey of the Capertee district by the Richmond-based aviator Captain Percival that had taken place a week earlier in late February.  According to the report Percival, along with a surveyor and a photographer, left Mascot at 9.30 am in an Avro aeroplane to undertake a preliminary photographic survey of about 50 square miles of 'very rough country several miles beyond Capertee'. According to the report, the survey would reveal the contours of the area to help guide 'the men who, later on, will go over the ground with axe and "jigger" '.

Captain Percival's flight across the mountains, against a stiff westerly wind, took two and a half hours while the return journey took less than an hour. The party returned to Mascot aerodrome at 5pm. There is a suggestion in the newspaper report that the plane may have landed near Capertee during its mission.

A 1935 photo of Edgar Percival
courtesy Wikipedia

The pilot mentioned in the report was the Australian air pioneer Edgar Wikner Percival (1898-1984). Percival first took up flying during the Great War when he joined the British Royal Flying Corp. After the war he returned to Australia with three surplus aircraft, two Avro 504's and a de Havilland DH 6  to do stunt flying, film work and charter flying. During the 1920s he was known to be doing survey work in Australia, and it was during this part of his career that he surveyed the Capertee district.

While the planes being used by Edgar Percival in the early 1920s were bi-planes they were far more modern in design than the aircraft pictured in Mow's Wolgan Valley photo. The aeroplane pictured in his image seems to be an early aeroplane, most likely designed before the Great War. An Internet search soon discovered an image of a biplane flown by Orville and Wilbur Wright which seems very similar to the aircraft shown in Mow's photo. Being such a famous aircraft it is most likely the source of the tricked up image by Mow.

A biplane flown by Orville & Wilbur Wright

By coincidence Captain Percival's aerial survey of the Capertee district in late February took place just a week after Mow died. Because of this, Mow's image cannot have depicted Percival's survey plane of 1924. So either the image commemorates an earlier flight in the area,  or may simply be an experiment in trick photography.

Please let us know if you can identify the aeroplane seen flying in Henry Mow's photograph or can suggest where Percival may have landed in the Capertee area during his 1924 mission.

Link to Wikipedia entry on Edgar W Percival

In later posts we will look at Harry Mow's career and also highlight the work of other photographers of the district.

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