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A&A Co: Charles Bayliss and Beaufoy Merlin
Charles Bayliss was born in England in 1850 in Hadleigh, near Ipswich in Suffolk. The family left England for Australia arriving in Melbourne in 1854.
When Bayliss was about 16, the family home was visited by the American & Australasian Photographic Company (A&A), namely Beaufoy Merlin, who was taking photographs of every house in Melbourne (and Victoria). Bayliss was encouraged to become Merlin's apprentice and he consequently left home to begin a photographic career as Merlin's assistant.
The two set off for the goldfields to photograph the mines, the shops and all the buildings. Over the next few years, the A&A traveled throughout Victorian towns photographing every building and where possible, asking the owners, residence and passers-by to stand out front. There is some evidence that they traveled as far west as the border towns of South Australia. They also visited towns along the Victoria's southern coast (The Great Ocean Road).
The negatives were produced using wet plate processes and the finished photographs were quarter plate 'Carte de Visites', 8.2cm X 10.8cm; quite small by today's standards. These served very successfully as landscape views and as portraits. The 'cartes' would have been quite precious to hold. Eventually many of these views of the world also made their way into albums.
As Alan Davies has articulated clearly in the 2004 NSW State Library's publication, An Eye For Photography, the main reason for the on-going massive production of images was not necessarily the immediate sales to those being photographed. Merlin was always happy to have more people in the photographs, as this increased the potential number of purchasers. However the real reason was that the images were being archived back at the main studio (Melbourne and later Sydney). The photographs were then advertised as being available, at a price, to investors, including presumably potential owners, real estate agents, developers and financiers such insurance agents and banks. Anyone, who for all sorts of reasons needed to see a building in the colony, could visit the A&A and, for that small price, could view the property under consideration. The A&A offices had become one of the 'sites' of the Metropolis; or at least that is how Merlin advertised.
There is no evidence of how successful this process was and whether in fact it repaid its operators and owners. Except of course they were to repeat the formula in south east New South Wales, and then in Sydney, and finally in the goldfields in and around Hill End.
In 1869, Merlin presented an album of photographs of the western districts of victoria to the colony's Governor Sir John Henry Manners-Sutton. (What happened to this album?).
In 1870, the A&A ventured into south east New South Wales taking photographs of every house in the towns they visited. The towns known to be visited, and photographed, include Braidwood, Queanbeyan, Yass, Goulburn and Parramatta.
The Queanbeyan Museum holds a number of the images; 50 are known to exist out of a possible 123. In Parramatta, they were known to have taken about 800. There is an interesting logistical question here. The A&A must have had to carry quite a stock of plates and chemicals as well as have the storage for the completed plates. And still have room in their carriage(s) for the process of preparing plates, developing the exposed plates and finally to print the sold photographs.
Their practice of photographing every public building, shop and residence, in front of which they usually encouraged the owners, residence, workers and passers-by to pose, they termed as 'Street Photography'.
By September 1870, the American and Australasian Photographic Company had opened at 324 George Street, Sydney. Merlin again announced the intention to photograph every significant building. Merlin was soon concentrating on 'landscape photographs' often using a 8 X 10 inch plate camera. He now left the studio work, that is portraits, to his assistant/studio manager, Clark.
Bayliss is usually listed as Merlin's assistant even during the Sydney studio operations. How much time Bayliss spent in Sydney or in Melbourne at this time remains speculative as Bayliss remained listed as a photographer in Melbourne, managing the Melbourne office of the A&A.
Then the lure of the business opportunities in the goldfields took Merlin west in 1872, across the Blue Mountains, to Hill End and then onto Gulgong. And.. again out went the message that the A&A Co was to photograph every home, shop and business; complete of course with owners, employees, residence etc. The studio, first in Gulgong and then in Hill End, also established a good business in portraits, most likely managed again by the studio manager.
It is these goldfield negatives that now form the basis of the 'Holtermann Collection' at the Mitchell Library (within the NSW State Library) in Sydney.
Based on the realities of who produced the works, we would have to argue that the collection should have been called the 'Merlin Collection' or the 'A&A Collection'. But alas they were found in the possession of Holtermann's descendants in 1953, so hence the name given to the collection. Sadly this nomenclature does somewhat deny the real owners of the images.
And Bayliss? How did Charles fit in to the A&A while they were in the NSW Goldfields. There are newspaper reports of him being there in the company of Merlin, being his assistant. And he also appears in the now famous photograph of the Hill End office along with the driver and others. However, he remained a Melbourne based photographer. Therefore it is unknown as to how much time he was in either. Bayliss was very much a part of the A&A Co, but as one who obviously traveled back and forth a few times during 1870-73 between Melbourne and Sydney and then later Hill End.
In late 1872, Merlin was commissioned by Holtermann to produce photographs for Holtermann's International Exposition. It was Merlin who introduced Holtermann to using the larger imperial (10 x15) glass plates and on at least one occasion to construct a panorama of the goldfields.
Merlin, and sometimes in the company of Holtermann, set off to photograph the successes of the colony, making another tour or two into areas of south east New South Wales, this time using the larger format camera. Holtermann had supplied Merlin with new vehicles and also referred to Merlin as his photographer. Bayliss's role is not so clear at this point.
Somewhere around mid 1873, Merlin had to inform Holtermann that he was ill and no longer able to carry on with the commission. On Merlin's recommendation, Holtermann employed Bayliss to take over Merlin's commission for the exposition.
Charles Bayliss: The Holtermann Exposition and Panoramas
It was around the time of being commissioned, that Bayliss encourages Holtermann to use a Mammoth Plate Camera to produce the main exhibition photographs, particularly the panoramas. While the lens had been ordered and they were awaiting its arrival, Bayliss carried on with photographing possibly both in Melbourne and country Victoria as well as in Sydney.
It is speculation to whom the Merlin, that is the A&A negatives, passed to. But we do know that the significant collection (now in the Mitchell Library Sydney) was identified by Keast Burke in 1953, in the home of Holtmann's descendants. Not sure why they did not go to Bayliss?
Eventually the lens arrived and the camera was built and purchased by Holtermann in 1874.
The first Bayliss Mammoth Plate image was of Holtermann's recent purchase of the Post Office Hotel in Sydney. Holtermann starred in the photos, first downstairs to the right and for the second, he moved upstairs to the balcony. One proud owner!
The Mammoth Plate camera traveled with Bayliss to Victoria. Here Bayliss completed a Ballarat panorama using the new camera from atop the new town hall. Reports talk of Bayliss getting the town hall clock stopped to remove the vibrations of the chimes etc. The resulting panorama is a striking representation of the city. However, as Alan Davies comments in Eye For A Photograph (page 59), this particular Mammoth Plate panorama was not a complete success. Bayliss "did not overlap the images in his sequence sufficiently and the huge wet plate images do not form a smooth panorama."
It was around this time that Bayliss also completed a large number of 10" by 12" plates. Keast Burke says about 210, although he does suggest that maybe not all in the same year. Keast lists: Melbourne about 115 views; Bendigo about 30; Ballarat 13 and Geelong 10, with other scenes at Stawell, Castlemaine and elsewhere. Keast comments on Bayliss' craftsmanship, namely that they were well produced fine negatives worthy of being enlarged.
Another significant work was of some of the foreshores around North Sydney. One being the Middle Head defences, being made up of three Mammoth Plates, which line up to form a small panorama.
Meanwhile Holtermann was having work done on his North Sydney home and having a tower built specifically to mount the huge camera to take the great Sydney panoramas. This work was completed in mid 1875 and so the work began to have the camera built into the room at the top.
By about October 1875, the 'Great' Sydney panorama was completed, with Bayliss being the main photographer together with Holtermann and Clark . The task would not have been easy with the wet plates having to be quickly taken down the stairs to be developed.
In the end, the panorama, while based on many exposures, was pieced together to become a series of 23 images each measuring 56 X 46cm. The finished work was almost 10 metres long.
Bayliss and company produced a couple of more gems from the same tower. The next was made using a wide angle lens and producing images in landscape format (rather than portrait for the former). Next came one extraordinary set of images. They produced a super large set of four images each being 1 metre X 1.5 metres. Just take a moment to think about the production process to coat the plates, take them up for exposure in the camera and then to get them back down to be developed. Apparently one burley bloke, with large enough arms, was especially employed to brush on the chemicals.
Early 1876, Bayliss was back in Melbourne to produce a panorama of Melbourne. This panorama has been regarded as successful technically but not regarded too highly as an image. It did not achieve the impact of the former panoramas.
Bayliss is also reported as being out again in country Victoria, Finally he was back in Sydney to complete the work for Holtermann. The work on the exposition was coming to a close and Bayliss was soon to finish working for Holtermann.
At this point of the story, a reminder. Charles Bayliss has just produced a series of works that have become significant in the history of Australian photography. In 1875, he was 25 years old.
We do not know too much more about the man. The images of him in the various collections as 'Merlin's assistant' and as the man in the doorway of the Hill End studio do provide another clue. He was a very well dressed your gentleman; in fact quite the snappy dresser!
So here he was in 1876-1877 about to launch out on his own. There is no doubt that he was an accomplished technician and business person with years of training in the business under Merlin. In fact he was regarded so highly by Merlin that Merlin had trusted Bayliss to look after the Melbourne Studio of A&A and subsequently recommended his employment to complete the Holtermann commission. One suspect that between Merlin and later Holtermann he also had valuable education in the skills of being an entrepreneur. It seems that he was a friendly man, who got on with people and had enthusiasm and energy.
The 19th Century photographer was an interesting mix of chemist, technician, artist and entrepreneur. And it seems that Bayliss had all the required basics. So it was now up to him to carve his own niche in a busy market-place for professional photographers.
Charles Bayliss: Landscape Photographer
in 1878-79, Charles Bayliss moved to Sydney and established his own studio at 348 George Street; soon moving to 335a George St. His put up his plate as Charles Bayliss, Landscape Photographer. 'Landscape' here would have meant both city and country views; with or without buildings and often with people.
Thus he seems to declare his business as in the image trade, supplying views and contributing to albums of photos.
Bayliss quickly set to work to put together his own stock negatives of all the 'best sellers' of the day, being street scenes and public buildings, the harbour and its shipping, the beaches, the beauty spots of the new tourist spots such as the Blue Mountains. He aslo included several images of "Australian Natives" - the local aboriginal peoples.
In 1879, the Sydney International Exhibition opened in the "Garden Palace". Charles Bayliss completed a panorama from the dome of the Palace. Bayliss had to climb up the outside and balance upon the dome itself. A feat the brought him praise from the local press. The completed work consisted of a series of images taken using the mammoth camera, being 18" by 22" plates (46cm X 55cm). The panorama was 6 metres by 55 cm (20 feet by 22 inches) and provided a complete coverage of the city and the suburbs beyond.
Bayliss also seems to have developed a 'news' style of photography. His images of the 1880s include the construction of important buildings and of events in the city, particularly involving dignitaries and military movements.
The techniques for photographers changed dramatically in the 1880s with the introduction of gelatin dry plates. Thus photography was far more easy to include on expeditions and forays into the outback; not that it had stopped photographers before, but their livelihood became just that little easier to earn.
On 3rd March 1885, Bayliss recorded the Australian volunteers leaving for the Sudan aboard the troopships Australasia and Iberia. Another news photo opportunity was on December 12th 1885 at Circular Quay. Bayliss captured the arrival of the State Governor-elect, His Excellency Baron Carrington together with his wife and the Hon. Miss Harbord.
In 1883 Bayliss was married to Christiana Salier. This family was eventually to grow to include seven children, five sons and two daughters. Raymond Charles (1884), Alfred John (1886), Charles (1887 - died in infancy), Bessie Salier (1888), Walter Norman (1893), and Emily Annie (1891), Eric Edward (1896). Alfred and Walter were subsequently killed in World War One.
In 1886, Bayliss made his mark again with another 360° panorama of Sydney. This time the images were taken from Sydney's G.P.O. tower. And again, the resulting photographs were high quality and provide us now with a beautiful and clear record of the city as it was then.
The Royal Commission on Water Conservation
In 1886, Bayliss was commissioned to accompany the Royal Commission on Water Conservation which was to travel down the Darling River (inland New South Wales) from Bourke to Wentworth. The photographs from this commission mark another high point of Bayliss's work. They include photographs that demonstrate a creative flair for posing his subjects. The 'artistic posing' technique he used was very much derived from his earlier training with Merlin and enhanced by posing techniques often employed by other important and successful photographers of the period. That is to say that Bayliss photographs were creative but not necessarily revolutionary in their creativity. But I am sure the agents that had commissioned him would have been more than satisfied with the beautiful images that they now had as a record of commission's travels. Shame the commission didn't deliver some early solutions and management strategies for the intelligent use of Australia's water.
A copy of the album is housed with the Art Gallery of NSW. they displayed works from the album in April-May 2008. A fine collection of images!
During the 1880s, Bayliss was also busy with other paid commissions. He was employed to travel into the country to photograph the properties of successful farmers in areas around Tamworth and other up country towns. At the same one-room exhibition as mentioned above, the pages shown at the Art gallery of NSW are very much a testimate to Bayliss' skills in first arranging the elements of the photographs (people, carts, bulloacks etc) and then publishing a high quality set of images within an album. His clients would have indeed been pleased.
He made photographs in 1887 of the construction of the Hawkesbury Bridge.
There are reports that he traveled in Queensland to at least Maryborough. (This has been been confirmed following the research contribution by Gloria Banting - click here)
And, as yet to be confirmed, Keast Burke mentions the possibility of other travels to New Zealand and Tasmania.
One interesting commission in the early 1890s, was that Bayliss took photographs of important oil painting in the National Art Gallery of Victoria.
In 1897, when Charles Bayliss was 47, he caught a chill, which quickly developed to something far more sinister, called "galloping
pneumonia", which resulted in his death on June 4th. The notice in the Australian Photographic review praised his good character and honoured his standing as a landscape photographer: "As a man he was ever genial
and kindly; as a landscape photographer he
had few equals and no
superiors. His memory is forever honoured in
the hearts of all who knew him."
Charles Bayliss: A Place in Australian Photography
The photographic legacy of Charles Bayliss is an important one. His work in Sydney, as a Landscape Photographer, compares well with that of his contemporaries such as Nicholas Caire, Charles Kruger and Captain Sweet, in Sydney others such as Sharkley, Paine, Frost, Pickering and, in Brisbane, P C Poulsen. Technically his photographs are likewise of a more than competent standard, with those that have survived well being rich in tones and beautiful to behold.
His stock photographs were sold individually, as sets, in albums or on-sold to others to be included in other views albums, sadly not always with the attributions in place. Bayliss advertised himself as a landscape photographer. His work was predominately of a topographic nature. He documented very well the city of Sydney, its developing urban environment and its civic events. The photographs were produced to be sold as documents and records. they form an important contribution to the late 19th Century Australian trade in views.
In Sydney, Bayliss worked alongside his competitors such as Frost, Clark and even the NSW Government photographer, Sharkley. And while some of his work can be seen as being more creative, such as when he poses people in the photographs for the 1886 Royal Commission on Water Conservation, this is not his usual style and main output of work. He can also be compared somewhat with Llindt, Caire and Nettleton and some of the documentary photographs. However, their interest in being out of the city environment and going bush, differs quite dramatically with Bayliss as a city professional photographer. Photographers such as Llindt and Caire also produced images about the bush with little emphasis on the presence of people, or sometimes about the impact of people on the bush. Bayliss did not venture into this territory.
Charles Bayliss was one of several successful late 19th Century Australian professional city photographers who utilised the craft of photography well to provide rich photographic views of the urban environment and the progress of colony. While much of his photographs are competent and rich images, there are a some that indicate that he was capable of a little more creativity than most of the host of professionals who likewise were supplying the market with views and portraits.
Internationally Bayliss would not be a stand out photographer as the level at which he operated was occupied by many others in the countries in which such city studios operated. He was not a trail blazer and an initiator of any new style. His work should be celebrated and enjoyed for what it is. Charles Bayliss and his photographic heritage sits very comfortably amongst a host of contemporaries spread around the world who have left a legacy to be enjoyed.
The Legacy of Charles Bayliss: In Three Parts
The first: The A&A - as assistant to Beaufoy Merlin, Bayliss assisted in the huge body of work under the company name of the American and Australasian Photographic Company (A&A). It has also been noted that the company used the title: American and Australian Photographic Company.
The second: Holtermann's Exposition photographs including the great Sydney panorama.
The Last: As the 'Landscape Photographer', his key contribution is to the collection of urban and country images by Australian photographers who collectively provided this country with a valuable late 19th Century photographic heritage.