Dry plate photography 1860s

The Photographic News– A Weekly Record of the Progress of Photography – would have been read to tatters by professional photographers Alfred Bock, Thomas Nevin, Samuel Clifford, Charles Woolley, and amateurs such as Morton Allport when it arrived in Tasmania 1863-64. It may have been sent by a former member of their cohort, Bishop Francis Russell Nixon, whose expeditions to the Oyster Cove area (1858) recorded Aboriginal life. Francis Russell Nixon had left Tasmania never to return by 1863. This publication in 1863 mentions Tasmania in four instances, and records the Bishop’s attendance at a lecture in London on the Pistolgraph:

The Photographic News 1863

Source at Google books: The Photographic News By G. Wharton Simpson

May 29th, 1863
LECTURES ON THE PISTOLGRAPH.— Mr. Skaife, who has opened a new studio in Sussex Place, Regent’s Park, intends there to deliver a series of lectures on photography, especially in connection with its minute phases, to which he has given especial attention. The first lecture was delivered on Monday, the 18th instant, the chair being taken by Sir David Brewster, who, with several other savans interested in photography, amongst whom were the Bishop of Tasmania, the Rev. J. B. Reado, Dr. Cronin, Dr. Purland, and others, was present. Mr. Skaife gave an interesting sketch of the origin of the pistolgraph and of his photographs of the firing of a mortar, its difficulties, dangers, and success. He also related an anecdote of his photographing, with his little instrument, Her Majesty as she was at full speed on her route to Wimbledon, and the risk incurred of being apprehended for an attempt to shoot the Queen. The lecture was illustrated by specimens and demonstrative experiments. (page 263)

Published in London, The Photographic News contained a wealth of news and technical information about processes and equipment. The volume spans a year in the development of dry-plate photography, solar photography, photolithography, glass house construction and a thousand other items of interest in advanced photophysics and photochemistry. Alfred Bock and Thomas Nevin had reconstructed Bock’s glass house at their studio, The City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth-street, Hobart Town, by 1865, and produced some extraordinary solar photographs. Samuel Clifford, also a partner of Thomas Nevin, applied information from such a source to produce his much praised dry plate photographs using Russell’s Tannin Process, which were exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition in 1866. The pseudonymous “Sol” remarked of Clifford’s expertise (in Dan Sprod 1977l; Joan Kerr 1992:164):

Surely no wet photography ever excelled these delightful representations of nature.

Samuel Clifford, 1866. Charles Woolley reproduced it in 1868.
This copy is held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery,
titled “Monument of Sir John Franklin” Ref: Q1998.26.42

John Watt Beattie and Jack Cato
Photo-historian Jack Cato published an account in 1955 of John Watt Beattie’s use of dry plate photography, claiming that Beattie was the first “in Australia” to use gelatine dry plates in 1879; however, that was not exactly what had Beattie claimed. Beattie was quoted in the Mercury’s obituary as saying that on an excursion to Lake St. Clair – “That was the first time gelatine dry plates were used at the lake” – which was in reference to earlier excursions at Lake St. Clair where amateur photographer Morton Allport had produced images of members of his party and the surrounding landscape ca. 1863:

Boviak Beach, Excursion to Lake St. Clair February 1863 by Morton Allport
Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts
Also on TAHO at Flickr page

Above: Extract from John Watt Beattie’s obituary, The Mercury June 25, 1930, in which Beattie is quoted as saying that he was the first to use gelatine dry plates at the lake. When Jack Cato repeated this claim in 1955, he omitted the phrase “at the lake” and inflated the claim to affirm that Beattie was the first – in 1879 – to use gelatine dry plates in Australia.

Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia 1955 2 edn 1977 Institute of Australian Photography
From Chapter xv – read the full chapter [pdf]

Neither claim was true. More than a decade earlier, in March 1866, professional photographer Alfred Bock was at the Port Arthur penitentiary, 60kms south of Hobart, in the process of photographing the landscape and the prison’s officials when he ran out of dry plates, and sent an urgent telegram to professional photographer Samuel Clifford in Hobart to send him “24 dry plates – Panoramic” on the boat called the Shannon.

March 1866 Account of Private Telegrams
Date 27th March, No. 269, Alfred Bock to Mr Clifford Liverpool St. H. Town,
Send down 24 dry Plates Panoramic. by the Shannon,  at once. – Reply.

Source:
Tasmanian Papers 316 (microfilm)
Records of Telegrams sent and received between Hobart and Port Arthur 1863-1871
Mitchell Library, State Library NSW
Photos © KLW NFC Imprint 2013

And in the same year, 1866, Samuel Clifford produced his much praised dry plate photographs using Russell’s Tannin Process, which were exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition in 1866. An album of early Tasmanian landscapes, including several from an album titled “Tasmanian Scenes” containing many of Samuel Clifford’s tannin-processed photographs dating from about 1868 (visit of H.R.H Prince Alfred) is held at the National Archives London, viewable on Flickr in this set, including the one above of the Franklin statue. Each of these photographs bears Samuel Clifford’s blind stamp impress on the mount: Part of CO 1069/621. Colonial Office photographic collection held at The National Archives.

CO 1069-621-02CO 1069-621-03CO 1069-621-04CO 1069-621-05CO 1069-621-06CO 1069-621-07
CO 1069-621-08CO 1069-621-09CO 1069-621-10CO 1069-621-11CO 1069-621-12CO 1069-621-13
CO 1069-621-14CO 1069-621-15CO 1069-621-16CO 1069-621-17CO 1069-621-18CO 1069-621-19
CO 1069-621-20CO 1069-621-21CO 1069-621-22CO 1069-621-23CO 1069-621-24CO 1069-621-25

Franklin Square, photo by Samuel Clifford processed with the Russell Tannin dry plate process 1866.
Blind stamp impress on border. NA UK Ref: CO 1069-621-05
Held at the National Archives UK. Also at Flickr.

It is a common misconception that dry plate photography using gelatine was neither known about nor used by Tasmanian photographers in the 1860s, even up to the mid 1870s. Spurling claimed to be the first to introduce it in 1879 (according to Chris Long, TMAG 1995:106), and Beattie claimed to be the first to use gelatine dry plates “at the lake” – i.e. at Lake St Clair, also in 1879, yet publications such as The Photographic News and The Silver Sunbeam (Toller 1864), both read regularly by the Bock-Clifford-Nevin-Allport cohort during the 1860s, provided specific step-by-step guides. This extract is from van Monckhoven, Désiré van. A Popular Treatise on Photography. Translated By W.H. Thornthwaite. London, 1863.:

CHAPTER XII:

3. The Tannin Process

This dry process derives its name from the use of tannin-a bitter principle obtained from gall-nuts a preservative agent. To Major Russell is due the credit of having introduced it.

The glass to be prepared should be cleaned with great care, particularly from any greasy substances. This is conveniently done with a mixture of Tripoli powder, spirits of wine, and solution of ammonia. A tuft of cotton is dipped into this mixture and rubbed over its surface for a minute or so; then well rinsed in water and rubbed dry with a clean cloth.

The glass, just before being used, should be wiped with a perfectly dry and warm cloth, and then coated with the following solution:–

Nelson’s Patent Gelatine 20 grains.
Distilled Water 10 ounces.
Alcohol ½ ounce.
Dissolve and filter; this solution will keep good for a considerable time.

This gelatine solution is applied to the glass in the same way as ordinary collodion, taking care that the whole of the surface is covered, and that the back of the plate be net soiled. The superfluous liquid is received back into the bottle, and the plate set to dry, as shown at Fig. 69; when well drained, remove the accumulation of fluid very carefully from the lower edge of the plate by a piece of blotting-paper drawn along it. When the surface is dry, warm gently by the fire, and retain for use in a grooved box. As plates thus coated will keep good any length of time, any required number may be prepared, taking care that the backs of them are quite free from stains of gelatine.

The gelatinised glass is now coated with old iodised collodion in the usual manner, taking particular care that the whole surface of the plate be covered; it is then immersed in the silver-bath employed for the wet collodion process (page 34), and allowed to remain in it from three to five minutes.

Remove the sensitive plate from the bath, and wash it freely under a water-tap for about a minute, it will then be ready to receive the preservative solution, composed as follows:

Tannin 60 grains.
Distilled Water 4 ounces.

Filter through paper, and measure out two separate portions according to the size of the plate to be prepared, allowing about two drachms in each quantity for a stereoscopic plate. The first portion of tannin solution is poured over the washed coating of the sensitised plate two or three times, so as to remove the water adherent to it, then the other quantity is poured on and off, and the plate placed on end on a piece of blotting-paper, and allowed to dry in a perfectly dark and warm place.

After exposure in the camera, which averages from one to three minutes on a favourable day, and from four to eight minutes in dull weather, the picture is to be developed, for which purpose the following solutions are required:–

No. 1. Pyrogallic Acid 72 grains.
Alcohol 1 ounce.
Dissolve and keep in a stoppered bottle.

No. 2. Nitrate of Silver 20 grains.
Citric Acid 20 grains.
Distilled Water 1 ounce.

Dissolve and filter should any white or other precipitate be formed. To three ounces of distilled water add half a drachm of No. 1, and if the plate to be developed be a stereoscopic size, take three drachms of this solution and add to it from ten to twenty minims of No. 2; this forms the developing fluid.

The exposed plate is first moistened with distilled water, which must be done quickly and evenly, otherwise stains are produced, and then the developing fluid poured over its surface and kept slightly in motion. The development must be carefully watched, and if’ in a short time the sky comes out strongly, but, is not followed by the other details of the object, the plate was not long enough exposed, and the developing fluid must be poured back into the measure, and say ten minims of No. 1 added, so as to increase the quantity of pyrogallic acid. If the whole of the picture, however, appears to come out at once, a few drops of No. 2 is to be added, so as to increase the density of the sky.

When the picture is properly developed, it is fixed with a solution of hyposulphite of soda, washed and varnished as described for the wet collodion process.

Other photographers in the 1860s to use this method were Ernest Brougham Docker (1842-1923), judge and notable amateur photographer, who took lessons from William Hetzer and in 1858, with his father, began experiments with a wet-plate process.

Between 1860 and 1868 Docker was sensitizing his own dry plates by the tannin-collodion-albumen process, although dry plates were not widely used until the early 1880s. Joining the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1876, he used his own extensive collection of photographs for many illustrated addresses before it. He did much to promote photography through his articles in overseas and Australian journals, particularly in the British Journal of Photography, and as president of the Photographic Society of New South Wales in 1894-1907. (Australian Dictionary of Biography)

State Library of NSW
Call Number: PXB 199/no. 22
Caption: The Dartbrook, Scone, c. 1860. Ernest Docker. stereo albumen print. PXB 199/22

Thomas J. Nevin and Chris Long
Chris Long’s assumption that the production of convicts’ portraits took place in situ at Port Arthur using wet plate photography lead him to make these unfounded statements in 1995:

page 36, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (TMAG)

CORRECTIONS:
1. The stamp chosen for the verso of the convict photographs by Thomas Nevin was not one of the commercial stamps he used after Alfred Bock’s 1860’s design. It was his government contract stamp devised by the government printer James Barnard which included the Royal Arms insignia of lion and unicorn rampant conventionally printed on prison and police documents from the 1850s to the late 1890s. It was also included in the seal of Tasmanian Supreme Court where Nevin photographed prisoners on committal for trial at the adjoining Hobart Gaol, and it was the header on the the weekly police gazettes, called Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police (until 1884) which was produced at the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office where Nevin worked on contract under joint tender until 1875 and full time as a civil servant from 1876. Nevin was the contracted police photographer, in similar manner to Dr Coverdale who was contracted to the Police Department, “special duties at the gaol” medical officer before his tenure as Surgeon-Commandant at Port Arthur (dated as starting from January 1, 1874 by the Australian Dictionary of Biography).

Photos © KLW NFC 2009 ARR

2. A.H. Boyd was not a photographer, had no reputation as one in his life time and no works are extant. A. H. Boyd was not THE photographer of convicts whether as Commandant or a Sunday amateur. The suggestion was derived from a sentence in a children’s fictional tale about a holiday at Port Arthur, written in the 1930s by a Boyd descendant (E.M. Hall). It mentions neither Boyd by name nor the photographing of prisoners. Numerous articles on this weblog examine the misattribution.

Two gross (288)of photographic glasses, if they actually arrived in July 1873 at the Port Arthur government stores (evidence suggests otherwise) were intended to be used to photograph the ruinous state of the Port Arthur prison site. Clifford arrived a month later, in August 1873, and photographed visiting dignitaries, the buildings and the scenery; produced as stereographs by Samuel Clifford and Thomas Nevin, these stereos survive in considerable numbers and are now held at the TMAG and State Library of Tasmania. A small number of convicts were photographed there by Thomas Nevin during his visit in May 1874 on police business, but the majority of convict portraits were taken at the Hobart Gaol and Supreme Court under commission, and with the assistance of Constable John Nevin, Thomas Nevin’s brother. The surviving photographs of “convicts” were selected, even salvaged from potential destruction by early 20th century archivists, on the basis of the prisoner’s Supreme Court criminal record: every man in every photograph was a recidivist and habitual criminal who received a Supreme Court conviction on their second offense. The earliest prisoner photographs by Nevin date from July 1871 *e.g Appleby, July 4, 1871.

Notice that in this entry on Nevin (TMAG, 1995:36), Chris Long cites The Mechanical Eye in Australia, 1986, page 201, where he has planted the seed of the suggestion of a Boyd attribution through a letter to the authors, Davies & Stanbury, which they duly note in Footnote 3 to their comment about Tasmanian prisoner photographs. The net effect is that Long has created an unsupported statement about Boyd, and then proceeds to cross-reference it here (1995:36) as though it were established fact.

3. Given Samuel Clifford’s expertise in dry plate photography by 1866, those plates in use at Port Arthur might easily have been kept sensitized for months before development in the Hobart studios of Clifford and Nevin. A report by a travelling photographer, Paul Ricochet, in the same issue of The Photographic News of 1863, tells how he made use of dry plates while in Tasmania, keeping them sensitised for upwards of five weeks:

AUGUST 28, 1863.
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC NEWS. page 413
… I had at that time an idea of taking a trip to the colonies, and this idea was carried into execution some two years ago. The following paragraphs contain a few extracts from notes taken during the trip, and may probably interest the readers of the PHOTOGRAPHIC NEWS. “Tannin” not being then in vogue, I provided myself with a tent, wherein was found every requisite for working the wet process in the field, and having packed up therewith a 9 X 7 instrument, with single and double combinations of lenses and all necessary chemicals, started by one of the Blackwall Liners, in which a pleasant voyage passed without accident.
On Tuesday, November 17, 1861, I had my first view of Australia. A long low stretch of rugged coast, extending on either bow as far as the eye could reach, the monotonous grey rocks broken into an opening ahead, where two cliffs formed the gate posts of a line of surf, inside which could be seen for many miles, a vast expanse of calm water,— Hobson’s Bay. The same evening, we arrived at Sandridge Pier.
To one coming from London, Melbourne presents few remarkable features. It is in fact, as many declare, a miniature London. The same ‘buses, cabs, and vans throng the streets, morning, noon, and night, and the diurnal clatter and roll of wheels is well nigh as deafening as in any section of the modern Babylon.
Nor is the resemblance less striking in the matter of photography. Every second house in the street is either a photographic shop, studio, or warehouse ; and yet, with al! this competition, the profits made by some of the leading houses are enormous. One can get one’s “carte” as well taken here as in London, at any price from 3d. to 10s.
I did not notice much landscape photography going on, even amongst amateurs. The truth is, Melbourne and its suburbs are hardly picturesque enough to tempt even the most enthusiastic devotee of his art. There is scarcely a decent view anywhere —the country is flat, tame, and uninteresting.
After a few weeks in Melbourne, I determined to take a trip over to Tasmania, and spend some time amongst th varied mountainous scenery with which the island abounds. For this purpose, starting one afternoon by steamer, I arrived in Hobarton just forty-eight hours after leaving the Melbourne wharf.
It was early in a fresh spring morning as we passed a half speed up Storm Bay, going close to the lighthouse at the entrance of the river Derwent, which lighthouse, by the way, bears the euphonious name of the ” Iron Pot,” whether in delicate allusion to its architecture, or not, I could not learn.
Rounding a point in the river, we came in sight оf Hobarton. Mount Wellington, rising steeply some 4,500 feet above the water, forms a grand background to the town whose white houses, mingled with tufts of lofty trees, are sprinkled over several small rises along a bend in the Derwent; points, thickly clothed with dusky foliage, jut out from either bank, and the whole landscape, surrounded and shut in by ranges of hills, and reflected deeply in the broad calm bosom of the river (which is here three miles wide) formed a picture I had rarely seen equalled.
My first care, after securing lodgings and a man to look after my concerns, was to ransack my photographic packages. Everything was in perfect order; the collodion (principally Hand and Long’s), had stood the voyage famously. By the way, let me here recommend all tourists by sea voyage to carry their instruments and chemicals in air-tight tin boxes soldered carefully up. If this precaution be attended to, the risk of danger is small.
Although I was well satisfied at having brought with me all necessary chemicals, there was in fact no actual necessity for so doing, as chemicals by all well-known makers can be bought in Melbourne. In Hobarton too, one can now, I believe, get any requisite; but at the time of my visit there was no first-rate photographic warehouse established there.
Every one advised me to ascend Mount Wellington; and as my own inclination coincided with the advice, and as my servant (an Irishman, by name O’Corcoran), professed him- self thoroughly well acquainted with the route, I started one fine morning on this my first photographic essay in Tasmania.
Mr. O’Corcoran and myself trudged merrily along, he with the tent and chemicals, and I with the instrument. After a couple of hours walking along a steep stony track, we reached a terrace called the ” Springs,” which is considered half way to the summit. Here a rivulet of cool, clear water issues from a rocky cavern, and falls away down the mountain side. This cavern, with overhanging shrubs and brushwood, formed a charming subject for the camera. I was disappointed in not getting the view from this spot of the town and surrounding country, which is very fine. My failure was, I believe, owing to the too strong contrast between the foreground, which was dark and sombre, and the distance, which was very bright.
In this trip I gained several experiences. One was that the wet process, with a tent, is nearly useless in Australian photography. With the thermometer at 98° in the shade, the interior of a tent is like the sudatorium in a Roman bath; and added to this, there are frequent hot winds, which cover your plates with fine dust, and often blow the tent over.
What strikes an English photographer very forcibly in Tasmania, is the translucency of the atmosphere. On this account distances, even when remote, may be photographed with remarkable distinctness and perfect definition. I never saw a country so free from fogs of all kinds ; indeed, the only fog I ever saw there was once on a swamp, and in that case it covered so small an extent of ground, that when one walked for fifty or a hundred yards up any one of the surrounding hills, one could see the fog lying like a tuft of cotton wool on the little swamp below.
After spending a month pleasantly in Hobarton, I packed up my traps, and began my travels through the island. Warned by previous mishaps, I left my cumbrous tent at home, taking instead a store of collodio-albumenized plates, warranted to keep ” any length of time.”
I was rather successful with this kind of plate. I found their keeping qualities equal to my wants : for instance, I managed to keep them, when sensitized, for upwards of five weeks, which, in a hot climate, is a term not to be despised. My formulae were as follows:—For the iodized albumen, dissolve 7 1/2 drachms loaf sugar, 36 grains iodide of potassium, 36 grains iodide of ammonium, and a scale of pure iodine, about the size of a barleycorn in 9 ounces of distilled water. Add to this solution the white of 9 eggs, and beat the whole into a firm froth. I preferred the eggs not quite fresh, believing that when in this condition, the film produced was less likely to blister. I used any old collodion, a forty-grain nitrate bath, and great care in cleaning the plates. Also, copious washings* at every stage of the process. (Го be continued.)
* I found using half a dozen buckets filled with water, each in succession as dipping baths, an excellent plan.

Paul Ricochet on dry plate use,
The Photographic News, August 28th, 1863

Two more mentions of Tasmania appear in The Photographic News of 1863. In May, Talk in the Studio reported (page 323):

PHOTOGRAPHY IN TASMANIA.— The Weekly Times, published in Hobart Town, proposes to devote a column weekly to the advancement of photography in Tasmania. Correspondents will be answered by a competent person. One of the especial objects will be the formation of a Tasmania Photographic Society. On the subject the editor of the journal in question says : —
“We are sure there are a sufficient number of professionals and amateurs to make such a society both successful and valuable. ‘ Union is strength,’ and in this case ‘ Wisdom ; ‘ nothing would so conduce to the advancement of the art as mutual assistance and encouragement. In England the Societies of this nature embrace all classes. The Heir to the British Crown has become the patron of the London Photographic Society, dukes, duchesses and the nobility of all ranks are numbered amongst its members down to the photo’s assistant. Why should otherwise than a gentlemanly mien and intelligent capacity be the qualification for membership? Can we not break through the party walls of station here ? Can we not raise photography to the same standing as the other colonies? “Excite a generous emulation amongst those who will take an interest in it, and depend upon it, marked results will follow. We surely have sufficient intelligence amongst us — and have exhibited energy enough in the matters which have before engrossed our attention — let the thing be commenced by a few who have a life interest in the matter — a determination to create success, and their ranks will soon be swelled by many who never before were engaged in so beautiful a science. If this be carried out, who knows but that Tasmanians maybe looked upon as authorities, and our humble island home be regarded as a seat of learning.

But by November, 1863, enthusiasm had turned to disappointment (page 566):

In the Southern quarter of the globe, we regret to say, matters do not look so satisfactory. The Hobart Town Weekly Times, from which we quoted, some months ago, an announcement stating that a movement for the establishment of a society was contemplated, informs us in a recent number of the complete failure of all attempts to excite a public or co-operative spirit amongst the photographers of Tasmania. The Editor of the Journal to which we have referred, set aside a column of his paper for the purposes of photography, inviting letters, articles, discussions, &c. He now gives the matter up in disgust. He has himself supplied a series of articles on interesting photographic topics ; but has not received, during the four months which have elapsed, a single communication of any kind, good, bad, or indifferent. For the present he bids his photographic friends adieu, with the statement that journalism of any kind, without encouragement, is very uninteresting, but scientific journalism is, under such circumstances, simply unbearable.

Below: More examples of Samuel Clifford’s dry plate Tasmanian Scenes. Part of CO 1069/621. Colonial Office photographic collection held at The National Archives. Australia – Tasmania, a set by The National Archives UK on Flickr.

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