American & Australasian Photographic Company. [MERLIN, Beaufoy, c.1830-1873]
A wealthy Sydney family on their croquet lawn, 1870-72.
Albumen print photograph, carte de visite format, 62 x 104 mm, verso imprinted ‘American & Australasian Photographic Company, Sydney Office, 324 George Street. Beaufoy Merlin’; the albumen print has lost a tiny amount of contrast, but retains a wealth of interesting detail, including the croquet mallets and ball, toy dolls, and plumed hats; the mount is in fine condition.
A superb outdoor portrait of an unidentified, well-to-do Sydney family, comprising a father and mother and their ten children. The age difference between the youngest and oldest child is probably as great as 20 years. The photograph was taken on the lawn of the family home, where croquet was evidently a popular pastime. Two of the daughters, aged around four and fourteen respectively, proudly show off their dolls.
The legacy of master photographer Beaufoy Merlin is of incalculable importance to our understanding of the appearance and social conditions of New South Wales in the early 1870s. Under the banner of the American & Australasian Photographic Company, he and his assistant Charles Bayliss set out from Victoria towards Sydney in 1869, on the way passing through the townships of southern New South Wales and creating an incredible photographic record of buildings, people and scenes in those places. Merlin based his business in Barrack Street, Sydney after his arrival there in 1870, later moving to premises in George Street. In Sydney he specialised in studio portraiture as well as photographing houses and shops with families or proprietors outside. Merlin sold his Sydney studio – along with all his negatives – in early 1872, and during 1872-73 he and Bayliss then created the A&AP Co.’s most famous series of photographs, the magnificent views and portraits taken on the goldfields of central western New South Wales, visually documenting life in such places as Hill End, Gulgong, Home Rule and Canadian Lead. Following Merlin’s early death in September, 1873, the glass plate negatives of these goldfields photographs were kept safely by his wealthy benefactor Bernhardt Holtermann. Their existence had been unknown until their serendipitous rediscovery in the early 1950s; they were donated to the Mitchell Library in 1952. The State Library of New South Wales staged an exhibition of these important photographs, The greatest wonder of the world, in 2013.