# 43634

Photographer unknown.

Ambrotype portrait of Lady Susannah Wilson (Edmeades) Hindmarsh, wife of the first Governor of South Australia, Sir John Hindmarsh. Taken in England, circa 1856; reframed in Melbourne, 1859.

$11,000.00 AUD

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Quarter-plate ambrotype (wet collodion positive on glass), 100 x 80 mm (sight), in a paper and card mount with oval inset, housed within a colonial gilded timber wall frame with original cover glass (95 x 170 mm); the paper on the back of the frame with an inscription in ink in a refined hand identifying the sitter as ‘Lady Hindmarsh’; when this brown paper backing is partially peeled back, the printed studio label of ‘A. & W. Paterson, City Portrait Rooms, 141 Bourke Street East, Melbourne’ is revealed, affixed to the back of the ambrotype itself (the explanation for the presence of this label is given below); the ambrotype with some peripheral oxidisation (mostly confined to the upper part of the image) and minor crazing to the emulsion, the frame generally well preserved but with some water staining to the paper backing.

A unique and unpublished ambrotype portrait of Lady Susannah Wilson (Edmeades) Hindmarsh (1786-1859), wife of Sir John Hindmarsh (1785-1860), first Governor of South Australia (December 1836-July 1838).

We believe this portrait was taken around 1856, when Susannah was about 70 years of age, probably in either London or else her hometown of Hove, Sussex. She died in Pimlico, London on 2 April 1859, aged 73 years, and is buried alongside her husband in the grounds of St. Andrews Church in Hove.

Lady Hindmarsh left Adelaide in 1841, and never returned to Australia. What then can account for the presence of the studio label of Melbourne photographers Archibald and William Paterson on the back of the ambrotype? There is only one plausible explanation: Lady Hindmarsh did indeed have a family connection with Melbourne, through her youngest daughter Mary (1817-1887) and her son-in-law, the eccentric barrister, geologist, public servant and faith healer George Milner Stephen (1812-1894).

Mary and George were married in Adelaide in 1840. The couple then lived in England for five years but returned to Adelaide in 1846. In 1852, at the height of the gold rush, they settled in Melbourne, where in 1853 George was admitted to the bar and elected first vice-president of the Royal Geological Society of Victoria. The pair then spent an extended sojourn back in England, and we believe it would have been towards the end of this visit that Susannah gave her ambrotype likeness to Mary and George, cognisant of the fact that they were about to say farewell for what might be the last time. Mary and George returned to Melbourne in 1856, with George taking up a new appointment as the chief manager of the British Australian Gold Mining Company. In 1859-61 he represented Collingwood in the Legislative Assembly.

Meanwhile, in August 1858, pioneer Melbourne photographers Archibald and William Paterson had relocated their fledgling business from Swanston Street to 141 Bourke Street East, naming their new studio City Portrait Rooms. The brothers only operated at this address for about 12 months before moving back to 82 Swanston Street in October 1859. We believe that at some point in mid 1859, on receiving news of the death of Lady Hindmarsh (which had occurred on 2 April 1859), the Stephens took her ambrotype portrait to Paterson Brothers in order to have it transferred from its original small leather case into a larger wall frame, so that her image could be on permanent display in the family home.

A Paterson Brothers portrait of pastoralist William Turner, dated 22 December 1859 (previously handled by DSFB, now in a private collection, Adelaide) has a gilded wall frame that is very similar in type to the present example, a brown paper backing sheet that is identical (same paper stock), as well as a mounted studio label (we have included images of this frame for comparative purposes). We are therefore entirely confident that the Lady Hindmarsh ambrotype is housed in a frame supplied by Paterson Brothers, probably just prior to their move from Bourke Street East back to Swanston Street in October 1859.

The ambrotype – from the Greek ambrotos, “immortal” – is created using the wet plate collodion process developed by the English inventor Frederick Scott Archer, which came into vogue in Europe and North America from around 1854 as a cheaper alternative to the daguerreotype. A glass plate covered with a thin layer of collodion, then dipped in a silver nitrate solution, is exposed to the subject while still wet, then developed and fixed. When the reverse of this negative image is coated with a dark emulsion such as varnish or paint, the resulting image appears as a positive. The process requires the expertise and experience of a professional photographer. Every ambrotype is a unique image that can only be duplicated by copying with another camera.