SAN MARTIN, Manuel (photographer); PERRY, CUTBILL, DE LUNGO & CO. (commissioners)
[NEW AUSTRALIA] Vistas del Paraguay.
[Circa 1890]. Photograph album. Oblong folio (310 x 400 mm), original presentation binding of half leather over blue cloth covered boards (extensively water damaged), upper board lettered in gilt ‘[…] Central / Paraguay / Perry Cutbill de Lungo y Cia, Empresarios / Vistas de la Via Ferrea en construccion’; containing  albumen print photographs in uniform format 170 x 230 mm, mounted individually recto only on leaves of thick gilt-edged card, lower margins of mounts imprinted ‘Vistas del Paraguay. Por M. San Martin’ accompanied by manuscript captions in ink; remarkably, the photographs have survived the external water damage virtually unscathed, and while the lower gutters and edges of the mounts have some water staining, the prints themselves are well preserved, most of them with rich tonal range; the first  photographs are views taken along the Paraguay Central Railway, and they include images of the construction of the new line from Villarrica (Villa Rica) to Encarnación; the last  are evenly divided between streetscapes in Villarrica, including views of several private residences (Casa de Davidson; Casa de Angus; Casa de Dr. Buttner, etc.), and scenes of the local indigenous population buying and selling produce such as cassava, porotos, oranges and wool.
An important album of photographs contemporary with the founding of Nueva Australia and the slightly later settlement, Cosme. The photographs visually document this region in the interior of Paraguay as the Australian colonists would have seen it for the first time.
In 1889, the Paraguay Central Railway was sold to an English company, Perry, Cutbill, de Lungo and Co.. The company was given a five-year contract to complete 217 km of track from Villarrica to Encarnación. Only 100 km was completed when they were declared bankrupt in 1891. The line stopped near the Rio Pirapó, in a cattle pasture; the railway’s construction subsequently passed under Argentine control. Perry, Cutbill, de Lungo would have commissioned the photographer Manuel de San Martin to prepare the present album in 1890 or 1891. Only a small number would have been produced, for presentation to dignitaries and/or the company’s financial backers.
The utopian socialist settlement known as New Australia, or Colonia Nueva Australia, was established in Paraguay in September 1893 by the New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association, with the arrival of the first 238 Australian colonists. The colony’s founder was the radical Queensland labour movement figure William Lane, publisher of the Queensland Worker, the first labour newspaper in Australia. Each member of the Co-operative had contributed £60 to the scheme, but the land was granted by the government of Paraguay as part of a bid to attract more white settlers.
The first colonists sailed across the Pacific, round Cape Horn, and up the Argentine coast to Montevideo. From there, they took a steamer up the Río Paraná, and into the Río Paraguay, arriving in Asunción on 22 September 1893. After travelling by train to Villarrica they continued north for another 6 weeks, overland and across rivers using bullocks and wagons, until they reached their Promised Land – the place where they would establish Colonia Nueva Australia (today known as Nueva Londres).
The tenets upon which New Australia was founded included common ownership (each member shared a stake in the colony’s capital), life marriage and teetotalism. The colony also had a “whites only” policy. The early phase of the settlement was, however, by no means harmonious, and by July 1894 general discontent among the colonists, in particular over the prohibition of alcohol, had risen to such a level that Lane led a breakaway group that comprised approximately a quarter of the settlers to a location 70 kilometres to the south, founding a new colony known as Cosme.
In June 1896 the writer Mary Gilmore (nee Cameron) arrived in Cosme, and she assisted Lane in editing the colony’s newspaper. Mary Cameron married another colonist, William Gilmore, and took on the duty of educating the children of Cosme in the settlement’s school.
This fascinating Australian experiment in communism was relatively shortlived. By 1899 dissent and disillusionment had all but ripped the colony apart, with many settlers deserting. In 1899 Lane himself left South America permanently, and in 1900 Mary Gilmore returned to Australia with her family. Gilmore was later to claim that the main reason for the failure of the colony was the fact that Lane insisted on a purely British population. Today, there are some 2000 Paraguayan citizens who are descendants of the Australian colonists.
Manuel de San Martin, active as a photographer from the 1860s, was one of the most important pioneer photographers to work in Paraguay. He is best known for his anthropological studies of the indigenous groups of the Gran Chaco – the Guaraní, Ayoreode, and Chiquitanohe. Between the 1870s and 1890s he also produced numerous commercial photograph albums, all under the same title, Vistas del Paraguay, but each containing different subject matter, both topographical and ethnographic. The present album is an example of one of these albums, with unique content. Also a talented portrait photographer, by 1890 San Martin was the owner of the best-appointed photographic studio in Asunción. His photography is considered to have made a major contribution to the re-shaping of Paraguayan cultural identity in the late nineteenth century.