Glass plates of early Melbourne

Maggie Hegarty
The University of Melbourne

Arriving in Melbourne James Marriott migrated from England to Australia with his family in 1863, at the age of twelve. They sailed from Southampton on the Fearnought and the journey took one hundred and forty days to reach Melbourne. He was one of nine children, all born in London, and it is clear that his working class parents had high hopes that their family would prosper better in Melbourne, a city which was steadily developing after the Victorian gold boom in the 1850s. By the 1860s small tradesmen such as tanners and bootmakers and shopkeepers set up businesses in the early suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy. Wealthy Melburnians built large homes in South Yarra and St Kilda. Young James was apprenticed to a metal worker in Collingwood when he was thirteen and it quickly became apparent that he had a flair for design and the ability to work skilfully with both wood and metal.

Accomplishments At the age of nineteen he started his own business in large premises at 88 Little Collins Street. Two years later in 1872 the business was named HECLA, which was a famous manufacturer of electrical appliances in Australia until the company was sold to Asian businessmen in the 1980s. James’ parents had made the right decision in emigrating, their son went on to become a very wealthy man.

In his first year in business he was contracted to undertake all the metal and woodwork on Sir W. J. Clarke’s mansion, Rupertswood, at Sunbury, including the magnificent staircase. His work on this project attracted the attention of the two major architects of government buildings at this time, Charles Webb in Melbourne, and William Wardell in Sydney. From that moment on Marriott was the preferred designer and manufacturer of wood and metal fittings for every major building in Melbourne.

The original Prince’s Bridge named after the four year-old Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, was opened in 1850. It was too narrow and too short and was reconstructed in 1884-5 to cope with the increased volume of traffic. At that time Marriott designed and made the gas lamps on the bridge which are still in use today, now converted to electricity. His most recognised work would be the lamps outside Parliament House in Melbourne. Melbourne was the seat of the Federal Parliament until 1927 when the first national Parliament House was constructed in Canberra.

The University of Melbourne developed rapidly in the 1880s. The architect, Joseph Reed, completed Wilson Hall in 1892. James Marriott was commissioned to do all the wood carving, including the graduation furniture. When Wilson Hall burnt to the ground in 1952 the Chancellor’s throne, graduation table and matching chairs were rescued from the flames. They are still used at graduation ceremonies in the rebuilt Wilson Hall, which unfortunately is a very inferior replacement architecturally. Reed and Marriott worked together on the Melbourne Town Hall, Ormond College, the Exhibition Building, and the Trades Hall Building. Marriott also made the gates and fences for the city Museum, now the State Library of Victoria. In 1907 he was officially appointed as the Art Metal Worker and Designer for Government House, Victoria.

James Marriott was a multi-talented individual. As well as being a successful artisan and businessman, Marriott was also an inventor. He designed and made his own car, and he built a fleet of river boats which were hired out to the public at Rudder Grange on the Yarra river (Albertson, 1986). He also built and commercially operated a passenger ferry on the Yarra (Marine Board of Victoria, 1894). As a maker of musical instruments he won prizes for his gold and silver mounted banjos and zithers and he gave musical recitals at the Melbourne Town Hall. Another hobby was photography. His family fortunately realised that his photographs were of a very high standard and kept his glass negatives which were handed down through each generation. This presentation will look at James Marriott’s previously unseen, and unpublished, glass negatives. They reveal historical events as well as an insight into leisure and family moments.

Glass Plates The introduction of the glass negative in 1850 was an important technical advancement for photographers. It substantially reduced exposure times, which meant that portrait photography immediately improved. Sitters no longer had to have their head held by an iron brace to prevent movement. Glass negatives also captured detail more sharply than previous techniques and there was a great improvement in the gradation of tones compared to prints made from paper negatives. Collodian-coated glass negatives were in use until at least 1880 and were popular with architects and designers to document their work.

Wet plate printing was in use for about twenty five years before being replaced by dry plate – a silver bromide gelatin emulsion was used to coat glass plates and later on lightweight, flexible celluloid film. The gelatin emulsion was not only easier to use; it was more sensitive to light, thus shortening exposure times down to 1-2 seconds. Most of Marriott’s images were captured on dry plates. He used two sizes, three and a quarter inch by four and one eighth of an inch and a slightly larger size, four inches by five inches. The early plates were imported from England and the boxes themselves are interesting. The recipe for the developer was pasted on the outside of the early boxes. When Kodak started manufacturing glass plates in Australia the lid featured a ‘modern’ look with the Australian flag. The developer recipe was then relegated to the underside of these boxes. After his death Marriott’s son later used celluloid film when it became available, but prints taken from the celluloid negatives lack the detail and sharpness of prints taken from the glass negatives. In Australia: Image of a Nation 1850-1950, photographer David Moore wrote: “The camera was a new force. The world would never look quite the same again. Ill-prepared and unposed, life might at any moment be preserved as a fragment of history. And in this sense modern history begins with the photograph. Since it’s invention, the camera has provided a unique authenticity to our records. Owing to the mysterious operation of iconography, a photograph puts us in direct touch with the past.”

Marriott embraced photography whole-heartedly and took photos for his own pleasure as well as to document his work. As might be expected from a practising craftsman and designer his images were thoughtfully composed and had aesthetic appeal. They are comparable with the images captured by the professional photographers of the time.

For this presentation I have divided Marriott’s glass plates into four categories: • images that have historical interest • images of transport including the boat and vehicles that Marriott made, • images of friends and family that show how people dressed and spent their leisure time, and • photos that he took to record his own work.

Photos of Historical Interest It was an English journalist, George Sala, who came up with the term ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ in the 1880s. He was amazed that a city that was only established fifty years earlier could have a population of 282,000 people and become such an advanced civilisation in such a short period. He praised the magnificent buildings, the efficient transport system, the university, the number of theatres, the established parks and gardens and he remarked on the apparent prosperity of the city (Sala,1995).

In 1886 another Englishman, social commentator Francis William Lauderdale Adams, likened Melbourne to London, Paris and New York which were at that time regarded as the three great cities in the world. But he added that Melbourne had something of its own that made it very attractive – “the metropolitan tone” (Adams,1886). By the1890s Melbourne was regarded as a modern city, with street lighting, cable trams and power poles. Horsedrawn carriages were an alternative means of transport. The arrival of the motor car was still to come.

Opening of Parliament 1901 The first sitting of the Australian Parliament was opened by Prince Alfred, Duke of York at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne in 1901. This image shows the royal procession passing the Eastern Market in Bourke Street. Another photo shows a ceremonial arch to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. This photograph has been taken from the centre of an empty road, barricaded to keep the public back for a procession which is yet to happen. In the shot there is another photographer with his camera set up on a tripod.

There are many examples of temporary arches in Marriott’s collection of glass negatives that lead me to believe that he may have designed and made these structures. He had several large workshops and a large number of staff and, as these ceremonial events happen infrequently, it is unlikely that a business existed solely for this purpose. This is an area that requires further research.

Jolimont Railway Yards This is an early photograph showing low buildings in Batman Avenue, Government House in the distance and the Queen Victoria Monument halfway between Government House and the river. The best way of dating this image might be to look at the growth of the trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens. The photograph has been taken from a very high vantage point, possibly from the roof of St Patrick’s Cathedral, which Marriott may have had access to at some time during its construction. Just before he died in 1909 Marriott was hit by a train while crossing the tracks in the Jolimont Railway yards, perhaps to take an up-to-date photograph.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral St Patrick’s Cathedral, designed by William Wardell, was commenced in 1863, but not completed until 1939. This photo appears to have been taken in the 1870s or1880s. The cathedral was important to Marriott, it was where he and his Irish sweetheart, Kate Walshe were married in 1873. As Wardell had previously commissioned Marriott to do the wood and metalwork for Melbourne’s Parliament House he may also have worked on the cathedral. The three spires were finally added to the cathedral in 1939. In 1946 Max Dupain waited patiently for the shadow of the main spire to fall perfectly across one of the spires at the rear to get this photograph.

Steamer (site unknown) Looking at the negative of this image I thought that it was an early photo of Sandridge Pier (now known as Station Pier, Port Melbourne). Once it was scanned and appeared as an enlarged positive on the computer screen I realised it was not Sandridge. It appears to have been taken either at Sorrento or Portsea with part of Mornington Peninsular in the background. Research is required into when the first passenger ferries operated between the Mornington Peninsular and Queenscliff. Another suggestion was that it might be the ferry that ran between Schnapper Point, Mornington and Sandridge.

Transport Perhaps sailing to Australia on a ship at the age of twelve instigated James’ interest in boats of any kind. He built and operated a passenger ferry and built a fleet of leisure boats that were available for hire at Rudder Grange close to his property in Alphington. In 1884 Marriott built and commercially operated a ferry licensed to carry thirty three passengers on the Yarra river. The “River and Bay” steam ship was called ‘Clarence’, after his third child and first son.

There are photos of a large US Navy ship taken from the shore. The ship has not docked at a pier and visitors are taken alongside on a lighter and then climb up a retractable stairway. There is a photo of James taken on board, probably by his son. His clothing suggests it is early in the twentieth century.

By 1895 in Europe handbuilt automobiles had a secure future. In 1896 the first Australian car, which ran on kerosene, was built and one year later a petrol driven car was produced. The early cars had wooden bodies and padded, buttoned upholstery. They were based on the existing horse-drawn carriages, but were not as comfortable. By 1903 the Auto Club of Victoria (later to become the RACV) had 52 members. The first car rally was held in 1904 at Aspendale by which time car fever had hit Melbourne. In 1908, after five years in production, Henry Ford launched his T Model Ford which would become the world’s first mass-produced car.

James Marriott, wood carver, builder of boats and inventor of electrical appliances, was one of the early car owners and a certain candidate to try his hand at building a car. There are several photos of James, his wife and friends in different cars. It would appear that Marriott owned one or two cars built by others before building his own car, which is featured in the James Flood Book of Early Motoring.

One is a photo of James and his son in their 1904 1 cylinder, 8 h.p. Rover motoring along the Yarra Glen road. The canopy was removable. Two other plates show a car with front and rear seats.

This is a photo of a steam car built by James and his son between 1902 and 1904. This car bears a close resemblance to the widely-copied,petrol-driven T Model Ford which was manufactured four years later.

Another photograph shows a double-seater version of the steam car, which may have been converted to petrol, with his granddaughter Myra, at the wheel, taken about1913. He also built a motorcycle for his son Clarence which is featured in James Floods Motorcycles, 1879-1980.

Family and Friends Land at Alphington, ten kilometres upriver from Port Phillip Bay, was first auctioned less than five years after Batman declared Melbourne as a suitable site for a village. When he married, Marriott bought a substantial holding of land in Alphington and became well known in the district.

The front of the house shows a formal Federation style building but the rear is more homely and there is a wonderful photo of he and his daughter Ada plucking a duck on the back steps while his other two daughters look on and the dog snoozes at their feet. The grounds were quite expansive and there are many photos of the family taken in the gardens including one of James on a ladder picking fruit in his orchard.

Henley on the Yarra In the 1880s Melburnians desperately wanted to replicate English society. This was evident in architecture, fashion, the naming of cities and streets, university life and upper and middle class social activities. The wealthier citizens who had attended private schools were fond of rowing and wanted to emulate the atmosphere of regattas held on the Thames River at Henley, just south of London. Melburnians even called their regatta Henley on the Yarra.

Marriott’s land went down to the Yarra River. He used the river as an extension of his property and entertained his friends at large lunches on the banks, followed by everyone messing about in boats. There are images of picnics on the grass and shots of more elaborate lunches with people sitting around a long table.

Photographers imitating art The Photo-Sessionists, led by Alfred Steiglitz in New York, were dedicated to having photography recognised an art form. Photographers who regarded themselves as artists would often mirror the current style of painting which at that time was Impressionism followed by Post-Impressionism. Marriott was a contemporary of Steiglitz and would have followed the development of the Photo-Sessionist group’s work with great interest.

In Melbourne in the late nineteenth century, driving to landscaped fern gullies and wandering in suburban bushland seemed to be popular week-end past-times. In some of his images Marriot seems to be emulating the Photo-Sessionists by posing his friends in the style of Manet’s painting, Lunch On the Grass. His earlier photos of friends in boats and luncheon parties are reminiscent of the paintings of similar scenes by Manet and Renoir. He also makes use of the parasol as part of his composition which the Impressionists also used a lot.

Photographs documenting his work Marriott also used the camera to document his work. Examples of this are plates showing interior shots of private homes, pressed metal panels in the art nouveau style, monuments, statues, and model boats. There are also images of his workshops: there is a torn print of Brighton Mayor Tommy Bent’s statue taken in the workshop. The statue still stands in Nepean Highway, Brighton. There is an image of Marriott sitting beside a half-built boat, and a wonderful image of his entire staff taken in the workshop when the Parliament House lamps were in production. Everyone is facing the camera for a posed photograph, including his son and the family dog. It says a lot about the workplace environment in the late nineteenth century.

James Marriot’s descendants are proud of his achievements and take pleasure in the fact that the Victorian Government, the National Trust and private owners have preserved his early work in wood and metal.

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