The Hunter Region’s earliest photograph?

What is the earliest photograph ever taken in the Hunter Region?

Maitland Flood Scenes 1857 by Elijah Hart, Photographer, West Maitland. Courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

The photograph above was taken by Elijah Hart and, as part of a set of four images,  is dated to 1857 according to the State Library of Victoria. It appeared to be one of the earliest photographs ever taken in the Hunter Region, until Maitland researcher, Peter F. Smith, recently contacted us with evidence that the photograph, along with the others probably dated to 1864 – 1870.

There is another photograph by Hart taken in 1870 of St Paul’s Church of England in Maitland South. An article in The Illustrated Sydney News in that same year published engravings based upon the images of Elijah Hart, whose obituary stated that “Mr. Hart came to Maitland in about the year 1854, and began business as a photographer, being almost the first to introduce the art here.” (my italics) Ref: Elijah Hart: 1893 ‘LOCAL NEWS.’, The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), 12 January, p. 5. , viewed 27 Feb 2019,

He appears to have been living in Sydney up until 1855, as his marriage notice published on the 3 February 1855  states: “On Saturday, January 27, by special license, at St. James’s, Sydney, by the Rev. Oswald J. Howel, Elijah Hart, of Sydney, to Susannah, relict of the late Mr. Henry Early, of West Maitland.” ( By January 1856 he was operating a business from his premises in Devonshire Street, West Maitland as the following advertisement states:

Hart’s Photographic Institution.

ELIJAH HART, in returning his sincere thanks to the inhabitants of Maitland and surrounding districts, for the liberal patronage he has been favored with since resuming his profession, respectfully informs them that he CONTINUES TO TAKE PORTRAITS in all the various branches of PHOTOGRAPHY, viz. : Daguerreotype, Callotype, Xylography, or Glass Pictures. By a recent discovery these pictures are indelibly fixed colors, permanent, free from metallic reflection, and can be sent through the post at the ordinary charge of a single letter. As New Year’s Gifts, or Birthday Presents, these charming miniatures are admirably suited. E. H. invites public inspection to the specimens in all the various branches on view at his Gallery, Devonshire-street, West Maitland, opposite Lipscomb’s, the chemist.

E. HART is not connected with any other artist, and invariably repeats the process until a portrait shall be produced to the entire satisfaction of his sitters.

OBSERVE—Each portrait sent out is stamped on the metallic frame, E. Hart,Photographic Artist.
– 1856 ‘Advertising’, The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), 5 January, p. 3. , viewed 07 Mar 2019,


St. Paul’s Church of England (Maitland, N.S.W.)- Elijah Hart, circa 1870 – FL10216443 (Courtesy of The State Library of Victoria) – Click image for a higher resolution copy

We are interested to know if anyone has any photographic image taken earlier that can be verified?

Peter F. Smith suggests that the earliest portrait photo known to have been taken in Maitland is of Peninsula War veteran and early Maitland settler William Hall wearing his military medals.

William Carruthers Hall Died 1850. Reputed to be earliest portrait photograph taken in Maitland, N.S.W. (Courtesy of Peter F. Smith)

William Hall died 1850 and lived near the Northumberland Hotel, Maitland. In August 1848 photographer Mr. J. W. Newland was in Maitland for daguerreotype portraits at the Northumberland Hotel, so the portrait may have been taken sometime between the 5th and the 21st August 1848, when Mr Newland “will positively leave for Newcastle“. We have not been able to find any notice or advertisement that he took daguerreotype photographs at Newcastle following his time in Maitland.

Many of the Hall family descendants have a copy of the photograph but no one has been able to tell Mr Smith who possesses the original daguerreotype, if in fact it has survived at all. It would be exciting if any of the Newland daguerreotypes taken at either Maitland (or Newcastle) during August 1848 could be located. Daguerreotype photography was the first publicly successful process available from 1839-1860. Information on what a daguerreotype looks like is here:

Up until these images were located, we considered the following image, taken circa 1865, to be one of the oldest photographs ever taken of Newcastle. It was located in a report on Mulimbah House (1990), and was obviously the source from which an engraving published in The Illustrated Sydney News in 1867 was created from.

Newcastle from Stockton circa 1865, from Extension To Cathedral Park and Mulibah Cottage Heritage Study. Prepared for Newcastle City Council by Eckford Johnson Partners Pty Ltd. Final Report December 1990. (12.1MB PDF)

Unfortunately the Newcastle Public Library were unable to locate the original photograph or glass plate negative within their own collections. Another copy of the photograph (not digitised at this point) may reside in the the State Library of N.S.W. under the title “Newcastle 1866 from a sand bank in the middle of the present channel half way to Stockton, 1866

View of Newcastle, as seen across the harbour. (Illustrated Sydney News, 16 February 1867, Page 1)

A copy of the photograph was located in private hands by Greg and Sylvia Ray. It is published on pages 8-9 in their latest book, Travelling Through Time and they have kindly provided it to us for reproduction here. Their image has the date circa 1862. More of Greg and Syvia Ray’s Photographic Archive is available here:

Newcastle (circa 1862) Charleston Copy – Photograph courtesy of Greg and Sylvia Ray – Click for a higher resolution copy.

From looking at the engraving, it certainly appears taken from the original photograph. At the bottom left hand side of the engraving are (what looks to us like) the names “J. R. Roberts” and at the bottom right hand side is “Mason”; the photographer and engraver perhaps? Could “J. R. Roberts” have been any relation to the “W. F. Roberts” that operated as a photographer in Hunter Street Newcastle around 1876-1897?

It makes us also wonder about another engraving of the Darby Street/Cook’s Hill area entitled  “Newcastle Coal Fields, New South Wales” from 1865 by engraver Walter Hart (any relation to Elijah Hart), presumably from an original painting by Oswald Rose Campbell (1820-1887).

Newcastle (circa 1862) overlayed with 1867 engraving by Gionni Di Gravio 2019.

Ken Shilling has provided some further information on the early photographers operating in Newcastle.

Early Photographers in Newcastle by Ken Shilling (5 June 2013)

The earliest recorded photograph taken in Australia was made by Captain Lucas on 13 May, 1841. It was a view of Bridge Street and part of George Street from Macquarie Place. The image was Daguerrotype and has not survived.

From various sources, the earliest recorded photographers in Newcastle were:

  • Baron George Goodman (1846) at Yeoman’s Hotel, Newcastle; [profile]
  • John Rae (1847) Newcastle; [profile]
  • J. W. Newland (1848) Newcastle; [profile]
  • Elijah Hart (1854) at Rouse’s Hotel, Newcastle; [profile]
  • Mrs Dewey (1862) Newcastle. (Her studio was taken over by Elijah Hart in 1862) [profile]

Some of these practitioners were probably itinerant photographers, especially if based in a hotel.

The processes available in Australia in these early days were:

  • Daguerrotypes to about 1860 which produced a single image;
  • Calotypes from about 1847 to about 1860 – the Fox-Talbot process which produced a negative on paper which could be printed multiple times;
  • Ambrotypes from about 1853 to about 1880 which produced a single image on glass;
  • Collodian negatives on glass from about 1853 to about 1892 which could be printed multiple times.

The first three of these processes were fragile or produced a single image and examples may not have survived.

The earliest photographs from Newcastle I have seen were reproduced in a series of postcards years ago by the stationer Davies and Cannington. Numbers 4 and 5 in the series are both dated at 1870. Number 4 is a view of Perkin(s) Street and number 5 overlaps it and includes the leading light tower. It seems the views in the series may have made a panorama when placed side by side.

View of Perkin(s) Street c.1870

The question is, do we have any contenders that pre-date these two images? Anyone have an earlier image from the Hunter Region, that predates any of the images above?

Gionni Di Gravio
March 2019

3 thoughts on “The Hunter Region’s earliest photograph?

  1. I would put the Newcastle photo at c1865 also.

    I have another c1865 photo looking east from Watt Street which includes the original convict hospital.

    The photo came from the State Library and I have not been able to relocate it amongst their collection.

  2. The photograph of the Newcastle Harbour marked “Charleston Copy” shews on the right side, beneath the large bulk of the Wesleyan Church, Saint Mary’s church “Star of the Sea” during the course of its construction. The stone basement seems largely completed when this photo was taken, but the superstructure not commenced. From accounts of the progress of the building of Saint Mary’s, it was seem most likely that this photograph was taken in the first half of 1865.

    In my own collection is a photograph of Saint Patrick’s church Singleton, which I believe was taken between 1865 – 1870. I’m certain that other early views of the Singleton district also exist, but as to where they might be located is another matter.

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