Missing Piece of Historic 1906 Newcastle Panorama Found After 115 Years

Digital copy of a photograph taken from the Obelisk in 1906
View from the Obelisk at Newcastle, 1906, possible missing piece of a panorama (Image courtesy of Leon Bren, Melbourne (Australia)

A possible missing piece to a historic panorama of glass negative plate photographs taken in 1906 by renown Newcastle photographer Ralph Snowball has come to light in Melbourne after 115 years.

Robert Watson noticed the set of images posted on the Lost Newcastle Facebook Group by a retired Associate Professor from the University of Melbourne, Leon Bren.

Robert contacted Professor Bren, requesting higher resolution images, in particular one important one taken from the Obelisk, and looking across Cooks Hill, N.S.W.

Russell Rigby Uncovers the 1906 Snowball Panorama “View from the Obelisk”

Back in 2010, the late Russell Rigby, identified three images from the Ralph Snowball Glass Negatives that, when stitched together, formed a panorama covering a part of Newcastle that was less commonly seen in historic photography of Newcastle.

To display the three images that made up the Snowball panorama of Newcastle, taken from the Obelisk, in 1906.
View from Obelisk, 1906. Panorama of three Ralph Snowball glass negatives stitched together by Russell Rigby in August 2010. (Click on the image)

The three images from (l-r) are ASGN1051-B43ASGN1050-B43ASGN1049-B43  and the caption is “View from Obelisk 1906”.

The left of the image covers St Johns Church, No.1 Sports Ground, the old Racecourse, with the new racecourse in the middle distance and Adamstown below the tree-covered hills.

The right of the image includes St Andrews Church and the Baptist Tabernacle in Laman Street, and the three bridges to Carrington.

Russell was convinced that the fourth negative of the 1906 panorama was held with the City of Newcastle Local Studies Collection, but despite his efforts could never locate the missing glass negative.

View from the Obelisk 2010 by Russell Rigby
View from Obelisk 2010, Courtesy of the late Russell Rigby. (Click on the Image) See: https://www.flickr.com/photos/78690340@N07/7209432424/

Robert Watson Restores The Missing Piece

To show the addition of the missing glass plate to the existing 1906 panorama of Cooks Hill Newcastle in 1906.
View of Obelisk 1906 Snowball Panorama, with missing plate from Leon Bren. Compiled by Robert Watson, 2021.

Robert Watson restored the fourth piece from the photographs sent by Professor Bren, and provided his update to the Hunter Living Histories on Monday 11 October 2021.

Leon Bren, a retired academic in hydrology at University of Melbourne, bought a set of glass negatives on eBay a number of years ago, sight unseen. The images of the other glass negatives are below.

Red Cedar Camera purported to have been made by Fred Barrie
Red Cedar Camera Purported to have been made by Fred Barrie of Hamilton, N.S.W. (Image Courtesy of Leon Bren)


Side View of Red Cedar Camera Purported to have been made by Fred Barrie of Hamilton, N.S.W.
Red Cedar Camera Purported to have been made by Fred Barrie of Hamilton, N.S.W. (Image Courtesy of Leon Bren)

Fred Barrie’s Red Cedar Camera

Frederick Barrie apparently built himself this classic studio camera with a base, and a front upright and a rear upright. The front upright carries the lens. The rear carries a ground glass for focussing which is somehow replaced by the film in the same plane. It has most of the standard “movements” of such a camera.

The wood is high quality red cedar [Celedra], with other bits of lesser wood. I purchased a lens for it, which is just sitting in the front standard. It has possibly been French polished. I did polish the brass-work when I got it but some of it has got a bit tarnished again.

Camera Purchased on eBay

The camera was advertised as “historic” and sat on eBay for months. I finally purchased it because I did not want to see it used for firewood (I was the only bidder, and I get nostalgic for nice Australian timbers). I organised a friend living in Dungog to pick it up for me and got it from him some months later. Tiger Airlines (god bless their defunct soul) charged me as much as I’d paid for it to carry it from Sydney to Melbourne if I remember rightly.

Future Restoration

This is the work required to finish its restoration:

  • Polish the wood
  • Polish the brass
  • Organise a proper mounting of the lens (it has a flange allowing it to be screwed to wood).
  • The shutter will be of the “hat variety” (i.e. use your hat as a shutter for 1-2 second exposures).
  • Get a ground glass for the back (I have one I think) and mount it
  • Organise a “springback” to allow the ground-glass to be replaced by film. It was probably a 1/4 plate so best we can do these days is “4×5”, but that will work.
  • Organise a tripod mount. It had a rather industrial pipe-clamp on the bottom when we got it.
  • A studio camera has to have some movements but relies on sitting on a table or box or somesuch (often a scissor stand to allow it to be raised and lowered in height), and doesn’t have to have any pretensions of portability. So I’m half-way there.

I’m a bit involved in the Ballarat Photo-Biennale (happening at the moment) and thought its pinnacle of fame might be for the next one (in 2023) to make some decent photographs and have it on display with the photographs (and allow yourself to be photographed by it). God knows what the family will make of it when I shuffle off this mortal coil!

Leon Bren
October 2021

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