Photography: Holtermann collection | State Library of New South Wales

The Holtermann Collection

View a selection of 50 photographs from the Holtermann glass-plate negative collection.

In 1951, a hoard of 3,500 glass plate negatives from the nineteenth century was discovered in a garden shed in Chatswood. In time, the find proved to be the most important photographic documentation of goldfields life in Australia.

The photographers responsible for the images were Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss of the American and Australasian Photographic Company, who had travelled to the town of Hill End in 1872 to record the rush. From there, they also recorded the burgeoning Gulgong and Mudgee goldfields.

In October 1872, the world’s largest specimen of reef gold, known as the Holtermann nugget, was unearthed at nearby Hawkins Hill and Merlin and Bayliss were there to record it.

In an extraordinary act of patronage, the newly rich Bernhardt Otto Holtermann used some of his wealth to employ Merlin and Bayliss to photograph other gold producing areas and cities in NSW and Victoria for exhibition overseas. Proud of his own success, he believed that his travelling exposition would encourage immigration to Australia. 

Merlin and Bayliss’s documentation was slow, with long exposures and the difficulty of processing one photograph at a time. Their wet plate negatives captured exceptional detail, but copies made in the twentieth century failed to reveal the wealth of information hidden within.

In 2008, plans were made to digitally scan the Holtermann Collection at very high resolution and this became reality through the generous assistance of the Graham and Charlene Bradley Foundation; Simon and Catriona Mordant; Geoffrey and Rachel O’Conor; Morningstar and numerous other benefactors.

For the first time in 140 years, it is possible to see what Merlin and Bayliss photographed, with astonishing clarity and fidelity.

The State Library's Holtermann Collection of glass plate negatives was included on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register in May 2013.

 UNESCO National Committee of Australia Memory of the world

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The Holtermann Collection
Made possible through a partnership with St Barbara Ltd, Morning Star, Graham & Charlene Bradley Foundation, Simon & Catriona Mordant, Geoffrey & Rachel O'Conor and numerous other benefactors. Unesco Memory of the world