IMAGES ON GLASS
ong>Newcastleong> and the Hunter
ong>fromong> glass plate negatives
©2015 Greg and Sylvia Ray
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic
or mechanical, and including photocopying, recording or by information storage and retrieval systems,
without the written permission of the copyright owner.
Printed by NCP Printing, Steel River, ong>Newcastleong>
Published by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Concept and design by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Research and captions by Greg Ray
Front cover: Two young girls look out to sea ong>fromong> ong>Newcastleong>. Photo by William Fraser
Back cover: Decay lends an eerie poignancy to this World War I portrait by Alexander Galloway
Title page vignette: ong>Newcastleong> ong>fromong> The Hill, in the 1930s
IMAGES ON GLASS
ong>Newcastleong> and the Hunter
ong>fromong> glass plate negatives
Selected, arranged and interpreted by Greg Ray
Layout and image restoration by Sylvia Ray
Introduction: about glass plate photography
The word “camera” meant “chamber” in Latin, and long before the now-familiar devices for capturing and
reproducing images were devised, people invented their forerunner, the “camera obscura”.
A camera obscura (literally, “darkened room”) was typically a box or room with a small hole in one side
through which light ong>fromong> the outside world could enter, casting an inverted image on the opposite wall
inside. The ancients correctly deduced ong>fromong> camera obscuras that light travels in straight lines, and in more
recent centuries some artists used large portable camera obscuras to help them create two-dimensional
pictures by allowing an image to be projected onto canvas and tracing it with pencils or paint.
From time to time, would-be inventors wrestled with the challenge of permanently fixing the images
projected into camera obscuras, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that this goal was finally achieved.
Experimenters tried all sorts of chemical mixtures before managing to produce recognisable photographs
in the 1830s. Early systems using glass plates to support the light-sensitive emulsions were cumbersome and
difficult to use, but eventually a dry-plate system evolved, bringing photography within reach of enthusiasts.
Glass was ultimately supplanted by flexible film, which has now mostly given way to digital technology. But
for a number of decades glass negatives were the standard, and many photographers in the Hunter Region
produced images using this technology. Despite their seeming fragility, large numbers of glass plate negatives
have survived. Collections are regularly “rediscovered” in garages, under houses and in attics, and although
they are often affected by damp and poor storage, they usually yield at least some worthwhile images.
Modern scanning techniques have made it much easier to reformat the images ong>fromong> physical negatives
to digital positives, and powerful image manipulation software has replaced dark-room techniques for
enhancing digitised pictures.
This book is designed chiefly as a nod to the days of glass plate photography, in the context of the local
history of ong>Newcastleong> and the Hunter. It follows in the footsteps of earlier books - particularly those by Norm
Barney and Bert Lovett - that showcased the prolific output of Novocastrian photographer Ralph Snowball.
The Hunter had numerous other photographers in the glass plate years, however, and this book goes some
small way towards presenting a portion of the work of some of them. The kernel of this collection came to us
ong>fromong> the estate of the late Ken Magor, whose accumulations of photographs were the basis of our first books.
We have tried to avoid too much repetition of photographs that have appeared in our earlier books, even
though that has meant omitting some of our best and favourite glass plate images. A handful, however, have
been republished. A very small number of the images in the book are taken ong>fromong> film negatives or prints, but
only where we felt their inclusion was important for one reason or another.
One of the virtues of glass plate negatives is their potential for producing images of great detail that
are capable of being magnified many times. That’s partly due to the size of the negatives, but also to the
emulsions used and the quality of the cameras and lenses used to make the photographs. Much also depends
on the photographers, of course, and the skill they brought to the issues of exposure, framing and focus.
We have tried to highlight these virtues of the negatives selected by enlarging details of interest and
presenting them alongside the uncropped full-plate images.
Apart ong>fromong> the images ong>fromong> the Ken Magor estate, other collections were given or loaned ong>fromong> a variety
of sources. Norm and Betty Mead provided some stunning plates, as did Daphne Barney, Phil Warrren, Col
Skelton and Lyn Merrilees. Brian J. Andrews at the Sir Edgeworth David Memorial Museum at Kurri Kurri
kindly let us use some images ong>fromong> the rediscovered collection of photographer Alexander Galloway. Still
more were loaned to us by Peter Barden.
The astonishing panorama of ong>Newcastleong> in the early 20th century came to us ong>fromong> Bruce Mullen, who
bought the plates at a garage sale and passed them on. They were a mystery for some time until we realised
the images joined at the edges!
Some of the most beautiful and technically superb images are ong>fromong> plates loaned by Anne Hudson. These
plates are the work of her grandfather, William Fraser of Hamilton.
Gionni Di Gravio, at the University of ong>Newcastleong>, has been - as always - obliging and generous with his
knowledge and with access to items in the university’s extensive archives. To all these donors and lenders we
are extremely grateful. Still more people, too many to list, have assisted in a myriad other ways - usually by
helping to identify particular photographs or to put them in their proper context.
Fairfax ong>Newcastleong>/Hunter group managing Editor Chad Watson’s continuing and enthusiastic support for
our historical endeavours has been invaluable, and we are grateful to our printers, NCP at Steel River, for
helping us make our books in Australia and, as far as possible, in the Hunter Region.
A photographer sets up his
apparatus on top of a shelter
shed on ong>Newcastleong> Beach on
a busy day by the sea.
A delightful elevated view of ong>Newcastleong> Beach, with Nobbys Headland in the background, by William Fraser.
The photography of William Fraser
William Fraser (1882 - 1958), the son of a Scottish immigrant, was schooled in Hamilton and trained as a
cabinet-maker. He married his wife Britannia in Scots Kirk, Tudor Street, in 1909. He was an accomplished
timber worker who found a speciality in building church furniture and ceremonial pieces, as well as “honour
rolls” listing the names of people who signed up to serve in the armed forces in World War I. Something of an
athlete (he loved cycling and gymnastics), William was also a prolific photographer. As well as portraits and
landscape work in the Hunter area, he created many “trick” photographic images and also stereoscopic views.
After his death he left a substantial legacy of glass plate negatives which have fortunately been lovingly
preserved by his grand-daughter Anne Hudson, who has generously provided many images for this volume.
A self-portrait of Hamilton photographer William Fraser, relaxing with a book in his leafy conservatory.
William Fraser’s photographs
appear on the following pages:
Cover, 1-3, 15-17, 20-21, 25,
29, 34-35, 46-55, 58 (top), 59,
78-79, 80 (bottom), 81 (top),
84-86, 90 (top), 91, 98, 116-
119, 122-123, 128-129, 131
(top), 133-135, 150, 152-153,
It isn’t clear what these four photographers were intent on capturing ong>fromong>
their positions on a seemingly new rail bridge over a creek. But they make
a good subject for a fifth colleague who produced a sharp, clear glass plate
negative of the occasion. The close-ups show some more of the equipment
in use, as well as some nice glimpses of the characters behind the lenses.
This delightful negative seems to
have been intended, at least partly,
as some sort of advertisement for
Griffith Tea. The water spilling over
the rocks is blurry, suggesting a
slow shutter speed. But the human
subjects obviously stayed carefully
still, as evidenced by the fact that the
headline on the front page of The
Sunday Sun can be easily read. “Tram
Strike. Yesterday’s Developments”.
Note the camera, on its tripod,
behind the man with the newspaper.
This lovely silver cup was presented by A.
Pritchett to the North Stockton-Elmbank
Rowing Club in 1925. Naturally a photographer
was required to record the gift. Most likely the
photographer didn’t realise he was also capturing
his own upside-down portrait for posterity,
squatting alongside his camera and tripod, with
onlookers nearby to watch the exciting operation.
Sharp eyes have noted the Stockton property The
Laurels, in the background.
The negative envelope is labelled
“Belmont line”, so the tunnel is
presumably the one still in use (by
cyclists) on the Fernleigh Track.
The standard equipment of a glassplate
photographer was bulky, and
this operator has both hands full
with his case and tripod as he walks
along the rail line.
The interesting aerial photographs on the next four pages were taken by the Sydney photographer Milton
Kent, on assignment for one of the major ong>Newcastleong> heavy industries in the 1930s. They represent part
of an aerial survey of the city area, and come ong>fromong> the archives of the Goninan engineering group.
Fort Scratchley stands watch over the city, with its well-known argument with a Japanese submarine still some
years in the future. Sooty Zaara Street power station looms just behind the fort, dominating the city’s East End.
Beach behind and to
the right, in 1934.
In 1935 BHP marked its 20th year of operation. This aerial view shows some detail of the steelworks’ operations.
Wickham in 1935. Land reclamation continues and working-class housing sprawls over the sandy ground.
A splendid beach scene at
ong>Newcastleong> on what appears to
be a carnival day, circa 1900.
“Ladies only”, reads the sign on the pavilion, as men and women stroll the promenade at ong>Newcastleong> Beach.
Two lovely views of ong>Newcastleong> Beach, looking south. The foreground figure at top is Hamilton photographer
William Fraser, who took many beach pictures. At bottom the bulk of ong>Newcastleong> Hospital rises against
the skyline. In later years the city’s seaside hospital grew and grew, changing its appearance dramatically.