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Magnificent and rare album, the first example of Australian photo-journalism: produced during the 1884 British expedition in New Guinea

[NEW GUINEA]. ERSKINE, Commodore James E.
Narrative of the expedition of the Australian squadron to the south-east coast of New Guinea, October to December, 1884.
Sydney, Thomas Richards, Government Printer, 1885. Large folio. With a folding map, 3 coloured lithographed plates, 33 original silver albumen photographs (ca. 28.5 x 21 cm) mounted on cards with printed captions and borders and two beautiful panoramas, one of them double-page (24 x 55.5 cm) and the other on four leaves (together 24 x 105.5 cm). Contemporary dark blue morocco.
€ 48,000
Rare and sumptuous album, published in a very small number of copies, illustrated with actual photographs, which has been called the first example of Australian photo-journalism: "the most magnificent example of an Australian work in this genre, the high point in relation to which all other examples can be considered" (Holden). The photographs all date from the 1884 expedition, when Commodore Erskine proclaimed a British protectorate over the south coast of New Guinea. Although unattributed at the time, all images were made by the New South Wales Government Printing Office and were chiefly the work of Augustine Dyer (1873-1923). Principally intended as a visual record, the album shows the importance of the Hood Lagoon area of Papua New Guinea in British and Australian ambitions, with six depictions of the region (effectively a sixth of the finished work).
The superb series of ethnographic and exploration photographs commemorating the 1884 expedition were printed and the albums assembled in Sydney, in a small edition for presentation. Sir James Erskine R.N. (1838-1911) in 1885 was Private Secretary to Lord Northbrook, the first Lord of the Admiralty, and became Commodore of the Australian Station in January 1882.
It is a piece of photo-reportage unmatched by any other work of this time and place. Through the positioning of images of the official ceremonies alongside topographical views of the surrounding areas, the photographs themselves become a true part of the narrative: perhaps the first photographic images of the meeting between Imperial forces and Hood Bay chiefs. One of the remarkable photographs depicts a scene on board HMS Nelson as Erskine addressed some of the assembled tribal elders ("Commodore addressing Chiefs on board HMS Nelson, Hood Bay"), one seen grasping an ebony staff. Erskine had handed out a number of these staffs to local chiefs as "an emblem of authority in the form of an ebony stick with a florin let in at the top, the Queens Head being uppermost, and encircled by a band of silver" (Lyne, New Guinea, pp. 13, 114-118). It is most impressive as an ethnographic album, one of the first such produced in the South Pacific.
With an inscription in pencil on the front endpaper ("A Paré, "Elgin", Durban Rd., Wynberg [South Africa]"). Binding slightly rubbed, interior slightly foxed in some places, map with repaired tear, some scattered foxing and fraying to the fore-edge margins, but overall in very good condition with the images all bright. Robert Holden, Photography in colonial Australia: the mechanical eye and the illustrated book, 79 and pp. 24-31; Gael Newton, Shades of light: photography and Australia 1839-1988, pp. 57-59; cf. Antje Lübcke blog post: "... superb photographs of very great interest" (https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=5313) (Dyer photos of the 1884 expedition); not in Goldschmidt & Naef, The truthful lens. For background: Charles Lyne, New Guinea: an account of the establishment of the British protectorate over the southern shores of New Guinea (London, 1885).
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