Category: Australian History

14 November 2021

The Myth of the Napoleon Guitar

Over the years claims have been made that Napoleon Bonaparte owned and played two guitars. This essay examines the case of one such instrument now held at a National Trust property on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne. There’s no evidence that Napoleon played the guitar and his purported ownership of this example doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. While the mythology now associated with the instrument is an interesting subject in itself, the primary function of this piece is to uncover its actual history (as far as it can be determined).

29 October 2021

Revisiting the Great Strike (1917)

The Great Strike is regarded as one of the most divisive industrial conflicts in Australian history. It primarily took place in Sydney and this article examines an early documentary film that was substantially censored by the nsw government in 1917 and rarely screened. However, in 2017 about 15 minutes of surviving footage was published online by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Part I of the article identifies subject themes and locations under subheadings derived from surviving silent film titles while Part II contains a brief discussion of censored themes.

1 October 2018

Andrew Cunningham’s 1870 Captain Thunderbolt Photographs

On 25 May 1870 the bushranger Frederick Ward (popularly known as ‘Thunder­bolt’ or ‘Captain Thunder­bolt’) was shot and killed by a police constable named Alexander Walker at Kentucky Creek, near Uralla, in northern New South Wales. In the following days an Armidale photographer named Andrew Cunningham captured at least ten photo­graphs pertaining to Ward’s death. Some of these photos (particularly three of Ward’s cadaver) are well known; however, virtually no investigation of at least four other photos of the site where Ward was shot has been undertaken. I also look at the visual representation of Ward’s ‘capture’ in the colonial illustrated press, noting the ways in which these images diverge from reported reality.

23 May 2018

The All England Eleven’s 1861-62 Australian Tour and Early Cricket Photography at the Sydney Domain

The All England cricket team’s tour of 1861–62 generated unprecedented interest and excitement in the Australian colonies. In this article I discuss the visual documentation of one of the matches held at Sydney’s Outer Domain in early 1862, near the Royal Botanical Garden. While an enormous panorama of the match captured by Thomas Glaister doesn’t appear to have survived, reportedly ‘instantaneous’ photographs were also taken representing very early steps in the evolution of sports photography.

3 January 2018

Early Hydroelectric Installations in Colonial Australia

Australia’s hydroelectric history began in 1883 when the ore dressing sheds at the Mount Bischoff Tin mine at Waratah in Northern Tasmania were lit by electric light. Over the course of the 1880s, five other pioneering electric lighting installations were opened in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales. Presently, a substantial amount of misinformation surrounds some of the installations while others have not been given proper recognition and this overview presents each in chronological order. Like my other research articles, wherever possible digitised primary source evidence is directly linked in the footnotes.