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Richard Daintree: Photographer

Richard Daintree has a place in the story of Australian goldmining not as miner but as geologist, photographer and international promoter of Queensland.

Born in England in 1832, at the age of 21 Daintree moved to Australia seeking a warmer climate to improve his ill health. Soon after arriving in Melbourne he headed to Victoria’s goldfields where many other newcomers were trying their luck prospecting. He wasn’t successful but according to his biographer Geoffrey Bolton this experience "...marked him deeply with a prospector’s zest that loved the search for gold as dearly as the finding of it".

Washing out a good prospect
Sun pictures of Victoria: the Fauchery-Daintree collection
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria

Instead, he became assistant to the government geologist Alfred Selwyn whom he had met in England and they spent a lot of time searching for coal east of Melbourne. He returned to London in 1856 to train at the Royal School of Mines where he studied chemistry and assaying, as well as learning about photography and how it could be put to good use by geologists.

In 1857 he returned to Australia and worked with flamboyant French photographer Antoine Fauchery to produce a series of photographs titled Sun Pictures of Victoria. They showed the importance of gold in the life of the colony and many depicted the landscape, the culture and day-to-day life in the townships of the Victorian goldfields. They were probably the first such images to be sold to the public.

Golden Point. Forest Creek
Sun pictures of Victoria: the Fauchery-Daintree collection
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria

At this time photography was a complex activity. Pictures had to be taken using the wet collodion process, in which wet plates were exposed and then developed immediately. As many of Daintree’s photographs were taken outdoors, this meant using a portable darkroom. The resulting images were very different to the highly posed studio portraits that characterised photography at this time.

Photography was also expensive and Daintree had to return to geology to make a living. By 1859 he was again working for Selwyn at the Victorian Geological Survey. He continued using photography to document the landscape and record geological features. He also began using it to promote the colony, exhibiting a series of images at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. Many were of the Victorian goldfields and were intended to draw overseas attention to the rich natural resources of the colony.

In the 1860s Daintree wanted a new challenge so he moved to northern Queensland with his wife Lettice and two children to help establish a pastoral property at Maryvale in the remote Kennedy region west of Townsville. Still interested in geology, he travelled along the surrounding inland creeks and rivers prospecting the country and photographing it. It was then that he discovered alluvial gold on the Cape River. He didn’t mention this to anyone for two years, but also didn’t try to dig the gold himself. He believed the job of a geologist was different from that of a miner, and wrote: "Once the goldfield is discovered, it should be left to the diggers, and the geologist should go to another part of the country".

Argus Flat Gold Mining Co[mpan]y's claim. Forest
Sun pictures of Victoria: the Fauchery-Daintree collection
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria

Pursuing his geological interests, in 1868 Daintree successfully sought employment as the first government geologist for northern Queensland. He was excited about his discovers of gold and other minerals and this position allowed him to carry out a proper survey of the region. In doing this he created a valuable photographic record of life on the Cape River diggings.

In 1870 the Queensland government asked Daintree to put together an exhibition of photographs and mineral specimens for the 1871 Exhibition of Art and Industry in London. Unfortunately Daintree’s mineral samples were lost in a shipwreck on the way to London, and Daintree had to create an exhibition using his photographs and maps.

International exhibitions were popular in those days and generated interest from around the world. They often focussed on the mineral wealth of the colonies and were used to attract both money and migrants.

Daintree’s 1871 Queensland exhibition was a success and received acclaim in the press. He was appointed Queensland’s Agent-General for Emigration from 1972 to 1876, and asked to stage another six international exhibits.

In this work Daintree made Queensland the star amongst the Australian displays. Gold was an important feature of the Queensland landscape, and using his handcoloured photographs, maps and gold specimens, Daintree used the allure of gold to attract British emigrants to the new colony.

Despite his successes at the exhibitions, Daintree became involved in a dispute about the administration of the London office of Agent-General. Though his name was eventually cleared, he resigned in poor health in 1876 and died two years later aged just 46.

To view a gallery of images from the Sun Pictures of Victoria collection, click on the "Enlarge" button on any image above.


Adapted from Richard Daintree: geologist, photographer and promoter of gold by Dr Ian Coates in Gold and Civilisation, National Museum of Australia 2001. Published by Art Exhibitions Australia Ltd and the National Museum of Australia.


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