James Tyrrell Photographic Collection at the Powerhouse
The Tyrrell Photographic Collection at the Powerhouse Museum is made up of around 7,900 glass plate negatives taken between 1885 and the 1930s, which were collected by the Sydney bookseller James Tyrrell. Tyrrell was born in Sydney in 1875 and in 1888 started work or the Sydney bookshop, Angus and Robertson. In 1905 he set up his own business and by the mid 1920s Tyrrell had established well known, if not terribly profitable, book and curiosity shops in Sydney.
Perhaps fuelled by his interest in Australian and Pacific books and photographs, Tyrrell acquired in 1923 the establishment of 'Tost & Rohu', dealers in taxidermy and Pacific and Aboriginal artefacts. Some photographs from the collection were used to illustrate the catalogues of Aboriginal and Pacific Island material he sold, while others were sold through the establishment of 'Tost and Rohu' as bromide prints.
2,900 of the glass plate negatives (85/1284) are credited to the Sydney photographer Charles Kerry and were purchased around 1929 after Charles Kerry and Co. had folded. Almost all of these negatives were 21.5 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 inch) glass plates and many of those now held by the Powerhouse Museum collection would have been used to create postcards.
Another 1,300 glass plate negatives (85/1285) are credited to another famous Australian photographer, Henry King. A further 3,000 glass plates (85/1286) are from unattributed sources dating from the 1880s right through to the 1930s. The latter cover a wide variety of subject matter which includes Sydney Streets, New South Wales landscapes, World War One portraits and images of the Harbour Bridge from the early 1930s.
It also appears that while many of these images are currently unattributed it is likely that a proportion of them are in fact part of the Charles Kerry and Henry King collections purchased by Tyrrell in 1929. Some of those from Papua New Guinea appear to have been taken by Reverend Lawes and may have been acquired by Henry King in the 1890s.
David Millar in his book on Charles Kerry also comments on how Tyrrell's purchase from Kerry contained a number of World War One portraits and the ones in this unattributed section may also be by Kerry & Co. Other photographs, like those of Sydney Harbour Bridge, were taken after both Kerry and King had died and must have been later acquisitions by either James Tyrrell or Australian Consolidated Press who purchased Tyrrell's collection of photographs in 1980.
Charles Kerry and Co. and Henry King images were used by James Tyrrell to produce booklets and views of New South Wales and as late as 1943 Tyrrell was still receiving requests for the use of Kerry & Co. photographs from authors like Charles Barrett who wanted to use images of Wailwan people from New South Wales in his new publication.
The photographic collection acquired by James Tyrrell, although full of iconic Australian images, does not appear to have been fully utilised by its owner. When it was purchased by Australian Consolidated Pressin 1980 they almost immediately set about producing a limited series of 2,000 contact prints of highlights of the collection for libraries and museums in New South Wales.
In 1985 they donated the collection to the Powerhouse Museum. The collection at this time consisted of 7,903 glass plate negatives and 7,916 contact positive prints; of these, 493 glass plates were damaged but usable and 13 plates totally broken.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, December, 2008
Leibovic, Joseph, Henry King, 1855 - 1923, auction catalogue, Joesph Leibovic Gallery, Paddington, Australia, date unknown
Millar, David P., Charles Kerry's Federation Australia, David Ellis Press, Sydney, 1981
Newton, Gael, Shades of Light; Photography and Australia 1839 - 1988, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988
Tyrell, James, Australian Aboriginal and South Sea Islands Implements, Weapons and Curios, James Tyrell, Sydney, 1929
Mitchell Library, Original Manuscripts, H6049
Mitchell Library, Original Manuscripts, H6051
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