photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum
This photograph is one of several portraits of Amelia Eve Wong in the Wong Ah Sat archive. It was produced by the H. Dorners Elite studio in Goulburn, and is dated September 30, 1891. Twenty-two year old Amelia stands in an elaborate and romantic setting designed to create the illusion of an outdoor scene. Although the image has been carefully composed and mounted, the illusion is incomplete; the edge of the staircase prop is clearly visible on the left hand side. (Another copy of the same image was printed differently in order to conceal the edge of the prop.)The tangle of ivy draped over the stair rail, fashionable in its casual disarray, may have also had a symbolic function. In the Victorian language of flowers, ivy signified fidelity.
Apart from formal studio portraits like this one, there are many photographs in the Wong archive thought to have been created by Amelia and her brother, Henry H. Wong. These are mainly informal, outdoor portraits and rural scenes. Some have already been published on Photo of the Day
With the introduction of the dry plate process in the 1880s photography became widely accessible to the middle class. Amateur photographers could now take their cameras out into the field and develop the negatives later. Receipts in the archive show that the Wongs purchased some of their photography supplies from Harrington & Co. in Sydney, one of the major suppliers at the time.
By the 1890s there was a growing acceptance of photography as a suitable hobby for women. Matthew Surface wrote in The Australian Photographic Journal on April 20, 1897,
…Not so gymnastic as tennis nor so stupid as croquet, the camera hobby carries in its train the active promotion of health, and likewise provides an outlet for the dormant artistic tendencies locked up in the minds of so many women.
The father of Amelia Eve and Henry H. Wong, Wong Ah Sat, came to Australia from southern China in 1857. In 1864 he married Amelia Hackney, who had come with her prosperous and well-educated family from Manchester, England, where they had been involved in the drapery trade. Sat and Amelia took up a property near Bathurst and later moved to Bolong where they ran a store and raised a large family, becoming respected members of the predominantly Anglo-Celtic farming community.
The Powerhouse Museum holds a collection of objects and photographs from the Wong family, many of which are currently on display in the exhibition, What’s in store? A history of retailing in Australia.
Photography by H. Dorners Elite studio, Goulburn.
No known copyright restrictions.