Captain Sweet's Views of South Australia.Adelaide: Samuel White Sweet, c.1884 Stock Code: 129596
NotesSuperb lifetime album of fully-captioned photographs of remarkable depth and clarity by the pioneering photographer of Australia Captain Samuel White Sweet (1825-1886), presenting a generous panorama of his art in prints reflecting the civic pride of the city of Adelaide through its many fine buildings, alongside the landscape of South Australia captured in memorable images of aboriginal people, sheep shearers and slate quarriers. This may be described as a lifetime album, with presentation inscription dated 1884 and the prints without the photographer's studio blindstamp; Sweet's widow, Elizabeth, carried on the business until 1892 and it is generally considered that those prints bearing a studio blindstamp were issued after his death. Included here are 31 images of Adelaide and its environs, the remainder of scenes further afield at Mintaro, Mannum, Murray Bridge, Granite Island, Strathalbyn, Port Pirie, Bungaree, Beltana, and Farina, these latter illustrative of the extensive nature of Sweet's travels Farina and Bungaree, for example, are approximately 600km north and east of Adelaide. Two prints show sheep, a major industry in South Australia, and two illustrate the use of camels. Also present are three celebrated studies of the Ngarrindjeri people, captured near Point McLeay mission: a fine image of a group outside a wurley or aboriginal hut, a mother in possum skin cloak with her child slung on her back and a powerful portrait of an aboriginal man similarly dressed, clasping waddy or fighting club, decorated malcarra or parrying shield, carrying a woven dilly bag, most likely made from pandanus fibre. Another standout image is "Sheep Shearers", a strikingly composed group photograph captured outside a corrugated iron sheep shed, perhaps at Beltana station. A full list of images is available on request.
Sweet was an English sea captain born at Portsea, Hampshire. By the 1860s he was sailing in Australian waters but after the grounding of two ships under his command he was censured in 1875 and retired from the sea. However, he was already active as a photographer, having established a studio in Adelaide in 1872, where he "took portraits and sold views of the city and its environs; he also specialised in landscape photography" (Ennis p. 76). The Australian Dictionary of Biography gives a memorable image of Sweet: "with his horse-drawn dark room he travelled through South Australia taking hundreds of skilful pictures of the outback, stations and homesteads". Ennis makes the interesting point that "one of the most conspicuous aspects of Sweet's work is his love of order. Of itself this was not unusual as it was part of a larger agenda that dominated nineteenth-century thought the desire for comprehensive encyclopaedic knowledge. What is interesting in Sweet's case is the tension evident in his photographs between order and disorder". She illustrates her short essay with three outstanding photographs that are also present in this album: "Port Pirie", "Slate Quarry Mintaro", and "Sheep Shearers".
Albums by Sweet are certainly uncommon, substantial ones such as this decidedly so; WorldCat shows copies of an Album of Adelaide, its Suburbs and Botanic Gardens (dated to the 1880s, 16 prints only) at three institutional libraries (National Library of Australia, State Library of NSW, University of Adelaide) and the National Library of Australia holds an album of 100 photographs; none appear on auction records. Sweet has been described by award-winning author Roger McDonald as "in the first rank of Australian photographers" (Australia's Wild Places, National Library of Australia, 2009) and as "the colony's foremost documentary photographer of the 1870s" (DAB).
Quarto (280 x 228 mm). Studio album of green morocco over bevelled boards, decorative gilt spine, broad gilt panel on covers (triple-rules and scrolling foliate roll tool), front cover lettered in gilt "Views in South Australia", gilt roll tool turn-ins, pale yellow moiré effect free endpapers, pale blue pastedowns, gilt edges.
Title page printed in gold, 50 silver gelatin photographs (163 x 210 mm) mounted recto and verso on stiff card leaves within plain gilt frames, calligraphic captions to all, some tissue-guards remain.
Ownership inscription on front pastedown: "Mrs V. L. Wilkins, Petersburg, Virginia USA, from her affectionate son Robert. Adelaide, South Australia - 19th February 1884". Slightly rubbed, card leaves a little cockled with some consequent smutting to the margins, short closed-tear into caption of "Sheep Shearers" but the views themselves excellently preserved with good tone, contrast and definition.
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