I have been reading some books on colonial photography in South Australia to look for some 19th century photographs of the northern Flinders Ranges and northern South Australia. Even though photography in the field would have been very difficult with the wet plate process at the time, I was expecting to find some examples of colonial expedition photography as the dry-plate process was available in the colony by the early 1880s. My initial understanding was that photographers had accompanied some of the inland expeditions to northern South Australia and across to western Australia in the 1880s-1890s. Cameras, for instance, were used on David Lindsay’s 1885-6 exploring expedition from Adelaide to Port Darwin by Lieutenant Hermann Dittrich, the German naturalist/botanist was on the expedition on the recommendation of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller. Unfortunately, the dry plate glass negatives were severely overexposed and useless.
I started with A Century in Focus: South Australian Photographs 1940s-1940 by the Art Gallery of South of South Australia (AGSA) — the most obvious place. It was a disappointment. For instance, The Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition, 1891–92 under David Lindsay, which left from the northern railway terminus (near Andamooka) in South Australia and traveled across the Great Victoria Desert to Western Australia, made substantial use of photography. Yet Dr Frederick John Elliot, the expedition’s medical officer and photographer, is not mentioned in A Century in Focus.
This is a strange omission since there are a selection of photos that Elliot made in the State Library of South Australia’s (SLSA) Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition collection.
It is a puzzle that the AGSA missed this body of expedition photography. Was it a lack of research? Were the researchers content to work only from their own collection?
European exploration of South Australia was effectively complete by the time of the Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition of 1891–92. So what about photography made on earlier expedition in the northern Flinders Ranges and beyond?