State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 56 Spring 1995


The Cox & Luckin Photographs from the 1861 Victorian Exhibition

On 8 April 1929, 170 photographs of Melbourne and country towns, by the photographers Cox & Luckin and others, were presented to the State Library by the Commonwealth Government. This collection, commissioned for the 1861 Victorian Exhibition in Melbourne, was returned to their place of origin after 68 years, via a circuitous route:
These photographs were shown at the London Exhibition of 1862, and at its close presented to the Liverpool Public Museum, the authorities of which handed them to the High Commisssioner for Australia in London, in 1928, as likely to be interesting historical records in Australia. Through the good offices of the Right Hon. S. M. Bruce, Prime Minister, the photographs were given to the Trustees [of the Library].1
It was standard library practice of the period to focus almost exclusively on the information content of pictorial material, rarely recording such details as the photographer's name. The outcome of this practice for the 170 photographs, considered at the time to have been the work of one photographic firm, was that they were split up by subject and location, thereby masking their original provenance.
The survey of Victorian life and progress represented by these photographs, commissioned for the 1861 exhibition, is extremely valuable. Photographic documentation of colonial life prior to the 1860s, other than studio portraits, is scarce. However, in 1861 the Victorian Exhibition provided the impetus for photographers to document the expansion and growth of the colony. Redmond Barry, Exhibition Commissioner and Chairman of the Library Trustees, wrote to all municipalities requesting photographs. The Richmond Council minutes record: “Nearly all of the Municipalities would contribute Photographic views embracing the most striking objects of interest in their district.”2 The latest banks, churches and commercial buildings were photographed. Examples of substantial houses and mansions of the successful citizenry were included. Views indicating the level of civilization are also in evidence, such as the Cremorne Gardens, Richmond, with statuary amongst the shrubbery, a rotunda and frames for flood lighting.
Though the collection became known as the Cox and Luckin Collection, the work of three other photographers has been identified amongst these Melbourne views. They are Davies and Co., Jean-Baptiste Charlier and Edward Haigh.
The Davies and Company photograper's label is affixed to the verso of many of the mounts of a series of Collingwood and Fitzroy views. It appears from Melbourne directories that Davies and Co. took over Cox and Luckin's studio at 94A Bourke Street East in 1862.
Baptiste Charlier is listed as an artist in Melbourne directories from 1860 to 1862. Ten albumen silver photographs by him are in the Cox & Luckin Collection including some interesting views of theYarra Bend Asylum. These photographs are signed by Charlier in the image. Information from Gwen McWilliam, Hawthorn local historian, confirmed that a series of photographs by a “Mr Charlier” was commissioned by the Hawthorn Council for the 1861 Victorian Exhibition.
Edward Haigh is listed in Melbourne directories in 1861 and 1862. Eight albumen silver photographs signed by him, in pencil on the mount beneath the photograph in most cases, are included in the Cox and Luckin Collection. The series includes views of the Botanical Gardens and Parliament House.
Not all of the 170 photographs have been identified. At present only the views of Melbourne and suburbs have been assembled into sets. It is possible that country views dated 1861 housed elsewhere in the Picture Collection are part of the original 1929 donation. The Cox and Lukin collection remains partially hidden.
Mary Lewis
Librarian in the Picture Collection of
the La Trobe Library


E. La T. Armstrong & R. D. Boys, The book of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria, 1906–31. Melbourne, Trustees of the Public Library, 1932, p.82.


Information kindly provided by Bridget Everett.