State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 76 Spring 2005


Elizabeth Willis
‘People undergoing great change’: John Hunter Kerr's photographs of Indigenous people at Fernyhurst, Victoria, 1850s

Fernihurst’, a station 30 kilometres south of Boort in northern Victoria, straddles the Kinypanial Creek, a few kilometres from the Loddon River. It is black box and river red gum country, where brolgas once danced in the moonlight and brush turkeys fed in the scrub. Today, merinos graze on cleared land and the scars of deep irrigation works cross the huge paddocks.1 Some of the earliest photographs of Victorian Aboriginal people were taken on this piece of country. This article discusses these photographs, describes their context, and considers the dynamics of the relationship between the photographer and his subjects.
John Hunter Kerr, the photographer, was a squatter who took up the land in 1849, acquiring an existing station, ‘Edgar's Run’, and re-naming it ‘Fernyhurst’ after the Kerr clan's ancestral castle in the Scottish borders. (There are several variants of the spelling of the name: unlike the present owners, Kerr used ‘Fernyhurst’, and his usage has been followed here.) Kerr, aged 28 and then unmarried, was in partnership with Robert Neill, and they ran sheep and cattle on the land.
Kerr had previous experience of squatting, as he had first taken up land on the Yarra in 1840. He was a ‘gentleman squatter’, the great-nephew and namesake of Vice-Admiral John Hunter; and he later became a local magistrate and joined the Melbourne Club. His colourful autobiography, published in 1872,2 reveals a man with a lively sense of curiosity who was observant of and sensitive to his new environment. He wrote about the beauties of the bush and its dangers, work routines on the station, bushrangers, the impact of the gold rushes, and the experience of being part of a new colony. With his neighbour Frederic Race Godfrey he experimented with new fashions like mesmerism and galvanism,3 and he was an enthusiastic exhibitor at the Sandhurst and Melbourne Exhibitions in 1854.4 He took a keen and informed interest in the people around him, and was excited at the development of Victoria. But he was not a successful squatter. His obituary suggested that ‘bad seasons and adverse circumstances’, including the ‘dissipation’ of his partner, contributed to his failure. He was forced to sell Fernyhurst in 1855 but stayed on the property, possibly as manager, until about 1861.5
At Fernyhurst, Kerr knew numbers of Indigenous people. Aborigines, probably mainly from the Dja Dja Wurrung tribal groups that Kerr called ‘the Loddon and Murray tribes’, camped close to his house. Kerr recognised that they ‘revisit[ed] periodically the spots which had been their old hunting grounds’, to hunt in the traditional manner and also to receive food and other support from the squatters.6 By the mid 1840s, well before Kerr settled on the land, virtually all the Dja Dja Wurrung's traditional lands had been taken up by squatters. European settlement decimated the original inhabitants.7 A Native Protectorate was established at Franklinford, near Daylesford, in 1841, and there was another mission station at Lake Boga. In the early 1850s, many families moved north from Franklinford, away from the pubs and their temptations, and sought seasonal work on the Loddon with squatters whose labourers had left for the goldfields.8 People associated with the
Lake Boga mission may also have visited Fernyhurst. Kerr employed some of the men as shepherds and drovers, and others acted as guides to European travellers.9
Kerr seems to have had good relationships with the Indigenous people. In his autobiography, he described his interest in his ‘Aboriginal neighbours’, and claimed to have been ‘always on very friendly terms’ with them. He wrote of being invited to join in their hunting expeditions for kangaroo, possum, and wild turkey. He was honoured by being invited to attend many of their ceremonies, including corroborees and the burial of an elder; he later sensitively described the people's grief and the funeral rituals. He described family relationships within the tribe, and the people's work, trading routes, daily life and beliefs. When Kerr wrote about Aboriginal ‘treachery’ and ‘cruelty’, he was generally summarising events that had been reported by other Europeans. In contrast, he described the trustworthiness, ‘natural quickness, and aptitude to learn’ of many of the Indigenous people he knew.10 R.E.Johns, who met Kerr at the Sandhurst Exhibition, recognised Kerr's interest and expertise as an observer of Aboriginal life and traditions.11
Kerr was interested – how could he be otherwise? – in how European settlement was affecting the Indigenous people. His first contact with Indigenous people was in 1839; ten years later he met a different group on the Loddon, and was able to make some comparisons. He shared the prevailing European belief that colonisation meant that ‘the doom of their race was fixed’. But he looked at the people around him through the lens of someone seeking to understand and record the transition from what he called ‘the savage pur et simple’ to a people ‘undergoing a great change of habits and character since their intercourse with white men’.12

The photographs: why and for whom were they taken?

Photography was introduced to Melbourne in 1845, when George Goodman gave the first demonstrations of the new ‘sun pictures’.13 Kerr, a ‘gentleman amateur’, was fascinated by the new invention, and was well-placed to experiment with its marvellous possibilities. He quickly saw its documentary potential, and while at Fernyhurst used two ‘mug shots’ to clear a man of the charge of murder.14 It appears that he began taking photographs on the station around 1853, when the collodion wet-plate negative process was introduced to Victoria. Thirty-one of Kerr's photographs of Indigenous people survive, together with some general views around the station. They were probably taken over a period of several years.15 Kerr initially made contact prints from glass negatives on salted paper. Later, further prints were made from his negatives, using the albumen silver process.16
Kerr records that his major purpose was ‘to take a likeness’ of the Indigenous people. He described their love of bright colours, their capacity for imitation, and how they appropriated with ‘great pride and exultation’ articles of clothing discarded by Europeans.17 In this context, he wrote that ‘The vanity of the natives was always flattered by an offer to take their likeness, and they were patient sitters for photography. At first they were a little alarmed by the machinery, but when their first shyness was overcome they were never weary of sitting in any attitude…’. (This stillness was necessary as the exposure time with the wet-plate collodion process could be up to several minutes.) The finished contact print was available to be examined within minutes after the
photograph was taken, and Kerr records that the subjects ‘laughed with childish glee at the results’.18 He also reported that he kept the prints and showed them to the people months or years later, as they came and went in their seasonal movement across the land. He wrote ‘When on looking over my collections of photographs they beheld the likeness of a deceased friend, they would intimate by a mysterious nod that they recognised the features, but would never enter into any conversation regarding them.’19
It is not clear whether Kerr intended the images to be initially for any other audience. Kerr's correspondence with family in Scotland has not been traced, so we do not know if he sent copies of the images to them, or, like John Cotton, tried to sell the images through his British connections.20 The prints seem to have circulated to a very limited extent. None of his photographs are known to have become the basis of illustrations in Victorian illustrated papers at the time. They are not mentioned by any other contemporary writer about Victorian Aborigines, or in any other Victorian memoir. Perhaps Kerr kept control over the distribution of the photographs because, like Charles Walter, he ‘did not wish his black friends to be sold in every shop at the rate of sixpence each!’21
Salted paper prints of some of Kerr's photographs, including five of Indigenous people, were stuck into an album compiled by squatter Alexander Denistoun Lang that was completed before 1870.22 Lang may have met Kerr at the Melbourne Club, as they were both members in the 1850s. At some time probably during the early 1860s, Kerr took some at least of his glass negatives to Eugene Montagu Scott, a photographer in Collins Street, who made them into salted paper prints within cardboard mounts.23 The surviving mounts are all titled and marked in Kerr's handwriting: ‘Fernyhurst/Australia Felix/ JHK’. Five of these, now held by the Royal Historical Society and Museum Victoria, were once in the possession of Mrs. E.B. Howitt, of Lucknow, near Bairnsdale. The Howitt family may have obtained them through their friend, F.R.Godfrey, who was Kerr's neighbour.24 Two of Kerr's images are held in the Oxley Library, in an album of photographs attributed to Richard Daintree that was donated by the Daintree family in the 1960s.25 Daintree left Victoria in January 1865, and the Kerr photographs were probably in his possession by then. The first publication of any of the images was not until 1872 when a Scottish artist made engravings from four of the photographs and they were used to illustrate Kerr's autobiography.
The provenance of the images and the name of the photographer was lost when the next generation of prints, silver albumen prints from the same glass negatives, were made by George Priston, a ‘photographic chemist’ of Melbourne. These images, which show some of the same people, posed in the same places, and with the same lens aberration, are only now being attributed to Kerr.26 By the time Priston copied them, many of Kerr's original glass negatives had been damaged. The Priston collection, that also includes some material of Queensland origin, was acquired by the Library in 1878, several years after Kerr's death and the same year that his wife left Victoria to return to Europe.27
Photography was only one medium that Kerr used to record Aboriginal life. He tried his hand at drawing, and his pen and ink sketch of one of the older women is now held by the Dixon Library.28 He also collected examples of tools, weapons, toys and art works from the Indigenous

Figure 1 H30158/2

Figure 2 H30158/4

Figure 3 H30158/22

Figure 4 H30158/23

Long bark shelter scenes

Figure 5 H30158/21

Figure 6 H30158/3

Figure 7 H30158/11

Figure 8 H30158/6

Camp fire scenes
people and displayed them for a wider audience at exhibitions in Bendigo, Melbourne and later Paris.29
Some of Kerr's photographs of Aboriginal people appear, on the face of it, to be taken as simply a documentary record of the people's life in transition. But they were more than that. Each image was the result of a transaction between the photographer and his subject. They were taken at ‘slack times’ on the station, when there was time for consultation and to set up the apparatus. Before each image was taken, a conversation occurred between people who knew each others' names. As with the photographs taken a decade later by Charles Walter, there is evidence for their subjects’ involvement in the picture-making process: a theme to which I will return.30

Notes on the photographs

Kerr took landscapes, long-range views, individual portraits, and close-ups. Some of the photographs seem to have been taken in sequence, with a clear comparative aim. He also took more casual shots, where the people are not so obviously posing, although they must have been conscious of being photographed. Kerr experimented with different effects, and at one stage – probably later in the 1850s – nailed canvas to the wall of a slab hut and posed people against it, in an attempt to increase the reflected light on the faces of his subjects. In the following discussion, the groupings are mine; we do not know the order in which Kerr took the photographs.
Images with the accession number H30158/ are silver albumen prints made by George W. Priston from glass negatives, some of which were damaged. We do not have Kerr's original captions for these photographs: where they have a title, they have been named within the State Library. The Library also holds some of the earlier salted paper prints taken from the same glass negatives, in the Lang Album.
Figure 1 has an astounding immediacy: is this the first time that a photograph was taken of the back of a person? It records a moment when the men, gathered in a bark shelter, are caught in conversation, focussed on the man sitting on a fallen log with his back to the camera. One young boy sits close to an older man. The men have some hunting tools at their feet, and wear a mixture of possum skin cloaks and blankets; one man has taken off his cloth hat. Figure 2 shows men, a woman and a child in the same shelter. The men have been asked to pose still holding their shields; in front are their spears and a string bag. The child holds some play sticks (wit-wit or weet-weet). He looks very relaxed, almost cheeky, and is enjoying the experience of being photographed.
Figure 3, entitled (not by Kerr) ‘Lubras in Mia Mia’, is a group of women and girls in a different bark shelter. Figure 4, entitled ‘Natives in camp’, shows eight young men sitting in the same shelter, probably on a different day, as a different log has been dragged in front. It is clear that the shelter had been erected not far from Kerr's home, for a dray can be seen in the background.
Figure 5, entitled by the Library ‘Natives in Mia Mia’, shows a family group asleep in the same shelter, near the remains of a camp fire. The two adults and one child are wrapped in blankets; the feet of another child can be seen near the woman. This is a close-up photograph, which might have been taken intrusively without the subjects' knowledge. But it does not seem to have been taken in the early morning. The people are covered modestly, and did not move during the long exposure time, so it may be that they had been asked to pose as if they were asleep. We may wonder what was
in Kerr's mind as he photographed this intimate scene. No one would have imposed on a European family this way. However, artists illustrated the camps of Europeans in the bush or on the road, and Kerr may have thought of this image as in the same genre.
In Figure 6 two women – who also appear in Figures 7 and 8 – sit near the remains of a campfire. An empty wine bottle lies near a third woman who is lying on the ground. Kerr commented that ‘When the diggings broke out, the propensity of the natives for strong drink was greatly increased by the facility with which they could obtain it. Its effect on their constitution was most pernicious, and greatly contributed to the rapid diminution of their numbers.’ Did the photographer deliberately intend in this photograph to record this tragedy?
Figure 7, entitled ‘Natives quarrelling’, later became an engraving with the same title. It is a posed battle that was used in 1872 to illustrate Kerr's description of a fight between two men when their father ‘King William’ died. There is a disparity between the ritualised but real violence that Kerr described and the equanimity of those posing here. The women look on with detached interest.31 In Figure 8 the same four people sit at rest. The men show off their weapons; the women pose with the tin billy that they use for cooking. Figure 9 is a general view of the station yard, with an Aboriginal mother and young child in the foreground. As in many of the other images, the people wear a mixture of traditional and European clothes. Figure 10 shows a bark shelter under a tree, and was perhaps taken to show the general location of an Aboriginal camp on the property.
In Figure 11, a strong naked young man poses proudly in front of a bark hut, carrying a patterned shield and a boomerang, and with his cloak at his feet. Figure 12 shows the same man, comfortable in well-fitting European clothes, photographed with two young women in traditional clothing. The young man dominates both images, suggesting that he moves comfortably between two worlds, happy to play a role or two for the camera, but remaining in control of how he presents himself. His stance in Figure 12 is as exaggerated in its way, as imitative, as his theatrical aggression in Figure 11. It is significant that where men were photographed on Fernyhurst in European outfits, the clothes are well-fitting and do not appear to be hand-me-downs. This is in contrast to many later images of Aboriginal people that were taken on missions or in studio settings by professional photographers.
There are two photographs of young children on Fernyhurst, one image known only from the Priston collection, and another where an earlier copy survives. Kerr was unique among the collectors of Aboriginal material culture in the 1850s as he collected items used by women and children, as well as those used by men.32 The two children seem confident in front of the camera and happy to stay still long enough for the exposure to be completed.
In Figure 13, a young girl lies in front of a bark shelter, posed with her head on her hand. She wears a woven rope necklace and has a grass basket that women and children used for carrying food. She has nestled modestly into her cloak, and she looks openly up into the camera lens. The image might have been sexually provocative because of her unclothed upper body, but was it designed to be? In contrast to Antoine Eauchery, who posed a pubescent girl in a provocative stance in an isolated bush setting, Kerr has placed his subject near her family's shelter and surrounded by her everyday tools.33 Figure 14 was entitled by Kerr: ‘Young Half Caste Boy on Possum Rug. /

Figure 9 H30158/12 [detail]

Figure 10 H30158/20

General views

Figure 11 H30158/7

Figure 12 H 30158/10

Bark hut scenes

Figure 13 H31058/8

Figure 14 H30158/27

Figure 15 H30158/19


Figure 16 H30158/24

Figure 17 H82.277/9

Two men
Fernyhurst, Australia Felix. / JHK/’.34 The child poses with his play sticks and small shield; like small boys everywhere, he hasn't tidied his hair!
In a further series of photographs, Indigenous men pose with their tools. These images are unlike those of better-known photographers like Fauchery and J. W Lindt, who placed Aboriginal people against ferns or a studio backdrop of the bush, thereby suggesting ‘primitiveness’ or ‘timelessness’.35 At Fernyhurst, the Dja Dja Wurrung posed comfortably against the outside wall of a slab hut, suggesting that as the Aborigines became more secure on the station and more comfortable with the photographer and his apparatus, they moved closer to the station homestead.36
Figures 1517 show two men with traditional clothing and weapons, posed individually and together. Traces of decoration can still be seen on the older man's cloak, which shows signs of considerable wear. The old man appears to be ill. Kerr records the deaths of Indigenous people from consumption, domestic violence, rheumatic fever and respiratory diseases. In the Lang Album, the two individual portraits have been captioned ‘Aboriginal (or Aborigine) Port Phillip’ and given the date of 1835. Lang here is signifying that he understands the images to represent Indigenous traditional life at the coming of the white setters. This is a later reading of the images. It is not clear whether this was the photographer's intention, or whether the subjects decided themselves to pose with their older tools.
Figures 18 and 19 were taken in the same spot. One young man shows off his shield and a waddy, and Figure 19 was captioned by Kerr ‘Native with original tomahawk and Shield’. By the 1840s, tomahawks had been largely superseded by iron axes, but the stone tool was still carried and used in some forms of hunting.37 The caption suggests that both the subject and the photographer were presenting a disappearing technology. In Figure 20, two young women pose underneath the window of Kerr's hut. One wears a blanket, the other a possum skin cloak with the decorated side visible. Unlike the men, these women are not posing with their tools; the photograph is a simple ‘likeness’ of women at rest. In Figure 21, a young man in well-fitting stockman's gear stands in a relaxed pose, ankles crossed, hands on belt, and stockwhip in hand. He could almost be the model for the ideal Aboriginal stockman drawn by Ludwig Becker on the certificate for the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition: ‘attired in Guernsey, trousers and high-lows, and exhibiting the effects of his contact with the civilisation of the white man’.38 Figure 22 was probably taken in September 1854, when Kerr gathered Aboriginal tools, weapons, craft, artworks and toys to take to the Sandhurst Exhibition.
Three of the photographs were taken after a piece of canvas had been nailed to the slab wall. In Figure 23, a teenager or young man kneels on his cloak, and demonstrates how he would use a spear-thrower to guide and launch a spear when hunting. He is showing off his skill, and this is one of the earliest photographs where an Indigenous person participates in an ‘action shot’. Figures 24 and 25 seem to be two portraits of the same man. In both, the man wears the same skin cloak; in one, he is seated with a stone axe as his only tool; in the second, another ‘action shot’, he stands and aims a flintlock rifle to the right of the photographer. These young men are tough and proud; are they enjoying showing how skilful and adaptable they are?
A further series (figures 2629) was better-known by contemporaries than most of Kerr's other photographs. Kerr described their genesis: ‘Being desirous of obtaining a photograph of the corroboree, I once prevailed on a few of the blacks to dance it by daylight. This was only done for the promise of a considerable present; but no arguments would induce them to allow the lubras to witness the exhibition at that unusual hour; and to complete my picture I was obliged to content myself with a group of young men, wrapped in their skins, to represent the absent ladies’.39 Kerr took at least four separate shots on this occasion, and they repay close examination.
Figure 26 is the best-known, being in the Priston collection, the Lang album, the Royal Historical Society of Victoria collection, and Museum Victoria's collection. An engraving from it illustrated Kerr's book. Prints of Figure 29, a close-up view of some of the men and boys, are in the Priston collection, Museum Victoria, and the Oxley Library.
Although some people are unclear, and it is hard sometimes to differentiate between the decorative motifs, it seems as if up to twenty-one men and three or four boys agreed to decorate themselves as if for a ceremony, and came to be photographed. Some of the men remained while several photographs were taken; others waited on the fringes, or left after being photographed once. Each man has decorated himself with white pipeclay in a distinctive pattern; some have gone to more trouble than others. The men maintained their strong pose for the minutes that were required for the exposure, and they changed position between the photographs.
Figures 30 and 31 may be the last, chronologically, in the series, as they are taken in front of a plastered wall, perhaps part of Kerr's substantial new house. Two young men pose proudly, in traditional dress, and one shows off the beautiful decoration of stylised boomerang shapes and hatched motifs on his skin cloak. Figure 30 is also found in the Daintree Album in the Oxley Library, while Figure 31 was made into an engraving and used in 1872 to illustrate the title page of Kerr's book. In the engraving, the people have been placed against a sylvan landscape, and the image resonates with the idea of the ‘noble savage, monarch of all he surveys’. The caption then is ‘Prince Jamie and his friend’.40

Reading Kerr's photographs today

We are encouraged to ‘read” nineteenth-century photographs of native peoples, those who are defined as ‘The Other’, as colonising creations, that become instruments of exploitation in the very process of being made. ‘Ethnographic images’, in the words of Paul Fox, ‘speak of classification, the meaning contained in the weapons and implements being portrayed, the nature of imperialism, and the process by which the concept of race was created and institutionalised in the nineteenth century.’41 It is almost impossible now to see a nineteenth century image of an Indigenous person without combing it for evidence of power relationships, dispossession and oppression, and Indigenous passivity or suffering in the face of the coloniser's demands and desires.
I want to argue for an alternative reading of Kerr's photographs as they existed in the 1850s, while recognising that their function and significance changed in later decades. It seems that Kerr did not take his photographs with the aim of making money out of them. He describes his motivation as simply ‘offering to take a likeness’ of his ‘Aboriginal neighbours’ for their and his

Figure 18 H30158/18

Figure 19 H30158/26


Figure 20 H30158/16
Two women

Figure 21 H30158/28
Young stockman


Figure 22 H30158/29

Figure 23 H30158/14

Material culture

Figure 24 H30158/13

Figure 25 H30158/25

Canvas backdrop
amusement. Kerr felt obligated to the people; he kept his prints and showed them to the people on their later visits; and we are told that those photographed ‘laughed with…glee’ at the results. As a ‘gentleman amateur’, working when photography was in its infancy, and experimenting with the new technology, Kerr took images indiscriminately of people and things around him: Aboriginal implements displayed against a slab hut, distant views of the landscape, his station house, an unnamed European station hand, and some of the Indigenous people who moved across his land. Kerr knew by name those whom he photographed. We can be sure that, before each portrait was taken, a conversation occurred. We might wish that he had recorded the names of his Indigenous subjects, but neither did he record the names of the Europeans whom he photographed. For him, to record the location: ‘Fernyhurst, Australia Felix’, was enough.
The people whom Kerr photographed were undergoing great change. Despite illness, trauma and dispossession, many remained confident about their own world and retained traditional ways; and they were curious about European life, willing to explore and exploit aspects of this new world.42 Their participation in the process of picture-making is but one example of their curiosity and involvement. Many of the portraits show clear evidence of indigenous agency: the people are caught up in the process and participate willingly. In general, people, especially the younger men, face the camera with equanimity and self-respect, and they pose with objects that reflect their work and status. In front of the camera, some of the men acted out a part; others demonstrated a skill; people collected their most important tools to display; women tidied their hair; men posed in well-fitting European outfits or proudly showed the pattern incised into a new possum skin cloak; two young children showed off while their image was taken. The corroboree sequence is the result of a series of protracted negotiations and a commercial relationship between the men and the photographer. They only agreed to go to all the trouble of decorating themselves to show how a corroboree was danced when Kerr promised them ‘a considerable present’. The dancers also insisted that women could not participate during the day, and organised for some of the boys to play the role of women and provide the musical accompaniment. By negotiation, these Indigenous men shaped and modified the squatter's desires in accordance with their own priorities and customs. They remained in control of the process throughout, appearing and disappearing in the photographic sequence at will.
Kerr took his photographs with an eye to Europeans’ sensibilities regarding nakedness. There were limits as well to what the Indigenous people were prepared to do in front of the camera. Kerr reported that Indigenous men occasionally enjoyed showing off with a solitary article of discarded European clothing – a hat, a cravat, even a crinoline. But this play-acting was never captured by the camera. Even if Kerr had requested such a performance, the performer did not agree to be photographed in this way.43 European clothes appear in the photographs as part of the normal clothing of the men and women on the station.
Within a few years, probably soon after Kerr had moved from Fernyhurst, taking his photographs with him, the function of the images changed. Some of Kerr's subjects became transformed into ‘generic types’. Their individuality was diminished with captions like ‘Aborigine – Port Phillip 1835’ or ‘Lubras in Mia Mia’, and the location, provenance and date of the images were lost. They somehow became representative of a mythic, timeless period before the Europeans
arrived. A decade later, there was a further change. Photographs taken by Kerr for one purpose changed their focus when they were used to illustrate his autobiography. Thus the photograph of a great range of material culture – Aboriginal tools, baskets, toys and hunting equipment – received the misleading caption ‘Native weapons’; while a stilted portrait of two warriors posing as if to fight became an engraving called ‘Natives quarrelling’.
In a colonising society, Indigenous people may quickly become ‘types’, and their photographs may be taken and reproduced because they represent the ‘exotic other’. But not all photographs of Indigenous people were taken with these aims in mind. It is important to establish the original context and purpose of historical photographs when trying to interpret them decades later. I have argued that it is not necessary to read Kerr's photographs as a set of ‘ethnographic photographs’, with all the distancing baggage that the term implies. Rather, they can be seen as the product of experiments in photography, and the result of conversations between people who lived in close proximity with each other. The photographs reflect Aboriginal agency as the people of Fernyhurst present themselves, and are presented, in a range of reactions to their changing world. A decade later, at Coranderrk, some of the Dja Dja Wurrung people were again facing the camera, but in a very different context.44


List of Kerr's photographs of Indigenous interest

Figures 1–16, 18–31
Illustrations from Priston Album H 30158. Albumen silver photographs, ca. 1865-ca. 1875 and belong to the George W. Priston collection of photographs of Australian Aborigines. The location is LTAF 366.
Figure 17
John Hunter Kerr, photographer. Aborigine Port Phillip 1835. ca. 1851 – ca. 1855. Photograph on salted paper. Lang Album of views in Victoria 1849–1861. H82.277/9. La Trobe Picture Collection.
Long bark shelter scenes (two different bark shelters)
Camp fire scenes

Figure 26 H30158/17

Figure 27 H30158/1

Figure 28 H30158/9

Figure 29 H30158/31

Details from Corroboree scenes

Figure 30 H30158/30

Figure 31 H30158/33

Prince Jamie and his friend
General views
Bark hut scenes
  • Figure 13 H31058/8
  • Figure 14 H30158/27, also held by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, where it has been captioned by Kerr ‘Young Half Caste Boy on Possum Rug./ Fernyhurst, Australia Felix./ JHK/’ [On the back of the copy is ‘Reproduced by Public Records Photographer in May 1982 from original taken 1853.’ RHSV number is [ABR 23.1] [P 402–A]
Two men
  • Figure 15 H30158/19; also known from the Lang Album, H82.277/8, a salted paper print
  • Figure 16 H30158/24
  • Figure 17, known only from the Lang Album, H82.277/9
  • Figure 18 H30158/18
  • Figure 19 H30158/26, also held by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, where it has been captioned by Kerr ‘Native with original tomahawk and shield/Fernyhurst, Australia Felix/JHK’. [ABR-22.1] [P-401-A]
Two women
Young stockman
Material culture
  • Figure 22 H30158/29. An engraving from this photograph formed the frontispiece of Kerr's book in 1872.
Canvas backdrop
  • Figure 23 H30158/14
  • Figure 24 H30158/13, also known from the Lang Album, a salted paper print, where Lang has captioned it ‘Port Phillip 1835 Port Phillip Aborigine’.
  • Figure 25 H30158/25, also known from a salted paper print in the Lang Album, where Lang's caption is ‘Native Lad – Port Phillip 1835’.
Corroboree scenes
  • Figure 26 H30158/17, also known from the Lang Album, H82.277/10, a salted paper print, where Lang has captioned it ‘A Corrorobby’. Another salted paper print is in the RHSV collection, where Kerr's caption reads ‘Corroborie, held at night/Fernyhurst, Australia Felix/ JHK/Eugene Montague Scott’ and where a later caption is ‘Victoria – Corroboree on John Hunter Kerr's station on Loddon.’ [ABR – 21]. Museum Victoria's copy, another salted paper print, has the same inscription in Kerr's hand, XP 2586. An engraving based on this photograph was published in Kerr's autobiography in 1872.
  • Figure 27 H30158/1
  • Figure 28 H30158/9
  • Figure 29 H30158/31 is also known from Museum Victoria's collection, (a salted paper print, XP2587, where Kerr's inscription is ‘Corroborie held at Night/Fernyhurst Australia Felix/JHK/ Eugene Montague Scott’); and the Daintree collection in the Oxley Library.
Prince Jamie and his friend
  • Figure 30 H30158/30 is also known from the Daintreee collection in the Oxley library.
  • Figure 31 H30158/33


I would like to thank members of the Dja Dja Warrung community who shared memories of their families with me. I would also like to thank my colleagues at Museum Victoria whose discussions helped shape my thoughts, and two anonymous referees for their comments.

John Hunter Kerr, photographer. J Hunter Kerr's Station – Loddon Plains. Victoria. Photograph on salted paper. ca. 1851-ca. 1861. H82.277/5 La Trobe Picture Collection.

John Hunter Kerr, photographer. On J.H. Kerr's Station 1849. Photograph on salted paper. H82.277/12. La Trobe Picture Collection


I would like to thank the current owners of ‘Fernihurst’, Mr and Mrs Evans, for their interest and hospitality.


[J.H.Kerr], Glimpses of Life in Victoria by ‘A Resident’, Edmonston & Douglas, Edinburgh, 1872. The page references are from the edition published by Miegunyah Press in 1996.


Mary Lillias Drought, Extracts from old journals written by Frederic Race Godfrey (pioneer) of Boort Station, Loddon District, Victoria, 1846–1853, Compiled in 1926 by his eldest daughter M.L.Drought, Tytherleigh Press, Melbourne, 1926, p.69


Elizabeth Willis, ‘Exhibiting Aboriginal Industry: a story behind a ‘re-discovered’ bark drawing from Victoria’, Aboriginal History, Volume 27,2003, pp.39–58


Marguerite Hancock, ‘Introduction’, Glimpses of Life in Victoria by ‘A Resident’ [J.H.Kerr], Melbourne, Miegunyah Press, 1996, passim


Kerr, p. 137


By 1852, only 142 Dja Dja Wurrung people were counted in the census. Bain Attwood, ‘My Country’: a history of the Djadja Wurrung 1837 – 1864, Clayton, Monash Publications in History, Monash University, 1999, p.36


Attwood, p.39


Kerr, p. 113; Drought, p. 132


Kerr's descriptions of the Indigenous people are largely contained within Chapter 2 and 14 of his book. See also pages 113, 161, 174–5, 178, and 186.


R.E.Johns, Scrapbook, Volume 1, n.d., Museum Victoria collection. For Johns as a collector of Indigenous material culture, see Tom Griffiths, Hunters and Collectors: the antiquarian imagination in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1996, pp.28–54


Kerr, pp.11–12


Gael Newton, Shades of light: photography and Australia 1839 – 1988, Canberra, Australian National Gallery, 1988, p.8 Anne-Marie Willis suggests that gentlemen amateurs were attracted to photography because ‘it offered the challenge of science in its technical difficulty, the pleasures of art in the choice and arrangement of subject matter, and it also appealed to the empiricist's penchant for collecting and ordering the visible world’. Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing Australia: a history of photography, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1988, p.24


Kerr, p. 166, Joan Kerr, Dictionary of Australian artists:painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1992, p.424


The Royal Historical Society of Victoria has dated the prints held by them to between 1853 and 1857.


See paper by Madeleine Say in this volume. Marguerite Hancock suggested that Kerr's original photographs were calotypes, but this seems to be incorrect.


Scholars have noted how Aborigines used imitation to challenge the Europeans' right to use the land. Paul Fox, and Jennifer Phipps, Sweet damper and gossip: colonial sightings from the Goulburn and North-east, Benalla Art Gallery, 1994


Kerr, p. 150. It is worth noting that in the 1850s, photography was new and strange for Europeans and Aborigines alike. When in 1859 W. Stanley Jevons took a camera to the goldfields, he recorded ‘The diggers were highly amused at being taken, and only required a hint to stand in any desirable attitude…’, cited in Robert Holden, Photography in colonial Australia: the mechanical eye ad the illustrated book, Sydney, Horden House, 1988, p. 12


Kerr, p. 149


A calotype image of ‘Kitchen Hut, Gnarkeet Station, Port Phillip’ taken by squatter Robert Tennant before 1853 is in the collection of the Edinburgh Calotype Club. Another early photographer, John Cotton, had attempted but failed to sell images of Victorian Aborigines in England. Gael Newton, Shades of light, p.12. As a gentleman amateur, it is most likely that Kerr did not make prints for sale, but he might have presented them as gifts.


Cited in Jane Lydon, ‘The experimental 1860s: Charles Walter's images of Coranderrk Aboriginal Station, Victoria’, Aboriginal History, volume 26, 2002, p. 117


‘Album of Views in Victoria, 1849–1861’, Latrobe Picture collection, H82.277. This album was presented to the Library in 1982


Scott was operating in Melbourne c. 1864. Alan Davies and Peter Stanbury, The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841–1900, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1985, p.228. Jack Cato quotes another source that places Scott in Melbourne ‘in the 1850s’. Jack Cato, The story of the camera in Australia, Melbourne, Institute of Australian Photography, 1977, p.101


These images were donated to the RHSV by Mrs Howitt in 1932. Dr Godfrey Howitt, the Australian founder of the Howitt ‘dynasty’, was a friend of F.R.Godfrey. His nephew Alfred was the author of The Native Tribes of South-east Australia, London, Macmillan, 1904


These images came from the Daintree family through the offices of the Agent-General for Queensland in London. As well as Kerr's two images, it includes photographs of Aborigines that were probably taken by Antione Fauchery.


See the article by Madeleine Say, ‘John Hunter Kerr, photographer’ in this issue of the The La Trobe Journal, for a more detailed discussion of this attribution.


George W. Priston collecton of photographs of Aboriginal Australians, Latrobe Picture collection, H30158. When they came into the Library, the Stock Book described them as ‘A series of photographs of Aborigines in native state’. We might wonder if perhaps Frances Kerr sold Kerr's glass negatives to Priston as she was preparing to leave the colony.


Dixon Library, DL Pd 55, where it is described as ‘Queen Jerrybung/ Queen of the Kenyabanal. Boort & Loddon/Western Port District/Victoria/ From a drawing by J.H.Kerr, Esq.’


Official catalogue of the Melbourne Exhibition 1854, in connexion with the Paris Exhibition, 1855, F. Sinnett & Company, Melbourne, 1854, pp.35–36


Charles Walter, see Jane Lydon, op.cit, pp.78–130


Kerr, p. 147


Elizabeth Willis, op.cit., pp.45–50


For Fauchery's image, see Dianne Reilly and Jennifer Carew, Sun Pictures of Victoria: the Fauchery – Daintree Collection 1858, Melbourne, Library Council of Victoria, 1983, plate 47. See comment on the image in Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing Australia: a history of photography, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1988, p.55


I have compared the handwriting on the mounts of the Museum Victoria copies (in the same sequence as the RHSV copies) with a note in Kerr's handwriting held by the rare Book Section of the Monash University Library, and also with his signature (JHK) on the Dixon Library's drawing by him.


For Fauchery, see Reilly and Carew, op. cit. For Lindt, see Anne-Marie Willis, op. cit., p.205, where she describes how Lindt photographed Indigenous people ‘in his studio, surrounded by props and artefacts as if they were museum displays’.


Bishop Nixon of Tasmania, who, like Kerr, knew by name the Aborigines whom he photographed, also took their pictures against the outside wall of a house. See Newton, op.cit., p.49


Kerr, p. 14, 16, 145


For this description, see Argus, 7 May 1855. For the certificate, see Museum Victoria HT 01.728


Kerr, p. 17


The standing figure may be the same person who is photographed in Figures 28 and 29.


Paul Fox, ‘The Imperial Schema: ethnography, photography and collecting’, Photofile, Summer 1989, p. 10.


Richard Broome, ‘Aboriginal victims and voyagers, confronting frontier myths’, Journal of Australian Studies, no. 42, September 1994, pp.75–76. See also Kerr, pp.143, 150–151


Kerr, p.150


Lydon, op.cit., passim.