Four black and white portrait family photos taken in New South Wales between 1900 and 1930.

Historic photography collection

Picturing life in Australia, the Pacific Region and beyond
A diverse collection of historic photographs and a vital part of our visual culture.

With more than 60,000 items, the historic photograph collection is a collection of photographs documenting life in Australia and the Pacific region, and beyond, from the late 1840s to the 1960s. The collection includes portraits, views and scenes, family collections, travel albums, scientific photography and images of Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander people and places through a range of photographic processes. It reflects the work of both commercial and amateur photographers. The life of the University can be seen in the departmental teaching lantern slide collections.

A small collection of historic photographic equipment represents the changing technology of photography.

Photograph of Circular Quay[Circular Quay], Sydney, NSW, photograph: John Paine

The holdings from several commercial studios are a highlight of the collection, allowing the work of several major Sydney studio photographers to be studied.

William Hetzer Collection

1854–67, 42 photographic prints, stereoscopic views of Sydney and NSW.

John Paine Collection

c.1875–1908, approx. 500 photographic prints, views of Sydney NSW, and the Pacific.

Kerry Collection

c.1890–c.1917, more than 3000 glass negatives mainly from the Kerry and Co studio. The majority are views of Sydney and country NSW towns taken for postcards – also portraits of First World War soldiers, and personal photographs attributed to Charles Kerry.

J. G. Park Collection

1910s–1920s, approx. 1500 glass negatives and prints, Leichhardt and Sydney views and scenes, many studio portraits including First World War soldiers.

Hall and Co. Collection

c.1930s, more than 600 glass negatives, aerial views of Sydney, images of horse-racing, sheep and other animals.

Photograph of six women from 1914Our Table, 1914

We hold the following collections of images recording the University of Sydney from the mid-19th century.

Archibald Liversidge Collection

1872–1907, more than 300 items, collection relating to the teaching of Archibald Liversidge, professor of mineralogy and chemistry, University scenes and lectures, mineral specimens, some family photographs. 

Edward Hufton Collection

c.1894–1915, 50 items, Hufton was chief attendant in the chemistry department from 1891 to 1917; family portraits, University scenes.

John Shewan Collection

1890s–c1934, approx. 200 items, Shewan was technical officer in physiology from 1883 to 1910, then acting curator of the Macleay Museum from 1911 to 1934, views of University buildings and interiors, specimens.

Lewis Hay Sharp Collection

1915–1930, 24 prints, Hay Sharp was a lecturer in engineering and a skilled pictorialist photographer, views of the University of Sydney buildings, also views of Victoria.

Ellice E. P. Hamilton Collection

c.1910–1920, more than 500 items, University of Sydney geology student, images of University life, excursions, views of Sydney and other areas, family.

Harold Cazneaux Photographs

1920s, 12 prints, views of the University and students.

William J. Dakin Collection

1928–1948, William J Dakin was professor of zoology, negatives for the plates for his publication 'Australian Seashores', photographs of marine invertebrates and field trips, material relating to E. A Briggs and Elizabeth Pope.

Walter L. Waterhouse Collection

1920s–1940s, approx. 50 items, Walter Lawry Waterhouse was professor of agriculture, glass and film negatives, and transparencies relating to his agricultural research work, especially wheat.

Dorothy Powell Albums

1926, 1928, Dorothy Powell was a lecturer in geology at the University of Sydney, the albums document trips to Perth for the Science Conference in 1926 and to Tasmania in 1928.

University Lantern Slide Teaching Collections

Lantern slides were used across the University for teaching and public talks until the 1950s. Our collections come from a number of departments including: agriculture, anthropology, botany, chemistry, engineering, French, geology, geography, German, medical entomology and music.

Photograph of the Three Sisters, Katoomba, NSW, 1898The Three Sisters Katoomba Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund, Katoomba, NSW 1898, photograph: EB Docker

The taking of landscape views, local scenes and events were popular subjects for both commercial and amateur photographs.

Popular formats of stereographs and postcards are well represented.

The following list details significant collections by skilled amateur photographers.

Robert Hunt Collection

1855–1892, more than 400 items, views of and around Sydney, also of family and friends.

E. B. Docker Collection

1890–1914, 54 stereographs, views around Sydney, mainly of the Blue Mountains.

Cecil Harnett Collection

1910s–30s, more than 2000 items, views of Sydney, particularly the northern beaches, and NSW, family and holidays.

Photograph of Floris St George, Wimbledon, 1925Floris St George, Wimbledon, 1925

Photographs of people’s lives beyond the domestic sphere are reflected in the capturing of work and industrial settings, people enjoying leisure activities from picnics, camping to sport, or images of cultural activities.

Collections of interest include:

Photographs relating to ‘Wizard’ Smith

c.1931, photographs relating to the attempt on New Zealand's North Island by Norman 'Wizard' Smith to win the Sir Charles Wakefield land speed record trophy from Donald Campbell. Subjects include motor racing, sport, motor vehicles, earthquake. Item list available for reference.

Floris St George Albums

1914–25, four albums, two are scrapbooks of cuttings, album 4 relates to tennis. Floris St George (1887–1968) actress, active tennis player in the1920s. In 1927 Floris St George married Roland Conway, a stage and film actor during the 1910s to 30s.

Golden Cob Collection

1916–58, 25 photographic prints. Images relating to the Golden Cob bird seed business (1916–58), Balmain, Sydney.

Tasmanian TigerThylacinus cynocephalus [Tasmanian Tiger], photograph: SW Jackson

Photography relating to science is mainly represented by collections relating to the University of Sydney. Other collections of scientific interest are:

Priestley Antarctic album and prints

c.1907–09, album of 13 images captioned 'A few animal pictures taken by the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09/Laura White with best wishes Ray Priestly 18/3/10'.

Mel Ward collection

c.1930s–60, collector and naturalist, lantern slides and crustacean research cards.

J. S. P. Ramsay collection

1890s–1940s, bird photographer. Sydney & NSW views, Ramsay family and friends.

Sidney Jackson collection

1890–1940s, bird photographer, bush trips to northern NSW and Queensland.

Mariwuda and Muringa crossing salt arm on Timor coast in a dug-out canoe, Wadeye, NT, Australia, 1934[Mariwuda and Muringa crossing salt arm on Timor coast in a dug-out canoe], Wadeye, NT, Australia 1934, photograph: WEH Stanner

Around 10,000 images documenting Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander peoples’ lives in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Due to the reproducible nature of photographs and the wide circulation of early ethnographic imagery in academic circles, single images and parts of collections are often located in different institutions. In addition, copyright and conventions for crediting original artists were less stringent than they are now. For example, if a studio purchased someone’s photo, they often reprinted under their own name. These aspects add additional layers of complication to collections which already have potentially myriad cultural, social and historical interpretations. The collections are not fully itemised or digitised and many are the subject of ongoing internal and external research. We welcome genuine requests for access to the collections. Please email if you have an enquiry about the historic photograph collection.

Featured image (top of the page): [Eight portraits on single plate], NSW 1900–30, photographs: JG Park (detail)