The old and the new

1 July 2020
Historic photography reveals a curious moment in Sydney's history
For a short period in the early 1880s, two lighthouses stood on South Head in Sydney. The photographer Charles Bayliss captured their overlap in time.

In the historic photographs section of the Macleay Collections, a large mounted photographic print shows two lighthouses standing together. The photographer’s name, barely visible in its impression in the bottom left corner, reads “C Bayliss Photo Sydney”.

The two Macquarie lighthouses

The Macquarie Lighthouses – old and new, c.1883, photograph by Charles Bayliss, Macleay Collections.

Charles Bayliss (1850–97) was a commercial landscape photographer in New South Wales. After an early career working for Beaufoy Merlin and Bernhardt Holtermann, he set up his own studio. 

At a time when photography was out of reach of most people, scenic views were sold at the photographer’s studio and through agents such as stationers. They could be assembled into an album, mounted or framed. Views of Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan Caves were popular subjects.

Bayliss’s photograph captures a brief moment in Sydney’s past when the old and new Macquarie lighthouses on South Head stood closely together. The original lighthouse, designed by Francis Greenway, had commenced operations in 1818. By the 1870s, the tower was dilapidated and there was a need for a larger light, too big for the existing building.

A new lighthouse, designed by colonial architect James Barnett, was constructed from November 1879, commencing operations on 1 June 1883. The original building was demolished soon after.

The new structure was based on the design of the old. As the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on 27 February 1880, it was a “good, well-balanced and effective design; and possessing a bold and striking outline it affords in itself an excellent land-mark by day”.

Macquarie lighthouse

The new Macquarie lighthouse c.1883, photograph by Charles Bayliss, Macleay Collections.

After Bayliss’ death in 1897, the Australasian Photo-Review wrote of him: “As a landscape photographer he had few equals and no superiors.”

This rare image will be featured in the new exhibition The Business of Photography, the opening show in a gallery dedicated to historic photography in the Chau Chak Wing Museum.

Jan Brazier is Curator, History, Macleay Collections.
This article originally appeared in Issue 25 of Muse Magazine.

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