II — Foelsche's Darwin
Foelsche's earliest Territory photographs were taken in Port Darwin and Palmerston. His is a unique record. Today, after three cyclones, World War Two bombing and more than a century's development, Foelsche's Darwin has all but vanished…
When Paul Foelsche arrived at Port Darwin in January 1870, the township had begun to expand from Goyder's survey camp, at the base of Fort Hill, to the plateau above. As the new streetscapes took shape, Foelsche began making his record of the town.
In photographing early Darwin, Foelsche raised his tripod on a platform, so that his eye met a building's roofline, much like a portrait. He also positioned people in his photographs, a little like characters in a play.
Photographs of Darwin
1. Palmerston from Fort Hill, March 1887
Foelsche took this photograph during an early morning in March 1887, from the top of Fort Hill. The panoramic view to the north takes in the glassy waters of Port Darwin harbour, with the bowsprit of the four-masted barque Euphrates just visible at right.
The original Fort Darwin settlement of 1869-70 occupied the gully at the lower left, before expanding onto the plateau above into the town of Palmerston. The long government workshop buildings were converted from their original role as stables for G.W. Goyder's survey teams. The house close to the shore was the Senior Surveyor's residence.
The viewer's eye is drawn to the elaborate Moorish-style mansion built by the architect J.G. Knight in 1884, overlooking the harbour. The town of Palmerston is situated on the plateau above. The gabled roof of the imposing Government Residence is visible at left, and a line of government buildings, including the British-Australian Telegraph offices, completes the skyline.
2. The Commercial Hotel, Mitchell St, February 1874
The newly-built Commercial Hotel on Mitchell Street, photographed in February 1874. It was one of Darwin's first hotels, and offered 'good drinks of all descriptions'.
Foelsche's photograph records the transient forms of the frontier town's bush architecture. During the 1880s most wooden, bark-roofed buildings of this sort were replaced by stone and iron structures.
The stump in the right foreground suggests that a tree was felled to clear the view for this photograph, which takes in the wider streetscape and the hotel's outbuildings.
3. View of Mitchell Street to south-east, 8 June 1875
Foelsche's photograph of this early Palmerston streetscape features the newly erected telegraph line which connected the small township 2,000 miles south to Adelaide, and 11,000 miles north to London.
Like many of Foelsche's streetscapes, this photograph has been taken from a slight elevation, probably from a portable platform, about 1.2 metres high, which Foelsche constructed for the purpose.
A closer examination of this photograph reveals more detail: the waggoner about to drive off from the vacant block, men standing outside their businesses on Mitchell Street, and the roots at the base of the first telegraph pole, which is actually a tree.
4. Skelton's Stores, Bennett Street, 11 June 1875
Foelsche photographed Skelton's Stores on Bennett Street on 11 June 1875. One of a series of photographs of Palmerston businesses, Foelsche probably submitted this photograph to the 1876 Philadelphia International Exhibitions. It helped to illustrate the commercial potential of the Northern Territory and its new township.
Skelton's business was licensed to sell wine and spirits as well as a wide range of hardware, some of which can be seen on the verandah. Two years later the proprietor, Joseph Skelton, became the publisher of the town's first newspaper, the Northern Territory Times.
5. Entrance to first Government Gardens, 1876
The entrance to the 'Government Gardens', an experimental nursery and plantation at Fannie Bay, run by the botanist Dr Maurice Holtze from 1878 to 1891. Foelsche's photograph was an important inclusion in International Exhibitions, helping to demonstrate the South Australian government's commitment to agriculture in the tropical north.
Seventeen Chinese gardeners were employed under Maurice Holtze and assisted in introducing several exotic plants. Holtze grew trial crops of coffee, eight varieties of sugar cane, tobacco, arrowroot, rice, peanuts, tea and cotton. With so many experienced gardeners to tend them, most crops flourished in the Gardens, but generally failed under ordinary conditions.
A fellow German, Holtze probably inspired Foelsche's interest in botanical collecting and introduced him to Australia's foremost botanist, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.
6. The Chinese Gardens and Palmerston Hospital, 1878
This image is one of two resulting from an official request in September 1878 for Foelsche to photograph the newly-built Palmerston Hospital.
The view from the south takes in the Chinese vegetable gardens, channel-irrigated from Peel's Well, Chinese dwellings on the foreshore, and the Hospital itself, sited on the East Point headland, at a safe distance from the town for infectious cases.
In the far distance, on the slope in front of the Hospital, we can just discern the wooden platform which Foelsche used to take the closer view of the Hospital.
7. View of Mitchell Street, June 1879
A view of Mitchell Street, Palmerston, in June 1879. Foelsche's main object here was to record the streetscape, from Vaiben L. Solomon's galvanised-iron auction house and agency at left to the newly completed police station at right. In composing this scene, Foelsche needed to eliminate all moving figures, to prevent blurring, and this left him with an empty foreground. He fiilled it with his police spring-cart, and placed a man in tropical garb next to it, holding a broom.
Several observers stand in front of the buildings, apparently also positioned there by Foelsche. Those at Solomon's store include the black-bearded proprietor and one of Foelsche's police troopers. One of the town's new Chinese residents stands at left.
8. P.R. Allen & Co's store, June 1883
P.R. Allen's general store in Mitchell Street, June 1883. Allen was one of the original Palmerston merchants, commencing business in a tent on the Esplanade in 1875.
Among other items, the shop windows display tins of cocoa and Colman's mustard. The two Aboriginal men may have been employed to make deliveries for the store, using the handcart and trolley, but here their main role was to add a human dimension to the photograph, and to draw the viewer's eye to the shop itself.
One of P.R. Allen's employees, William Barnes, later assisted Foelsche with his photographic printing.
9. Officers' quarters, The Camp, June 1883
This June 1883 view of the Government Residence overlooking Palmerston, and the officers' quarters below it, is a reminder of the extent to which this small frontier township was regulated by colonial authority.
The photograph provides a fine example of Foelsche's meticulous composition. He has placed the human figures and the carriage to best effect, and his lines of perspective converge at top and bottom. The large bucket was probably used in dredging or clearing the harbour.
10. View of Camp, Knight's house in foreground, August 1885
Foelsche's view of the original site of the Fort Darwin survey camp, photographed during August 1885.
The Government Residence is visible at upper right, but a Moorish-style mansion dominates the scene. Known as 'Knight's Folly' or 'The Mud Hut', it was designed and owned by J.G. Knight. He had been the architect of Melbourne's Parliament House and designed several early public buildings in Darwin. Built in 1884, partly of concrete, it survived two cyclones but was destroyed by fire in 1933.
Foelsche has drawn the viewer's eye to the horizon, where the Royal Navy's survey vessel, HMS Myrmidon, lies at anchor. In 1888 Foelsche assisted William Saville Kent, the naturalist aboard this survey ship, with his marine survey of the Port Darwin coast.
11. Palmerston Hospital, September 1878
The newly constructed Palmerston Hospital, showing the ward built with a donation from Adelaide philanthropist Louisa Da Costa. Foelsche photographed the hospital during September 1878, on her behalf, using a specially constructed platform for his tripod.
12. The Commercial Bank of Australia, March 1887
The Commercial Bank of Australia building on the corner of Bennett and Smith Streets, designed by architect J.G. Knight. The building was photographed by Foelsche in March 1887. Its surviving façade houses the Paspaley Pearl company.
13. The Palmerston Town Hall, Smith Street, March 1887
The Palmerston Town Hall on Smith Street, completed in 1883 and photographed by Foelsche in March 1887. The building was destroyed by Japanese bombs in 1942, but the ruins have been preserved.
14. The Northern Territory Times newspaper office and J.T. Bull's general store, October 1885
The Northern Territory Times newspaper office and J.T. Bull's general store, photographed by Foelsche in October 1885. J.T. Bull is the tall man standing in the doorway.
15. The Mining Exchange, Smith Street, 1888
This solid stone building was designed by J.G. Knight as new premises for the auctioneer and merchant V.L. Solomon, the black-bearded figure standing second from left. Opened in 1885, it became known as Solomon's Emporium.
Solomon invested in several mining syndicates, and by September 1888, when Foelsche took this photograph, the building was being used as a mining brokerage. The building subsequently served as a bank, a torpedo workshop during World War Two, and the Crown Law Office. Today, as Brown's Mart, it houses a community theatre. It has survived three cyclones, the Japanese bombing and Darwin redevelopment.
Foelsche positioned Solomon and other Darwin businessmen in their tropical garb, and added a Chinese delivery boy for effect. Foelsche's son-in-law, H.W.H. Stevens, stands at right, drawing on his pipe.
16. Port Darwin jetty from Stokes Hill, September 1888
This scene of maritime progress and industry, photographed from Stokes Hill in September 1888, provides a vivid reminder of Darwin's early role as a trading port and its links to the wider world.
The newly-built jetty enabled ships to be loaded and unloaded more efficiently, using the Sandfly, a small steam locomotive. The Sandfly was also used in the construction of the North Australian railway from Port Darwin to Pine Creek. It is now preserved at the Berrimah terminus of the new transcontinental Ghan railway.
By the 1880s large sailing ships or 'clippers' like the one at the jetty were being supplanted by ships combining sail with steam power.
17. Palmerston Archery Club, 1880s
Foelsche's study of afternoon tea at the Palmerston Archery Club, in about 1888. Several members of this club were also active in Palmerston's theatrical society. This helps to account for the mannered elegance of the group, who were probably very familiar with Foelsche's style of photography, in which he placed his figures with great care.
By the 1880s Palmerston had its own library, institute, theatrical society and sporting clubs. The archery club welcomed women as members, including Foelsche's daughter Mary, who won the open competition in 1888. She received an engraved silver tray as a prize. In this carefully composed photograph Foelsche has placed her at right, against the bullseye, being offered a cake.