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The Australian National University

Archive in the Spotlight

Archive in the Spotlight is an initiative where one of the team investigates a lantern slide series held in a public or personal collection around Australia. This process involves research into the series and, on occasion, an interview with a curator, librarian, or private custodian. 


Recently, Lead CI, Martyn Jolly spent an informative morning at Museums Victoria with Lorenzo Iozzi, Senior Collection Manager of Images for History and Technology. Of all the collecting institutions in Australia Museums Victoria is the furthest advanced in making its magic lantern collections available for research and engagement. They have over 11,000 slides in their History and Technology collection, 3,000 slides in their Natural Sciences collection, and 1,500 slides in their Indigenous Cultures collection. Their slide collections not only include thousands of regular square glass slides, but hundreds of mechanical slides and panoramic slides as well.

(Image: staff working on the re-housing and digitalisation of lantern slides at Museums Victoria. Photo supplied)

(Image: staff working on the re-housing and digitalisation of lantern slides at Museums Victoria. Photo supplied)

About five years ago Lorenzo launched an initiative within the Museum to conserve and catalogue these slides. Over a period of five weeks, after almost a year of planning and preparation,  about thirty of his colleagues pitched in, removing the slides from their original boxes (which were preserved separately), barcoding, cataloguing, conserving, rehousing and photographing them. The metadata on the slide mount also captured in the photographs.  Using their individual expertise his colleagues added additional data to the online records. As a result not only are all the slides safe and accessible, but about 4000 are online waiting to be used.

Joining these 15,500 slides are about fifty magic lanterns which range from magnificent triunials, to humble toy lanterns. Where does all this material come from? Although the museum has been collecting lantern-slides since its inception in 1854, a large proportion of its current collection, over 5,500 objects, was acquired from the English cinema historian David Francis. He had assembled the collection in the 1960s, and in 1975 the then Australian Film Institute and the Victorian Government acquired it with a view to establishing a Melbourne Museum of the Moving Image. Although this initiative eventually contributed to the formation of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in 2002, by 1990 the David Francis Collection had been accessioned into Museums Victoria. David Francis became one of the developers of the British Film Institute's Museum of the Moving Image in the 1980s. Now, with his partner Joss Marsh, he is housing his current collection in the soon to be opened Kent Museum of the Moving Image(Image: Lorenzo Iozzi with a sample of Museums Victoria's lantern slides and magic lanterns)

A special feature of the collection are the astronomical slides, many of which are orrery slides, mechanically replicating the motion of the Newtonian universe using intricate rack and pinion mechanisms. For instance a wooden container with a sliding lid neatly holds nineteen astronomical slides, from 'Half Moon & Crescent Moon' to 'Tides: Spring Tides',  it’s a universe in a box. The printed reading explaining the heavenly motions illustrated in each slide can be found on Lucerna, the Magic Lantern Resource

As well as a the clock-work solar systems and illustrations of lunar eclipses, the museum holds a whopper mechanical slide measuring 270 x 170 mm. Although it is similar to slides made by Newton and Co, this one is too big for any ordinary magic lantern and was perhaps manufactured for an institution such as the Royal Polytechnic or the Adelaide Galleries. It illustrates night and day. At the centre of the slide a world globe seen from above the North Pole, with the continents scored by meridians, is surrounded by a bezel segmented into twenty-four hours. Around it revolves a sun bursting through painted clouds and a moon hiding behind painted clouds. Recently this astronomical material has been used for the PhD research of Martin Bush on the history and cultural meaning of science and astronomy in Australia. (Image: Astronomical slide from Museums Victoria's collection)

Much Museum material comes from the activities of Victorians. For instance the Museum holds over 2700 slides by the ornithologist Archibald James Campbell, 1853 to 1929, a keen member of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, and author of the book Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds, 1900. Scratching the surface reveals more intriguing images yet to be researched, such as some Autochrome slides of elegant Edwardian interiors.

Because of its size and breadth the Museums Victoria collection is definitely one of the most significant collections of its type, with rich content in scientific, social and technological history. It’s online database, which documents slides as both images and objects, as well as many lanterns and related ephemera, is also making the collection very accessible.: Lantern 

(Image: Lantern slide of Edwardian Interior)



Illuminating the Heroic Endeavours of C.Y. O'Connor and other stories from the Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

The Kerry Stokes Collection is a vast private archive, which includes a rich photographic collection generally and an impressive lantern slides specifically, that recalls unique aspects of Western Australia’s settlement and development. Collection curators, Emma-Clare Bussell and Erica Persak generously showed Chief Investigator, Jane Lydon and Research Fellow, Elisa deCourcy a sample of the collection.

(Image: Professor Jane Lydon with Kerry Stokes Collection curator, Emma-Clare Bussell)

Lantern slides were central to disseminating the plans and displaying the mechanics behind Charles Yelverton O’Connor’s ambitious project to pump water from the Mundaring Weir, just outside present-day Perth, five hundred kilometres to the inland towns of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. O’Connor was an innovative and skilled engineer. He had migrated from Ireland to New Zealand in the 1860s, where he oversaw the construction of the Greymouth-Hokitika-Christchurch railroad that cut across the mountainous South Island. His work in New Zealand had earned the attention of Western Australian premier Sir John Forrest who appointed him as the Australian colony’s Engineer in Chief in 1891. Over the next decade, O’Connor was deeply involved in overseeing numerous infrastructure projects including the new deep-set commercial harbour at Fremantle. The gold boom came to Western Australia belatedly, but spectacularly, in the late 1890s, funnelling in hitherto unlucky miners from the Eastern Australian and New Zealand goldfields into the state’s hinterland. The largely arid mining outposts of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie struggled supplying their burgeoning populations with water.

O’Connor’s slides were acquired by the Kerry Stokes Collection as part of a larger Australiana archive, known as the Robert Muir Collection. The slide set shows the engineer’s detailed plans for how water from the low-lying weir would be propelled up through a series of hydraulic arteries and pipes cross-country to the goldmining towns. There was much contestation over the ability for the pipeline to function effectively over such distance and because the water needed to move uphill. The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth) argued on 10 May 1901 that should the pumps fail the backward motion of the water to the weir would be ‘catastrophic’ (p.9). Page numbers from the plans and typescript text can be discerned in the covered margins of some of the glass plates. It is possible that this set was shown in political or public forums in a bid to quell opposition to the project. (Image: Drawing of the pump for the Coolgardie Water Supply, c.1900, Artist Unknown (2008.015.0718.12) - Kerry Stokes Collection)

Other slides, some of which are beautifully hand-coloured, show the progress of the project and labourers at work. The scheme employed hundreds of men. Yet, tragically, in tragically, in 1902, after being lambasted by the press and amid mounting political pressure over the project’s budget and management, O’Connor committed suicide. He never saw the conclusion of the pipeline in 1903, which was a resounding success that continues to transport water to Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie to this day. 

(Image: Coloured Image of the Goldfields Pipeline, c.1900, Artist Unknown (2008.015.0718.17) - Kerry Stokes Collection)

Lantern slides have an extended and complex history of use and display, as the research for this project is uncovering. Early performances began in Australia in the mid-nineteenth century and slides were still being used as a form of education and entertainment after the Second World War. The vastness of the Kerry Stokes Collection captures much of this vital history. The collection includes a sweet turn-of-the-twentieth century hand-painted panoramic slide of a children’s marching band, which has since been framed in thick card since its use. The colour of the figures as they marched across the screen 120 years ago would have been brilliant and mesmerising.

(Image: Erica Persak with panoramic slide of children's marching band)

Also part of the Kerry Stokes collection, are a mixed set of missionary slides – most likely from north-Western Australian missionary outposts and made in the mid-twentieth century. Many of these hand-painted missionary slides bear marked similarities in subject matter and finish slides to missionary slides in our Project database, especially those made contemporaneously and of Western Australian mission stations (see e.g. 'Kummunya children at play').  Members of our team from the University of Western Australia are looking forward to working in the Collection to identify those slides linked to Western Australian beach and seaside culture. The Kerry Stokes Collection is an important resource for historians of Australian magic lantern culture. 

Further reading:

W. Bede Christie, ‘The Coolgardie Water Scheme. Some Difficulties. Conclusion.’ The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth), 10 May 1901 p.9

A.G. Evans, C.Y. O’Connor: His Life and Legacy, Perth: UWA Publishing, 2002.

Merub Harris Tauman, ‘Charles Yelverton O’Connor (1843-1902)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography,, accessed online 6 April 2017.


Anthropological Slides at The Queensland Museum

Recently, lead CI Martyn Jolly visited the Queensland Museum, where he explored the Museum’s lantern-slide collections with Karen Kindt, Assistant Collection Manager, Anthropology, and the Indigenous curator Michael Aird, Research Fellow, School of Social Science, University of Queensland. The Museum holds several major collections of slides related to science, religion, and anthropology. An example of the diversity of the Museum’s collections are the slides produced by Charles Joseph Pound, a Queensland microbiologist who identified tick-born ‘redwater fever’ amongst Queensland’s cattle and in the late 1890s and gave many lectures to Queensland farmers exhorting them to inoculate their herds.


Also of interest were slides produced by Bert Roberts of the long-established Ipswich family of coach builders and transport pioneers. He documented items of local interest including Aboriginal communities. It is probable that he was at the Brisbane Show Grounds in 1892 to photograph Indigenous performers from the travelling show ‘Meston’s Wild Australia’. (For more information on these performers see: Wild Australia: Meston’s Wild Australia Show 1892-1893, Michael Aird, Mandana Mapar and Paul Memmott, University of Queensland Anthropological Museum, 2015.)

(Image: Wild Australia performers, Brisbane, 1892, from the Roberts Family Collection)

(Image: Boxes of ‘Primus Junior Lecture Series’ chromolithographic slides with their readings)

Karen, Michael and Martyn also saw a large collection of slides that had been donated to the Museum in 1978 by The Reverend Clarence (Clarrie) Trudgian, Superintendent of the Brisbane City Mission from 1939 to 1980. Amongst the familiar scriptural images, which must have been used for Sunday School, were a large collection of intact boxes of lurid chromolithographic transfers from the ‘Primus Junior Lecture Series’, all complete with their printed readings. They give a vivid insight into colonial visual culture aimed at children in the early twentieth century. Besides the patriotic ‘Our Colonies’, other comic sets had enticing names like ‘Gag-Jag the Rejected’, ‘A Country Courtship’, and ‘Sweep and Whitewasher’. (These sets are available for viewing on the Lucerna magic lantern web resource

The Museum also holds one of Clarrie Trudgian’s original lectures, complete with its wooden travelling box and handwritten list of captions. ‘War and Peace’, a lecture of 74 slides, recounts Trudgian’s experience during the First World War, where he served on the Western Front after training in North Africa and before returning home via South Africa.

Another intact lecture, where the slides remain in order and have been kept together with the lecture they illustrated, is also extremely significant. A O C Davies was a school teacher on Murray Island in the Torres Strait from 1924 to 1925, his ethnographic lecture of 92 slides is accompanied by its complete script and relates in personal detail his interactions with the local people.

Heber Longman, director of the Queensland Museum from 1918 to 1945, also left behind a collection of hundreds of anthropological slides, still ordered in their original boxes, but without the ‘scientific’ lectures they would have illustrated. As a botanist and zoologist Longman’s collection appears intended to use anthropometric and photographic ‘evidence’ to ‘rank’ human ‘races’ in a global hierarchy. As such, it remains as compelling evidence of the power of the slide lecture in promulgating now discredited views of race.

Amongst the slides sourced from around the world, Longman’s collection contains images originally taken by Walter Roth, an early anthropologist, ethnologist and ‘Protector of Aborigines’ in north Queensland between 1898 and 1906. The Museum holds two slides of images which were very controversial and the subject of much public discussion and parliamentary debate in 1904 and 1905. The slides are of two Aboriginal people paid by Roth to demonstrate a sexual position ‘with a view’, in Roth’s words, ‘to ascertaining the connection (if any) between the highest apes and the lowest types of man’ This controversy eventually lead to Roth’s resignation in 1906, however because the images have been made into lantern slides, they must have once been displayed to other anthropologists in a lecture. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Longman had used these slides in his lectures. (For more information, see Dr Helen Pringle, The fabrication of Female Genital Mutilation: The UN, Walter Roth and Ethno-Pornography). (Image: Diagram from a lecture on race. Heber Longman collection)

Another large and significant collection of anthropological lecture slides is that assembled by Herbert John Wilkinson, foundation Professor of Anatomy at the University of Queensland in 1936. They were donated to the Museum in 1988 by Dr Walter Wood, then of UQ’s School of Anatomy. Before coming to Queensland, Wilkinson had been lecturing in Anatomy in Adelaide. In 1931 he joined an extensive anthropological expedition to Cockatoo Creek in South Australia’s north.  (For more information see Philip Jones, Images of the Interior: Seven Central Australian Photographers, Wakefield Press, 2011) Wilkinson’s slides beautifully and movingly document aboriginal life and ceremony, as well as the activities of the other anthropologists on the expedition, who he records busily filming and photographing their subjects. One of Wilkinson’s slide boxes is labeled ‘Inaugural Lecture’. This mysterious label prompted the question for us: are they his inaugural lecture as an Anatomy professor at the University of Queensland in 1936, or perhaps the lecture he gave as founding President of the Anthropological Society of Queensland in 1948? (Image: Herbert John Wilkinson, Cockatoo Creek, 1931)

Martyn Jolly, Karen Kindt and Michael Aird were only able to spend such a fascinating morning amongst this material because of the earlier work of Michael Aird himself. Back in the mid 1990s, as an Indigenous researcher employed by the Museum, he had identified previously uncatalogued photographic images related to Indigenous Australians which was dispersed throughout the Museum’s collections. He began to register them to the ‘ethno-historical collection’ and begin a new database. On each slide, alongside the original slide maker’s slide number or label, assigned from within the taxonomy of the original collection or lecture, Michael had written a new number belonging to the Museum’s ‘EH’ collection. This palimpsest of taxonomies, attempting to locate the slippery magic lantern slide as it slips between different times, authors, owners, users, genres and, ultimately, meanings, is starkly and materially exemplified by the Queensland Museum’s collection where, as in all collections, power and memory compete to make history. As they continue to catalogue and reproduce their collections of magic lantern slides, the Queensland Museum will continue to make more personal connections and reveal more about the historical apparatus of knowledge in Queensland’s institutions. (Image: Michael Aird at the Queensland Museum) 






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