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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. 


Rouse Hill House and Generations of Lantern Slide Performances

Curator Dr Scott Hill knows scores of fascinating stories about the extraordinary collection of Rouse Hill House and Farm, one of the properties of Sydney Living Museums that is located between Parramatta and the towns of Windsor and Richmond in Sydney’s North-west.  But for Research Fellow Elisa deCourcy and Lead CI Martyn Jolly, one of the most exciting of his stories was the one about Dr John Buchanan Rouse Terry [b.1944], one of the sixth generation of the family to have lived at the house. As a boy in the 1950s he would take out the house’s antique magic lantern to give his grandmother Nina [1875-1968] a performance in the house’s School Room, using a bed sheet as a screen and a light bulb suspended inside the lantern. The show featured the wicked nineteenth-century children’s story ‘Pussy’s Road to Ruin’, and no doubt Nina loved the memories it brought back of her own childhood at Rouse Hill. Later, as a young man in the 1960s, John was inspired by his experience of the magic lantern to experiment with projections. He took a modern slide projector down into the cellar of the house and projected modern slides he had made with layers of collaged cellophane onto shapes covered with a mosaic of broken mirror to fill the dark room with psychedelic colour. (Dr Scott Hill with Rouse Hill House's antique magic lantern. Photo credit Martyn Jolly)

Visiting Rouse Hill with Scott Hill, we were immediately able to see why the House and its in-situ collection had been a magnet for contemporary artists such as Anne Ferran and Robyn Stacey. Like everything else in the House, the magic lantern with its collection of mechanical and panoramic slides has been wonderfully preserved, and their loving use by an actual family is immediate and evocative.

The Rouse Hill lantern is a ‘phantasmagoria’ lantern, one of the first type of magic lanterns which were mass-produced in the 1850s and 1860s. Although aimed at the home market its design skeuomorphically retained aspects of the Gothic phantasmagoria shows of the late eighteenth century. The lantern’s tall and bent chimney was designed to vent fumes while excluding all unwanted light from escaping into the room; wire handles were supposed to remain relatively cool so the lantern could be moved around as it projected its images; and black-rimmed ‘stops’ around the objective lens dealt with the chromatic aberration produced at the edges of the uncorrected lenses.

A phantasmagoria lantern very similar to the one at Rouse Hill was advertised extensively in the late 1860s in the Illustrated Sydney News by the mail-order firm George Richardson and Co. Cashed up Sydney-siders could peruse the firm’s illustrated catalogue of telescopes, opera glasses, model steam engines and magic lanterns which was held at the stationers Gordon and Gotch and, after making a bankers draft to the firm in Liverpool, wait for the eventual delivery of their “Elegant, Useful and Instructive Present” to Australia. The company’s newspaper advertisement illustrated a phantasmagoria lantern, which along with “one dozen slides, 14 inches long, mounted in mahogany frames, containing 50 views illustrating fairy tales painted in a very superior manner” could be ordered for five pounds five shillings. (A month’s salary for a probationary teacher. The Bill Douglas Collection at the University of Exeter also holds similar lantern, item number 69004.)

However the lantern and slides at Rouse Hill were not made by Richardson and Co. of Liverpool but by Newton and Co. of Fleet Street, London, one of the biggest retailers of optical equipment in the British Empire. The Rouse family most probably purchased them directly from Newton and Co.’s Fleet Street shop during their Grand Tour of Europe, which they undertook from March 1868 to Christmas time 1869. As they returned to Australia, stowed in the hold of the clipper Sobraon were not only their souvenirs of classical Europe in the form of a large portfolio of magnificent Italian views by the photographer Robert Macpherson, and copies of Italian old masters including Fra Angelico and Carlo Dulci bought from the studio of Louis Pisani in Florence, but also the latest entertainment from modern Europe in the form of the spectacle promised by magic lantern technology.

(Advertisement,,Sydney Illustrated News, 31 October 1868, p. 14)

After their return from Europe Edwin Stephen Rouse [1849-1931], the grandson of the founder of Rouse Hill, adopted the role of the country squire of the Rouse Hill estate, holding events for the district that featured plays, songs, recitations, fancy dress, and tableaux vivant. The Newton and Co. phantasmagoria would have fitted in very well with this conception of a significant family with significant holdings consolidating the empire. It joined the other technologies the family embraced: a magnificent table-top stereoscope along with a considerable collection of stereographic views, the Metrostyle Themodist Pianola along with its pianola rolls, the Philco shortwave radio, and eventually electricity to power lights and a television.

The lantern is still housed in its original box, and the optics including the three and three-quarter inch bi-planar-convex condenser lens assembly and the multi-element petzval objective lens are undamaged. The only thing missing is the lamp assembly which would have held a cotton wick fed by sperm whale oil into which powdered camphor had been dissolved to produce, as the instructions glued on the inside of the lid promise, “an intensely bright light without any smoke”. Three sets of panoramic slides are in perfect condition: 'Pussy’s Road To Ruin'; or do as you are bid, with which John Terry delighted his grandmother in the 1960s, was based on the popular moralizing children’s book by Madame de Chatelain, published in 1840. Another set illustrates the comic story of John Gilpin carried away by a runaway horse on the eve of his wedding. A third set illustrates 'The Tiger and the a Tub'. More information about these stories can be found on the Lucerna Magic Lantern Web Resource, and the illustrations of these slides can found at this important resource. The Rouses splashed out on other slides in London, including a magnificent chromatrope (although sadly its rack and pinion mechanism is now a bit crunchy) as well as a rack and pinion slide in which circles of fish swim around an underwater garden of shells and coral. Their memories of their grand tour are directly evoked in two hand painted slides, of the 14th century campanile of the Duomo in Florence, and the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. Like so many others in the nineteenth century the Rouses loved their comic slipping slides, and the number of broken slides in the collection suggests generations of enthusiastic Rouse children. Amongst the survivors however a gory tooth extraction and a dangerous barber’s shave with a cut-throat razor still work perfectly.

This magic lantern and its slides demonstrates that in the nineteenth century life at the Rouse Hill estate, although hours from Sydney and months from Europe, was nonetheless a life fully immersed in global culture and new technology, a life of media consumption, as well as cultural production.


Corsets, Inter-war Australian Femininity and the National Film and Sound Archive's Remarkable Collection of Berlei Lantern Slides

The National Film and Sound Archive holds an extensive lantern slide collection ranging from cinema slides, used in theatre advertising, song slides, employed in public recitals, and some of Australia’s first locally manufactured slides, such as Soldiers of the Cross. Elisa deCourcy spoke with curator, Jenny Gall and paper conservator, Shingo Ishikawa about the processes involved in lantern slide restoration. We also discussed a multi-set collection of Berlei instructional slides that fit rather uniquely in their archive. 

In 1910 Fred (Frederick) Berley bought the controlling share of E. Gover & Co., a small lingerie manufacturer in the Sydney CBD. Over the next decade along with his brother, Frank, he grew the business rebadging it in 1919 with the Frenchified and feminised iteration of his own surname: Berlei. Berlei grew from its boutique origins to be a powerhouse of Australian manufacturing in the interwar period by promoting its corset as a physically and morally essential item of every Australian woman’s daily apparel. In 1919 the company collaborated with physiologists from The University of Sydney to measure 6000 Australian women’s bodies. The outcome of the survey was to standardise Australian women in 5 figure types: ‘Average’, ‘Big Abdomen’, ‘Sway Back’, ‘Big Hip’, ‘Short Below [the] Waist’. In 1921 Berlei employed 280 fitters and manufacturers who were trained via lantern slide shows about their obligation to recommend corsets according to the Berlei typologies. By the 1930s the company had stores in all the Australian state capitals and were breaching overseas markets. (759879: [BERLEI : GLASS SLIDE : FIVE WOMEN WEARING DIFFERENT TYPES OF PINK CORSETS], National Film and Sound Archive Collection)

The Berlei slides are fascinating for how they gesture to social and political concerns about women’s sexuality and dress in the 1920s. Berlei’s massive profits and exponential expansion was not derived from a superficial overhaul of women’s lingerie styles. Rather, Berlei tracked a fundamental  continuum between its corsets and the piety and respectability of Edwardian femininity. Certainly, the company conceived of itself as retailing a more flexible and adept undergarment than the boned and restrictive turn-of-the-century corsets. As Jenny Gall pointed out in our conversation, their instructional lantern presentations began with slides about wellness and healthy eating habits, void of reference to lingerie. The NFSA collection is carefully numbered and sequenced into sets of instructional lectures. Opening slides in many of the lectures have a specifically Australian flavour linking sunshine and fresh foods to ideas about fitness. In a period where eugenic social discourses equated physical health and vitality with moral countenance and national character, it was vital that women’s couture allowed for them to be outdoors and active. Each instructional series then progresses to detailing how the corset associated with each feminine type aided and promoted the health of its wearer. Berlei distanced itself from the ‘risqué’, liberal and boyish sartorial trends of flappers. Its slides educated employees about the supposed damage inflicted on women’s digestion and reproductive capacity by going corset-less. The Berlei instructional slides provide an intriguing spotlight on how an Australian lingerie company carved out a marketplace for itself around retailing a product — or five core products — that codified and concealed women’s bodies. (Dr Jenny Gall and Shingo Ishikawa at the National Film and Sound Archive's Research Library, Canberra. Photo credit Elisa deCourcy)

(759898: [BERLEI : GLASS SLIDE : NO. 09, CHANGING WAISTLINE], National Film and Sound Archive Collection)

The Berlei instructional slides were manufactured by a relatively small photography studio, Linton Brothers, at 61 Market St, Sydney. Berlei also used hand-coloured slides for advertising, partitioned the middle of the glass plate to show ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of corseted and corset-less models. The NFSA are not the only institution to hold Berlei slides, with others appearing in the catalogue records of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (formerly the Powerhouse Museum). Nevertheless, the instructional sets entered the NFSA in the 1980s, in the first years of the institution’s existence. They add another important dimension to other theatrical, musical and early cinematic material in the NFSA’s collection. Some of the Berlei ‘before’ and ‘after’ advertising slides were probably used in theatre halls before shows and film screenings. Nevertheless, Shingo Ishiwaka pointed out the pristine condition of the slides. As a conservator he had only to extensively clean the cover class or replace the binding tape on a few of the Berlei slides, suggesting that they were likely sent straight from Berlei’s own archives to the NFSA. (759995: [BERLEI : GLASS SLIDE : INVITATION TO A FREE PRESENTATION OF 'BEAUTY IN THE BALANCE' AT THE SAVOY THEATRE : ADVERTISEMENT], National Film and Sound Archive Collection)

Further references:

Susan Best, ‘Foundations of femininity: Berlei Corsets and the (un)making of the modern body’, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 5 (1) 1991: 191-214

Anthea Hyslop, ‘Burley, Frederick Richard (1885-1954)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography,, accessed online 5 February 2017.

Shingo Iskikawa and Darren Weinert, ‘Preserving Glass Slides – History and Manufacture’, The National Film and Sound Archive online at:

Undercover (1984), dir. David Stevens. See: NB: this is a fictional recreation, set on a true story, of Berlei’s rise to a manufacturing powerhouse in 1920s Australia.


Sydney Camera Circle, Methodist Missionaries and the National Art Archive's Lantern Slide Collection.

In December 2016 the supremely knowledgeable Eric Riddler, who is Visual Resources Librarian at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, guided Elisa deCourcy and Martyn Jolly through two significant magic lantern slide collections in the National Art Archive, housed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. One collection has been in the Gallery for many years, while the other has just recently been acquired.

(Eric Riddler in the National Art Archive with John Whitsed Dovey’s magic lantern, and lantern slides by Henri Mallard. Photo credit: Martyn Jolly)

The first collection came into the Gallery in the mid 1990s as part of a gift from the family of Henri Mallard, a member of the Sydney Camera Circle, who were an elite group of Pictorialist photographers active from 1916 to the late 1970s. The lantern slide collection includes commercial slides of Australian subjects made by well know manufacturers and distributors such as T W Cameron of Melbourne, Stephen Spurling of Launceston and J W Beattie of Hobart. However most interesting are thirty-three slides made between 1933 and 1935 by Mallard. Mallard is best remembered today for his photographs of the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but he was also a significant figure in Australian photography and Pictorialism.

According to their inscriptions the slides, although not zoological, were produced by the University of Sydney Zoology Department. Perhaps Mallard had a connection to the Zoology Department facilities through the Taronga Park Zoo for whom he did some photography. The slides cover standard Pictorialist subjects: landscapes, tree studies, images of the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park, Sydney Harbour, and so on. Two of the slides, such as Circular Quay (c1930s), are also in the AGNSW collection as prints. Like many Pictorialists, Mallard experimented with different printing techniques such as bromoil, as well as toning, and there is evidence of similar experimentation in his lantern slides, one slide is toned a deep blue, and several more are handcoloured. Eric Riddler discusses in fascinating detail a beach scene Mallard made at Collaroy in the section ‘My Favourite Slide’ of the Heritage in the Limelight website. (Lantern slide based on Henri Mallard's, 'Circular Quay' c.1930s. Image supplied)

Amateur photographers regularly made lantern slides to show their best work to each other, and these slides indicate that the role of the magic lantern in Australian Pictorialism remains to be explored. (For instance in 1952 the Sydney Camera Circle arranged a testimonial evening for Harold Cazneaux, to which photographers from around the country were invited. The evening featured ‘Milestones’, a sequenced program of magic lantern slides made from his prints and toned to match. The projection was synchronized with an audio tape interview about the photographs between Cazneaux himself and the photographer Monte Luke. A version of ‘Milestones’, comprising 50 lantern slides and the tape recording, then travelled to camera clubs in Melbourne and Tasmania, before disappearing in Adelaide some time in 1953, just after Cazneaux himself had died.)

The National Art Archive has only recently acquired the collection a Methodist missionary, John Whitsed Dovey, who worked in China, Japan, Java, Tibet and the Philippines in the 1920s and 30s. The collection comprises over four hundred lantern slides, as well as hundreds of his negatives from which some of the slides were made. It also includes Dovey’s personal magic lantern, a ‘Reflectum’, which like so many lanterns has been modified many years after it was manufactured to take an incandescent bulb. The lantern slides form a series of lectures he compiled out of commercial slides as well as his own extraordinarily interesting photographs. The lecture topics include Japan, China, Australia and the history of stamps. The other slides come from commercial and missionary sources. For instance many slides in the lecture on China come from the ‘Lecture Department Laboratory’ of the YMCA in Shanghai, China. The lectures are still in their original wooden travelling boxes, and largely in the order in which Dovey lectured from them. A now fading note placed by Dovey in one box still sternly admonishes us: ‘These slides constitute one lecture, please do not disturb the order of the slides’. (John Whitsed Dovey, 'Street Barber' c. 1920-1930s)

Although the scripts to these lectures have been lost, their sequencing still illustrates Dovey’s point of view on the places he visited. For instance the Australian lecture takes us on a geographical journey, from Captain Cook’s landing point (of course), through the city, out to the Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains, then up to the Northern Rivers of NSW. As well as commercial slides, the Chinese lecture includes slides Dovey took of street life, such as people having their hair cut by street barbers, as well as evidence of the nationalist politics of the period. Some people look suspiciously at the camera. The Japanese lectures, of almost three hundred slides, many taken or manufactured by Takagi Teijiro, of Japanese culture and ceremonies.




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