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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Which New Zealand photographer was reported dead in 1875, but actually died in Sydney in 1911?

Robert Henry Bartlett (1842-1911)

In the 1860s and 1870s Robert Henry Bartlett was a high-profile Auckland photographer. Like other photographic artists of the era, he found that persuading visiting actors and musicians to sit for him was a highly lucrative business. Such arrangements promoted both the photographer and the performer, and provided a steady source of income.

Reproducing photographs obtained from other sources was similarly rewarding. When Henry James O’Farrell shot and wounded Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, at Clontarf near Sydney, Australia in 1868, Bartlett quickly acquired cartes-de-visite of the prince and his assailant, and set about churning out portraits under his own name. Within a month he had sold some 1600 likenesses of the prince alone at one shilling each.

The scheme had unexpected results. After recovering, the prince made a brief visit to Auckland in December 1870, and Bartlett was invited to accompany the royal party to Rotomahana. Photographs he took during the expedition were displayed at his Queen Street studio, and he subsequently presented Prince Alfred with a set of 36 views of the colony. The prince reciprocated with the honorific title "Photographer to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh", said to be the only appointment of its kind in New Zealand.

Rumours of Bartlett’s death reached the Daily Southern Cross newspaper on the evening of 2 August 1875. But it was a Mark Twain moment, the photographer’s demise being much exaggerated. Earlier in the day Bartlett had suffered an epileptic fit, collapsing outside the New Caledonia Hotel. He was carried to a private residence, and prescribed rest and quiet as the best aids to recovery.

Bartlett continued to practise as a photographer in Auckland until well into the 1890s, despite a disastrous fire that destroyed his premises in September 1873, and repeated flirtations with bankruptcy. He died at the Rookwood Asylum in Sydney on 2 June 1911.

In 1868 Robert Henry Bartlett’s studio was on the upper floor of the building at the corner of Wellesley Street West and Queen Street (extreme left). At this point of his career he traded under the name of Bartlett & Co at the rather grandiose sounding New Zealand Academy of Photographic Art. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. 4-85)

1 comment:

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