Magic Lanterns on easy terms

I recently came across a study carried out by a researcher at the University of Exeter in the UK where, by searching old newspaper adverts, they found evidence that people in Victorian times could hire magic lanterns and slides for an evenings entertainment.

I fund this idea mildly intriguing, so I thought I would try a quick and dirty search of the NLA’s Trove to see if the same thing was happening in Australia.

First of all I used querypic to have a look at the occurrence of the phrase magic lantern in the newspapers of the time:

magic lantern

which shows that the phrase certainly was in use from the 1850’s to the 1900’s, when it started to tail off, perhaps because of the advent of the movies.

Naively, I though it would be quite easy to see if magic lanterns were being hired out. I thought that if I restricted my search to only advertising between 1850 and 1900 in Trove’s collections of digitised newspapers I would find evidence of people hiring out magic lanterns and slides.

Not a bit of it. All these lectures by worthy Victorian vicars on the lives of the indigenous population, or missionary work in China overwhelmed any adverts for the hire of magic lanterns.

There is of course the questions as to where the aforesaid vicars got their magic lanterns from. Did they buy them?, where they hired out by missionary societies, did they get the slide sets separately from the lanterns?

All questions for another day.

One thing that was clear though, was that by the 1890s, stores were advertising magic lanterns for purchase, as in this example from the Daily Commercial News of 11 May 1899:

which suggests that if people bought them for home use, they must have hired sets of slides separately.

Which of course begs the question of what sorts of slides. While undoubtedly some of the slide set would have been worthy, we know from the example of stereoscopes in the 1850’s, that one of the drivers could well have been to provide a means of viewing pornographic images at home.

While people might have been quite happy to got to an illustrated talk on missionary work in China, it was after all a social occasion that provided an opportunity to meet people, what people did behind closed doors and the sorts of lantern slides they looked at may well have been different …


A little more searching, this time for the phrase magic lantern slides has revealed that, as in this advert from the Express and Telegraph of 24 June 1868 in Adelaide, that slides and magic lanterns were hired out

Screenshot 2018-09-09 15.19.59

and that there were retailers of slides, both new

Screenshot 2018-09-09 15.19.05

and second hand

Screenshot 2018-09-09 15.18.38

what’s also interesting is that some of these must have come with pre written lectures to accompany them …

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Almost an unfortunate misunderstanding …

Recently we’ve been going out for the day scoping out places that might repay a visit, places such as local museums, abandoned town sites and the like.

We might pretend that this is related to our interest in local history but in truth it’s because we have builders, and sometimes they take over the house with machines and noise, and the simplest thing is to give them the keys for the day, and go for a drive.

Now if we were organised we could take a picnic, but we never are so we usually end up having lunch at a bakery in a small country town.

People in country bakeries are universally friendly and usually want to know your business, so we give them the abbreviated version of having builders in to renovate the bathroom, and usually they commiserate and we move on.

Not yesterday. After wanting to know what we were doing and where we were from, the bakery person gave us a curve ball.

‘My Tamsin’s going to Beechworth for the nipple’

I was sure she hadn’t said what I thought she had. And, in Australia it sometimes seems that everyone is from somewhere else and eccentric English pronounciation is not unusual. Best thing is to appear interested and hope things will explain themselves.

“Oh yes?”

‘Yes, there’s lots of girls going from all over for the nipple this weekend’

At this point I had a brain freeze. Ever since Ned Kelly was arrested at Glenrowan in the 1880’s Beechworth has been a sedate kind of place. All I could think of was a ‘free the nipple‘ demo disrupting the Saturday farmer’s market.

But then it all became clear:

‘There’s a big college nipple competition with teams from Bright, Thurgoona, Chiltern and all over.’

And then it clicked. The lady was saying netball, not nipple …

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It was only a throwaway comment, but one thing that tickled my fancy about the presentation on the MAMA archaeological dig was the comment that paperclips were not used before the 1890’s.

Actually they were. While the machinery was for making what we now think of as the classic paperclip was patented in 1899, paperclips were around well before then, as can be seen in this stationer’s advert from the Quenbeyan Age of 1880

Screenshot 2018-08-20 16.39.04

and there are others from the late 1870’s. If you do a search for “paper clip” in Trove you get the following result:chart

The peak in the 1850’s are possibly an artifact caused by a sudden burst of adverts in a West Australian paper, the peak around 1880 probably represents paper clips becoming common and a normal stationery item. Certainly the date coincides with the group of late 1870s patents in the US for paper clips.

This of course didn’t mean that people stopped using pins entirely – even when I started work you would still occasionally get documents pinned together, and banks in France used to pin banknotes to payment slips well into the 1980’s.

Still it’s interesting to realise that something you think of as pretty mundane was once new and innovative …

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MAMA – what lies beneath

Despite it being a pretty horrible sleety hail spattered day I had to go into Albury, so I decided to take in the presentation on the results of the archaeological dig that preceded the building of MAMA, the Albury art gallery in 2014-5.

Albury city library have now put some of the finds on display. It was billed as what had been found under QE II square, but it was really what had been found under the MAMA site.

Albury was first gazetted as a town in 1839, and grew slowly through the 1840’s. with two pubs by 1847. It was an important crossing point on the Murray,  and after the 1851 separation of New South Wales and Victoria was also the main border crossing between the now separate colonies.

After 1883, the New South Wales standard gauge rail network met the Victorian broad gauge system at Albury, and passengers travelling between Sydney and Melbourne would change trains at Albury, and goods would be transhipped between the two systems.

Albury was also where the Victorian and NSW telegraph systems connected – it’s important to emphasise that this is particularly important, as in the 1870’s the telegraph provided quick, near instantaneous communication between both the big cities on the east coast and overseas, in a continent bedevilled by large distances and poor overland communications. Even the railways didn’t help much due to slow speeds and long distances – for example, even as late as 2014, when we took the train from Brisbane to Cairns the journey still took over 30 hours.

MAMA is built around the old Municipal offices that date from 1907, but the site had previously been the site of the Albury telegraph office dating from 1868 and the old NSW Crown Lands office dating from 1878 where people both bought government land and registered claims to land.

In 1924 the Crown Lands Office, known as Burrows House, was sold to the NSW state savings bank. Prior to that the Telegraph office had moved elsewhere in 1886, and the old building had been used by Albury as municipal offices prior to their building a ‘proper’ town hall on the site.

It might have been suspected that given these changes there might not have been a lot left, but no, under the Burrows house site was a decent layer of administrative debris, pen nibs, pins – used to pin documents together before the adoption of paperclips in the 1890’s and inkwells, as well as thing such as discarded cigarette papers that must have fallen between the floorboards.

The telegraph office was equally interesting. Prior to the dig, it had not been known that the manager lived on site with his family, leading to a decent deposit of domestic rubbish, such as pottery, patent medicine bottles, child’s toys and the like.

The complete excavation report is available from Albury Library Museum, who also hold images of the artefacts, and the artefacts themselves, as well as the complete excavation dataset, which is available on request. The project was carried out by Archlink, a Melbourne based archaeological consultancy.

What is interesting is not only the range of the finds but the complexity of the site with the changes of purpose of the buildings reflected in the deposition layers

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We have a nineteenth century ceiling

When you own a wooden house, as we do, you rapidly realise that you don’t own a static dwelling, but a building that’s been subject to almost continual change – walls moved, indoor plumbing installed, external walls reboarded, extensions and the rest.

So much so, that we’re not exactly sure just how old it is. We say that the original miner’s cottage dates from the 1880’s but we’re not really sure. There’s an enormous lump of freestone masonry that may have been the base of the original hearth, that looks older than the 1880s, and when we found smoke stained bricks from the old chimney under the driveway they were characteristic soft fired handmade bricks, and probably from the nineteenth century.

What we do know is that the rather fine 1860’s front door and acid etched rose glass are not original to the house – our builder told us that he’d helped install them in a previous renovation and that they’d come from another house.

So to this week’s discovery …

The shower in the 1950’s main bathroom had started leaking, and as we’d always planned on a renovation, we decided to rip everything out and replace it with modern fixtures and fittings, rather than try and have it repaired.

So yesterday, the guys pulled all the old plasterboard sheeting and tiles off the walls, and pulled down the old and cracked 1950’s ceiling


and there we had it – the painted boards of the original nineteenth century ceiling. They’ve been so badly chopped about they can’t really be repaired, but it’s nice to know they’re still there …

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Patent medicines and nineteenth century globalisation


I spent a good part of yesterday documenting some nineteenth century patent medicine and cosmetic bottles. Many of the brands are totally unknown today, such as Beetham’s glycerine and cucumber, yet were well known in their time.

A fairly simple search of various online newspaper archives brings up myriad examples of advertising, and a search of various federated sites such as Collections Victoria and ehive in New Zealand brings up quite a few bottles, not to mention ebay and the other trading sites used by bottle collectors.

I’ve already written about Hayman’s Balsam of Horehound, but as you dig deeper, it was not the only example of a vanished product. Beetham’s glycerin and cucumber was made in Cheltenham, Kay Brothers Linseed compound was made in Stockport. And there are doubtless others that I havn’t come across yet.

And mixed in with the imported products are a range of locally made equivalents, such as Baxter’s Lung Preserver from Christchurch in NZ, Woods Great Peppermint Cure, and also from Christchurch Bonnington’s Irish Moss cough syrup.

So we can certainly say there was active patent medicine industry in New Zealand and the Australian colonies, with products being imported and sold within the various Australian and New Zealand colonies.

Equally products were imported from the UK, and advertised locally, often reusing the same advertising material as used domestically in the UK, sometimes amended to say things such as ‘available from all good chemists throughout Australia, New Zealand and the Cape colony’.

So why did the British manufacturers compete against local manufacturers?

I suspect that the answer is in part steamships – the development of shipping in the last three decades of the nineteenth century brought down the cost and difficulty of shipping goods from the UK, making it economic to compete with local brands.

Also, there was constant stream of migration from the UK and Ireland to Australia New Zealand and the Cape Colony, and these new migrants probably sought out products they knew and trusted.

We see something similar today where larger Woolworths and Coles supermarkets have a shelf or two of UK products such as Jaffa cakes, Penguins and (English) marmite.

In the nineteenth century, when few people could afford (or indeed trusted) doctors patent medicines, many of which were based on traditional herbal cures, perhaps with a dash of laudunum, or a generous alcohol base, had a major role in allowing people to manage run of the mill coughs, colds, chest infections and digestive problems.

And in an age when many things were unregulated, brand recognition was important, especially when your health, or the health of your children was involved. And I suspect that this helped sustain the trade in imported medicines – people stuck to brands they trusted and recognised …

Posted in Dow's project, Historical, Uncategorized, Victorian | 2 Comments

And where was Sebastapol?

One of the things which I found when researching the Catherine Morton story was that a lot of places had changed their names, and some places which existed didn’t exist anymore.

About what you’d expect. Sometimes it’s obvious where they were, Silver Creek is now a caravan park, and Stanley used to be Nine Mile, because it was guess what? nine miles from Beechworth.

Reids Creek, Reedy Creek and Woolshed creek are all the same creek, which was noted for alluvial gold. Along Reids creek were one the townships of Napoleon, Sebastopol and El Dorado. Well El Dorado is still there, but other names, such as Sebastapol and Napoleon are a bit more problematical, as these settlements simply don’t exist any more, but are easy to find, thanks to Ned Kelly.

Sebastapol was a large straggling settlement of pubs miners huts along the banks of Reid’s creek down from Woolshed falls. It’s famous in Ned Kelly lore for the ‘Charge of Sebastapol’ when a squad of troopers charged down the main street in pursuit of a member of the Kelly gang, making such a racket as to destroy any element of surprise.

The result of this connection with the Kelly gang is that while the town is gone, the Woolshed – El Dorado road is lined with markers showing the location of various places important to the Kelly story, which is useful as the town, and the accompanying settlements of Woolshed and Napoleon have gone to bush.

Mostly the original buildings would have been simple slab huts with shingle roofs and little in the way of tin or brick would have been used, with the exception perhaps of the bakers for their ovens.

The consequence is that even though there were over 20 pubs in town there is little or nothing left. The site of the Woolshed school is marked, as well as the sites of Sebastopol and Napoleon, the latter with some irrigation works still visible from the Chinese market gardens.

The bridge and pub at kangaroo crossing are also gone, with the crossing now a simple concrete ford on a dirt road, easy enough to cross when the river is low, but possibly not so easy after rain.

Everything else is gone to eucalypt scrub …

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