Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Long Dead Relatives Popping Up Everywhere!

Now I'm sure you'll be thinking I'm just making this all up ... but some mid-C19 relatives might have made an appearance in my study this afternoon!

Actually should I be saying 'yet more' cos, as you may remember, I posted last month on a recently uncovered photograph sent me of two new mid C19 relations:

This is it - today, just before lunch, I was 'dismembering' these two framed colour-tinted etchings to be better able to scan them into the puter.

A kind of current mania with me!

And discovered that their glass backings were in fact silver gelatin on glass photographs!!!

One in quite good condition ...

... and showing (it seemed) a resemblance to my great grandmother (her own mother?) ...

... and the other rather too damaged to make much out ...

My paternal grandmother grew up way out in the bush, well away from towns of any kind. She told me how hawkers would drive round the countryside in horse-drawn 'vans' which functioned as shops selling 'darning wool or strong black cotton ... or new stockings'. She recalled one hawker called Bob, who used to periodically visit the farm 'to stay the night ... do his washing, give his horses a spell and tidy up his shop' (from a story she wrote about a family pet, a Shetland pony).

Last century in the bush, home decorations and ornaments were often home-made.

As a consequence and throughout her life, my grandmother created little framed pictures using images from newspapers, magazines and so on. So I always imagined she or one of her sisters had made these two beautiful little objects - perhaps as girls. And would have used whatever was available for their backing. Though it's hard to imagine she'd have used old family photographs - but equally odd that she'd have had another family's photos to use.


There IS one more piece to this puzzle!

I've just phoned my sister, having earlier emailed her these two images. And she said she had copies of them! In a tiny leather bound book encased in a small leather box. Really!!!

She'd been given them a year or two ago on the death of the executor of my mother's estate - apparently he'd been entrusted to their safe-keeping for some reason.

Such care-taking would suggest (to me) more than just a treasured object. Something of irreplaceable family significance.

Or is does this all have some other explanation? And these are no relations what-so-ever?

I'm waiting for the next chapter to unfold!

And at this rate, it should only be a few weeks!


  1. One Who Lived To Regret It.February 3, 2009 at 6:49 AM

    Hi Nick!
    I have to say, as a history major in college, that this whole thread is fascinating. The ladies in your family were certainly handsome women. I love the china-blue eyes your great-grand mother had, and that gentle smile playing around her lips. I bet she was fun!

    I'm glad you're scanning these and saving them digitally. Paper and photographic ephemera like these are so easily destroyed by light, atmosphere and handling.

    My friend Allison, whom you may recall commented on the last posting, thinks the photo of the first lady, in the dark dress, might date from the 1840's to the 1860's. Allison says "...and tell him I think it might be an old material called bombazine." She was also very interested in the panel of hand smocking at the base of the bodice. All of this is our own suppositions of course. But isn't it cool to "just suppose" sometimes?

    I have a feeling that your "Outback" was very much like our "Old West" in this country. Widely separated ranches, itinerant merchants, folks living from one harvest to the next. Does it snow in Australia? In our midwest and west the winters can be horrific.

    Your blog is always stimulating... one way... or another!

    Best regards from the opposite side of the Earth,

  2. One Who Lived To Regret It.February 3, 2009 at 7:00 AM

    Okay, one more comment and I promise we'll go back to studying and leave you alone. Allison thinks the two hand-tinted engravings are cut from a lady's magazine called "La Mode Illustree." Additionally, we looked very carefully at the right hand picture, and is the lady in the engraving smoking a hookah??


  3. hey josh

    good to hear from you (both) again!

    the smile seems tinged by sadness or maybe it's just the reflective mood the photographer suggested. and coming forward in time, this woman reminds me very much of my elder sister - the structure of the face is the same.

    i agree with you both about the period - on the basis of the hairstyle and the bodice of the dress - though Allison has much more expertise in this. and please thank her for the the identification of the bombazine material - i'm off to google it when i finish this!

    and as you say, supposing is the best! how bout a new field - 'suppositional history'?

    you are right about the relation of the outback to the old west - we had a gold rush in 1852 - a bit that of california's not to separated in time.

    always a real pleasure to hear from you - hope for many more!

    take care


  4. hey again josh!

    look, i have the faintest memory of hearing about this magazine or one like it - my background is in part french and things float over from there. more googling for me - thanks for the new direction!

    and, yes, she is definitely smoking from a hookah (and her dress is arabic) which fits with the orientalism rage of the C19 in art.

    be in touch


  5. hey josh

    my turn to do a double - knew i'd forgotten something!

    i scanned these photos cos they are in glass and the silver gelatin is very fragile - and once digitalized (is there such a word!) they are safe in one sense


  6. hey josh

    a third one from me - this is obsessive! LOL

    but i added enlarged scans of the two tinted etchings - the orientalism is even more pronounced in the first photo at this scale - urban and all!

    to bed for me!


  7. This posting was so interesting. I think that Josh's girlfriend is right. Does it snow in Australia? Wait. I'll google that. Take care.

  8. hey wit

    good to hear from you

    yes, allison has been so kind to give her obviously expertise opinions on both these family related posts - and i'm very grateful to her. and josh for asking on my behalf - very nice indeed

    and yep, it snows in the Snowy Mountains among other places - i've experienced snow here but mainly

  9. Just found you blog! Very interesting. I've just started my own blog. You may be interested??!!

  10. hey lordpatrick

    just took a quick look at your blog - looks great - better go back for more!

  11. "and as you say, supposing is the best! how bout a new field - 'suppositional history'?"

    Nick, this field already exists. It is called contemporary fiction. I can't count the current number of novels that fall into the "what if" historical fiction category. One that comes to mind of fairly recent vintage is Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" which posits what might have happened if America had entered WWII.

    Alan down in Florida

  12. hey alan

    LOL - of course - i'll need a new name - tho the meaning will remain the same!

    your mention of roth's 'the plot against america' reminds me that in the film 'the history boys', the dakin character proposes a similar term 'subjunctive history' - pity this mood is dropping out of engish verb systems - hear it less and less.

    will get a proper email response to yours later - to try to avoid being labeled a lousy correspondent.