The Photographs

vereyadThe photographs were made as negatives onto glass plates. A whole plate was 6 by 8 inches and half plates were also used. The plates, which were already coated with silver nitrate and gelatine, were inserted into the camera and exposed for approximately one second. The subject had to hold still during this exposure and not all quite managed, resulting in a blurred picture. The negative was then printed onto photographic paper and, importantly for the present day, the glass plate negatives were stored alphabetically in cardboard boxes with the surname of the subject pencilled along the top of the glass plate. While there are many thousands of photographs in many family collections, these photographs were often not named, unlike these plates, and so for many their identity is forgotten as time passes.

There are various accounts of some of the larger plates being used as glass for greenhouses and up until a few years ago there was a small greenhouse in Johnstone Street Castlemaine made from half-plates some still with a faint image. At some point after the studio closed, the plates that comprise this collection were stacked at the end of a shed at the premises of Les Chapman’s, the Castlemaine furniture removalists. They remained there for the next thirty years.

In the 1980s, Ashley Tracey bought a box of Verey glass plate negatives at an auction at St Mary’s Hall, Castlemaine, printed them and put them up in a shop window in Guildford. He was then told about the boxes at Chapman’s, which he could have if he was interested. He certainly was interested and fortunately also knew enough about photography to be able to look after them. There were about six thousand plates, of which about 4,600 were in good condition with the names still legible.

asfoundThe most recent addition to the collection came from a private collector who also in the 1980s bought at auction in Ballarat some boxes of photographic plates. At later auctions more plates came up for sale. He tracked down the owner and aquired some 9,000 plates. . Eventually the images were copied and made available.

The images were bought in 2009 through a collaborative effort led by FOCAL (Friends of Castlemaine Library) and supported by the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historic Museum, Castlemaine and Newstead Historical Societies, Chewton Domain Society, Goldfields Library Corporation and private donors. These groups together raised $11,500 to buy the images. Each of these organisations now holds a data base of the collection, available for public use.