IV — Industry and Progress: Promoting the Territory
During the 1870s and 1880s Paul Foelsche's photographs brought the Northern Territory's mines and industries to public attention. His photographs were selected for several International Exhibitions, from Paris and Philadelphia to Calcutta and Sydney.
At International Exhibitions Paul Foelsche's photographs of landscapes, mines and buildings were shown next to samples of gold and copper, timber and cotton, promoting the Northern Territory to investors.
Foelsche's role in the International Exhbitions began in 1874. He was encouraged by the architect J.G. Knight, who organised the Territory's contribution to Melbourne's 1875 Exhibition and to the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876.
For the 1878 Paris Exhibition, the South Australian Government requested Foelsche to take photographs of the goldfields south of Palmerston. Foelsche complained to the Government Resident that his police 'spring-cart' was inadequate to transport the heavy photographic equipment, and he was given a heavier wagon. This photographic excursion initiated Foelsche into the demanding art of landscape photography, using the wet-plate process. During 1882, 1888 and 1891 Foelsche accompanied South Australian Government inspection tours of mines and industries, using these opportunities to refine his photographic skills.
Foelsche's photographs won several prizes in International Exhibitions. Germany's Kaiser sent him a gold hunting watch and a signed portrait. But despite this widespread international recognition, Paul Foelsche never sold a photograph commercially, and never saw an exhibition of his own photographic work.
Industry and Progress Photographs
Paul Foelsche's photography might have remained a hobby if it wasn't for the International Exhibitions of the 1870s. The South Australian Government was keen to promote its 'northern territory' to international investors, and Foelsche was asked to contribute photographs of Darwin and of the townships, mines, and country to the south. He rose to the occasion…
25. Wheal Margaret Gold Mine, Extended Union goldfield, November 1877
The 1870s saw several gold-rushes in the Northern Territory. Greatest interest centred on the Pine Creek region, resulting in an influx of Chinese migrants who transformed the character of the Top End.
In late 1877 the South Australian Government requested Foelsche to photograph the goldfields for the 1878 Paris Exhibition, in an effort to attract further investment. This photograph resulted. It conveys the extent of the rapid environmental changes which mining wrought on the environment.
The image is a complex study in composition, light and shade. Like many Foelsche photographs, it contains an intriguing detail – has the upended wheelbarrow on the path slipped from the grip of the men standing above?
26. The Virginia Company's claim, November 1877
Foelsche's photograph of the Virginia mine, near the small township of Stapleton, is a reminder of the environmental impact of early mining. Huge quantities of wood were burnt to fuel the steam engines driving the mine machinery. In the background a horse turns a whim to raise water for steam.
On opening for public subscription in March 1874, the Virginia Company offered 2,000 shares at 7,000 shares at one pound each. By 1882, when the mine was yielding 1 ¾ oz of gold per ton, it was taken over by an English company which deepened the mine-shaft to 50 metres in an effort to increase the yield.
27. Poett's Coffee Plantation, Rum Jungle, 1883
Henry Poett's coffee plantation was carved out of the forest at Rum Jungle in 1881. Foelsche's 1883 photograph shows the nursery, with rows of tightly packed coffee plants irrigated by spring-fed channels.
The plantation quickly became a showpiece for visitors to the Territory, and this photograph probably aroused interest at several International Exhibitions. Poett, a former Ceylon planter, shipped more than 13 tons of coffee to Melbourne in 1882-83.
Poett and his manager D. Mackinnon confidently expected to employ 500 Tamil labourers by 1885. But by mid-1884 rising labour costs had made the plantation unfinancial; 400,000 coffee plants died and impatient shareholders closed down the company.
28. Minister J.C.F. Johnson & Party at McKinlay River, March 1888
In 1887 Foelsche exhibited several of his goldfields views at the Adelaide Jubilee Exhibition, together with a mineral collection assembled by J.G. Knight. The favourable publicity attracted the South Australian Minister for the Northern Territory, J.C.F. Johnson, to tour the goldfields during 1888. His pessimistic report advised the South Australian government to redraw the South Australian boundary north of the MacDonnell Ranges, and to give the rest of the Territory back to Britain. From that point until the Commonwealth assumed control in 1911, the Territory was often described in the press as 'the White Elephant', a growing liability for South Australia. This was despite the efforts of Foelsche and other loyal Territorians.
Foelsche's photograph shows the Minister and his party, posed with local Woolwonga Aboriginal people near the McKinlay River gold mines.
29. The SS Adelaide at the Roper River Landing, April 1889
Foelsche's photograph shows the S.S. Adelaide unloading stores (including boxes of whisky and gin) at the Roper River Landing, 150 kilometres upstream from the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Landing was first used in 1871 to transfer supplies inland for the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line. The 45 metre Adelaide was built in Hong Kong by Foelsche's son-in-law, H.W.H. Stevens, who operated a private fleet of steamers along the Terrritory's rivers and in trade with Asian ports.
Foelsche has photographed the Adelaide standing off from the bank, casting its reflection in the still river waters. The seated Aboriginal man contemplates the scene. In late June 1875 the Landing had not been as tranquil. Following the spearing of the Daly Waters telegraph master, Charles Johnstone, Foelsche authorised his deputy, Coporal George Montagu, to undertake unofficial reprisals against Aboriginal people involved in the spearing. Several innocent Aboriginal men were shot.
30. Christening the first locomotive, 19 July 1887
Construction of the 240 kilometre railway from Palmerston to Pine Creek was completed in October 1888, amid great hopes for its beneficial effect on the Territory's fortunes. Foelsche's photograph, taken at 4pm on 19 July 1887, records the moment when the judge's wife, Mrs Pater, christened the small locomotive 'Port Darwin' with a bottle of champagne. An evening banquet followed.
Unfortunately the railway did not transform the Territory's fortunes. Its southern terminus, Pine Creek, was too far north for use by cattle properties and freight charges were too high for the mines. Many Palmerston residents realised that only a railway link with Adelaide could fulfil their hopes. More than a century would pass before that occurred.
31. Point Charles lighthouse, 1895
Foelsche's 1895 photograph of the Point Charles lighthouse on Cox Peninsula, south-west of Port Darwin, was made on one of his last photographic excursions. He may have been accompanied by his wife and daughters and their husbands – the small party standing on the lighthouse platform, 30 metres above the ground.
The lighthouse was constructed in 1893 of wrought and cast iron. Its keeper was Hugh Christie, another keen amateur photographer, who also collected artefacts from the local Wagait people. In 1897, two years after Foelsche's photograph, a devastating cyclone destroyed most of Palmerston. At the lighthouse, it ripped bark off surrounding trees and stripped paint off the window frames. The lighthouse was automated in 1933, and is still an important beacon for ships using Darwin Harbour.