[Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition] [ELLIOT, Dr Frederick John]
The Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition, 1891-2. Photographs [gilt cover title on a pair of matching albums]
[Adelaide, Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch), 1893].
Oblong quarto, two volumes: FIRST (general) ALBUM - mounted printed index leaf plus 88 original albumen paper photographs (each plate approximately 132 x 200 mm, mounted one per page on each side of thick card leaves with numbered and printed captions below); SECOND (Aboriginal) ALBUM - mounted printed index leaf plus 36 original albumen paper photographs of Aborigines (each plate approximately 132 x 200 mm, mounted one per page on each side of thick card leaves with numbered and printed captions below
Matching original brown cloth albums ornately captioned in gilt on the front cover; a few leaves in the first album lack small corner pieces, but overall it is in excellent condition; the second album is in fine condition.
Offered with 16 original glass plate negatives exposed on the expedition (each 165 x 215 mm, with manuscript paper captions mounted along the bottom margin), in excellent condition with the original annotated packaging from the expedition. This was the first Australian expedition on which the camera was successfully used. Of the 165 negatives exposed, only these 16 are now known to exist. That any of these most significant yet singularly ephemeral expeditionary artefacts has survived at all is extraordinary. The Elder Expedition was the most ambitious and important of the late nineteenth-century expeditions; indeed, it 'has been described as the strongest and best equipped that has ever set out to explore the interior of Australia' (Kenneth Peake-Jones: A Study of Incompatibles, ). Its stated aim was nothing less than 'that the exploration shall be as complete and exhaustive as possible, so that the information obtained may enable the whole of the blank spaces on the map of Australia be filled up in all important geographical aspects'. Those areas 'may be briefly described as the unexplored and unknown country in South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia, situated near as well as between the routes of previous Explorers Forrest, Giles, Warburton, and Gosse, within the fifteenth and thirtieth parallels of south latitude, comprising an area of about a million square miles' (Handbook of Instructions ... of the Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition, ). The expedition, led by David Lindsay, was organised by the South Australian Branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, and named after its instigator, Sir Thomas Elder, who provided for its entire cost. Less well known is the expedition's unique place in the history of photography. Dr Frederick John Elliot (1852-1919), the expedition's medical officer, was also 'entrusted with the photographic apparatus to secure views of natural scenery illustrative of the geological and botanical features of the country; also portraits of the natives'. In spite of his proven ability, as evidenced in these albums, Elliot then effectively disappeared from the photographic history books. After spending several years as a medical officer in the Northern Territory and as a ship's surgeon, in 1899 he settled in Donnybrook in Western Australia, where he built up an extensive medical practice. Our research indicates that not more than twenty-five of the general albums were produced, and we have every reason to believe that the Aboriginal album was produced in a much smaller quantity. The Elder Expedition albums in any form are utterly rare on the open market, and we are aware of only three recorded sales (including this copy) of the general album, and one of those comprised merely the second half of it. Known institutional holdings ensure that very few are left to be found. The Aboriginal album is, for all intents and purposes, unique on the open market; indeed, most commentators until recently were ignorant of its very existence. The South Australian Branch of the Society has only an unbound set lacking plate 28; the South Australian Museum now has the Royal Society of South Australia's copy in its possession; other institutional holdings, while few and far between, account for the bulk of the very limited number produced. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time the two Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition albums, Aboriginal and general, have ever been offered for sale as a set. The general album comes from the collection of the South Australian anthropologist and photographer Charles Pearcy Mountford (1890-1976), later presented 'with compliments to my friend and fellow wanderer Harold L. Sheard from C.P. Mountford. Dec. 1938'; Sheard's bookplate, and that of a subsequent owner, Rodney Davidson, are mounted inside the front cover. The Aboriginal album comes from the collection of William Birkinshaw Wilkinson (1854-1927), a long-serving member of the Council of the South Australian Branch of the Royal Geographical Society, a member of the Expedition Sub-Committee and one of the two men responsible for the selection of the images for the albums; his bookplate is mounted inside the front cover. [These notes come from our much longer essay on the albums; a copy of the well-illustrated booklet is available for $15 including postage].