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H5572-5 Ambrotype (1 of 4), mounted in case, studio portrait of Charlotte Walker with her son, collodion / paint / glass / wood / paper / brass / velvet / leather, maker and location unknown, 1855-1870. Click to enlarge.

Ambrotype studio portrait of Charlotte Walker with her son

Made 1855-1870

This photograph is significant because it is one of the few surviving ambrotypes with links to Australia. While millions of these ambrotype photographs were produced around the world and many thousands in Australia remarkably few have survived that can be linked to Australian society during the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s.

Geoff Barker, Curatorial, September 2009


Object No.


Object Statement

Ambrotype (1 of 4), mounted in case, studio portrait of Charlotte Walker with her son, collodion / paint / glass / wood / paper / brass / velvet / leather, maker and location unknown, 1855-1870

Physical Description

Photographic positive, ambrotype mounted in case, studio portrait of Charlotte Walker and her son Herbert. The ambrotype shows an image of Charlotte seated with her child on her lap. She wears a dark coloured dress with a full skirt, and a cameo brooch pinned at her neck between the lace collar of the dress.
The ambrotype is enclosed in a hinged case made from wood that has been covered in leather. The case opens to reveal the daguerreotype on the right hand side. The ambrotype is framed in an oval brass mat that has been stamped with a decorative floral pattern. A glass panel sits over the top of the brass mat. The opposite side of the case is lined with green velvet that has been embossed with a decorative pattern. On the outside of the case, the leather has been tooled with a decorative design. A metal clasp on the side of the case allows it to be closed securely.



85 mm


15 mm





In 1851 Frederick Scott Archer announced the discovery of a new photographic process that could adhere to glass. This was a major breakthrough in the story of photography for the process made clear highly detailed negatives form which multiple copies could be made.

The general public had become used to their photographic portraits being taken using a daguerreotype process which were displayed in a small glass fronted case. To compete with this trade a special kind of collodion process, known as the ambrotype was introduced. This was essentially the same as other collodion negatives except that once the exposure had been taken the emulsion on the glass was bleached to whiten it. When this bleached negative was placed in a case against a black background it formed a positive image which bore a remarkable resemblance to the daguerreotype except it had the added advantage of not being highly reflective.

Australia followed rather than set photographic trends but in the 1850s, the massive boom caused by the discovery of gold ensured it was very quick to take up new processes like the ambrotype. Over the 1850s the ambrotype replaced the daguerreotype as the preferred method of taking portraits but even in the late 1850s daguerreotypes were still being made for more conservative customers.

Geoff Barker, Curatorial, September 2009

J. Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Third Edition, Institute of Australian Photography, Hong Kong, 1979
Michel Frizot, A New History of Photography, Amilcare Pizzi, Milan, 1998
Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, A Concise History of Photography, Thames and Hudson, Germany, 1965
A. Davies and P. Stanbury, 1985, The Mechanical Eye in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne



According to the stock book and blue file the image is of C. F. Walker with son Herbert, 1862.
The case and photograph appear to date from an earlier period.
The accession records credit another photograph H5272-5 as also being of C.F. Walker taken in 1872.
This second ambrotype clearly depicts a young girl, so there appears to be an inconsistency in the records.

Cite this Object


Ambrotype studio portrait of Charlotte Walker with her son 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 8 December 2019, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Ambrotype studio portrait of Charlotte Walker with her son |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=8 December 2019 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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