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H7394 Photographic positive in case, ambrotype portrait, Charles Cowper, John Robertson, E. C. Weekes, L. H. Bayley, John F. Hargrave, collodion / glass/ wood / paper / metal / velvet, photographer unknown, Sydney, Colony of New South Wales (Australia), 1859. Click to enlarge.

Ambrotype of Charles Cowper's Ministry

This is an extremely rare one-off ambrotype photograph of the New South Wales premier, Charles Cowper and members of his short lived second ministry. Cowper, sometimes referred to as 'Slippery Charlie', formed this group in the turbulent first years of self-administration in New South Wales in the 1850s.

Cowper first became premier in 1856 and almost immediately he found himself attacked from all sides by his fellow politicians. The pressure was intense and on 2 October he resigned. His first …


Object No.


Object Statement

Photographic positive in case, ambrotype portrait, Charles Cowper, John Robertson, E. C. Weekes, L. H. Bayley, John F. Hargrave, collodion / glass/ wood / paper / metal / velvet, photographer unknown, Sydney, Colony of New South Wales (Australia), 1859

Physical Description

Ambrotype in a thin wooden case bound with dark brown material. The case has two metal hook latches. The ambrotype is in a mount made of red velvet and gold coloured metal. The photograph is an oval studio portrait of five men in suits, one of them being J. F. Hargrave. A piece of paper glued to the inside of the lid lists the names and positions of the men.


Inside the lid is black handwriting which reads '1859 / Hon. C. Cowper, Premier + Col-Sec / Hon: John Robertson, Sec - for Lands + Public Wks / Hon. E. C. Weekes, Col-Treasurer / Hon. L. H. Bayley, Atty General / John F. Hargrave: Sol. General'.



14 mm


120 mm


95 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, March 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, 18



The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences holds the largest collection of material internationally of the aviation pioneer, Lawrence Hargrave. This particular ambrotype is significant because of its association with Lawrence Hargrave. It belonged to Lawrence's father, John Fletcher Hargrave, who was a significant figure in the New South Wales legal system. The photograph represents John Fletcher at the time he served as Solicitor-General to the Cowper Ministry. He served in this role from February 21, 1859 - October 26, 1859 and November 3, 1859 - March 6, 1960. From April 2, 1860 - July 31, 1863 he served as Attorney-General. This particular object was donated to the Museum by John Fletcher Hargrave's granddaughter, Mrs Helen Gray in 1963.

Melanie Pitkin, Curatorial, 2007


Credit Line

Gift of Helen Gray, 1963

Acquisition Date

2 December 1963

Cite this Object


Ambrotype of Charles Cowper's Ministry 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 28 November 2022, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Ambrotype of Charles Cowper's Ministry |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=28 November 2022 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}