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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, 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 office had lasted just one month and two days. In March 1857 Cowper led the opposition to a new electoral bill which was defeated and led to Premier Parker resigning. Cowper was then made premier and he formed his second ministry from the ashes of the old on 7 September 1857. By mid-1859 Cowper had reshuffled his ministry to form the one we can see in the in this photograph. They are from left to right: John F. Hargrave (solicitor general), John Robertson (secretary for land and public works), Charles Cowper (premier), Elias Carpenter Weekes (colonial treasurer) and Lyttleton Holyoake Bayley (attorney general).

It was during his second ministry that Cowper introduced the Electoral Act which gave the vote to all, but this success was followed by the failure of his Education Bill which led to Cowper's resignation in October 1859. The ending of his second ministry allows us to date the photograph also more accurately between June and October 1859.

This photograph is of great significance due to its rarity and the fact that it is one of the few surviving markers of the turbulent first years of self government in Australia. It is also significant as it was once owned by John Hargrave who passed it on to his famous son, Laurence, before eventually becoming part of the Hargrave collection held by the Powerhouse Museum.

Geoff Barker, Curatorial, March 2009

F. K. Crowley, A New History of Australia, William Heinenmann, Melbourne, 1974
Trevor McMinn, 'William Forster', The Premiers of New South Wales, The Federation Press, 2006
Nairn, Bede and Serle, Geoffrey (eds.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Volume 3, 1969
Nairn, Bede and Serle, Geoffrey (eds.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Volume 4, 1972
Nairn, Bede and Serle, Geoffrey (ed), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Volume 6, 1976

John Fletcher Hargrave was born on December 28, 1815 in Greenwich, England. He was educated privately until 14 years of age, at which time he was accepted to London University and later Cambridge University (BA, 1837 and MA, 1840). In 1843, Hargrave married his cousin Ann Hargrave and had four children: Ralph, Lawrence, Ann and Gilbert. For ten years, Hargrave practiced chancery (retiring in 1851 to pursue railway and other public matters) until Ann admitted him to an asylum in Middlesex with the belief that too much studying had "unhinged his mind". This obviously caused resentment and hostility for Hargrave, as he moved to Australia with his brother Edward and eldest son Ralph in 1856, not to be reunited with Ann again for almost three decades.

In New South Wales, Hargrave worked as a solicitor-general for Charles Cowper; he was a member of the Legislative Council; worked as an attorney-general and government representative for John Robertson and in 1865 gained a place on the bench in the Supreme Court. In 1858, Hargrave became reader in general jurisprudence at the University of Sydney and ironically, in 1873 was appointed divorce judge. Hargrave died on February 23, 1885 from an "effusion on the brain". He is buried in Waverley Cemetery.

Lawrence Hargrave was an aviation pioneer. His greatest contribution to aeronautics was the invention of the box or cellular kite, which evolved in four stages, from being a simple cylinder kite made of heavy paper to a double-celled one capable of lifting Hargrave sixteen feet off the ground. The fourth kite of the series, produced by the end of 1893, provided a stable supporting and structural surface that satisfied the correct area to weight ratio which became the foundation for early European built aircraft. For example, Hargrave's box kite appears to be the inspiration for Alberto Santos Dumont's aircraft named '14bis', which undertook the first powered, controlled flight in Europe in 1906. Similarly, Gabriel Voisin states in his autobiography that he and his brother Charles, who manufactured the first commercially available aircraft in Europe, owe their inspiration to their construction to a Hargrave box kite, while via correspondence with Octave Chanute, there is also evidence for Hargrave's box kite influencing the aircraft used by the Wright Brothers during their historic flight in 1903.

Hargrave's contribution to aeronautics can also be observed in other ways. For example, he conducted important research into animal movement and produced a number of flapping models which successfully demonstrated a means of propulsion. He also designed and produced alternative power sources including a variety of engines. Beyond aviation, Hargrave undertook exploration work in the Torres Strait and New Guinea and assisted in the discovery voyage of the Fly River with Luigi d'Albertis. He also contributed to the study of astronomy with his development of adding machines to assist Sydney Observatory in their calculations, researched and wrote on Australian history and was an early proponent for the establishment of a bridge across Sydney Harbour.

Melanie Pitckin, Curatorial, 2007

Adams, M., "Wind Beneath His Wings - Lawrence Hargrave at Stanwell Park" (September 2004)
ADB Online, "Lawrence Hargrave", (Downloaded 18/7/2007)
Grainger, E., "Hargrave and Son - A Biography of John Fletcher Hargrave and his son Lawrence Hargrave" (Brisbane, 1978)
Hudson Shaw, W & Ruhen, O., "Lawrence Hargrave - Explorer, Inventor & Aviation Experimenter" (Sydney, 1977)
Roughley, T.C., "The Aeronautical Work of Lawrence Hargrave" (Technological Museum, Sydney Bulletin No.19, 1939)


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, 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

3 December 1963

Cite this Object


Ambrotype of Charles Cowper's Ministry 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 19 October 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Ambrotype of Charles Cowper's Ministry |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=19 October 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.