Cabinet card: William Bardwell, photographer – Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man

April 2016

Caution: Art Blart advises that the subject of this posting may include images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.



William Bardwell. Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)' Melbourne, 1880-1888


William Bardwell (Australian, active 1858-1895)
Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)
Melbourne, 1866-1870(?)
Albumen photograph
Cabinet card



This cabinet card (above) was offered for sale recently and went for a large sum of money. I have never seen this photograph before and, although I have searched for it on the National Library of Australia Trove website and online, I cannot find it anywhere. But I thought I recognised the figure in the middle of the photograph. Some research ensued…

Firstly, according to Alan Davis’ seminal 1985 book The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900 William Bardwell, photographer, operated from 21 Collins Street East, Melbourne between 1880-88. But Bardwell was at 21 Collins Street from at least 1877, and may well have been there earlier, as he was listed as insolvent there in 1879 before reopening his business. It could have been the case that Bardwell took the photograph in the early 1870s and that he only issued it as a cabinet photograph after he recovered from bankruptcy.

Secondly, and I might be mistaken, but I thought I recognised the distinctive countenance and piercing stare of that inspirational Indigenous leader, William Barak (c. 1824 – 15 August 1903) in the centre of the image. We can see he is wearing a roughly hewn jacket with waistcoat, stripped shirt and zigzag patterned necktie. His presence dominates the photograph – central, frontal, tallest and flanked by two sitting people, all placed idyllically against a lush backdrop of trees and an Arcadian stone fence. “Those who knew Barak described him unanimously as wise and dignified, with penetrating eyes and firm principles.”

If it is Barak, dating the photograph is something of a conundrum since Bardwell was known to be at 21 Collins Street officially from 1877 onwards but he could have taken this photograph much earlier. If we compare this cabinet card to other images of Barak from 1866 and 1875 and 1876 (see below), Barak’s hair and beard colour, with tinges or grey in the 1866 image and our cabinet card – compared to the grey bearded man in the 1875 images – leads us to the supposition that this image was taken between approximately 1866-1870(?). Florence Ada Fuller’s oil painting of Barak dated 1885 (LaTrobe Picture Collection) also shows his hair as being slightly grizzled but his beard as being fully white. What also supports the dating of the cabinet card to the mid-late 1860s is a comparison of the hair and beard of the other person we definitely know is in the photograph, that of Alfred William Howitt. If you compare Batchelder & O’Neill’s portrait of Alfred William Howitt (below) with the cabinet card, we can see that the hair and beard in both are very similar. Barak did travel to Gippsland in 1882 and 1884 to meet up with Howitt, so it is possible they knew each other much earlier.

My initial identification that the Indigenous Australian in the cabinet card was Barak was made on a comparison of the shape of the beard; the strong flared nose; the fact that the beard comes down over his cheek bones in both the 1866 and cabinet card images; the furrowed shape of the brow which to me is very distinctive; and those penetrating eyes. Admittedly the hair is slightly different and we also cannot see the scar on the right hand cheek of Barak which is present in the 1866 image, because of the size of the enlargement of the cabinet card. But I still stand by my recognition of Barak until we can prove substantially otherwise.

At the time this photograph was taken, Barak would have been anywhere between 42-46 years old, depending on the exact year it was taken.

Ahead in Barak’s life would be leadership, creativity … and heartache. From 1874 onwards, Barak would have been the sole ngurungaeta (clan-head) of the Wurundjeri-balluk clan of Woi wurrung,2 and would lead his people living on the Coranderrk Station, near Healesville. But there were unsettling times ahead. In 1866, sixty people were evicted from the station and the station lost half its land in 1893. So much for the Aboriginal Protection Board, what a misnomer the title of that organisation turned out to be. As Barak famously said, “Me no leave it, Yarra, my country. There’s no mountains for me on the Murray.”

All of this was happening when Barak was going through the most tremendous personal hardship as well. In 1882, his son David (see photograph by Fred Kruger below) fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

I have much admiration for this man, for the hardships he personally endured and which his people went through, and continue to go through to this day.

And thirdly, the pith helmet was the give away to the identity of the person sitting at left in the photograph: Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organisation. As an explorer, Howitt led the relief exhibition (June 1861) to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray, to find only King alive and bring him back to Melbourne. He then returned a second time to Cooper’s Creek to repatriate the bodies of Burke and Wills (December 1861).

In 1863 he began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. But his real passion was as an anthropologist, his work stretching through fours phases between 1861-1907 (see the full biography for details).

“On his expedition to the Barcoo Howitt had met members of the Yantruwanta, Dieri and other tribes while they were uninfluenced by Europeans. He learned, though inexpertly, something of their ecology, languages, beliefs and customs. The experience confirmed in him a dissociation between the Aboriginals as an object of scientific interest and as a challenge to social policy. Family letters show that he went to central Australia sharing the racial and social prejudices of the day. His attitudes softened later but nothing in his writings suggests that he ever agreed with the condemnation of Europeans for their treatment of native peoples expressed in his father’s polemical Colonization and Christianity (1838). Even in official roles – he was for a time a local guardian of Aboriginals in Gippsland and in 1877 sat on the royal commission which inquired into their whole situation – his attitude appears always to have been that of the dispassionate scientist. His view of their problems did not extend beyond charitable paternalism and segregated training in institutions. His dealings with Aboriginals were cordial and appreciative if somewhat calculated, and he had no difficulty in finding long-serving helpers among them in all his inquiries. But he saw them as a people doomed to extinction by an extraordinary primitivity, and this quality aroused his scientific interest…

“More appreciative eyes … now recognise that Howitt greatly widened the base, improved the methods and deepened the insights of a nascent science. He wrote in a careful, informed way on a wealth of empirical topics – boomerangs, canoes, name-giving, cannibalism, migrations, wizardry, songs, message-sticks, sign-language – but most valuably on the kinship structures and intergroup relations of social life.”2

This is a fascinating cabinet card for its cultural implications… and for what it leaves unsaid of the attitudes and history of the men pictured in this bucolic scene. William Barak was a man, a leader and an elder who kept the flame of his people and his culture alive. Who after all of his travails, turned to creativity and painting to record his culture for future generations. Culture and creativity in any language is a powerful healing force in what is an ongoing story of injustice and persecution. I would have very much liked to have meet this wise man.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


1/ Box 1053/2 (b/c), ‘Notes by Howitt on the Kulin nation from information provided by William Barak’ c. 1882 quoted in Ian D. Clark. “The A.W. How Papers,” in La Trobe Journal No 43, Autumn 1989, p. 30 on the La Trobe Journal website [Online] Cited 06/10/2021.

2/ W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.



Carl Walter (Australian, 1831-1907) 'William Barak - age 42 - Yarra Yarra Tribe' 1866


Carl Walter (Australian, 1831-1907)
William Barak – age 42 – Yarra Yarra Tribe
Albumen silver photograph
Approx. 10.0 x 6.7cm
State Library of Victoria



Carl Walter (c. 1831 – 7 October 1907), also known as Charles Walter, was a German-born botanist and photographer who worked in Australia. Walter was born in Mecklenburg, Germany in about 1831 and arrived in Victoria in the 1850s.

Walter set up a photographic studio in Melbourne, promoting himself as a “Country Photographic Artist” or “Landscape Photographic Artist”. For a twenty-year period starting from about 1862, he would periodically travel to eastern and alpine regions of Victoria with camera equipment and camping gear in a backpack.

In 1866 Walter took 106 photographs of Aboriginal people at Coranderrk east of Melbourne, which were exhibited at the Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia in Melbourne in 1866-67.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888) 'William and Annie Barak with their son, David, at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c. 1875


Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888)
William and Annie Barak with their son, David, at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c. 1875


Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888) 'William and Annie Barak with their son David at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c. 1875


Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831–1888)
William and Annie Barak with their son David at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c. 1875
Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, 9499



Fred Kruger (born Johan Friedrich Carl Kruger, 18 April 1831 – 15 February 1888) was a German-born photographer noted for his early photography of landscape and indigenous peoples in Victoria, Australia. …

In 1866, Kruger first registered his photography business at 133 Cardigan Street, Carlton, Melbourne, before moving it in August 1867 to High Street, Prahran, Melbourne, continuing there until 1871, then relocating in Preston to High Street and again to Regent Street in that suburb.

During this period, Kruger was achieving international recognition for his landscape photography, including the award of medals from both the 1872 Vienna Exhibition and the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. He became the first photographer to take group photos of the first Aboriginal cricket team in 1866, which became one of his most recognised images, and was subsequently commissioned in 1877 by the Aboriginal Protection Board to create a collection of work including portraits of the Aboriginal residents of the Coranderrk reserve, an Aboriginal reserve run by the colonial government of Victoria, which was made public in 1883. Kruger won more awards; a gold medal for the best collection of landscape views and another, for the best panoramic view of Geelong, at the Geelong Industrial and Juvenile Exhibition in 1879.

In March 1879 Kruger was photographing groups of Geelong residents, ensuring each person could easily be identified in his detailed views, as he did when photographing the Corio Bay rowing crew in November 1879. …

Kruger then settled in Geelong permanently, and his photography studio is registered on 29 December 1887 at Skene Street, in the Geelong suburb of Newtown. He created a collection in 1880 of twelve views of the streets and buildings of Geelong, winning him an award at the Melbourne International Exhibition (1880). The government of Victoria engaged him to photograph the Yan Yean Waterworks for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. Kruger gained commissions from house owners to photograph their homes, most famous of which was from Lady Loch, the wife of the Governor.

Kruger made three visits to the Queenscliff region in 1881, 1882 and 1885, capturing views to include the buildings of the settlement and its marine setting. On 15 February 1888, Kruger died of peritonitis (inflammation of the membranes of abdominal wall and organs). Large holdings of his work have been showcased at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Text from the Wikipedia website

Read more about Fred Kruger:


Unknown photographer. 'William Barak' 1876


Unknown photographer
William Barak
National Archives of Australia, A1200, L22062



William Barak (c. 1824-1903) and Coranderrk

William Barak (or Beruk), was the last traditional ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan, first inhabitants of present-day Melbourne, Australia. He became an influential spokesman for Aboriginal social justice and an important informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore.

Barak was born in the early 1820s at Brushy Creek near present-day Croydon, in the country of the Wurundjeri people… Barak attended the government’s Yarra Mission School from 1837 to 1839. When he joined the Native Mounted Police in 1844, he was given the name of William Barak. He was Police Trooper No.19. In early 1863, Barak moved to Coranderrk Station, near Healesville, Victoria with about thirty others… Upon the death of Simon Wonga in 1875, Barak became the Ngurungaeta of the clan. He worked tirelessly for his people and was a successful negotiator on their behalf. He was a highly respected man and leader, with standing amongst the Indigenous people and the European settlers.


Coranderrk Station

Coranderrk Station ran successfully for many years as an Aboriginal enterprise, selling wheat, hops and crafts on the burgeoning Melbourne market. Produce from the farm won first prize at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1881; and other awards in previous years, such as 1872. By 1874, the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) was looking for ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. Neighbouring farmers also wanted the mission closed as the land was now deemed ‘too valuable’ for Aboriginal people to occupy. Photographer Fred Kruger was commissioned to document the site and its inhabitants.


Coranderrk Petition

In the 1870s and ’80s, Coranderrk residents sent deputations to the Victorian colonial government protesting their lack of rights and the threatened closure of the reserve. A Royal Commission in 1877 and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 on the Aboriginal ‘problem’ led to the Aborigines Protection Act 1886, which required ‘half-castes under the age of 35’ to leave the reserve.

Activist William Barak and others sent a petition on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Coranderrk to the Victorian Government in 1886, which reads: “Could we get our freedom to go away Shearing and Harvesting and to come home when we wish and also to go for the good of our Health when we need it … We should be free like the White Population there is only few Blacks now rem[a]ining in Victoria, we are all dying away now and we Blacks of Aboriginal Blood, wish to have now freedom for all our life time … Why does the Board seek in these latter days more stronger authority over us Aborigines than it has yet been?”

As a result of the Aborigines Protection Act of 1886, around 60 residents were ejected from Coranderrk on the eve of the 1890s Depression. Their forced departure crippled Coranderrk as an enterprise, with only around 15 able-bodied men left to work the hitherto successful hop gardens. Almost half the land was reclaimed by government in 1893, and by 1924 orders came for its closure as an Aboriginal Station, despite protests from Wurundjeri returned servicemen who had fought in World War I.

Barak is now best remembered for his artworks, which show both traditional Indigenous life and encounters with Europeans. Most of Barak’s drawings were completed at Coranderrk during the 1880s and 1890s. They are now highly prized and exhibited in leading public galleries in Australia. His work is on permanent display in the National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, Melbourne.”

Text from the “William Barak” and “Coranderrk” Wikipedia web pages.


Fred Kruger. 'David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c.1876


Fred Kruger (Australian born Germany, 1831-1888)
David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
Museum Victoria



“This small, carte de visite sized photograph says more to me than most of the other photographs in the exhibition put together. It is almost as though the photographer had a personal attachment and connection to the subject. This poignant (in light of following events) dark, brown-hued photograph shows the son of elder and leader William Barak about the age of 9 years old in 1876. In 1882, David fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

Unlike other photographs of family groups taken at Coranderrk, Kruger places David front on to the camera in the lower 2/3 rds of the picture plane on his own, framed by the symmetry of the steps and door behind. David glasps his hands in a tight embrace in front of him (nervously?), his bare feet touching the earth, his earth. The only true highlight in the photograph is a white neckerchief tied around his throat. There is an almost halo-like radiance around his head, probably caused by holding back (dodging) during the printing process. Small, timid but strong, in too short trousers and darker jacket, this one image – of a child, a human being, standing on the earth that was his earth before invasion – has more intimacy than any other image Kruger ever took, even as he tried to engender a sense of intimacy with the environment.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan. Review of “‘Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes” at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne” on the Art Blart website 01/07/2012 [Online] Cited 08/04/2016.


Fred Kruger. 'Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk' c.1877


Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888)
Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 18.6cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979


Unknown photographer. '[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]' Nd


Unknown photographer
[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]
Nd [perhaps c. 1895-1900 looking at the age of Barak]
Silver gelatin photograph
15.6 x 20.1cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria



Studio portrait of sixteen Aboriginal men, five standing, five seated on chairs, the rest on the ground, all except two full face, wearing European dress. Barak back row 2nd left. Information provided by Aunty Joy Murphy, Wurundjeri Senior Elder confirming that Barak is correctly identified. Preferred title supplied by the Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Museum of Victoria.


Talma & Co. 'Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe. [Barak drawing a corroboree]' c. 1895-98


Talma & Co. (1893-1932) 119 Swanston St. Melbourne
Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe [Barak drawing a corroboree]
c. 1895-98
Gelatin silver photograph
13.3 x 8.5cm., on mount 22.7 x 16.5cm
Inscribed in ink on mount l.l.: From Mrs. A. Bon, / “Wappan”.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria



Barak working on a drawing attached to the wall of a vertical slab hut. There is a wooden picket fence at the right hand side.


William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony' c. 1880 - c. 1890


Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.2 x 55.5cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria


William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu' c. 1880 - c. 1890


William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.0 x 56.0cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria



Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908)

Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization, was born on 17 April 1830 at Nottingham, England, the oldest surviving son of William Howitt and his wife Mary, née Botham. He was educated in England, Heidelberg and University College School, London. In 1852, under the press of family needs, he went with his father and brother Charlton to Melbourne where they had been preceded in 1840 by William’s youngest brother Godfrey. A reunion was one purpose of the visit but William and his sons also intended to try their fortunes on the new goldfields. They did so with modest success at intervals in the next two years. The experience turned the course of Alfred’s life. He learned to live with confidence in the bush, and its natural phenomena, so strange and as yet so little studied, stimulated his mind to their scientific study. In 1854 his father and brother returned to England but Howitt elected to remain, thoroughly at home in the Australian scene.

Young and handsome, of short and wiry build and notably calm and self-possessed, he fulfilled his mother’s prophecy that ‘someday Alfred will be a backwoodsman’. For a time he farmed his uncle’s land at Caulfield but, unattracted by the life, turned again to the bush and as a drover on the route from the Murray to Melbourne made the passing acquaintance of Lorimer Fison. An experienced bushman and ardent naturalist, Howitt was sent in 1859 by a Melbourne syndicate to examine the pastoral potential of the Lake Eyre region on which Peter Warburton had reported rosily. He led a party with skill and speed from Adelaide through the Flinders Ranges into the Davenport Range country but found it desolated by drought and returned to warn his sponsors. His ability as a bushman and resourceful leader came to public notice when, after briefly managing a sheep station at Hamilton and prospecting in Gippsland, he took a government party through unexplored alpine country to gold strikes on the Crooked, Dargo and Wentworth Rivers. He was an obvious choice as leader when in 1861 the exploration committee of the Royal Society of Victoria decided to send an expedition to relieve or, as the worst fears sensed, to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray. Howitt’s discharge of this assignment was exemplary. Without blunder or loss he twice led large parties on the long journey to Cooper’s Creek. He soon found King, the only survivor, and took him to a public welcome in Melbourne but avoided the limelight for himself. Then, at request, he returned to bring the remains of Burke and Wills to the capital for interment. On the second expedition he had explored a large tract of the Barcoo country.

For his services Howitt was appointed police magistrate and warden of the Omeo goldfields, and in 1863 began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. He retired in January 1902 on a pension but served on the royal commission which in 1903 examined sites for the seat of government of the Commonwealth, and was chairman of the royal commission on the Victorian coal industry in 1905-06.

Such a career would have sufficed an ordinary man but Howitt attained greater things within it. Physical and intellectual fatigue seemed unknown to him. ‘What are they?’ he asked drily at 75 when Fison inquired if he never felt the infirmities of old age. In his long magistracy he travelled enormous distances annually (in one year, it was said, 7000 miles [11,265 km]) on horseback throughout Victoria. He read while in the saddle and studied the natural scene with such assiduous care that from 1873 onward he began to contribute to official reports, scientific journals and learned societies papers of primary value on the Gippsland rocks. He pioneered the use in Australia of thin-section petrology and chemical analysis of rocks. His fundamental contribution was his discovery and exploration of the Upper Devonian series north of Bairnsdale. He also made important studies of the Lower Devonian volcanics in East Gippsland and compiled magnificent geological maps of the area. In botany his Eucalypts of Gippsland (1889) became a standard authority and he collected hundreds of varieties of ferns, grasses, acacias and flowering plants. But his greatest eminence came from his work in anthropology, which was his main interest and relaxation after 1872…

Read the full biography by W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.


Alfred William Howitt c. 1861


Alfred Howitt, the leader of the party to rescue Burke and Wills, circa 1861, from William Strutt album illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper’s Creek to Carpentaria, June 1861, DL PXX 3


Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' c. 1863


Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
c. 1863
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
9.0 x 5.2cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria



Howitt full length in the photographers’ studio, leaning on a button-backed chair, wearing a three-piece winter suit, with a watch-chain and holding a pair of gloves in his right hand.


Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' Nd


Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
on mount 10.7 x 6.5cm approx.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria




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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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