Visitors to the new photography gallery at the Library of NSW in Sydney’s Macquarie Street will see a tiny portrait of Dr William Bland (1789-1868). Dating from  1844 0r 1845, it is believed to be the earliest existing  photo taken in Australia.

Dr Bland was the very antithesis of his name. When he was a ship’s surgeon he killed the purser in a duel and was charged with murder. He was transported to NSW as a convict in 1814, but  pardoned a year later due to the need for doctors in the infant colony. In 1818  Dr Bland was charged with libel. Apparently he was the  anonymous author of lines  lampooning  Governor  Lachlan Macquarie for naming everything after himself.  Haha, well he was only speaking the truth, but nevertheless  he spent a year in prison.

By the 1840s he was one of the most prominent figures in Sydney, a pioneer in education, healthcare and even science. He designed an amazing, steam driven airship, which it was hoped would carry passengers and cargo to England in only  a week. What a shame it was never built. 😎


The politician and barrister  William Dalley summed up the doctor in the following lines;

A forward thinking  man such  as Dr Bland was the perfect client for Sydney’s first  daguerreotype photographer, Mr George Barron Goodman.

Mr Goodman has landed his apparatus and will very soon commence operations in Sydney. We understand the flat roof of the Royal Hotel has been chosen as a proper place for taking these likenesses.   (The Australian. 16 November 1842)

The  five story Royal Hotel had just been rebuilt after a catastrophic fire destroyed the original building.

A few weeks later Goodman was in business;

On Monday, Mr Goodman opened his gallery for taking daguerreotype portraits. The spot selected by Mr Goodman for his operation is on the leads of the Royal Hotel, where his laboratory has been constructed. The likenesses are very exact, and the sitter is only kept in suspense for about half a minute; after which a very few minutes suffice for the polishing up and framing of the miniature. Mr Goodman has completed some sixty or seventy since his apparatus has been in order. (The Colonial Observer, 14 Dec. 1842.)

The roof of the hotel was chosen because it was one of the highest buildings in Sydney, and sunlight was a necessity for the photographic process. Customers  had to enter a purple tinted glass room, and were asked to avoid wearing white clothes. Dr Bland and his prominent  fellow  sitters were used in Mr Goodman’s advertisements.

Various specimens may be seen at establishments in George Street and other places – portraits such as Dr Bland’s, Dr Bennett’s, Mr Mort. and others well-known to most of the inhabitants of the city, which will prove how superior the system now adopted is to  that  which two years ago excited their astonishment.’ (Sydney Morning Herald Jan 14 1845.)

Dr Bland died in 1868 from pneumonia, aged 78. How wonderful that the tiny portrait of him survived.

To watch a video of how daguerreotype portraits were made, CLICK HERE.

And for more information on  the Library of NSW photography gallery CLICK HERE.

The portrait of Dr Bland in its case.



  1. Dr Bland, one of my favourite Macquarie Street specialists.

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