Lantern Slides Cast New Light
Lantern slides are the historic forerunner of 35mm slides (which themselves are the precursor of modern powerpoint presentations). The slides are made to be projected by a machine called a magic lantern. Magic lantern projections have been popular since the late 17th century, but it was in the 19th century that magic lantern shows really came into their own. They have used a range of light sources over time, starting with candles and then oil lamps. The invention of ‘limelight’ in the 1840s enabled far brighter images to be projected, but it was the use of electricity, in the form of the electric arc lamp from the late 1800s that really enabled magic lantern projections to become successful.
The Museum holds a very large collection of lantern slides by a number of photographers, most notably John Watt Beattie (1859-1930) and Herbert John King (1892-1973). The slides are mostly from the very late 1800s to the early 1930s. Although most are black-and-white, there are also some hand-tinted slides. Lantern slides do not hold the same amount of detail as glass-plate negatives, as they are copies, they are still often of very high quality, and sometimes are the only copy of a particular topic surviving.
Museum volunteer Marlene Cantwell has undertaken the mammoth project of sorting and listing the lantern slide collections, and she is now nearing the end of her project. Over many years, possibly as early as the 1950s and ’60s, the collections have become somewhat muddled. Sorting out the collection has required so much dedicated time that no previous staff members have managed to fully fix the problems.
Marlene, who has a background in library cataloguing and an interest in photography, has now succeeded in sorting and listing the slides, and in doing so has discovered that there are actually more photographers represented in the collection than previously thought.
Although the bulk of the lantern slides were taken and used by HJ King, there are also slides by Beattie, Stephen Spurling III, Harold Masters and CA Hart, some of which were (rather confusingly) taken at the same times and locations as similar slides by King, as King and Hart went on the same Northern Tasmanian Camera Club expeditions.
Once properly identified, described and catalogued, the scanned slides will be uploaded to the web, and the slides themselves re-housed in conservation-grade boxes.
Jon Addison, History Curator
Herbert J King
H J King’s lantern slide collection in many ways reflects his deep passion for natural history and his appreciation for the Tasmanian landscape, as well as his many interests and hobbies. His slides provide a wonderful, pictorial history of Tasmania, taking us to every ‘nook and cranny’ of the state, and capture not only the natural beauty of Tasmania, but highlight early 20th century industrial Tasmania, with images of Mt Lyell mine, the railways, including the ABT railway system, the early hydro-electric power stations and the pining industry on the West Coast of Tasmania, just to mention a few.
His photographs reflect a way of life that many Tasmanians experienced during that time, with many images highlighting the wilderness camp sites where some Tasmanian hunters, miners and timber men worked and lived. He was a member of the Northern Tasmanian Camera Club, and there are numerous slides of his trip with the club to the West Coast of Tasmania, where they travelled up the Gordon River by dinghy.
King was an innovative photographer and his slides represent his experimentation with colour and technical processes such as infra-red, aerial and time-lapse photography. The collection includes some wonderful aerial and panoramic views all over Northern Tasmania, the North West and Southern Tasmania, and feature many iconic tourist spots, such as Cradle Mountain. There are some wonderful, aerial images of Cradle Mountain, where it is claimed that King’s pilot, Captain F G Huxley cut a hole in the floor of the World War One plane in order that King could put his camera through the hole. This resulted in some wonderful, low flying photography and amazing shots of Cradle Mountain.
King was joint owner of a bicycle and motorcycle dealership, and was also a member of the Northern Tasmanian Indian Motorcycle Club. His passion for motorcycle riding provided him with a means to explore the wilderness areas that were foreign to many Tasmanians. His slide collection includes images from some of his motorcycle trips with the club and feature images of his trip to Gustav Weindorfer’s chalet at Cradle Mountain, and the Great Lake. He was also among a group of the first motor vehicle drivers to cross Roses Tier to Mathinna, in the North-East of Tasmania in 1921.
Herbert J King’s collection of lantern slides covers a wide range of subject areas ranging from theatre performances at the national theatre in Launceston to the wonderful images of the Tasmanian landscape. His images capture a pictorial history and provide a valuable resource to the historical and social narrative of Tasmania.
Marlene Cantwell, Museum Volunteer
- J. King, Tasmania Remembered, eds G. W. Cox and E. V. Ratcliff, Launceston, Tas, 1974