Smithers, Alexander 

Maitland : 1857-1858

Alexander Smithers has been referred to as a Newcastle photographer through the period 1866 to 1871 and thereafter in Sydney, [1] however Smithers was active in Maitland in 1857-1858, advertising his business in the Maitland Mercury. [2]

Smithers was operating from his residence in Hannan Street, but by April 1858 his business was being conducted from commercial premises in High Street, ‘adjoining Mr. R. Blairs’. Smithers advertises his collodiotype portraits, as well as the fact that: “A.S. would specially call attention to his being able to produce clear and distinct portraits of children at any age” - the ability of successfully photographing children is  a recurring theme amongst a number of photographers. [3]

                                  SMITHERS PORTRAITS must be perfection, since pictured by the sun’s
                                 direction; Heaven’s own bright rays – shed from above 
                                 To enshrine the form of those we love. [4]

Despite this poetic advertisement in May 1858, an accompanying  ‘rooms to let’ notice may have been an indication of financial concerns, since the next appearance of Smithers in the local press was a clearing sale in July.
The attention of 'Amateurs in the Photographic Art, School of Arts Committees, &c., &c.' was called to the sale, which included:  '1 PLATE CAMERA, complete Tripod, back ground, dark room Travelling chest fitter,
weights and measures  for the art; Water-colours, diamond and pliers, portrait and show-cases, with a large stock of photographic chemicals'. [5]

Image : State Library of Victoria

Smithers reappears in the press in December 1863, having imported a case of photographic goods [6] and is back in business in Newcastle by July 1866.  [7]

A new photographic gallery erected in Hunter Street in April 1867 indicates prosperity as well as the approval of the local newspapers, commenting that the extensive gallery "...contains all the modern improvements in the photographic art. The excellent manner in which the various portraits are taken by Mr. Smithers reflects the greatest credit upon that gentleman." [8]

An image for which Smithers was particularly noted, the ‘Coal Trophy’ erected in honour of the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, is on display in the Hunter Street gallery in March 1868. [9]
A copy of this photograph has not been located in the course of this research.

Additional images attributed to Smithers can be located at the State Library of New South Wales[13] and Picture Coffs Harbour.[14]

Smithers’ Hunter Street gallery is available to let in June 1870, the proprietor “retiring from business on account of ill health”.  [10]

This photograph of a young lady (above  left) from the State Library of Victoria has the catalogue note “Undated, but flourish date for photographer at Hunter Street, Newcastle circa: 1871.”

Smithers reappears in Sydney by 1876, [11] the period that the portrait of botanist and explorer  J. S. Calvert (below) is attributed to by the State Library of New South Wales. [12]

                                                                                                                                        Portrait of J. S. Calvert, ca. 1876-1878 
State Library of NSW

[1] Alan Davies and Peter Stanbury, The  Mechanical Eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900, Oxford University     Press, Melbourne, 1985.   Sandy Barrie, Australiansbehind the camera : directory of early Australian photographers, 1841 to 1945,  Sydney South, S. Barrie, c2002.

[2] Maitland Mercury, 7 November 1857

[3] Maitland Mercury, 24 April 1858

[4] Maitland Mercury, 1 May 1858

[5] Maitland Mercury, 1 July 1858

[6] The Empire, 14 December 1863

[7] Maitland Mercury, 17 July 1866

[8] Maitland Mercury, 27 April  1867