DARLING HARBOUR, SYDNEY  -  t: +61 2 9280 1110 - [email protected]


Sydney Harbour - UNESCO's Memory of the World registry

holtermann nuggett We all love Sydney Harbour in its modern form, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera HouseOpera House, Darling Harbour....

But have you ever wondered what it was like back in the day?

Well in 1875, mining magnate Bernhardt Otto Holtermann created a series of glassplate photographic negatives.

Holtermann, who made his fortune in the goldfields around Hill End, was best known as being co-owner of the 'world's largest gold "nugget"'.

How big??  286kg !!

Photo: State Library NSW


Getting off nuggets and  back to Sydney Harbour, Holtermann's photos were taken as part of his grand plan to promote migration to Australia, taking the images on tour to show the potential of this new land.

Whilst creating one of Australia's most successful immigration stories, he also entered these negatives into photographic expositions, including Philadelphia in 1876, where he won bronze and then silver in Paris in 1878.

holtermann homeHoltermann built a house especially for his project, the home still exists in North Sydney, now owned by the Shore School.

In order to capture views of the entire of Sydney Harbour, the construction included a high tower and a room was designed to such it seemed a "large camera on stilts".

Holtermann then produced three glassplate photographic negatives which are approximately 8 mm thick and 100 cm high; two are 130 cm wide and another 160 cm.

These are in fact the largest 19th-century glass plate negatives in existence worldwide.


holtermann uts

Sadly, the whereabouts of these negatives was unknown for sometime, but luckily were located in backyard in Chatswood  along with many other items of Holtermann's collection.

Unfortunately these negatives were in relatively bad conditions, one being smashed to pieces and almost considered 'throw away' material, but technology came to the rescue!...

The University of Technology in central Sydney developed a technique using artificial intelligence methods, to map out the broken areas of the glass plate, then aligned them to a high-resolutuion photo of the same area and same angle

Photo: State Library NSW

The result: one of the most stunning photos of our beautiful Sydney Harbour you will ever see!

The UNESCO Memory of the World Register awarded a place for Holtermann's giant negatives
They are are part of a collection where exists only another five inscriptions from Australia.


Photo: State Library NSW

You can read more about the Holtermann Collection at the State Librrary NSW: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/research-and-collections-significant-collections/holtermann-collection

This information was sourced in an article written in the SMH on Oct 31, 2017 by Julie Power