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image icon 'Spoils of the ocean', 1898

'Spoils of the ocean', 1898
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a black-and-white photograph taken in 1898 by Henry H Tilbrook (1848-1937). Measuring 20.4 cm x 15.8 cm, it shows a number of people gathered around a fishing boat that sits high and dry on a beach. Several cane lobster pots and around 20 lobsters are scattered around the foreground. A small shark and a stingray are laid out near the boat on some piles of seaweed. The two figures closest to the camera are smartly dressed - the man wears a suit and hat and the woman wears a full-length dress with leg-of-mutton sleeves, and is holding a parasol. A man with a black dog and a child with a large white bonnet are seated on and in the boat. A young man on a horse can be seen just behind the boat.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a photograph by the enterprising and much-travelled South Australian photographer Henry Tilbrook - Tilbrook was born in Llandudno, Wales, and arrived in South Australia in 1854; in 1869 he established the 'Northern Argus' newspaper in the township of Clare, and within 20 years had made his fortune and retired to indulge two of his passions, photography and travel; between 1894 and 1905 he made a series of photographic excursions to the Flinders Ranges and SA's mid-north, to Mount Gambier and the south-east district and coast, and across the border to Portland in Victoria
  • is a unique visual record of one of his photographic excursions - in 1898 Tilbrook travelled to Mt Gambier and, with his close friend Henry Lester, spent a month in the local district photographing views and other subjects of interest; the pair rented a cottage at Cape Banks (on the coast of SA near Mt Gambier) for a fortnight; 'Spoils of the ocean' was photographed nearby
  • demonstrates Tilbrook's inventive approach to his photographic work - the man with the hat standing nearest to the camera is the photographer himself; his right hand is holding a shutter-release cable, a device he used extensively and which allowed him to appear in his own photographs
  • references photographic technology of the period - on this particular journey Tilbrook carried several dozen photographic dry-plates, a whole-plate camera and different kinds of lenses including stigmatic lenses, which took images that were true to the objects being photographed, and stereoscopic lenses, which created two similar images of the one subject to increase the illusion of depth; it was not uncommon for Tilbrook to scale slopes or trudge along beaches, carrying around 17 kg of camera equipment
  • documents colonial coastal life and history - until the late 19th century, Cape Banks was an isolated area and infamous as a 'shipwreck coast'; a lighthouse was in operation from January 1883 and the first substantial home in the area was established in 1888; this coastal area attracted an influx of seasonal visitors, mainly families and fishing groups.