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Group of diggers

Pictures, Australian history
Date: 1858
Author: Antoine Fauchery

This photograph is a window into life in the early years of the goldfields. It's one of the first photographic series of Australian scenes ever to have been sold to the public. Produced by the studio of Antoine Fauchery and Richard Daintree in 1858, it is one of 53 photographs in what is known as the Fauchery-Daintree Album.

Using the wet plate collodion process invented only seven years earlier, Fauchery and Daintree produced their collection of albumen silver prints at a time when the sales of photographs were booming.

The photograph depicts the camaraderie of a group of diggers watching two of their fellow diggers pan for gold. The picture shows the excitement of the early years on the goldfields, before new techniques and large companies took over.

Born in Paris, Antoine Fauchery (1823–61) was an artist and writer. One of a number of writers in Paris who mixed in bohemian circles, he was immortalised in Henry Murger's Scènes de la vie de bohème, on which the opera La bohème was based.

He first visited Australia from 1852 to 1856, and during this time wrote his most notable literary work, Lettres d’un mineur en Australie, published in Paris in 1857 to acclaim. In that same year, he established himself in a studio in Collins Street, Melbourne, and soon entered into partnership with Richard Daintree, whom he'd met on the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s. Both men had returned to Europe briefly in 1856 and become interested in the new art of photography.

Fauchery later travelled to the Philippines and China, where he reported on and photographed French involvement in the Second Opium War for a prominent Parisian newspaper in 1860–61. He died in Japan in that same year.

Daintree (1832–1878) became a prominent geologist and a pioneer of the use of photography in geological surveying. He's most often associated with Queensland, where he surveyed goldfields and coal seams and where a number of natural features are named after him, including a national park.