Blog

Incredible Photographs From the Archives: Negative No.304

By: Elizabeth McKinnon, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 18 Sep 2015

A blog series investigating stories and images from the earliest collection of photographs in the Museum's history.

Megaptera novaeangliae

Megaptera novaeangliae
Photographer: Henry Barnes © Australian Museum

One of the Archives favourite images is of this mysterious man standing with an incredible whale fin collected from Little Bay, Sydney.

According to the 1909 register of V negative glass plates, this remarkable specimen was known as Megaptera longimana, now recognized as Megaptera novaeangliae, commonly identified as the Hump Back whale.

We can look for clues in the image to help date the record – such as the man’s attire, as well as the low number of the record itself – it is likely that this image was taken in the late 19th century, corresponding to the 1889 date of registration for the specimen still in our collection today (S.281).

While we don’t know much about this photograph, the mystery truly adds to the magic of the image. Besides an astounding specimen in the forefront of the glass plate, we are left wondering about who the man behind it is.

Perhaps he was a museum attendant, preparator or any number of positions filled in the early museum. His rolled up sleeves and dirty hands look as though he has been working hard. And what do we see behind him? Bones on the shelves, packages, boxes, ropes and equipment. Where could he be? Perhaps this is the museum grounds or somewhere closer to the shore?

This image truly fascinates us down in the Museum Archives with many theories as to whom, where and when we might be looking at, what are your thoughts?