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Duryea, Townsend (1823–1888)

by R. J. Noye

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Townsend Duryea (1823-1888), by unknown photographer

Townsend Duryea (1823-1888), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 986

Townsend Duryea (1823-1888), photographer, was born at Glencoe, Long Island, New York, North America, son of Hewlet Duryea. He was trained as a mining engineer and his experience in the art of photography dated from 1840. He also took an art course. He arrived at Melbourne in 1852 and next year entered a studio partnership with Alexander McDonald in Bourke Street. In 1855 he moved to Adelaide and in February opened daguerreotype rooms over Prince's store at the corner of King William and Grenfell Streets. Later that year Townsend and his brother Sanford formed the partnership of Duryea Bros. They were the first photographers known to have worked outside Adelaide; by 1856 they had visited Auburn, Burra, Clare, Kapunda, Goolwa, Milang, Port Elliot and their near-by villages. In 1857 Duryea used experience gained in America as a shipbuilder to build the thirty-foot cutter Coquette behind the Maid and Magpie Hotel at Magill. Though the cutter was said to be for the River Murray trade, it was used mainly in racing; stakes in private challenges were sometimes £100 a side. Duryea was also interested in copper finds near Wallaroo, and by February 1861 a fine lode of copper had been cut on section 471, the property of 'Mr Duryea and others'. Within a few months the Duryea Mining Association owned fifteen mineral sections in the area.

In 1863 Townsend dissolved the partnership with his brother. His studio was the most popular in Adelaide, patronized by governors, visiting dignitaries and Adelaide's leading citizens. As well as portraits he produced many views, including several notable panoramas of Adelaide. In 1872 he photographed almost all the surviving old colonists and made their portraits into a large mosaic comprising some 675 cartes-de-visite. Duryea was chosen as official photographer in the royal visit of 1867. On 9 November the Duke of Edinburgh posed at Duryea's King William Street studio for the first royal portraits made in Australia. Duryea then accompanied the official party throughout the visit, travelling in a specially prepared photographer's van. By the early 1870s Duryea's panoramas, royal portraits and prizes won in Society of Arts photographic competitions had made him famous. He achieved his high standard with the help of skilled operators. Short in build he was extremely energetic, of 'vigorous mind and keen intelligence, his whole character bearing the impress of sterling integrity'. Duryea always made full use of the advertising facilities offered by newspapers and almanacs. His career as a photographer was cut short when his studio and entire collection of 50,000 negatives were destroyed by fire on 18 April 1875. This loss was a serious blow to Duryea and historians alike, as the plates were the best record of early South Australian colonial life ever made. After the fire Duryea moved to the Riverina district of New South Wales and took up a selection near Yanga Lake. In his later years he was crippled by a stroke and became an invalid. He died on 13 December 1888 after a buggy accident and was buried at Parkside near Balranald.

Duryea was married twice in America: first to Madalina and second about 1852 to Elizabeth Mary Smith who accompanied him to Adelaide. In Adelaide on 22 May 1872 he married Catherine Elizabeth Friggins. He was survived by a son and daughter of the first marriage, four sons and a daughter of the second, and three sons and two daughters of the third. Several of his sons and grandsons became photographers.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia (Melb, 1955)
  • Riverina Recorder, 19 Dec 1888
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Dec 1888
  • newspaper clippings, R. J. Noye collection (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

R. J. Noye, 'Duryea, Townsend (1823–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/duryea-townsend-3458/text5283, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 April 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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