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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Freeman, James (1814–1870)

by Iris Burke and Keast Burke

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

This is a shared entry with William Glover Webb Freeman

William Glover Webb Freeman (1809-1895) and James Freeman (1814-1870), photographers, were the sons of an 'unknown gentleman'. William was born in Bristol, England, and about 1836 at Clifton married Margaret Ann, née Dayrell. The brothers had five years' experience in London as professional photographers before William with his wife and family reached Sydney in April 1854 in the Elizabeth. In partnership with George Heath he set up as a chemist and druggist. In October 1853 James and his wife arrived in the Sovereign of the Seas. The brothers started business in 1854 and soon became the colony's outstanding photographers with the best known portrait studio. Like their competitors they advertised extensively in the press but were more successful in getting long newspaper notices. In that year at the Paris Exhibition the brothers were commended for their daguerreotypes, which were also used industrially as a basis for woodcuts in the Illustrated Sydney News. Two of the best photographs were 'Miss Keane' on 11 November and the opening of the Long Cove railway viaduct near Lewisham on 24 March 1855. They also advertised 'Stereo Daguerreotypes' and that 'Invalids and Country Gentlemen could be visited in their homes'. In 1856 the Freemans adopted the collodiotype process and made available portraits of viceroyalty and such prominent figures as the actor, Gustavus Brooke; they were also permitted to photograph the first ministry under responsible government, providing that the photographs were not shown in the colony. By 1858, using large-format wet plate photography printed on gold-toned albumen paper, they were able to produce popular harbour and city panoramas; previously such pictures were only available in wood or copper engravings.

The Freemans entered into public affairs and James gave several long and precise addresses: on 8 December he lectured to the Philosophical Society of New South Wales 'On the Progress of Photography and its Application to the Arts and Sciences' and published the paper in the Sydney Magazine of Science and Art, 1859. He forecast the application of photography to the control of engineering, criminal investigation, military and many other purposes. In the late 1860s the brothers visited Britain where James died aged 56 on 22 October 1870 at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. On William's return the firm was advertised as 'photographer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales'. In the early 1870s he took over the business of Mr and Mrs Oswald Allen, well-known photographers and miniature painters. Freeman took advantage of the carte-de-visite craze and many portrait cartes of the 1870s were imprinted 'Freeman late Oswald Allen'. In 1888 he retired in ill health and left his home in Sydney. He lived for some time at Goulburn and died aged 86 in Newcastle on 9 March 1895, survived by three of his five children. He was buried in the Anglican section of Sandgate cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • S. A. Donaldson letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • pictures and portraits catalogue (State Library of New South Wales)
  • notes and newspaper extracts (privately held).

Citation details

Iris Burke and Keast Burke, 'Freeman, James (1814–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 4

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