Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry King (1855–1923)

by Richard King

This article was published:

Henry King (1855?-1923), photographer, was born at Swanage, Dorset, England, son of William Isaac King, stonemason, and his wife Eliza, née Toms. He came to New South Wales with his family about 1857 and as a lad worked with the Sydney photographer J. Hubert Newman. On 27 November 1878 he married Elizabeth Laing in Sydney with Congregational forms. In 1880 King established a photographic studio at 316 George Street in partnership with William Slade and by 1884 was sole proprietor. For the rest of his life he worked from studios in George Street, although much of his reputation was derived from work done outside.

King travelled widely through eastern Australia photographing Aboriginals. His portraits, mostly half length and identically posed, were often taken against a painted studio backdrop of the bush. At the World Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893 he was awarded a certificate and a bronze medal for the size, technique and artistic finish of his Aboriginal portraits. As his career progressed, and with the invention of dry-plate techniques, King turned more to landscape photography, producing as well as popular scenic views a series of Sydney street scenes, now valued for their historic as well as their artistic interest.

During the first decade of the twentieth century King carried out photographic work for the National Art Gallery of New South Wales and for several art societies. He counted many artists among his friends. His photograph of the 1907 selection committee of the Society of Artists, Sydney, featuring Julian Ashton, Will Dyson, Norman Lindsay, Sydney Long, D. H. Souter, Rose Soady (Lindsay) and Harry Weston, has often been reproduced.

In 1901 the Australasian Photographic Review described King as 'one of the oldest and … most successful photographers in New South Wales' and three years later illustrated an entire issue with his work: 'Mr King is a photographer of the old and new schools combined, and stands high in the esteem of the craft, and by amateurs he is regarded as a true and valued friend'. His name, it concluded, had become 'a household word'.

Bearded and bespectacled, King was a self-effacing man. He died aged 68 in Waverley War Memorial Hospital on 22 May 1923 following abdominal surgery and was buried on 24 May in the Congregational section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his son and three daughters. After his death King's studio collection of glass negatives was purchased by J. R. Tyrrell and eventually by Consolidated Press Holdings. In 1975 an exhibition of his Aboriginal portraits was held at the Australian Centre for Photography. Factual and uncluttered by artistic effect, they were appreciated for their ethnological significance and the dignity of his subjects.

Select Bibliography

  • W. T. Tyrrell (compiler), Early Sydney Postcards, vol 3 (Syd, nd)
  • National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Catalogue (Syd, 1906)
  • Australasian Photo-Review, 21 Feb 1901, 21 Dec 1904, 15 Oct 1923
  • Australian, 4 Jan 1975
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Jan 1975.

Related Thematic Essay

  • Michael Aird, Lindy Allen, Chantal Knowles, Paul Memmott, Maria Nugent, Tim O'Rourke and Jonathan Richards, Wild Australia Show

Citation details

Richard King, 'King, Henry (1855–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Swanage, Dorset, England


22 May, 1923 (aged ~ 68)
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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