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Henry Beaufoy Merlin (1830–1873)

by Richard Bradshaw

This article was published:

Henry Beaufoy Merlin (1830-1873), by American & Australasian Photographic Company, 1870-75

Henry Beaufoy Merlin (1830-1873), by American & Australasian Photographic Company, 1870-75

State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away - 42003

Henry Beaufoy Merlin (1830?-1873), photographer, was born probably in 1830 in London, son of Frederick Merlin (Murlin), chemist, and his wife Ann Harriett, daughter of Lieutenant Benjamin Beaufoy, R.N. Henry Murlin, who was possibly a copyist for a London pantomime by Horace Mayhew in 1847, arrived in Sydney from London with his mother on 8 December 1848 as a steerage passenger. Ann Murlin married Henry John Forster in 1851; Mrs Forster was later described as an 'artist in wax flowers'.

In 1853 Henry was granted three licences for marionette performances and from April to May was based in the former Olympic Circus, Castlereagh Street, advertising as the Royal Marionette Theatre, which he claimed was the company of that name that had opened in London in 1852. The programme included animated scenes as well as marionettes. When the show transferred to Maitland in May he began using the name 'Henry Muriel', sometimes with a middle initial 'B'. He was granted licences in 1855, for a display of scenes of the Crimea, Russia, in June 1856 and February 1857, for theatres in which he acted at Maitland and Newcastle, and in May 1857 for a display of 'panoramas' in Sydney. In 1858 he gave a lecture to accompany Guy and Merlin's Grand Indian Panorama in Sydney as Henry Merlin and was so listed on the 1859-60 East Sydney electoral roll.

Back in London, on 27 January 1863 in the parish church of St Mary, Stratford, Bow, Henry Beaufoy Merlin married Louisa Eleanor Foster (b.1844). By 1866, and henceforth known as 'Beaufoy Merlin', he was in Victoria working as a travelling photographer, using the wet-plate or collodion method for glass negatives, under the name American and Australasian Photographic Co., although lacking any provable American connexion. In 1869 he presented the governor of Victoria with his photographs of the Western District. He advertised his arrival in Sydney in September next year, claiming to have worked extensively in Victoria as well as at Yass, Braidwood, Queanbeyan, Goulburn and Parramatta in New South Wales. His assistant Charles Bayliss, then aged about 16, had travelled with him.

In late 1871 Merlin sailed as official photographer on the eclipse expedition to northern Queensland, reporting on the journey and its disappointing outcome for the Australian Town and Country Journal (6 January 1872). By the end of March the A. & A. Photographic Co. had established itself at Hill End. There Merlin met the German-born goldminer B. O. Holtermann and a studio was built for the A. & A. Co. on a block Holtermann owned. After three months of photographing at Hill End and Tambaroora, Merlin's company travelled to Gulgong where they set about making images of practically every building, with owners, tenants and passers-by, achieving an unrivalled documentation of a town of that time. At Hill End on 19 October Merlin, again photographing house-to-house, recorded the unearthing of 'Holtermann's nugget'. He wrote an account of Holtermann's life for the Town and Country Journal (2 November 1872).

In December Merlin was at Bathurst when he learned that he had been selected to photograph settled areas of New South Wales and Victoria for the Holtermann Exposition that would publicize the colonies overseas. On a tour of the central west, he took pictures at Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo and smaller towns, and wrote an extensive account of the journey for the Town and Country Journal (19 April, 5 July and 27 September 1872). By August next year he had returned to Sydney, where he took further photographs; his wife appeared in pictures of picnic groups. For the Town and Country Journal (9 August 1873) he also wrote a vivid, second-hand account of Captain Moresby's expeditions to New Guinea.

Merlin died of pneumonia on 27 September 1873 at his home in Abercrombie Street, Leichhardt, Sydney. His wife and their two daughters and two sons survived him. His age was given as 43. He was buried in the Anglican section of Balmain cemetery (Pioneers' Park, Leichhardt). Bayliss and Holtermann continued the photographic work. Merlin, however, had been responsible for most of the Holtermann collection of photographs that was later acquired by the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Beaufoy Merlin's work reflected his mastery of a difficult technique and talent for composition. His unique record of the people and buildings of Hill End and Gulgong in 1872 is of extraordinary value to historians. The Macleay Museum, University of Sydney, holds twenty-two cartes-de-visite taken by him in 1872.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Burke, Gold and Silver (Melb, 1973)
  • A. Davies and P. Stanbury, The Mechanical Eye in Australia (Melb, 1985)
  • M. Colligan, Canvas Documentaries (Melb, 2002)
  • R. Bradshaw, ‘The Merlin of the South’, Australasian Drama Studies, no 7, Oct 1985, p 82.

Citation details

Richard Bradshaw, 'Merlin, Henry Beaufoy (1830–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Henry Beaufoy Merlin (1830-1873), by American & Australasian Photographic Company, 1870-75

Henry Beaufoy Merlin (1830-1873), by American & Australasian Photographic Company, 1870-75

State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away - 42003

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Muriel, Henry
  • Murlin, Henry

London, Middlesex, England


27 September, 1873 (aged ~ 43)
Leichhardt, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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