Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Nettleton (1826–1902)

by Jean Gittins

This article was published:

Charles Nettleton (1826-1902), photographer, was born in north England, son of George Nettleton. He arrived in Victoria in 1854 accompanied by his wife Emma, née Miles. In Melbourne he joined the studio of T. Duryea and Alexander McDonald and specialized in outdoor work. He carried his dark tent and equipment with him everywhere, a necessity in the days of the collodion process when plates had to be developed immediately after exposure. He became special photographer for the government and the Melbourne Corporation and is credited with having photographed the first Australian steam train when the private Melbourne-Sandridge (Port Melbourne) line was opened on 12 September 1854.

Nettleton systematically recorded Melbourne's growth from a small town to a metropolis. Every major public work was photographed including the water and sewerage system, bridges and viaducts, roads, wharves, diversion of the River Yarra and construction of the Botanical Gardens. His public buildings include the Town Hall, Houses of Parliament, Treasury, Royal Mint, Law Courts and Post Office and he also photographed theatres, churches, schools, banks, hospitals and markets. His collection of ships includes photographs of the Cutty Sark, and the Shenandoah. He photographed the troops sent to the Maori war in 1860, the artillery camp at Sunbury in 1866 as well as contingents for the Sudan campaign and the Boxer rising. The sharp delineation of his pictures taken at six seconds exposure was a credit to his skill.

Nettleton visited the goldfields and country towns, photographed forests and fern glades, and rushed to disaster areas. In 1861 he boarded the Great Britain to take pictures of the first English cricket team to come to Australia. During the Victorian visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867 he was appointed official photographer. He was police photographer for over twenty-five years and his portrait of Ned Kelly, of which one print is still extant, is claimed to be the only genuine photograph of the outlaw. Nettleton had opened his own studio in 1858. His souvenir albums were the first of the type to be offered to the public. However, when the dry-plate came into general use in 1885 he knew that the new process offered opportunities that were beyond his scope. Five years later his studio was closed. His work had won recognition abroad. His first success was at the London Exhibition of 1862 and in 1867 he was honoured in Paris. He was not a great artist but a master technician.

Nettleton was an active member of the Collingwood Lodge of Freemasons and a match-winning player of the West Melbourne Bowling Club. Aged 76 he died on 4 January 1902, survived by his wife, seven daughters and three sons.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia (Melb, 1955)
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1902
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1902.

Citation details

Jean Gittins, 'Nettleton, Charles (1826–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




4 January, 1902 (aged ~ 76)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


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