Featuring in a new exhibition ‘The Photograph and Australia’ opening soon at the Art Gallery - these intriguing images of the Curator and his specimen remind us of the crucial role photography played in 19th century science.

Gerard Krefft and Manta alfredi
Gerard Krefft and the Alfred Manta, Manta alfredi (Krefft, 1868). Australian Museum specimen no. I.1731 (holotype). Image: Henry Barnes
© Australian Museum

The fascination with the photographic image had its origins then and early letters between Gerard Krefft and his wide circle of international correspondents, reveal that he was at the forefront of this innovation. From the 1860s he was using photography as a primary scientific tool.

Writing to J.E Gray of the British Museum in 1869 Krefft remarks, “ I also enclose fresh photos of the Thylacinus breviceps and cynocephalus…I photographed a very large skull of T.cynocephalus and one of the two of breviceps … I enclose photo of Mrs K who is great in jams, tarts, cooking and housekeeping and never bothers me…”

Thylacines or Tasmanian Tigers (as well as the utilitarian Mrs Krefft) were a sight rarely seen by European scientists. From 12,000 miles away, Krefft was able to utilise the developing technology of photography to impress his European peers. As a way of immediately documenting scientific observations this new medium was unrivalled and Krefft exploited it to highlight the scientific wonders of the Australian continent.