At the beginning of the 1890s, the Kew businessman and Town Councillor, Henry Kellett, commissioned J.F.C. Farquhar to photograph scenes of Kew. These scenes included panoramas as well as pastoral scenes. The resulting set of twelve photographs was assembled in an album, Kew Where We Live, from which customers could select images for purchase.The preamble to the album describes that the photographs used the ‘argentic bromide’ process, now more commonly known as the gelatine silver process. This form of dry plate photography allowed for the negatives to be kept for weeks before processing, hence its value in landscape photography. The resulting images were considered to be finely grained and everlasting. Evidence of the success of Henry Kellett’s venture can be seen today, in that some of the photographs are held in national collections.
It is believed that the Kew Historical Society’s copy of the Kellett album is unique and that the photographs in the book were the first copies taken from the original plates. It is the first and most important series of images produced about Kew. The individual images have proved essential in identifying buildings and places of heritage value in the district.
When the Kew Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1871, its extensive 340 acres of grounds were intended for farming, agriculture and recreation for the inmates. The point-of-view chosen by Farquhar for this panoramic photograph focuses on the ordered open fields, haystacks and remnant trees that extended from the foreground to the rear of the Asylum. The inmates are the absent players in this pastoral idyll. In 1891, The Argus reported on the Annual Asylum Picnic: “Wednesday saw the Kew picnic, the yearly festival of the mad folks and their keepers. Once a year the public subscribes for cakes and ale for all these mad folks, and their keepers, from superintendent to lowest wardsman, turn out, and use their best endeavours to make one day in the year sanely merry.” Regardless of such merriment, the Asylum’s development and ongoing status were frequently a source of disquiet to the residents of Kew, who regularly petitioned the State Government for its removal. Despite these views, the Asylum was to remain a functioning institution from 1871 to 1988.
Inscriptions & markings
Kew Asylum & Grounds