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.
In Farquhar’s close-up portrait of the rat catcher and his dog, the photographer excludes any extraneous data that otherwise might have provided a spatial or motivational context. The contemporary or the present day viewer is required to construct a narrative to explore or understand what is occurring. The title of the picture might incline a viewer to believe that what they see is an exercise in vermin control, and that the rat concerned might be an introduced black or brown rodent. A more likely scenario is that the rat catcher is focussed on catching ‘rakali’, a native water-rat once widely trapped for its fur. The trapping of rakali for use in the manufacture of fashionable clothing accelerated as introduced furs such as musquash became more expensive. It was not until 1938 that rakali were granted protected status.
Inscriptions & markings
Ratting on the Yarra