From the archive of the archivist: 19th century Magic Lantern Slides.

Title: Series 05 Lantern Slides

Display date: 1934-1940.

Creators: Rev. A. E. Hunt, R Cameron, W.G. Lawes, W. Saville.

Where it was created: Printed in Australian studios, photographs and sketches were created in Papua and New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.

Format: Glass lantern slides, photographs and sketches.

Language: English

Materials: Glass, tape, writing ink, water colours, biro, pencil, label stickers.

Collections: Captain Stanley Spain papers and pictorial material, 1842-1940

Availability: Supervised use at Special Collections in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

This slide is a handpainted image of a woman looking at a child in a bilum, as she rests from the task of making cooking pots for trade. She is likely in the Port Moresby village of Hanuabada, as the image shows similarities with the photographs taken by William George Lawes, a member of the London Missionary Society, during the 19th century. Image source: Deborah Lee Talbot, 2023, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Series 05: Lantern Slides.
Mission ships were crucial to the Pacific Island missionary networks. Images like those above could be used by presenters to discuss the various locations of the London Missionary Society and the need to secure funding to support such travels. As many indigenous missionaries and teachers were moved to different islands, the support of water vessels to return home would have been an enticing idea.

Why it matters: Magic lantern slides were used for a range of audiences, from Sunday school classes for children to spiritual and history lectures for adults. This collection, as a composition of different slides, shows the types of stories being told to London Missionary Society meeting attendees in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There was a fascination with the environment of the Pacific islands, especially the local reefs and water travel. These views and subjects often appeared in relation to community fundraising events. For present-day audiences such slides are especially valuable as a demonstration of technological development and as demonstrations of Indigenous agency as men and women who occupied leadership roles and undertook crucial labour within the community were more likely to be photographed by missionaries.

Complimentary collections: British Museum Collection; National Library of New Zealand; Digital Pasifik; Pacific Manuscripts Bureau

Recommended reading: Heritage in the Limelight: the magic lantern in Australia and the world; Digitising the AIATSI lantern slide collections.