1893 Brisbane flood photo by John Jackson Hogg

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Henry Mobsby – promoting Queensland to the world

Henry William Mobsby went on to great achievements on the opposite side of the world to his place of birth. He was born 17 August 1859 in Hove, Sussex, the first surviving son of William Mobsby and Sarah Timewell. William Mobsby worked as a gardener and canal man, transporting goods. Henry followed the arts and went on to become closely associated with exhibition work for most of his life. He had accompanied his father in his official capacity to the Agricultural Exhibition at the Goldsmid Estate in Hove, near Brighton. His first personal contact with an exhibition was when he assisted the artist Mr. A. G. Greysmith in the Heatheries at the Royal Pavilion building in Brighton.

Henry was educated at Hampton Place High School in Brighton. He studied art and design as well as chemistry at the South Kensington School of Science and Art and undertook a courses in general commercial training, attaining senior diplomas from the Chamber of Commerce and the City and Guilds Institute in London. Henry received senior diplomas for theoretical and practical photography from the Cripplegate Institute in London.

Henry became engaged to Mary Ellen Jenner
the daughter of renowned landscape artist Isaac Walter Jenner. Jenner, from Surrey had served in the Royal Navy during the Crimean war before distinguishing himself as a marine painter. Jenner with his wife, daughter and her fiancé Henry left England in 1883, departing from Plymouth aboard the “Roma” and arriving in Brisbane on 19 September. Henry married Mary in September the following year and he set up a house painting and decorating business in the Market Buildings in Roma St. Henry later took up a position teaching decorative art and lettering on the staff at the Brisbane Technical College. Jenner pursued his career in art, painting amongst other subjects, landscapes of early Brisbane. He was a founder the School of Arts in 1887 and also took up a teaching position at the Brisbane Technical College during that year.

Henry’s earliest documented work in photography in Queensland dates from 1888 in the form of a cabinet photograph of a Masonic group taken at Toowong. There is no record of Henry actually operating a commercial studio but he nevertheless pursued photography in earnest. He won a medal in the World Photography Competition, London in 1896. In 1897 Henry was appointed as the Queensland Government artist and photographer attached to the Department of Agriculture and Stock and he later became attached in March 1899 to the Chief Secretary’s Department and the Intelligence and Tourism Bureau.

Along with fellow government photographer Frederick Wills, Henry took the first moving picture footage in Queensland in 1898 using a Lumiere cinematograph. Although Wills was given the lion’s share of the credit during 1998 centenary celebrations of the event, I believe an injustice was done to Henry whose part was described as merely being Will’s assistant. Henry was the more experienced photographer of the pair. A replica of the original camera (that is now in the Queensland Museum pictured at right) was made for Kev Franzi of the Kenilworth Moving Picture Museum and it was used to recreate a modern version of the original film shot from the same vantage points. Both films were presented in a series of public lectures in Brisbane and Toowoomba during the centenary year.

The John Oxley Library holds an album thought to be the work of Henry showing his magnificent photographs depicting the celebrations outside the Treasury Building in Queen Street, the parade along William Street, the visit by the Imperial troops, and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwell and York who were fresh from visiting Melbourne to proclaim Australia’s first parliament in May 1901.

As a result of his government posting Henry became closely associated with Queensland’s representation at various exhibitions. Henry designed and looked after exhibits at the annual Royal National Association shows in Brisbane. His success at this led him abroad and he managed the Queensland exhibits at the Franco-British Exhibition in London in 1908 and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. He assisted at the Australian Natives Association’s Exhibitions in Melbourne, the Peace Exhibition in Adelaide and was the State organizer for the Queensland Government’s exhibition at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley in 1924 and he organized and designed the State’s exhibit New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in 1926, that was deemed the best and most complete of any of the Australian state’s. Henry was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, England, member of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland where he was there honorary lanternist.

During 1908 and 1909 Henry traveled to England with his wife and daughter and was the State representative to London for the Franco-British Exhibition and as such he supervised the construction of the layout, designed trophies and selected the colour scheme of the state’s exhibit within the Australian Pavilion. He won the grand prix for his photography. After the Exhibition finished Henry remained in England exhibiting Queensland products at Newcastle, Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire as well as Aberdeen and Dublin. He also took time out and visited his family in Brighton that he hadn’t seen for some 25 years..

In 1915 Henry supervised the design and construction of the Queensland exhibit at the P.P.I.E. and was appointed Acting Commissioner in Charge following the death of Commissioner J. A. Robertson. Henry was appointed to the international jury in the Agriculture section in the latter exhibition, one of five jurors selected from Australia for the whole event. Henry was awarded a silver medal for photography at the P.P.I.E. and he gained a diploma in photography and certificate of efficiency in motion picture work while in San Francisco.

Henry traveled widely throughout Queensland and his photography of industry and scenes graced many of the publications issued by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Railways and they were also utilized for postcards produced by the Department of Intelligence and Tourism and their own various publications. His photographs and writing frequently appeared in the pages of the “Queensland Agricultural Journal”.

Although their publisher is unknown, three series of topographical postcards issued in Queensland, namely the Shell series, the Special Series and the Coloured Shell Series are closely connected and some of the views they feature are based on Henry’s photographic work. The Coloured Shell series postcards date from around 1905 and number over 150. The postcard from that series featuring the Intelligence and Tourism Bureau (Henry’s employer) is definitely from his hand. Other postcards in the series are known to be based on the work of photographers Poul C. Poulsen who had a studio in Queen St, Brisbane and Arthur Edwin Urry of Maryborough.

A series of real photographic postcards of Queensland scenes bear Henry’s name as the photographer although they do not contain any publisher’s credits. The Intelligence and Tourism Bureau produced many hundreds of postcards based on Henry’s photographs and amongst these was a series produced for the Franco-British Exhibition (this title being printed on the reverse of the cards). No doubt these were given out and sold at the exhibition as an advertising aid for Queensland. It appears Henry also carried Coloured Shell series postcards to the exhibition as well as examples with his notations on them made at the exhibition exist. Given the many hundreds of views issued by the ITB, Henry would easily be the most prolifically represented photographer on postcards in Queensland.

Henry gave illustrated lectures using a magic lantern to project images that he had largely taken himself. A collection of almost 800 of Henry’s lantern slides along with a lantern projector surfaced at a garage sale at Wynnum in early 2002. These include reproductions of early photographs of Brisbane that he used to illustrate talks on Queensland history as well as photographs of the Federation celebrations, photographs illustrating Queensland primary industry and many views taken within and around the Franco-British Exhibition and P.P.I.E. Among these slides are ones Henry would have used at these exhibitions. Henry also made many films about Queensland’s primary industries such as sugar, beef and cotton. He even presented film evenings at Indooroopilly School where his son has attended.

Henry’s daughter named Bertha (born Nelly Alberta Timewell Mobsby) was born 10 September 1889. His son, named Arthur Henry Timewell Mobsby was born 14 March 1894 but sadly he drowned during a flood in 1905. Berta took up photography and she accompanied her parents to England during 1908-09. An album of her work is in the possession of the author. Berta also became competent with a movie camera. She can certainly be counted amongst Queensland’s early female photographers and cinematographers although she never pursued her skills very far commercially.

During his career Henry befriended many and was highly energetic and successful in promoting his adopted home of Queensland to the rest of Australia and the world through medium of photography and the media of postcards, pamphlets, books, lantern slides and film. He attracted many new settlers to the State through his efforts.

Henry finally retired from his government post in 1930 no doubt continuing his hobbies of gardening and landscaping. He passed away in this 73rd year at his home at 100 Station Rd, Indooroopilly on 9 April 1933. He was interred in Toowong cemetery.

(Thank you to Kay Mobsby for sharing family photographs and papers)

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