1893 Brisbane flood photo by John Jackson Hogg

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Robert Cremer of North Queensland and the Northern Territory

Like other photographers in North Queensland in the late 19th century Robert Cremer moved around finding the small populations of the North not particularly lucrative enough to support a long stay in a given location. He was also one of the few early photographers to work in the Northern Territory. He was born Robert John Peter Cremer in 1856 in Cologne, Prussia the son of Martin Cremer and Johanna Cooper. Cremer's arrival date in Australia is not known but he was married in Thursday Island on 4 May 1880 to Annie Elizabeth Condon the daughter of Patrick Condon. Their first child Camille was born 14 July 1884 but she died in 1887. Their second child Robert Walter was born 22 June 1885 in Cleveland St, Townsville. For some reason Cremer travelled south as not long after that he is noted on a shipping list, travelling from Melbourne to Sydney aboard the coastal steamer 'City of Adelaide' arriving in Sydney 23 July. Cremer is first noted a photographer in Townsville in 1885 in the partnership Cremer, Deazeley and Blake (John Deazeley formerly of Brisbane and his brother in law Thomas Henry Blake). Not long after he set up in Flinders St, Townsville on his own, working there for 6-7 years. Another child Maud was born there on 26 February 1887 but died in her infancy. The next childen, twins William and Maria, were born 11 March 1889 in Croydon where Cremer worked for some time and Gertie was born in 1890 in Georgetown, just over 100 miles east of Croydon. Around 1892 Cremer moved to Thursday Island in the far north of Queensland where he operated two pearling luggers in addition to his photographic work. His last child Maud was born there on 28 April. Cremer travelled to Port Darwin aboard the 'Catterthun' arriving late October 1894 to investigate business opportunities. He intended operating his pearling luggers in the area (Northern Territory Times and Gazette 2 November 1894 p.2). He returned to Thursday Island and then eventually went back to Port Darwin aboard the ss 'Chingtu' with his wife and family arriving 18 June (Northern Territory Times and Gazette 21 June 1895 p.2). Cremer set up a studio in Mitchell St, Palmerston quickly after arriving nearly opposite the Club Hotel and his advertisments, if they are not slightly exagerated, give an interesting insight into his previous work and training: "R.C.'s experience in some of the leading studios in Europe, America and the southern colonies should be a guarantee that nothing but first class work will be turned out from the premises". Accompanying editorial comment noted " The building in Mitchell-street lately used as a school has been converted by Mr. Cremer into a photographic studio. Portraiture appears to be Mr. Cremer's special forte, and judging by samples on view he is an artist possessed of a thorough knowledge of this particular branch of photography" (Northern Territory Times and Gazette 28 June 1895 p.2). Although he stated his stay would be limited Cremer's advertisment ran until September when he then announced a reduction in his prices and that he would only remain open for another four weeks (Northern Territory Times and Gazette 20 September 1895 p.2) but this ad ran until 1 November. Business must have been better than expected or the ad was just a ruse to entice business and this technique was commonly used by many other photographers. Editorial content as late as December mentions Cremer would be leaving soon and "Have a good photograph taken of self and children while you have the chance. Such an opportunity may not occur again for some time." (Northern Territory Times and Gazette 27 December 1895 p.2) Cremer appears to have remained in Palmerston despite this. He did not place any more ads until August 1896 when he mentioned his studio would close temporarily so that he could travel to Pine Creek to produce a series of views for his "Photographic Album of the Northern Territory". A hurricane which struck Port Darwin on 6 January 1897 reduced a number of buildings to ruins including Cremer's Mitchell St studio. He left the area returning to Cairns to work. In 1899 Cremer, still residing in Cairns announced his intention to sit in the seat of Burke in the State Election but even the newspapers stated his chances were nil (Courier Mail 17 February 1899, p.6). He ended up retiring from the contest (Courier Mail 9 March 1899, p.5). Cremer was living in Mareeba in 1903 (electoral roll) but moved back to Cairns. In April 1904 Cremer announced his impending return to Palmerston, Northern Territory aboard the "Empire"saying he would be there for two weeks only (Northern Territory Times and Gazette 1 April 1904 p.2). He set up a temporary studio in a cottage in Smith St adjoining the Commercial Bank from 11 April but then advertised he would remain for just 3 weeks, but after 6 weeks he was still there and he announced he would visit Yam Creek and Pine Creek and kept advertising this for two more weeks. His last ad appeared on 1 July 1904 and he departed Port Darwin 12 July aboard the steamer "Australian" (Northern Territory Times and Gazette 15 July 1904 p.2). He is next noted working at Herberton until his death there 16 November 1911 at the age of 55. Annie Cremer later operated a boarding house in Abbott St, Cairns. None of the family enterred the photography trade. Her son Robert Walter Cremer became a blacksmith in Herbeton then Innisfail. Nothing is yet known about Robert Cremer's supposed work on the Continent, in the USA or the southern parts of Australia. Also no connection has been established with prominent American photographer James Cremer (1821-1893) of Philadelphia who was a prolific producer of stereoviews. Chronology: Townsville, Queensland 1885-91 Croydon, Queensland 1889 Georgetown, Queensland 1890 Thursday Island, Queensland 1892-1895 Palmerston, Northern Territory June 1895- Jan 1897 Cairns, Queensland 1897-1902 travelling 1899 Mareeba, Queensland (ER) 1903 Palmerston, Northern Territory April-July 1904 Herberton (ER) 1908 (ER - electoral roll) Thank you to descendant Fiona Shoobert and photographic historian Sandy Barrie

1 comment:

  1. Hello Marcel
    Your biography of Robert Cremer has been extremely useful. I am working on a client's photograph taken by Cremer at the Flinders Street, Townsville address. I dated the image to the 1880s/early 1890s from the evidence of dress but men's appearance is hard to pinpoint very precisely, so your studio data has helped to narrow down the time frame.
    Thank you!
    Jayne Shrimpton, MA History of Dress