Incredible Photographs From the Archives: Mystery Men of the Museum

By: Elizabeth McKinnon, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 25 Sep 2015

 A blog series investigating stories and images from the earliest collection of photographs in the Museum's history.

 A haunting stare, a planned pose and no smile in sight – these are the mystery men locked in glass from the Museum's early photo archive.

It is difficult to tell if these men are in fact one and the same – wearing a vest, white shirt and a bow tie. With beards and a steady brow we could be looking at one man aging over time. But who was he, a member of staff or perhaps a collector or contractor? Or possibly they are different men who work in a family business? Like the photographer himself, Henry Barnes’ brother and son all worked at the Australian Museum.


Like a ghostly shadow his face emerges from the dark window. His sleeves are rolled at the wrist and he wears a dirty apron. With a lock of hair fallen on his forehead he looks straight down the lens, a gaze that holds through time. It is possible that this is controversial Curator Gerard Krefft looking out from his Museum window, but as his face is masked in shadow it is difficult to tell.


As he stands holding the specimen in place for the photograph, his eyes are diverted to his right. On the broken fragment of the corner a man stands, but his face has been distorted as he didn’t keep still.


This last image shows a mystery man standing beside a Sunfish, most likely somewhere in Sydney Harbour. This image is taken later than the other two; our man’s vest fits a little more snug and his face a little more round. The closer I look at all of the men’s faces the more confused I become as to if they are the same.

What are your thoughts? Who are they, one and the same or three different men?