A present for Queen Victoria
At Windsor Castle on 27 February 1882 Queen Victoria received a special gift — an album of photographic prints featuring sites and scenes of NSW.
Produced by the NSW Government Printing Office of NSW, on behalf of the people of the colony, the Queen recorded this event in her diary, noting that the album, ‘a present from the Colony, is very pretty’.
In 2018, glass plate negatives of the images in the Queen’s Album were found in the NSW State Archives Collection. A few months later, the likely prototype for the Queen’s ‘pretty’ colonial album was discovered at State Library of NSW and has now been digitised. Despite this album’s careworn appearance today, its ornate decoration and contents match contemporary descriptions of the Queen’s Album as it was originally produced in Sydney in 1880.
On Friday 17 December 1880, the Sydney Morning Herald announced the completion of an ‘exquisite broadside album’ of photographs by the Government of NSW to be presented to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The paper described the Queen’s Album as a ‘marvel of sumptuous binding’ in purple velvet with the royal monogram ‘in richly chased silver’ on the front cover and the corners protected by elaborate silver scroll work.
The album was stored in a case made from a mosaic of lovely woods – a tasteful combination of tulipwood, she-oak, honeysuckle, Huon pine, and chestnut – which has not survived.
The Library’s catalogue record for this album lists its purple plush binding (measuring 48 x 60 cm) and the ornamental ‘VR’ on the front cover with silver corners and clasp, as well as its white-watered silk endpapers and gilt edging around the frames of the photographs and each page. The massive volume also comes with a warning: Please note: Item weighs approximately 20 kg.
The Herald article confirmed that the album contained 56 ‘unusually large’ photographs depicting the choicest scenes of ‘city, harbour, mountain, river, and spreading plain’, forming a series of pictures ‘which will afford her Majesty – whose liking for photographs is well known, and whose collection of them is large … a favourable idea of one of the greatest of her Colonial dependencies’. The contents page of the Library’s album gives a listing of similar souvenir tourist imagery, along with the picturesque residences and retreats of key NSW statesmen, like the Premier Henry Parkes and Sir James Martin, some with extended captions.
Collection of photographs presented for the acceptance of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria
Despite the hype and excitement generated by its production, the Queen’s Album did not actually leave the colony for at least another year. In December 1881 the NSW Government Printer Thomas Richards received instructions to forward the album on to the NSW Agent General Saul Samuel in London. The album – by now with a ruby red velvet cover and eight additional photographs – was finally presented to Queen Victoria on 27 February 1882. Unfortunately, the current whereabouts of that album is unknown.
The State Library’s copy of the Queen’s Album is on display in the AMAZE Gallery.
To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria on 24 May 1819, images from the Queen’s Album will go on public display for the first time in nearly 140 years.
The Queen’s Album exhibition is a NSW State Archives exhibition at Government House, Sydney from 24 May to 16 June.