Mrs Foster photographed the headstones as Mr Foster cleared away the undergrowth and inked the text carved into the stone to ensure the words were clear. He also copied the inscriptions into notebooks. While the couple primarily documented the Church of England section, their record is extraordinary — it allows us to look back to nineteenth century Sydney and read the tragic accounts of short lives and misfortunate deaths, for example:
Harriet Mary Sheba
Only daughter of
Joseph Hyde Potts
Who ceased to breathe
On the 5th day of December 1838
to the memory of
who was accidentally killed
by a Bullock Cart
April the 2d. 1821
Aged 34 Years
Catherine Jane, who departed this life
in the 22nd year of her age,
having never recovered from the
shock and affliction occasioned by
the awful and sudden death of her husband
who met his fate
by the falling of his horse.
Likewise their son Alexander, aged 2 days
While headstones and burial monuments feature in the foreground of the images, there are often glimpses of the surrounding landscape — the undulating land, the looming dark trees, the texture of the old brick walls and the terrace houses built right up to the edge of the cemetery. In the distance are the landmarks of smoke stacks and church spires.
The Fosters worked on their project in their spare time — Saturday afternoons, Sundays and holidays. Mrs Foster took hundreds of photographs and Mr Foster transcribed about half of the 1,220 Church of England monuments, along with parts of other sections. Their work attracted the interest of journalists after the resumption of the cemetery was announced in the press. As the Australian Star reported in February 1901:
'A LADY PHOTOGRAPHER, with her attendant genius holding the umbrella … to shield her from the bright and ardent sun of an easy and cool summer’s day, was there and she even wanted to take the photographs of Constable Williams and the representative of the ‘Star’, doubtless under the belief that such persons were part and parcel of the whole panorama ...'
In her booklet Odd Bits of Old Sydney, published in 1921, Mrs Foster reflected on photographing Sydney in the early twentieth century;
"We all realise how rapidly the old is giving place to the new, and only by means of pictures will those who come after us know what Sydney was like once upon a time. And in looking at pictures of quiet streets, quaint old homes, beautiful gardens and fine old trees, they will understand why many today still call this queenly city ‘Dear old Sydney’".