A rare watercolour depicting the Camera obscura tower built c1857 by Henry Gilbert Smith on Red Hill (Constitution Hill) now known as Fairlight, Manly.
Henry Gilbert Smith built the tower to capitalise the harbour and seaside views from the highpoint on the hill above Manly. With views over Manly Beach and Sydney Harbour the tower brought tourism and technology to Manly.
The tower was thought to have been built c 1857. We consider that this was one of the first pictorial images of the newly built tower. The development on the headland towards North Head is minimal.
The tower seems to have been fitted with a camera obscura that was was run and the camera obscura operated by a Mr William Bagnall. A newspaper article from 1859 states the following….
Constitution-hill, past a labyrinth, or maze, nearly completed, then up to the camera obscura, a tower where Mr William Bagnall displays to his numerous visitors his extraordinary powers. By means of the use of the camera obscura, all the motions of vessels and boats in the harbour, even the undulations of the waves, can be distinctly rendered visible (and with more certainty) as by a person watching them out of doors. The boat races at the Manly Beach Regatta were as plainly apparent in the camera obscura, and more so, than to an out-of-door spectator. Mr.-Bagnall has fitted up his “tower” in a most amusing style, and it is eminently adapted for the recreation of invalids, or of persons who desire a little relaxation from the ordinary and onerous duties of business routine. Amongst the various other novelties introduced by Mr. Bagnall, is a Russian bagatelle board of a very singular sort, rendering the amusement one most intrinsically of chance. Even with regard to little children’s entertainments, Mr. Bagnall has had regard; having fitted up some of the most .extraordinary yet perfectly secure swings possible, in the, midst of the natural harbour which surrounds his tower. The views from the highest altitude of the tower on every side are of the most lovely description ; that on the north-west side comprises an immense panorama of ocean view hill and dale. Mr. Bagnall’s photographic rooms are first-rate, and he has so ably arranged his machinery as to be competent to take photographic likenesses, particularly those of young children in the most speedy yet concise manner. He has also a cave under canopy of solid rock commanding a very lovely and extensive view per mere per terras, just under his tower.
Manly Beach- Empire Sydney |25 May 1859 | Page 4
The first advertising record of the tower that we have been able to locate was on the 3rd of October 1857. Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Page 10. At this point the Tower was run by a ‘C Pickering’.
Below is a photograph of the Tower c1890 showing an similar outlook to that of Gill’s depiction c1860. Photograph by Kerry and co (Mitchell Library Collection)
A postcard c 1900 depicting tower on ‘Red Hill’
Purchased as View of Sydney Harbour Possibly from Dobroyd Head- Lawsons, Australian and European Paintings, Sydney, 03/11/1998, Lot No. 49
Private collection Sydney
Special thanks to Manly enthusiast Henri Quin for his input and Warwick Hirst for digging up the Kerry and Co Photograph that backed up the hypothesis.