In various parts of Australia in 2021, people are searching for information about a photographer named Herbert John Pardey. Some facts are known about him. It seems, for example, that he was born in Hackney (London) in 1875 and came to Australia via Melbourne in the mid-1890s. It appears he married Susan Crowell and that the couple had three children: Leonard Oake Pardey (born 1908), George Branch Pardey (born 1916) and Eileen.
Like a number of other prolific photographers of his era, Herbert Pardey moved around a lot. That means he left collections of photos and negatives behind in the places where he worked. As those caches of material have been discovered, an effort has begun to piece together his career and also to determine how much of the material is his work, and how much the work of others.
According to researcher Eric Victor, of the Queensland Centre for Photography, Pardey is known to have been working as a photographer at Pittsworth, Queensland, from about 1903 to about 1917. He is understood to have rented darkroom facilities from an amateur photographer named Lindenberg, whose family has been prominent in the Pittsworth business community for more than a century. Clive Lindenberg, who today owns a major car dealership in Pittsworth, is a custodian of some important Pardey plates, many of which he has permitted to be digitized.
There is also a collection of about 700 of his glass plates – found on the floor of his old darkroom in a cowshed – plus some other smaller collections with the Pittsworth Historical Society.
The Queensland Centre for Photography has been digitizing many Pardey plates and some of these can be seen on its Facebook page.
At present it is thought that Pardey moved from Pittsworth for health reasons and was next in Dungog, perhaps for a relatively short time, before moving to Sydney where he worked for Kodak.
After his time at Kodak he moved to Cowra, NSW, where he bought an older photographic business. This business was apparently started in Kendall Street, Cowra, by a J.J. (James) Kelly in about 1897 and sold in about 1919 to a Mr Craddock from Ararat, Victoria. According to Cowra Council’s grants and executive projects officer, Lawrance Ryan, Kelly moved to Bathurst, after holding a major disposal sale (at which Mr Ryan’s great uncle Arty Lowe bought one of Kelly’s old cameras and also acquired some Kelly glass negatives).
H.J. Pardey bought the business from Craddock in 1920 and extensively remodelled the studio in 1926. When Herbert Pardey died in 1932, his son George kept the business going until he sold to Don Collins of Fletcher Fotographics. George Pardey died in 1987.
Typically, when photographers bought one another’s businesses, they acquired the negatives and other stock of their predecessors. Sometimes these were discarded but often they were kept. In the case of the Pardey studio in Cowra, the legacy is a collection of thousands of negatives of which a great many that almost certainly taken by or for the Kelly Studio before it was bought by the Pardeys. The total collection is understood to comprise about 80,000 negatives (mostly film) and to cover many incidents of Cowra’s local history including the infamous World War 2 “breakout” of Japanese prisoners of war from the local camp.
According to information on the Cowra Art Gallery website:
During his association with the business, George Pardey had maintained a register of the negatives. They were identified by number, date, and either the person who had ordered the photographs or to whom they were sent. The records consisted of a series of hard covered books, laboriously handwritten in pen and ink. (The biro pen was not available at that time). The registers in themselves are of historic value. At some point a (large) number of negatives were discarded on the local tip. Fortunately George realized the historic value of the negatives and instead attempted to save the remaining negatives for future generations. When George Pardey eventually sold the business to Don Collins of Fletcher’s Fotographics the negative collection was included in the sale. During the mid 1990s those negatives were made available to Cowra Family History Group to develop. With the aid of a three-year grant some 27,000 images were developed, mostly covering the period 1940 to 1971. As they were developed, all photographs were identified back to the registers, an enormous undertaking by group members. Members then methodically endeavored to identify subjects. Although very time-consuming, this task was possibly not as difficult as one would believe – one of the advantages of members and photograph subjects living their lives at the same time in the same small country town! The group has now placed all photographs into archival sleeves for optimum preservation. This has been made possible by a generous grant from the Royal Australian Historical Society and a donation from the Cowra RSL Sub-branch. Members also made a number of handwritten copies of the registers. For some time, this was the only index by which a search of the collection could be made. However, a searchable database is currently being modified to assist researchers to locate items of interest.
The Pardey family’s legacy is impressive, since Herbert and George preserved a vast number of old negatives that are now a precious resource for local history researchers.
My interest is to learn something of the family’s stay in Dungog, where I have on occasion managed to find some prints with the Pardey stamp on them. The examples I have found are platinotype prints. This was a form of printing that used platinum salts instead of the more usual silver. The process is noted for its warm tones and great detail. It was largely phased out at about the time of the Great War, when platinum was needed for explosive manufacture.