William Henry Weston was a prolific photographer in the Lower Hunter Region of NSW in the early 1900s, but circumstances have conspired to prevent him gaining the recognition he deserves.
Born at West Maitland on December 19, 1871, William was the fifth child of of James Weston Jnr and Edith Fielder, and the grandson of James Weston Snr, the former convict landholder whose name survives in the Coalfields town of Weston. William married Effie Pearl Bishop on January 14, 1911 at Woodville. Their three children were Selwyn (1912), Errol (1914) and Milton (1916). From 1918 the family lived in High Street, Morpeth, and William worked for many years at the Morpeth butter factory. Family tradition is that he often accompanied the cream boat up the rivers, and it is thought that this is why so many of his photographs featured river scenes or shots of the river towns – notably Paterson and Hinton.
Little is known of William’s life, and it isn’t clear how or why he took up photography. One of his cameras, a 1900 Korona II, featured in an article by photographer George Steele in the Maitland Mercury of July 9, 1970, and the same issue carried a supplement of photos developed from glass plates taken by William 70 years before.
According to William’s grand-daughter, Dawn Chapman, William’s household lived a frugal life and it may seem surprising that he was able to find the money to support his hobby of photography. After William died, on March 26, 1956, Dawn was surprised to find his widow Effie systematically smashing up William’s huge library of glass plates. “She had them in an old iron tub and was smashing them to pieces,” Dawn recalled with horror. She ran to get her father, Milton, who managed to rescue just 15 of the hundreds of boxes of plates.
For years these plates languished until a local businessman alerted some amateur historians including Jack Sullivan and Bert Lovett. This led to some newspaper articles but also to some confusion. Since the images were mixed in with others collected by Bert Lovett they came to be attributed to other photographers, particularly to Ralph Snowball of Newcastle, whose work had been extensively exhibited by Bert and his friend, journalist Norm Barney. During this period too, Dawn said, some plates went missing and have not been seen since.
In 1983 Dawn decided to donate the remaining plates to Newcastle Region Library, where it is believed they most likely remain. She received some very low-resolution scans from the library. Dawn is disappointed that many of her grandfather’s images now surface in online databases and printed publications without the attribution that ought to have been possible. She has made it something of a mission to attempt to correct this.
William’s surviving work represents a valuable contribution to the pictorial record of the Lower Hunter, although he also photographed some subjects in other areas, including the Prospect Reservoir. The best and most interesting photos are of the rivers and river towns, as well as Weston, where his family came from. In some cases the negatives bear captions in William’s distinctive and relatively ornate hand.
Thanks to Dawn for her help in putting together this brief appreciation of William and his work.