Unidentified Man
Unidentified Man c. 1878-1888 by Arthur W Burman, photographer. via State Library Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/186682

I’m not sure if you have noticed, but I like to trawl the archives of the State Library of  Victoria to find pictures to illustrate my posts. It’s a thing that takes entirely too much time, but is endlessly fascinating. Victoria has its fair share of characters, but more frequently, the pictures are of unidentified people. Like this unidentified man described as:

“Studio portrait of a young man, full length, full face, standing with right leg crossed in front, left hand on hip, right arm resting on pedestal with hand holding a cane, wearing dinner jacket with vest and bow tie.”

I can’t say for certain whether anything in this picture belonged to the unidentified man. The outfit’s winged collars, ribbon neck tie and sack jacket are typical of the “new” 1870s men’s fashions. It was common for people to put on their best clothes to visit the photographer, and this young man does seem quite the fashionable young man about town! I really hope the bird headed walking stick was his; it seems too distinctive for a shop prop. He seems quite pleased with himself, and yet a little uncomfortable. Perhaps this photo was taken to commemorate a significant event; like gaining a university place. Though urns were common funerary symbols so perhaps this is a young man’s attempt to look sombre.

The catalogue record tells us that the picture came in a brown leather album. The first page noted “F.P.C. Beyer, Hairdresser etc, 87 Chapel Street, Private [?]. Golden Hope Cottage, Alfred Street College Lawn. Prahran.” in red lettering.

The photograph is not dated or titled, though it was in its original mount “Photographed by A.W. Burman, 209 Bourke St. East.”  On the reverse “A.W. Burman, Artist Photographer, 209 Bourke Street East, near Parliament House. Copies of this can be had by enclosing Postage Stamps, One Shilling each Copy.”

Dan Clifton gave this photograph and the F.P.C. (Francis Peter Charles) Beyer family album to the library in 1984. The collection also includes “realia” in the form of jewellery.

None of which tells us who this unidentified man was, or how he came to grace the Beyer family album. He is not F.P.C Beyer himself, nor is he married to F.P.C’s wife’s sister Ginny. He’s not “dear cousin W” or murderer Frederick Deeming (whose studio portrait is also in the album – highly suggestive of a cordial relationship).

Further photographic research unveils F.P.C’s involvement in the Melbourne Fire Brigade and a bicycle store. It seems that he was very fond of bicycling and won medals racing, possibly in America. Bicycles arrived in Australia in 1860, and many of F.P.C.’s pictures involve the “safety” bicycle, the forerunner of the modern cycle, so it could be that he abandoned hairdressing and got in on the bicycle trend early.

I have a lot of unidentified people in my photo albums. And I have boxes of photographs from my parents, and most of those people are unidentified too. Plus the ones on my computer that I haven’t bothered to print and store.

The thing about all these unidentified people is that they are people we once cared about enough to keep their pictures. Whether they cut hair, won cycling races, or killed people. Maybe it’s time to stop curating our social media feeds and start curating our lives. The absolute least we could do for our future unidentified people is print them out and give them their names.


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