Photographic collection a gold mine at Gulgong’s new Holtermann Museum

Aching for gold fields glory? Zoom in on flawless glass plate photographs at the Gulgong Holtermann Museum, set to open in October this year.

Images showcased to 19th Century international audiences feature prominently in the permanent exhibition, drawn from Bernhardt Otto Holtermann’s wet plate collection that disappeared for more than 50 years. 

Visitors to the charming Heritage-listed town will recognise Gulgong’s meandering main street. Here, more than 350 images were photographed locally in 1872, as gold fever took grip.

Greatest Wonder of the World, subject of a 19th Century international exhibition and State Library NSW. Photographed on a glass plate in Gulgong from the Holtermann Collection



In 1951, a gentleman named Eric Keast Burke uncovered 3,500 glass negatives charting life in the NSW gold fields within a suburban Sydney garden shed, among a larger collection attributed to the American & Australasian Photographic Company.

Holtermann’s grandson, identified as the-then rightful owner, donated the collection to the State Library of NSW in 1952. But with no identifying signage represented, the remarkable find sparked a 20 year search for the locations it featured.

Forty years later, the Holtermann Photographic Collection preserved digitally in high resolution, formally starred in ‘The Greatest Wonder of the World Exhibition’ hosted by the State Library of NSW in 2013.

Initially independent ventures, the Gulgong Holtermann Museum project acquired the exhibition panels to augment their design, following a formal request.

“It’s a really beautiful exhibition. Designed and installed by our committee volunteers. And now it is here for everyone to see,” explains Gulgong Holtermann Museum committee member, Maureen Hall.

“And because they were taken on the wet plate, you could make them really big.”

In fact, visitors will be able to zoom in the images via kiosk displays.


Family tries its luck on the gold fields near Gulgong. Lovingly preserved as part of the Holtermann Collection

Life on the gold fields near Gulgong, American & Australasian Photographic Company.


The Gulgong Holtermann Museum Committee acquired two iconic historic buildings on behalf of the Gulgong community: The Greatest Wonder of the World and the American Tobacco Warehouse and Fancy Goods Emporium to house the museum.

Backing from The NSW Government, the Federal Republic of Germany, the State Library of NSW, individuals, mining companies and local businesses helped support the wide-spread five-year community effort.

“The museum is on track to open in October,” Maureen explains.

“We worked closely with our Heritage Adviser to ensure the original buildings were faithfully restored and that new works were in keeping with Gulgong’s heritage streetscape.”

A design student from the University of Newcastle, mentored by the Heritage Adviser, designed the rear buildings.

“Our committee worked hard to ensure different materials true to the era were used, incorporating bricks, blue stone and roofing from the old Gulgong Hospital. 

“It’s been a really big community effort, the community has driven it from day one.”

Greatest Wonder of the World. The new permanent home of a State Library NSW exhibition featuring gold rush imagery from the Gulgong Holtermann Collection

The Greatest Wonder of the World prior to final fit-out. Soon to be home of the new collection. PIC: Tourism NSW



Gulgong truly is a living exhibit, but the local rush forms only a part of the Holtermann photographic journey.

The collection comprises photos of NSW and Victoria, taken in the 19th Century by Beaufoy Merlin and later Charles Bayliss, to project success and woo would-be prospectors to Australia and away from the Californian goldfields. 

Bound for America and Paris, the collection wowed audiences at the Exposition Universelle Internationale in 1878.

Bernhardt Otto Holtermann funded Merlin’s project after extracting the world’s largest gold specimen, more than 75km from the now Heritage-listed town. Then, on Merlin’s death, he purchased the images of Gulgong. 

“They came up to Gulgong to photograph everything, the houses, lean-tos and mining sites; a cross-section of life on the goldfields,” says Maureen.

When Bernhardt died the glass negatives disappeared.

Thankfully, luck and years of hard work brought this remarkable collection to light. And with the Heritage-listed town of Gulgong a living time capsule of NSW’s gold rush peak, it could not have found a better home.

Commercial Roller Flour Mill, Gulgong