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This listing of the photographers and studios operating in Brisbane from 1855 to 1901, is an abridged version of the print publication 'Capturing Brisbane'.


Imperial Photo Company [1]

The Imperial Photo Company was formed around May 1879 to acquire and run the business of the late Daniel Marquis in Markwell’s Buildings, George Street, Brisbane.  Daniel Metcalfe was the primary photographer and manager of this business, though there may have been silent financial partners. The acquisition included the lease, goodwill, fixtures, stock-in-trade, 7000 negatives, and panoramas of Brisbane. 

Large portraits were Metcalfe’s speciality at the time, and his Large Direct Pictures were an early feature. The company was commended for its landscape submitted to the Brisbane Exhibition in August 1879. In 1880 the company printed a Brisbane panorama that was most likely taken by Daniel Marquis and formerly exhibited by him at the National Society’s Exhibition in August 1877.

There were some changes at the Imperial Photo Company around March 1880 and William de Fraine appeared in a management role. Daniel Metcalfe was by that time visiting Maryborough with William Bennett with the intent to establish a studio there. The Imperial Photo Company effectively ceased to exist when the gallery in George Street, Brisbane was put up for private sale in June 1880. It remained on the market until the end of July

Imperial 1

Imperial Photo Company [2]

Established by photographers Henry Overlack and Edward Munro this Imperial Photo Company opened in October 1889 at 91 George Street, Brisbane, opposite John Hick’s Warehouse. It was not related to the former company of the same name which had operated in George Street almost a decade earlier.


Overlack was German born, and the company sought German or German-speaking employees for the business. German-speaking canvassers in the city and country areas also advertised the company, and in December 1889 a branch opened in Warwick for a few weeks. Cabinet photographs and carte de visite were the standard offering. The company was advertised for sale in June 1890, with an offer to teach the purchaser photography. It was acquired by C Kanter & Co. In March 1891 the premises were destroyed by fire with loss of all stock but a few pictures. The Imperial Photo Company was never revived.

Imperial 2

Insley, Lawson

Known variously by the forename of Lawrence, Lanson, Lauson, or Lawson, Insley is believed to have been born in Scotland about 1819.  He established a business in Swanston Street, Melbourne circa December 1849, offering Daguerreotype likenesses. He moved to Geelong early in 1850, then to Sydney by September. There he had premises in George Street where he took Daguerreotypes, coloured with oil paints if required, views of buildings, or copied or reduced them suitable for wear in jewellery.  

Insley travelled around New Zealand between 1851 and 1853, returning to Sydney in the latter year and then to Bathurst and Goulburn. His stay in Goulburn was longer than most, likely influenced by Margaret Cameron whom he married there a year later. During the following years he operated in Yass, Gunning, Braidwood, and Queanbeyan. In Wollongong in 1856 he claimed to be the oldest established photographer in the colony. Insley returned to Sydney mid-year where he worked with all modes of photography including Collodiotype, Talbotype, Ambrotype and stereoscopic pictures. By the end of 1859 he may have been experiencing financial difficulties and left for Moreton Bay.

In Brisbane Insley opened a photographic business in George Street around 16 November 1859. He initially offered clients coloured or enamelled photographs and a range of morocco leather cases. Cameras were also for sale and Insley proposed to teach purchasers the art free of charge. His wife Margaret also opened an ‘outfitting establishment for ladies and juveniles’, specially catering for balls and weddings.

Their stay in Brisbane was comparatively short, and Insley had moved to Nicholas Street, Ipswich  around February 1860. He moved on to Toowoomba in May, with the intent to continue travelling to Warwick. By the end of November 1860 a Brisbane Court declared him insolvent. He returned to Brisbane by March 1861 and opened another Skylight Gallery in Queen Street, opposite the Court House. Insley’s photographic ability appeared to reassert itself in September 1861 when he completed a series of Brisbane landscapes that were to be sent to London for the 1862 Exhibition.  He left Brisbane again around June 1862, touring northern towns until the end of the year.

Margaret Insley re-established herself in Grafton around the middle of 1863, and it was likely her husband had also set up a photographic business there by that time. His state of mind however was beginning to become problematic, and there were many altercations and neighbourhood disputes during the year. By 1870 Lawson Insley was in Armidale where his mental health had deteriorated to the extent that he was not considered safe to be on his own. He was gaoled in Armidale in December of that year and apparently sent to the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. No further information has been located on Lawson Insley.

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