It often comes as a surprise to modern audiences that a ‘photoshopped’ photograph is nothing new, but photographers have been using ‘cut and paste’ as a way to enhance their images or to tell a different story to the one immediately before the lens for as long as they’ve been taking photographs.
Unlike some composite photos that are often mistaken for ‘truth’, (check out the State Library of NSW‘s History Week exhibition Behind the Truth for some examples) this image obviously falls into the popular Victorian ‘trick photography’ category. Of all the images on the Dictionary blog and website, this photo has been shared, linked to and liked the most often – the combination of vintage trick photography and gruesome subject has been of particular appeal across the internet.
The image shows A McManus by Henry William Burgin II. It is just one of a collection of studio portraits of residents of Parramatta by Burgin in the State Library of New South Wales and when we posted it on the blog in 2011, we were keen to know the story behind it. As it turned out, there are several stories to tell and thanks to researcher and Dictionary blog reader, John W S Moore, we now know rather more about the possible background story of the photograph than it simply being a fine Australian example of Victorian trick photography.
It seems likely that the photograph shows Alfred and/or Arthur McManus re-enacting a family tragedy from 1829. A sad tale, it involves a host of notable characters, many of whom grace the Dictionary’s pages, and unfolds as follows:
On the evening of 4 October 1829, James Macmanus took an axe and murdered the bell-ringer of St John’s Church in Parramatta, Edward ‘Neddy’ Vales. The alarm was raised by George Savage, coachman of Samuel Marsden, who heard Macmanus wandering the church yard.
The coroner’s inquest the next day was reported in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on 8 October 1829. A dramatic exchange between James Macmanus and George Savage after the murder was related at the trial in the Criminal Court on 12 October, only 8 days after the event, and reported in the The Australian on 16 October 1829:
…on getting nearer the door, the maniac was heard to cry, “I’ll wash my hands, and wash them clean;” as he turned to wash his hands, Savage ran up to the door, and pulled it to – then opened it a little, and peeped, when the maniac flung water in his face, saying, “thou art saved;” Savage said, “Jem, come along with me, and I’ll take you home to your brother’s;” Macmanus replied, “Ah, do you know me, I have conquered the devil”; on looking round the room Savage beheld a dead body stretched along the ground, the neck, and face of which were desperately lacerated, an axe lying hear it appeared to be covered with blood ; Savage exclaimed to the constable outside, he’s killed old Neddy…
Macmanus was defended in court by Dr Robert Wardell, who ‘urged that the man was unsound in his mind at the time of committing the murder’. The defence of insanity was accepted and Macmanus was committed to the Parramatta Asylum, where he took his own life on 9 July 1839.
Brothers Arthur & Alfred McManus (if it is indeed one of them who is posing in the photograph) were nephews of James Macmanus and residents of Parramatta while Burgin had his studio there, while our source, John W S Moore, is his great great great grandson.
Our thanks go again to John for his help with this.