One of the many joys of working on the Dictionary of Sydney is the opportunity/excuse to revisit favourite pictures and collections as we look for the right images to illustrate an entry. Another is following up the unexpected stories and connections as we check details and confirm spellings.

The collection of studio portraits of local Parramatta residents, ca. 1860-1872 by Henry William Burgin II in the Mitchell Library at the State Library of NSW (PXA 1036) is one such favourite, and one of the more unusual of these is this ‘trick’ photo of A. McManus (or McManius – both versions are listed in the description in the SLNSW catalogue record):

A. McManius, by Henry William Burgin from Studio portraits of Parramatta residents, ca. 1860-1872 , Mitchell Library, SLNSW, a1327004 / PXA 1036, 28

Who is A. McManus? And is he the head or the holder? What was his relationship with the photographer, that they felt comfortable playing about with their images like this? Could one of the participants even be the photographer?

What started as a quick check to find out more has (once again) turned into more of a quest.

A quick trawl through Trove didn’t really help this time, so perhaps knowing more about Burgin might provide an answer. Or not!

Henry William Burgin II, born in Parramatta in 1830, was a watch and clock-maker, who took up the photography in about 1860.  He was later joined in the watchmaking & photographic business by one of his sons, Henry William Burgin III (1852-1887). Margot Riley provides an informative overview of Burgin’s work and the provenance of the photographs in the  State Library’s collection in the 2006 exhibition guide to the Nelson Meers Foundation Heritage Collection and suggests that their interest in photography was prompted by their work with optics and mechanics as watchmakers.

The Burgins lived in Church Street, Parramatta which was also where their photographic studio was located. (The Church Street studio was apparently destroyed in a terrible summer storm on 2 January 1872 according to the Sydney Mail.)

A site history summary of the Duke of Wellington hotel site in Parramatta from 2006, part of an archaelogical report into the Plazawest development site by the Archaeological Management & Consulting Group Pty Limited, shows that the area was home to both the extended Burgin family, and to a Terence McManus, a Parramatta police constable. Could this be the same McManus family? Perhaps Terence McManus had a son who grew up with Henry William Burgin and who took part in his photographic experiments?

Ah, no, it seems not. Terence McManus arrived in Sydney as a convict in 1819, aged about 35. In 1830 he married another former convict Sarah Flintoff who was then about 75. Her adult son George Cumming Flintoff (or Flintoft), also a former convict and a shoemaker,  lodged with them. It doesn’t appear that she & McManus had ever had any children together (although she  allegedly gave birth to 21 children). After years of physically abusing her, McManus, then about 60, brutally murdered Sarah, 90, at their Parramatta home in 1844 and died himself shortly after at Parramatta Gaol. No other heirs or children apart from George are mentioned in the newspaper reports of the time and McManus does not appear to be listed as the father of any children on the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages.

Sarah’s grave at All Saints Cemetery in Parramatta was unmarked and her name, Sarah MacManus, is included on a memorial wall erected by the council as part of the All Saints restoration project in 2003.

So although this was a dreadful local event that Henry William Burgin II, at 14, must have known about, this hasn’t helped identify the A.McManus in this carte de visite.

However, in 1876 an Alfred McManis of Parramatta married Lucie Heathe at Woollahra, and the colonial family tree website Australian Royalty lists both Alfred AND his brother Arthur, both born in Parramatta at about the right time (1836 & 1838) to have known Burgin II and to be the subject/s of this photo.

Could this be the right family? More research is required, but if anybody already knows more about the right A. McManus/McManius/McManis (or any of the other possible variations) of Parramatta, it would be a great to hear more!

In a final quirky diversion, an early photograph of Parramatta locals in the street which is credited to Burgin appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 August, 1954, in a contemplation of the  stereotype of the lean Australian.

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