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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 7 years ago

Time Travellers in Essendon, Flemington and the Keilor Plains



Sun Studio, 100 Puckle St, Moonee Ponds  1908#

38 Milton St, Ascot Vale                               1910, 1911, 1912

24 North St, Ascot Vale                                1913**, 1914, 1915 (T)  [see the bottom of this page for the legend]



Agnes Scott Thomson,



by Lenore Frost


MISS AGNES THOMSON President of the

Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association.


Agnes Scott Thomson was born in England in 1880, according to the 1881 Scottish Census, as was her mother Susannie Jones.  Her parents' marriage was registered in Chorlton, Lancashire in the December quarter of 1880. No obvious birth record can be located for Agnes Thomson, but there are a handful of Agnes Jones' registered at Chorlton in the period preceding the marriage, including one in the same December quarter of 1880.  Agnes may be one of those.


Agnes' father was a commercial traveller named Murray Thomson.  Murray was born in Edinburghshire in 1843, and was an older man of 37 when he wed Susannie Jones, 27, in Lancashire in 1880. They had a second daughter named Susannie Manley Thomson before emigrating to Victoria.   


The date of their arrival in Victoria is not certain, but the family was here in time for all of them to be included in the 1903 Electoral Roll.  Agnes Thompson (sic) was listed as an “artist”, and her sister Susannie Thomson  was  recorded as a “milliner”.[1]  


Agnes' particular artistic interest lay in photography, and her name appears in many Melbourne newspaper accounts of photographic exhibitions and competitions.  She took many prizes in competitions, both in Victoria and interstate, and can be regarded as a leading amateur photographer in the early part of the nineteenth century. 


Agnes first attracted notice in competitions from 1903.  Her favoured genre at the time included still lives of fruit and flowers, animals, children, and landscapes and seascapes.  The earlier competitions had 'ladies' sections, but by 1906 Agnes was competing directly with men, and could still hold her position as a leading competitor.  In 1912 she took out 'first honours' for the architecture section of a competition for a photo of Wilson Hall. [2]


'Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild', (Agnes Thomson, Ascot Vale).



Agnes won prizes early in 1907, competing in an 'Open' section.  This distinction would suggest that she had begun to operate as a commercial photographer, and no longer considered herself an amateur.  As a part of the aspirational middle class, Agnes had successfully negotiated the pitfalls of women who needed to work to earn money, but could not afford to lose social status by undertaking work.  Photography, as will be seen in some following newspaper articles, was a suitable profession for women, incorporating as it did feminine ideal of accomplishment in art. Another contemporary, the music teacher Edith Fleetwood Peard, likewise was able to establish herself, by her own efforts, as a successful businesswoman and held her social position at the same time.


In November 1907 the Women's Work Exhibition, held at the Exhibitions Buildings in Melbourne, attracted entries in many and varied areas of women's work, from right round Australia.  Agnes Thomson entered her work and enjoyed some success.   In 1908 she advertised at the Sun Studio at 100 Puckle, St, Moonee Ponds, though she was never listed at that address in the Sands & McDougall directories.  She set up a studio at the family home at 38 Milton St, Ascot Vale, and later from the family home at 24 North St, Ascot Vale from 1912.



Helen Atkinson’s winning entry to the Women’s Work

Exhibition poster  competition, 1907. [4] 


The Women's Exhibition was a huge success, and created great excitement for women in Australia.  A contemporary of Agnes', Ruth Hollick of Moonee Ponds,  had begun studying at the National Gallery school in 1902, but in 1908 she bought a car and toured rural Victoria advertising her services as a photographer. Although the timing is co-incident with the rush of positive energy generated by the Womens' Work Exhibition at the end of 1907, Ruth Hollick did not enter any competitions.   Ruth also worked from her parents' home in Park St, Moonee Ponds, with her reputation and business growing while Agnes retired into domestic life. [5] 


One of the outcomes of the Women's Work Exhibition was the formation the Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association in 1908 - reported in the Australasian.  As was the general attitude to women activities at this time, it was reported under "Social Notes":


"The Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association, which has only recently been formed, and enjoys the distinction of being the only Ladies' Photographic Association in the Commonwealth, held its inaugural meeting on April 14. The association is an indirect result of the Women's Exhibition. The lecture-room of the photographic department at the Working Men's College was well filled by members and their friends. A new process, called the "mirror process," the invention of Mr. Charles Kohler, Prahran, was exhibited". [6] 


Two years on the Association was holding exhibitions of its own:


"You will doubtless be interested to bear of the progress of the Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association. The association is one of the direct results of the Women's Work Exhibition. It was formed in 1908, and Iast year held an exhibition at Furlong's Studios, which will be followed by another this year. A very interesting syllabus has been arranged for this year".  [7]  


At least once they shared the meeting rooms of the Victorian Photographic Society:


The members of the Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association are holding an "at home" at the Victorian Photographic Society's rooms; 57 Swanston-street, Melbourne, on 25th August at 8 p.m.  [8] 


The society became affiliated with British Photographic Society, and had a listing in The British Journal Photographic Almanac,  1910, p 285.  Under 'Colonial Photographic Societies',  was included:


This extract from British Photographic Almanac and Photographers' Daily Companion,

1910, shows Agnes Thomson as President of the Victorian Ladies Photographic Society.  [9]


A further article in The Leader later in 1910 confirmed that President of the of the Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association was Agnes Thomson. [10] 



Photo by Agnes Thomson, Ascot Vale,  Punch (Melbourne,1909, April 15 ), p. 27.



Photo by Agnes Thomson, Ascot Vale. BRIDAL GROUP AT THE MARRIAGE OF MR. V. H. COOPER TO MISS F. R. TROTMAN. Celebrated at St Thomas's Church, Moonee Ponds, on 2nd November, and afterwards at "Shelton," Moonee Ponds, the residence of Mr John Beale.   WEDDINGS. (1910, November 17). Punch (Melbourne, Vic. : 1900 - 1918; 1925), p. 27. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article175608164


On 7 June 1912 Agnes' father, Murray Thomson, was returning to his workplace, and was crossing Collins St when his attention was attracted by a workmate, and he stopped in the road with his back to an approaching vehicle.  The driver tried to avoid him, but while the horse got round him, Murray was struck by the wheel.  He was taken back to the offices of Alex Cowan and Sons, and a motor car was arranged to take him home.  On arriving home he told his wife Susannie that he was not much hurt, but he went to bed and Susannie called for Dr Martell who had attended him for some years for a bad heart.  Murray told him that the accident was his own fault for stopping in the street.   Murray was unwell for the next three weeks, with his strength rising and waning, and eventually died at home on 28 June aged about 69  Dr Martell advised the Flemington police, and as it was the result of an accident, Police Constable Kinleyside reported the death to the Coroner. A subsequent inquiry determined that the death was the result of an accident, and no-one was to blame. [11]


Family Notices (1912, July 4). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 1.



Alex Cowan and Sons appear in newspaper advertisements variously as a paper wholesaling warehouse and selling Crossley engines and gas suction plants.   Murray Thomson might have been a salesman for either part of the business.


Murray left no will, and no probate was applied for.  It is not clear whether he left any assets for his family, so the responsibility for bringing in an income may have rested with Agnes and Sussannie (Annie) junior.  It is not clear whether Annie  junior was able to contribute much income to the household economy. She died fourteen months after her father on 4 January 1914.  Annie had also not left a will, so Agnes and her mother applied for Administration of Annie's estate, which totalled one hundred and eighteen pounds, eight shillings and five pence in cash, with no other real or personal estate.  Susannie senior declared that only she and her daughter Agnes were entitled to a share in the estate. There were no other close relatives who might claim a share.  


Agnes's elaborate but legible signature on an Administration document in relation to her sister's

estate, 1912.  VPRS 28/P3, unit 428. 


A portrait of two militia officers from Ascot Vale in 1913 - Major Richard Wells on

the left and Lieutenant Sydney Victor Burrow on the right.  The mountboard

is signed 'Agnes Thomson, Ascot Vale'. Courtesy of Mark Latchford.


In 1913 the Weekly Times devoted a generous amount of column space to a detailed case for women to take up photography as a commercial career. The article is addressed to middle-class women, who had access to society circles, were knowledgeable about fashion, and had some artistic taste.  They would also need sufficient funds to purchase a good camera, take a course in photography, and purchase the requisites for a darkroom.  These expectations were beyond the capacity of the average factory girl. Support of her family would be another requirement.  Apparently Agnes did use a studio in Puckle Street for a short time, based on an advertisement in the Essendon Gazette in 1908, but she soon fell back on a studio at her parents' home, which would not have been possible had she had more siblings or her parents a smaller house.






Photography is an industry that the woman with a little artistic sense and a reasonable amount of intelligence should regard with interest. To her it opens up a new commercial avenue and a fresh field of labor. It is strange that so far few women have recognised the possibilities of this, profession as a commercial concern. Of women retouchers there are many, but comparatively few have served an apprenticeship, and then resolved to become mistresses of the situation. Yet the outlook is decidedly encouraging. Few who have risked their  capital, and gone into business on their own account have had reason to regret following the spirit of   adventure.

One professional in the business, who poses her subjects in a studio decked with window boxes and blue Persian carpets has sold out three times, with profitable results, within the last five years. Her work is said to compare favorably with the portraiture of Lallie Charles, whose studies are familiar to every magazine reader.

Mistress of the Situation
Lallie Charles holds a unique position in the London photographic world. She is as much sought after as a popular prima donna or a daringly audacious chorus lady with one eye on the peerage. She it is for whom beauties and celebrities pose in the grateful and glad some spirit. She has won her laurels because she has real artistic insight and a strong streak of commercialism. Her artistically-appointed home, some where in the heart of London, is her studio, and she mixes brains with the photographic formula. It is said that she first discovered the commercial gift by "snapping" friends and their favorite animal pets in her best drawingroom. She still indulges in this diversion, but as a general rule, reaps £25 a dozen for the recreation. In Melbourne even the expert is satisfied with something like £3/3/ a dozen. This only serves to show the necessity of developing the commercial and "grab" spirit early In life.

                                                                 Portrait of Lily Brayton by Lallie Charles.    
Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria. H15417.

Many Possibilities
In this city there are only two or three women taking up photographic work professionally. Even in the suburbs one can count owners of their own studios on one's fingers. In the country, the aspect is the same. There the women photographer exists, but one rarely meets her. Why is It so?

The possibilities are so many and so great. The sex prejudice has long since become a thing of the past. That practically made its last adieux with the crinoline, the chignon, and the coal-scutle (sic) bonnet. There are so many however, who remember the strenuous fight that two sisters had to put up against this sort of opposition in the period following the bursting of the land boom.That was the time when the Melbourne woman first appeared on the horizon with her camera tucked under her arm and a hard compelling look  in her eye. She had to face an inhospitable aspect which a mariner might describe as a "dark, dirty night." Yet she triumphed in the face of all obstacles.

Where Women Score
The woman Photographer of today, with a fair field and no favor has it all her own way. She is in truth
mistress of the situation.  When an impression is demanded, say, of the latest modes at the races, a fashionable wedding, or a Vice- Regal garden party, who knows better than she which particular toilette should be given most prominence. The man operator, with all due respect to his varied experience, is apt
to lay too particular stress upon a pretty face and a robust figure. Woman knows instinctively, that on this occasion the correct silhouette and modish swathings are the details that count. A small fortune awaits the woman who will have the temerity to "snap" the leaders of the social world as they pose unconsciously or otherwise in the "open." Up to the present, as a general rule men have confined their attention to beauteous eyes, dazzling complexions and grace of figure. Silly things! As if silhouettes and clothes were not the first considerations when out for this kind of work. "When the woman "snap-shotter" appears on the scene the situation will assume a different aspect In the studio her many natural qualifications will help her to make a success of the undertaking. Properly trained there are no heights to which she may not soar in this branch of industry.


Enterprising Country Girl
Some women even now are earning a comfortable livelihood with very little training. There is a case in point; A girl living in a rapidly-developing country town found that the work done done by the one photographer in the district was crude and uninteresting. She came to Melbourne and took a special course of lessons in  photography at the Working Men's College. At the end of five months, although she had no knowledge of the subject  previous to entering upon her course of tuition, she was able to return home and set up in business as a photographer. The fees paid for tuition amounted to scarcely £10.

About six years ago a number of women attending photographic classes at the Working Men's College founded the Victorian Ladies Photographic Association. "We have been told," said Mrs T. J. Campbell, the hon. secretary, "that it is the only one of its kind in the world." On Thursday evening Mrs Campbell is to give a lecture on Northern Tasmania at the College. The lecture will be illustrated with views taken by herself on a recent trip.  [12]

Another lengthy article in The Weekly Times  June 1914 again encouraged women to take up photography as a business.  The article may well have originated with the Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association.  Although we have no direct evidence of Agnes's thoughts on the subject, the fact that she was president of the organisation would indicate that she was a strong supporter of photography as a career for women, and encouraged high professional standards by holding competitions, and lectures on technical aspects of the work.




Photography is work which many women find congenial. There are certain branches of it for which they show particular aptitude. That is why the number of women photographers is on the increase. The majority just regard the work as a fascinating hobby, but few of the women who have resolved to put their  knowledge to a practical test by establishing businesses have regretted the step. Women have not been slow to take  advantage of the privileges offered to students at the Working Men's College. That is where many of those who have taken up  photography as a profession qualified.


A society that has done much to foster interest in the work from a woman's standpoint is the Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association. Until last year it claimed the proud distinction of being the only one of its kind in the world. This year it is described as "The First one in the World," because another similar society was recently  formed at Canterbury, England. The new syllabus of the Victorian Association has been compiled, and members will now resume activities after a long recess. This is an opportune time for new members to join. Novices in photographic work are given a glad welcome. The demonstrations are simple but instructive. Both amateur and professional workers are invited to join. The chief aim of the association is to encourage interest in out door work, and to bring students in touch with nature in all its fascinating, varying phases.


The annual competition causes some friendly rivalry. The subjects this year are landscape or seascape, portrait of a baby, study of a dog and street scenes. These competitions are judged by competent men who, as one of the members puts it, are unselfish enough to sink themselves, their moods and prejudices, and give an impartial and unbiased judgment from the technical, pictorial, and artistic standpoints.


At the annual meeting , held recently the following office-bearers were elected:—Miss Agnes Thomson, president; Mrs H. A. Grayson and Mrs G. H. Pattison, vice-presidents; Mrs T. G. Campbell, Misses Archibald, Paterson, and Hennessy, council, and Miss M. A. Turner, Auburn House, Auburn, hon, secretary. [13] 


It is possible that both of these unattributed articles originated with the Victorian Ladies' Photographic Association.  


Later in 1914 the Association ran an information workshop on the colour process, an example of their efforts to improve the technical skills of their members:



"Flower photography- and colored plates" was the title of an interesting lecturette given by Mr A. J. Relph, under the auspices of the Victorian Women's Photographic Association, at Majestic Building's last week. Miss Agnes Thomson presided, The lecturer explained lucidly the color process, and  showed that it was a simple and inexpensive method of obtaining artistic results. He recommended the process as a study for women photographers, as it was work for which they were particularly adapted. [14] 


Agnes Thomson operated her business in Ascot Vale for eight years,  from about 1907 until 1915, retiring upon her impending marriage, announced in the Essendon Gazette in June 1915:


"MISS AGNES THOMSON wishes to intimate that after September 4th, 1915, she will retire from her Photographic business. She takes this opportunity of thanking her numerous clients for their kindly patronage. "Studio," 24  North st. Ascot Vale". [15]


Agnes Thomson married Ernest Albert Montgomery in 1916. After their marriage they resided at 24 North St, Ascot Vale, the Thomson family home.  They had a child in 1917, when Agnes was aged 37, named Murray Thomson Montgomery in honour of her father, but the baby died aged 6 weeks.  The couple had at least one other child, a daughter named Margaret, born in 1920. [16]


Ernest Montgomery was a State school teacher.  This photo of the West Brunswick State School from 1896 included Ernest in the back row, fifth from the left. [17]



By 1900 Ernest was the 1st Male Assistant master at Flemington State School. [18]    From February until September 1939 he was acting head master at the Flemington Training School in Mount Alexander Road, following the death of the headmaster, G J Neuss.  The new headmaster, R M Malseed, was to take up his position in September. [19] The Flemington Training School was a government primary school designated to take trainee teachers. 


Ernest died and was cremated at Fawkner Memorial Park on 9 May 1960, aged 81 years.  Agnes was also cremated there on 18 January 1962, aged 81 years.  


Their baby Murray Thomson Montgomery was buried on 4 July 1917 with his grandfather, Murray Thomson who died 28 June 1912 and aunt, Susannie Manley Thomson, who died on 4 January 1914, aged 31 years.    Baby Murray's grandmother, Susannie Thomson, was in the next grave, buried there on 7 May 1928, aged 69 years. 





[1]  Ancestry.com. Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. In 1903 the family were listed at 18 Chester St, Moonee Ponds.

[2]  LADIES' PHOTOGRAPHY. (1912, June 29). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 40.  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/143333870

[3]  (1905, February 18). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918), p. 35.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198171601

[4]  http://www.auspostalhistory.com/articles/199.shtml   Viewed 14 Feb 2016. 

[5]  http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hollick-ruth-miriam-10521.  Viewed 15/12/2016.

[6]  SOCIAL NOTES. (1908, April 18). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 46. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139212970

[7]  Leader (Melbourne, VIC) June 4 1910 - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Page: 45.

[8]  Approaching Marriages (1910, August 18). Punch (Melbourne, Vic. : 1900 - 1918; 1925), p. 27. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article175606091; THE VICTORIAN LADIES' PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSOCIATION. (1910, September 3). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918), p. 54. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196398909

[9] British Photographic Almanac and Photographers' Daily Companion, 1910.  George E Brown (ed). p458.

[10]  THE VICTORIAN LADIES' PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSOCIATION. (1910, September 8). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 - 1939), p. 12. Retrieved December 11, 2016, from   http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17401203

[11] Coronial Inquest, VPRS 24/P0000 unit 883, item 1912/802

[12]  PHOTOGRAPHY (1913, November 15). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), p. 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article222260292

[13]  WOMANHOOD'S CAUSE PHOTOGRAPHIC WORK (1914, May 23). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), p. 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121130204

[14]  WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS (1914, September 5). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), p. 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121116779 

[15]  Advertising. (1915, June 24). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74589200

[16]  "MONTGOMERY - FORD. - Margaret (Peggy), only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Montgomery, of 24 North street, Ascotvale. to Cecil Charles, only son of the late Mr. and Mrs. C. G. Ford, and nephew of Mr, and Mrs. H. Basham, of Ovens street, Moonee Ponds." Family Notices (1947, August 20). The Argus  Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 27. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22445901

[17]   TEACHERS OF WEST BRUNSWICK STATE. SCHOOL No. 2890, IN 1896. (1936, June 6). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204834229

[18] Flemington P. S. http://www.flemingtonps.vic.edu.au/uploaded_files/media/fps_school_history.pdf  Flemington School Reunion (1938, November 23). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205204545

[19]  PERSONAL (1939, September 1). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 10. Retrieved December 14, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11235775



Unless otherwise marked, Sands and McDougall Melbourne Directories to 1930 

# Essendon Gazette                       

* Examples in the Moonee Ponds Courthouse Museum                    

** Sandy Barry, Australians behind the camera:  directory of Early Australian Photographers, 1841 to 1945, the author, 2002.                

^ Examples in the State Library

% Examples on this website

(T) Trove mention

(ER)  From the Electoral Roll


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