An extraordinary journey into the heart of Fiji some 129 years ago by three British brothers, carrying with them all the heavy paraphernalia associated with early photography, returned in triumph with images that still fascinate today.
This remarkable collection of photographs taken on a journey by three Ansdell brothers has been passed down through the family and is to be auctioned by Bonhams
on September 15 in the Travel and Topographical Sale in New Bond Street.
In 1881 Gerrard Ansdell (son of the celebrated sporting and animal painter, Richard Ansdell RA), set out from Melbourne with his younger brother Carrol Ansdell, in search of their older brother Richard Eden Ansdell who they knew to be coffee planting somewhere in Fiji.
They eventually tracked Richard down in Viti Levu, whereupon they all undertook an extended trip up the river during which the author recorded tribal customs, descriptions of the villages and the forest fauna. In the text he notes that towards the end of the journey his "stock of dry plates had unfortunately come to an end" and that some negatives were "spoilt on their way to England" hinting at the extraordinary difficulties that such large plate photography presented.
The publisher of the book was another of the Ansdell brothers, Harry Blair. `A Trip to the Highlands of Viti Levu; Being a Description of a Series of Photographic Views taken in the Fiji Islands during the Dry Season of 1881, is a first and only edition of 44 large albumen prints. The book is estimated to sell for £15,000-20,000.
Another copy of this book brought into an Oxfam bookshop and then sold by Bonhams made £37,000 in April this year. The book was donated by an anonymous retired man to the Teignmouth Oxfam bookshop in Devon in late 2009, who brought in a selection of rare books which were immediately recognised as valuable by its staff.
Luke Batterham, of Bonhams Book Department, comments: This is a very scarce book illustrated with fine albumen prints, including topographical views and an important series of ethnographic portraits. Club-wielding warriors are lined up like some class of pupils celebrating end of year photograph, but there is not a smile to be seen. One cannot begin to imagine the efforts involved in getting this early photographic gear into the interior of this heavily forested and mountainous country. It was an almost superhuman effort. These remarkable pictures make the whole exercise worthwhile.